Horatio, Viscount Nelson
Born: 29 Sep, 1758
Died: 21 Oct, 1805
Field: Sailor

The Abbey collection contains one of the best likenesses of the great Admiral, Horatio, Viscount Nelson, who died at the battle of Trafalgar (off the south coast of Spain) on 21 October 1805. This is a wax effigy, dressed in some of the clothes which belonged to him.

Nelson was buried on 9 January 1806 at St Paul's cathedral in London, after a long journey back to England. His burial there, rather than at the Abbey, was due to a decision taken by Parliament in 1795 that monuments to heroes should be erected in the largely undecorated cathedral rather than Westminster Abbey which was full of monuments. The crowds flocked to the cathedral so the vergers and lay vicars at the Abbey, who gained extra income from showing the monuments to visitors, commissioned a wax figure as a counter attraction in 1806. This was displayed originally in a case in St Andrew's chapel with a painted surround showing ships at sea (no longer displayed with the effigy). Ironically on this case the Admiral's famous words "Victory or Westminster Abbey" were painted.

The wax head and left hand were modelled by Catherine Andras, modeller in wax to Queen Charlotte. Nelson had sat for her some years before his death. She was paid over a hundred pounds for her work. The effigy stands 5 feet 5.5.inches high and has a wooden body, arms and legs. The Vice Admiral's coat was made for display purposes and the black beaver cocked hat, with a crescent-shaped green shade under the centre part of the brim, was made by James Lock, hatter of St James' Street. The face is a remarkable likeness and Lady Hamilton, who thought this was more like the Admiral than any portrait, herself arranged a lock of hair as he always wore it. Unfortunately it appears that the rendering of Nelson's blind eye as his left and not his right was a mistake. The effigy is placed standing on and against a background of wood painted to look like rock. He wears the battle of the Nile medal and four embroidered stars of the Orders of the Bath, the Crescent, St Ferdinand and Merit, and St Joachim, with two sashes. The sword could have been one of his own.

Bath stall plate

Nelson was installed by proxy as a knight of the Bath in 1803 and his stall plate can be seen in the Abbey's Lady Chapel, the chapel of this order (south side, 14th stall from the west). This shows his coat of arms - a black cross on a gold background with a bend across it displaying three bombs (grenades),and at the top a palm tree, a disabled ship and ruins of a shore battery, a double crest (one a naval crown surmounted by a chelengk or plume of triumph presented to him by Sultan Selim III, and the other his family crest of the stern of the Spanish ship San Josef which he captured at the battle of Cape St Vincent) and two supporters - a sailor with a cutlass and pistols in his belt with a commodore's flag and a palm branch, and a lion with a palm branch and two broken flag staffs (Spanish and French flags). His motto is "Palmam qui meruit ferat" (Let him who had deserved the palm, bear it).

A bust of Henry V was purchased from the sale of Lord Nelson's effects and this was placed in the Jerusalem Chamber at the Abbey (room not open to the public).

Photos of the effigy, Bath stall plate and Henry V bust can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

The Abbey Museum closes at the end of October 2015 but the effigy will be on display in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open 2018.

Further reading:

"The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey" edited by A.Harvey and R.Mortimer, revised 2003.

"Nelson - an illustrated history", National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 1995

"The Authentic Nelson" by Rina Prentice, 2005

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

"Lord Nelson's swords" by Sim Comfort, 2014