History

Horatio, Viscount Nelson

History

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

Nelson was buried at St Paul's cathedral in London 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 in a case in St Andrew's chapel. 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 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 figure, with a body, arm and legs made of wood, stands five feet five and a half inches tall. The face is a remarkable likeness and Lady Hamilton 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 against a background of wood painted to look like rock. He wears the battle of 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.

Nelson was installed by proxy as a knight of the Bath and his stall plate can be seen in the Abbey's Lady Chapel, the chapel of this order.

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 and Bath stall plate can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

The Abbey Museum is situated in the cloisters and is open Monday-Saturday 10.30-4.

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

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Nelson's wax effigy head