Horatio Hornblower

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Horatio Hornblower
First appearanceThe Happy Return (1937)
Last appearanceThe Last Encounter (1967)
Created byC. S. Forester
Portrayed byGregory Peck
David Buck
Michael Redgrave
Ioan Gruffudd
In-universe information
NicknameHorry (by his first wife)
Horny (by his shipmates)
OccupationNaval officer
SpouseMaria Mason (†)
Lady Barbara Wellesley
ChildrenHoratio Hornblower Jr. (†)
Maria Hornblower (†)
Richard Hornblower

Horatio Hornblower is a fictional Napoleonic Wars-era Royal Navy officer who is the protagonist of a series of novels and stories by C. S. Forester. He was later the subject of films, radio and television programmes, and C. Northcote Parkinson elaborated a definitive biography.[1]

The original Hornblower tales began with the 1937 novel The Happy Return (U.S. title Beat to Quarters) with the appearance of a junior Royal Navy captain on independent duty on a secret mission to Central America. Later stories filled out his earlier years, starting with an unpromising beginning as a seasick midshipman. As the Napoleonic Wars progress, he gains promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. After surviving many adventures in a wide variety of locales, he rises to the pinnacle of his profession, promoted to Admiral of the Fleet.


There are many parallels between Hornblower and real naval officers of the period, notably Admiral Lord Nelson and also Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochrane, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, Sir William Hoste, and many others. The actions of the Royal Navy at the time, documented in official reports, gave much material for Hornblower's fictional adventures.[2]

The name "Horatio" was inspired by the character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet and chosen also because of its association with contemporary figures such as Nelson.[3]: 90  His surname in turn comes from Arthur Hornblow, a Hollywood producer, coworker and a friend of Forester's.[4][5]

Forester's original inspiration was an old copy of the Naval Chronicle, which described the effective dates of the Treaty of Ghent.[3]: 81  It was possible for two countries to still be at war in one part of the world after a peace was obtained months before in another because of the time required to communicate around the world. The burdens that this placed on captains far from home led him to a character struggling with the stresses of a "man alone".[3]: 82  At the same time, Forester wrote the body of the works carefully to avoid entanglements with real world history, so Hornblower is always off on another mission when a great naval victory occurs during the Napoleonic Wars.

Frederick Marryat has been identified as "the father of the seafaring adventure novel from which all others followed, from C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower to Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin"[6] Hornblower and the eponymous protagonist of Marryat's Peter Simple both start their career rather unpromisingly and without influential friends, but advance themselves through hard work, honesty and bravery. Both fight in duels before their careers have properly even started and both are taken prisoners early in their careers, but escape in extraordinary fashion.


Hornblower is courageous, intelligent, and a skilled seaman, but he is also burdened by his intense reserve, introspection, and self-doubt, and is described as "unhappy and lonely". Despite numerous personal feats of extraordinary skill and cunning, he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalisations, remembering only his fears. He consistently ignores or is unaware of the admiration in which he is held by his fellow sailors. He regards himself as cowardly, dishonest, and, at times, disloyal—never crediting his ability to persevere, think rapidly, organise, or cut to the heart of a matter. His sense of duty, hard work, and drive to succeed make these imagined negative characteristics undetectable by everyone but him and, being introspective, he obsesses over petty failures to reinforce his poor self-image. His introverted nature continually isolates him from the people around him, including his closest friend William Bush, and his wives never fully understand him. He is guarded with nearly everyone, unless the matter is the business of discharging his duty as a King's officer, in which case he is clear and decisive.

Hornblower possesses a highly developed sense of duty, though on occasion he is able to set it aside; for example, in Hornblower and the Hotspur, he contrives an escape for his personal steward, who would otherwise have to be hanged for striking a superior officer. He is philosophically opposed to flogging and capital punishment and is pained when circumstances or the Articles of War force him to impose such sentences.

He suffers from seasickness at the start of his voyages. As a midshipman, he becomes seasick at the sheltered roadstead of Spithead, an embarrassment which haunts him throughout his career. He is tone-deaf and finds music an incomprehensible irritant (in a scene in Hotspur, he is unable to recognise the British national anthem).

A voracious reader, he can discourse on both contemporary and classical literature. His skill at mathematics makes him both an adept navigator and an extremely talented whist player. He uses his ability at whist to supplement his income during a poverty-stricken period of inactivity in the naval service.

Fictional biography[edit]


Hornblower is born in Kent, the son of a physician. He has no inherited wealth or influential connections who can advance his career. In The Happy Return, the first novel published, Hornblower's age is given as 37 in July 1808, implying a birth year of 1770 or 1771. However, when Forester decided to write about Hornblower's early career in the sixth novel Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, he made his hero about five years younger, giving his birth date as 4 July 1776 (the date of the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence). This adjustment allows Hornblower to begin his career in wartime.[7] He is given a classical education, and by the time he joins the Royal Navy at age seventeen, he is well-versed in Greek and Latin. He is tutored in French by a penniless French émigré and has an aptitude for mathematics, which serves him well as a navigator.

Early career[edit]

Hornblower's early exploits are many and varied. He joins the Royal Navy as a midshipman where he is horribly bullied and tries to resolve the matter with a duel. He is then transferred to HMS Indefatigable under Edward Pellew and distinguishes himself. He fends off fire ships which interrupt his (failing) first examination for promotion to lieutenant. He is given command of the sloop Le Rêve while still only an acting lieutenant; the vessel blunders into a Spanish fleet in the fog, resulting in Hornblower's capture and imprisonment in Ferrol. During his captivity, he acquires a fluent knowledge of both Galician and Spanish, which proves highly useful in several further adventures, and is finally confirmed as a commissioned lieutenant. He leads a daring rescue of Spanish civilians from a shipwreck under extremely hazardous conditions, which leads to his being picked up by a British warship patrolling offshore; but since he had given his Spanish captors his parole that he would not escape, he insists upon being returned to captivity. The Spanish, admiring his sense of honour, release him in recognition of his "courage and self-sacrifice in saving life at the peril of [his] own".

As a junior lieutenant, he serves in HMS Renown under Captain Sawyer, whose bouts of paranoia on a mission to the Caribbean strain discipline to breaking point. It is on this voyage that he begins his long friendship with William Bush, at the time his senior in rank. Due to his exploits, Hornblower is made commander, but his promotion is not confirmed when he returns to England following the announcement of the Peace of Amiens, causing him great financial distress: he has to make up the difference between a commander's pay and a lieutenant's, all from his half pay while inactive. He is forced to resort to playing whist with admirals and other senior figures in an officers' club for a modest stipend; all wins (and losses) are his responsibility. Fortunately, his skill at whist is up to the task.

HMS Hotspur[edit]

In 1803, renewed hostilities against France seem imminent, and Hornblower is confirmed in the rank of commander, and appointed captain of the sloop-of-war HMS Hotspur. Before sailing, he marries Maria, the daughter of his landlady, despite his doubts about the match. Maria dotes upon the irritable Hornblower in ways that he finds vexing; she knows little of the sea, and annoys him both with her ignorance and hero-worship of him, which clashes with his eternally low self-image. Despite this unfortunate beginning, however, he warms to her over the course of several books, and becomes a good (though not perfect) husband to her and father to their two children, also named Horatio and Maria.

After gruelling service during the blockade of Brest aboard Hotspur, he is promised a momentous promotion to post captain by Commander-in-Chief William Cornwallis and is recalled to England. Once there, he meets the Secretary of the Admiralty and the rank is conferred when Hornblower agrees to take part in a dangerous clandestine operation that eventually leads to the resounding British victory at Trafalgar.

HMS Atropos[edit]

Following this exploit, Hornblower is given command of the sixth-rate ship HMS Atropos. His first task is to organise Nelson's funeral procession along the River Thames and has to deal with the near-sinking of the barge conveying the hero's coffin.

After this, Atropos is ordered the join the British Mediterranean fleet and Hornblower is sent on a secret mission to recover gold and silver from a sunken British transport on the bottom of Marmorice Bay within the Ottoman Empire with the aid of pearl divers from Ceylon. The operation is successful but the Turks become aware of it and Hornblower narrowly escapes a Turkish warship intent on capturing the gold.

After unloading the treasure at Gibraltar, Atropos and another British warship capture a large Spanish frigate after a desperate battle. In the friendly port of Palermo, Hornblower oversees the repair of Atropos' battle damage. But just as this work is finished, the ship is given to the King of the Two Sicilies for diplomatic reasons, much to his disappointment. Returning to England, he finds his two young children dying of smallpox. Their deaths were referred to in the first novel to be published.

HMS Lydia[edit]

Later (in the time line, but written of in the first novel), he makes a long, difficult voyage in command of the frigate HMS Lydia round the Horn to the Pacific, where his mission is to support a megalomaniac, El Supremo, in his rebellion against the Spanish. He captures Natividad, a much more powerful Spanish ship (Bush refers to it as a "ship of the line", although Hornblower believes this is stretching a point), but then has to cede it reluctantly to El Supremo to placate him. When he finds that the Spanish have switched sides in the interim, he is forced to find and sink the ship he had captured—adding injury to insult, as he had given up a fortune in prize money to maintain the uneasy alliance with the madman.

Hornblower also takes on an important passenger in Panama—Lady Barbara Wellesley, the fictional younger sister of Arthur Wellesley (later to become the Duke of Wellington)—also Hornblower's future wife and the love of his life. He is at first nettled and infuriated by her forthright and outspoken manner, her ability to see easily through his reserve, and the great social gap between them. Over time, however, her beauty, strength, and intelligence win his heart, and the two become dangerously attracted to each other. Before things get out of hand, Hornblower informs Lady Barbara that he is married. She leaves the Lydia two days later when they rendezvous with other British ships. Hornblower fears for his career, having offended "the daughter of an earl, the sister of a marquis".

HMS Sutherland[edit]

After these exploits, he is given command of HMS Sutherland, a seventy-four gun ship of the line. His feelings are disturbed during this period by the fact that his commander, Admiral Leighton, has recently married Lady Barbara, thereby apparently ending any hope that she and Hornblower might act on their feelings for one another. Hornblower is tormented by jealousy of Leighton, compounded by the admiral's dismissive treatment of him.

While waiting at his Mediterranean rendezvous point for the rest of his squadron—and its commander—to arrive, he carries out a series of raids against the French along the south coast of Spain, earning himself the nickname "the terror of the Mediterranean". After saving Admiral Leighton's flagship, HMS Pluto, which becomes dismasted in stormy seas, from the French battery at Rosas, he learns that a French squadron of four ships of the line has slipped the blockade at Toulon. He decides that his duty requires that he fight them at one-to-four odds to prevent them from entering a well-protected harbour. In the process, his ship is crippled, and with two-thirds of the crew incapacitated (including Lt. Bush) he surrenders to the French, not before, however, severely crippling three of the French ships and damaging the fourth. As a prisoner in Rosas, he witnesses the destruction of the French ships at anchor by Leighton's squadron.

He is sent with his coxswain, Brown, and his injured first lieutenant, Bush, to Paris for a show trial and execution. During the journey, Hornblower and his companions escape. After a winter sojourn at the chateau of the Comte de Graçay, during which he has an affair with the nobleman's widowed daughter-in-law, the escapees travel down the Loire river to the coastal city of Nantes. There, he recaptures a Royal Navy cutter, the Witch of Endor, mans the vessel with a commandeered gang of slave labourers, and escapes to the Channel Fleet.

As a further indication of Hornblower's success, Lt. Bush is promoted into Witch of Endor as commander (returning with despatches to England), and shortly thereafter to post captain, with "the dockyard job at Sheerness waiting for [him]."

When Hornblower arrives home, he discovers that his first wife Maria has died in childbirth, but the baby boy survived and Lady Barbara (now widowed after Admiral Leighton died of wounds sustained during the attack on Rosas Hornblower had observed as a prisoner) has taken charge of the child, with her brothers Lords Wellesley and Wellington as godfathers.

Hornblower faces a mandatory court-martial for the loss of the Sutherland, but is "most honourably acquitted." A national hero in the eyes of the public, and a useful propaganda tool for various politicians, not to mention the Prince Regent, he is made a Knight of the Order of the Bath and appointed a Colonel of Marines (a sinecure which confers a salary without any additional duties).

Hornblower and Lady Barbara are now free (after a decent interval) to marry. They move to the fictional village of Smallbridge, Kent, where Hornblower, the new lord of the manor, longs for the sea.

Flag officer[edit]

A return to duty comes when he is appointed to be commodore and sent with a squadron of small craft on a mission to the Baltic Sea, where he must be a diplomat as much as an officer. He foils an assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander I of Russia and is influential in the monarch's decision to resist the French invasion of the Russian Empire. While at the court of the Tsar, it is implied (but not explicitly confirmed) that he is unfaithful to Barbara, dallying with a young Russian noblewoman. He provides invaluable assistance in the siege of Riga, employing his bomb-ketches against the French army, where he meets General Carl von Clausewitz of the Prussian Army.

He returns ill with typhus to England. Soon after his recovery, he is given the difficult task of dealing with mutineers off the coast of France. After provoking the French by trickery into attacking the mutinous ship, he rounds up the rebels, personally shooting their ringleader as he tries to escape. When he is approached by a French official willing to negotiate the surrender of a major port, he seizes the opportunity and engineers the return of the Bourbons to France. He is rewarded by being created a peer as Baron Hornblower of Smallbridge in the County of Kent. However, his satisfaction is marred by the death in action of his long-time friend, Bush.

When Napoleon returns from exile at the start of the Hundred Days, Hornblower is staying at the estate of the Comte de Graçay, which he was visiting after again growing tired of his life in Smallbridge. While there, he renews his affair with Marie de Gracay, so that he has now been unfaithful, with her, to both of his wives. When the French Army goes over to Napoleon en masse, Hornblower, the Count, and his family choose to fight rather than flee to Britain. He leads a Royalist guerrilla force, and causes the returned Emperor's forces much grief before his band is finally cornered; in a desperate shootout, Marie is slain, and a devastated Hornblower captured. After a brusque hearing before a military tribunal, he and the Count are both sentenced to the firing squad the next morning by an officer who obviously regrets the task. However, in the morning when his cell door is opened, he is granted a stay due to Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon had tried to stir up support for a renewed national resistance when he arrived in Paris after Waterloo, but the temper of the legislative chambers, and of the public generally, did not favour his view. Lacking support, Napoleon abdicates and after he is again sent into exile, Hornblower is released.

After several years ashore, he is promoted to rear admiral and appointed naval Commander-in-Chief of the West Indies. He foils an attempt by veterans of Napoleon's Imperial Guard to free Napoleon from his captivity on Saint Helena, captures a slave ship, and encounters Simón Bolívar's army. He also discovers a plot by Lady Barbara to engineer the escape of a Marine bandsman sentenced to death for a minor offence. An astonished Hornblower overlooks her breach of the law and reassures her of his love. Finally, while attempting to return to England, the Hornblowers are caught in a hurricane, and Horatio struggles desperately to save Barbara's life from the storm. In a moment of terror and desperation, she bares her heart to him, revealing that she never loved her first husband, only him. The two survive, and this revelation does much to heal the last self-inflicted wounds in Hornblower's soul. He retires to Kent and eventually becomes Admiral of the Fleet.

His final, improbable achievement occurs at his home, when he assists a seemingly mad man claiming to be Napoleon to travel to France. That person turns out to be Napoleon III, the nephew of Hornblower's great nemesis and the future President (and later Emperor in his own right) of France. For his assistance, Lord Hornblower is created a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. At the end of his long and heroic career, he is wealthy, famous and contented, a loving and beloved, indulgent husband and father, and finally free of the insecurities and self-loathing that had driven him throughout his life.

Forester provides two different brief summaries of Hornblower's career. The first was in the first chapter of The Happy Return, which was the first Hornblower novel written. The second occurs midway through The Commodore, when Czar Alexander asks him to describe his career. The two accounts are incompatible. The first account would have made Hornblower about five years older than the second. The second account is more nearly compatible with the rest of Hornblower's career, but it omits the time he spent as a commander in Hornblower and the Hotspur. There are other discrepancies as well; in one account of his defeat of a Spanish frigate in the Mediterranean, he distinguished himself as lieutenant and in another he is a post-captain with less than three years seniority. It appears that these discrepancies arose as the series matured and accounts needed to be modified to coincide with his age and career. Likewise, Forester disregarded the strict Royal Navy practice of only promoting officers based on seniority as post-captain; Hornblower becomes a post-captain in 1805, is a rear admiral before Napoleon's death in May 1821, and is Admiral of the Fleet in 1848 before Napoleon III took power in France. In actuality the Navy List reflecting the first promotions to rear admiral after Napoleon's death[8] shows captains holding that rank since 1797 still awaiting promotion to rear-admiral and as of the compilation of the Royal Naval Biography[9] a few years later those who "made post" in 1805 were still well down the queue; the actual Admiral of the Fleet in 1848 was James Hawkins-Whitshed, who had become a captain in 1780, and no one who had become a captain after 1801 was named Admiral of the Fleet until 1864.

Non-canonical biography[edit]

C. Northcote Parkinson wrote a fictional biography of Hornblower with the encouragement of C. S. Forester's widow, detailing his career as well as personal information. It corrects or elucidates some questionable points in the novels, and includes a confession that Hornblower kicked Captain Sawyer down the hatchway of the Renown. It adds subsequent careers of Lord Hornblower's relatives, ending with the present Viscount Hornblower's emigration to South Africa in the late 1960s. According to Parkinson, Hornblower in later life became a director of P&O, Governor of Malta (1829–1831), Commander in Chief at Chatham (1832–1835), a viscount (in 1850), and Admiral of the Fleet, dying at the age of 80 on 12 January 1857.[10]

This biography has confused some readers, who have taken it as a factual work.[2] Parkinson includes in Horatio's family tree a number of real-life Hornblowers. They include:


The Hornblower canon by Forester consists of eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories. In addition, The Hornblower Companion includes maps showing where the action took place in the ten complete novels plus Forester's notes on how they were written.

UK title Story dates UK date of first publication[11][12] UK publisher US title US date of first publication[13] US publisher Notes
The Happy Return June – December 1808 4 February 1937 Michael Joseph Beat to Quarters 6 April 1937 Little Brown Novel
A Ship of the Line April – November 1810 4 April 1938 Michael Joseph Ship of the Line 18 March 1938 Little Brown Novel
Flying Colours December 1810 – June 1811 1 November 1938 Michael Joseph Flying Colours 3 January 1939 Little Brown Novel
"Hornblower and His Majesty" 1813 March 1941 Argosy (UK) "Hornblower and His Majesty" 23 March 1940 Collier's Short story
"Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny" 1796 April 1941 Argosy (UK) "The Hand of Destiny" 23 November 1940 Collier's Short story
"Hornblower's Charitable Offering" July 1810 May 1941 Argosy (UK) "The Bad Samaritan" 18 January 1941 Argosy (US) Short story intended as a chapter of A Ship of the Line
The Commodore April – December 1812 12 March 1945 Michael Joseph Commodore Hornblower 21 May 1945 Little Brown Novel
Lord Hornblower October 1813 – July 1815 11 June 1946 Michael Joseph Lord Hornblower 24 September 1946 Little Brown Novel
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower January 1794 – February 1799 22 May 1950 Michael Joseph Mr. Midshipman Hornblower 13 March 1950 Little Brown Novel
"Hornblower and the Big Decision" November 1799 – July 1800 April 1951 Argosy (UK) "Hornblower's Temptation" 9 December 1950 The Saturday Evening Post Short story subsequently published as "Hornblower and the Widow McCool" in Hornblower and the Crisis
Lieutenant Hornblower August 1800 – March 1803 11 February 1952 Michael Joseph Lieutenant Hornblower 27 March 1952 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Atropos December 1805 – September 1806 9 November 1953 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Atropos 10 September 1953 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower in the West Indies May 1821 – July 1823 29 September 1958 Michael Joseph Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies 28 August 1958 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Hotspur April 1803 – May 1805 27 July 1962 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Hotspur 1 August 1962 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower Companion, The The Hornblower Companion 99999 4 December 1964 Michael Joseph The Hornblower Companion 6 December 1964 Little Brown Supplementary book comprising "The Hornblower Atlas" and "Some Personal Notes"
Hornblower and the Crisis May – June 1805 4 June 1967 Michael Joseph Hornblower During the Crisis 8 November 1967 Little Brown Unfinished novel plus "Hornblower and the Widow McCool" and "The Last Encounter"
"The Last Encounter" September – December 1848 4 June 1967 Michael Joseph "The Last Encounter" April 1967 Argosy (US) Short story subsequently published in Hornblower and the Crisis

Another short story, "The Point and the Edge", is included only as an outline in The Hornblower Companion.

Diagram showing years covered by the Hornblower stories and years of publication in a grid.
The Hornblower stories: years of publication, years covered in the stories, and ranks held by Hornblower. Where there are inconsistencies between stories, the novels are preferred over the short stories and The Hornblower Companion. Actual dates of promotions beyond Captain cannot be deduced from the stories.

The relationship between the year of publication of the stories and the historical years covered is illustrated in the diagram.

Omnibus publications[edit]

The first three novels written, The Happy Return, A Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours were collected as Captain Horatio Hornblower (1939) by Little Brown in the US. Both a single-volume edition and a three-volume edition (in a slip case) were published.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, and Hornblower and the Atropos were compiled in one book, variously titled Hornblower's Early Years, Horatio Hornblower Goes to Sea, or The Young Hornblower. Hornblower and the Atropos was replaced by Hornblower and the Hotspur in later UK editions of The Young Hornblower.

Hornblower and the Atropos, The Happy Return, and A Ship of the Line were compiled into one omnibus edition, called Captain Hornblower.

Flying Colours, The Commodore, Lord Hornblower, and Hornblower in the West Indies were presented as a third omnibus edition called Admiral Hornblower to fill out the series.

Commodore Hornblower, Lord Hornblower, and Hornblower in the West Indies were also compiled into one book, called The Indomitable Hornblower.

Four "Cadet Editions" were released by Little Brown and later by Michael Joseph, each collecting two Hornblower novels and edited for younger readers: Hornblower Goes to Sea (1953, 1954), from Mr. Midshipman Hornblower and Lieutenant Hornblower; Hornblower Takes Command (1953, 1954), from Hornblower and The Atropos and Beat To Quarters; Hornblower in Captivity (1939, 1955), from A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours; and Hornblower's Triumph (1946, 1955), from Commodore Hornblower and Lord Hornblower.

The short stories "The Hand of Destiny", "Hornblower's Charitable Offering", and "Hornblower and His Majesty" plus other Hornblower material not previously published in book-form were collected in Hornblower One More Time (4 July 1976) though only 350 copies were printed.[14]

As of June 2017 Amazon offers an electronic (Kindle) omnibus, Hornblower Addendum, consisting of the stories: "Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny", "Hornblower and the Widow McCool", "Hornblower's Charitable Offering", "Hornblower and His Majesty", and "The Last Encounter", although two of these are also included in the book Hornblower During the Crisis.


The Hornblower novels were all serialised in US periodicals and most also in UK periodicals. Except for the first novel Beat to Quarters, the serialisations appeared before the books.

US title Story dates US serial dates[15] US Parts US magazine UK serial dates[15] UK Parts UK magazine
Beat to Quarters June – December 1808 17 September 1938 – 22 October 1938 6 Argosy (US) May 1949 1 Argosy (UK)
Ship of the Line April – November 1810 26 February – 2 April 1938 6 Argosy (US)
Flying Colours December 1810 – June 1811 3 December 1938 – 7 January 1939 6 Argosy (US)
Commodore Hornblower April – December 1812 24 March – 12 May 1945 8 The Saturday Evening Post
Lord Hornblower October 1813 – June 1815 18 May – 6 July 1946 8 The Saturday Evening Post
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower January 1794 – February 1799 6 March 1948 – 11 March 1950 9 The Saturday Evening Post August 1948 – June 1950 10 Argosy (UK)
Lieutenant Hornblower August 1800 – March 1803 15 September – 17 November 1951 9 The Saturday Evening Post 6 October 1951 – 12 January 1952 10 John Bull
Hornblower and the Atropos December 1805 – September 1806 25 July – 12 September 1953 8 The Saturday Evening Post 3 October – 28 November 1953 9 John Bull
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies May 1821 – July 1823 11 May 1957 – 26 April 1958 10 The Saturday Evening Post 25 May 1957 – 13 September 1958 13 John Bull
Hornblower and the Hotspur April 1803 – May 1805 October 1962 1 Argosy (US) 24 February – 7 April 1962 7 Today
Hornblower During the Crisis May – June 1805 16 – 30 July 1966 2 The Saturday Evening Post

Historical figures in the novels[edit]

Royal Navy figures[edit]

Other historical figures[edit]

Rank and ships[edit]

Story Rank Ship
Name Type Guns
No Main type
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Midshipman Justinian 3rd rate 74 32 lb cannon
Indefatigable 5th rate 44 24 lb cannon
Marie Galante Merchant brig
Acting lieutenant Indefatigable 5th rate 44 24 lb cannon
Caroline Transport brig
Le Reve Sloop 4 4 lb cannon
"The Hand of Destiny" Lieutenant Marguerite 5th rate 36 18 lb cannon
"Hornblower and the Widow McCool" Renown 3rd rate 74 24 lb cannon
Lieutenant Hornblower
Temporary commander Retribution Sloop of war 18 9 lb cannon
Hornblower and the Hotspur Commander Hotspur Sloop of war 20 9 lb cannon
"Hornblower and the Crisis"
Princess Water hoy
Hornblower and the Atropos Post captain Atropos 6th rate 22 12 lb carronades
The Happy Return Lydia 5th rate 36 18 lb cannon
A Ship of the Line Sutherland 3rd rate 74 24 lb cannon
Flying Colours Witch of Endor Cutter 10 6 lb cannon
The Commodore Nonsuch 3rd rate 74 24 lb cannon
Lotus Sloop of war ? 9 lb cannon
Raven Sloop of war ? 9 lb cannon
Clam Cutter ? ?
Harvey Bomb-ketch 2 13″ mortars
Moth Bomb-ketch 2 13″ mortars
"Hornblower and His Majesty" Augusta Royal yacht 6 6 lb cannon
Lord Hornblower Porta Coeli Brig 18 12 lb carronades
Flame Brig 18 12 lb carronades
Hornblower in the West Indies
  • Rear-admiral of the White
  • Rear-admiral of the Red
Crab Schooner 2 6 lb cannon
Clorinda 5th rate ? ?
Pretty Jane Packet brig

In other media[edit]

Screen adaptations[edit]

Radio adaptations[edit]

  • Michael Redgrave played Hornblower in a radio series of the same name between 1952 and 1953, later rebroadcast over Mutual in the United States syndicated via Towers of London.[18]
  • Nicholas Fry played Hornblower in the radio series The Hornblower Story in 1979/80 for the BBC (20 x 30mins).[19] This series covers the books, Mr Midshipman Hornblower, Lieutenant Hornblower, Hornblower and the Hotspur and Lord Hornblower.

Literary appearances[edit]

  • In the fictional setting of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, Hornblower is the equivalent of Lord Nelson, with The Black Dossier (2007) depicting Hornblower's Column as one of London's most popular landmarks.
  • A "biography", called The life and times of Horatio Hornblower, was published in 1970 by C. Northcote Parkinson which gives various scholarly "corrections" to the stories told by Hornblower's creator.[10]
  • In Dudley Pope's 1965 novel Ramage, Hornblower is mentioned in passing as a former shipmate of the title character, Lord Ramage, when both were midshipmen.
  • Sten Nadolny's 1983 novel The Discovery of Slowness contains allusions to the Hornblower cycle. For instance, the Lydia is written among other vessels in a sailor's bar in Plymouth. Lieutenant Gerard who appears in The Happy Return and A Ship of the Line is mentioned several times.
  • In Dewey Lambdin's King, Ship, and Sword, the main character Alan Lewrie (another fictional British captain of the era) makes a visit to the Admiralty and takes particular note of a tall, thin lieutenant in a threadbare uniform with a melancholy expression. While the lieutenant's name is never mentioned, he displays several of Hornblower's best known characteristics, and the state of a penniless lieutenant fits with the events at the end of Lieutenant Hornblower (this scene takes place during the Peace of Amiens).


Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, "I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know,"[20] and Winston Churchill stated, "I find Hornblower admirable."[21]

The popular Richard Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell were inspired by the Hornblower series; Cornwell avidly read the series as a child, and was disappointed to learn that there was no similar series chronicling the Napoleonic Wars on land.[22]

The first of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels was commissioned by an editor at American publisher J. B. Lippincott & Co., who thought that it was likely that O'Brian could write more novels in the Hornblower genre.[23]

The Richard Bolitho series by Douglas Reeman (writing as Alexander Kent) has drawn him acclaim "as the true heir to the highly successfully C. S. Forester [author of the Horatio Hornblower series of sea adventures]."[24]

Dudley Pope was encouraged by C. S. Forester to create his Lord Ramage series of novels set around the same period.[25]

Gene Roddenberry was influenced by the Hornblower character while creating the Star Trek characters James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. Nicholas Meyer, director of some of the Star Trek films, frequently cites Horatio Hornblower as one of his primary influences.[26][27]

David Weber's character Honor Harrington closely parallels Hornblower, and Weber deliberately gave her the same initials.[28] Like Hornblower, Harrington comes from a modest background, lacking patronage of any sort, and throughout the series accrues promotions, peerages, and other honours, rising to the rank of admiral.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga uses the Hornblower series as a structural model.[29]

The astronauts of the 1972 Apollo 17 mission to the Moon named a small crater near the landing site Horatio in honour of Horatio Hornblower.[30]

In 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter gave his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination on August 14. This was notable for his gaffe intended to be a tribute to Hubert Humphrey, whom he referred to as "Hubert Horatio Hornblower".[31]


  1. ^ Parkinson, C. Northcote (1970). The True Story of Horatio Hornblower. London: Michael Joseph. ISBN 0750934395.
  2. ^ a b National Maritime Museum: "Horatio Hornblower". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  3. ^ a b c Forester, C. S. (1964). The Hornblower Companion. London: Michael Joseph.
  4. ^ Nicholas Meyer (20 August 2009). The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood. Penguin Publishing Group. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-101-13347-7.
  5. ^ Stefan Rabitsch (6 December 2018). Star Trek and the British Age of Sail: The Maritime Influence Throughout the Series and Films. McFarland. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-4766-3419-7.
  6. ^ Holmes, Rachel (2014). Eleanor Marx: A Life. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781408852897.
  7. ^ C. Northcote Parkinson in his "biography" called The True Story of Horatio Hornblower gives slight scholarly corrections to various aspects of Hornblower's life as narrated by his creator. For example, Parkinson says his father was an apothecary rather than a physician.
  8. ^ HathiTrust, Google-digitized Navy List of December 1821 from the University of Michigan library (pages 4-6)
  9. ^ Marshall, John (1823–1835). "Index" . Royal Naval Biography. London: Longman and company. (has captains listed by seniority)
  10. ^ a b The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower by C. Northcote Parkinson, Michael Joseph, 1970
  11. ^ The Observer, dates of novel publication, London.
  12. ^ The Manchester Guardian, dates of novel publication.
  13. ^ The New York Times, dates of novel publication
  14. ^ Sternlicht, Sanford V. (1 October 1999). C. S. Forester and the Hornblower Saga. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-0621-5. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  15. ^ a b Contento, William G. "The FictionMags Index". Archived from the original on 28 January 2013. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  16. ^ "Review @ Classic Film Guide". Retrieved 2006-08-17.
  17. ^ "CTVA US Anthology – Alcoa Premier". CTVA. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  18. ^ "oldradioworld.com page of Hornblower radio drama". Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  19. ^ http://www.radioechoes.com/?page=series&genre=Drama&series=The%20Hornblower%20Story
  20. ^ Books: Napoleon's Nemesis Time Magazine, 28 May 1945. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  21. ^ Winston Churchill, The Grand Alliance, p. 382. "I find Hornblower admirable – vastly entertaining". He relates that "this caused perturbation in Middle East Headquarters, where they imagined that 'Hornblower' was the code word for some special operation of which they had not been told." After the war this was naturally used as an excellent "blurb" by Forester's publishers.
  22. ^ Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Story, 2007, p.11
  23. ^ King, Dean (2000). Patrick O'Brian:A life revealed. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-79255-8.
  24. ^ Smith, Christopher N. (1990). "Alexander Kent". Twentieth-Century romance and historical writers (Twentieth-century writers series). St. James Press. ISBN 978-0912289977.
  25. ^ Mark Winthrop. "Dudley Pope". www.winthrop.dk. Copenhagen, Denmark. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  26. ^ "Becoming Picard (Patrick Stewart interview)". BBC Online (bbc.co.uk).
  27. ^ "Rambles: C. S. Forester, Hornblower & the Hotspur". Rambles.
  28. ^ "David Weber interview, Wild Violet online magazine". wildviolet.net. Spring 2007.
  29. ^ Houlahan, Mike. "Interview 1 April 2003". Retrieved 23 April 2011.
  30. ^ The Valley of Taurus-Littrow, Apollo 17 Lunar Surface Journal, Corrected Transcript and Commentary Copyright 1995 by Eric M. Jones
  31. ^ "Carter Blows the Horn Of the Wrong Horatio". The New York Times. August 15, 1980.

External links[edit]