Where to begin? Well, he didn’t hold a telescope to his blind eye at the Battle of Copenhagen and say: ‘I see no ships’ as is often quoted. What he actually said was: ‘I really do not see the signal’ when he chose to ignore the recall signal issued by Admiral Parker.
But the main reason it is wrong is that Nelson wasn’t totally blind in his right eye. It had been badly damaged by sand and debris thrown in it by a French cannonball at the battle of Calvi in 1794, but he still had some sight.
To all intents and purposes, his damaged eye looked perfectly normal, so much so that Nelson had a problem convincing the Royal Navy that he was eligible for a disability pension.
And that brings us to another myth – Nelson never wore an eyepatch. That is the way most people think of him, that and his empty sleeve, even though it isn’t present on his most famous likeness on top of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Speaking of Trafalgar, this was where Nelson met his Waterloo, so to speak, but his last words were not: ‘Kiss me, Hardy’. They were in fact: ‘Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub’.
Some believe that the first is a misquote anyway and that Nelson actually said: ‘Kismet Hardy’, meaning it was fate, but since Hardy did indeed kiss his commander on the cheek and forehead, it is certain that the popular line is correct. Unless Hardy misheard him.
But returning to Nelson’s actual last words: ‘Drink, drink. Fan, fan. Rub, rub’. This was because he was being fanned and given lemonade to drink after being shot, while the ship’s chaplain massaged his chest to ease the pain.
One final bit of Nelson trivia, he was created the Duke of Bronte by the King of Naples and as a result, a Yorkshire parson who was such an admirer of the great man that he changed his name from Brunty to Brontë. If he hadn’t, today we would instead be celebrating the works of his daughters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brunty.
I’m indebted to the QI Book of General Ignorance as the inspiration for this post.