The Relationship between Admiral Lord Nelson and Mr. Rochester

The Hero of Trafalgar also has a relationship of sorts to Jane Eyre, Heathcliffe and Kathy, and Agnes Grey. Yes, those characters inhabit novels which were written by three talented sisters decades after the death of Admiral Nelson in October of 1805. He did not know the sisters, in fact they were all born more than ten years after his death. And yet, thanks to Charlotte, Emily and Anne, the name of Nelson’s favorite title lives on, even if it has lost its association with him.

Admiral Nelson loved his various titles, honors and awards. In fact, he loved them so much, they cost him his life. He always wore all his medals and ribbons on his jacket, even on that fatal day, 21 October 1805. He walked the deck of HMS Victory with Captain Thomas Hardy, directing the Battle of Trafalgar with his coat covered with all his decorations. Decorations which made a perfect target for a French sniper in the mizzen top of the Redoubtable which engaged Victory. Unfortunately for the French, Nelson had fully briefed all of his captains on his battle plan. Brave and determined men, his band of brothers, they vigorously executed his plan even after he had fallen and won the day. The Battle of Trafalgar was Nelson’s greatest victory, and secured England against invasion by Napoleon by breaking the back of the French fleet.

But Trafalgar was not Nelson’s only victory. He won another important victory in Aboukir Bay, known to history as the Battle of the Nile, the night of 1 – 2 August 1798. By destroying the French fleet at the mouth of the Nile, he effectively stranded the French army in Egypt, headed by one General Bonaparte. The victory at Aboukir Bay also tipped the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean in favor of the British. The European countries on the shores of what had once been "the French Lake" were grateful for this change. One of those grateful countries was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

Several month later, Nelson’s fleet sailed in to the Bay of Naples in time to help put down the revolution against the Bourbon monarchs of Naples and Sicily, King Ferdinand I and Queen Maria Carolina. Maria Carolina was an Austrian Archduchess and sister to the murdered Queen Marie Antoinette of France. She hated the French, and was grateful for any support the British might render to her tiny nation. And one of her friends was the wife of the British ambassador to the Court of Naples, Lady Emma Hamilton.

In England, Nelson was granted the title Baron Nelson in recognition of his victory at Aboukir Bay. But he was disappointed at being made a mere baron for such a decisive victory when others had received greater titles for lesser victories. However, Ferdinand and Maria Carolina were so grateful for the support and assistance which Nelson provided that they conferred upon him the title of Duke of Bronte. No Englishman could use a foreign title without the permission of the King. Nelson successfully petitioned King George III for the right to use the title of his Sicilian dukedom. From that day forward, he signed himself either "Bronte" or "Nelson & Bronte," on all his correspondence and other documents, even though he continues to be known to history simply as Nelson.

Sometime before 1814, nearly ten years after the death of Admiral Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte, one Patrick Brunty, likely of Ireland and a man of the cloth, changed the spelling of his name. Perhaps he wished to honor the Hero of Trafalgar, the son of a fellow clergyman, or maybe he simply wanted to obscure his own humble origins. For whatever reason, he began to spell his name Brontë. It is not known why he added the dieresis over the terminal "e," but Patrick Brunty became Patrick Brontë and, eventually the father of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. And thanks to the talents of those three ladies, the name of Brontë is known and respected to this day, even if it is no longer widely associated with the diminutive but courageous man who loved his ducal title, Admiral Lord Nelson and Duke of Bronte.

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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4 Responses to The Relationship between Admiral Lord Nelson and Mr. Rochester

  1. Cari Hislop says:

    I’d somehow missed that Nelson thought of himself as Duke of Bronte. It actually makes him seem rather sad…and suggests a self-esteem issue though I suppose in his day any gong would give a man a step up to power and more money which maybe he needed…maybe he craved. I quite like the thought of the Reverend Brunty renaming himself Bronte after Nelson. It was a blessing in any case; Charlotte Brunty doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi as Charlotte Bronte.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I have read at least three different biographies of Nelson, and sad is a good description of him. He definitely had self-esteem issues and was very concerned about his dignity, or other people’s perception of it. I think that may be one of the things which attracted him to Emma Hamilton. She was from a lower-class background and was always trying to increase her consequence with anyone she thought to be important. But at the time he met her, she was an acknowledged beauty, so having her on his arm would certainly increase his consequence. From what I can tell, they never had to put on airs with one another, yet both understood the other’s need to gain the attention of those in power, so it was probably a symbiotic relationship for them.

      And, yes, he was in almost constant need of money, as his family was not wealthy and needed his support. Plus, later in life he was supporting both his wife and his mistress. And Emma wanted the best of everything, all the time. Is it any wonder he left her to “the nation” in his will? He was very short of funds before he sailed away to fight the French off Trafalgar and had nothing to leave her or their daughter, if he should be killed.

      All very sad!

      Regards,
      Kat

  2. Pingback: The "Expunger of Naughtiness" — Thomas Bowdler | The Beau Monde

  3. Pingback: The Relationship between Admiral Lord Nelson and Mr. Rochester | The Beau Monde

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