Horatio Hornblower

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Horatio Hornblower
First appearance The Happy Return (1937)
Last appearance The Last Encounter (1967)
Created by C. S. Forester
Portrayed by Gregory Peck
David Buck
Michael Redgrave
Ioan Gruffudd
NicknameHorry (by his first spouse)
Horny (by his shipmates)
OccupationNaval Officer
SpouseMaria Mason (†)
Lady Barbara Wellesley
ChildrenHoratio Hornblower (†)
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]

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

C. S. Forester British novelist

Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, known by his pen name Cecil Scott "C. S." Forester, was an English novelist known for writing tales of naval warfare, such as the 12-book Horatio Hornblower series depicting a Royal Navy officer during the Napoleonic wars. The Hornblower novels A Ship of the Line and Flying Colours were jointly awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1938. His other works include The African Queen.


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.

<i>The Happy Return</i> book

The Happy Return was the first of the Horatio Hornblower novels published by C. S. Forester. It appeared in 1937. The American name is derived from the expression "beat to quarters", which was the signal to prepare for combat. This book is sixth by internal chronology of the series. Hornblower's past history as narrated in the book does not entirely accord with his history as revealed in the books of the series written later, but Forester never revised the book.

Central America central geographic region of the Americas

Central America is a region found in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated to be between 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.

A midshipman is an officer of the junior-most rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Canada, Australia, Bangladesh, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.


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]

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Royal Navy Admiral

Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica at the age of 36, as well as most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife when he was 40 years of age. He was shot and killed at the age of 47 during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Spanish port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald Royal Navy admiral

Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, Marquess of Maranhão, GCB, ODM, OSC, styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831, was a British naval flag officer of the Royal Navy, mercenary and radical politician. He was a daring and successful captain of the Napoleonic Wars, leading Napoleon to nickname him Le Loup des Mers. He was successful in virtually all his naval actions.

Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth Royal Navy admiral

Admiral Edward Pellew, 1st Viscount Exmouth, GCB was a British naval officer. He fought during the American War of Independence, the French Revolutionary Wars, and the Napoleonic Wars. His younger brother Israel Pellew also pursued a naval career.

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

William Shakespeare 16th and 17th-century English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright, and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of some 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

<i>Hamlet</i> tragedy by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, often shortened to Hamlet, is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare sometime between 1599 and 1602. Set in Denmark, the play depicts Prince Hamlet and his revenge against his uncle, Claudius, who has murdered Hamlet's father in order to seize his throne and marry Hamlet's mother.

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.

The Naval Chronicle was a British periodical published monthly between January, 1799 and December, 1818 (Huntington). It contained information about the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, including biographies, histories, news, and essays on nautical subjects, as well as poems and ballads on a variety of related topics (Jeffery).

Treaty of Ghent December 1814 Peace Treaty ending the War of 1812

The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, United Netherlands. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum, restoring the borders of the two countries to the lines before the war started in June 1812.

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" [4] 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.

Frederick Marryat British writer of sea stories, adventure novels for children; naval captain; magazine editor

Captain Frederick Marryat was a Royal Navy officer, a novelist, and an acquaintance of Charles Dickens. He is noted today as an early pioneer of the sea story, particularly for his semi-autobiographical novel Mr Midshipman Easy (1836), for his children's novel The Children of the New Forest (1847), and for a widely used system of maritime flag signalling known as Marryat's Code.

John "Jack" Aubrey, is a fictional character in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian. The series portrays his rise from lieutenant to rear-admiral in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The twenty -book series encompasses Aubrey's adventures and various commands along his course to flying a rear admiral's flag.

<i>Peter Simple</i> (novel) book by Frederick Marryat

Peter Simple is an 1834 novel written by Frederick Marryat about a young British midshipman during the Napoleonic wars. It was originally published in serialized form in 1833.


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


Hornblower is born in Kent, the son of a doctor. 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. [5] 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

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

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 irritating; 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

Following this exploit, Hornblower is ordered by the Admiralty 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. Later, after being given command of HMS Atropos, he 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, narrowly escaping a Turkish warship at the end. Upon his return to a British-controlled port, after unloading the treasure and refitting his ship, Atropos 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

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 reluctantly cede it 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 and sister of a marquis.

HMS Sutherland

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

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 defence 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 [6] shows captains holding that rank since 1797 still awaiting promotion to rear-admiral and as of the compilation of the Royal Naval Biography [7] 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

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 pushed 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 1858. [8]

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 TitleStory DatesUK Date of First Publication [9] [10] UK PublisherUS TitleUS Date of First Publication [11] US PublisherNotes
The Happy Return June – December 18084 February 1937 Michael Joseph Beat to Quarters 6 April 1937 Little Brown Novel
A Ship of the Line April – November 18104 April 1938 Michael Joseph Ship of the Line 18 March 1938 Little Brown Novel
Flying Colours December 1810 – June 18111 November 1938 Michael Joseph Flying Colours 3 January 1939 Little Brown Novel
"Hornblower and His Majesty"1813March 1941 Argosy (UK) "Hornblower and His Majesty"23 March 1940 Collier's Short story
"Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny"1796April 1941 Argosy (UK) "The Hand of Destiny"23 November 1940 Collier's Short story
"Hornblower's Charitable Offering"July 1810May 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 181212 March 1945 Michael Joseph Commodore Hornblower 21 May 1945 Little Brown Novel
Lord Hornblower October 1813 – July 181511 June 1946 Michael Joseph Lord Hornblower 24 September 1946 Little Brown Novel
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower January 1794 – February 179922 May 1950 Michael Joseph Mr. Midshipman Hornblower 13 March 1950 Little Brown Novel
"Hornblower and the Big Decision"November 1799 – July 1800April 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 180311 February 1952 Michael Joseph Lieutenant Hornblower 27 March 1952 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Atropos December 1805 – September 18069 November 1953 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Atropos 10 September 1953 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower in the West Indies May 1821 – July 182329 September 1958 Michael Joseph Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies 28 August 1958 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Hotspur April 1803 – May 180527 July 1962 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Hotspur 1 August 1962 Little Brown Novel
The Hornblower Companion4 December 1964 Michael Joseph The Hornblower Companion6 December 1964 Little Brown Supplementary book comprising "The Hornblower Atlas" and "Some Personal Notes"
Hornblower and the Crisis May – June 18054 June 1967 Michael Joseph Hornblower During the Crisis 8 November 1967 Little Brown Novel (unfinished) plus "Hornblower and the Widow McCool" and "The Last Encounter"
"The Last Encounter"September – December 18484 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.

Omnibus publications

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. [12]

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 Novel TitleStory DatesUS Serial Dates [13] US PartsUS MagazineUK Serial Dates [13] UK PartsUK Magazine
Beat to QuartersJune – December 180817 September 1938 – 22 October 19386 Argosy (US) May 19491 Argosy (UK)
Ship of the LineApril – November 181026 February – 2 April 19386 Argosy (US)
Flying ColoursDecember 1810 – June 18113 December 1938 – 7 January 19396 Argosy (US)
Commodore HornblowerApril – December 181224 March – 12 May 19458 The Saturday Evening Post
Lord HornblowerOctober 1813 June 181518 May – 6 July 19468 The Saturday Evening Post
Mr. Midshipman HornblowerJanuary 1794 – February 17996 March 1948 – 11 March 19509 The Saturday Evening Post August 1948 – June 195010 Argosy (UK)
Lieutenant HornblowerAugust 1800 – March 180315 September – 17 November 19519 The Saturday Evening Post 6 October 1951 – 12 January 195210 John Bull
Hornblower and the AtroposDecember 1805 – September 180625 July – 12 September 19538 The Saturday Evening Post 3 October – 28 November 19539 John Bull
Admiral Hornblower in the West IndiesMay 1821 – July 182311 May 1957 – 26 April 195810 The Saturday Evening Post 25 May 1957 – 13 September 195813 John Bull
Hornblower and the HotspurApril 1803 – May 1805October 19621 Argosy (US) 24 February – 7 April 19627 Today
Hornblower During the CrisisMay – June 180516 – 30 July 19662 The Saturday Evening Post

Historical figures in the novels

Royal Navy figures

Other historical figures

Rank and ships

NoMain type
Mr. Midshipman HornblowerMidshipmanJustinian3rd rate7432lb cannon
Indefatigable 5th rate4424lb cannon
Marie GalanteMerchant brig
Acting lieutenantIndefatigable5th rate4424lb cannon
CarolineTransport brig
Le ReveSloop44lb cannon
"The Hand of Destiny"LieutenantMarguerite5th rate3618lb cannon
"Hornblower and the Widow McCool"Renown3rd rate7424lb cannon
Lieutenant Hornblower
Acting commanderRetributionSloop of war189lb cannon
Hornblower and the HotspurCommanderHotspurSloop of war209lb cannon
"Hornblower and the Crisis"
PrincessWater hoy
Hornblower and the AtroposPost captainAtropos6th rate2212lb carronades
The Happy ReturnLydia5th rate3618lb cannon
A Ship of the LineSutherland3rd rate7424lb cannon
Flying ColoursWitch of EndorCutter106lb cannon
The CommodoreNonsuch3rd rate7424lb cannon
LotusSloop of war?9lb cannon
RavenSloop of war?9lb cannon
HarveyBomb-ketch213″ mortars
MothBomb-ketch213″ mortars
"Hornblower and His Majesty"AugustaRoyal yacht66lb cannon
Lord HornblowerPorta CoeliBrig1812lb carronades
FlameBrig1812lb carronades
Hornblower in the West Indies
  • Rear-admiral of the Blue?
  • Rear-admiral of the White
  • Rear-admiral of the Red
CrabSchooner26lb cannon
Clorinda5th rate??
Pretty JanePacket brig

In other media

Screen adaptations

Radio adaptations

Literary appearances


Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, "I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know," [17] and Winston Churchill stated, "I find Hornblower admirable." [18]

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. [19]

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. [20]

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]." [21]

Dudley Pope was encouraged by C. S. Forester to create his Lord Ramage series of novels set around the same period. [22]

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. [23] [24]

David Weber's character Honor Harrington closely parallels Hornblower and he deliberately gave her the same initials. [25] Like Hornblower, the reader first meets Harrington in junior command rank, the daughter of doctors from a fairly modest background and lacking patronage of any sort, and throughout the series she accrues promotions, peerages, and other honours. By the time of the most recent novels Harrington is a Fleet Admiral (NATO O-11 equivalent), a duchess, the recipient of two different nations' highest military decorations, and so on.

Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga uses the Hornblower series as a structural model. [26]

The astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission to the moon named a small crater near the landing site Horatio, in honor of Horatio Hornblower.

Related Research Articles

<i>Hornblower</i> (TV series) Series of British television films

Hornblower is the umbrella title of a series of British historical fiction war television films based on three of C. S. Forester's ten novels about the fictional character Horatio Hornblower, a Royal Navy officer during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

<i>Captain Horatio Hornblower</i> 1951 film by Raoul Walsh

Captain Horatio Hornblower is a 1951 British-American naval swashbuckling war film in Technicolor from Warner Bros., produced by Gerry Mitchell, directed by Raoul Walsh, that stars Gregory Peck, Virginia Mayo, Robert Beatty and Terence Morgan.

<i>Lieutenant Hornblower</i> book by C.S. Forester

Lieutenant Hornblower is a Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester. It is the second book in the series chronologically, but the seventh by order of publication.

<i>Hornblower and the Hotspur</i> book by C.S. Forester

Hornblower and the Hotspur is a Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester.

<i>The Commodore</i> book by C.S. Forester

The Commodore is a Horatio Hornblower novel written by C. S. Forester. It was published in the United States under the title Commodore Hornblower.

<i>Hornblower in the West Indies</i> book by C.S. Forester

Hornblower in the West Indies, or alternately Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies, is one of the novels in the series that C. S. Forester wrote about fictional Royal Navy officer Horatio Hornblower.

James Gordon (Royal Navy officer) British Royal Navy officer

Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Alexander Gordon, GCB was a Royal Navy officer. As a volunteer, he fought at the Battle of Groix, at the Battle of the Glorious First of June and at the Battle of Cape St Vincent during the French Revolutionary Wars and then, as a midshipman, served under Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile.

The Examination for Lieutenant is an episode of the British television series Hornblower. It is loosely based on part of Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester. It was released on DVD in the United States under the title The Fire Ships.

<i>Hornblower and the Crisis</i> book by C.S. Forester

Hornblower and the Crisis is a 1967 historical novel by C. S. Forester. It forms part of the Horatio Hornblower series, and as a result of Forester's death in 1966, it was left unfinished. There is a one-page summary of the last several chapters of the book found on the final page, taken from notes left behind from the author. It was the eleventh and last book of the series to be published, but it is fourth in chronological sequence.

<i>Hornblower and the Atropos</i> book by C.S. Forester

Hornblower and the Atropos is a 1953 historical novel by C.S. Forester.

<i>A Ship of the Line</i> book

A Ship of the Line is an historical seafaring novel by C. S. Forester. It follows his fictional hero Horatio Hornblower during his tour as captain of a ship of the line. By internal chronology, A Ship of the Line, which follows The Happy Return, is the seventh book in the series. However, the book, published in 1938, was the second Hornblower novel completed by Forester. It is one of three Hornblower novels adapted into the 1951 British-American film Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N..

<i>Flying Colours</i> (novel) book by C.S. Forester

Flying Colours is a Horatio Hornblower novel by C. S. Forester, originally published 1938 as the third in the series, but now eighth by internal chronology. It describes the adventures of Hornblower and his companions escaping from imprisonment in Napoleonic France and returning to England. It is one of three Hornblower novels adapted into the 1951 British-American film Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N..

Captain William Bush RN is a fictional character in C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. He is Hornblower's best friend, and serves with Hornblower in the Royal Navy prior to the Peace of Amiens and again during the Napoleonic Wars.

Alan Lewrie is the fictional hero and main character of Dewey Lambdin's naval adventure series of novels set during the American and the French Revolutions and the Napoleonic Wars.

The Duchess and the Devil is the third episode of the British television series Hornblower. The episode first aired on 24 February 1999 on ITV. The television story is loosely based on C. S. Forester's novel Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, chapter "Hornblower, the Duchess, and the Devil".

Mutiny is the fifth episode of the British film series Hornblower. It was released on 24 March 2002, nearly three years after the first four films. It is based on the book Lieutenant Hornblower by C.S. Forester.

Loyalty is the seventh film of the British TV film series Hornblower, based on the books by C. S. Forester, particularly Hornblower and the Hotspur. It was released on 5 January 2003, nearly four years after the first four films and nine months after the next two films.

Duty is the eighth and final episode of the British TV series Hornblower, based on the book Hornblower and the Hotspur by C.S. Forester. It was released on 6 January 2003, nearly four years after the first four films, nine months after the next two films, and a day after episode 7: Loyalty.


  1. Parkinson, C. Northcote (1970). The True Story of Horatio Hornblower. London: Michael Joseph. ISBN   0750934395.
  2. 1 2 National Maritime Museum: "Horatio Hornblower". Retrieved 2016-02-09.
  3. 1 2 3 Forester, C. S. (1964). The Hornblower Companion. London: Michael Joseph.
  4. Holmes, Rachel (2014). Eleanor Marx: A Life. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN   9781408852897.
  5. 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.
  6. HathiTrust, Google-digitized Navy List of December 1821 from the University of Michigan library (pages 4-6)
  7. Wikisource: Royal Naval Biography (has captains listed by seniority)
  8. 1 2 The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower by C. Northcote Parkinson, Michael Joseph, 1970
  9. The Observer , dates of novel publication, London.
  10. The Manchester Guardian, dates of novel publication.
  11. The New York Times , dates of novel publication
  12. 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.
  13. 1 2 Contento, William G. "The FictionMags Index" . Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  14. "Review @ Classic Film Guide" . Retrieved 2006-08-17.
  15. "CTVA US Anthology – Alcoa Premier". CTVA. Retrieved 4 October 2017.
  16. "oldradioworld.com page of Hornblower radio drama" . Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  17. Books: Napoleon's Nemesis Time Magazine , 28 May 1945. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  18. 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.
  19. Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Story, 2007, p.11
  20. King, Dean (2000). Patrick O'Brian:A life revealed. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN   0-340-79255-8.
  21. Smith, Christopher N. (1990). "Alexander Kent" . Twentieth-Century romance and historical writers (Twentieth-century writers series). St. James Press. ISBN   978-0912289977.
  22. Mark Winthrop. "Dudley Pope". www.winthrop.dk. Copenhagen, Denmark. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  23. "Becoming Picard (Patrick Stewart interview)". BBC Online (bbc.co.uk).
  24. "Rambles: C. S. Forester, Hornblower & the Hotspur". Rambles.
  25. "David Weber interview, Wild Violet online magazine". wildviolet.net. Spring 2007.
  26. Houlahan, Mike. "Interview 1 April 2003" . Retrieved 23 April 2011.