Horatio Hornblower

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Horatio Hornblower is a fictional officer in the Royal Navy, created by C.S. Forester, apparently drawn, in part, on Horatio Nelson and Thomas Cochrane (Lord Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald).[1] [2]

Forester, a pseudonym for Cecil Louis Troughton Smith, wrote many nautical works, some fictional and some not, some under his name and others under pseudonyms such as . The Hornblower works were the best-known written under that name, although he also wrote a shorter series on the Peninsular War.

The Hornblower character became the standard for naval historical writing; other authors' works, both Napoleonic era historical fiction such as the Aubrey-Maturin series, and science fiction about future navies, such as the Star Trek and Honor Harrington universes, often are described as "Hornblower-like".

The books

The nine full novels, and two other Hornblower books by Forester, were not published in order of the character's career. The first novel Forester wrote about Hornblower was published under the somewhat ironic title The Happy Return. It took place in the middle of his career, as a junior captain on an independent command. It took place in the Pacific Ocean, complicated by Spain switching from being allied to Napoleon Bonaparte's France, to being an ally of the United Kingdom.

Other books take the reader back to his first days in the navy, and to the highest ranks. Hornblower and the Crisis is a collection of stories and novelettes, with vignettes from his midshipman days, to a story in his retirement as Admiral of the Fleet. Forester also wrote The Hornblower Companion, a guide to the series written as a biography of the fictional character.

Order of main books
Order in character life Publication date Character rank
Midshipman Hornblower 1950 Midshipman and lieutenant
Lieutenant Hornblower 1952 Lieutenant and commander§
Hornblower and the Hotspur 1962 Commander, fifth-rate sloop HMS Hotspur and junior captain§
Hornblower and the Atropos 1953 Junior captain, fourth-rate sloop HMS Atropos'
The Happy Return/Beat to Quarters 1937 Mid-level captain (frigate, HMS Lydia)
Ship of the Line 1938 Senior captain third-rate ship, HMS Sutherland
Flying Colours 1939 French prisoner and escapee; briefly HMS Witch of Endor
Lord Hornblower 1945 Temporary commodore; squadron & shore command
Commodore Hornblower 1946 Commodore
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies 1958 Rear admiral
§ Promotion at end of the book.

Hornblower the man

Even though the books are full of desperate fighting, the longest-running and most complex battle is inside Hornblower's mind. While he is immensely able, he is troubled by insecurity. While he has strong emotions, he almost always hides them.

The reader sees his emotions, most prominently in desperate situations shared with his great love, Lady Barbara, and also, in muted form, with his most trusted companions, William Bush, his once superior officer and then devoted subordinate, and his enlisted coxswain, servant and friend, Brown. Over his career, he collects a core of junior officers of great merit, mentoring them and agonizing over losses.

He gained a great reputation for competence, and, unusual for the time, was popular with the enlisted crews; he would, in Commodore Hornblower, be the only senior officer with whom mutineers would be willing to talk. He had strong command presence, but was not particularly physically attractive; his athleticism was adequate for hand-to-hand combat but he would regard his sagging belly with distaste. In contrast, his period counterpart Richard Bolitho was judged handsome, and his future unknown protege, Honor Harrington, would be a superbly conditioned athlete. While Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek as "Hornblower in Space", the introspective Captain Jean-Luc Picard is much closer to Hornblower in personality and appearance, than the dashing and extroverted James T. Kirk.

Like the real-world Nelson, he was both an outstanding seaman, and a human being who could be seasick while still at the dock. He is younger than Nelson, and, indeed, in Hornblower and the Atropos, commands the naval component of Nelson's state funeral.


Hornblower was sufficiently realistic to earn an independent biography by C. Northkote Parkinson, The life and times of Horatio Hornblower: a biography of C.S. Forester's famous naval hero.[2]

Perhaps the best known derivative series is the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, also called Master and Commander. The Richard Bolitho series is another, written by Douglas Freeman under the pen name Alexander Kent.

A contemporary science-fiction universe, created by David Weber around the Honor Harrington character and now used by multiple writers, is acknowledged to be based on Hornblower. The duplication of character name initials is not coincidental.

Gene Roddenberry described Star Trek as, amongst other things, "Hornblower in space"[3] A similar description has been applied to David Feintuch's HOPE series.

Film and television

In 1951 Raoul Walsh directed Gregory Peck in Captain Horatio Hornblower. Starting in 1998, the BBC made a series of four adaptations of the Hornblower series starring Ioan Gruffudd.


  1. James Donaldson Collins, The Greatest Man Afloat, Writings, Essays and Stories
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cyril Northcote Parkinson (2005), The life and times of Horatio Hornblower: a biography of C.S. Forester's famous naval hero, McBooks Press, ISBN 1590130650, pp. 118-119, 168, 286
  3. Gerrold, David (1984-05). The World of Star Trek, Revised. Bluejay. ISBN 0312944632.