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Horatio Hornblower

Horatio Hornblower
First appearance The Happy Return (1937)
Last appearance The Last Encounter (1967)
Created by C. S. Forester
Portrayed by Gregory Peck
Michael Redgrave
Ioan Gruffudd
Nickname(s) Horry (by his first spouse)
Gender Male
Occupation Naval Officer
Spouse(s) Maria Mason (†)
Lady Barbara Wellesley
Children Horatio Hornblower (†)
Maria Hornblower (†)
Richard Hornblower
Nationality British

Horatio Hornblower is a fictional Napoleonic Wars era Royal Navy officer who is the protagonist of a series of novels by C. S. Forester. He was later the subject of films, radio and television programs.

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, though later stories would fill 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, knighted as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB), and named the 1st Baron Hornblower.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying, "I recommend Forester to everyone literate I know,"[1] and Winston Churchill stated, "I find Hornblower admirable."[2]


  • Inspirations 1
  • Characteristics 2
  • Fictional biography 3
    • Youth 3.1
    • Early career 3.2
      • HMS Hotspur 3.2.1
      • HMS Atropos 3.2.2
      • HMS Lydia 3.2.3
    • HMS Sutherland 3.3
    • Flag Officer 3.4
    • Non-canonical biography 3.5
  • Bibliography 4
    • Omnibus publications 4.1
    • Serialisation 4.2
  • Historical figures in the novels 5
    • Royal Navy figures 5.1
    • Other historical figures 5.2
  • Ships featured 6
  • In other media 7
    • Screen adaptations 7.1
    • Radio adaptations 7.2
    • Literary appearances 7.3
  • Influence on other fiction 8
    • Napoleonic War series 8.1
    • Science fiction series 8.2
    • Other references 8.3
  • References 9
  • External links 10


There are many parallels between Hornblower and real naval officers of the period, notably Lord Cochrane, 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.[3]

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.[4]

Forester's original inspiration was an old copy of the Naval Chronicle, which described the effective dates of the Treaty of Ghent. Because of the time required to communicate around the world, 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. The burdens that this placed on captains far from home led him to a character struggling with the stresses of a "man alone".[5] 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.


Described as "unhappy and lonely", Hornblower is courageous, intelligent and a skilled seaman; but he is also burdened by his intense reserve, introspection and self-doubt. Despite numerous personal feats of extraordinary skill and cunning, he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears. He consistently ignores or is unaware of the admiration with 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, organize 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 hyper-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 chronic seasickness, especially at the start of his voyages. As a midshipman, he was once sick at the sheltered roadstead of Spithead. His embarrassment haunts him throughout his career. He is tone-deaf and finds music an incomprehensible irritant (in a scene in Hotspur he is unable to recognize 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 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 July 4, 1776 (the date of the adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence). This adjustment allows Hornblower to begin his career in wartime.[6] 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. Joining the Royal Navy as a midshipman, he fends off fire ships which interrupt his first (disastrous) examination for promotion to lieutenant. Still only an acting lieutenant, he is given command of the sloop Le Rêve, which 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 Spanish, which proves highly useful in several further adventures, and is finally confirmed as a commissioned lieutenant. His daring rescue of sailors from a shipwreck under extremely hazardous conditions, and his honourable adherence to the parole he had given, is rewarded by his Spanish captors with his release.

As a junior lieutenant, he serves in HMS Renown under Captain Sawyer, who suffers a breakdown due to paranoid schizophrenia on a trip to the Caribbean. It is on this voyage that he begins his long friendship with William Bush, at the time his senior officer. Returning to England, Hornblower, promoted to acting commander, is demobilized after the peace of Amiens, causing him great financial distress—he resorts to making a living as a professional gambler, playing whist with admirals and other senior figures for a modest income plus any money he wins in the games.

HMS Hotspur

In 1803, he is recalled to active duty and confirmed as commander, and is given command of the sloop of war HMS Hotspur when hostilities resume against Napoleon. Following his appointment to this command, he marries Maria, the daughter of his landlady whom he had met and courted while living on half-pay in Portsmouth. Originally he is written as having mixed feelings about Maria (to the extent of wondering, during the wedding ceremony, whether it is not too late to back out). Maria is portrayed as a somewhat dull woman who dotes upon the irritable Hornblower in ways he finds distressing—she knows little of the sea, and annoys him both with her ignorance and her desire for social status derived from his promotions, as well as her hero-worship of him, which clashes with his eternally low self-image. Despite this unfortunate beginning, however, over the course of several books, he warms to her, and becomes at least a good, if not perfect, husband to her, and father to their first two children, also named Horatio and Maria.

After gruelling service during the blockade of Brest aboard the Hotspur, he finally gains the coveted promotion to Captain, by the assistance of Commander-in-Chief William Cornwallis, and is recalled to England. Once there, he meets the secretary of the Admiralty and post rank is conferred immediately when Hornblower agrees to take part in a clandestine operation that eventually leads to the resounding British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar that costs Nelson his life.

HMS Atropos

Following this exploit, Hornblower is ordered by the Admiralty to organize 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, the HMS 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 madman, El Supremo, in his rebellion against the Spanish. He captures the 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 megalomaniac.

Hornblower also takes on an important passenger in a stop 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 without doubt the love of his life. He is at first nettled and infuriated by her forthright and outspoken manner, her ability to easily see through his reserve, and her refusal to be cowed or overawed by him. Over time, however, her beauty, strength, and intelligence win his heart, and the two become dangerously attracted to each other. This results in a kiss that is interrupted by Lady Barbara's maid Hebe—when she is sent away, the spell is broken, and Hornblower, engaging in his typical self-loathing and second-guessing behavior, refuses to give in to his feelings again. Perceiving herself to be rejected, Lady Barbara 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; this treatment is due in fact to Leighton's rightly suspecting his wife's attraction to the famous captain, and feelings of inferiority towards Hornblower, but naturally the self-doubting captain is incapable of realizing this.

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. He learns that a French squadron of four ships of the line is loose, having slipped the blockade. He decides that his duty requires that he fight 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, he surrenders to the French. As a prisoner 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 gang of slave labourers and escapes to the Channel Fleet.

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, he is awarded a knighthood and made a Colonel of Marines (a sinecure which confers a second salary without any additional duties). When he arrives home, he discovers that his first wife Maria has died in childbirth and that his infant son has been adopted and cared for by Lady Barbara. As she has been widowed by the death of Admiral Leighton, Hornblower's former commander (he had died of wounds sustained during the attack Hornblower had observed as a prisoner) they are free (after a decent interval) to marry. Thereafter, he lives as a country squire in the fictional village of Smallbridge, Kent, largely satisfied but longing for the sea.

Flag Officer

A return to duty comes when he is promoted to 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 longtime 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 country 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 favor 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 mid-way 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.

Non-canonical biography

C. Northcote Parkinson, more famous for his invention of Parkinson's Law, wrote a "biography" of Hornblower, detailing his career as well as personal information. The biography sheds light upon what really happened to Captain Sawyer on HMS Renown (including a confession that Hornblower pushed Captain Sawyer down the hatchway), as well as subsequent careers of Lord Hornblower's descendants, ending with the present Lord Hornblower's emigration to Apartheid 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 an Admiral of the Fleet, dying at the age of 80 on 12 January 1858.[7]

This fictional biography of a fictional character has confused some readers, who have taken it as a factual work.[3] Parkinson includes in Horatio's family tree at least two real life Hornblowers, though he nowhere admits to this. They are Jonathan Hornblower senior and Jonathan Hornblower junior, who were noted engineers designing and working with steam engines in mines in Cornwall in the late 18th century. In their spare time they were active Baptist Christians, founding a church in Chacewater whose offshoot in Truro is very much alive to this day.


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[8][9] UK Publisher US Title US Date of First Publication[10] US Publisher Notes
Happy Return, The The Happy Return Jun 1808Oct 1808 Feb 4, 1937 Michael Joseph Beat to Quarters Apr 6, 1937 Little Brown Novel
Ship of the Line, A A Ship of the Line May 1810Oct 1810 Apr 4, 1938 Michael Joseph Ship of the Line Mar 18, 1938 Little Brown Novel
Flying Colours Nov 1810Jun 1811 Nov 1, 1938 Michael Joseph Flying Colours Jan 3, 1939 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and His Majesty 1812 Mar 1941 Argosy (UK) Hornblower and His Majesty Mar 23, 1940 Collier's Short story
Hornblower and the Hand of Destiny 1798 Apr 1941 Argosy (UK) Hand of Destiny, The The Hand of Destiny Nov 23, 1940 Collier's Short story
Hornblower's Charitable Offering Jun 1810 May 1941 Argosy (UK) Bad Samaritan, The The Bad Samaritan Jan 18, 1941 Argosy (US) Short story intended as a chapter of A Ship of the Line
Commodore, The The Commodore Apr 1812Dec 1812 Mar 12, 1945 Michael Joseph Commodore Hornblower May 21, 1945 Little Brown Novel
Lord Hornblower Oct 1813Jun 1814 Jun 11, 1946 Michael Joseph Lord Hornblower Sep 24, 1946 Little Brown Novel
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Jan 1794Mar 1798 May 22, 1950 Michael Joseph Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Mar 13, 1950 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Big Decision 1799 Apr 1951 Argosy (UK) Hornblower's Temptation Dec 9, 1950 The Saturday Evening Post Short story subsequently published as Hornblower and the Widow McCool in Hornblower and the Crisis
Lieutenant Hornblower May 1800Mar 1803 Feb 11, 1952 Michael Joseph Lieutenant Hornblower Mar 27, 1952 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Atropos Dec 1805Jan 1808 Nov 9, 1953 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Atropos Sep 10, 1953 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower in the West Indies May 1821Oct 1823 Sep 29, 1958 Michael Joseph Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies Aug 28, 1958 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower and the Hotspur Apr 1803Jul 1805 Jul 27, 1962 Michael Joseph Hornblower and the Hotspur Aug 1, 1962 Little Brown Novel
Hornblower Companion, The The Hornblower Companion 99999 Dec 4, 1964 Michael Joseph Hornblower Companion, The The Hornblower Companion Dec 6, 1964 Little Brown Supplementary book comprising "The Hornblower Atlas" and "Some Personal Notes"
Hornblower and the Crisis Aug 1805Dec 1805 Jun 4, 1967 Michael Joseph Hornblower During the Crisis Nov 8, 1967 Little Brown Novel (unfinished) plus Hornblower and the Widow McCool and The Last Encounter
Last Encounter, The The Last Encounter Nov 1848 Jun 4, 1967 Michael Joseph Last Encounter, The The Last Encounter Apr 1967 Argosy (US) Short story subsequently published in Hornblower During 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, Hornblower and His Majesty plus other Hornblower material not previously published in book-form was collected in Hornblower One More Time (Jul 4, 1976) though only 350 copies were printed.[11]


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 Title Story Dates US Serial Dates[12] US Parts US Magazine UK Serial Dates[12] UK Parts UK Magazine
Beat to Quarters Jun 1808Oct 1808 Sep 17, 1938Oct 22, 1938 6 Argosy (US) May 1949 1 Argosy (UK)
Ship of the Line May 1810Oct 1810 Feb 26, 1938Apr 2, 1938 6 Argosy (US)
Flying Colours Nov 1810Jun 1811 Dec 3, 1938Jan 7, 1939 6 Argosy (US)
Commodore Hornblower Apr 1812Dec 1812 Mar 24, 1945May 12, 1945 8 The Saturday Evening Post
Lord Hornblower Oct 1813Jun 1814 May 18, 1946Jul 6, 1946 8 The Saturday Evening Post
Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Jan 1794Mar 1798 Mar 6, 1948Mar 11, 1950 9 The Saturday Evening Post Aug 1948Jun 1950 10 Argosy (UK)
Lieutenant Hornblower May 1800Mar 1803 Sep 15, 1951Nov 17, 1951 9 The Saturday Evening Post Oct 6, 1951Jan 12, 1952 10 John Bull
Hornblower and the Atropos Dec 1805Jan 1808 Jul 25, 1953Sep 12, 1953 8 The Saturday Evening Post Oct 3, 1953Nov 28, 1953 9 John Bull
Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies May 1821Oct 1823 May 11, 1957Apr 26, 1958 10 The Saturday Evening Post May 25, 1957Sep 13, 1958 13 John Bull
Hornblower and the Hotspur Apr 1803Jul 1805 Oct 1962 1 Argosy (US) Feb 24, 1962Apr 7, 1962 7 Today
Hornblower During the Crisis Aug 1805Dec 1805 Jul 16, 1966Jul 30, 1966 2 The Saturday Evening Post

Historical figures in the novels

Royal Navy figures

Other historical figures

Ships featured

Name of ship Rate of ship Guns Main armament Hornblower's rank Novel or short story title End of commission
HMS Justinian 3rd rate 74 32 lb Midshipman Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Is transferred to Indefatigable by Justinian‍ '​s well-meaning captain to get him away from a bully of a senior midshipman.
HMS Indefatigable 5th rate 44 24 lb Midshipman, later acting lieutenant Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Is made prize master of Marie Galante, seized as a prize by Indefatigable.
Marie Galante Captured merchant brig none Midshipman Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Ship sinks when a leak causes the cargo of rice to expand disastrously.
HM transport Caroline Transport brig none Acting lieutenant Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Returns to Indefatigable after a medical quarantine ends without incident.
Le Reve Sloop 4 4 lb Acting lieutenant Mr. Midshipman Hornblower Is captured by the Spanish.
HMS Marguerite 5th rate 36 18 lb 1st lieutenant "The Hand of Destiny" Is paid off.
HMS Renown 3rd rate 74 24 lb Lieutenant Lieutenant Hornblower Is paid off.
HMS Retribution Sloop-of-war 18 9 lb Acting commander Lieutenant Hornblower Is paid off, as the Peace of Amiens begins.
HMS Hotspur Sloop-of-war 20 9 lb Commander Hornblower and the Hotspur Is promoted to post-captain (and becomes too high ranking to command such a small ship).
HMS Atropos 6th rate 22 9 lb Junior post-captain Hornblower and the Atropos Ship is given to the King of the two Sicilies to maintain his support against Napoleon.
HMS Lydia 5th rate 36 18 lb Senior post-captain The Happy Return and Beat to Quarters Is paid off. He and the crew are transferred to HMS Sutherland.
HMS Sutherland 3rd rate 74 24 lb Post-captain A Ship of the Line Severely damaged in battle while single-handedly disabling three French ships of the line, forcing them to seek refuge in Rosas Bay. Burned to the waterline to prevent its reuse by the enemy in 'Flying Colours' during an attack by the Mediterranean fleet which destroys the three French ships.
Witch of Endor Cutter 10 6 lb Post-captain Flying Colours Liberates the previously captured Witch with the help of Bush, Brown and a gang of prisoners, and escapes from France to England. This feat gains him much fame and assists at his mandatory court-martial for surrendering the Sutherland.
Augusta Yacht 6 Post-captain "Hornblower and his Majesty"
HMS Nonsuch 3rd rate 74 32 lb Commodore of the first class The Commodore and Lord Hornblower Contracts typhus and returns to England from the Baltic Sea on the Clam.
Lotus and Raven Sloops Commodore of the first class The Commodore
Clam Cutter Commodore of the first class The Commodore
Harvey and Moth Bomb-ketches Mortars Commodore of the first class The Commodore
Porta Coeli Brig 18 6 lb Commodore Lord Hornblower After suppressing a mutiny on Porta Coeli‍ '​s sister ship Flame, he transfers to Flame.
Flame Brig 18 6 lb Commodore Lord Hornblower Is made Governor of Le Havre.
Crab Schooner 2 Rear-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief Hornblower in the West Indies Transfers his flag back to Clorinda.
HMS Phoebe 5th rate 36 18 lb Rear-Admiral, Commander-in-Chief Hornblower in the West Indies Assignment as Commander-in-Chief ends.
HMS Clorinda 5th rate 36 18 lb Rear-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief Hornblower in the West Indies Assignment as Commander-in-Chief ends.
HMS Roebuck 5th rate 44 18 lb Rear-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief Hornblower in the West Indies Assignment as Commander-in-Chief ends.

In other media

Screen adaptations

Gregory Peck as Captain Horatio Hornblower from the 1951 film Captain Horatio Hornblower.

Radio adaptations

  • 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.[14]
  • Nicholas Fry played Hornblower in the radio series 'The Hornblower Story' in 1979/80 for the BBC (20 x 30mins). This series covers the books, 'Mr Midshipman Hornblower', 'Lieutenant Hornblower', 'Hornblower and the Hotspur' and 'Lord Hornblower'.

Literary appearances

  • In the fictional setting of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore, Hornblower is the equivalent of Lord Nelson, with The Black Dossier 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.[7]
  • In Dudley Pope's Ramage, Hornblower is mentioned in passing as a former shipmate of the title character, Lord Ramage, when both were midshipmen.
  • Sten Nadolny's 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).

Influence on other fiction

Napoleonic War series

  • The popular Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell were inspired by C. S. Forester's Hornblower series.[15]
  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels were likely influenced by the Hornblower tales.[16]
  • Douglas Reeman's Richard Bolitho series was inspired by Hornblower and was described in publicity as 'the best of Hornblower's successors'.
  • Dudley Pope was encouraged by C. S. Forester to create his Lord Ramage series of novels set around the same period.

Science fiction series

  • 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.[17][18]
  • The science fiction characters of John Grimes (created by A. Bertram Chandler) and Nicholas Seafort (created by David Feintuch) are heavily inspired by the Hornblower series.
  • David Weber's character Honor Harrington closely parallels Hornblower and he deliberately gave her the same initials.[19] In one of the novels, the character is described reading a Hornblower novel. The first Honor novel is dedicated to C. S. Forester.
  • Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry (featured in the Terran Empire series) also parallels the Hornblower series.
  • The fifth novel in the Jackelian series of Stephen Hunt, Jack Cloudie, has the Hornblower series as a major influence (fighting with airships, rather than sailing craft). The title, Jack Cloudie, is itself derived from Jack Tar, as is the series name.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga uses the Hornblower series as a structural model.[20]
  • David Feintuch's Seafort Saga has a very similar central character in Nicholas Seafort, a young Midshipman serving on a deep space military ship who rises through the ranks to become Earth's savior several times over. Seafort is recognized by those around him as a brave and noble man, but the sacrifices he is called to make plague him with guilt and angst.

Other references

  • Captain Horario Harpplayer, R.N. is a short story parody written by the science fiction author Harry Harrison. While Hornblower is tone deaf, Harpplayer is completely colour blind, with the result that he cannot recognize a little green man as an alien from outer space. Harpplayer reflects on the "imaginary colors" that other people claim to see, and refers to the alien as "Mr. Greene".
  • The British comedy film Carry On Jack featured a character named Midshipman Poopdecker, played by Bernard Cribbins, who was intended as a parody of Hornblower.
  • President Jimmy Carter accidentally called the late Senator Hubert Horatio Humphrey "Hubert Horatio Hornblower" during his acceptance speech after he was nominated for re-election in 1980.
  • The video game Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships features a character named Horatio Hornblower who offers his services to the player if the right questions are asked.
  • In the episode "Smile Time" of the television series Angel, one of the demon-possessed puppets is named Ratio Hornblower. The same character also appears in the limited comic book series Spike: Shadow Puppets.


  1. ^ Books: Napoleon's Nemesis Time Magazine, Monday, May 28, 1945. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  2. ^ Winston Churchill, The Grand Alliance, p. 382. 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."
  3. ^ a b National Maritime Museum: "Was Horatio Hornblower a real person?"[1] Retrieved 2011-03-21.
  4. ^ C. S. Forester, The Hornblower Companion, NY, 1964, p. 87.
  5. ^ C. S. Forester, The Hornblower Companion, Michael Joseph Ltd (London), 1964, pp. 81,82
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b The True Story of Horatio Hornblower by C. Northcote Parkinson Michael Joseph 1970
  8. ^ The Observer, dates of novel publication, London.
  9. ^ The Manchester Guardian, dates of novel publication.
  10. ^ The New York Times, dates of novel publication
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Bernard Cornwell, Sharpe's Story, 2007, p.11
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^

External links

  • C. S. Forester Society, dedicated to the author and his works
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