He was born in 1758, the fifth child of a family of nine, when his father was rector at Burnham Thorpe. His mother was Catherine Suckling, sister to Maurice Suckling, Captain in the Royal Navy, who took the young Horatio into his ship’s company when he gained command of the ‘Raisonnable’, a 64-gun ship of the line. The captain lived at Woodton Hall and had no children of his own; his wife was Mary Turner, grand-daughter (or great-niece) of Sir Robert Walpole of Wolterton, the first Earl of Orford, and he was thus related to many of the most eminent families of Norfolk, including the Wodehouses of Kimberly, Townshends of Raynham, Bullens of Blickling, and the Durrants of Scottow Hall. When his sister Catherine died in 1767, Maurice assisted her family in many ways.

Horatio Nelson entered the Navy in 1770 after attending the Norwich School; by 1797 he was Rear Admiral. He was invested with the K.B. in 1797 after losing an arm in a fight off Tenerife, soon after the Battle of Cape St. Vincent in which he also fought, and he was installed in that order in 1803.  He commanded at the Battle of the Nile off Aboukir in 1798, and as well as receiving the thanks of Parliament he was created Baron Nelson of the Nile that year.

For his part in restoring King Ferdinand of Naples to his throne, the king made him a Knight Grand Cross of St. Ferdinand and Merit of Naples, and also created him Duke of Bronte in Sicily in 1801, giving him a large estate there. This award had to be approved by the English King and he obtained a Royal licence for himself and his heirs to hold this dukedom later that year.

At the Battle of Copenhagen in April 1801 he heavily defeated the Danish Fleet, and was rewarded by being made Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough (Norfolk). It was this title which in the event of his failing to produce sons was specially remaindered to his father and his male heirs, then to the male heirs of his sisters, Susanna, who was married to Thomas Bolton, Esq., and Catherine, married to George Matcham, Esq. There were no children from Horatio’s marriage to Frances Nisbet; his daughter was born to Lady Hamilton in 1800, by which time his marriage had broken down.

It was his brother, the Rev. William Nelson who succeeded Horatio; his elder brother Maurice had died unmarried in 1801, and a younger brother Edmund even earlier. William was created 2nd Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough, and also Duke of Bronte; and in view of the remarkable victory in 1805 of Trafalgar where Horatio had died, William was also created Viscount Merton of Trafalgar and of Merton (in Surrey), and also Earl Nelson of Trafalgar and of Merton, with the same special remainder, as well as an annuity of £5000 p.a. and a gift of £90,000 for him to buy an estate. He died without surviving male issue in 1835; of his three peerages, the Dukedom passed to his daughter, Baroness Bridport, but the Earldom and Barony was inherited by Thomas Bolton, the only surviving son of Nelson’s sister Susanna.



Nelson’s Heraldry 

Nelson was granted, in 1797, as a mark of his distinguished service, the arms of the Nelson family of Lancashire which were registered in the Visitation of Lancashire in 1664. The Heralds, Garter and Clarenceux, recorded that he was descended by tradition from that family, though he was unable to produce evidence of any connection with them. The arms were: Or a Cross flory Sable over all a Bend Gules 1.

 On top of this red bend was another Bend engrailed Or bearing three Bombs fired proper, given by the enthusiastic heralds of the day. This was augmented by A Chief undulated Argent thereon Waves of the sea from which issues a Palm tree between dexter a disabled Ship and sinister a ruined Battery all proper, given by the King to mark the Battle of the Nile. All this was within the circlet of the Order of the Bath with its motto ‘TRIA JUNCTA IN UNO’ - ‘Three joined in one’. He had supporters granted because of his membership of this Order: on the dexter side, A Sailor armed with a cutlass and a pair of pistols in his belt proper, the outer hand supporting a staff bearing a Commodore’s flag Gules; and on the sinister side, A Lion rampant reguardant proper, in his mouth a broken flagstaff bearing the Spanish flag Or and Gules.

Further embellishments were piled on to this extravaganza, which was surmounted by a Viscount’s coronet. There were two crests: dexter, on a Naval Crown Or, the Chelengk or Plume of Triumph presented to him by the Grand Signior; and on the sinister, above a Peer’s helmet and a wreath of the colours, the stern of a Spanish Man of War proper inscribed thereon ‘San Josef’. ‘San Josef’ was the name of one of the battleships captured in the battle off Cape St. Vincent in 1797, when Nelson’s commander was Admiral Sir John Jervis. The ‘Grand Signior’ was the Sultan Selim III.

A second augmentation was  added after his death: A Fess wavy charged with the word “TRAFALGAR” Or. It seems that the supporters were augmented at the same time by two additions: on the dexter side, the Sailor grasped a palm branch proper in his left hand; and on the sinister, the Lion grasped a palm branch in his dexter paw and broken staffs bearing the Tricolour and the flag of Spain in his mouth. The palm branch refers to his motto, which read ‘PALMAM QUI MERUIT FERAT’ – Let he who merits the palm bear it.

 This illustration shows a ribbon suspending the Knight Grand Cross of the order of St. Ferdinand and Merit, which King Ferdinand of Sicily created specially for Nelson in June, 1800; above is a smaller medal which is probably the Larger Naval Gold Medal which appears in portraits of Nelson.. The arms are ensigned by the coronet of the Dukedom of Bronte, and over that, the coronet of a viscount.

From the section on Burnham Thorpe, in Heraldry in Norfolk Churches, vol. 2, the Burnham & Walsingham Deanery, with permission. See the Publications page.

  1 Much of this information comes from Wagner, A: Historic Heraldry of Britain. London, 1939; and from Nelson and Associated Heraldry, a guide written by R. C. Fiske for The Nelson Society, 1983.

 Ken Mourin