Profiles in Toadying: the Age of Nelson!


So I have just finished reading Terry Coleman’s biography of Horatio Nelson, and it has got me thinking that it is time to revive some of this blog’s old features. I have always been fascinated with toadies and flatterers, those invaluable creatures who attach themselves to anyone who simultaneously has a bit of power and a lack of common sense (a description that seems to apply perfectly to Nelson, who appears to have been 100% dipshit and/or scumbag except for when it came to winning naval battles, which, in fairness, is what you’re really looking for in an admiral).

Partly the appearance of toadying is the result of varying cultural norms — what would appear to a Byzantine reader as a scathing indictment reads to the modern eye as revoltingly unctuous, for instance. So it could just be that the norms in speech and writing of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were particularly flattering by the standards of the modern day. But Nelson’s contemporaries certainly regarded his appetite for flattery as unseemly and ridiculous, so I’ve decided to forge ahead with today’s Age of Nelson special edition of Profiles in Toadying!

Our special flatterer for this week is Horatio Nelson himself, who never passed up the opportunity to polish his own medals when speaking or writing to someone. Here he is shit-talking the governor of the Leeward Islands:

I have the honour, sir, of being as old as the prime minister of England, and think myself as capable of commanding one of his majesty’s ships as that minister is of governing the state.

Here he is writing to the future Duke of Clarence, his wenching buddy and … is there such a thing as an anti-patron? A fatuous titled dipshit that gets in the way of you being successful?

I am interested only that your royal highness should be the greatest and best man this country ever produced … Nothing is wanting to make you the darling of the English nation … .

And here he is blowing himself in the third person, the insufferable toad:

“I defy any insinuations against my honour. Nelson is as far above doing a scandalous or mean action as the heavens are above the earth.”

– this in response to a complaint about his victualling practices, from a serial adulterer who never ceased intriguing to get cushy government jobs for his relatives.

col_gag_58_largeAnd here’s John Jarvis, 1st Earl St Vincent, uncharacteristically tongue-bathing Lady Hamilton.


I feel myself highly honoured and flattered by your ladyship’s charming letter … I am bound by my oath of chivalry to protect all who are persecuted and distressed … I am happy … to have a knight of superior prowess in my train, who … will soon make his appearance …”.







But no one, no one, toadied to Nelson like his mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton.


Here she is, writing about Nelson (while trashing his wife, Frances):

When He came home maimed lame and covered in Glory She put in derision his Honnerable woudns … because He had seen a more lovely a more virtuous woman … who had her heart and senses open to his Glory to His greatness and His virtues. If he had lived with this daemon this blaster of His fame and reputation He must have fallen under it and His Country would have lost their greatest ornament – No, let him live yet to gain more victory and to be blessed with his idolising Emma.

She once described him as:

the Victor of the Nile, the Conqueror of Copenhagen, the Terror and Stop of the Northern Confederacy, St Vincent’s prop & the Hero of the 14 of Febry, the restorer of the King of Naples, the preserver of Rome, the avenger of Kings, the Guardian angell of England & the man of men who in this war as been in one hundred & 24 battles & come off loved with glory honner virtue & modesty the pride of his country & friend.

Lord Minto describes her:

She goes on cramming Nelson with trowelfuls of flattery, which he goes on taking as quietly as a child does pap. The love she makes to him is not only ridiculous but disgusting; not only the rooms but the whole house, staircase and all, are covered with nothing but pictures of him and her, of all sizes and sorts, and representations of his naval actions, coats of arms, pieces of plate in his honour, the flagstaff of L’Orient, &c — an excess of vanity which counteracts its own purpose. If it was Lady H’s house there might be a pretence for it; to make his own a mere looking glass to view himself all day is bad taste.

So yeah — Nelson was a monumental egotist, and when he met Lady Hamilton he got an A+ tier toady attached directly to him, amplifying the roaring pain in the ass he already was.

But Nelson and his people could be bitchy too. Tune in next time for an Age of Nelson edition of Invective Through the Ages!


Profiles in Toadying: the Age of Nelson!

Profiles in Toadying, Classic Edition: Robert Powell

(This post originally appeared back on my old blog in 2006.)


Robert Powell, mostly unknown lawyer and legal historian who, in 1634, decided to write The Life of Alfred, Or, Alvred: The First Institutor of Subordinate Government in this Kingdome and Refounder of the University of Oxford. Together with a Parallell of our Soveraigne Lord, King Charles, untill this yeare, 1634.

It is basically a brief and fanciful life of Alfred the Great (d. 899), one of Anglo-Saxon England’s exceptional guys. Where it falls down is that it tries to tie in Alfred’s great deeds with those of King Charles I, a king who was really not so Great. Powell is perfectly aware of this, and has to try to weasel out of it.

It is said of Alfred, that ad crastina bella victor pavebat, victus parabat; If unjust peace is to be preferred before just warre, we having the happy fruition of a just and honourable peace with all the Christian world, and having no need in the times of conquest, to dread adverse approaches, or of defeatures to prepare for fresh onsets, may glory in his Majesties assiduous and vigilant supervising of his military munition and provision both by Sea and Land, remonstrated [sic] by his frequent visiting his greatest Storehouse of his Ordnance, and other martiall supply, as also his godly number of Ships in severall harbours.

What now? Okay, let’s get this comparison straight here: Alfred, having had all his brothers die on him, his father killed and his army smashed by the marauding Vikings, who by this time had overrun most of England and were pushing into Wessex, rallied a ragtag band of supporters around an island in the Somerset Levels and came back to kick some Viking ass at the Battle of Edington, following which he fortified towns, founded a navy, and expanded the kingdom a bit, capturing London. Charles visits the Ships in severall harbours.

That’s OK, though, right? I mean, we can’t all be fightin’ men. Maybe Charles was Alfred’s equal in more scholarly pursuits, right? Maybe he translated classical texts into his native language, or spearheaded the restoration and reorganization of a church shattered by years of constant fighting?

…his Highnesse pursuing the example of his deare Father … hath by his Princely declarations vouchsafed a liberty to his subjects, concering lawfull sports to be used that day … prohibiting the same to all wilfull and negligent Recusants, that shall not resort to their owne Parish Churches to heare Divine Service before their going to the said recreations

Um… lawfull sports, eh? I mean, I guess … people like sports.

no rash oathes, nor temerous execrations breathe out of his sacred mouth…

It’s important not to breathe out any temerous execrations, all right, but is this really the equal of Alfred’s legendary learning and piety?

his highnesse in his commission directed to the then Lord Arch-Bishop, and others of his honorable Counsell, amongst many gratious directions is pleased to descend to the Stewards ofLeets and to charge them, what they shall give in charge in their turnes and half-yearley viewes of Franckpledge touching Forestallers, Regrators, and other the obvious and enormous offences of the Countrey.

Oh, well, now that changes th… wait, what?

No, the summary is clear: Robert Powell, you are a craven little ass-kisser, and for comparing your bitch-ass king with Alfred the fucking Great you ought to be laughed at in the marketplace like a clown.

Gonzo History Project Activity Corner

Use each of the following words or phrases in a sentence:

  • Recusant
  • Regrator
  • View of Franckpledge
  • Oblectations
Profiles in Toadying, Classic Edition: Robert Powell