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ALS on His Preparedness “should the Russian fleet make any movements indicating an intention of going to sea”

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NELSON, HORATIO. (1758-1805). English naval officer and his country’s greatest military hero. ALS. (“Nelson & Bronte”). 1p. Small folio. “St. George off Bornholm, May 22, 1801.” To ALLEYNE FITZHERBERT, BARON ST. HELENS (1753-1839), who Nelson identifies as “His Majesty’s ambassador to the Court of St. Petersburgh.”

My Lord, I never before regretted having a fair wind but your quick voyage is of so much more importance than mine that I sincerely regret your not having a fair wind. I send your Excellency copies of some letters of mine which in conversation you may have occasion to refer to. Capt. Thesiger who will have the honor of delivering this letter has been for many years a Capt. in the Russian Navy but left it two years ago from the extraordinary conduct of the late Emperor. I have sent a fast sailing Lugger to attend on your Mission, the progress and result of which as far as may be proper for me to be made acquainted with I must be in a state of constant anxiety to know, that the fleet may be collected ready for a push, should the Russian fleet make any movements indicating an intention of going to sea. I trust your Excellency allowing Captain Sotheron to give me notice of it by one of the small Vessels. I have not a word of news. Wishing your Excellency every success I have the honor to Remain your Lordship’s most obedient servant…”

Nelson portrait

Horatio Nelson

Nelson, whose naval career began at the age of twelve, was promoted commodore in 1796. A year later he joined in the defeat the Spanish and French fleets at Cape St. Vincent and became a rear-admiral. Later that year, at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Nelson was shot through the right elbow, suffered a botched amputation, and returned to active duty a few months later. Undeterred, he famously defeated Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile and, in 1800, Nelson created a naval blockade of the entire Italian coast to thwart Napoleon’s designs on Naples, ultimately winning the absolute surrender of the Neapolitan revolutionaries and their French allies. The royal family was restored to power and Nelson was made Duke of Bronte by King Ferdinand I of Naples.

During the First Battle of Copenhagen on April 2, 1801 the British fleet, with Nelson second in command, defeated a combined force of Norwegians and Danes who were threatening to align themselves with the French. The Royal Navy destroyed or captured 15 Danish ships, after which Nelson led negotiations in Copenhagen and brokered an armistice. However, the assassination of Russian Tsar Paul I on March 23, 1801, had voided the League of Armed Neutrality between Denmark-Norway, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia, which was meant to protect them from Great Britain’s Navy searches in its attempt to cut off French supplies. The loss of this alliance left the Danes free to accept British demands and cleared a path for Russia to join Britain’s maneuvers against France.

On May 5, Nelson became commander of the fleet and headed east at the helm of the 98-gun HMS St George to negotiate with Russia and seek the return of British ships seized in Russian and Danish ports and permit Royal Navy vessels in the Baltic. However, after beginning his journey, Nelson learned that an early thaw to the Baltic ice allowed the Russian fleet to depart Reval (Tallinn) for its base in Kronstadt earlier than expected and he returned west on May 17. Our letter was written five days later as he awaited the outcome of the maritime treaty negotiations with Russia’s new Emperor Alexander I.

Fitzherbert’s long diplomatic career commenced in 1777 as minister at Brussels where he negotiated a peace with France and Spain. This success propelled him as an envoy extraordinary to Emperess Catherine the Great of Russia with whom he toured Crimea. For his negotiations with Spain over whaling rights in the Pacific Northwest he was awarded the Irish peerage Baron St. Helens; his friend, explorer George Vancouver named Mount St. Helens (in modern day Washington State) in his honor in 1792. After serving as ambassador to the Hague for several years, he returned to Saint Petersburg in April 1801 and negotiated a new treaty between Russia and the United Kingdom, followed by similar agreements with Denmark and Sweden.

Frederick Thesiger (1758-1805) was a naval officer who served as Nelson’s Flag Lieutenant at the Battle of Copenhagen. Following the death of Empress Catherine in 1797, Thesiger found himself in service to her successor, Paul I. He returned to England after unsuccessfully waiting a year for his pay, an event specifically mentioned in our letter.

Frank Sotheron (1765-1839) was commander of the HMS Latona, which had recently been serving off the Dutch coast The Latona returned to its port at Yarmouth to take Lord St. Helens on his diplomatic mission to Russia. After arriving at Copenhagen on May 15, Sotheron delivered dispatches to Nelson and sailed to St. Petersburg where the Latona remained until mid-July.

Published in The Dispatches and Letters of Vice Admiral Lord Viscount Nelson, the text taken from a Letter-Book copy. Folded with minimal wear and in very fine condition.

ALS on His Preparedness “should the Russian fleet make any movements indicating an intention of going to sea”

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