Two hundred years ago Nelson was the most famous person in Britain. He has often been named the first popular celebrity in Britain, as people would come in their hundreds just to catch a glimpse of him, while shopkeepers sold prints, memorabilia and even clothing in celebration of his battles. For a country undeniably afraid of invasion, he was seen as the saviour.
His distinctive appearance made it easy for him to be instantly recongnisable, much helped by the caricaturists, and his scandalous private life only added to his fame. He was the "people's hero" and the public could both relate to him and revere him for his victories at sea.
His death confirmed his place in the people's hearts, as they generally took to mourning rather than celebrating the victory at Trafalgar. His funeral was enormous. A procession of ten-thousand soldiers, over thirty admirals and a hundred captains, and thousands of the public lining the streets.
His dramatic death in the moment of triumph earnt him immortality, he had given the ultimate sacrifice for his country and he was never to be forgotten.
A hundred years ago he was still a household name, and during the World Wars, people often looked to him for inspiration.
Nowadays, however, he his often confused with the Duke of Wellington, winner of the Battle of Waterloo, which ended the Napoleonic Wars, or (and I can imagine how mortified he would feel at this!) Napoleon Bonaparte, the very person Britain was so desperately afraid of.
Even worse, in a survey conducted on school kids a couple of years ago, in which the pupils were asked about British maritime history, the results were somewhat catastrophic (read the article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8075874/Horatio-Nelson-was-French-football-captain-say-children.html).
Now, I'm aware that newspapers tend to over dramatise things such as this, and also that the answers the children gave may well not reflect their actual knowledge on these events, however, I do believe that there is some truth in these results. It certainly does seem to me that the youth of today are not as well clued up on Britain's maritime history, and how that shaped our country, as they could be, and Nelson and Trafalgar seems to be almost completely forgotten.
So what happened that caused Nelson's popularity to decrease so rapidly within the last century?