What was the Battle of Trafalgar?
The Battle of Trafalgar was a sea battle between the British Royal Navy and the unified French and Spanish fleets that took place on 21 October 1805. Despite lasting only one day, it had an enormous impact.
The Battle of Trafalgar defined the Age of Sail and secured Britain’s dominion across the seas and ended Napoleonic France’s ambitions to invade Britain.
Age of Sail
The Age of Sail was period lasting approximately 300 years until the late 19th Century; it was only with the rise of steam power that the Age of Sail drew to a close. During this time, innovation, craftsmanship, and tradition dominated global trade and warfare. Chatham Dockyard played an integral part of the Age of Sail, which saw heavy investment in the site by the Royal Navy.
With conflict between France and Spain a consistent threat and ambitions to trade with the wider world, sea travel became a vital asset to Britain. These ambitions drove innovations forward with the need to build larger and faster ships.
Admiral Lord Nelson and HMS VICTORY
The jewel of the Age of Sail is HMS VICTORY. This Chatham-built ship was the largest and finest ship built at the time. It is now the most famous of all of the Royal Navy’s warships.
VICTORY sailed into the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 as Nelson’s flagship. Flying from her masthead would be his final order ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’
During the day’s battle, Admiral Lord Nelson was hit by musket ball and died on the deck of HMS VICTORY. Nelson is now considered to be one of the greatest officers in Royal Navy history. It is his victory and death that are both remembered during Trafalgar Night.
Today, VICTORY is preserved at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The ship is the oldest commissioned warship in the world. A model of this Chatham-made ship can be viewed in the Victory Gallery as a part of our Command of the Oceans experience.
What is Trafalgar Night?
Trafalgar Night is an annual dinner that is a night of celebration to commemorate the Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Every year on October 21st, the night is marked in Royal Navy Officer Mess Decks and Wardrooms throughout the country and on Royal Naval vessels serving overseas.
Traditions of Trafalgar Night
Steeped in history, the night strictly follows a number of traditions.
Port is the drink of choice to accompany the evening’s toasts. By Royal Navy tradition two toasts are made, during the first it is customary to remain seated whilst the Vice-Chair of the evening proposes a toast to the reigning Monarch.
The second toast is made by the Principle Guest who leads tributes to the ‘immortal memory of Admiral Lord Nelson’ that honours the sacrifice made by Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar. This second toast is made stood up and in complete silence.
Parading the beef & Ships of the Line
One of the more light-hearted traditions of the night is parading the beef. The menu for the evening follows tradition with the main course consisting of beef. Before it served, however, the beef is carried at shoulder-height through the room. On occasion the parade is even accompanied by a drummer.
Following the main course, comes the dessert in the shape of chocolate galleons. These Ships of the Line are also paraded through the room before being enjoyed by those attending the dinner.