Nelson’s gold medals
Lord Nelson’s full title, at the time of his death, was Vice Admiral of the White, The Right Honourable Horatio, Viscount Nelson, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. He also was Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk; Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Hillborough in the County of Norfolk; Duke of Bronte in the nobility of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit and a Knight of the Ottoman Empire’s Order of the Crescent.
Nelson received many awards, ranging from Gold Medals and titles conferred by the King, to swords, cash gifts, pensions and valuable trinkets presented, for instance, by British municipal authorities, commercial interests and foreign entities.
Three Gold Medals
He was the only person ever to receive three Naval Gold Medals, one each for St Vincent, the Nile and Trafalgar.
Before 1848 the only British campaign award for naval engagements was the Naval Gold Medal, conferred on flag officers and captains for services in action during the years 1794-1815. Following “the Glorious First of June,” the first major naval action of the war with Revolutionary France, King George III instituted the Naval Gold Medal to recognise conspicuous courage.
Two different sizes were struck. Flag officers, commodores and captains-of-the-fleet received the larger medal (2.125 inches or 5.4 cm in diameter) while a smaller medal went to deserving captains of ships of the line.
The large medal has on the obverse a figure of Victory, standing on the prow of an antique galley and placing a wreath of laurel on Britannia. Wearing a helmet, Britannia stands on the galley, having at her side an oval shield charged with the crosses of the Union Flag. Her right foot rests on a helmet and she holds a spear in her left hand. The reverse bears a wreath of oak and laurel, within which are engraved the name and rank of the officer, the event for which the medal was conferred and the date. Some recipients of the first medals also received a gold chain, but thereafter the medal was worn suspended from a white riband, with dark blue edges, 44 mm wide, round the neck.
Only 22 large medals were ever presented. Nelson strongly and repeatedly recommended the award for some of his officers at Copenhagen, but the government consistently refused any such recognition, perhaps because it might offend the Danes. Nelson’s posthumous award for Trafalgar contradicted previous rulings that medals would not be given to the next-of-kin of officers who had been killed in action.
Citations on Nelson’s medals
St Vincent : Horatio Nelson Esquire, Commodore and Fifth in Command on the 14th Feb 1797 – The Spanish Fleet Defeated.
The Nile: Sir Horatio Nelson, K.B. Rear Admiral and Commanding Officer on 1st August 1798 – The French Fleet Defeated.
Trafalgar: Horatio Viscount Nelson Vice Admiral and Commander-in-Chief on the 21 October MDCCV. The Combined Fleets of France and Spain – Defeated.
These three medals were stolen, and never recovered, along with others, from the Painted Hall of Greenwich Hospital in December 1900.