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Nelson, Trafalgar and Victory at Sea

Course details

From £1170.00

Sun 26 Jul 2020 - Sat 01 Aug 2020

Nelson, Trafalgar and Victory at Sea


The Oxford Experience is a residential summer programme providing one-week courses in a variety of subjects aimed at non-specialists. It offers a choice of seminars each week over a period of six weeks.

More than two centuries after his greatest triumph and tragi-romantic death in battle, Horatio Nelson remains the ultimate symbol of national heroism, Britannia’s ‘God of War’ personified. This course will study the Navy’s evolution across the turbulent eighteenth century and examine Nelson’s career from Midshipman to Admiral against that backdrop. The actions, setbacks and victories which marked his rise to fame and success will be considered, as will his complex character and controversial private life.  The course will look closely at the Battle of Trafalgar itself and evaluate how this uniquely overwhelming victory has influenced naval ambition and philosophy ever since.

Programme details

Seminars meet each weekday morning, 09.15-10.45 and 11.15-12.45, with afternoons free for course-related field trips, individual study or exploring the many beautiful places in and around the city.

The Navy: Britain, a small Atlantic archipelago, advanced to maritime ascendancy across the 18th century, eventually defeating all-comers. The first day will consider this progress, the development of the Navy that Nelson entered in 1771, and that of its opponents’ fleets, as well as examining the central role the Navy played in the social and industrial evolution of the period.

Early Life: not only a flair for leadership but also consummate seafaring skill characterised Nelson’s early career. Yet patronage and good fortune also played their part, and his assertive years in the West Indies stalled his career. His rise to independent command in the Mediterranean will be studied as well as injury at Tenerife and brilliant success at the Battle of St Vincent.

Advancement, Victories and Discredit: Nelson achieved flag rank in 1797 and was publicly honoured as his fame grew. His triumph at the Battle of the Nile in 1798 is considered, plus the emerging controversy over his private life as he became involved with the Hamiltons and the Naples court. This is contrasted with his brilliance at Copenhagen in 1801.

Outing to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: as well as visiting other historic ships including Henry VIII’s wonderfully preserved Mary Rose and the 1860 HMS Warrior, which bridged the eras of sail and steam, this day will focus on the Trafalgar tableau at the National Museum of the Royal Navy and an extensive tour of HMS Victory, Nelson’s Trafalgar flagship and the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel.

Triumph, Death, and a Lasting Legacy: Trafalgar’s planning, progress and outcome will be considered as will the genius of Horatio Nelson and his ability to command such loyalty and devotion among his ‘band of brothers’ and the sailors of the fleet.  Finally the course will review the ways in which Trafalgar influenced the naval philosophy of many nations and became the holy grail of big fleets well beyond the age of sail.


Field Trip

Destination:   Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Excursion Rating: Moderate
Up to two hours' walk on even ground or up to an hour's walk on rough and/or steep ground or up lots of stairs and steps.


Description Costs
Programme fee (no accom–incl. field trip, lunch and dinner) £1170.00
Programme fee (with single en-suite accom, field trip and meals) £1665.00
Programme fee (with single standard accom, field trip and meals) £1480.00


Mr John Harris


Former Merchant Navy and Naval Reserve Officer with a specialist interest in British naval history, John Harris leads cruises and battlefield tours on maritime themes. He teaches maritime history programmes for The Oxford Experience and is Steward Emeritus of his college, Christ Church. He was co-organiser of a 2002 Oxford conference to which many Bletchley veterans contributed archive material.

Assessment methods

There are no assessments for this course.


Online registration closes on Friday, 1 May 2020 but please note that this course may be fully booked very quickly so early registration is recommended.


During your course, you will stay in typical Oxford student accommodation at Christ Church in buildings which range from the 18th to the 20th century.

The fee stated includes a bedroom with private bathroom facilities (shower, washbasin and toilet). Most are single but a few twins are available*.

There is also a limited number of standard rooms available, which all have their own washbasin and shaver point but shared bath and toilet facilities. Most standard rooms are single but there are a few ‘twin sets’ (two single rooms opening off a sitting room)*.

*If you wish to book a twin en-suite room or a standard twin set room each person should complete an application form and email it to us at as these rooms cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)

Please indicate your accommodation preferences (either online or on your application form) together with a note of any mobility problems. Students should note that bedrooms are modestly-furnished, do not have air-conditioning and are arranged on a staircase of four or five floors.

We regret that we are unable to offer you accommodation at Christ Church prior to or following your course. Additionally, family or friends who are not enrolled in the programme cannot be accommodated in college.


If accommodation is unavailable in a particular week, we also offer places on a non-residential basis whereby participants can take classes and have meals at the college, having arranged their own accommodation elsewhere.

If you wish to enrol on a non-residential basis please complete an application form and email it to us at as this option cannot be booked online. (Forms may also be posted to us at: The Oxford Experience, OUDCE, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA, UK)