Trafalgar DAY

Trafalgar Day is the most important day in the calendar of HMS Victory, the oldest commissioned warship in the world. Each year on 21 October a ceremony is held on board Victory marking the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a battle which defined the Age of Sail and which sealed British dominion of the seas for a hundred years.

Britain’s wealth, prosperity and status as a nation on the world stage still owe much to the courage and skill of the crews of the British ships and their great leader, Admiral Lord Nelson, that momentous day off Cape Trafalgar.


But the ceremony on board Victory is an act of remembrance rather than just a celebration of victory, remembering the loss of the country’s greatest ever naval leader and the lives of men on both sides who perished in the fierce battle, or subsequently, from their injuries.

The day starts with the daily naval ceremony of ‘Colours’, as the White Ensign of the Royal Navy and the Union Jack are hauled up, followed shortly afterwards by the flag sequence indicating Nelson’s famous message to the Fleet that 

“England expects that every man will do his duty” 

(Nelson’s final signal, as the mighty ships of the line of the Royal Navy and the combined Franco – Spanish Fleet clashed was “Engage the enemy more closely”).

Nelson’s tactical genius in splitting the line of enemy ships had already set the pre-conditions for victory, when only an hour into the Battle, Nelson was hit by a French sharpshooters’ musket ball as he paced Victory’s quarterdeck, directing the Battle.

He fell, fatally wounded, on a spot marked by a lovingly polished brass plaque, which forms the centrepiece of the Trafalgar Day Ceremony.


the Battle of Trafalgar

The overwhelming victory over the French and Spanish fleet off Cape Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 gave the Royal Navy its most famous triumph and confirmed a long tradition of naval supremacy. 

The battle also immortalised the memory of Viscount Horatio Nelson who was shot and died of his wounds at the moment of his greatest victory.

On 19 October a British frigate watching Cadiz spotted the Franco-Spanish fleet leaving harbour. Villeneuve's orders were to try to break into the Mediterranean.

The message was passed to Nelson's fleet, 48 miles off the coast, and he ordered a general chase. By dawn on 21 October the British fleet was only 9 miles away from the enemy. 

At 11:48 HMS Victory hoisted Nelson's famous signal to the Fleet ...

Find out more about the battle



HMS Victory, the most famous ship in the history of the Royal Navy, is best known as Horatio Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. 

Today Victory is preserved at Portsmouth and as flagship of the the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.

Laid down in 1759 Victory was a First Rate, the most powerful type of ship of her day with three gun decks mounting 100 guns. 

On 21 October 1805, Victory led the British fleet into battle off Cape Trafalgar against the Franco-Spanish force.

Out of a crew of 821, Victory had 57 men killed and 102 wounded demonstrating the serious nature of the fighting.

Learn more about HMS Victory

HORATIO NELSON 1758 - 1805

Horatio Nelson is generally regarded as the greatest officer in the history of the Royal Navy. 

His reputation is based on a series of remarkable victories during the Napoleonic Wars, culminating in the Battle of Trafalgar where he inflicted a crushing defeat on the numerically superior Franco-Spanish fleet. 

Hit by a musket ball from a French sharpshooter, he died on HMS Victory in the knowledge that he had achieved another famous victory.

Find out more about Horatio Nelson