J.M.W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up (1838) was his masterpiece. Sam Willis tells the real-life story behind this remarkable painting. The 98-gun Temeraire warship broke through the French and Spanish line directly astern of Nelson's flagship Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), saving Nelson at a crucial moment in the battle, and, in the words of John Ruskin, fought until her sides ran 'wet with the long runlets of English blood...those pale masts that stayed themselves up against the war-ruin, shaking out their ensigns through the thunder, till sail and ensign dropped.' It is a story that unites the art of war as practised by Nelson with the art of war as depicted by Turner and, as such, it ranges across an extensive period of Britain's cultural and military history in ways that other stories do not.
The result is a detailed picture of British maritime power at two of its most significant peaks in the age of sail: the climaxes of both the Seven Years' War (1756-63) and the Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815). It covers every aspect of life in the sailing navy, with particular emphasis on amphibious warfare, disease, victualling, blockade, mutiny and, of course, fleet battle, for it was at Trafalgar that the Temeraire really won her fame. An evocative and magnificent narrative history by a master historian.