Was Horatio Hornblower a real person?
Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Hornblower of Smallbridge (1776–1857) did not exist.
C S Forester was inspired by his reading of the Naval Chronicle, the Royal Navy's ‘house magazine’ of the early 19th century, to create the character of Horatio Hornblower as the fictional hero of his series of naval historical novels.
Hornblower's adventures are based on the actual reports and Gazette Letters of a large number of naval officers, among them Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochrane, Sir James Gordon, Sir William Hoste and many, many others. Forester had no real need to invent any of Hornblower's exploits; rather he had to tone down the achievements of the Royal Navy of the time: Cockburn sacked Washington and burned the White House in the ‘War of 1812', and Cochrane's career included the defence of a castle in Spain and leading a fireship attack on the French Fleet.
C S Forester partially explained the process of Hornblower's creation in his book, The Hornblower Companion (London: Michael Joseph, 1964, recently republished by Chatham Press). He almost singlehandedly invented the naval historical novel, now the field of writers such as Patrick O'Brian, Dudley Pope and Alexander Kent.
C Northcote Parkinson’s convincing spoof biography of Hornblower, The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower (London: Michael Joseph, 1970, recently republished by Sutton) has been known to confuse people, including one researcher who travelled all the way from Canada to see ‘the Hornblower Papers’ at the National Maritime Museum. C Northcote Parkinson worked at the Museum during the 1930s.