Horatio Hornblower is the fictional naval hero created by C. S. Forester in 1937 who appears in a number of novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Hornblower is not based on an actual person but inspired by a variety of naval events and officers. Author C.S Forester got the idea for Hornblower after reading the Naval Chronicle, the Royal Navy’s magazine of the early 19th century.
Based on real events
Forester had no real need to invent any of Hornblower's exploits; there were so many exciting true Royal Navy adventures that he could draw from, which featured in the Naval Chronicle through reports and letters from officers. These included Sir George Cockburn’s sacking of Washington and burning of the White House in the Anglo-American War of 1812. Forester was also inspired by Lord Cochrane's defence of a castle in Spain and his leading of a fireship attack on the French fleet.
First naval historical novel
C. S. Forester is credited with inventing the naval historical novel and Hornblower even has his own spoof biography, The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, written by C. Northcote Parkinson (first published in 1970). The biography led many to believe that Hornblower was a real person, including one researcher who travelled all the way from Canada to see the ‘Hornblower Papers’ at the National Maritime Museum in London. You can imagine his disappointment when he found that no such papers existed!