Nelson's celebrated strategy to break the Franco-Spanish line-of-battle in two places when he brought the enemy to action was to win him the greatest victory in the long history of war at sea. It was not achieved without loss however, and its most serious disadvantage was that his own flagship Victory and those vessels immediately astern of her were subjected to a withering fire for over half-an-hour before they were able to reply. Suffering heavy casualties as a result, it was not until nearly 12.30pm. that Victory finally struck the enemy line between Bucentaure (Villeneuve's flagship) and Rédoubtable, closely followed by H.M.S. Téméraire and H.M.S. Neptune, at which point the battle began in earnest.
The struggle between Victory and Rédoubtable was an unequal one as the French vessel had only 74-guns against Victory's 100, but nevertheless she fought tenaciously. Despite the pounding from Victory's starboard broadsides and the terrible casualties piling up on Rédoubtable's decks, high up in her fighting tops French sharpshooters patiently awaited their opportunities. At about 1.15pm. a sniper in Rédoubtable's mizzentop seized his chance, aimed and fired at the slightly-built officer on Victory's quarter-deck who seemed to be issuing commands. It was indeed Nelson and the wound proved to be fatal; carried below, he died there three hours later albeit comforted by the news that the battle was won. Nelson's death overshadowed the greater victory but French and Spanish seapower was smashed and the threat of invasion which had long hung over England was finally lifted.
In this dramatic work, the artist has painted the sharpshooters in Rédoubtable's fighting tops with some care and thereby conveys the vital role they performed in a particularly close action such as this one.