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Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon [Hardcover]

David Cordingly
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Sep 2003
This is the story of the Bellerophon, a ship of the line known to her crew as the Billy Ruffian. And like any good biography it runs from birth (in a small shipyard on the river Medway near Rochester in 1782), to death (in a breaker's yard a mile or so upstream at the age of fifty-four). In the intervening years, under fourteen captains, she played a conspicuous part in three of the most famous of all sea battles: the battle of the Glorious First of June (1794), the opening action against Revolutionary France; the battle of the Nile (1798), which halted Napoleon's eastern expansion from Cairo; and the battle of Trafalgar (1805), which established British naval supremacy for 100 years and during which her captain was shot dead with a musket ball an hour before Nelson was mortally wounded. But her crowning glory came six weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, when the Napoleon, trapped in Rochefort, surrendered to the captain of the ship that had dogged his steps for more than twenty years.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; 1st Edition edition (1 Sep 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747565376
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747565376
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 544,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


‘Cordingly has unearthed a revealing study … fascinating … original and well-researched’ -- Daily Telegraph

‘Richly entertaining and informative’ -- Independent on Sunday --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From the Publisher

Lavishly illustrated with paintings, sketches, maps and battle plans, and drawing on a wealth of primary sources and contemporary literature, David Cordingly's portrait of the 'Billy Ruffian' is an original work of popular history and a fascinating insight into the reality that lies behind C.S. Forester's and Patrick O'Brian's fictional ships and heroes.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hoe to fall in love with a Ship 7 Dec 2003
To set out to write a biography of a ship is to say the very least, daunting. But David Cordingly has carried it off with flair and grace. From the first chapter on he captures our attention with just enough background information and illustrations to define the subject into its place in history until we really start to care what this ship is all about. The ship, nicknamed Billy Ruffian, is a living, sentient being only changing character as the varied Captains; crews and visiting Admirals walk her decks culminating in the arrivals of both Nelson and Napoleon – at different times of course. Mr. Cordingly’s descriptions of battles and Bellerophon’s part in them are fascinating, from The Glorious First of June to the ultimate Battle of Trafalgar. But his insights into history such as – what would have happened if Nelson had caught Napoleon on board L’Orient on their way to Egypt – at one stage they were only six miles apart – had me dreaming for hours afterwards. To finish a book of this quality is always sad but one is uplifted by the thought of all those other Cordingly books that are still to be read – what a discovery.
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67 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Sorry I couldn't fit the whole quote in the title to this review. The above is an excerpt of something Napoleon said to Captain Maitland of the "Bellerophon" in the summer of 1815 when Napoleon was being held on board, waiting to learn what his fate would be. (He hoped to be allowed to buy and live in a home in the English countryside. Alas, it was not to be.) Here is the full quote: "If it had not been for you English, I should have been Emperor of the East; but wherever there is water to float a ship, we are sure to find you in our way." As David Cordingly demonstrates in this wonderful book, the "Bellerophon," during the period 1794-1815, was an integral part of "find(ing) you in our way." Before ending her career as a "floating prison" she was in the thick of the action at the Battle of The Glorious First of June, the Battle of The Nile, and the Battle of addition to pulling extensive blockade duties, and being a temporary home/prison for Napoleon before it was decided to place him on St. Helena. Mr. Cordingly calls this a biography of a ship of the line, and he is true to his word. To start, we learn about the construction of the ship (it was built based on a "generic" design by Sir Thomas Slade. Slade was a great ship designer and "it became recognised that a British ship could invariably beat a French ship...even though the French ship might be up to 50 percent more powerful in terms of her guns"). This gives Mr. Cordingly the opportunity to tell us about how ships were built at this time - how long it took, what kind of wood was used (oak- the trees had to be a certain age, not too young or too old, and they were "branded" after selection so that the general public would know they'd been selected for use by the navy), etc. Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not your usual biography 2 Jan 2005
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Instead of the usual biography of a famous captain or battle, Mr. Cordingly treats us to the life of a famous ship of the line - Bellerophon.
From a protracted birth in the slips of the Medway, through the highs and lows of the American and European wars, to an ignominious return to her birthplace, we read the history of the Georgian Navy as written by her commanders, officers and crew.
The author's painstaking research of the Admiralty records and Naval chronicles breathes life into what could have been a simple catalog of events and postings ... first-hand accounts, log-books and extracts from letters flesh out the bare bones of ports and locations, while the background of contemporary historical events puts Bellerophon's role into full perspective - this is the real stuff that Forester and O'Brian drew on to create their adventures.
Why Bellerophon? There are plenty of other famous ships, but none had the fortune to engineer the collection and safe conduct of the most famous and wanted man in the world from his enemies in France. This was to be the high point of a long and distinguished career, as immediately afterwards she was decommissioned and spent her last 21 years as a prison hulk.
An informative and absorbing read.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best I have ever read 18 Jan 2004
This book constitutes the best written, most precise and detailed history of the life of one of Britain’s most famous warships. The author has provided the reader with amazing detail as to the history of this ship. At the same time he has given a great insight as to the true way of life in one of HM Ships of the Line. I can highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in type of book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply wonderful 22 April 2004
By Fiona B
I never thought that I'd feel so engaged by a ship. In this book, it comes alive, and you grieve at the end as you would for a character in a novel as the Billy Ruffian meets its inevitable end.
Also notable for an excellent passage on Napoleon and the way the average British sailor viewed him - with grudging respect and admiration.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing a Ship to Life 21 Feb 2004
By Dr. Vernon M. Hewitt VINE VOICE
I found David Cordingly's book fascinating - a masterful tale of well known events but from a remarkably original and fresh angle: the perspective of a ship of the line and her crew from launch to breakers yard. Told with economy and with a clear focus on the ship Bellerophon, Cordingly's style enables you to enter into the extraordinary lives and events of his period, to emphathise with captains, ratings and even an ex-Emperor. The sections dealing with Napolen's surrender are just magificant - much of this was new to me. And beautifully illustrated.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A great story of a ship with a truly great history in a momentous time in Euopean history.
Published 13 days ago by juvenus
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome example of fine writing.
Exceptional! The detail revealed by what must have been sustained intense research is astonishing. A microcosm of the history of the Royal Navy that includes much detail about the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by michael smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent book, really well written and well researched
Published 2 months ago by Josephine
5.0 out of 5 stars To Glory we Steer
This captured me from first page to last. (Well not the last pages as they were bibliography).
Despite having a huge bias of loving the Bellerophon to bits, this was... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Tommi
4.0 out of 5 stars Naval History
Interesting book on naval matters of the Napoleon era. Easy read and informative. Appears to be very well researched. Recommended.
Published 6 months ago by Andrewcas
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book
This book covers her entire career from birth to shipwreck and goes into great detail. A very very enjoy able read.
Published 8 months ago by Pete Amey
5.0 out of 5 stars very good read
most interesting accounts old sailing ship design, building, fitting out and refitting, also about Napoleon's surrender and exile to a remote island.
Published 9 months ago by Sweetwaters
5.0 out of 5 stars my family
this book is about my ancestors so its very special to read all about it such good value for money too.
Published 14 months ago by John Hadaway
5.0 out of 5 stars 'I never knew that' - you'll say it again and again. A great book
I thought I knew something of the history of the Napoleonic era but this stunningly clever angle, following the building of one of the great ships that took part in the Battle of... Read more
Published 15 months ago by R. I. Hicks
4.0 out of 5 stars Billy Ruffian
Interesting and comprehensive account of the warship, HMS Bellerophon during the Napoleonic period. Good account of life aboard in in the Georgian Navy. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Steve
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