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The Billy Ruffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon Hardcover – October 15, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"A masterly account that says as much, if not more, about the historical context as about the subject itself." (Sunday Times )

"Thrilling.so alive you can smell the cordite of the guns and hear the splintering of mighty masts and spars." (Independent ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Cordingly is the author of several acclaimed books on the subject of pirates, including, most recently, Under the Black Flag: The Romance and Reality of Life among the Pirates (1996). He lives by the sea in Brighton, England.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (October 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582341931
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582341934
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,405,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Loveitt on October 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Sorry I couldn't fit the whole quote in the title to this review. The above is an excerpt of something 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 Trafalgar...in 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 public would know they'd been selected for use by the navy), etc.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
HMS Bellerophon - commonly known as the "Billy Ruffian" by Royal Navy sailors who inevitably turned any classical reference into something more humble and easier on the tongue - was in most respects a typical 74-gun ship-of-the-line during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. And she is the focus of a new "biography" written by David Cordingly: "The Billy Riffian: The Bellerophon and the Downfall of Napoleon, The Biography of a Ship of the Line, 1782-1836". Codringly is no stranger to nautical studies, with both his "Under the Black Flag" (about pirates) and "Women Sailors and Sailors' Women" having been well received. Where the Bellerophon perhaps departed from the typical ship-of-the-line was her knack at being involved in important events. Not only was she at the Glorious First of June victory in 1794, the "Billy Ruffian" did some of the very hardest fighting at both the Nile and Trafalgar. And she was quite literally at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, for it was aboard the Bellerophon in 1815 that the French emperor presented himself for surrender after Waterloo. In between these great events, the ship served a more prosaic career, including blockade and convoy duty, sailing in the waters of the Caribbean and Baltic as well as the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.
Codringly's history covers not only the war years, however, but starts when she was ordered to be built in 1782 and follows her through construction and the 1786 launch and then as part of the Royal Navy's fleet of ships in ordinary before the outbreak of the French wars in 1793. And it extends beyond the end of those wars when the Bellerophon served less happily as a prison hulk, straight out of a Dickens novel.
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Format: Hardcover
I was very fortunate last week to be in London with a day to spare and
visited the National Maritime Museum for the third time. Following on from a
conference the week before I was introduced to one of the directors of the
Museum who was kind enough to spend an hour with me. What a difference it
makes when you get to know someone who is in charge of a museum.
What may be of interest to members is reading a book he recommended to me
called " Billy Ruffian" by David Cordingly. . The book covers the life of
the ship Bellerophon which spanned 1782-1836. It is beautifully written and
easy to read. For those of you who like to read about naval history but find
reading historical digest difficult you will find this book refreshing.
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Format: Hardcover
During the height of the great age of sail, the late 1700 and early 1800's, the two most famous ships in the world were the HMS Victory and HMS Bellerophon. The history of the Victory is well known, especially since she was designed and served as the flagship of many a fleet, especially under Nelson at Trafalgar.
Yet, the second most famous ship of the period, the Bellerophon, has largely faded into history. No more, with the publication of Billy Ruffian. She was dismasted twice in battle (at the Nile and at Trafalgar). At the Battle of the Nile, she took on and destroyed the largest ship in the world, the L'Orient, and at Trafalgar, she was at one point engaging five enemy ships simultaneously. Yet, today she is virtually unknown.
I have been a `fan' of the Bellerophon for years, to the point that I named my sailboat the Bellerophon (which causes me a lot of problems at marinas, in registering her, etc.). Yet until now, information on her, except for her exploits in battle and in the surrender of Napoleon, were largely unknown. This situation has been rectified by the publication of this well written and researched book.
It is indeed fitting that Napoleon surrendered to the captain of the Bellerophon, instead of to Wellington or a famous Admiral. The `nation of shopkeepers' were the people who eventually defeated Napoleon, and the Bellerophon was not the flashy flagship of the period, but a typical, everyday 74 gun ship-of-the-line of the period, manned by the typical Briton, many of who had been shopkeepers before being pressed (drafted) into service.
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