The Hornblower series written by English novelist C.S. Forester is about a British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars. The series follows Horatio Hornblower through his career and across the development of the Napoleonic Wars, from a midshipman and lieutenant to an admiral in the British Navy. Hornblower learned to be a leader and to survive during wartime but also in peacetime.
The Hornblower saga was adapted into a movie, Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951) starring Gregory Peck, and a series of made-for-television movies for ITV (1998-2003) starring Ioan Gruffudd as Horatio Hornblower.
How to read the Hornblower Series in Order?
There is more than one order to read the Hornblower book series. You can follow the publication order or the chronological order. This is only about the novels, not the short stories, sorry.
Reading the Hornblower Books in Publication Order:
- Beat to Quarters (The Happy Return in the UK) – June 1808, somewhere west of Nicaragua. The Admiralty has ordered Captain Horatio Hornblower, now in command of the thirty-six-gun HMS Lydia, to form an alliance against the Spanish colonial government with an insane Spanish landowner; to find a water route across the Central American isthmus; and to sink the fifty-gun Spanish ship of the line Natividad. A daunting enough set of orders-even if the happily married captain were not woefully distracted by the passenger he is obliged to take on in Panama: Lady Barbara Wellesley.
- Ship of the Line – May 1810, seventeen years deep into the Napoleonic Wars. Captain Horatio Hornblower is newly in command of his first ship of the line, the seventy-four-gun HMS Sutherland. By the time the Sutherland reaches the blockaded Catalonian coast of Spain, the crew is capable of staging five astonishing solo raids against the French. But the grisly prospect of defeat and capture looms for both captain and crew as the Sutherland single-handedly takes on four French ships.
- Flying Colours – Forced to surrender his ship, the Sutherland, after a long and bloody battle, Captain Horatio Hornblower now bides his time as a prisoner in a French fortress. Within days he and his first lieutenant, Bush, who was crippled in the last fight, are to be taken to Paris to be tried on trumped-up charges of violating the laws of war, and most probably executed as part of Napoleon’s attempt to rally the warweary empire behind him.
- Commodore Hornblower (The Commodore in the UK) – Hornblower returns in command of a small but powerful squadron. His mission is so delicate that the fate of Europe hangs on the outcome. Often outgunned and outmanned, but never outfought or outsailed, Hornblower takes his squadron north to Russia. There he wins the Czar’s resistance against Napoleon.
- Lord Hornblower – Having received strict and confidential orders from high above, Horatio Hornblower must recapture The Flame, a brig which has been taken over by a band of mutineers. Voyaging to the Bay of Seine in order to rescue the captive Lieutenant Augustin Chadwick from his disloyal crew, Horatio Hornblower must once more fight for the freedom and safety of his people and country.
- Mr. Midshipman Hornblower – The year is 1793, the eve of the Napoleonic Wars, and Horatio Hornblower, a seventeen-year-old boy unschooled in seafaring and the ways of seamen, is ordered to board a French merchant ship and take command of crew and cargo for the glory of England. Though not an unqualified success, this first naval adventure teaches the young midshipman enough to launch him on a series of increasingly glorious exploits.
- Lieutenant Hornblower – The 19th-century dawns and the Napoleonic Wars rage as Horatio Hornblower faces the fury of the French and Spanish fleets combined. Amidst the hissing of wet wads, the stifling heat of white-hot cannon shot and the clamour of a mutinous crew, new Lieutenant Hornblower will need all of his seafaring cunning to overcome his first challenge in independent command on the high seas.
- Hornblower and the Atropos – In the wake of a humbling incident aboard a canal boat in the Cotswolds, young Captain Horatio Hornblower arrives in London to take command of the Atropos, a 22-gun sloop barely large enough to require a captain. Soon Atropos is part of the Mediterranean Fleet’s harassment of Napoleon, recovering treasure that lies deep in Turkish waters and boldly challenging a Spanish frigate several times her size.
- Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies – Napoleon is finally defeated, but the world, far from falling into an easy rhythm of peace, seethes. France’s empire is ripe for plucking, her citizens for revanche. Out of retirement and into this maelstrom comes Hornblower, assigned military and diplomatic chores for which only he is suited.
- Hornblower and the Hotspur – April 1803. The Peace of Amiens is breaking down. Napoleon is building ships and amassing an army just across the Channel. Horatio Hornblower commands the three-masted Hotspur on a dangerous reconnaissance mission that evolves, as war breaks out, into a series of spectacular confrontations.
- Hornblower During the Crisis – Unfinished at the time of C. S. Forester’s death. On the threshold of securing his first post as captain, Hornblower finds himself forced by the exigencies of war to fight alongside a man whom he has unintentionally helped to court-martial. And for the first time Hornblower assents to engaging in espionage in his efforts to bring victory and glory to England in the Napoleonic Wars.
Reading the Hornblower Books in Chronological Order:
From the beginning of Hornblower’s career to the end…
- Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
- Lieutenant Hornblower
- Hornblower and the Hotspur
- Hornblower During the Crisis
- Hornblower and the Atropos
- Beat to Quarters
- Ship of the Line
- Flying Colours
- Commodore Hornblower
- Lord Hornblower
- Admiral Hornblower in the West Indies
If you like our article about the Hornblower series in order, don’t forget to bookmark it! You may also want to check out The Aubrey and Maturin series, the Thomas Kydd books, Alan Lewrie’s Dewey Lambdin series, the Nathan Peake novels.