An officer in a star fleet known as the Royal Manticoran Navy, Harrington bears a striking professional resemblance to both the real life Admiral Lord Nelson, Captain Thomas Cochrane, and the fictional (composite) character Horatio Hornblower. Like Nelson, she loses an eye and an arm in combat; her initials are the same as Hornblower's, and like all three officers, she has a genius for tactical command throughout the series and becomes a living legend by using those skills in several major engagements—battles for which the press dubs her The Salamander— for always seemingly to be at the heart of hot combat. By the tenth main-line novel (Ashes of Victory) Honor has emerged as a strategist of note as well, and has been promoted to Admiral in both the Manticoran and Grayson space navies.
Other parallels with real history include the political situation. During much of Harrington's career her native Star Kingdom of Manticore is at war with the neighboring People's Republic of Haven, a conflict that bears more than passing resemblance to the antagonism between the British Empire and France during the Napoleonic Wars. Last but not least, Weber references the author of Hornblower within the series on at least one occasion, a minor instance of 'breaking the fourth wall', as an homage.
Honor was born on October 1, 3961 AD on Sphinx, one of three inhabited planets of the Star Kingdom of Manticore's Manticore A sun. She is the daughter of neurosurgeon Alfred Harrington and physician/geneticist Allison Benedict-Ramirez y Chou Harrington. By virtue of her father's ancestry, she is socially a yeoman in the Star Kindgom -- one who is descended from the second wave of settlement of the Star Kingdom and who is neither a member of the nobility, who are essentially all descended from the first Manticoran colonists, nor a zero balancer. Additionally, her paternal ancestors were "genies," people genetically engineered to survive in high gravity conditions. In particular, she carries the Meyerdahl Beta modification which was intended to adapt ordinary humans for life on planets with somewhat higher gravity than Terra. She was raised in the Third Stellar Missionary Communion (Reformed), but is not significantly religious.
Honor is one of the few people adopted by a Sphinxian treecat. she has dubbed her 'cat Nimitz (after a Terran wet-navy Admiral), and she has devoted considerable research to them. She has thereby become one of the foremost experts on treecats.
Harrington attended the Royal Manticoran Naval Academy on Manticore's Saganami Island, and became an officer in the Royal Manticoran Navy. She is one of the RMN's best tacticians, and while she can make effective tactical evaluations, often quickly, and intuitively; her formal mathematical skills are erratic and unreliable, despite high aptitude scores, though her navigational skills are excellent. The gap between her anticipated mathematical performance and her actual work has caused her much irritation, and occasioned not a few problems while at the Academy. At Saganami Island, her roommate was Michelle Henke, cousin of Queen Elizabeth III of Manticore. Having been shy and lacking in self-confidence, Harrington learned much from "Mike" Henke during those years.
Harrington considered going out for the Academy pistol team (having learned a good bit from her Uncle Jacques, but decided instead to try out for the unarmed combat team. She has since earned an eighth-degree black belt in the martial art of coup de vitesse. While at the Academy, she set a sailplane record (for combined altitude, time spent aloft, and acrobatics) which (as of the latest book) still stands.
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During her time at the Academy, Harrington unwittingly became the target of a perverse, boorish midshipman, Lord Pavel Young, heir to the Earldom of North Hollow. When Young attempted to rape her in the showers, she defended herself well, and put him into hospital. Nimitz was not present, having been administered a sedative beforehand. Academy administrators were confident Young had tried to assault her, but her own misplaced sense of shame kept her from disclosing the facts behind Young's injuries. Young thus escaped with a reprimand rather than dismissal from the Academy, and in the following decades did his best to sabotage Harrington's RMN career. Despite his efforts, and those of various of his friends, Harrington's career did well, if erratically. Because of her outstanding abilities, which had been early recognized by Captain (later Admiral) Raoul Courvoisier while one of her academy instructors, the Young clan's enmity wasn't enough to derail her career entirely.
Her midshipwoman's cruise (aboard Captain Bachefisch's War Maiden) gave some evidence of her quality as a combat tactician during the shambles following a misestimation on both sides leading to an engagement between a local Silesian rebel warship and the War Maiden. Having had the entire chain of command either killed, disabled, or locked out of communication, Midshipwoman Harrington was left in command during the engagement. She finished off the opposing ship and was promoted, ahead of her class, to Ensign.
While a Commander, Harrington graduated high in her class from the RMN's tough Advanced Tactical Course, and immediately thereafter assumed command of the light cruiser HMS Fearless. Her exploits while posted at Basilisk Station as Fearless's Captain brought her widespread fame in the service, and placed her firmly on the fast track to senior rank. During subsequent assignments, she proved to have something akin to the Nelson touch, earning widespread public fame for her exploits. Being dedicated to her duty and an exemplary officer, she usually gained more than merely respect from her junior officers and enlisted personnel, as well as the high regard of both Manticore's allies (especially the citizens of the planet Grayson, which she saved from conquest by Masada and Haven more than once), and her military opponents. But, despite her best efforts, she also made new political enemies and suffered more than one personal loss at their hands.
In the course of her career, Honor Harrington has become a Duchess of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, a Grayson Steadholder, and an Admiral in both the Grayson Space Navy and the Royal Manticoran Navy. She has also earned several medals for bravery and performance, including the Parliamentary Medal of Valor after her action to save both Queen Eliabeth III and Protector Benjamin Mayhew IX of Grayson during a surprise attack by Masadan fanatics with support from Haven's State Security. She had earlier refused it afer her escape, with some hundreds of thousands of prisoners (the largest escape in the history of mankind) from the Havenite prison planet Hades. She has also received the Monarch's Thanks for lifesaving during an avalanche on Gryphon while aboard HMS Broadsword early in her career. and on several subsequent occasions as well, including an accident on HMS Manticore. She is the only living holder of the Star of Grayson, with two awards of the decoration.
Honor Harrington's rank and titles as of the end of the events in At all Costs include (Acting) Admiral of the Fleet and Captain HMS Unconquered Lady Dame Honor Stephanie Alexander-Harrington, Steadholder Harrington, Duchess Harrington, Countess White Haven. Her claim to "Countess White Haven" is unclear but arguable, but in any event is not held in her own right. Legally, Steadholder Harrington, Duchess Harrington, and the Admirals Harrington are simultaneously different persons, depending on circustances. Together with some intervention by the Manticorean Foreign Office, and with the backing of the Queen, resolution of one of the resultant conflicts allows Steadholder Harrington's Armsman bodyguards to accompany her on RMN vessels to which she has been assigned.
Honor Harrington is widely regarded as a military genius by the public and has been given the nickname "The Salamander" by newsies for always being in the "heat of the action" and but always emerging (relatively) unscathed.
The People's Republic of Haven once tried Harrington in absentia on trumped-up charges of murder (resulting from actions during the Havenite attempt to seize Medusa in the Basilisk system), convicted her, and sentenced her to death. Neither she, nor anyone in the Star Kingdom or its Navy, took this seriously for many years. But when she was captured by its successor's Navy while escorting a convoy, the conviction was dusted off. The extreme and radical PRH Public Information (ie, propaganda) Secretary, Cordelia Ransom, personally transported her to the PRH's secret prison planet aboard her private battlecruiser, PRHN Tepes. Honor was rescued by her captive crewmates, and Tepes (along with the Secretary) was blown up to mask their escape.
To avoid embarrassment, Ransom's subordinates ginned up a video recording of Honor's supposed execution. There were simultaneous state funerals for her on both Manticore, and Grayson. Her empty coffin was buried next to the similarly empty graves of Ellen D'Orville and Edward Saganami in king Michael's Cathedral in Landing City on Manticore. The Grayson Space Navy named a starship class after her while she was believed dead, and despite her protests, found it impossible to rename it after she returned — much to Honor's embarrassment. A very large statue of her was also erected outside Grayson's Parliament building at its public entrance. It too was impossible to remove or destroy, despite her insistence.
As of the opening of At All Costs, Honor is appointed commanding officer of the cruiser HMS Unconquered. This is the RMN's equivalent of HMS Victory or USS Constitution - the oldest ship still in commission. In its active service, it had been commanded by both Manticoran naval legends, Edward Saganami and Ellen d'Orville, the only such ship. Appointment to the crew is a largely ceremonial honor bestowed on serving personnel, with the commanding officer always being a serving admiral chosen by the Monarch from a list submitted by serving officers in the RMN. Unconquered's CO is the only RMN flag officer permitted to wear the white beret which shows the wearer to be in command of a hyper-capable warship, rather than the otherwise prescribed black beret of the standard officer's uniform.
During her career Honor Harrington has held the following posts:
- Midshipwoman, heavy cruiser HMS War Maiden
- Sailing Master, frigate HMS Osprey
- Commanding Officer, Light Attack Craft HMLAC 113
- Executive Officer, heavy cruiser HMS Broadsword
- Tactical Officer, superdreadnought HMS Manticore
- Commanding Officer, destroyer HMS Hawkwing
- Student, Advanced Tactical Course, Saganami Island
- Commanding Officer, light cruiser HMS Fearless (CL-56)
- Commanding Officer, heavy cruiser HMS Fearless (CA-286)
- Commanding Officer, battlecruiser HMS Nike (BC-413)
- Commanding Officer, GSN's First Battle Squadron
- Commanding Officer, armed merchant cruiser HMAMC Wayfarer
- Commanding Officer, Commanding Officer RMN Cruiser Squadron Eighteen (CruRon 18)
- Commanding Officer, "Elysian Space Navy"
- Commandant, Saganami Island Advanced Tactical Course, and Tactical Instructor RMN Naval Academy.
- Commanding Officer, GSN's Protector's Own Squadron (1)
- Commanding Officer, RMN Sidemore Station
- Commanding Officer, RMN Eighth Fleet (1)
- Commanding Officer, HMS Unconquered (1)
- Admiral of the Fleet, and Commanding Officer, RMN Home Fleet (1)(2)
She owns and practices with a replica Colt M1911 .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol, a weapon considered to be an anachronistic "hand cannon" by her contemporaries who prefer pulsers, which fire small-calibre darts at extremely high velocity using a gravitic propulsion system. She learned a taste for obsolete handarms from her uncle, Jacques Chou, who is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. His training made her a pistol expert (useful on Sphinx, given its predators, for all who travel in its protected areas).
She also wears an eyepatch from time to time, due to the loss of her left eye while defending Protector Benjamin Mayhew (the ruler of Grayson) from an assassination attempt. Normally she uses a prosthetic eye, though on occasion it has been disabled (as when she was captured and transported to Hades).
Honor practices a fictional martial art known as Coup de vitesse (French: blow of speed). It is a fusion of several Western and Oriental martial arts, developed primarily as a hard style in which emphasis is placed on offense, sometimes at the expense of defense, resulting in a very brutal and effective technique. Coup de vitesse lacks the elegance of judo or aikido. As of War of Honor, Honor has earned an eighth level black belt.