Emma, Lady Hamilton

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Emma Hamilton (Lyon)

Also Known As: "Emma Lady Hamilton", "Emma Hart"
Birthplace: Ness, Little Neston, Cheshire West and Chester, England, United Kingdom
Death: Died in Calais, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Henry Lyon and Mary Kidd
Wife of Sir William Hamilton and Horatio Nelson
Partner of 1st Viscount Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson
Mother of Horatia Nelson Ward

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Emma, Lady Hamilton

Emma, Lady Hamilton (baptized April 26, 1765 – January 16, 1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson. She was born Amy Lyon in Cheshire, England, the daughter of a blacksmith, Henry Lyons, who died when she was two months old. She was brought up by her mother, formerly Mary Kidd, at Hawarden, with no formal education. She later changed her name to Emma Hart.

By 1782 the 17-year-old Emma was already very well known in London society, having been taken from a brothel "into keeping" as the mistress of several men, and as the model of the "Goddess of Health" for James Graham, a Scottish "quack" doctor. (In 1780, at the age of 15, she reportedly had a daughter by a "patron", Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh, named Emma Carew, who was brought up by her grandmother in Wales. As a young woman, Emma Carew saw her mother reasonably frequently, but later when her mother fell into debt, Emma Carew was forced to leave the country to work abroad as a companion or governess, and probably died not long after her mother).

Emma lived with the Honorable Charles Francis Greville (1749-1809), (son of Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick) a young aristocrat who was deeply in love with her and sent her to sit for his friend, the painter, George Romney. In 1786, resolved on finding a rich wife, he sent her to Naples to be the mistress of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples, in the hope of freeing himself from her for good, and preventing his uncle from remarrying Emma Hamilton.

After the portraits by George Romney, Sir William was smitten with Emma, and to Greville's shock, married her on September 6, 1791 at St. George's, Hanover Square, London. As Sir William's mistress and then wife, Emma developed what she called her "Attitudes", a cross between postures, dance, and acting, that took Europe by storm. Using a few shawls, she posed as various classical figures from Medea to Queen Cleopatra, and her performances charmed aristocrats, artists, writers — including the great Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — and kings and queens alike, setting off new dance trends across Europe and starting a fashion for a draped Grecian style of dress.

Lady Hamilton became a close friend of Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand I of Naples. As wife of the British Envoy, she welcomed Nelson in 1793, when he came to gather reinforcements against the French. He returned to Naples five years later, a living legend, after his win at the Battle of the Nile in Aboukir. However, Nelson's adventures had prematurely aged him: he had lost an arm and most of his teeth, and was afflicted by coughing spells. Emma reportedly fainted when she saw him. Still, she nursed him under her husband's roof, and arranged a party with 1,800 guests to celebrate his 40th birthday. They soon fell in love and their affair seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, by the elderly Sir William, who showed nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson, and vice-versa.

Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia, on January 31, 1801 at Sir William's rented home in Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London. By the autumn of the same year, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small ramshackle house on the outskirts of modern day Wimbledon. There he lived openly with Emma, and Sir William (along with Emma's mother) in a menage a trois that fascinated the public. The newspapers reported on their every move, looking to Emma to set fashions in dress, home decoration and even dinner party menus.

Sir William died in 1803 and Nelson returned to sea soon after, leaving Emma pregnant with their second child. She was desperately lonely, preoccupied with attempting to turn Merton Place into the grand home Nelson desired, and frantic for his return. The child, a girl, died a few weeks after her birth in early 1803. Emma reportedly distracted herself by gambling, and spending lavishly.

After Nelson's death in 1805, Emma (who had quickly exhausted the small pension Sir William had left her), fell deeply into debt. (Nelson had willed his estate to his brother; he gave her Merton, but he would have been better off leaving the house to his brother for Emma exhausted her finances by trying to keep it up as a monument to him). In spite of Nelson's status as a national hero, the instructions he left to the government to provide for Emma and Horatia were ignored (they showered honours on his brother instead).

Emma was to spend a year in debtor's prison (Horatia was with her at the time), before moving to France to try to escape her creditors. Turning to drink, she died in poverty of liver failure in Calais in January 1815.

Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante, by Marie Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1790-1791. Vesuvius, an interest of Sir Charles', is in the background.Horatia subsequently married the Rev. Philip Ward, and lived until 1881. She had ten children: Horatio Nelson (born 8 December 1822); Eleanor Phillipa (born April 1824); Marmaduke Philip Smyth (born 27 May 1825); John James Stephen (13 February 1827–1829); Nelson (born 8 May 1828); William George (born 8 April 1830); Edmund Nelson (1831); Horatia Nelson (born 24 November 1833), Philip (born May 1834) and Caroline (born January 1836).

The Italian dessert Zuppa Inglese, a more alcohol-laced version of the English trifle, is claimed to date from Lady Hamilton's time in Naples.


Emma, lady Hamilton; a biographical essay with a catalogue of her published portraits (1905)

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Emma, Lady Hamilton's Timeline

April 26, 1763
Little Neston, Cheshire West and Chester, England, United Kingdom
May 12, 1765
Age 2
St Mary, Neston, Cheshire, England
September 6, 1791
Age 28
St Georges, Hanover Square, London, England
Age 35
January 29, 1801
Age 37
January 16, 1815
Age 51
Calais, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France