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Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton

Quick Facts

Him: Lord Horatio Nelson, British Admiral

Her: Lady Emma Hamilton, young wife of Sir William Hamilton

Setting: Italy and England, turn of the 19th century


Background

In an age when the world was being redefined by revolutions of all kinds, the two most famous Britons were a pair of nobles having an affair. Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, seven years his junior, met in Italy in 1793 and began a six-year relationship that was the talk of London when they reconnected five years later.


Story

September of 1798 saw a British hero arrive in the city of Naples. Fresh of a victory at the Battle of the Nile, Lord Horatio Nelson was among the best-known and most-admired figures in the entire empire.

 

Having lost an arm and several teeth during the fighting, the sailor was venerated even more for his sacrifices in the name of victory, perhaps making Sir William and Lady Emma Hamilton all the more willing to take him into their home.



Emma doted upon Horatio, stricken with a rattling cough as the result of his campaigns, at every turn. She helped him gain strength in spite of his wounds, even going so far to plan a massive birthday party for him at her residence.

Their love soon blossomed – and no one is quite sure whether Sir William encouraged or just dealt with it, but he was complicit nonetheless.

 

Two years later, after Horatio had attempted to help put down an uprising in Naples, the three returned to London and roomed together. The affair was now out in the open and people from all corners of society were none too pleased.



In an attempt to drive a wedge between the two of them, the British Navy sent Lord Nelson back to sea. Though the two might have been married at some point, they were content to wait until after Sir William’s death – a sign of respect, they felt.

 

She eventually gave birth to a daughter, Horatia, in 1801 as the popularity of the odd arrangement grew. (Emma’s mother lived in the house, in addition to the other three.) Fascinated by their own popularity, Emma worked to remodel the house Horatio had bought while being a darling of the press.



Sir William died in 1803, just a few weeks before Lord Nelson returned to sea in an attempt to turn back Napoleon’s advances on Europe. Lady Emma Hamilton was pregnant at the time with their second child, a daughter that would die within months of being born while Horatio was at war. Though still married to Lady Fanny Nelson, the possibility for a union with his true love waited only for a divorce.



Sadly, while mastering the French and Spanish armadas during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Lord Nelson was fatally wounded. The most famous couple in Britain for centuries would never be united.

 


Reputation

When it comes to Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, it is the strangeness of the circumstances that makes it one of the world’s most famous love stories. Carried out in full knowledge of the couple’s spouses – and even widely reported on by the British newspapers – the fact it went on for so long has led many to be fascinated by it. The shocking details do, of course, take away from the intensity of their relationship, pushing aside the sweetness of their forbidden romance.



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