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... Emma's Elegant Rose...


Emma, Lady Hamilton (born 1761; baptised 12 May 1765 – 15 January 1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson and as the muse of George Romney. She was born Emy Lyon in Ness near Neston,Cheshire, England, the daughter of a blacksmith, Henry Lyon, 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.


Romney painted many of his most famous portraits of Emma at this time. Indeed, Romney maintained a lifelong obsession with her, sketching her nude and clothed, in many poses that he used in paintings he made in her absence. Through the popularity of Romney's work, and particularly of his striking-looking young model, Emma became well-known in society circles, under the name of "Emma Hart". She learned quickly and was elegant, witty and intelligent. And, as paintings of her attest, Emma was also extremely beautiful.

George Romney was fascinated by her looks and ability to adapt to the ideals of the age. He painted her in many guises. One of the most famous of these is "Thais", by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which hangs in the drawing room at Waddesdon Manor, in Buckinghamshire, England. It shows Emma as Thais, mistress of Ptolemy, friend of Alexander the Great, holding aloft a flaming torch and encouraging Alexander to burn down the royal palace at Persepolis.

Sir William Hamilton was smitten with Emma and married her on 6 September 1791 at Saint Mary-le-bone, Middlesex, England. This gave her the title Lady Hamilton.

Lady Hamilton became a close friend of Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand I of Naples. As wife of the British Envoy, Emma welcomed Nelson in 1793, in Naples.

Emma nursed Nelson 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 Hamilton and Horatio Nelson were by now the two single most famous Brits in the world. They were not only in love with each other, but admired each other to the point of adulation. They were, so to speak, also in love with both their own fame, and that of their lover.

Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia, on 31 January 1802 at Sir William's rented home in Clarges Street, 23 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, Sir William, and Emma's mother, in a ménage à trois that fascinated the public.


Sir William died in 1803 and Nelson returned to sea soon after, leaving Emma pregnant with their second child (by Nelson). 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 1804. Emma reportedly distracted herself by gambling, and spending lavishly. Now she was free to marry Nelson, if he could only obtain a divorce.

After Nelson's death in 1805, Emma quickly exhausted the small pension Sir William had left her, and fell deeply into debt. Nelson had willed his estate to his brother; he gave Merton Place to Emma, but she depleted 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 Nelson's brother instead.

Emma was to spend a year in a virtual debtor's prison, in the company of Horatia, before moving to France to try to escape her creditors. Turning to drink, she died in poverty of amoebic dysentery, an illness she probably picked up in her years living in Naples.



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Taken on October 18, 2009