Past Italia! – Emma, Lady hamilton

Born the daughter of a Lancashire blacksmith, she rose – thanks to her incomparable beauty, sharp wit and fine intelligence – to become one of the most celebrated ladies in all of Europe…


Two hundred years ago this month the world lost Emma, Lady Hamilton, second wife of Lord William Hamilton, British Envoy Extraordinary to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Emma died in Calais on 15 January 1815, quite destitute (and drunk) but earlier in life she had known great celebrity – and the romantic attentions of gentlemen across Europe, not least Lord Horatio Nelson. Emma met Nelson when he arrived in Naples, battered and bruised, after victory at the Battle of the Nile, and nursed him back to health. While her husband remained consumed in his studies of antiquity and vulcanology, Emma and Horatio fell in love. Emma had known many men, but Horatio was the only one she had ever loved for who he was, not what he was. After Naples, all three actually lived together for a while in England, but neither man provided Emma with a decent pension and, as age took hold, the woman who had found international fame as the muse of the great portrait artist George Romney lost her charm, and with it her capacity to make money. She died as she had been born: poor.

Detail from Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante by George Romney (1734–1802)