Emma, Lady Hamilton (April 26, 1765 - January 16, 1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson.
She was born either Emma or Amy Lyon in Cheshire, England, the daughter of a blacksmith, and was brought up at Hawarden. She later changed her name to Emma Hart.
Emma Hamilton, in one of dozens
of portraits by George Romney at
the height of her beauty in the 1780s
By 1782 she was already notorious in London society, having been the mistress of several men and the model of the "Goddess of Health" for James Graham, a Scottish "quack" doctor. It was rumoured that she had had a child by a "patron," Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh, named Emma Carew, who was sent to live with her grandmother in Wales, where she remained the rest of her life.
She was living with Charles Francis Greville who sent her to Naples to be the mistress of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, a diplomat, in return for Hamilton's payment of Greville's debts. She and Hamilton married on September 6, 1791 at St. Georges, Hanover Square, London.
She became a close friend of Queen Marie Caroline, wife of Ferdinand I of Naples, as a result of which she met Nelson in 1793, who was to gather reinforcements against the French. He returned to Naples five years later a living legend. However, Nelson's adventures had prematurely aged him: he had lost an arm, most of his teeth, and was a semi-cripple wracked 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. Their relationship seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps encouraged, by Sir William, who showed nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson, and vice-versa.
Emma gave birth to Horatia Nelson Thompson on January 3, 1801 at Merton Place, a farm in Norfolk. Sir William died in 1803. From Sir William's death, Emma lived openly with Nelson in a small house in Merton (South London).
After Nelson's death in 1805, Emma quickly exhausted the inheritance she had received from Sir William, and by 1813, she was deeply in debt. In spite of Nelson's status as a national hero, the instructions he left to the government to care for Emma were ignored. She died of alcoholism in Calais in 1815.
Mollie Hardwick, Emma, Lady Hamilton (1969)
Norah Lofts, Emma Hamilton (1978)
Oliver Warner, Emma Hamilton and Sir William (1960)