Emma Hamilton

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Emma, Lady Hamilton (baptized April 26, 1762 - January 16, 1815) was the daughter of a farrier and servant who became the wife of Sir William Hamilton, the English Ambassador. She is most famous for her relationship with Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson.

Early Years

Emma Hamilton was born Emy or Emily Lyons in 1762 in Neston, Cheshire, England. Her father passed away when she was only two months old, and her mother became a housekeeper and maid. Emy was raised primarily with by her grandmother. By the time she was twelve, she had followed her mother into "the service" and had come to live in London as a chambermaid. Little is known about her early life, however by the time she was fifteen she was living in a brotel as a "kept" woman. She also portrayed "Hymen" in Sir James Graham's "Temple of Health" a slightly seedy, pseudo-scientific show about the benefits of a healthy sex life. One of her patrons was Sir Henry Featherstonehaugh, with whom she had her first child. Although apparently devoted to her, Featherstonehaugh eventually abandoned her around the time the child was born. Baptized Emma Carew, the baby would be brought up by Emma's grandmother, not knowing who her real mother was.

Soon after "little Emma" was born, Emma came more directly under the protection of another patron, Sir Charles Greville. Greville enjoyed a great deal of control over Emma, requiring her to remain sequestered from the parties and friends that had marked her earlier life. Emma was content to acquiesce to these demands, her only wish that she could have her daughter by her side. Emma fully expected that Greville would marry her, but he wished to enter Parliament, and was not ready to explain Emma's past to an exacting establishment. Instead he hit upon the idea of sending Emma to his uncle Sir William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples, in return for enough funds to secure a place in Parliament and possibly attract a woman with a large dowry. Emma was unaware of this plan until she arrived in Naples and had it explained to her by Hamilton.


Although of low birth, Emma took to Naples quickly. Sir William Hamilton enjoyed collecting and cataloguing the many antiquities on the island, and he undertook Emma's education as diligently as any of his projects. She was tutored in Italian and French, and given dancing and singing lessons. About this time she became famous for her "attitudes"—a type of dance that re-created moments of history and antiquity using only a shawl to suggest location and costumes. After living with Hamilton for nearly seven years, he proposed to her, and she readily agreed. Their marriage was not assured, however, as Sir William first had to gain permission from his first cousin—the King of England. After journeying to England, they were allowed to marry, and returned to Naples the toast of the town.

Naples was then under threat from Napoleonic forces. After declaring himself head of the French Directory, Napoleon Bonaparte had invaded all the countries that surrounded France and set up puppet kingships, rearranging the map to suit his needs. Originally intended to bring the ideas of "La Republique" to Europe, it soon became clear that Napoleon's true intention was to rule a unified Europe. In Naples, Queen Maria Carolina and King Ferdinand quarrelled over alliances: the Queen, who was the sister of Marie Antoinette, was all for an Austrian-English alliance, the King wished for a Spanish alliance. Emma Hamilton enjoyed no small amount of influence over the queen—they were confederates in practically everything, including political policy. When Spain declared itself an ally of France, the island of Naples found itself friendless, surrounded by the Mediterranean and hostile countries.