Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lady Emma Hamilton Regency Romance Era Supermodel and Cultural Icon

My degrees are in history--which, when chosen as a profession, is probably the best way there is to die both educated and poor--but regardless of that fact there was never any other choice for me. Children and family notwithstanding, I've always loved history with a depth of passion unmatched by almost any other in my life--the unimaginable heroics, the glory and the majesty, the dark and scandalous hidden depths, the purity and the pain, the total culminating whimsy created by the collision of circumstance, fate...and opinion that has changed history's course 10 million times a day ever since time began. I love it all and can happily spend hours and days jumping from nebulously connected fact to nebulously connected fact like a bloodhound on a cold trail, seeking the truth behind some long ago writer's opinion....

Lady Hamilton as Thais by Sir Joshua ReynoldsWomen's history is my favorite and that is one historical topic that truly offers a world of cold trails to follow, for let's be honest here--to the victor not only goes the spoils; but the right to tell the story in the way they see fit--and when it comes to history...women were more often than not the losers. If there is ever any doubt about that in your mind--try reading contemporary 19th century accounts of the true Regency Romance era love story of the incredibly beautiful, Lady Emma Hamilton (1765-1815) and her lover, the brilliant naval strategist, Lord Admiral Nelson. He was the hero of his time and she was the mother of his illegitimate children and the bad-girl tabloid queen and supermodel of her day. He was venerated and buried with all honors as the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar and she was vilified by her country and the journalists of her day--condemned to die in pain and poverty in a foreign land.
Lady Hamilton as Circe. A hauntingly beautiful portrait by George Romney.
He was war torn, disabled and idolized as a war hero. She scratched her way up from humble beginnings and was denigrated for it; but what would he have been without her? True he was already a hero before they met; but she gained enormous influence with Neapolitan Queen Marie Caroline and used that influence to both the advantage of Nelson, her country and that of the fighting men of the British navy. In addition, she provided Nelson with a degree of unbounded love and adoration that could not help but counteract the disfiguring infirmities he had acquired along with the titles, honors and rewards that accompanied his status. Although the clearest picture of this can be achieved by reading his Love Letters to her, and in his last will and testament--if you don't have the time or inclination to read them, take a moment and watch this clip from That Hamilton Woman- (The Criterion Collection)--starring the gorgeous Vivian Leigh. (It's a wonderful movie. I saw it years ago and never forgot it--and I just gave myself a copy as a early Christmas present.)

"OCTOBER 21st, 1805. Then in sight of the Combined Fleets of France and Spain, distant about ten miles.

"WHEREAS the eminent services of EMMA HAMILTON, widow of the Right Honourable Sir WILLIAM HAMILTON, have been of the very greatest service to my King and Country, to my knowledge, without ever receiving any reward from either our King or Country:

"First, that she obtained the King of Spain's letter, in 1796, to his brother the King of Naples, acquainting him of his intention to declare war against England; from which letter the ministry sent out orders to the then Sir JOHN JERVIS, to strike a stroke if opportunity offered, against either the arsenals of Spain or her fleets:—that neither of these was done, is not the fault of Lady HAMILTON; the opportunity might have been offered:

"Secondly: the British Fleet under my command could never have returned the second time to Egypt, had not Lady HAMILTON'S influence with the Queen of Naples caused letters to be wrote to the Governor of Syracuse, that he was to encourage the Fleet's being supplied with every thing, should they put into any port in Sicily. We put into Syracuse, and received every supply; went to Egypt, and destroyed the French Fleet:

"Could I have rewarded these services, I would not now call upon my Country; but as that has not been in my power, I leave EMMA Lady HAMILTON therefore a legacy to my King and Country, that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life.

"I also leave to the beneficence of my Country my adopted Daughter, HORATIA NELSON THOMPSON; and I desire she will use in future the name of NELSON only.

"These are the only favours I ask of my King and Country, at this moment when I am going to fight their battle. May GOD bless my King and Country, and all those I hold dear! My Relations it is needless to mention: they will of course be amply provided for.



The prayer and codicil were both written with HIS LORDSHIP'S own hand, within three hours before the commencement of the engagement in which he died.  His express wishes were ignored by the country for which he fought, and as a result the love of his life died in pain, poverty and exile.

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Smiles and Good Fortune,

Teresa Thomas Bohannon

Author of the Regency Romance A Very Merry Chase


  1. Lovely post! I didn't know that about Lady Hamilton though I did know Nelson's King and country treated her like dirt. A pack of hypocrites! Did your degree specialize in a particular era? I could easily settle my bones in some dusty library and spend years searching out forgotten secrets. I think the thing I love most about history is that you could take one event and study it from a thousand points of view and end up with nearly a thousand different stories.

  2. Actually the university I attended offered neither a women's studies department or even a specific concentration in women's history within the history department.... So I just signed up for any classes in history, social studies, sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology etc., that interested me most and concentrated my personal efforts on learning more about the lives of women in each period.

    Glad you enjoyed learning a bit more about Emma Hamilton. She really was the supermodel of her time, and was literally hounded by what were, in effect, the yellow journalists and paparazzi of her day. She posed for over 200 portraits (that we know about)in her lifetime and also did performance art in her home, giving herself the opportunity to dress up and show off her beauty to select groups of the high ton--with I might add, her husband the consummate politician's full encouragement and approval.

    She also, most certainty, received a raw deal from those in power--which often happens to beautiful women as their beauty fades...and particularly to those who dared to be different.


  3. Poor Emma! Your post reminded me of one of my favorite books on the Regency era. If you haven't come across 'The Rise and Fall of a Regency Dandy; The Life and Times of Scrope Berdmore Davies' by T.A.J. Burnett I highly recommend it.
    The man would have been a historical nonentity except he was one of Lord Byron's best friends from University. When Davies's debts sent him running for the continent he left in his Bank vault a traveling chest of his belongings. He never came back. The chest was forgotten for two hundred years then opened in the early 70's. The biography is one of the most fascinating windows on Regency life. The reason it came to mind was one of his (and Byron's) friends had set up house with a Mistress and the way they referred to her and treated her made me sick. In the end the man just tossed her (and I think a child) aside like a piece of trash.

  4. Hi Cari,
    I'm familiar with Davies via an old public domain book on the life of Byron; but I was unaware that his chest had been discovered and a book written about him. I will make a point of tracking down a copy and reading it. Thanks for the tip.

  5. wow inever knew any of that ty for the post those images r breath taking