Nelson and Emma Hamilton became a great scandal and, after Nelson’s death in battle, Emma was ostracised by society and died in poverty. There have been many attempts by historians to explain the relationship and to place it in perspective as a part of the life of one of Great Britain’s naval heroes. An interesting and sympathetic account succeeds where others have failed, recommended reading.
NAME: That Hamilton Woman, Emma and Nelson
AUTHOR: Barry Gough
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Horatio Nelson, Emma Hamilton, Sir William Hamilton, Naples, Trafalgar, George Romney, Sir Harry Featheronhaugh, Gillray cartoons
DESCRIPTION: Nelson and Emma Hamilton became a great scandal and, after Nelson’s death in battle, Emma was ostracised by society and died in poverty. There have been many attempts by historians to explain the relationship and to place it in perspective as a part of the life of one of Great Britain’s naval heroes. An interesting and sympathetic account succeeds where others have failed, recommended reading.
History loves a good love story, particularly one with a tragic ending. Most frequently, that means many historians doing a bad and unfair job of recounting and reviewing a very human relationship. Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton have faired worse than many star-crossed lovers from the historian’s pen.
Nelson and Hamilton began their affair when Nelson was serving in the Mediterranean. It was a very human story of a young woman married to an older man and a warrior far from home. It was however more durable than a few nights of passion. That became a problem for society as Nelson became the premier Admiral with a wife at home. There were accounts and claims that Nelson treated his wife in a very shabby manner and as with anyone reaching public fame and position there were as many who wished him ill as warmly supported him. Generally, the affair has been presented by historians as an ambitious woman of loose morals setting her cap at a young hero. This new book, which includes a copy of a speech by famous US naval historian Arthur J Marder, takes a sympathetic view of Emma Hamilton and her supportive role to a great naval hero.
Had Nelson survived his great victory at Trafalgar, he would undoubtedly have been made Duke of Trafalgar and Emma would have quietly faded from adverse public discussion. As is was, Nelson had a mythical end, the young warrior, tragically killed in the moment of his greatest Victory aboard a ship named Victory. It was a combination of elements that a fictional writer might have killed for, only to find critics having difficulty in believing the tale. Had Nelson been happily married with a clutch of children, public sentiment could have rallied behind them. A mistress was an altogether more difficult consideration and as likely to be blamed for a national loss that was nothing to do with her.
This is a nicely balanced review with a sympathetic hand that the heroin deserves. A particular delight is provided by a fine selection of paintings and cartoons, mostly in full colour. These can be enjoyed as art, but they also directly support the author’s presentation of the story.