Friday, July 18, 2008

Tart of the Week: Emma Lady Hamilton


Today is a special day so it deserves a very special tart. Emy Lyon was born into poverty on April 26, possibly in the year 1764. She didn't have much going for her but she was gorgeous. At the age of 12 she began work as a maid but was fired for spending a drunken night with officers (officers!) from Coxheath. At 13 she was streetwalker in Soho, selling herself in order to keep from starving. The Madame, Mrs. Kelly must have seen her lovely face and saw profit all over it because she soon became a high-class prostitute of Kensington Gardens, no more rags for her! Her face made impressions on most everybody; in 1802 the Prince of Wales told Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun how he had seen the most beautiful girl in rags years ago whom he later recognized as Lady Hamilton upon formal introduction. It has even been rumored she was one of the quack, Dr Graham's Goddesses of Health who would model half-nude at his temple of health.

By 1781 Emily (Hart), as she was now known, had moved in with Sir Henry Featherstonhaugh. She mostly served as a someone for him to have sex with when he came home from hunting, but the 15 year old thought she was in love. In August of that year Sir Henry tired of her and literally deposited her in London. Unfortunately, this is when Emma realized she was pregnant. Not knowing where to turn to, she wrote to Sir Henry's friend, the Honorable Charles Greville. Grenville agreed to help her, and so began one of the most complicated and bad relationships in history that it will make many feel better about their own.

In order for Emma to gain Greville's help, Emma had to agree to do whatever he said, including give up the child. The naive Emma (well, to be honest she was also kind of stupid) soon became Greville's live-in love slave. And she enjoyed every minute. Greville wasn't evil, he was just a control freak. He manipulated Emma to the point where the lovesick girl did everything she could do to please him. As much as she wanted to be a mother to her child, she wanted to please Greville more. Greville, being a second son, never had any money but had an extreme interest in collecting antiques. This hobby of his came from his old uncle, Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples. Greville's mistress was more than he could afford, despite him teaching her his thrifty ways. She was just another prized Classical antique to him, but what if he could use her to his advantage....Grenville began selling Emma...as a model! And boy did she sell, George Romney practically fell in love with her. Emma like the attention modeling gave her too; Greville was too stuffy to pay her the attention she craved. By this time Emma was known as Emma Hart and making quite a name (or face) for herself as the gorgeous model. One of her admirers was Greville's uncle, Sir William, an old and lonely widower.

Greville's finances were not getting any better so he did what he he usually did with any of his antiques when he was strapped for cash, he sold Emma to another collector, his uncle. Emma had no idea that she was part of the transaction to pay of Greville's debts. She thought she was just taking a nice little vacation to Naples with nice Sir Hamilton. You can image her upset when she found out Greville wasn't coming back to get her. Her distressed love letters to Greville at this time are some of the most beautiful and heart-wrenching love letters, despite her crude writing. Eventually Emma did fall in love with the senior citizen. She once again, was an antique collectable, but this time she was one to be shown off and decked in finery. At gatherings, she would perform her "Attitudes" in which she would strike classical poses in Greek gown. She met many fine and famous people, although many of the uppity British aristocratic ladies refused to see her since she was a kept mistress. These ladies did not include Georgiana, her sister, mother, or Bess, who found Emma quite charming and beautiful despite her crude way of speaking. Eventually Sir William married Emma in London in 1791; he was 60 she was 26.

Their marriage was a happy one. Emma even became a close friend of Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples. It was even Emma who delivered the last correspondence of Marie Antoinette to her sister Maria Carolina. But the happy marriage could not last forever. Emma increasingly became fatter and fatter, taking the charm out of her beauty. She also increasingly became more full of herself.

The celebrated hero Admiral Lord Nelson became one of the celebrities who visited the Hamiltons. At this point, he wasn't the gorgeous hero-type, he was missing an arm, teeth, and God knows what else. Emma wasn't much of a catch herself do to her extreme weight-gain. Despite this, Horatio Nelson fell head over heels in love with Emma. They two conducted their affair before the eyes of both their spouses and pretty-much all of England. When Emma became pregnant with Nelson's child, no one even noticed because she was so fat. The child, slyly name Horatia, was also sent away, much to Nelson's chagrin. Sir William may have never known about the child due to Emma's sneaky ways but he would have to be blind to not notice the affair. There are many debates about whether he allowed it due to his respect for Nelson or possibly just wanted Emma to be happy.

Sir William died in 1803 and Nelson followed in 1805. Emma was left alone and led a rather depressing an outcast life until her death from liver failure in 1815. With no one left to love her, including her own daughter who hated her, she drank herself to death.

13 comments:

  1. You know, I've never much cared for Lady Hamilton. Not that I have have any strong objections to her rather shady morals (how could I when my heroines are Mrs. Robinson and Mme de Pompadour?); but her personality always seems rather....hmmm, I suppose the word I want is 'crass'. She wasn't exactly vulgar, but I don't think anyone could claim to call her refined, either. Anyway, I'm afraid I picked up a bias against her from the Countess of Elgin. Mary Nesbit and Emma Hamilton did not get on, and she's managed to pass on her dislike to me, 200 years in the future!

    Still, one cannot deny that Lady H. was an uncommonly lovely woman, and proved an excellent muse for Mr. Romney's talents. I particularly like the one with the ivy crown you included --I've never seen that piece before.

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  2. xD Ha, I had no idea she managed to hide her pergnacy because she was so fat no one noticed. Oh, 18th century history, why is it you are much more amusing than all other history?

    mythosidhe- I think lots of people share your opinion. xD Elisabeth Vigee-LeBrun painted Lady H once and wrote that she found Lady H very vulgar and badly dressed, and, when Vigee-LeBrun had dressed Lady H up, Lady H's friends couldn't recognize her.

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  3. Now here is some saucy gossip! All I know of the lady is that my excellent friend, Nancy Storace, was good friends with her and indeed attended her funeral, sitting with Lord Nelson. Apparently, they were all on rather affable terms with each other as La Storace's common law husband, Braham, was asked to sing for the occasion.

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  4. Yes I think crass is the appropriate word in describing her! I like that. And I totally forgot about her being a fashion victim...she really didn't have anything going for her except her uncommon beauty it seems.

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  5. Oh dear, Wolfgango. Indeed, once again, you have it all backwards. Caro, it twas at Admiral Nelson's funeral that Braham sang, and that I sat with Lady Hamilton, as she was one of my dearest friends and was not invited to sit with the Nelson family.

    Crass, perhaps, but the Admiral simply adored her!

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  6. Basta! Blame it on my enjoying too much of your Mama's cider at our picnic this afternoon, Nancy. I do hope our gracious Hostess will forgive me my error.

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  7. how interesting- I guess beauty can get one somewhere..but it can't make up for good manners and certainly doesn't guarantee happiness! Those are some really beautiful paintings; it's easy to see why the painters loved her so much.

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  8. Yes, if anything can be said about Lady Hamilton it's that she produced great paintings and great gossip!

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  9. it is very sad though...to go from being so beautiful to having no self respect and fat?!?

    she obviously was doing something right....

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  10. I believe (my opinion) that Emma's beauty was her survival tool. She really wasn't (bless her heart) smart, which is partially due to her poor background. However she could be taught and did learn to sing and languages, which is more than I can say for myself. I wonder if Emma ever really did know how to respect herself, poor thing. It wasn't until she became overweight that she began taking the reins of the men in her life!

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  11. I love your blog - its amazing. However, I must let you know that you have spelt Charles Francis Greville incorrectly. Please correct it from Grenville to Greville, so that historians like me can find your blog through google.

    thanks for your fab blog!

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  12. Thank you so much Jessica! How embarrassing!

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  13. No postings lately. maybe project is finished. I am glad to se there is still some interest in the subject as I am writing a book about Greville post Emma.

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