England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

Kate Williams

Language: English

Pages: 432

ISBN: 0345461940

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


She was the most famous woman in England–the beautiful model for society painters Joshua Reynolds and George Romney, an icon of fashion, the wife of an ambassador, and the mistress of naval hero Horatio Nelson. But Emma Hamilton had been born to the poverty of a coal-mining town and spent her teenage years working as a prostitute. From the brothels of London to the glittering court of Naples and the pretentious country estate of the most powerful admiral in England, British debut historian Kate Williams captures the life of Emma Hamilton with all its glamour and heartbreak.

In lucid, engaging prose, Williams brings to life a complex and intelligent woman. Emma is sensuous, generous, artistic, at once shamelessly seductive and recklessly ambitious. Willing to do anything for love and fame, she sets out to make herself a star–and she succeeds beyond even her wildest dreams. By the age of twenty-six, she leaves behind the precarious life of a courtesan to become Lady Hamilton, wife of Sir William Hamilton–the aging, besotted, and probably impotent British ambassador to the court of Naples.
But everything changes when Lord Nelson steams into Naples harbor fresh from his triumph at the Battle of the Nile and literally falls into Emma’s adoring arms. Their all-consuming romance–conducted amid the bloody tumult of the Napoleonic Wars–makes Emma an international celebrity, especially when she returns to England pregnant with Nelson’s baby.

With a novelist’s flair and an historian’s eye for detail, Williams conjures up the world that Emma Hamilton conquered by the sheer force of her charisma. All but inventing the art of publicity, Emma turned herself into a kind of flesh-and-blood goddess–celebrated by wits and artists, adored by thousands, and, for a time, very rich. Yet Emma was willing to throw it all away for the man she adored.
After four years of archival research and making use of hundreds of previously undiscovered letters and documents, Kate Williams sets the record straight on one of the most fascinating and ravishing women in history. England’s Mistress captures the relentless drive, the innovative style, and the burning passion of a true heroine.

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Chivvying for a "second Aboukir," Maria Carolina declared that no one could "deal tenderly with this murderous rabble." The British government had recently come down hard on insurrections in Ireland, nervous that the Irish might ally with the French, and the queen exhorted Nelson to handle Naples "as if it was a rebel city in Ireland behaving in like manner." She instructed him to "make an example of the leading representatives" with an "exact, prompt, just severity." Any female rebels should

gambling as prostitutes began their toilette. The novelist Henry Fielding described the alleys of the City as "a vast wood or forest in which a Thief may harbour with as great security as wild beasts do in the Desarts of Africa or Arabia.1 The backstreets of London were no place for a young girl fresh from the country. Emma was lucky to have Jane as her guide. Jane Powell was Emma's first close female friend. She had a crucial influence on her new fellow maid, little Miss Lyon, fresh from the

History of the Society of Dilettanti. London: Macmillan, 1898. Connel, Brian. Portrait of a Whig Peer, Compiled form the Papers of the Second Viscount Palmerson, 1739-1802. London: Andre Deutsch, 1957. Constantine, David. Fields of Fire: A Life of Sir William Hamilton. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2001. _____. “Goethe and the Hamiltons.” In OGS, 26, 101-31. 1997. Elizabeth, Lady Craven. The Beautiful Lady Craven: The Original Memoirs of Elizabeth, Baroness Craven. Edited by A. M.

they soon became very fond of metheglin. Their cottage, now demolished, stood on the main road, near the church and the Fox and Grapes pub. When her husband died in 1761, marked in the register as "collier," forty-six-year-old Sarah had to find a way to support her family. William was sent to work in Ness, Mary followed to assist with his baby in 1764, and the rest had to find the money to live. By the time Mary returned, Thomas junior may have been working as a shepherd, guarding his neighbors'

sweetmeats arriving regularly from the palazzo's kitchens. Emma accompanied him to court and listened raptly to his stories of bravery, overwhelming the shy sailor with tricks of flirtation and allure she had perfected with hardened Neapolitan courtiers. Obsessed by social rank and terrible at languages, he was immediately impressed by her intimacy with the queen and by her fluent translation from Italian and French. In just four days, the king pledged Nelson his troops and wrote an obliging

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