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1761(?) - 1763(?) Somewhere between these dates Emma was born in the parish of Great Neston, Cheshire
12 May 1765 Baptised at Great Neston Church as Amy Lyon, but through her life she would variously use the Christian names Amyly, Emly, Emyly, Emily, and Emma and the surname Hart.
1765 Shortly after her baptism her father died and Emma and her mother moved to Hawarden, Flintshire where they lived with Emma's grandmother, Mrs Kidd.
1776 Working as a nurse-girl in the family of Mr Thomas of Hawarden
1778 Moved to London and worked as nursemaid in the family of Dr Richard Budd
1778-1780 Worked in a number of jobs which may have included shop-girl, lady's maid, and barmaid. Certainly she worked for the quack-doctor John Graham in his Temple of Health.
1780 Gave birth to a child, afterwards known as "Little Emma". Emma had reputedly been the mistress of Captain John Willett Payne and "Litttle Emma" was most likely his daughter. The child was entrusted to Mrs Kidd, back in Hawarden, and with that ended alike the interest of father and mother.
1781 During this year she lived under the "protection" of Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh at his mansion, Uppark in Sussex. She lived amongst a dissolute set, reputedly dancing naked on the table for them, before becoming pregnant again, this time by Sir Harry. In December of that year she was unceremoniously dumped by him and sent on her way with barely enough money to reach Hawarden.,
1782 Back at Hawarden she was kindly received by Mrs Kidd and gave birth to a second child, which, as nothing more is heard of it, was probably stillborn. She wrote to Sir Harry who refused to answer her letters and also to Hon Charles Greville, the son of an earl, and one of the more decent men she had met at Uppark. He brought Emma and her mother to London. 

Charles, Emma, and her mother lived together in a small house near Paddington Green. Charles had no fortune, and they lived in modest and economical way. During these four years Emma received instruction in music and singing and Charles encouraged her to read poetry and novels and to take an interest in a wide range of issues.

In the summer of 1782 she was introduced to the artist George Romney who painted her at least 38 times, often in classical poses. Emma had a profound effect on Romney and his later work. (Emma would later be painted by Reynolds, Hoppner, and Lawrence in England, and afterwards by numerous artists in England)

In the summer of 1784 Greville's maternal uncle, Sir William Hamilton, ambassador at Naples and a widower, came to England on leave, and at his nephew's house saw and was greatly impressed by his mistress. "She is better", he is reported to have said, "than anything in nature. In her particular way she is finer than anything that is to be found in antique art."

By this time Charles realised that his only chance of financial stability was to marry a wealthy wife and set about ridding himself of Emma by forging a relationship between her and his uncle. To this end Emma was encouraged to go, with her mother, for a holiday in Naples.


14 March 1786 Emma left England for Naples. She had no doubt that she would return to England and Charles, and wrote him many letters to this effect, but it was never to be.
November 1786 Although it had never  been her intention, a relationship with Sir William began to develop and in November 1786 she became his mistress
1786-1791 Emma blossomed in the environment in which she found herself. As the mistress of an English minister, possessed of a wondrous beauty, singing divinely, speaking Italian - which she picked up with marvellous quickness - with a remarkable turn for repartee, she became a great social power. Artists, poets, musicians, raved about her; and a series of so-called "attitudes," or so-called tableaux-vivants, which she was in the habit of giving, at once achieved an almost European celebrity.
6 September 1791 On a visit to England Emma and Sir William were married at Marylebone Church. During this visit the Queen Charlotte refused to recognise her, but in Paris she was received by Marie Antoinette who was the sister of Maria Carolina, the Queen of Naples.
1791-1798 During these years Emma's influence in Naples grew. Within a short time she became the confidante and familiar friend of Queen Maria Carolina, and one of the leaders of society. Her closeness with the Queen meant that she inevitably found herself enmeshed in the politics of the time. It was claimed by Nelson in the codicil to his will that Emma ". . . obtained the king of Spain's letter in 1796 to his brother, the king of Naples, expressive of his intention to declare war against England, from which letter the ministry sent out orders to Sir John Jervis to strike a stroke if opportunity afforded against either the arsenals of Spain or her fleets."  
September 1793 Nelson's first meeting with Emma when he visits Naples to commandeer Neapolitan troops for the defence of Toulon
1798 By 1798 the French army was dominant in Europe and threatening amongst others the kingdom of Naples. As Nelson sought the French fleet throughout the Mediterranean Emma may have facilitated its taking on provisions in the neutral port of Syracuse.
Sept - Dec 1798 After his great victory at the Battle of the Nile Nelson took his squadron to the sanctuary of the harbour at Naples. He was feted by the populace, including Emma who also ministered to the wounds he had sustained in the Battle.
December 1798 With invasion imminent, the Neapolitan royal family, the Hamiltons, and a host of other residents were evacuated by Nelson to Polermo in Sicily
24 June 1799

Naples was indeed invaded by the French, but then recaptured and on 24 June 1799 Nelson was able to return to Naples. He was sent by the King and Queen to negotiate the peace, and with him were Sir William and Emma.

It was here that Emma played a part in the greatest scandal to dog Nelson's career. 

The Neapolitan admiral was executed for treason and rebellion, although Nelson could have shown him mercy. Emma is said to have been present at his execution, and of having shown indecent satisfaction at his death. 


Whether from vanity, emotional enthusiasm, or genuine admiration, Lady Hamilton undoubtedly laid herself out, with too complete success to win Nelson's heart. The two lived for and with each other, to the scandal of the Mediterranean station, keeping up at all times the extraordinary pretence of a pure platonism. Nobody knows precisely when the developing relationship was finally consumated. Some say it was in Palermo and others that it was as late as April 1800 when she and Sir William accompanied Nelson in the Foudroyant on a visit to Malta. Sir William bore Nelson no malice and husband, wife and lover formed a relationship which has been described as "Trio Juncta in Uno".

Some time around April Emma fell pregnant with Nelson's child (although there was never proof that Emma bore the child or that Nelson was the father)

By the summer of 1800 Sir William had been recalled to England and Nelson had run out of excuses why he needed to remain at Naples. The decision was made that Nelson and the Hamiltons would return to England together, not by sea, but overland.

10 Jul-6 Nov 1800 From Leghorn the party travelled homeward through Vienna, Dresden and Hamburg, whence they crossed over to Yarmouth, and then to London.
November 1800 For part of November Nelson lived with Fanny at 17 Dover Street.  There were some painful and embarassing moments including a trip to the theatre where Fanny fainted. Before the month ended Nelson abandoned his sham of a marriage, joining Emma and Sir William at their house in Grosvenor Square. For the rest of his life Nelson was commited to Emma. 
Christmas 1800

Christmas was spent at Fonthill, William Beckford's Gothic mansion in Wiltshire. Emma gave a performance of her "attitudes", telling in mime the story of Agrippina and as an encore she inappropriately imitated an abbess welcoming novices to her convent.

By now Emma was 8 months pregnant.

January 1801

Emma and Sir William rented 23, Piccadilly and on about 28 January she gave birth. 

Nelson left to join the Channel Fleet and there followed a bizarre intrigue whereby Emma and Nelson pretended that their child was that of one of Nelson's sailors and had been adopted by them.

In fact the child was given to the care of a nurse, allowing Emma to continue a normal life. In her letters to Nelson she was disparaging about Fanny and Josiah, her son, refering to them as "Tom-tit and the cub".

The philandering Prince of Wales had designs on Emma and Nelson was driven to distraction as to what might happen in his absence.

Summer 1801 No sooner had Nelson returned from his victory at Copenhagen than he was put in charge of Channel defences. He was able to spend time with Emma in Kent. He then tasked Emma with finding him a "little farm" outside Lodon where he could live when not on active service.  
October 1801

By October Emma had arranged the purchase of Merton Place, Surrey and moved in with Sir William.

Nelson joined them when The Treaty of Amiens brought a peace with the French which would last until May 1803.

Oct 1801-May 1803

This was the period of "Paradise Merton". Emma, Sir William, and Nelson lived as a "menage a trois". Emma entertained whilst Sir William fished and regularly drove up to London. The not inconsiderable household expenses were shared between Nelson and Sir William.

Members of Nelson's extended family and other acquaintances were regularly in attendance.

Between 21st July and 5th September they made a tour of the Midlands and Wales. The aim of the tour was to visit Sir William's estates at Milford Haven, but en route they visited some 20 other towns. The tour was a huge success, Nelson being generally feted everywhere he went

6 April 1803

Sir William died. 

Emma took on a smaller house in Clarges Street

Under Sir William's will Emma's debts were to be settled. In addition she received a lump sum of 800 and an annuity of 800 charged on the Welsh estates and payable quarterly.

Emma began to  petition the government for financial reward in recognition of her services to her country whilst in Naples.

13 May 1803 Horatia was christened at St Marylebone Church
16 May 1803

With the recommencement of war with France Nelson left Emma, to take up his new position as Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Emma, by now, was expecting another child.

May 1803-Sep 1805

Emma could not settle and drifted between Merton and Clarges Street. She passed her time with friends and Nelson's extended family.

These 2 years, when Nelson did not set foot on dry land, saw a copious correspondence between Emma and Nelson. We have only his letters to Emma as he carefully destroyed hers to him.

During this time Nelson allowed Emma 100 per month for expenses at Merton

Christmas 1803

Between Christmas and New Year she gave birth to Nelson's second child, named Emma. The child did not survive long, though the circumstances of its birth and short life are uncertain.

20 Aug 1805 -

13 Sep 1805

Nelson joined Emma at Merton for his first leave in 2 years
12 Sep 1805 Emma and Nelson took communion together. They exchanged rings and it was thus a ceremony that served a double purpose, affirming the innocence of their relationship while regularising it with "marriage".
13 Sep 1805

At 10 30 p.m. Nelson left Merton to rejoin the fleet. In his diary he wrote:

"At half past ten drove from dear, dear, Merton where I left all which I hold dear in this world...."

To George Matcham who was holding the horses of the carriage he said:

"Brave Emma. If there were more Emmas, there could be more Nelsons"

19 Oct 1805

Nelson wrote his last letter to Emma. It was unfinished and only delivered to her after his death. In it he wrote:

"My dearest beloved Emma, the dear friend of my bosom....I will take care that my name shall ever be most dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life."

21 Oct 1805

Nelson wrote a codicil to his will, in which he acknowledged the contribution made by Emma and stated: "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."

It was witnessed by Captains Hardy and Blackwood.

Later that day Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar

6 Nov 1805 Mr Whitby from the Admiralty brought to Emma the news of Nelson's death. She screamed and fainted. When she came round she was unable to speak or even cry. She sat silent and withdrawn for almost ten hours.

In Nelson's will Emma was left Merton and its contents, a cash sum of 2000, and 500 a year for life secured on the income from his Bronte estate.

22 Nov 1805 Extracts from certain of Nelson's letters to Emma were published which showed only too openly what their relationship had been. The letters gravely embarassed some of Emma's supporters.
Dec 1805-Jan 1806 Emma neither visited Nelson as he lay in state or attended his funeral
1806 Emma collaborated with James Harrison in the publication of his "Life". It  was Emma's most subtle attempt to impress the public with the justice of her case for a pension. The agreement was that Emma was to supply him with bed and board in exchange for half of the royalties. Needless to say she never got them.

Emma continued to keep open house to any professed friend or acquaintance of Nelson, and many were the sharks who took her hospitality and gave nothing in return. She was reckless, she was absurdly generous and with hindsight she was remarkably stupid.

She continued to pursue a pension through any avenue she thought open to her.

25 Nov 1808

By now Emma was in almost hopeless dificulties. It was obvious even to Emma that she was bankrupt.

A meeting of some friends was held to consider her case; as a result of which Merto and the rest of her property was assigned to creditors, and a sum of 3700, to be charged on the estate, was arised for her immediate necessities. 

1809 Emma's health was at a low ebb. She had an attack of jaundice. This turned into dropsy, and her figure began to swell as fluid began to settle in her legs and abdomen. The medical treatment of frequent bleeding and a daily intake of several pints of fluid - preferably porter or weak beer - complicated her condition and set up a chain of of urinary and liver troubles; probably hepatitis.
1810 Mrs Cadogan, Emma's mother and constant companion died.
Summer 1813

Emma was arrested for debt and consigned to the Kings Bench prison where she remained for a year.

Whilst there she invited the Prince of Wales to dine with her which he duly did.

Spring 1814

Two volumes were published anonymously entitled "The Letters of Lord Nelson to Lady Hamilton with a supplement of Interesting Letters by Distinguished Characters."

The affect was catastrophic since amongst other things Nelson had described the Prince of Wales as "a frequenter of pimps and bawds".

The publisher may have been James Harrison or a servant, Oliver, with whom Emma had quarelled.

Until her death (and in her obituary in the Morning Post) Emma was accused of selling the letters for personal gain. 

2 July 1814

2 old friends negotiated a temporary release from prison and Emma took advantage of this to flee to France. She and Horatia boarded the channel packet at Tower Bridge and landed at Calais.

1814 -1815 Emma and Horatia lived in at least 3 premises in the Calais area. They lived on small remittances from England. Emma taught Horatia privately at home. Her health deteriorated and she relied progressively on alcohol. 
15 January 1815

Emma died.

Her body may have been embalmed for return to England but this did not happen and she was buried in Calais in the graveyard of the Eglise de St Pierre. During the rebuilding of Calais the grave has disappeared.


Horatia, just 14 years old, returned to England and lived under the care of Nelson's sister Catherine, and her family the Matchams. She married a clergyman Stephen Ward, had 8 children, and died at the age of eighty, still denying that Emma was her mother.


Emma, Lady Hamilton 1765 - 1815

Emma Lady Hamilton