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Hamilton, Emma

Hamilton, Emma (1765–1815). Born in the Wirral as Amy Lyon, Emma's earliest employers c.1778 had links with London artistic circles, and her sensational beauty became celebrated through the art of an early mentor, George Romney (1734–1802). Mistress of Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh, and then in 1782 of the more worthy Charles Greville, Emma was much indebted to Greville and fell deeply in love with him. But his ultimate ambitions excluded her, and in 1786 he cynically passed Emma on to his widower uncle Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), British representative at the court of Naples and Sicily. Hamilton delighted in Emma's ear for languages and music, and her theatrical flair, and in 1791 he contentedly married her. An intimate of Queen Maria Carolina, Emma was able to bring timely sustenance to Nelson's ships before the Nile battle in August 1798. From this time on Nelson's infatuation with her, reciprocated by Emma with boisterous panache, moulded her future and dramatized Nelson's. Defiant in self-induced adversity, after her mother's death in 1810 Emma Hamilton degenerated beyond redemption. She died in Calais.

David Denis Aldridge

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