Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
10 minutes for reading

OH, LOVE: the magnificent admiral, the ladies and the Hamiltons

OH, LOVE: the magnificent admiral, the ladies and the Hamiltons
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Artwork: huxley.media via Photoshop


The heartwarming romance of Nelson and Lady Hamilton is not exactly a love story between two aristocrats. Nelson, only with the help of fantastic military merits, became a baron and viscount, and these titles, by the way, are not the highest. But personally, for Nelson, even they were something unimaginable — he is the son of a pastor, popovich.

However, much worse were the starting positions of the second half of the couple, born Amy Lyon — she was born seven years later than Nelson in the family of a simple village blacksmith. And the options for the fate of the blacksmith’s daughter is only nothing: with great luck to marry someone plainer, and if it does not work out, the road is one — in the maids. If you are lucky…

Despite the origin, Nelson’s service began with successes — already, in 20 years, he became the youngest captain in the British Navy. And about Amy Lyon, so far, you can not say the same. Unless you remember the scandalous performance in a lottery show charlatan James Graham as a health goddess (of course, so that everyone could see the indestructibility of the health of the goddess, without any clothes) — and that, perhaps, has passed without a mark.

And Nelson’s career was suddenly dangerously stalled — he was a very brave officer. Reasonable but illegal orders of his superiors, he not only sabotaged but also snitched about them in London. So he was thrown out into the reserve on half pay, and he married the widow of a doctor, Fanny Nisbet, and became stepfather to her son Joshua. It was just the right time to lose your career and half your money.

And there is no Amy Lyon — why spoil her reputation — there is Emma Hart, but she is no longer just a maid, but one who in Russian landlords called «lordy lady» — the official position is poor, but in the baron’s house is a full-fledged mistress. Moreover, the baron himself or, in local, the lord, 33-year-old Charles Greville, is crazy about Emma; he orders her portraits of the most famous artists. She is grateful to Greville, and more than that, she probably truly loves him.


Фрэнсис Нельсон, портрет английской школы, около 1800 года
Frances «Fanny» Nelson, English school portrait, approximately 1800 / wikipedia.org


And the lord is having trouble — money is tight, it’s time for a lucrative marriage, and there’s a bride with a great dowry. But what about Emma? You can’t just say, «Get out!» — her acquaintances would shrug their shoulders and refuse to accept it. And Greville has an ingenious idea — to send Emma to her uncle and, at the same time, out of sight because the uncle serves as an ambassador of the Crown in the Kingdom of Naples, not visible from London. The nephew sends a letter to his uncle — say, you still need a woman in your sixties, and the trouble of looking for her is not very much, there is one option…

Everything was arranged quite simply. Greville proposes: «Let’s go, Emma, to visit my uncle in Naples — a fantastic place! We can’t go together; I’ve got things to do, so you go, and I’ll be there a little later». She believes this, goes to Naples, and writes tender letters to Charles from there, but he is still not there.

About the fact that her dear Charles will not come at all, he writes her not immediately, but very frankly, along with advice to pay attention to Sir William — after all, it is better than nothing… Her return letters to Greville are not only full of anger, bitterness, and disappointment — in one of them, she writes: «I will never be the mistress of Hamilton. Since you are causing me such a bitter offense and insult, I will force him to marry me».

She succeeded — soon, they were standing at the altar. Emma had a skill for binding men to her — in particular, by not causing them unnecessary problems. She almost instantly turns into an ideal wife of the ambassador, perfectly fitting into secular society, chirping in Italian, and even becoming the best friend of the Neapolitan Queen Maria Caroline, the native sister of Marie Antoinette. Sir William Hamilton is not complaining: 36 years of difference — the perfect reason to be not too strict with his young wife.

And Nelson’s things start to go well — a multi-year war with France begins, and Nelson’s military luck is simply amazing. Let him be a medium strategist but a brilliant tactician. Nelson shows miracles of bravery and talent in the battle at Cape St. Vicente, burns to the ground the French fleet at Aboukir, and becomes England fleet leader number 1.

After receiving another severe wound at Aboukir, he fell on the deck with the words: «I’m killed, take care of my wife». Two mistakes at once: he remained alive, and his marriage ended just the decision to go to treat the wound in Naples…

In 1793, Nelson’s ship «Agamemnon» arrives in Naples — there they get acquainted. Ambassador very skeptically described to his wife the appearance of the sent with the commission of the captain — «a man of short stature, which can not boast of an interesting appearance». Actually, Lady Hamilton herself, a woman not at all miniature, tall and broad-boned, in principle, even overweight, looked next to Nelson like a blossoming mother with a teenage son.


Джошуа Рейнольдс. Сэр Уильям Гамильтон, 1777
Joshua Reynolds. Sir William Hamilton, 1777 / wikipedia.org


The hero who defeated the evil Gauls was met with honors that would not have seemed modest even to Kim Jong-un. Emma personally changed Nelson’s bandages, spoon-fed him hot broth and donkey milk, as the medicine of the time dictated, read aloud to him, and blew away dust and flies. But in the end, it was just such a wounded one that she was able to love — try to understand them, women!

Nelson himself could poorly imagine the high society of his own country. He cherished naive hopes that the scandal could be avoided, that his own wife would understand and befriend his new idol and that the Fleet Street scribblers would not smear the newspaper pages with articles digging into the private life of the savior of the empire, but she understood everything!

Only recently, by monstrous efforts, had she achieved a position in society, became the wife of a diplomat, and even a friend of the queen, with whom she ruled the country because the king was a fool — and now she had to prepare to lose it all…


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It was not a matter of Lord Hamilton’s jealousy — he treated them undoubtedly for all affairs in the highest degree tolerant. He sincerely honored the national hero; their human relations had always been excellent. He had no doubt that Emma would find in someone all that he could not give her by virtue of age. How much worse her chosen one could be than the correct and revered admiral by all of England? Sir William wasn’t very deluded either. What could he possibly be dissatisfied with?

Here Emma pushed Nelson to the worst mistake of his life — chivalrous service to her friend, Queen Mary Caroline, and her husband Ferdinand, a beast and a coward. The latter suffers an embarrassing defeat at Napoleon’s hands and flees, and a pro-French Partenopean Republic arises in Naples.

But the republican horseradish is no sweeter than a monarch’s radish — the Republicans are defeated, they are blockaded, but will it be easy to take them? And an agreement is made with them: they surrender their weapons, and then they can go home even to the French — general amnesty, rebel relatives too, peace, friendship, chewing gum!

Nelson was with the royal family at Palermo, but the senior officer among those present, Captain Foote, vouches that it will be so. The opponents of the monarchy are disarmed; let them go now- who is dissatisfied with anything?

Ferdinand and Mary Caroline are not the people who keep their word. Nelson, at the wave of Lady Hamilton’s finger, refuses to approve Foot’s decision: the king has decided otherwise! Surrendered and disarmed Republicans are seized and brutally killed right on the streets; there is no point in reminding relatives about amnesty, blood is pouring out in rivers. But the vengeful royal couple rejoices, and Emma with them. It was enough for Nelson to forget about honor and word — because of love.

Nelson’s wife, with noise and scandal, cuts off relations with her husband and settles separately, having achieved decent maintenance. And Emma Nelson builds a new luxurious estate where not only she lives but also Sir William — why not? The husband has the right to live with his wife, and they do not think of divorce. It seems that Sir William Hamilton lived happily and comfortably, and with the pregnancy of his own wife and the birth of a daughter with the meaningful name of Horatia, he seemed not to notice.

It is said that when he was dying, he clutched his wife’s hand with one hand, and the other was held by Nelson, his best friend. What’s wrong with that? A happy life and an easy death. So why was he able to be satisfied under these circumstances, while Nelson’s wife could not and parted from him hard, with recriminations and strife? I’m afraid it’s straightforward. The matter is in this very love: Nelson’s wife still loved him, and Lady Hamilton’s husband did not feel such a feeling for her. That’s why he was so well.

I’m afraid Emma was in love too because she had quietly thrown away almost everything she had achieved. There was no hiding the displeasure of such a scandalous adultery. Several of Nelson’s officers tried to explain something to the adoring chief, but he did not think of listening to them. He almost defiantly informed everyone around him: yes, I love her; no one, including her lawful husband, does not object, so what do you care? Well, first of all, love turns off your brain.


Джордж Ромни. Эмма, леди Гамильтон, около 1785 года
George Romney. Emma, Lady Hamilton, approximately 1785 / wikipedia.org


How badly he was wrong became clear to everyone very soon but never to him. Before the decisive battle, when the English fleet was ready near Cape Trafalgar to pounce on the Franco-Spanish squadron, which had more ships and the heavier weight of the volley, Nelson was not concerned about this — in the face of probable death, he worried about the fate of Emma.

If he died, his property would be inherited not by her but by his official wife. By the way, Sir William Hamilton bequeathed all his fortune not to his lawful wife and the same Sir Charles Greville to whom he sent Emma. After Nelson’s death, she will be left destitute and despised by everyone.

So, before the battle begins, Nelson writes his will. He entrusts Lady Hamilton to the care of «my king and country» and expresses the hope that she will be provided enough to live up to her rank. He also bequeaths his adopted daughter Horatia to the charity of Britain and asks that she be allowed to bear his surname in the future.

After finishing this strikingly naive document, he bows to Emma one last time — bending his back to have Captains Hardy and Blackwood sign the will as witnesses. There is no time to look for the table — they are about to open fire.

What ended in Trafalgar — everyone knows: France is defeated, the French fleet, it is believed, no longer exists, and Nelson is killed. The wound was terrible: the bullet pierced the admiral’s lung, broke the spine, and lodged in the muscles of the back. He had time to ask that he not be buried at sea, as was usual in the navy. Perhaps he even imagined that at his funeral ceremony, Emma would receive the honors due to a hero’s wife. Such a naive man would do it.

No one thought to honor his last request and provide for Emma. He was given unheard-of honors, and Emma was not even invited to the funeral — who is she to him? Unable to save money, she wasted the crumbs left to her, got into debt, fled abroad to escape the debt trap, and soon died in deep poverty.

The famous movie about her begins and ends with shots of Emma’s imprisonment, where she tells her fellow prisoners her story. In the end, when the shocked listener asks, «What then? And then what?» Vivien Leigh replies: «There was no then, there was no afterward…» I try to think of something even more terrible that I can say about himself as a still-alive person, and I can not…

But the story of their love traveled the world and brought Nelson a rare record worthy of the Guinness Book of Records — it seems that he is the commander with the most popular personal life among the people.

Impressions of his post-war triumph on Soviet screens were so strong that during the «Dynamo» tour of British stadiums at the post-match banquet, the great goalkeeper Alexei Khomich, nicknamed Tiger, got into a joke by starting his toast with the words «Ladies and Hamiltons» instead of the traditional «Ladies and Gentlemen».

So, was Nelson lucky to be visited by such love, or did it bring him bad fortune? It seems that love is not a bad thing in itself, but it is not a good thing either. It is something else, and the only thing you can say with certainty is that you will never forget it. How exactly you’ll remember it, you won’t know.


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