Today, Emma Hamilton is best known for her association with Nelson. However, in her time she was a great celebrity all over Europe; a great beauty, an accomplished dancer and singer, and the subject of over one hundred paintings and drawings by famous artists of the period. From very humble origins she gained, in her very early life, a reputation as a courtesan in London and the muse of the artist George Romney. Later, having become the companion of the vulcanologist, classical scholar and British ambassador to Naples, Sir William Hamilton, she moved to that city. Whilst there, she developed the unique dance, mime and music performance known as her ‘Attitudes’. As the second wife of Sir William, she then become the confidante of Queen Carolina of Naples and carried out an unofficial but crucially important diplomatic role for both the Queen and British government interests. It was her clandestine activity that enabled Nelson to defeat the French fleet at the battle of the Nile.
Unfortunately, none of these activities were officially recognised and all were later ignored after Nelson’s death. Her great talents as a performer were continually satirised somewhat nastily and vulgarly by contemporary cartoonists in England. Our view of her is often based on these images.
This talk demonstrates how rich Emma Hamilton’s life was outside of her time with Nelson and redresses much of the negative reputation she unfairly gained from the prejudice and snobbery of her time.