A biography of Emma, Lady Hamilton, charting her
incredible rise from prostitute to consort of the most famous men in Britain.
Kate Williams begins this rags-to-riches story in squalid Ness, near Liverpool. Emma, née Amy Lyon, was forced in her early teens to become a servant when her alcoholic father killed himself. She moves to London where she finds the city’s amusements more compelling than scrubbing floors, and her employer soon throws her out in the streets.
Armed with her good looks and determination, she secures a job at Drury Lane as a wardrobe mistress, while she moonlighted as a model for artists George Romney and Joshua Reynolds. Working at a brothel soon followed, then stag parties hosted by aristocrats like Sir Harry of Uppark, who got her pregnant and then passed her off to Charles Grenville of Paddington. After Grenville grows tired of her, she is handed off to his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, who lavished her with riches and actually married her, making her a lady.
Moving to Naples, she grows close to Queen Maria Carolina and met Lord Nelson on his way through the Mediterranean to resist Napoleon’s troops. Battered, with only one eye and one arm, the married admiral soon fell for the charming hostess, who soon bore Lord Nelson a child, to the delight of the press.
Kate Williams writes sternly of her often silly protagonist, but gives her feminist justification, e.g., “Despite all her charisma, intelligence, and charm, Emma had no rights and had to rely on what she could win from men.”