Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Horatio Nelson: Love Story

Lady Hamilton and Lord Horatio Nelson
Almost everybody knows who Lord Horatio Nelson is: he won the Battle of Trafalgar; he lost an arm and an eye; and he said "kiss me Hardy" moments before his death. There is even a famous memorial of him in the streets of London. Yes, you are right, it's the monument in Trafalgar's Square, whereby perched on top of this column is a statue of Horatio, looking dead heroic as how people often portray him to be.

But what about his scandalous relationship with Lady Hamilton?

His relationship with Emma, Lady Hamilton was a very infamous one when he was alive, and the British government tried to quell this issue, because back then, his affair with Lady Hamilton had made Lord Nelson a laughing stock. An extramarital affair is an embarrassment and the people wanted to remember Horatio winning battles, not running around after Lady Hamilton. You don't want the man who is the epitome of heroism to be remembered for his "silliness" too now do you?

First Love

On 29th September 1758, Horatio Nelson was born in a little village in Norfolk. Not coming from a wealthy family, it was unexpected of him to become one of England's most famous heroes. Horatio's father was just a rector, and he never traveled far from the village except for the few years he spent at Cambridge University. Horatio's mother on the other hand, Catherine Suckling, was related to a powerful Norfolk family called the Walpoles (Sir Robert Walpole was the first Prime Minister of England). The Nelsons were sycophantic to their rich relations, and that was how Horatio got his name: from Lord Walpole's father. Horatio Nelson also grew up with 7 other siblings.

young Horatio Nelson
When Horatio was 9 years old, his mother had passed away. He had a tough childhood, but he was never afraid of fear. In fact, it was through listening to one of his uncle's heroic, courageous tales in the sea that had made Horatio dream of becoming a sailor himself.

After passing his Royal Navy exams with flying colours, Horatio went sailing as second lieutenant. At around that time was when Horatio met his future wife, Fanny Nisbet. Fanny Nisbet was a widow with a young son. She lived in her uncle's posh house and was in charge of managing it. Because Fanny reminded Horatio a lot of a lady he used to love, and that there is a good chance of her inheriting some of her uncle's fortune, Horatio had decided that he was in love, and asked for Fanny's hand in marriage.

Horatio wasn't rich then, and Fanny must've really loved him because she'd rather live in a cheap flat in London in the middle of winter than a beautiful mansion her uncle owned on a Caribbean Island. When they just got married, days were quiet and everything was at peace. This meant no war and Horatio not needed in the navy. He eventually got quite tired of the good but boring Fanny and was annoyed by her perpetual complaints about simply anything.

When the French Revolution began, Fanny couldn't share Horatio's excitement to go back to sea. The situation was exacerbated when Fanny's son followed Horatio to go on war. What Fanny didn't realise is her husband was going to meet the woman she hated most in her life-- Emma Hamilton.

Story of Emma Hamilton's early life before meeting Horatio Nelson

Emma was the daughter of a blacksmith, but her father died when she was a newborn. Emma then went on to live with her grandmother. When she got older, she became a housemaid who eventually attracted a rich man named Sir Harry. She lived in Sir Harry's estate in Sussex where she had his baby also named Emma. 

Sir Harry soon grew tired of Emma and passed her on to his friend Charles, who isn't as wealthy as Sir Harry. After living with her for a few years, Charles decided that he would be marrying an heiress  instead. Charles had decided to get rid of Emma by sending her off to his rich uncle's home, thinking that his uncle might fancy her since his uncle's wife had passed. Not knowing that Charles was dumping her, she lived in Charles' uncle's home for a couple of months. It was only till then when she realised that Charles didn't want her anymore. But by that time was also when Charles' uncle, Sir William Hamilton, had fallen in love with her. Sir William married Emma after that.

Sir William and Emma Hamilton made an unlikely couple. Sir William was twice his age and was very reserved, as opposed to the boisterous, friendly Emma. Somewhere along the way Emma managed to abandon her own daughter, because a child might have looked bad for her lifestyle.

Emma wasn't just a pretty face, for she soon became good friends with Queen Maria which greatly helped Sir William's influence in court. She had also became very famous in the community as a model in old times. 

Note: As you can see in her portraits, Emma Hamilton is a bit plump but people then find that more attractive than bamboo stick women.    

Emma Hamilton

Horatio Nelson had lost an arm in one of his battles and returned home to England after that. Oddly enough, the time spent for Fanny to nurse Horatio back to health turned out to be one of their happiest moments together. When Horatio went back to his job, he had won the Battle of the Nile. It was one of the biggest news in England and Horatio immediately rose to stardom. Even Fanny suddenly found that she was very popular with her wealthy neighbours when they previously didn't want to have anything to do with her. What annoyed Fanny the most was after some time away from Norfolk (Horatio's hometown and where Fanny was living), Horatio's letters were filled with abundant praises of one woman he had met a few times during his expedition-- Emma Hamilton.
Emma Hamilton

Emma Hamilton is the kind of woman who was very generous in praising Horatio. This pleased Horatio because Fanny's letters were nothing but filled with pleas for Horatio to give up his job and settle with her in their village. Rumours were soon spreading about their relationship, and people were teasing Lord Horatio for being crazy over his fat girlfriend. What they failed to notice was Emma was pregnant with Horatio's child, and she was never huge by normal standards.


When Horatio returned once again after a victorious battle, Fanny did not give Horatio a warm welcome. She had been upset by the stories she had heard, and even Horatio's father was disapproving his son's attitude towards Fanny. Horatio continued going out with Emma to theaters and balls, and this action was like an insult to his wife. Not long after, Horatio turned from a National Hero to a National Joke. So naturally, the married couple split on their separate ways, though Fanny never divorced Horatio.

When little Horatia was born, Horatio was elated to finally have a child. Unfortunately, he cannot share his joy with everyone else because it was an embarrassment to have a child out of wedlock, and this might tarnish Horatia's reputation and future to be seen as an illegitimate child. So nobody knew that Emma had a baby, and those who did pretended not to have noticed. Horatio too didn't have a lot of time to enjoy being a father, because he was ordered to sea again after spending a few days with his daughter. Horatia was then sent hidden away in London.

Horatia Nelson

Upon returning home, Horatio had decided to move in to his new estate with Emma (and her old husband). Emma's husband had resigned to Emma's affair a long time ago and was even more aloof than ever before. He paid a third of the running costs in Horatio's home but was never treated like he was one of the owners.

Horatio's father was very fond of Fanny, and he was very disappointed in Horatio for dumping her. He didn't want to visit Horatio and his new home but resigned to do so after constant persuasion. Some time later, news came that Horatio's father was dying. Fanny rushed to be with him but Horatio wouldn't go because he was embarrassed of bumping into his wife. Horatio didn't attend his father's funeral for the same reason.

Since everything was at peace, Horatio and Emma went travelling together. Horatia was also made their "adopted daughter" but everyone pretty much knew who she really was. By the time the couple returned home, Emma's husband finally lost his patience with her affair. Emma didn't have to put up with Sir William Hamilton's dissatisfaction for long because he kicked the bucket in April 1803. Apparently, Emma then went into deep mourning to show how upset she was. That was just for a show really, because one of her friends said she later heard Emma playing the piano and singing a lively tune. Emma was probably looking forward to spending more time with Horatio. What she didn't know was Napolean was about the strike again and the legendary Battle of Trafalgar was about to began.


Emma Hamilton
Before getting ready to go back to sea, Horatio wanted to officially profess his love  friendship with Emma Hamilton. Since Fanny was determined to never allow a divorce, he opted for a wedding substitute by exchanging "friendship rings" in the church.

In the legendary Battle of Trafalgar, Horatio Nelson had made one big mistake which had caused his life : he didn't want to wear a normal blue coat but his usual attire filled with medals and decorations. It was easy for the French to spot him and Horatio Nelson was shot. Despite England's big victory, the hero of the day was dead. Moments before Horatio died, he said to Captain Hardy, "kiss me Hardy." Contrary to popular belief, those WERE NOT his last words. He lived long enough to whisper "Remember that I leave Lady Hamilton and my daughter Horatia as a legacy to my country. Never forget Horatia." A few moments later he murmured, "Thank God I have done my duty."    

The Battle of Trafalgar had been a huge victory, but people don't know whether to jump for joy or mourn over the loss of Horatio. Napolean still continued battling at sea, but he would eventually be defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Notwithstanding this, there was no other battle as big and great as the one Horatio Nelson had won and lost his life to. When travelling back on his legendary ship Victory, Horatio was not thrown into the sea as he wished but stored in a barrel of Brandy to preserve him. As a special honour, some of his sailors were allowed to drink the Brandy that preserved his body.

Emma was at home in bed when news came that her lover died in the battle of Trafalgar. Emma screamed and fell back-- she had not spoken and shed a tear for ten hours.

Lady Emma Hamilton
Due to Horatio's valiant victory in the Battle of Trafalgar and his reputation as one of the best admirals in British history, the government had spent a fortune on his funeral. In a strange way, because Horatio died at the moment of his biggest success, people remember him mainly of his victories and lauded him as England's hero for years to come. After all, his battles had not all been triumphs. He used to be known as the man blinded by hubris and filled with recklessness-- his affair with Emma Hamilton had also reduced him to a laughing stock. Speaking of Emma Hamilton, the British government ignored Horatio's final request of taking care of her. All of Horatio's titles, pensions, rewards, assets, and whatnot were distributed to his siblings instead. Even Fanny was granted hefty sums of money as pensions for the rest of her life, but Emma and her daughter never got a sausage. The government thought that Emma should be content by what she has from Sir William Hamilton's possessions-- and she was an embarrassment in the eyes of the public. Emma was not even allowed to go to Horatio's funeral. Ironic how she is the most important person in Horatio's life.

Note: Lord Horatio Nelson was buried in St Paul's Cathedral in London instead of Westminster Abbey because Horatio was afraid that Westminster Abbey might sink, since it's built on a marshy ground

In the end, Sir William Hamilton's money were not enough to sustain the kind of lifestyle Emma Hamilton was leading. She was even put to prison for her debt. She migrated with Horatia to Calais, where she started drinking heavily and died in 1815. At least she got a monument in the end. In 1994 an American arranged for an obelisk to be erected on the site of Emma's grave in Calais.

Horatio's only child named Horatia came back to England where she later married to a vicar, had nine children, and lived to the ripe old age of 81. She was proud to tell everyone that Lord Horatio Nelson was her father, but never admitted that Emma Hamilton was her mother.


Here's a recommendation to read.


  1. That was so interesting! And his last words part was simply LOL.

  2. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German poet, had been invited to watch a performance during a visit to Naples. Impressed, he wrote:

    "The Chevalier Hamilton so long resident here as English Ambassador, so long too connoisseur and student of Art and Nature, has found their counterpart and acme with exquisite delight in a lovely girl, English, and some twenty years of age. She is exceedingly beautiful and finely built. She wears a Greek garb becoming her to perfection. She then merely loosens her locks takes a pair of shawls, and effects changes of postures, moods, gestures, mien, and appearance that make one really feel as if one were in some dream. Here is visible complete and bodied forth in movements of surprising variety, all that so many artists have sought in vain to fix and render. Successively standing, kneeling, seated, reclining, grave, sad, sportive, teasing, abandoned, penitent, alluring, threatening, agonised. One follows the other and grows out of it. She knows how to choose and shift the simple folds of her single kerchief for every expression, and to adjust it into a hundred kinds of headgear. Her elderly knight holds the torches for her performance, and is absorbed in his soul’s desire..."

  3. Great story! Do you know where Emma lived with Horatio? Does Dunsmuir sound familiar in this story? I would greatly appreciate a response. Thank you so much.


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