Who Was Emma Hamilton? Find Out At This Exhibition

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 26 months ago

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Who Was Emma Hamilton? Find Out At This Exhibition

Emma Hamilton: the name most likely conjures up Lord Nelson's mistress, or possibly the subject of George Romney's paintings. But who was she and how did she live her life in London?

The National Maritime Museum's latest exhibition is all about Emma Hamilton, so we've put together some of the key moments of her time in our city, and some facts you may not know about her.

Emma as the goddess and sorceress Circe, as painted by George Romney. Copyright Tate.

1. Humble beginnings

Emma's first job, at the tender age of 12, was working as a maid for the family of Dr Richard Budd in Chatham Place, Blackfriars. There she struck up a friendship with aspiring actress Jane Powell. It's rumoured she was let go from her job as a maid for staying out too late with her new mate.

A relaxed painting of Lady Hamilton, after she had married. Copyright National Portrait Gallery.

2. A move into theatre

Aged 13, Emma got a job working for the Linley family who were involved with the Drury Lane Theatre — it still exists today as the Theatre Royal. Mary Linley was in charge of the costumes, so it was likely that Emma assisted with the costumes at the place where Jane Powell was now starring.

3. Heartbreak in Paddington

Emma was actually born Amy Lyon before she changed her name to Emma Hart at the behest of her then lover Charles Frances Greville. Greville would keep Emma in a house in Edgware Row, Paddington Green. It's here that Greville asked George Romney to immortalise Emma in a portrait, and that's how she became Romney's muse. Greville ditched Emma when he lost his fortune and needed to marry a rich heiress to replenish his finances.

4. Marriage

As part of getting Emma off his hands, Greville persuaded his uncle William Hamilton to marry her. Emma Hart became Emma Hamilton when she married Sir William Hamilton in a modest ceremony at the still standing Marylebone Parish church, in 1791.

Emma as a a bacchante, another mythological figure, painted by George Romney. Copyright The Jean Kislak Collection.

5. Living with Nelson in Wimbledon

Emma's husband was stationed in Naples as the British envoy, and it's here where Nelson and Emma fell in love — shortly after Nelson's 40th birthday celebrations. Once they made their way back to England they made a home for themselves in Merton Place, back then, still in Surrey.

Merton Place no longer exists; in its place is the High Path estate near South Wimbledon station. But explore the estate and you can see that one of the blocks is called Merton Place — a nice little historical tribute.

6. Grieving alone

Nelson had asked that Emma Hamilton be looked after by the country when he died. Despite this, she was not invited to Nelson's funeral at St Paul's Cathedral and had to grieve at home.

Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity is on at National Maritime Museum from 3 November-17 April.  Tickets are £12.60 for adults, concessions available.

For more exhibitions to see this month, see our top 10 recommendations.

Last Updated 01 November 2016