Saturday, February 12, 2011
About Lady Hamilton
The lady that Romney painted some sixty pictures of had a very interesting history. I hate to just shuffle by her without writing about that. All of the illustrations are of Romny's pictures of her.
Born Amy Hart the daughter of a blacksmith, she worked as a nursemaid until she was about sixteen and then found employment in a brothel. Her second job was working for an institution called the Temple of Health and Hymen, run by an alternative healer who had a special bed ( called the great celestial state bed) through which a mild electric current was run. Couples paid a fee to couple on this bed and evidently this allowed them to produce perfect children. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.
The attractive young Amy was hired to entertain at a long running party by one Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh where she evidently danced naked on a table. One of the friends of Sir Harry , Charles Greville was so impressed with her terpsichorean skills that he hired Romney to do a series of paintings of her. When Greville grew tired of her and under pressure from a woman he wanted to marry, he sent her off to Sir William Hamilton, an older cat, who was the British envoy to Naples. She assumed she was being sent on holiday but gradually became aware that she had been sent to entertain Mr Hamilton in much the same way that she had the nice misters Greville and Featherstonehaugh.
Oddly enough sixty two year old Mr. Hamilton turned out to be a pretty good fellow, and smitten with ms. Amy, they returned to England and he married her, making her Lady Hamilton. She was by this time using the name Emma Hart. Emma developed a number of skills as an entertainer, she developed a set of what she called attitudes, where she would pose silently as various classical heroines, and she was an excellent singer. She became very famous. Emma also became close to Queen Caroline of Naples and advised hers as a personal friend. Carolina's sister Antoinette, in the French court, had experienced some unpleasantness at the hands of the revolutionary mob and Caroline hoped to avoid the same treatment at the hands of her own subjects. Now the story gets weirder still.
Lady Hamilton was introduced to the victorious Lord Nelson, Britain's greatest naval hero. She threw a little party for him with some 1,800 guests. The two fell in love and became lovers, something the patient Mr. Hamilton evidently tolerated and encouraged. Nelson was married of course. They lived together openly and were a scandal throughout England and probably it's two most famous people. Emma was a trendsetter in fashion and just about everything else.
Nelson returned to sea for the Napoleonic wars and Mr. Hamilton died leaving her free to marry Nelson should he find a way to obtain a divorce. At the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson was killed, leaving a distraught Emma to mourn and grow morbidly obese.
Emma was given the house that she and Nelson had occupied. Although Nelson had asked the state for support for her, it never happened. Soon her lavish spending on the home bankrupted Emma and she was threatened with debtors prison. Her looks and figure gone, she found it impossible to secure another noble protector and Emma escaped to France where she was willing to take a drink under social pressure and died of amoebic dysentery, penniless and forgotten in 1815.