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.

19 comments:

Kessie said...

Wow, what a strange, tragic story. I imagine there's all kinds of moral lessons to be pulled out of her life, too. :-)

barbara b. land of boz said...

Thank you Stape, you really know how to tell a good story.
I am enjoying these posts. So, Keep on keeping on!

JonInFrance said...

Truth is so so much more stranger than fiction! I wonder what went through her mind at the various phases of her life? The world never changes really though does it? Nice portraits - made all the more interesting when you know the story...

phiq said...

Great post!

Durinda Cheek, Fine Artist said...

This would make an interesting movie!

Simone said...

"The House of Health and Hymen"? A fella could go blind just thinking about it....

billspaintingmn said...

Beauty is like a log on the fire.
Handle it carefully, it can warm you or burn you. It's enchanting and fun.
(You can also grill a hot dog on it!)

mariandioguardi.com said...

Physical beauty...a blessing and a curse.

Mark Heng said...

Wow, I'll never look at Nelson's column quite the same way again...

Stapleton Kearns said...

Kessie:
Lets not overthink this thing. Stuff happens. If it feels good do it. You don't push the river man....
...................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

barbara:
Thanks.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Jon;
It sounds like a Dickens novel.
................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

phiq:
Thanks.
...............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Durinda;
There is a movie, I think it starred Vivian Leigh, But I am not sure.
............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Simone;
Hymen was a greek diety of ? I think health, but maybe some other thing that is nice too.
..................Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

bill:
The grilled hot dog of beauty,Sounds good!
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Marian;
I have never been cursed with beauty and it is beginning to look like it is all downhill from here anyway.
.............Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Mark.
Nelson never saw that column did he?
..............Stape

Stephanie Berry said...

Kind of reminds me of the Lilly Langtry story. So entertaining!!