On 15 January 1815, Emma Hamilton died in poverty in Calais. So much more than Nelson's mistress, who was this amazing woman?
Her life was a remarkable one by any standard, and she is the subject of our landmark exhibition.
From humble origins, Emma Hamilton rose to national and international fame as a model, performer and interpreter of neo-classical fashion. Within the public mind, however, she typically continues to occupy a passive and supporting role, and is often remembered simply as the mistress of Britain’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Lord Nelson. Our exhibition recovers Emma from myth and misrepresentation, and reveals her to be an active and influential historical actor in her own right: one of the greatest female lives of her era.
Born into poverty in 1765, Emma’s talent and beauty brought her fame while still in her teens as muse to the great portrait artist George Romney. In her twenties she achieved still greater artistic prominence in Naples, the epicentre of the fashionable Grand Tour. Here, as the confidante of Queen Maria Carolina, she also came to wield considerable political influence. Emma embarked on a passionate affair with Admiral Lord Nelson, but risked her security and social status in the process. Her fortunes never recovered from the tragedy of his death at Trafalgar and – following a period in debtor’s prison – she died in self-imposed exile in Calais in 1815.
The exhibition carries visitors through the arc of this remarkable story, revealing Emma’s driving ambition and her brilliance as a performer, and placing in sharp relief the social conventions ranged against her. In an age when people tended to remain fixed in the social categories in which they began their lives, she crossed boundaries of all kinds, broke through barriers and ultimately paid a heavy price.
To find out more visit our 5* exhibition