The Death of Emma Hamilton

On 15 January 1815, Emma Hamilton died in poverty in Calais. So much more than Nelson's mistress, who was this amazing woman?

A detail from 'Emma Hart as Circe' by George Romney ©Tate, London 2016
'Emma Hart as Circe' by George Romney ©Tate, London 2016
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.
Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, circa 1765-1815
Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton, circa 1765-1815
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.
Learn more about the life of Lady Emma Hamilton.