With Dr Quintin Colville, Curator of Naval History, The National Maritime Museum
Emma Hamilton is usually remembered only as the scandalous mistress of Britain’s greatest naval hero, Horatio Nelson. This has, however, obscured one of the most remarkable female lives of the eighteenth century, marked by achievement, creativity and drama. Born into working-class poverty in 1765, Emma had gained European fame by her early twenties as a muse and performer. Her dizzying social ascent saw her marry the envoy to the court of Naples, Sir William Hamilton, and she became the close confidante of Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily. Culturally powerful and politically influential, Emma broke through boundaries to claim a place in the public sphere. At the same time, social convention, snobbery and financial dependence on men always left her in a precarious and vulnerable situation. Following the death of her great love, Nelson, Emma’s life spiralled towards destitution and tragedy.
Dr Quintin Colville is Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum and curated the major exhibition now open at the museum: Emma Hamilton: Seduction and Celebrity.