All is Fair in Love and War
In keeping with the theme of love in this February issue of the Lord Durham Report I am reminded of many of the ‘great love stories’ in history. Probably one of the most endearing and enduring is that of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton.
Nelson and War.
There can be little argument that Admiral Lord Nelson is one of, if not the finest leader in the history of Britain.
The tales of Nelson, his bravery, his loyalty and his leadership are legendary. From the time Nelson assumed the command of the Agamemnon in service to Britain against the French in the Revolutionary wars, he became the darling of the seas and the conquering hero. Incredibly as the victim of chronic sea sickness the sea would always conquer Nelson.
He rose rapidly through the ranks and served with leading naval commanders of the period before obtaining his own command in 1778. He was particularly active in service in the Mediterranean where in 1794 he captured Corsica. He then led the siege on Calvi where in preparing his own guns on shore for an attack towards sea, French shot struck the battery rampart in front of him driving a shower of earth, sand and pebbles into his face, lacerating it and badly damaging an eye. In time the facial wounds would heal but unfortunately the damage to his right eye was severe. For the remainder of his life he would only see the dull light and shadows rendering his right eye quite useless to him. Contrary to many depictions of Nelson, he at no time wore an eye patch to cover his right eye.
He would again suffer a terrible wound at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. Once again in preparing for a shore battle he raised his arm with sword in hand at which point he took a musket ball to the right upper arm. He was taken back to his ship where the arm was amputated without benefit of anesthesia. It is reported that Nelson returned to battle within hours of the incident.
Nelson was a respected, bold, strong, admired independent leader who was much loved by his men. Much to the chagrin of his superiors, he was also known on occasion to defy orders as documented at the Battle of Copenhagen where he ignored the command to cease action by putting his telescope to his blind eye and claiming he did not seen the order to stand down.
During the period from 1794 to 1805, Nelson’s leadership, in the Royal Navy proved its supremacy over the French time and again.
Cape Trafalgar, his most famous engagement would be the final battle for Lord Admiral Nelson. On October 21st, 1805, Nelson addressed the fleet that day with the words. “England expects every man shall do his duty”. In saving Britain from the invasion by Napoleon, Nelson would make the ultimate sacrifice. He was hit in the back by a French sniper’s musket ball, severing his spine and then traveling through his lung resulting in a slow, painful death from blood loss.
Nelson and Love.
Love, amour, amare. Many a man’s downfall and many a woman’s weapon.
As well as being a heck of a fighter it is apparent that Nelson was also very much a lover. Never short of female company was our good man, Horatio.
Nelson’s first love was 16yr old Mary Simpson whom he met in Quebec in 1781. He was so smitten with Mary that he well and truly nearly “missed the boat” by staying with her and defying orders. He wisely got on board. Then in 1783, Nelson fell for Elizabeth Andrews, the daughter of a clergyman whom he truly wished to marry but was rebuffed. Then there was Mary Moutray, an Antiguan dockyard commissioner’s wife. In 1785, Nelson met Frances (Fannie) Nisbet whom he married at Nevis 1787.
To all intents and purposes, Fannie and Horatio were very happy and very in love. Nelson often bragged about his ideal life and perfect wife. Unfortunately, Fannie was unable to bear a much wanted child by Horatio. This combined, with his many absences at sea and waning interest led to a breakdown of the ideal home and hearth the Nelsons had enjoyed for about ten years.
Their six year relationship was steeped in scandal, moral and legal problems which appeared to be of little consequence to the two lovers. They had found their soul mates and nothing or no one would stand in their way, least of all Fannie, Nelson’s wife or Sir William Hamilton, Emma’s husband or even the Royal Navy.
As Horatio had drifted from one ‘grande passion’ to another so did Emma move from her marriage to Hamilton to her affair with Nelson , with much of the same grace and agility with which she performed her famous ‘attitudes, totally effortlessly and filled with passion.
When Nelson returned from the Nile in September 1798 Lady Hamilton made him her hero, and he became entirely devoted to her.” I am delirious with joy and assure you I have a fever caused by agitation and victory. Good God what a victory! Never, never has there been anything half so glorious…I should feel it a glory to die in such a cause. No, I would not like to die until I see and embrace the victor of the Nile.” Emma Hamilton, After the Battle of the Nile, 1798
Then in 1801, Emma gave Nelson the gift of his lifetime, a lovely baby girl. Emma, never the shrinking violet, named the little girl Horatia . To the rest of the world, Horatia was an‘adopted’ orphan and it was only after his death, that Horatia herself became aware her biological father was the Admiral Lord Nelson. There is no indication that Horatia ever learned the true identity of her birth mother. Once again in 1803, Emma bore a little girl who was named Emma. Sadly, she was stricken with small pox at a few months of age and succumbed to the illness.
Emma and Horatia were everything to Nelson. A classic portrait of Emma hung in a place of honour in his stateroom on board the Victory. His letters were filled with love and devotion. It was his greatest wish that upon his death, Horatia be called by his name, Nelson and that she and her Mother Emma be recognized by the world as his family, receiving the just rewards of his valour and dedication to his country.
“I will take care that my name shall ever be most dear to you and Horatia, both of whom I love as much as my own life. “, In a letter to Emma Hamilton from the Victory, 19th October, 1805
“Victory, October 19th, 1805. My dearest Angel, I was made happy by the pleasure of receiving your letter of September 19th, and I rejoice to hear that you are so very good a girl, and love my dear Lady Hamilton, who most dearly loves you. Give her a kiss for me. The Combined Fleets of the Enemy are now reported to be coming out of Cadiz; and therefore I answer your letter, my dearest Horatia, to mark to you that you are ever uppermost in my thoughts. I shall be sure of your prayers for my safety, conquest, and speedy return to dear Merton, and our dearest good Lady Hamilton. Be a good girl, mind what Miss Connor says to you. Receive, my dearest Horatia, the affectionate parental blessing of your Father “,
A letter to Horatia from Lord Admiral Nelson October 19th , 1805 from the Victory at Trafalgar
All is Fair in Love and War…
The French would have at no time ever considered that Nelson’s numerous victories over their fleet as fair. It must have seemed to them as if he were invincible. First, his back, then his eye, arm, then his stomach and again his head. Then the coups de gras, the fatal shot which killed him.
In 1802 during the brief period of peace following the Treaty of Amiens Nelson jotted down a list of his main wounds:
‘His Eye in Corsica
‘His Belly off Cape St Vincent
‘His arm at Teneriffe
‘His Head in Egypt,’
It was not fair that Nelson who fought battle after battle for England should have his final wish for his daughter and lover be denied. Not only were the titles, land and monies earned defending his country awarded to Nelson’s ‘legitimate’ family, Emma and Horatia were denied permission to attend his funeral.
“I leave to the beneficence of my country my adopted daughter Horatia Nelson Thompson, and I desire she will use in future the name of Nelson only”.
The manner in which Emma and Horatia were treated after Nelson’s death was not only unfair, it was shameful and reprehensible. One cannot help but think it would have broken his heart – yet another injury suffered for his country.
Soon after Nelson’s death, as a result of Emma’s financial misfortunes, carelessness or stupidity, it really matters not, she and Horatia spent ten months in prison.
Emma died in January of 1815, ten years after her dear Nelson. In order to avoid arrest for incurred debts, Horatia resorted to disguising herself as a boy in order to return to England. The country for whom her Father died.
Was their love fair? Many would say they ‘got what they deserved’. They both inflicted considerable pain, embarrassment and injury upon their respective spouses. They also denied their own daughter her name and her true parentage and yet loved her unabashedly.
Although not truly authenticated, according to eye witness accounts , these are the last words spoken by Nelson:
“Take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy, take care of poor Lady Hamilton”. He paused then said very faintly, “Kiss me, Hardy”. This, Hardy did, on the cheek. Nelson then said, “Now I am satisfied. Thank God I have done my duty”.
Article written by Julia McLaren, The Lord Durham Report editor
© text Lord Durham Rare Books, all rights reserved.