Amy Lyon was one of those remarkable women who, like dazzling meteors, flit from time to time across the sky of life and leave behind a trail of long and brilliant lustre. She sprang from nothing, and, before man had time to realise and appreciate the mystery of her greatness, she had vanished. To this day she remains a riddle. Her many biographers agree only on one point - she was divinely beautiful.

Although the daughter of a Cheshire blacksmith, who could neither read nor write, she became the wife of an aesthete, the confidante of a queen, and the idol of Nelson. Her wit and cleverness outshone her lack of culture; her beauty concealed her vulgarity. Her beauty Romney has immortalised, and it has immortalised his art.

In 1776, at the age of fifteen, she left her country home, came to London, and began her career as a domestic servant in the house of one Dr. Budd, who at that time resided in Chatham Place, Blackfriars. The girl's fascination was without limit. The charm and seductive influence of her beauty were entrancing. London she laid prostrate at her feet. And this is all that can be said. Much of her early history is veiled in mystery, and, of the many anecdotes relating to her early years, all that can be proved is that they are without foundation. Romance came into her life later, and with it came fame. In 1782, after she had been discarded ruthlessly by Sir Harry Fether-stonehaugh, the dissolute young baronet ho, for a time, surrounded her with the insidious fruits of luxury, penniless, in distress and at her wits' end to find a means of subsistence for herself and her child, Amy Lyon - or, as she now called herself, Emily Hart - appealed for help to the Hon. Charles Grevell, the one friend whom she felt that she could trust.

"My dear Grevell," her amazing letter began. "Yesterday did I receiv your kind letter. It put me in some spirits, for, believe me, I was almost distracktid. I have never heard from Sir H. . . . I have wrote seven letters, and no anser. What shall I dow? Good God, what shall I dow? I can't come to town for lack of money . . . and I think my friends looks cooly on me. I think so. . . . O.g., that I was in your possession or Sir H., what a happy girl would I have been. Girl, indeed 1 What else am I but a girl in distress - in reall distress ? For God's sake, G., write the minet you get this, and tell me what I am to dow. Direct some whay! I am allmos mad. G. adue, and believe yours for ever, Emily Hart."

Grevell did not ignore this appeal. The construction of the letter must have wounded his refined and scholarly susceptibilities, but the fascination which surrounded the person of the writer baffled his resistance.

To Emily, Grevell was a good friend. In his way he loved her, and, under the influence of his love and care, she acquired a delicacy and refinement of manner which were wholly new to her.

For five years she lived with him in a little house in Edgware Road, a model of conscientious domesticity.


"She docs not," Grevell writes, "wish for much society, but to retain two or three creditable acquaintances in the neighbourhood. She has avoided every appearance of giddiness, and prides herself on the neatness of her person and the good order of her house." During these years, moreover, her beauty was at its prime, and to Romney she gave no fewer than three hundred sittings.

Such a friendship, however, could not continue indefinitely. Grevell, moreover, for a man of his position, was anything but rich. Five hundred pounds a year was an income large enough to maintain him personally, but when called upon to support a household in addition, the sum failed palpably. But how to dissolve the partnership was a problem which troubled him Discard Emily he could not, remain with her he could not. There seemed to be no way out of the difficulty.

Love 100411

Lady Hamilton As "Cassandra

After Romnty

In1787. however, an uncle to Grevell, Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples, returned to England

Sir William immediately evinced a marked admiration for Emily, but she, although not a little flattered by his attentions, did not suspect for a minute that more than a bonne camaraderie could exist between herself and him. Hamilton was an aesthetic old gentleman, fifty-five years of age, and Emily nicknamed him "Pliny the Elder," never imagining that she was more to him than "the fair tea-maker of Edgware Road."

Grevell, however, saw in all this the opportunity for a brilliant stroke of diplomacy.

Why should not Emily and her mother go to Naples as guests of the ambassador? Sir William agreed to the proposition readily. It was delightful, and in no way offensive to the exquisite good taste either of the ambassador or his nephew.

Thus Emily went, and went as unsuspectingly as a lamb goes to the slaughter. Only gradually did she discover the true nature of the tacit bargain between Sir William and his nephew.


On April 30th, she wrote to Grevell: " . . . I love you to that degree that at this time there is not a hardship upon hearth, either of poverty, hunger, cold, death, or even to walk barefooted to Scotland to see you, but what I would undergo. ... I respect Sir William, I have a very great regard for him. . . . But he can never be anything nearer to me than your uncle and my sincere friend. He can never be my lover."

Later she writes: "I have had a conversation this morning with Sir William that has made me mad. He speaks - no, I do not know what to make of it."

Again, still later, she writes: "You advise me to . . . Nothing can express my rage ! I am all madness! Grevell to advise me - vou that used to envy my smiles . . . If you affront me, I will make him marry me."

And she did.

In 1791 Sir William took another holiday, and returned to Italy with a wife, his "beloved Emma."