Hamilton ,.I. Sir William, a British antiquary, born in Scotland in 1730, died in London, April 6, 1803. He was of good family, and a foster brother of George III., but poor, beginning life, as he said, with £1,000. In 1755 he married a wealthy lady, and was enabled to pursue his favorite studies in art, natural philosophy, and literature. In 1764 he was appointed English ambassador to Naples, and from his arrival in that country applied himself to collecting and illustrating the art relics with which it abounds. He was among the first of those to whom the British public are indebted for a comprehensive knowledge of Greek, and especially Etruscan antiquities, having made a large collection, which was purchased for the British museum. He lost his wife in 1782, and in 1784 made a voyage to England, to hinder his nephew from marrying Emma Harte; he himself, however, took her back to Italy and privately made her his wife, but did not publicly present her as such till 1791, in which year he was appointed privy councillor.
In 1793 he effected a treaty of alliance between the courts of St. James's and Naples, but much of the political management at the latter court in those eventful times is attributed to the influence of his wife and Lord Nelson. He contributed largely toward aiding Father Piaggi in unrolling manuscripts found in Herculaneum. He was recalled to England in 1800, at which time he lost by shipwreck a large collection of antiques, of which however drawings were preserved and published. A claim of Sir William on the British government for special services was disallowed, and he died in comparative poverty. His works are: Antiquites etrusques, grecques et romaincs, tirees du cabinet de M. Hamilton (4 vols. fol, Naples, 1766); " Observations on Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna," etc. (London, 1772); Campi Phlegroei (2 vols. fob, Naples, 1776-7, with supplement in 1779 giving an account of the eruption of Vesuvius); and Lcttera sul Monte Volture (Naples, 1780). Ten of his papers upon various Italian subjects were published in the "Philosophical Transactions" (1767-'95). Many of the marbles of the Townley gallery in the British museum were collected by him.
II. Emma Lyon, alias Harte, afterward Lady Hamilton, wife of the preceding, born according to some in Wales, according to others in Cheshire, about 1760, died near Calais, France, in 1815. She was the illegitimate child of a servant girl, and at the age of 13 was employed to take care of the children of a brother-in-law of the engraver Boydell. When 16 years old she was shop girl for a mercer in London, and afterward chambermaid to a lady of rank. She then became waiter in a tavern frequented by literary men, painters, actors, and artists. While here, learning that a young sailor, her cousin, had been pressed into the navy, Emma went to his captain, John Willett, to beg for his release. The captain let the cousin go, but kept the girl as his mistress. This illicit union continued for several years, during which time she acquired an excellent education. Willett, eventually becoming weary of the connection, gave her to a friend, who however quarrelled with her at the end of a month and left her in extreme poverty. A noted quack named Graham had contrived a bed of Apollo, or "celestial bed," on which, in a delicately colored light, an exquisitely beautiful woman, nearly naked, was gradually unveiled to soft music as Hygiea, the goddess of health.
Graham engaged Emma for the part of the goddess, in which she created a great sensation. Among her many conquests she soon made that of Charles Greville, of the ancient family of Warwick. By him she had three children, and fascinated him to such a degree that he determined to marry her, and would have done so but for the opposition of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton. But so soon as the latter beheld her, he in turn was fascinated. A contract was now made between uncle and nephew by which it was agreed that Emma should be transferred to the former, and that he should pay the debts of his nephew. At first his mistress, she soon blinded her new lover so completely as to become his wife, and was presented as such by him to Queen Caroline of Naples in 1791, by whom she was received into intimacy and confidence. Her extraordinary talents for political as well as personal intrigue here found a wide field for action. She soon formed an illicit connection with Lord Nelson, which her husband for expediency's sake tacitly encouraged. At this time the kingdom of Naples was critically situated, a French invasion being dreaded, while on the other hand fears were entertained lest England should ruin its trade.
Charles IV. of Spain having written to his brother, the king of Naples, violently accusing the English, this letter was shown by the queen to Lady Hamilton, by whom it was sent to the British cabinet. The result was that England attacked the Spaniards, and a vast loss of lives and of treasure to the latter was caused by the violated confidence. In 1798 the arrival of the French suddenly interrupted the festivities in honor of Nelson's victory at Aboukir. A panic ensued, and the royal family, with Sir William and Lady Hamilton, took refuge in Nelson's ship, which conveyed them to Palermo. When the court returned to Naples, merciless vengeance was taken on revolutionists and liberals, and of this Lady Hamilton availed herself to punish personal enemies, Nelson's violent measures, contrary to the articles of capitulation, having been incited by her. Having returned with her husband to England, Lady Hamilton found herself generally despised on account of her relation to Nelson, who had resigned his command to enjoy her society. In England she gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Horatia Nelson, and resided at a country seat which Nelson had given her.
After the death of her husband, and especially after that of Nelson in 1805, she was destitute, and left England for France, where she died in want and misery. Her daughter Horatia married a poor clergyman, and some funds were raised by subscription for the benefit of their children.