1 Nov 2012
A letter dated c.1801 from an emotional Nelson to his mistress adds insight to the scandal of the 19th century
A lasting piece of evidence of the affair between Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton is for sale with Bonhams in Knightsbridge, on 13th November.
In the letter, Nelson documents the turbulent love life between himself and his mistress, referring to a disagreement from the previous evening. He takes care to note his devotion to her and vows to defend her integrity amidst the scandal.
At the time the letter has been roughly dated, Emma had given birth to their child and their affair was public. Despite Nelson's wife's demands, he refused to relinquish Emma as his mistress and eventually he left his wife. In the 19th Century, this was an unthinkable social affront and he aggravated the scandal further by choosing to live with Emma and their daughter upon his return from sea.
During the scandal, Nelson urged Emma to destroy the letters sent between them, as he largely did. Emma, however, chose to keep her letters which were eventually published in 1814 contributing to her eventual downfall.
Plagued by politics and social disgrace, their affair lasted only six years before Nelson's death in 1805. After this tragic event, Emma was catapulted into a downward spiral and this letter is a delicate reminder of their love at the height of its devotion and is a rare living testament to their affair.
In June this year a marble chimneypiece from Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton's home sold for £25,000 at New Bond Street and this note is a further glimpse into the private world behind the public façade of one of Britain's great naval leaders.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com