Battle at Knightsbridge: Nelson's scandalous letter doubles estimate at Bonhams sale

Historic letter at Bonhams exceeds estimates in strong sale

A letter sent from Lord Nelson to Lady Emma Hamilton during their affair sold for twice its estimate today of £6,000-£8,000 for £20,000 at Knightsbridge in the Books, Maps and Manuscripts sale.

In the letter, dated c.1801, Nelson documents his turbulent love life with his mistress, referring to a disagreement from the previous evening. He outlines his devotion to her and vows to defend her integrity amidst the scandal of their affair. After Nelson's death in 1805, Emma was at the mercy of society's judgement without his protection and this letter is a rare living testament to their affair.

The top lot for the sale was a first edition of Charles Darwin's 'The Origin of the Species' (1859) which doubled its estimate of £15,000- £20,000 to sell for £45,650. As one of the most influential publications of the 19th Century, this work marked a crucial turning point in modern science and this edition is a veritable collector's item.

Darwin's publication was followed closely by a first edition of Izaak Walton's 'The Compleat Angler' (1653). This work sold for £37,250 and is a very good copy of the most famous work in angling literature. The work is a unique celebration of angling and reflects Walton's own desires to live a contemplative life.


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 valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

Related auctions