History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 January 2011

Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton Love Token Found!

On Thursday, the auction house of Woolley and Wallis in Salisbury England will auction off a piece of romantic, nautical, and historic memorabilia (expected hammer price of up to £5,000 -- which sounds low to me).

It's a 3" gold locket decorated with pearls and containing locks of hair purportedly belonging both to Admiral Nelson and Emma Hamilton, his future lover, made shortly after Nelson's illustrious victory over Napoleon's fleet at the Nile on August 1, 1798.

Nelson's ship was severely destroyed during the battle and Nelson himself was injured during the fighting. He put into port in Naples where Sir William Hamilton was Britain's ambassador to the Court of the Two Sicilies. Hamilton's much younger, luscious wife Emma was a confidante of the queen. She had been corresponding with the admiral since 1793 when Nelson had come to Naples to request their military and financial aid: Napoleon had blockaded Toulouse and England was desperately in need of allies in the Mediterranean.

Emma and Nelson did not see each other from 1793 until late September 1798 when his flagship, the Vanguard, limped into the Bay of Naples, and she was rowed out to welcome him. When she saw that he had lost an arm and the sight in one eye she nearly fainted. The admiral was also suffering from a relapse of malaria; Emma nursed him back to health. It was then, during Nelson's long weeks of convalesence that the pair most likely fell in love, although Nelson, too, was married at the time. His wife, Fanny Nisbet, was back in London. She didn't understand him, Nelson insisted. Emma, however, was his soul mate. Their passion was powerful and mutual, but out of respect for Sir William, was not consummated for many months.

Yet if this locket contains Nelson's blond hair and Emma's auburn hair, it would suggest that the couple became intimate even sooner than 1799 when they most likely first became lovers. Its provenance is interesting: it came from a family in Australia to the English naval city of Portsmouth and eventually ended up at an auction house in Wiltshire.

In any case, it's one of history's mysteries.

According to the Daily Mail online, "Jonathan Edwards from Woolley and Wallis noted that it was "potentially a very important piece. We are sure as we can be that it is right and we've had experts look at it and they agree. There is an 'N' on it which means Nelson. We believe it was made in the year following the battle because after that Nelson used the name Bronte. [King Ferdinand of Naples awarded Nelson the Dukedom of Bronte (located on the island of Sicily) in 1799 and Nelson used the Bronte name formally, in addition to his own surname]

" 'Quite who it was made for and how it got to Australia we don't know. It has pearls in it, an anchor and an arrow. There is also gold thread and it really is a beautiful thing that is more likely to have been worn by a woman. Nelson's reputation really suffered because of his affair with Lady Hamilton, although it was restored in time. This really ought to go into a museum,' " Edwards added.

The story of Nelson and Emma's relationship is chronicled in my novel TOO GREAT A LADY: THE NOTORIOUS, GLORIOUS LIFE OF EMMA, LADY HAMILTON (written under the pen name Amanda Elyot). I drew their courtship from the facts and circumstances of their lives and allowed my imagination to embellish the gaps.

Have you ever seen a love token that spurred you to write a scene or even a novel? Have you ever incorporated an actual love token like this into one of your stories?

Update: Below is the text from BBC News. The locket was expected to fetch £5000. The hammer price was nearly nine times that at £44,000!

Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton locket sells for £44,000
A rare artifact linked to Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton's famous love affair been auctioned for £44,000.

The late 18th Century gold locket pendant is thought to contain a lock of Nelson's hair on one side and Lady Hamilton's on its reverse.

It was bought by London jewelers Sandra Cronan on behalf of "an important collector."

It had been found in a cupboard by an Australian couple clearing a house they had inherited in Portsmouth.

A spokesperson for Salisbury auction house Woolley and Wallis said several keen phone bidders from around the world had pushed the price up.

Scandalised society
Auctioneer Jonathan Edwards described the locket as "beautifully made and very significant."

It is marked with a capital N, a naval anchor and the date of August 1798 - when Nelson achieved victory at the Battle of the Nile.

After the battle, Nelson stayed with the British Envoy in Naples, Sir William Hamilton and began a relationship with his wife Emma which scandalised society at the time.

Mr. Edwards added: "The early date and decoration suggests that it is not a memento mori but a presentation gift to an admirer or associate whilst they were both in Naples and before their return to England together in 1800.

"If such, it is a unique relic of an enduring love affair."

So, my next question, dear readers is: who do you think bought it? I have my guess! Post your response below.


Blogger Isobel Carr said...

His wife, Fanny Nisbet, was back in London. She didn't understand him, Nelson insisted. Emma, however, was his soul mate.

Wow, the justification never changes, does it?

8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what an amazing find. I hope you'll report back on what the final selling price is.

My next book will incorporate such a love token, although I haven't completely thought out yet what role it will play.

Isobel - LOL!

12:27 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Isobel, people are people no matter the century. But the love affair between Nelson and Emma was one for the ages. They really were soulmates, and Nelson, Emma, and Sir William made a strange, and much gossiped-about threesome for quite a while. Nelson refused to live with Fanny again once they returned to England. William, the soul of discretion (and a generation older than Emma) turned a blind eye to what was going on. He had the utmost respect for Nelson, was aging considerably, and, though he had been quite the roue in his day, was pushing 70 by then, was ailing, and had lost interest in sex. Also, after they returned to England in 1800 Nelson was away at sea for much of the time until he was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, so the lovers didn't have as much time together as one might think.

Christine, I can't wait to see what the love token is. Auction is tomorrow. I'll have to hunt around to see if they report the selling price. I do hope it ends up in a museum. It's the sort of thing that should end up in Portsmouth, near the Victory.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

I certainly hope this piece ends up in a museum IN ENGLAND.

Nelson and Lady Hamilton's affair is one of those tragic, inevitable things that probably cost them as much as the brief glimpse of heaven it gained.

The manuscript I am rewriting actually has a love token in it. I love the sort of thing a man or a woman hangs on to for reasons they cannot explain only to discover that they knew the reason all along.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What an amazing story! "Vienna Waltz" has a locket with engraved initials that plays an important role. Saying more would be a spoiler :-).

12:14 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Louisa and Tracy, you're giving me the chills! I can't wait to read the novels! I love your comment, Louisa, that they cannot explain only to discover that they knew the reason all along. I got the excited shivers.

Tracy, I am so excited about VIENNA WALTZ, and I have not had a moment to spare to read for pleasure, which has really taken a toll on my sanity; and fellow hoydens' books always get first dibs.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

It is an amazing story, very gracefully taken up in Amanda Elyot's novel. Leading me to ask something I've always wondered, Leslie, whether you've read the rather different takes on this couple in Susan Sontag's THE VOLCANO LOVER or Barry Unsworth's LOSING NELSON.

As for love tokens, in my THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION, there figures a pocket watch, engraved with a quote ("I wonder by my troth etc") from John Donne, that my once very young boyfriend-finally-to-be-husband murmured to me the first morning we woke up together.

A gift that keeps on giving.

9:43 AM  
Blogger FurryReaders said...

How exciting! I truly hope this ends up in a museum in England, that only seems right. I agree 5,000 pounds ($8,000 - 10,000) seems low. I only discovered this blog today, through Lauren's website, and what an exciting post.

I think Louisa so aptly described the cost of their relationship, "probably cost them as much as the brief glimpse of heaven it gained." Isn't that part of the reason that their love story still captivates?

I am not a writer, only a reader, so I can't answer the question regarding a token. But I could certainly see one developed around this token, what interesting possibilities! I loved 'Too Great A Lady' and it sparked a greater interest in Emma Hamilton for me. I will have to check out the two books Pam mentioned especially since they have a different take. Although I liked Leslie's view so much, I will have to make a concerted effort to have an open mind.

1:53 PM  
Blogger Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Leslie, you did indeed make a wonderful story of the locket - just as you did the love affair of Emma and Nelson in "Too Great a Lady."

You've probably seen this by now. The locket sold to an "important collector" today - hope it's an important collector who will make it available to the public.


2:29 PM  
Blogger FurryReaders said...

Those of us who thought the 5,000 pound estimate was too low were oh so right. It sold for 44,000 pounds, almost $100,000 U.S. I find it interesting that a brooch with Nelson's hair sold for only 2,500 pounds in the summer of 2009, according to this article http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/humber/8122646.stm I am surprised to see it went for so little. Is it the tantalizing aspect of having something so personal of the two infamous lovers that makes the price difference?

7:18 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

You'll see that I updated the post to reflect the sale price -- and thank you Susan for alerting me to it (on Facebook!) Thank you all for the compliments on TOO GREAT A LADY. I have always felt an inexplicable visceral connection with Emma that long predates my becoming an author. I'm sure some of you out there have felt a deep connection to a historical figure that you can't seem to explain; if you're an author, perhaps it's propelled you to write about that figure.

As I mentioned in the revised post I have a guess as to who bought the locket. And I think it's the same person who owns the bullet that killed Nelson. Anyone else know who that is? :)

4:44 AM  
Blogger Patricia Preston said...

Loved this post. I can't believe it someone found it in a cupboard!

4:48 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

I can't believe it either, Patricia!

Pam -- forgot to reply that I have read THE VOLCANO LOVER (twice) and while I like Sontag's prose, I disagree with her take (very fast and loose on facts); but more to the point, she has such disdain for her central characters (Emma, William, Nelson) that I wondered why she tackled the story in the first place. Clearly she's on the side of the Neapolitan Jacobins, but the real story of the atrocities they perpetrated is just so horrific that once I knew that (and then gave TVL a second read; the first time I read it I was ignorant of the history), it just made me angry. It was almost like reading a pro-Nazi novel; very wrong-headed politically, and 99% of readers have no idea of the facts, so all they are getting is of course the story Sontag wants to tell, which is: privileged foreign aristocrats = bad; Italian proletariat = good.

I have not read LOSING NELSON, but it sounds like something to add to my ever increasing TBR pile, since I read all Nelsoniana.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

"I think it's the same person who owns the bullet that killed Nelson. Anyone else know who that is? :)"

I didn't before, but according to the National Maritime Museum "the bullet that killed Nelson" is in "The Royal Collection at Windsor Castle."

12:38 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

The hoydens' Sherlock Holmes Award for Brilliant Deduction goes to Laura for learning who owns the bullet that killed Nelson. As it's in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, the current owner is technically her Majesty Elizabeth II. During the celebrations of the Trafalgar week bicentennial in 2005 when I was in London, I saw the exhbit in Greenwich in Nelson and Napoleon and they had the bullet as well as Nelson's coat with the bullethole in it, and a bloodstained stocking (knee-high sock) of his. The placard by the bullet indicated that it was generously loaned by Her Majesty the Queen.

I just have a feeling that Her Majesty bought the locket, or, failing that, it was bought by a member of the royal family to add to the treasures so the country will have access to them. Prince Philip is the patron of the Seafarers Union, which cares for old and enfeebled sailors. I heard him speak at the dinner in Nelson's memory at Guildhall in London.

4:01 PM  

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