England's Mistress

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Emma Hamilton fought her way out of dire poverty to become a fashion icon, an Ambassador's wife, a confidante of both Queen Marie Antoinette and the Queen of Naples, and the mistress of Lord Nelson, England's greatest military hero.

Drawing on new documents and letters, England's Mistress follows Emma's dramatic journey from the slums of Northern England to the Royal Court of Naples, and from the brothels of St. James's to the tragedy and glory of the Napoleonic wars. Muse and mother, wife and mistress, celebrity and villain, victim and survivor: Emma Hamilton was one of the most remarkable women in British history.

By her early twenties, she was the most painted woman of her day. Her 'Attitudes', classical postures in diaphanous outfits, thrilled aristocrats and intellectuals while her innovations in fashion and dress changed the way women looked forever. Shrewdly manipulating the media's fascination with her, Emma made herself into the most famous woman in England, desired by every man she met, adored by thousands, and, for a time, very rich.

Extensively researched but told with a novelist's flair, this is the story of one woman's fight to live on her own terms. England's Mistress captures the relentless drive, innovative style and burning passion of a true heroine.

A dramatic, sparkling tale of sex, glamour, intrigue, romance and heartbreak, England’s Mistress traces the rise and rise of unstoppable heroine Emma Hamilton. Born into poverty, she clawed her way up through London’s underworlds of sex for sale to become England’s first media superstar. Nothing could stand in her way of her desire to live out her dream– except her self-destructive desires. Drawing on many previously undiscovered letters, and told with a novelist's flair,England's Mistress captures the relentless drive, innovative style and burning passion of a true heroine.

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'Kate Williams has done a wonderful job recreating the life of the woman she wants us to relate to.. This is an immensely colourful, readable portrait that revels in Emma's resilience and her ability to surmount what look to us now to be unimaginable odds. Williams resists psychological speculation on Emma's motives in order to concentrate on the facts of her life and its context without relinquishing a sense of who Emma was; not an easy trick to pull off.'
Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

'It is the thoroughness of the research and attention to detail that makes Kate Williams's new biography of Emma Hamilton so interesting... In dogged archival work, the author discovered letters by Hamilton unused by other biographers, she also got behind the heavily edited Victorian edition of Emma’s known letters, returning to the originals to uncover the raciest excised bits.. This is a sympathetic portrait; a contemporary take on Emma Hamilton as an ambitious, self-promoting, media-savvy celebrity….fascinating.'
Rebecca Loncraine, The Independent

'The first self-made superstar, the first manipulative media celebrity, dazzling Europe with her style and beauty as muse to artists and mistress to Nelson. Emma famously gets her comeuppance, and her headlong flight to romantic destruction is told with novelistic dash.'
Iain Finlayson, The Times Book of the Year

'In England's Mistress..[Williams] has created a readable and often surprising portrait of [Hamilton] and the age that created her. In recounting Emma's dramatic life, Kate Williams has done a thorough job in researching and presenting her subject's historical context. She knows what servant girls ate and how they were treated, what political cross-currents swept across Europe in the wake of the French Revolution, how London society behaved in the late 18th-century. And she has plumbed the documentary records that exist, from Emma's and Nelson's correspondence (Nelson, unfortunately, burnt most of her letters to him) to Emma's account books...England's Mistress divertingly and instructively illuminates a time and culture both far away and intriguingly like our own, and resurrects a woman whose mingled vulnerability and resilience -- to say nothing of her glamour -- still have the power to fascinate.' more...
Amanda Vaill, Washington Post Book World

Williams tells it [Emma Hamilton's life] shrewdly and well, with access to recently discovered letters and a sharp contemporary spin. In her skilled hands, Lord Nelson's lover..falls foul both of ingrained misogyny and a fledgling celebrity culture that both gave her stardom and exacted a fearsome price.
Independent (top biography read for summer 2007)

'Enjoyable reading'.
Miranda Seymour, The Sunday Times

'This rich and bouncy biography of a driven woman - mad for fashion, mad on passion - makes Posh look like a novice.'
Good Housekeeping

‘Of all the rags to riches tales in our island’s story, Emma Hamilton’s is one of the most affecting. She is immortalised in books and films as a great courtesan…In fact, as Kate Williams demonstrates, she was a remarkable woman; a born diplomat.., a dancer, an actress, a famous model and several times the leader of London fashion. She was also simply adorable, with an emotional honesty which still comes off the page.

Sparkling like Emma's pawned diamonds, this biography, drawing on quantities of unmined material, finally makes us understand why Nelson needed to be prised out of Emma's embrace

Expect a catfight over who gets to play Emma in the Hollywood movie which is surely destined to follow.'
Christopher Hudson, The Mail

‘Rise and ruin of a dazzling WAG. Celebrity wives and girlfriends are not an invention of the 21st century, they’ve been around for a good couple of hundred years, if the life of Emma Hamilton is anything to go by. In England’s Mistress, Kate Williams cites for the first time passionate letters between Hamilton (nee Lyon) and her lover, Horatio Nelson. They help to humanise the story of a girl born in 1765 into dire poverty who gradually fought her way to the top of British society..Williams illustrates how Emma’s beauty – immortalised in paintings and later in fashion magazines – captured the public imagination in much the same way as modern-day style icons…it’s impossible not to share in the admiration Williams has for her…gripping.’
Claire Allfree, Metro

'Creating a convincing psychological portrait of a seductive, ambitious Emma, Williams entertains with an intimate portrayal of her subject's marriage to William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples (and Greville's much older uncle), who shocked high society by making her his wife.' more...
Publishers Weekly

'..Fortunately for this unique story, there is an author to do it justice. Kate Williams wears her research lightly, but there's no doubt of the work which has gone into this tale. Every intricate detail is laid out, and Williams' writing is so immediate, you feel all but transported back 200 years...the author brings both the people and places to light' ..Her story, which opens a window onto all sections of society, deserves far more than today's 15 minutes of fame, and this fascinating book should ensure that.'
Cathy Winston, Eastern Daily Press

'balanced and evocative', Sunday Times

'meticulously researched, lively and sympathetic' Sunday Telegraph

'excels at drawing the parallels between [Emma's] notoriety and celebrity today',

'The skill of England's Mistress rests..on the way Williams plays with the resemblance between Hamilton's story and the casualties of our own culture, which increasingly produces and promotes this kind of fleeting celebrity',
Frances Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

'This utterly absorbing insight into Lord Nelson's Cleopatra charts her remarkable path from prostitute to consort of the most famous man in Britain. Behind this tantalizing portrait lies a sharp representation of eighteenth-century Britain',
City AM

'This wonderfully written book....is a must for anyone who wants to understand Emma and her world. Dr Williams has certainly done her research and it shows. Previous books about Emma have revealed very little, but Dr Williams' research into her character reveals new insights about this fascinating woman. At last we have a biography of Emma by a woman who actually understands her subject.'
The Nelson Despatch, Journal of the Nelson Society

'England's Mistress is a wonderful, sparkling biography by the equally wonderful and sparkling Miss Kate Williams. Emma Hamilton's beauty has survived the ages thanks to Romney's obsessive portraits. But now, Kate Williams has also given us Emma's heart and soul, revealing why she captured the fascination of a generation.'
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

'In this pacey retelling of a classic love story, Kate Williams has created a sparkling life worthy of Emma herself. A new biography for a new generation.'
Stella Tillyard, author of A Royal Affair

'England's Mistress is not only an engaging biography of a fascinating woman, but a vivid and fully realized portrait of an exuberant time and culture. Kate Williams brilliantly captures 18th century Britain and its outlandish personalities. This is popular history at its best.'
David Liss, author of The Coffee Trader, A Conspiracy of Paper, and A Spectacle of Corruption

'A wonderful, sparkling biography', Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire


Extracts from the Book (PDF)
Becoming Famous
Days of Passion

BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week
Quotes from letters by Emma Hamilton

'If my total ruin depends on seeing you, I will & must... I love you to that degree that at this time their is not a hardship upon earth, either of poverty, hunger, cold, death, or even to walk barefooted to Scotland to see you, but what I would undergo'.

Emma to her first lover, 1786.

‘ You ought to know me, for you have seen and discoursed with me in my poorer days, you have known me in my poverty and prosperity, and I had no occasion to have lived for years in poverty and distress if I had not felt something of virtue in my mind. Oh, my dear friend, for a time I own through distress my virtue was vanquished, but my sense of virtue was not overcome….. If I could forget for a moment what I was, I ought to suffer. 
Emma Hamilton to the artist George Romney, 1791.

It has often been remarked that a reformed rake makes a good husband. Why not vice versa?’
Sir William Hamilton, 1791

‘How shall I begin, what shall I say to you. ‘tis impossible I can write… I am delerious with joy, and assure you I have a fervour caused by agitation and pleasure. …I fainted when I heard the joyfull news, and fell on my side and am hurt, but well of that. I shou’d feil it a glory to die in such a cause. No I wou’d not like to die till I see and embrace the Victor of the Nile. 
… .if you was here now, you wou’d be killed with kindness…..I walk and tread in the air with pride, feiling I was born in the same land with the victor Nelson…For God’s sake come to Naples soon….My dress from head to foot is alla Nelson. Ask Hoste. Even my shawl is in Blue with gold anchors all over. My earrings are Nelson’s anchors; in short, we are be-Nelsoned all over.’ Emma Hamilton, September 1798. She had met him only briefly.

‘the admirable Attitudes of Lady HAM-T-N are called Admiral-attitudes’
The Times, November, 1799

Nelson to Emma 1800, ‘last night I did nothing but dream of you altho’ I woke twenty times in the night, in one of my dreams I thought I was at a large table you was not present, sitting between a Princess who I detest and another, they both tried to seduce me and the first wanted to take those liberties with me which no Woman in this World but yourself ever did, the consequence was I knocked her down and in the moment of bustle you came in and taking me to your embrace wispered I love nothing but you my Nelson, I kissed you fervently and we enjoy’d the height of love. Ah Emma I pour out my soul to you

‘you may readily imagine what must be my sensations at the idea of sleeping with you. It setts me on fire even the thought, much more would the reality….if any woman naked was to come to me even as I am this moment thinking of you, I hope it might rot off if I were to touch her even with my hand.’ 
Nelson to Emma, 1801

I love him, I adore him, my mind and soul is now transported with the thought of that blessed ecstatic moment when I shall see him, embrace him…. I must sin on and love him more than ever. It is a crime worth going to Hell for.
Emma on Nelson, 1804

‘The origin of this Lady was very humble, and she had experienced all those vicissitudes in early life which too generally attend those females whose beauty has betrayed them into vice…. Few women, who have attracted the notice of the world at large have led a life of more freedom.’
Emma’s obituary from the Morning Post