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The Extraordinary Emma Hamilton

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The Extraordinary Emma Hamilton

Few 18th century women other than royalty have managed to capture the public imagination quite like Emma Hamilton. Hers is a true rags-to-riches-to-rags story made popular through the media of her time and revived every so often through books about Horatio Nelson and, more recently, serious biographic studies of her own person. There have also been films, the most notable of which was Alexander Korda’s That Hamilton Woman (1941) starring our own Vivien Leigh.

Emy Lyon (also called Emily, Amy, and later Emma Hart before she became Emma Hamilton) was born into poverty in Cheshire on April 26, 1765. Little is known about her life as a child, but we do know that socioeconomic prospects for females of Emma’s station were very slim. In order to improve those prospects, Emma and her mother moved to London in 1778. They settled in Covent Garden, a central hub of art and theatre – but also an area of paupers and prostitutes. Emma found employment as a domestic servant first for physician Richard Budd and then for the household of composer Thomas Linley. It was during her time with the Linleys that Emma likely first developed skills as a performer of the “attitudes” that would make her famous.

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