Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Introduction to Regency Fashion

Lady Emma Hamilton

Lady Emma Hamilton (Born in 1761, baptized on May 12, 1765 died January 15, 1815)
Was born Emy Lyon in Ness near Neston, Chesire England, the daughter of blacksmith Henry Lyon, who died when she was just two months old and Mary Lyon. When Emma was 12 she became a maid at the Hawarden home of Doctor Honoratus Leigh Thomas, a surgeon working in Chester. She had been let go by the Doctor a few months later, presumably for poor work. She then took a job with the Budd family in Chatham Place, Blackfriars in London. There she met a maid named Jane who aspired to be an actress. The pair soon lost their job after their many liaisons with young men. Emma returned home to her mother who was living in poverty near Oxford Street. Emma began working in the Drury Lane Theater in Covent Garden as a maid to various actresses, however the pay was little and she took on side work as a prostitute. Emma soon secured a more permanent position at a brothel where she became a strip tease artiste. Her performances there required she strike lewd poses for the viewers.

At this time The Royal Academy was having great difficulty finding models for their artists because the work was considered 'unbecoming', Emma however became a favorite model of Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney. Many Hundreds of paintings were painted of Emma, especially by Romney who became obsessed with her. Emma took on pseudonyms such as 'Emma Potts,' 'Emily Potts,' 'Miss Emily,' 'Warren,' 'Beartie,' and 'Coventry'. Emma then worked as a model and dancer at the "Goddess of Health" for James Graham a Scottish "quack" doctor. The establishment's greatest attraction being a bed with which electricity was passed giving patrons mild shocks. This supposedly aided conception and many infertile couples paid high prices to try it.

One patron who paid for pleasure not conception was 18 year old George IV who sampled the bed with his Mistress Mary Robinson who had been one of the actresses that Emma had been a maid for.

At the age of 15 Emma took on work at 'Madame Kelly's' an exclusive brothel next to the Ritz Hotel. It had been reported in Town and Country Magazine that a woman looking very much like Emma had set up there. The magazine coyly referred to the establishment as "Santa Carolotta's Nunnery". It was there that Emma began to refine her lewd postures for her more refined clients. One of Emma's clients was Sir Harry Featherstonehaugh. She was hired by Sir Harry for several months from the brothel as the host and entertainer at a lengthy stag party at his country estate in South Downs. Sir Harry took Emma as his mistress but often neglected her for drinking and hunting. In late June early July of 1781 Emma conceived a child by Sir Harry. Sir Harry was furious by the unwanted pregnancy and placed Emma at one of his London houses. Sir Harry ignored Emma's advances after this point and she then turned her attentions to his friend, Charles Frances Greville. Her daughter, Emma Carew was removed to be raised by a Mr. and Mrs. Blackbburn after she was born. Carew saw her mother frequently while growing up but when Emma went to debtors prison Carew was forced to leave the country to work abroad as a companion or governess.

Emma agreed to change her name to Emma Hart to prevent her past reputation from following her and tainting Greville's reputation. Greville kept her from her past associates but sent her to visit his friend George Romney for her portrait to be painted. Romney painted many of the paintings of her at this time, sketching her both nude and clothed that he later turned into paintings when she was absent. Emma became well-known in higher social circles due to the popularity of these paintings by Romney.

In 1783 Greville became to 18 year old heiress Henrietta Middleton. Greville was in need of money and disliked being known as Emma's lover after her popularity in the Romney paintings. Greville persuaded his wealthy uncle, Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples to take her off his hands for a while. He sent Emma to Naples under the impression that she was going on a prolonged vacation while he was on business in Scotland not bothering to tell her he was sending her to be the mistress of his uncle or that the business in Scotland was of matrimony. Greville had originally planned to fetch Emma after his wedding.

While in Naples, Emma refined her "Attitudes," combining classical poses with modern allure as a basis for her act. Her Attitudes, combining postures, dance and acting was revealed in the spring of 1987 by Sir William to a large group of European guests at his home in Naples, who quickly took to this new form of entertainment, guessing the names of the classical characters Emma portrayed. Emma had her dressmaker make dresses modeled after the dresses worn by peasant islanders in the Bay of Naples for her Attitudes. Her performances became a sensation across Europe, entertaining writers, artists, aristocrats and kings and queens. She set off new dance trends and fashion trends for draped Grecian-styled clothing.

On September 6, 1791, Sir William married Emma at St George’s in Hanover Square to the shock of Greville. Thus making Emma, Lady Emma Hamilton. Emma became close friends with Queen Maria Carolina the wife of King Ferdinand I of Naples. And in 1793 Emma played hostess Lord Horatio Nelson who came to gather reinforcements against the French. It was through her that he was able to secure those reinforcements and her connection to the Queen. Nelson returned to Naples five years later with his 18 year old stepson, Josiah, a war hero and legend after his victory at the Battle of the Nile. Nelson had lost his arm and most of his teeth during the five years he had been gone. Upon seeing him for the first time after his return she reportedly cried out "Oh God, is it possible?" and fainted against him. Emma and Sir William escorted Lord Nelson to their summer home, the Palazzo Sessa and Emma nursed him back to health. For Nelson's 40th birthday Emma hosted a party of 1,800 guests to celebrate. The two soon fell in love and the affair was tolerated and perhaps even encouraged by Sir William.

When Nelson was recalled back to England, the three meandered back to Brittan via Central Europe and eventually arrived later in 1800 to a hero's welcome. The three then openly lived together, making the affair public knowledge and Nelson was eventually sent back to sea to remove him from Emma. Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter, Horatia on January 31, 1801 and Sir William rented a home on Clarges Street in London. That same autumn Nelson bought Merton Place, a small house on the outskirts of modern day Wimbledon where he lived openly with Emma. Emma's popularity soared, and the newspapers reported on her every move, looking to her to set trends in everything from fashion to dinner menus.

Sir William died in 1803 and Nelson returned to sea soon after, leaving Emma pregnant with their second child. The child died shortly after her birth and Emma, lonely and depressed turned gambling to distract herself. Nelson died at sea in 1805 by which time Emma had exhausted the small pension Sir William had left her and fell deeply into dept. Despite being a hero, Nelson's request for Emma and Horatia to be looked after were ignored and all of Nelson's estate and honors were given to his brother.

Emma and Horatia spent a year in debtors prison before moving to France to escape their creditors. Emma turned to drinking and died of amoebic dysentery, an illness she probably picked up in Naples (Sir William Also suffered from this), in Calais in January 1815. Horatia married Rev. Phillip Ward and lived until 1881, she had 10 children.

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