The affair between Horatio, Lord Nelson (1758-1805), and Emma, Lady Hamilton (1761-1815), is one of the great romances of all time.
Lady Hamilton, born into desperate poverty, had worked her way up in society through a series of liaisons with increasingly influential men, to become first the mistress and then the wife of Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803), Britain’s long-serving minister to the Court of Naples.
Lady Hamilton, who had acquired a surprisingly good education on her way up, first met Nelson in 1793, when the young captain briefly visited Naples. It’s not clear what impression each made upon the other. Nelson did not return to Naples for five years. In late 1798, his name made glorious in numerous battles, Nelson, by then an admiral, arrived at Naples with a fleet to help rescue the royal family from the invading French, taking them, their court, and the diplomatic community, including the Hamiltons, off to safety in Sicily. It was at this time that Nelson and Lady Hamilton began their famous liaison, more or less with the aquiesence of the elderly Sir William, who seems to have been fond of both. The romance would endure through Hamilton’s death and on until Nelson fell at Trafalgar.
Early in 1801, Lady Hamilton bore a child, who was passed off as the daughter of another. The child was christened Horatia Nelson Thompson, with Emma and Nelson serving as godparents [theologically a very serious no-no]. Despite the pretense, from birth the child lived with Lady Hamilton at Sir William’s estate in England, at which Nelson was a frequent visitor, creating in a curious melange-a-trois. After Sir William’s death Horatia lived with her “godparents” at Merton Place, Nelson’s estate, though the admiral’s duties took him away for long periods, unitl his death at Trafalgar.
Although in private letters Nelson often referred to Horatia as his “daughter,” in his will, when providing her a modest legacy, he referred to her as his “adopted daughter.”
After Nelson’s death, Horatia’s life was rather difficult. Her mother continued to pretend that she was merely the child’s “guardian.” They encountered severe financial difficulties, as despite Nelson’s generosity, Emma could not manage money. For a time Emma and Horatia were in debtor’s prison. The two later moved to France, where Emma died in 1815. Although only 14, showing some of her father’s organizational talent and physical daring, Horatia not only handled the settlement of their household and the shipment of her mother’s body back to England for burial, but then eluded debt collectors by disguising herself as a boy and fleeing to England. There she was taken in by Nelson’s family, who clearly accepted her as his daughter.
In 1822 Horatia married Philip Ward, an Anglican clergyman (aside from Horatio, the men of the Nelson clan were almost all in holy orders). The two had ten children, three girls and seven boys.
Horatia Nelson Ward died in 1881. Of her five sons who survived to manhood, three entered military service, carrying on the tradition of their grandfather, one became a clergyman, following in the footsteps of most Nelsons and Wards, and one entered the law. Of the military men,
· Marmaduke Philip Smyth Ward (1825-1885), became a surgeon in the Royal Navy, rising to Deputy Inspector-General of Hospitals and Fleets by the time he retired in 1881.
· William George Ward (1830-1878), joined the Indian Army, and rose to colonel in the Madras Staff Corps.
· Philip Ward (1834-1865), served in India as a lieutenant in the Bengal Native Infantry
Horatia’s children all left children of their own, and thus, Nelson and Lady Hamilton still have living descendants.
King Frederick William Bans Dueling
Although religious authorities had long railed against the practice, dueling survived in Western society until surprisingly recent times, particularly among military officers.
At one point in the seventeenth century, the French Army was losing as many as 120 officers year to duels. While that was extreme, other armies suffered steady losses as well. Until well into the nineteenth century, most Western armies regularly lost officers through duels.
Now dueling was actually illegal in most countries. In addition to attempts by church authorities to impose religious penalties for dueling, most countries had laws barring the practice, if only because it represented a steady drain of officers. But enforcement was usually weak, and penalties little more than slaps on the wrist, largely because “honor” and “face” were considered so important.
Occasionally, however, a monarch did put some teeth into his efforts to suppress the practice.
For example, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (r. 1611-1632) pretty much put an end to duels in his army when he showed up for one with a hangman in tow and explained that if anyone was killed, the survivor would quickly join him. But after the king’s death the practice was resumed.
King Frederick William II of Prussia (r. 1786-1797) also tried his hand at abolishing duels. Tired of losing several of officers a year in duels, in 1794 he enacted a law that imposed severe penalties on duelists. Merely issuing a challenge could earn someone three to six years in prison. Actually taking part in duel had even worse consequences. Seconds and other observers could get ten years in prison, and the duelists might get life. In addition, participants lost their titles of nobility and any honors, including their military rank. Actually killing someone in a duel could lead to a date with the hangman.
With the king bearing down hard, a number of duelists were dealt with very severely, and for a time the incidence of duels fell. During the French Wars (1793-1815), the rate of duels remained relatively low. But once the wars were over, the number of duels began to rise again; from 1815 through and 1821 there was an average of one duel each month between officers, and the practice continued to spread thereafter, as part of the militaristic ethos of the Prussian Army. Although still officially barred, the army became lax in enforcement. Soon after the advent of the new German Empire, in 1871, enforcement essentially became a dead issue. Duels continued in the German army into the twentieth century, though they usually tended to be to “first blood” or some other less-than-fatal outcome, rather than death, as in the past.
The German Army wasn’t the only one plagued by dueling. Most European armies – and societies – suffered from the problem (the Duke of Wellington once engaged in a duel, while Prime Minister, no less), and in most Latin American ones as well. Duels were also common in the United States, despite its republican character and opposition to the practice on the part of such prominent Founders as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Button Gwinnett, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Alexander Hamilton and his son, as well as naval hero Stephen Decatur all died in duels. There was a steady loss of officers in the Army and Navy (averaging something like one per year per service) until 1826, when President John Quincy Adams decided to become less tolerant of the practice. Despite this, occasional duels between officers occurred until virtually the end of the century; the last one seems to have taken place as late as 1895.