Emma, Lady Hamilton, rose from poverty to become a media celebrity, and her relationship with Admiral Nelson, and her renowned beauty, made her the most instantly-recognisable woman of her era, with the press following her every move. She was a friend of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, longed-after by the Prince of Wales, and was a high society fashion icon. Born in 1765, Emma was the daughter of the village blacksmith in Neston, Cheshire, who died just two months later, leaving the family in difficult circumstances. After failing to find a permanent position locally, Emma took the stagecoach to London and the start of her remarkable journey to international fame. Emma worked for various actresses at Dury Lane theatre, before becoming a dancer, a model and, later, a hostess. Her beauty brought her to the attention of Charles Grenville, the second son of the Earl of Warwick, who took her as his mistress, and became the model for the painter George Romney.
These paintings thrust Emma into the social spotlight and she soon became London's top celebrity. When Grenville needed to find a rich wife, Emma was passed onto Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples. The couple fell in love and were married in September 1791.When in Naples, Lady Hamilton, as she now was, became a close friend of Queen Maria Carolina, sister of Marie Antoinette. It was also in Naples that she met Admiral Nelson - and the great love affair began. Much has been written about this later period of her life, but with Hugh Tours making full use of the letters Emma wrote as well as those she received throughout her life, the fascinating story of her early years is also revealed. This is history as moving as a great tragic novel; most moving of all, being the return, after Trafalgar, of Emma's last letter to Nelson, unopened.