Emma Hamilton was the daughter of a blacksmith who died under mysterious circumstance. Aged only twelve, she set off for London, initially as a domestic servant, before finding work as an actress' maid at Drury Lane.
Within a very short space of time, this extraordinary and indomitable young woman became the mistress of a leading aristocrat, the wife of another, the Lady Ambassadress to Naples and the notorious lover of the most sought-after man in England, Horatio Nelson.
She had a dramatic influence on the dress, manners and behaviour of her time and upon some of the most momentous events in this island's history.
The case of her life story is crammed with a range of colourful characters, from Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire to Goethe. Having rebuffed the boorish advances of King Ferdinand of Naples she became the most valued confidante of his wife, Queen Carolina, and even managed to secure an audience with the Queen's sister, Marie Antoinette, when she was imprisoned by the new revolutionary government in France.
Not long before, she was frequenting the underworlds of prostitutes, quacks, madams, rakes and roues. But Emma's intelligence, ambition and natural beauty would ensure that she was not trapped either by her circumstances or the fact that she was a woman--something that conferred few financial or political advantages in the late 18th Century.
In the days before photography, television and tabloid newspapers, Emma Hamilton made astute use of art to promote the image of herself as the epitome of beauty and an icon of fashion. Although she sat for a number of artist, including Sir Joshua Reynolds and Angelica Kauffman, it was George Romney who helped make her famous, producing more than three hundred canvases devoted to the woman who was his perfect muse. However, it was her association with a sailor, brought out of retirement to fight the French, that brought Emma the kind of stardom we associate today with people like Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. When she received Nelson in Naples, he arrived as the conquering hero after the Battle of the Nile--a rather small, pale, ginger-haired man, with only one arm, one eye and his front teeth missing. But he was to be consuming passion of her life.
Based on hundreds of new and undiscovered letters, 'Emma Hamilton' is a classic rags-to-riches-and-rags again story, a tale of high drama and glittering society, of one woman's overwhelming determination to be a star.