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Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Copenhagen and return home

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Snubbed by high society

The acclaim following Nelson’s homecoming was like that he received in Europe. He was fêted publicly on his way to London. However, his relationship with Emma was frowned upon by high society. On 8 November 1800 at Nerot’s Hotel, King Street, St James’s, and accompanied by the Hamiltons, Nelson met his wife after an absence of over three years. The meeting was a tense and strained one. At a St James’s Palace royal levee on 11 November 1800, Nelson, wearing all his unauthorised foreign honours and awards, was shunned by King George III. The King’s wife refused to receive Emma. Later that evening Lady Spencer observed at a dinner held at Admiralty House by the First Lord of the Admiralty that Nelson treated his wife ‘with every mark of dislike and contempt’ (Hibbert, page 229). His former commander St Vincent remarked ‘That foolish little fellow Nelson has sat to every painter in London. His head is turned by Lady Hamilton’ (Hibbert, page 231).

Nelson and the Hamiltons, but not Fanny, were invited by William Beckford, a wealthy son of a former lord mayor of London, to spend Christmas with him at Fonthill, in Wiltshire. Nelson accepted this invitation to escape public and press speculation about his personal life. Leaving Fonthill, Nelson visited his wife in London on 13 January 1801. They quarrelled over Emma, which resulted in them separating. Nelson left his wife stating ‘I call God to witness there is nothing in you or your conduct I wish otherwise’ [Nicolas, Volume 4, page 272]. He arranged for his wife to be paid £400 immediately, and to have a ‘handsome quarterly allowance’ (Hibbert, page 235). Otherwise their marriage had ended. He never met his wife again.

In January 1801, shunned by high society, his behaviour called into doubt by his fellow officers, unhappy about being separated from Emma, concerned about his health and eyesight and in dispute with St Vincent (soon to become First Lord of the Admiralty) over prize money, Nelson was appointed second-in-command of the Channel Fleet, having been promoted to Vice-Admiral of the Blue. St Vincent had informed the Secretary of the Admiralty that Nelson could not be trusted with ‘a separate command…he cannot bear confinement to any object…and never become an officer fit to be placed where I am’ (Tracey, page 130). Nelson was appointed to HMS San Josef, hoisting his flag on her at Plymouth on 17 January 1801. Nelson was worried that Emma, who was expecting their child, was about to have an affair with the Prince of Wales. Concerned also that letters to Emma may have been made public, Nelson devised a scheme where he wrote to her as a sailor called ‘Thompson’ about a pregnant woman in her service. In this way they corresponded without raising suspicions.

On 1 February 1801, Nelson became a father, Emma having given birth to a daughter, Horatia (possibly a surviving twin), on 29 January 1801. Nelson was ecstatic: ‘I believe…Mrs Thomson’s friend will go mad with joy. He cries, prays and performs all tricks, yet dare not show all or any of his feelings…he does nothing but rave about you & her’ (Morriss, page 112-13). Emma and Nelson now had to figure out how to care for Horatia. She could not be taken into the Hamilton household and it was therefore decided that Horatia was to be looked after by a nurse, a Mrs Gibson of 9 Little Titchfield Street, London. Hamilton accepted his wife’s birth of a child fathered by her lover with polite discretion that appeared to signify approval of their relationship.

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