The Odious Women Tour: Friends with Queen Maria Sophia, English-born Lady Emma Hamilton started out as a housemaid who tried her hand at acting and ended up having several rich lovers. Tricked into being the companion of Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples, the couple ended up marrying in 1791.
Together they entertained guests from all over Europe. Emma developed a form of entertainment called Attitudes in which people had to guess the names of famous characters (e.g. Medea, Cleopatra) that she portrayed. For her performances, she wore dresses of Neapolitan peasants as well as created new styles of dance and fashion. Considered very beautiful, many portraits were painted of Lady Hamilton.
Through her husband, Emma became a close friend of Queen Maria Sophia and even advised her when the revolution to overthrow the monarchy came to Naples. She began an affair with Horatio Nelson (a famous English flag officer who distinguished himself in the navy) when he came to live in Naples and the affair was tolerated by Sir William.
Several palazzo's around Naples can still be seen where Sir and Lady Hamilton lived. The Palazzo Sessa, (situated on Pizzofalcone at Vico Santa Maria Cappella Vecchia, 31) is where they collected paintings, ancient Greek vases, and minerals. Much of the collection formed the nucleus of the British Museum's collection.
The Villa Angelica in Portici is where Sir Hamilton conducted his extensive research in vulcanology and lived during the spring and fall. Then, the Villa Emma (Via Russo No. 27) in Posillipo was the summer home of the couple where they enjoyed sea bathing and a view of Mt. Vesuvius.
Shortly after the Parthenopean Revolution in 1799, Nelson was recalled back to England. Sir William and Lady Emma left with him, never to return to Naples again. When her two men died, Emma became obese and a lavish spender. She went deeply into debt and wondered where all her fame had gone. She spent a year in debtor's prison and fled to France where she eventually died a lonely alcoholic.