Lady Hamilton (I)

Envoy Extraordinary William Hamilton kissed King George III’s hand on 13 July 1764 and was sent off to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies as British representative. Hamilton was a fourth son and had been without his own means for much of his life, despite being foster brother to the king. However, his marriage to the asthmatic Catherine Barlow had taken place in 1758 and it landed him an estate in Pembrokeshire and an income of nearly £8,000 per annum. His appointment to the politically undemanding post at Naples allowed him and his musical wife free rein to indulge their taste for the arts and society, and for collecting.  In 1782 Hamilton had been touched by personal tragedy. Catherine Barlow died “of a violent fever of the putrid kind”. Sir William evidently mourned her passing, writing that summer that Catherine “was a perfect Christian, and 7 years in this corrupt country made not the least impression on her morals or sentiments”. In November he wrote to his niece, Mary, describing his loss (source: Rylands collection, University of Manchester, HAM1/4/4/3):

“In spite of all my philosophy and that I know that all regrets are in vain I cannot help indulging myself in them every moment … I have nothing for it but to drive away thought as much as I can and indeed His Majesty is so good as to assist me greatly in that respect, for he takes me out a shooting every day and says he will do so as long as the shooting season continues, to day above 70 wild boars have fallen … The Queen of Naples is also very kind to me and often sends for me to pass the evening with her and the Prince Royal. The present distractions and the healing hand of time will, I hope, recover my spirits in some degree, but I must for ever sensibly feel the loss of the most amiable, the most gentle and virtuous companion that ever man was blessed with.”

Hamilton’s affairs in Britain had largely been managed by his nephew Charles Greville. The son of Earl Brooke of Warwick Castle, but not a wealthy man, Greville was a fastidious bachelor, despite his penchant for street girls, and a solemn and serious man. He loved the arts and a younger version of his distinguished uncle when it came to acquisition. In August 1783 Hamilton brought the embalmed body of his wife to the Welsh estate, making a will (preferring Charles Greville) and then selling Correggio’s Venus in London. During his stay he encountered Greville’s own Venus, Emma Hart, then Greville’s mistress. She would, of course, become Lady Hamilton (II).