Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served

Nelson, Trafalgar, and those who served
 
 

Emma Hamilton and Naples

Glossary - opens in a new window

Nelson and the Hamiltons

With the Hamiltons in Palermo in early 1799, Nelson, who was in poor health, reflected on the ruined state of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, which weighed on his conscience and for which he may have felt culpable. His letters to Fanny became more infrequent - even though she intended to join him – not only because of his relationship with Emma but also as he wanted to restore the King and Queen to the throne.

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

Nelson's reluctance to leave Sicily

The naval situation in the Mediterranean became critical when 25 French ships of the line escaped from Brest and 17 Spanish ships from Cadiz. Lord Keith, second-in-command in the Mediterranean, pursued the French with an inferior force of ships desperate for reinforcements. Nelson sent 10 of his ships but remained in Palermo. On 13 May 1799 he wrote to St Vincent ‘what a state I am in! If I go, I risk, and more than risk, Sicily, and what is now safe on the continent’ (Nicolas, Volume 2, page 355).

During the early months of 1799, the French, with the co-operation of much of the aristocracy and educated classes, had established themselves in Naples. An uprising of the poorer classes who supported the King had been violently quashed. Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, with the King’s permission, led an army of 20,000 against the French occupation. Nelson supported this action by sending four ships. Queen Carolina urged Nelson to go to Naples. He took with him Sir William and Emma Hamilton. On arriving there, Ruffo’s rag-tag army were found to have indiscriminately killed those thought to be French sympathisers. Moreover, Ruffo had negotiated a surrender of French troops and any Neapolitan rebels on condition they be given safe passage home. Nelson did not accept these conditions as Ruffo had no authority to make a treaty, and had not been approved by the King. But many had given themselves up under Ruffo’s agreement. Neither Nelson nor Ruffo backed down from their different viewpoints. This led to further panic and violence amongst the locals. On 28 June 1799 Nelson received orders from Sir John Acton, King Ferdinand’s Prime Minister, and the King and Queen only to accept an unconditional surrender. Nelson wrote to Acton ‘I approve of no one thing which has been and is going on here’ (Herbert, page 185). A succession of trials of Neapolitan traitors followed, the most high profile being the court martial and execution of Admiral Caracciolo.

This situation in Naples diverted Nelson’s attention from pressing naval operational matters. He was ordered by Lord Keith, now Mediterranean commander-in-chief, to defend the island of Minorca, which was threatened by the French. Nelson declined repeated orders to do so, only sending ships. Nelson wrote ‘It is better to save the Kingdom of Naples and risk Minorca, than to risk the Kingdom of Naples to save Minorca’ (Hibbert, page 193). King Ferdinand rewarded Nelson’s services by granting him a title of Sicilian nobility, the Duke of Bronte, which he accepted without his own King’s approval.

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

 

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

Nelson's reaction to becoming the Duke of Bronte

 

Extract of intercepted correspondence sent by Nelson to Lady Hamilton forwarded by Sir William Hamilton to Lord Grenville, 26 February 1800

Nelson returned to the royal party in Palermo on 9 August 1799. Until June 1800 he left Sicily rarely, for example, when ordered by Lord Keith - with whom he had a strained relationship - to inspect the blockade at Malta in January 1800, and when he captured the Genereux on 18 February 1800. Even Bonaparte’s escape from Egypt in August 1799 did not induce Nelson to leave Palermo. Nelson tired under the added burden of being commander of the British Mediterranean fleet during the period August to December 1799. He complained about the countless fourteen-and-a-half-hour working days he worked in this capacity and his poor health. Lord Elgin, passing through Palermo, remarked that Nelson ‘looks very old, has lost his upper teeth, sees ill of one eye and has a film coming over both of them’ (Morris, page 99). Furthermore rumours about his relationship with Emma, who by April 1800 was pregnant with his child, and his behaviour on account of her had begun to cause distress and concern amongst his superiors and fellow officers. Rather than having Nelson remain inactive at Palermo, Lord Spencer, First Lord of the Admiralty, suggested ‘you will be more likely to recover your health and strength in England than in any inactive situation at a foreign court’ (Hibbert, page 205). This request coincided with Hamilton being replaced as British envoy in Naples. Nelson, therefore, resigned his command and returned to England with the Hamiltons. Their journey home for the most part was overland through Europe as Keith had refused Nelson a battle ship. They arrived in Great Yarmouth, England, on 6 November 1800.

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

 

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

Portraits of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton from the Illustrated London News, 12 November 1955

 

Letter by Nelson sent to Evan Nepean, Secretary to the Admiralty, asking for employment, 6 November 1800

Copenhagen and return homeGo to next topic