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The Letter that Nelson Kissed?

Posted by Jacqui Livesey, on February 19th, 2013


‘It could compromise me completely.’  The Queen of Naples writes to Emma Hamilton, June 1798.

This letter, never before published in English, was sent in June 1798 from Maria Carolina the Queen of Naples to Emma Hamilton, wife of Sir William Hamilton, the British Ambassador to Naples.  The interaction between Emma and the Queen helped to resolve the diplomatic crisis of the unexpected arrival of a British squadron under Nelson off Naples, allowing him to re-provision and ultimately to meet and defeat the French at the Battle of the Nile two months later.   A treaty with France strictly limited the access Naples could allow to British ships.  The King of Naples wished to honour the treaty, but, notwithstanding, Emma persuaded the Queen to enthusiastically invite the British fleet to enter.  The numerous messages that were exchanged during the next few days (11-17 June) between Nelson, Sir William, and Emma make very interesting reading, and reflect both the influence of Emma with the Queen, and the growing closeness of Emma and Nelson.  In 1800 Emma officially revealed her role in this event, but Government never fully acknowledged it.  There is another contemporary letter that might be the one to which Nelson refers in his response to Emma’s accompanying note (“My dear, I have kissed the queen’s letter”), but the very different nature of the two letters strongly suggests the authenticity of the one here under discussion.  Finally, Emma’s precise role and influence in this affair remain unclear: there are still important documents to be translated and studied.

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