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England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton

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3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  552 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
She was the most famous woman in England–the beautiful model for society painters Joshua Reynolds and George Romney, an icon of fashion, the wife of an ambassador, and the mistress of naval hero Horatio Nelson. But Emma Hamilton had been born to the poverty of a coal-mining town and spent her teenage years working as a prostitute. From the brothels of London to the glitter ...more
Hardcover, 415 pages
Published October 24th 2006 by Ballantine Books (first published June 2nd 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,487)
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Sean O'Hara
May 17, 2010 Sean O'Hara rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Fans of trashy Kitty Kelley biographies
Shelves: biography
You know what I like about historical biographies? There's no sensationalistic scandal-mongering. Biographers can't pay a maid $5000 to dish dirt. There aren't any former-friends or school-mates who can come forward with an axe to grind. Historical biographies are histories and deal in facts, not gossip.

Well, normally.

In England's Mistress, Kate Williams does her damnedest to bring Kitty Kelley-style biography to the 18th Century. The book is more supposition and innuendo than fact.

This is appa
...more
Lauren Albert
I can't do better than Sean O'Hara's review--it is spot on. Williams speculates constantly when she doesn't have facts and on the most trivial matters as when she writes, "Worried about her mother's weak state of health, Emma probably paid out to take a boat up the Rhone..." She has no bases for this assumption nor is there any point in making it.

The speculation eases up later in the book but she then proceeded to infuriate me referring to Hamilton, not once but twice, as a "sex bomb" and claim
...more
Nina
Jun 27, 2009 Nina rated it it was amazing
God, I want to live above my means too.
But I don't want to die penniless in Calais.
Catherine
Mar 21, 2012 Catherine rated it liked it
When I don’t have time to read, I often download audio books from I Tunes. It gives me the chance to ‘read’ while doing the housework or driving. I have just finished listening to England’s Mistress, while un packing boxes after our move.

I have read very mixed reviews of the book and didn’t really know what to expect. I absolutely loved Williams’s other book Becoming Queen so was excited to see if her earlier book was as good.

England’s Mistress tells the story of Emma Hamilton , famous social cl
...more
Christine
May 13, 2015 Christine rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
A cross between historical fiction and biography, England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton is a biased portrait of an 18th century courtesan turned elite mistress. The fascinating parts of this book, for me, included details of Emma's intimate friendships with Queen Maria Carolina (Marie Antoinette’s sister) as well as her friendships with the famous Duchess of Devonshire and Bess Foster.

I am really giving this read 2.5 stars. Williams' rendition of Emma's life is soft and forgivin
...more
Laurie V
Jun 24, 2011 Laurie V rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The biggest revelation I took away from this book is what a dick Horatio Nelson was. He was a flighty fame whore who was needlessly cruel to the wife he abandoned for Emma Hamilton. He also knew very well that Emma would have struggled financially after his death, but he was so deluded into thinking the government would provide for her despite her tenuous position as his mistress that he never took steps to ensure security for her and their daughter. He got himself killed at Trafalgar because he ...more
Chris
Nov 11, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: fandom
England’s Mistress is a well written biography of Emma Hamilton. Unfortunately I discovered that Emma Hamilton is not at all as interesting as I assumed her to be. I don’t fault Kate Williams for this, but I did feel she could have mitigated it some by cutting out much of the final third of the biography. The first half tells of Emma’s rags to riches story, which mostly consists of her being an artistic muse while sleeping her way to fame. However, once she reaches the point most people think of ...more
Scott Martin
Oct 29, 2013 Scott Martin rated it it was amazing
Audiobook. I don't often read a ton of socio-economic type history, but this was a suprisingly good work. I did not have a lot of knowledge about her. I knew a bit more about her from studying her famous lover, Nelson, but did not gleam the impact that she had on his life. Emma Hamilton was comprable to a modern-day Marilyn Monroe, given her modeling/acting career, her famous romantic attachments, fatal flaws and a magnet for the gossip columns. Lady Hamilton was a woman of her times, and Willia ...more
Laura
Aug 17, 2012 Laura rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
From BBC Radio 4 Extra:
Kate William's biography of the prostitute who became the mistress of Lord Nelson, despite humble origins.
Holly
Jul 31, 2011 Holly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
An amazing book!! So insightful and very well written. Lady Hamilton is brought to life once again through an excellently researched, highly entertaining biography. Having known very little about her before I read her story, I now find her fascinating and have not stopped finding out more about since finishing. I would love to see a film as popular The Duchess made about her, as the two were apparently quite well acquainted and shared a similar level of fame and media interest. Their shared love ...more
Dorothy
Feb 09, 2013 Dorothy rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Eh. The story of Emma is rather interesting and a true rags to riches to rags cautionary tale. It has all the components of great late Georgian stories: classism, snobbery, sex, beauty, courtesans, playboys and pimps, absurd wealth and despairing destitution, gender struggles, avarice, deluded grandeur and real historical drama. That said, the author's adulation of her heroine blinded her to Emma's fatal flaws and more disappointingly missed an opportunity to draw culturally apt reflections on t ...more
Mark Farley
Jun 23, 2013 Mark Farley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kate is of a exasperatingly welcome, new breed of historian, leading the way amongst a clever and witty bunch of folk who not only cover history in a stuffy old academic way, but has reinvigorated the genre, making it accessible to those that would not even have the courage and the interest in history. This is no more evident than in both of Kate's wonderful, effervescent tomes and her work so far in TV, where she has redefined the presentation of historical figures and made them the captivating ...more
Korynn
Dec 16, 2008 Korynn rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
A fairly extensive biography of the life of Emma Hamilton nee Amy Lyon. It is fascinating how a young girl of no skill manages to use beauty and sex as a way to gain entry into a level of society she would have otherwise been denied. It is more than amazing that she appeared to have tremendous luck in choosing a husband and a lover that were willing to share her. However, too late, Lady Hamilton discovers that her wiles do not make up for the utter lack of compassion that greets her after her hu ...more
Helena
May 07, 2009 Helena rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: nelson fans , biography fans
I was just re-organising my books and saw this one.It was an excellent read It describes the life of Emma Hamilton born with nothing but a hard life ahead of her who becomes the most famous woman of her times .This is a serious biographical work which is extremely readable . I have lent it to many friends .I have subsequently read a few novels on the life of Nelson .What a short man of few personal charms but his fame . Nelson's harbour is worth a visit in Antigua to get a feel of what life must ...more
Sharon
May 12, 2009 Sharon rated it really liked it
It was well done, although it took me some time to get into the way it was told. It is amazing the information the author gathered and if there was unknown information it was highly researched, explained and/or hypothesized.
Interesting how you can see parallels with certain current aspects of society. Overall I enjoyed it very much.
Flora Dain
Mar 24, 2013 Flora Dain rated it really liked it
Shelves: sexpots
Lively, chatty account of one of the most colourful women of the Napoleonic age, from her humble origins in a Lancashire village to wife of the Ambassador to Naples, intimate friend of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples(sister of Marie Antoinette) and, most famously, Nelson's lover. Fascinating - if a little modest about her sexual prowess
Rio (Lynne)
The pictures are beautiful. Her story should be interesting, but this biography just isn't holding my attention.
Stephanie
I bought this book because I really like the movie that Hamilton woman. However this book was a bit tedious to read. It was obviously well researched and full of Pat but after while I got really tired of reading about how ridiculous Emma was when it came to money and dealing with it in her rise to celebrity. while her life may have been typical of the times, I tended to get a bit disgusted with her. As for Lord Nelson, he may have been a tactical genius,but his obsession with Emma showed him rat ...more
Kelly
Jan 16, 2009 Kelly marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Yes, please. Thanks, Rebecca.
Natasha
Jan 03, 2016 Natasha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best biographies I have read. The sheer volume of the original materials used and quoted is amazing. The author really loves Emma and makes readers follow every twist in her life with sympathy. Two comments on the content:
1. Emma showed incredible flexibility trying to please all the men in her life to the extent that sometimes one cannot help feeling sorry for her for sacrificing her wishes and ambitions.
2. She was a successful wife and mother, and although the author strongly implie
...more
Abbey
Recipe for a great historical biography: Four years of careful, extensive, expensive research, plus a writing style that reads as easily as a novel. Stir in sympathy for the foibles, failings, and fabulous strengths of characters, but don't fawn over the main focus character. Cook until delicious.

Kate Williams seemingly found every primary, secondary, and tertiary source on Emma Hamilton/Amy Lyon. She mixes her storytelling skills with sleuthing skills, especially when talking about Emma's earl
...more
Gerry
Aug 09, 2009 Gerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never realised what a courtesan Amy Lyon/Emma Hart/Emma Hamilton was, no wonder she changed her name twice before marrying! Kate Williams brings not only Emma to life but also breathes life into 18th and early 19th century England. Emma had a difficult childhood and was quickly put into service, which she decided was not for her. She therefore bettered herself and was quickly a favourite model of George Romney, who painted hundreds of portaits of her. She had a child by Sir Harry Fetherstonhau ...more
Jen3n
Aug 12, 2012 Jen3n rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book sits at at a cross roads where speculative fiction and historical biography meet. But that isn't the problem I had with it.

After I finished reading it, I went and looked over reviews that other people had written about it to see if anyone else came to similar conclusions. They did, sort of. The largest issue most people seemed to take was the large amount of speculation that the author put into the narrative. Didn't bother me a bit, mostly because it was well-researched and historicall
...more
Brittany
Mar 04, 2011 Brittany rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
This was a wonderful book to read when one is on a bus for eight hours. It's absorbing, interesting, and at least nominally "nonfiction," so you feel like you're maybe learning something.

I kept running into references to Emma Hamilton and Horatio Nelson's relationships in fiction and started looking for a good book to read on the subject. This book both was and was not the book I was looking for.

On its strong side, it's clear that Williams put a ton of research into this book. She traipsed all
...more
Girl with her Head in a Book
I was given this book at Christmas time by a friend of the family who is a bookseller, which was interesting because I don't think I would ever have picked this up myself. This is perhaps unfair, because I read one of Williams' other books Becoming Queen a few months ago and really enjoyed it ... Emma Hamilton is just one of those people from history who held very little interest for me. I read Amanda Foreman's Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire biography when I was thirteen and loved that even th ...more
Tim Pendry
This is an exceptional biography at so many levels. It recovers not so much a person as a period.

Emma, Lady Hamilton, was a clever but perhaps not always intelligent person of great beauty and charm, and acting skills, who rose from extreme poverty to become the wife of an ambassador and the mistress of a national hero, Lord Nelson.

Many biographies of such women present romantic fantasies – the sort of rubber-necking at history of those women who wish life was like a Jane Austen novel. This book
...more
Sherwood Smith
For the longest time, biographical material about Emma Hamilton was difficult to find--either it was repressively short, as befitted a woman "no better than she should be" or else disgustingly salacious. Here's a biography that is sympathetic to women caught in the horrible position of being poor, with few options for earning daily bread.

In the 1770s, when Emma (then Amy) was pretty much on her own, she either had to work under grinding misery for abysmal wages--and could be dismissed on a whim
...more
Meg
Jun 19, 2011 Meg rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2011
This is the book that made me realize how much I love my Kindle books: lugging it around as the author annoyed me increasingly only increased my annoyance with the whole endeavor of reading this book in dead tree format.

You know how people say a good nonfiction book can read like a novel? In this case, that's not a compliment. Williams should have written a historical fiction "biography", because that's essentially what this is, though it's not so compelling. As others have said, there are far t
...more
Liz Banks
Jun 12, 2016 Liz Banks rated it it was amazing
I have been fascinated with Emma Hamilton since I visited the British Museum and read a letter she wrote. She wrote it after Admiral Nelson died. It said something like "Fortunate, fortunate Horatio. Poor poor Emma." Then I found out she was married to another man at the time and never divorced him and wanted to know more. This is a well written book about a woman who was a victim in every way and made the most of her circumstances. It is well worth reading.
Jan
Dec 28, 2014 Jan rated it it was amazing
Wow. This writing is pure gold for my interests. Few reads hit my all-time 10 list & this is definitely one of them, for it offers me so many avenues of satisfaction for historical trivia interests. Yes, I'm gushing. A superb, well-written read, in my case an audio version I intend to revisit. I look forward to her other books.

Had my choice been based on the cover it likely would have been a no go. What a fortune find!
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Hello! Thank you for visiting my page. It's a great privilege to be on here - and to say hi to readers. Thank you very much for all your support and interest in my books! My twitter account is @katewilliamsme and I have a facebook page for Kate Williams author, come and say hello! I'm always thrilled to hear from you and your thoughts about my work.

I grew up in a very modern house in a dormitory
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