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England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton [Hardcover]

Kate Williams
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 Oct 2006
A dramatic, sparkling tale of sex, glamour, intrigue, romance and heartbreak, "England's Mistress" traces the rise and rise of the gorgeous Emma Hamilton. Born into poverty, she clawed her way up through London's underworlds of sex for sale to become England's first media superstar. Nothing could stand in her way of her desire to live out her dream - except her self-destructive desires. Drawing on hundreds of previously undiscovered letters, and told with a novelist's flair, "England's Mistress" captures the relentless drive, innovative style and burning passion of a true heroine. In a world of tabloid fame and three-minute wonders, Emma's life is truly a tale for our time.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hutchinson; 1st Edition edition (5 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0091794749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0091794743
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 15.8 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 273,265 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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! My twitter account is @katewilliamsUK, come and say hello!

I grew up in a very modern house in a dormitory village in the Midlands- and as a consequence became completely obsessed by the past. When I was about six, we got a new washing machine - and I took the huge cardboard box, covered it in silver foil and told my little brother it was a time machine. I used to rumble it about and tell him 'Look! We're in Egypt in the time of the pyramids - but you can't get out!' So he had to listen to all the stories inside, my poor brother...

'One of Britain's best young historians', Independent.
'Historian Extraordinaire', The Today Programme, Radio 4
'Queen of historical fiction', Guardian
'Unforgettable', (the book, not me!), The Lady.
'Gripping, seductive', The Times

I'm still looking for that time machine - and still living in it, really as I am so obsessed by history.

Thanks so much for coming with me in my time machine.....

My latest novel, The Storms of War, is the first in a trilogy about the de Witt family. The first explores their lives from 1914-1918, as the youngest girl, Celia, sees her perfect world crumble and change. I've wanted to write about the wars since I visited the trenches in France when I was ten on a school trip. I was fascinated by how small they were - and how men could ever live in such places.

The second book will be published in 2015 - just writing it now! That will explore their lives from 1919 to 1927 - the twenties, flappers, the Crash - and a murder...

I have published four history books, my most recent (2013) was Josephine: Desire, Ambition, Napoleon (UK) and 'Ambition and Desire: the Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte' (US). It has been optioned by Ecosse Films (Nowhere Boy, Mrs Brown, Great Fire) and they are working on the script now.

My previous novel,The Pleasures of Men, about Catherine Sorgeiul, a young woman in 1840 who terrifies herself with her obsession with a murderer, appeared in 2012. I began writing the book while living in Paris, one summer - as she found herself wandering the streets alone at night, Catherine and the Man of Crows came into her mind.....It was the Simon Mayo Book Club Book in January, shortlisted for the London award and the screenplay is underway.

My second book, Becoming Queen, about the passionate youth of Queen Victoria and Princess Charlotte, England's lost queen, was published in September 2008. It was serialised in the Sunday Telegraph Stella Magazine, and a Book of the Year in the Tatler and Spectator. I made a BBC 2 show about it, acclaimed by Radio Times as 'superb', receiving 2.2 million viewers.

Her first book, England's Mistress: the Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton was published in 2006, after five years of research in archives across the world. It was Book of the Week on Radio 4, a Book of the Year in the Times and the Independent and shortlisted for the Marsh Prize for Biography. 'A wonderful, sparkling biography', Amanda Foreman.

I appear regularly on radio and TV. I was the social historian on our three series of BBC 2's Restoration Home and I am the in house expert and historian at CNN. I've also talked history and royals on the Bake Off, the Jubilee, royal wedding, coronation anniversary and Prince George coverage - and appeared often on Newsnight, Today, Sky News and various documentaries. I have made two radio documentaries, on Samuel Smiles and the history of the smile.

It's a great privilege to write - and I love hearing from readers. Thanks for coming to my page!

Product Description


'it's impossible not to share in the admiration Williams has for
her...gripping.' -- Claire Allfree, Metro, October 11, 2006

Emma famously gets her comeuppance, and her headlong flight to
romantic destruction is told with novelistic dash. -- Iain Finlayson, The Times.

Enjoyable reading.
-- Miranda Seymour, the Sunday Times

It is the thoroughness of the research and attention to detail
that makes [England's Mistress] so interesting..fascinating.
-- The Independent

Sparkling like Emma's pawned diamonds...this biography, makes us
understand why Nelson needed to be prised out of Emma's embrace
-- Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail

Williams has done a wonderful job in resurrecting the woman...an
immensely colourful, readable portrait that revels in Emma's resilience -- Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

Williams reworks Emma's life so that it resonates for a Noughties
readership... -- Kathryn Hughes's Mail on Sunday

a contemporary take on Emma Hamilton as an ambitious,
self-promoting media savvy celebrity...fascinating -- Rebecca Loncraine, Independent

it's impossible not to share in the admiration Williams has for
her...gripping -- Claire Allfree, Metro, October 11, 2006

reads like fiction. This dazzling rags-to-riches tale details the
life of England's most beloved and infamous mistress.
-- Margaret Flanagan, Booklist

From the Publisher

As a self-made celebrity, Emma Hamilton's rise from prostitute
to consort of the most famous man in England has a very contemporary zing

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little more time. 27 Oct 2006
By anna
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I wish Kate Williams had waited a little before publishing this book. She is clearly clever and enthusiastic, and sympathetic to a woman who has had more than her fair share of denigration over the years. The weakness of the book, I think is that she makes unsubstantiated conjectures about Emma's life, based on the general social conditions of the period, which are not sustainable and are more suited to an historical novel than a biography. Nevertheless, there are some interesting insights here - such as the assertion, without quoting sources, that Nelson knew about Emma's earlier illegitimate daughter. There are some grounds, but no concrete evidence, for this view. Other Nelson scholars such as Colin White and Tom Pocock do speculate on possibility, but always grounded in known circumstance, and had Kate Williams handled this, and other matters, in a more tentative way, her narrative would, paradoxically, have carried more weight.

I found the background material of the demi-monde and the observations on the cult of celebrity interesting and informative. I just wish Ms Williams, as a young, keen writer, had had better guidance from her publishers and editors. As it is, the book is part novel, part pop-biography aiming to be a serious academic work. The result is a confusion of genres which is unsatisfying.If only she had allowed her insights and ideas to ripen for a while she could have added more considered reflection and a more polished writing style to her enthusiasm and sympathy. The result would have been a deeper, richer book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A really good read 23 Oct 2006
By Kevin M
I listened to the radio 4 extracts from this book and have now just finished reading it.

I must confess that, having met the author and having seen her on TV a couple of times I was already predisposed to like this book and it did not disappoint me. I may be biased but Kate Williams is a very intelligent and attractive young woman who writes in an easy style that communicates both her love of the subject and her detailed knowledge of the period.

Although I know that the author is a highly qualified academic and that she has done several years of research to produce this book what really struck me was the way she brought the period and Emma's background and experiences to life. I cannot claim to have read widely about Emma Hamilton but I now feel that I understand her and the extraordinary life she lead. One can think of a number of current celebrities who have used looks, charm and nerve to gain access to a better life but few can compare with what Emma Hamilton experienced and achieved. I thoroughly recommend this book - a very enjoyable and informative read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Impressively researched 20 Dec 2013
By Phil W
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Generally a very impressive history, well researched. Kate Williams actually makes Emma Hamilton's life before she met Nelson the more interesting part of the story, bringing out clearly and interestingly the story of how a woman from the lowest reaches of society made her way to near the very top of the social pyramid. Her (relative) fall after Nelson's death is equally moving.

My only reservation was that there was perhaps a little more speculation and narrative description ("she/he must have felt") etc in areas, especially in Emma's early life, where there was a lack of documentary detail to rely on. This doesn't however detract from the success of the book as a whole, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 'ambition, heartbreak, beauty and pain' 29 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learnt a lot from reading this book - about the society of the late eighteenth century; the manners and customs, the life and pleasurable diversions of the aristocrats and the wealthy.

The story of Emma unfolds through her journey from an impossible background of hopeless poverty to riches, celebrity and ultimate impoverishment. This against the landscape of the wheeling and dealing, the complex family interrelationships and responsibilities, the dominance of the male establishment, fashion, custom, the position of women and the struggle to get through a life.

I take away;

The selfish fickle treatment by the press of the time, and her supposed friends towards the end of her life when she desperately needed support. (made me think how selfish and ungrateful people can be).
The profligency of the wealthy and titled and the polarised wealth and inequality. (you can see why the Revolution in France exploded with so much resentment and violence)
The vulnerable position of women in society and the way they were treated like chattels (a different world we have forgotten)
Emma's failure to secure her position, her love for Nelson (women completely at the mercy of their partners)
The mass hysteria over Emma and Nelson (reminded me of weird Diana madness but a hundred times worse)
Nelson's poor treatment of Fanny (not exactly a monogamous society)
The shoddy behaviour of the british government, (disgraceful)
The sloppiness of the characters in organising their affairs responsibly.
The virtual impossibility of an independent life for a woman without a man

It's an easy book to read, thankfully broken into short chapters and well supported by voluminous research. Engaging and rewarding, I'm glad I read it and full of admiration for Kate Williams for gathering so much research and detail together.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amy Lyon, Emma Hart to Emma Lady Hamilton the reinvention of an...
I love him, I adore him, my mind and soul is now transported with the thought of that blessed ecstatic moment when I shall see him, embrace him...... Read more
Published on 25 Nov 2006 by Andrea Bowhill
4.0 out of 5 stars A Lady's Perspective
It takes a perceptive lady to come up with an extremely readable account of one of the most famous but flawed of women in history. Read more
Published on 4 Nov 2006 by Robert
5.0 out of 5 stars History That's as Compulsively Readable as a Novel
Not every historical biography is as compulsively readable as this. If they were a lot of school children would be much more happy. Read more
Published on 1 Nov 2006 by Bluestalking Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable!
I loved this biography! Kate Williams gives us a remarkable insight into Emma Hamilton's unique life. Read more
Published on 31 Oct 2006 by B. J. H. earn
5.0 out of 5 stars superb
No surprise that the beautiful and enchanting kate williams has chosen as the subject for her debut the almost as wonderful emma hamilton, the mistress of the late horatio nelson. Read more
Published on 29 Oct 2006 by sally
5.0 out of 5 stars wow!
The story of Emma's marriage, and the docility of Nelson to share her with his valet and butler, the aptly named Barry Midshipman, who also stars in the Poseidon Adventure, has... Read more
Published on 23 Oct 2006 by jon
5.0 out of 5 stars The next
What a magnificant book, written on a huge scale from an immense wealth of knowledge. This is a biography of a poor miner's daughter, born into abject poverty, who escaped the... Read more
Published on 18 Oct 2006 by Mark Pritchard
5.0 out of 5 stars A real page-turner!
A real page turner! I hadn't heard of Emma before but I couldn't put this down. Emma is a woman of our celebrity-obsessed times but the book also paints a vivid picture of 18th... Read more
Published on 17 Oct 2006 by A. Style
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!
What a babe - Emma Hamilton scaled her way up from poverty to be super

famous. Too right she could teach Posh a thing or two. Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2006 by Ms. L. Hayman
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