Great Yarmouth museum’s Nelson love letters

For one of the country's greatest Naval strategists it seems an incredibly naive attempt to conceal an illicit love affair.

However, a letter on display at Great Yarmouth's Nelson Museum shows the legendary admiral and his mistress Lady Hamilton assuming the identities of Mr and Mrs Thompson in a hapless bid to stop tongues wagging.

The brief note, one of four exchanges between the lovers loaned to the museum by the trustees of the Denys Spittle Collection, sees Nelson purporting to write on behalf of Mr Thompson, supposedly a young father on board his ship, to the sailor's lover (conveniently staying with Lady Hamilton).

However, barely able to contain his yearning he writes: 'Your friend is at my elbow and enjoins me to assure you that his love for you and your child is if possible greater than ever and that he calls God to witness that he will marry you as soon as possible.'

No doubt worrying about the honeypot attraction of the striking Lady Hamilton while he is at sea, he adds: 'He (Mr Thompson) desires you will adhere to Lady H's good advice and like her keep those impertinent men at a proper distance.'

The letters, which have taken pride of place in the South Quay museum's latest exhibition - Nelson's Women: Philanderer or Family Man? - provide a fascinating glimpse into the admiral's character, often seen as enigmatic.

Curator Hannah Bentley said: 'People often say he was quite cold and austere, but the letters reveal his emotion and the intense relationship he had with Lady Hamilton.'

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In one of the displayed letters, written on board the San Josef in February 1801, Ms Bentley detects Nelson 'almost losing it' because of his simmering jealousy over the Prince of Wales' attentions to Lady Hamilton.

Aware of the Prince Regent's reputation for flirtation, he writes: 'I am so agitated that I can write nothing.'

However, in an increasingly impassioned ramble, he goes on to warn Lady Hamilton that if the prince comes calling again: 'Do not set long at table, good god he will be next you and telling you soft things...don't let him touch you nor yet set next you if he comes get up. God strike him blind if he looks at you.'

Ms Bentley said the exchange also revealed Lady Hamilton as a tease, who by informing Nelson of her encounter with the prince, undoubtedly wanted to 'keep him on his toes'.

The final letter in the correspondence, written between 1801 and 1806, is one by Lady Hamilton to the Reverend Scott, ship's chaplain on HMS Victory, after Nelson's death.

She expresses her sense of outrage that she and her daughter Horatia were not sufficiently provided for by the government.

Bitterly she writes: 'It seems those that truly loved him are to be victims to hatred, jealousy and spite.'

Ms Bentley said while Lady Hamilton was always conscious of her reputation during their relationship, Nelson was less concerned and thought that Horatia's birth bestowed God's blessing on their love.

She said: 'Nelson asked her to burn all the letters but she kept them.'

The letters will add fresh impetus to the debate about whether Nelson was a family man or philanderer, post-it notes left by museum visitors currently showing an equal split of opinions.

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