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Nelson exhibition in Yarmouth examines his private life
Admiral Lord Nelson's tomb in the crypt of St Pauls Cathedral, London (Photo: Getty Images)
Admiral Lord Nelson's tomb lies in the Crypt of St Paul's Cathedral in London

A new exhibition in Great Yarmouth is examining whether Admiral Lord Nelson was a philanderer or a family man.

Nelson infamously had an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton while still married to his wife Fanny.

The Nelson Museum's exhibition, which features items from his private life, will allow visitors to examine his life and draw their own conclusions.

"He's such a hero in the country and I think it is an interesting question," said museum curator Hannah Bentley.

Nelson was born in Burnham Thorpe, north Norfolk, in 1758 and his most notable achievement was leading the British fleet to victory at Cape Trafalgar in 1805 - a battle which cost him his life.

As well as the fame he attained due to his military prowess, his private life also gained him notoriety during his lifetime.

"Very famously he had his mistress Emma Hamilton and he left his wife Fanny for Emma," said Hannah.

"He returned to Great Yarmouth following the Battle of the Nile [1798] with Emma and her husband.

"Emma was very heavily pregnant with his child when they arrived back in England."

Historical context

The exhibition Nelson's Women: Philanderer or Family Man contains a theme which will seem familiar to today's visitors.

While modern gossip magazines are constantly highlighting the indiscretions of celebrities, the exhibition aims to show Nelson's relationships in their historical context.

Admiral Lord Nelson (Photo: Royal Navy Museum)
Nelson led the British fleet to victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805

"There is that old attitude that sailors do that sort of thing when they're away at sea for long periods of time," said Hannah.

"He wasn't a typical philanderer and I think this is what's quite interesting about him.

"Although he had this affair and then had a child with Emma Hamilton, I think fundamentally he's a family man and he craved for that stability of the family and the family home."

Hannah also feels that while Nelson has become a national hero, his wife has fared less well in the eyes of history.

"Because he is this hero a lot of people say, 'Fanny didn't treat him well and she was a cold woman,' and I don't think that's true at all.

"I just think it was a wrong marriage. She grew up in the Caribbean and they met out there and it was almost like a holiday romance.

"I think when they came back to the reality of life in Norfolk it just didn't work."

Great victory

The exhibition allows visitors to come to their own conclusions and Hannah feels that history may have been very different if Nelson hadn't met Emma Hamilton.

"I think your personal life can have an impact on your professional life.

"When he left for Trafalgar I would say that he was at the happiest point in his life.

"He'd just spent the summer at his home in Merton, Surrey, with Emma... and with his daughter Horatia.

"He had a sense of contentment and he went off to battle - to that great victory - calm, content and happy."

Nelson's Women: Philanderer or Family Man runs at Great Yarmouth's Nelson Museum until November 2012.

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