England’s Mistress-Kate Williams   Leave a comment


This is a book from my massive ‘to be read’ pile, I acquired this soon after it was first published in 2006, but it has sadly languished there ever since. Recently, I have decided to make a big effort to work through a lot of these books. I hope to have finished 50 of them by Christmas!

This was the first book written by Kate Williams, a subject she got interested it whilst studying for her doctorate. She is a qualified historian and lectures at reading university in a creative writing/history role. She has since written other non-fiction accessible history books on Queen Victoria, Napoleon’s Josephine and Queen Elizabeth II. She has appeared on TV a lot as a presenter and has now begun to write historical fiction. She even wrote a newspaper article arguing for her place in television history programmes instead of Dr Starkey.

After reading all of that, you might have been put off reading anything she has written. She seems a little bit lowbrow in her treatment of history to be honest. I have just read this book and Starkey’s book on the young Elizabeth back to back and the difference is quite marked.

Williams writes a nice story or biography of Emma Hamilton. It is broadly chronological, it is easy to read and follow. She does focus on some mythologies she has chosen to dispute, but largely it feels like she is telling a tale. By contrast, Starkey laid out the historical points he intended to tackle first and then approached them methodically, although still in a largely chronological form, but it did not read like a nice story, it felt like a history essay, which it is.

So, light, is the sum up for the type of history discussed in this book. A nice read for those who enjoy a biography. It did win prizes, so plenty of people enjoyed it. It was chosen as book of the month for Radio 4 and read as a serialisation, a treatment I think it was particularly well suited for.

I am writing all of this as if I didn’t enjoy the book, I did, but not as a work of history. I enjoyed learning about a period of history I know very little about. I have several historical books from the same period in my to be read pile, so am hoping by the end that my general knowledge will have increased greatly. This book is contemporary with ‘Catherine the Great’, ‘The Young William Pitt’ and ‘The French Revolution’ among others, so look out for the reviews.

Emma Hamilton, I had heard of as Nelson’s lover, but I had no idea she began life as a penniless girl from a mining village in the North of England. Nor did I know that when she arrived in London she became a prostitute who was eventually taken up by a gentleman and looked after, had a child with him, then was cast off and had to look for someone else. Eventually she got lucky, and her lover agreed to marry her, and she became Mrs Hamilton, wife to the serving diplomat to the court of Naples.

Emma’s adventures in Naples are a book in themselves. She eventually became closest confident to the queen, sister of Marie Antoinette, at the time of the revolution. It is worth reading the book just to learn about this section of history, fascinating.

Having met Nelson, whilst living in Naples, she established a menage-a-trois with her husband until he died. She then remained with Nelson until his death, including giving him a much wished for child, Horatia. Emma had no cold business sense, and ended up bankrupt and penniless following Trafalgar, much against Nelson’s wishes. The story after her lover’s death, is again, very interesting.

This is worth a read, if you are away on holiday and are looking for something light that isn’t a complete waste of time.


Posted November 1, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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