In the first week of September 2023, I was honoured to be invited a ceremony in Ljubljana to unveil a plaque to commemorate the visit of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton to Hotel Slon in 1800. The visit was organised by the Nelson Society, the British Slovene Society and the British Embassy. Here was the speech that I made:
Your Excellency, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great honour to address you today to celebrate Admiral Lord Nelson's visit to Slovenia. Now I want to take you back 223 years to this very establishment. Hotel Elefant was splashed across the front as Nelson and his party arrived. Now there are three Sides to this intriguing Story:
In the first side, we have Nelson who wasn’t just a hero.
He was a naval legend. He had just thwarted Napoleon's Eastern ambitions by sinking the French Fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Nelson’s body was literally badly broken. He lost the use of his eye at Calvi due to grit thrown up by cannon fire, his arm had to be amputated at Tenerife because his elbow had been smashed by a musket ball and at the Battle of Nile, his forehead had been blown open in the heat of battle. Understandably, he went to Naples, to convalesce in the care of Emma Hamilton, and of course, fell head over heels in love. The British navy fearing a scandal, called him back to duty. However, he evaded these calls, claiming to be too ill. Eventually, he agreed but decided to return the long way round through Slovenia with Emma. For Nelson, the journey was a lovesick holiday, and he enjoyed the attention all the way.
Then in the Second Side we have Emma Hamilton's Rise and Fall She came from an extremely poor background. Daughter of an illiterate blacksmith, she had worked from age nine. Eventually, because of her good looks, she became a model for artists like George Romney and pictures of her hung in many Palaces across Europe. By 26, she was Lady Hamilton, married to the British Ambassador to Naples. She was bright, fluent in French and Italian and expert in art and antiquities. She was a close confidante to Queen Maria Carolina and even spied for the British informing them of the movements of King Ferdinand’s brother the King of Spain who was aligned to Napoleon. What a meteoric rise in a time when people were expected to know their place.
But she paid a very high price for her affair with Nelson. Whereas Nelson died in a blaze of glory a few years later at Trafalgar. For Emma she sunk into oblivion. You see, after Nelson’s death, she inherited his debts on renovations to their house in Merton; but Nelson’s wealth went to his brother and with no income, she died in poverty in Calais in 1815.
And then in the Third side, we have a little Ray of Hope Horatia Nelson, who was their daughter and Nelson’s only child, possibly conceived in this very hotel. She is my great-great-great-grandmother. Her life started tough—two stints in debtor's prison and at age 12, she was nursing her sick mother, Emma, in the gutters of Calais. After Emma's death, she was rescued from Calais by the British consulate Sir Henry Cadogan. She was then raised very happily by Nelson’s sisters, Kitty and Susannah. She married a Norfolk vicar, Philip Ward, she had ten children and lived to the ripe old age of 81.
And so, although the scandal finished Emma, for me, it was lucky. Had it not been for their union, I wouldn't be here today and if it hadn’t been for Nelson, we would probably all be speaking French.
So, as we stand here in Hotel Slon, its fascinating to think of these intertwined lives, shattered by love, duty, ambition, and destiny. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am extremely grateful to everyone who has contributed to the unveiling of this plaque. Keith Miles, the British Slovene Society, the Nelson society, the British Embassy , the hotel and of course our hosts from Slovenia. Thank you. Hvala Vam.