Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Horatio Nelson: Palazzos and Merton Place

Horatio Nelson


Originally I started reading about Horatio Nelson because he was such a hero to the Regency Brits. He is spoken about in many books of the time, and he is even referenced in movies that I sigh over such as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. (Russell Crowe.. Mmmmmm). If you look at the painting of the young nineteen year old Captain Nelson above, painted by John Rigaud, you will see the fortress that he stormed as a young man in South America.

What I found out is that he was really an interesting man. I am not a military history kind of girl, so I was almost grinding my teeth before I started reading it and I was even questioning my choice. The book by Tom Pocock, however, is a great read. I really enjoyed it. While there is some military information here, the book is about the man behind the uniform. There is no strategy included within, which may put some people off, but for me, this was perfect. And, as any good book has, Pocock included some information specifically for me. Did he know that I would be reading his book?

“It was not only the luxuries of the Palazzo Sessa that were now open to Nelson but a strange and beautiful country of palaces and panoramas. The Bourbons had built palazzi or pavilions wherever their pleasures dictated, whether for entertaining, hunting or commanding a remarkable view of green slopes and blue sea dominated by the dark presence of Vesuvius and the volcanic cliffs and crags created by its eruptions. Most remarkable of these was Caserta, but in imitation of Versailles, and there and wherever the royal family might be, the Hamiltons would not be far way. Sometimes they stayed at the rented villa near Caserta, where they could walk in the English Garden laid for the Queen by the landscape gardener, John Graefer, who had been recommended by Sir William.”[1]


“… he chose as his principal residence the much smaller palace, which included the new Palazzina Cinese built in the Chinese taste, in the Colli district, fashionable for noblemen’s summer villas, and near his hunting-grounds. For the other refugees, the only available accommodation was in such houses outside the town, which were empty in winter. One of these, the Villa Bastioni near the Flora Reale gardens, was allocated to the Hamiltons; its high-ceilinged rooms were designed for hot weather and it had no fireplaces.”[2]


“Palermo: the mixture of palm trees, the flamboyant palaces and, here and there, the architecture of the Moors with its suggestions of the seraglio.”[3]

What is most interesting is that the author includes some information about Nelson’s new seat, Merton Place. This country house, a “little farm”, had been purchased by Nelson through his solicitor, and had been chosen and decorated by his true love and mistress, Lady Hamilton.[4] Described by Sir William Hamilton in a letter to Nelson “You are in luck, for, in my conscience, I verily believe that a place so suitable to your views could not have been found… You have nothing but to come and enjoy immediately. You have a good mile of pleasant dry walk around your farm. It would make you laugh to see Emma and her mother fitting up pig-sties and hen-coops and already the canal is enlivened with ducks and the cock is strutting with his hens about the walks. Your Lordship’s plan as to stocking the canal with fish is exactly mine. I will answer for it, that in a few months you may command a good dish of fish at the moment’s warning.”[5] After Nelson’s death it was sold “again six years later and it was demolished in 1848”, which is really distressing because he became the hero of a nation.[6]

[1] Tom Pocock. Horatio Nelson. (London: Rondom House, 1994.), 177.
[2] 190.
[3] 191.
[4] 257.
[5] 259.
[6] 338.

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