Two obsessions have fueled most of my stories: the English Regency and Roman archaeology. They seem to be unrelated subjects, so it surprised me to stumble on the image shown here. This caricature by James Gillray, dated to 1801 (technically, a little before the Regency), shows Sir William Hamilton studying his collection of antiquities. The wall behind him features paintings of Cleopatra, Mark Antony, the emperor Claudius and an erupting Vesuvius.
I’m not sure what the vampire-like statue in the background represents, but the Wikimedia description page for the image explains that the joke behind it is that the paintings of Cleopatra and Mark Antony are actually portraits of Hamilton’s wife Emma and her lover Vice Admiral Nelson (renowned for fighting against Napoleon and dying at the Battle of Trafalgar). I imagine the volcano symbolizes something else, too.
It turns out that William and Emma Hamilton have bios as fascinating as Nelson’s. His Wiki describes him as a “Scottish diplomat, antiquarian, archaeologist and volcanologist.” Hers tells of her evolution from maid to actress/model (a favorite of painter George Romney) to titled lady. William reportedly encouraged her relationship with the war hero Nelson, and the three of them lived together in London.
The truth is stranger than fiction, so it’s hard to follow up a tale like that, but one of my books also touches on both of my obsessions: Lord St Leger’s Find is about an aspiring female archaeologist during the English Regency whose family thinks it’s more important for her to find a husband than to find antiquities. For a complete description and sample chapters, please check out the book page here.Tweet this