Kiss me, Horatio

Margarette Lincoln and Colin White debate the significance of a recently discovered cache of letters from Frances Nelson to her husband’s prize agent written at the time of the collapse of her marriage to Britain’s greatest naval hero.

A series of seventy-two letters, written by Frances, Lady Nelson, to her husband’s prize agent, Alexander Davison, was discovered in 2001 by Martyn Downer of Sotheby’s – literally in a trunk in the attic of the home of one of Davison’s direct descendants. A significant number date from the time of the break-up of the Nelson marriage in early 1801 and they offer fascinating insights into Frances’s feelings and actions, and those of Nelson’s immediate family, at that unhappy time.

Sold at Sotheby’s on Trafalgar Day 2002, the Frances Nelson Letters were acquired by the National Maritime Museum, with the help of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries. The letters have now been arranged in chronological order and catalogued. The catalogue may be viewed online at www.nmm.ac.uk

Here two of the country’s leading Nelson scholars offer differing views of what they reveal.

The Wronged Wife

In late June 1801 Frances, Lady Nelson, learned that her husband, Vice Admiral Lord Nelson, had been released from his post as Commander-in-Chief in the Baltic and was daily expected home in Britain. She had not seen him for six months, during which time he had made it clear on a number of occasions that he considered their marriage effectively at an end. So the news of his impending arrival both excited and upset her. On June 26th she wrote to Alexander Davison, Nelson’s prize agent and close friend, ‘When I heard on Sunday that My Dear Lord was expected My heart was all thankfulness and pleasure, but a moments unwelcome and intruding reflection made me truly a miserable and pitiable being.’ She then went on,

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