Thanks to Anna’s wonderful help, I’ve been able to source a missing letter (and a little of its history) that may hold the key to Nelson’s much debated victualling at Syracuse before the Battle of the Nile.
Nelson’s last Codicil written before Trafalgar refers to:
… Secondly, the British Fleet under my command could never have returned the second time to Egypt had not Lady Hamilton's influence with the Queen of Naples caused Letters to be wrote to
the Governor of Syracuse, that he was to encourage the Fleet being supplied with everything
should they put into any Port in Sicily. We put into Syracuse and received every supply,
went to Egypt, and destroy'd the French Fleet…”
Before the Nile, Nelson refers to a letter written by the Queen of Naples and forwarded by Emma Hamilton as follows:
I have kissed the Queen's letter. Pray say I hope for the honor of kissing her hand when no fears will intervene. Assure Her Majesty that no person has her felicity more at heart than myself, and that the sufferings of her family will be a Tower of Strength on the day of battle. Fear not the event: God is with us. God bless you and Sir William. Pray say I cannot stay to answer his letter,
Ever yours faithfully,
17th May, 6 p.m.
It’s clear (because of the content) that Nelson meant 17 June when he dated the letter 17 May.
The letter Nelson kissed has never come to light, but a couple of years ago I came across the transcript of a letter from the Queen to Lady Hamilton that had been forwarded by Sir William to Foreign Secretary Lord Grenville on the 18 June. Since then, there’s a note by Emma, stating that a second copy had been sent to Earl St. Vincent on the 19 June. More recently, I managed to source the original Queen’s letter amongst a mixed batch in London. All, except Emma’s note, were in French.
Thanks to Anna and her multi-lingual contacts, the English translation of the Queen’s letter runs as follows. It’s dated 11 June 1798. Please excuse the length - the Queen doesn't write in paragraphs:
I should like to know how your health is after all the turmoil of the day yesterday and that appalling fire. I was, one cannot be more so, touched by the letter that you had the kindness to translate for me, from the honourable and brave admiral; yes, it is the only arrival of the brave English squadron in the Mediterranean which caused the departure of the Republican navy squadron without committing violence in our territories; but this squadron can return and a second one is being prepared in all haste at Toulon which will be, they say, escorted by their friends and allies – the king and I blush to pronounce the name “allies” about these monsters. Our danger is very far from being past. Letters, even yesterday, announced the hurried march of 25,000 men who are coming to Italy, some from Switzerland, some from France. The Republicans and their slaves, the Cisalpines and the Eopines have had the order to arm. All this recent news suggests bad intentions against us, and having denied having such considerable forces, one is never sure of the sincerity of their promises, their written words or assurances - and their treaties have no value, experience having shown too often what they are and how much one can believe them. I beg you - by friendship/affection you have always shown me – and by the trust (confidence/reliance) which binds me to so sincerely to your great and honourable nation, to assure Lord St Vincent of our esteem and trust and our eternal gratitude for the alacrity with which he hastened to our defence, to which I attribute the departure of the enemy squadron without committing any hostilities upon us. I devoutly wish, that not one of these regiments will be seen again on the seas, but that they submit to the fate that I wish on them - and that men like Les Clemens and all Nature combine to destroy them for the good of humanity. I beg you to tell the worthy and devoted knight, your husband, that should he wish to be recognized as a brave admiral by the Court and the Nation, in this same moment we can only follow our heart in opening all the ports to the whole squadron, fulfilling the different demands that an immediate and open war will produce. Necessity demands this and it is prudent that we join together with the land forces, namely the Emperor. It is for this that we are working zealously and in haste and, if it is possible, a genuine concerted effort to fall on these monsters and destroy a hydra which, in the long term, would devour us all. But before this concerted action, and before we can permit ourselves to announce this action and act according to our feelings, we must behave with circumspection. In spite of that all these tasks, whether by allowing the ships to enter the port, whether by refreshments, provisions, help, news, all will be provided, given with pleasure and swiftly, our feelings being entirely devoted to your brave nation. We will only ask for the success of the negotiations which we are pressing for vigorously and a feeling which we will not find in others which will cause us to fulfil all the conditions that we approve. A common alliance unites us as our hearts and feelings are united and will be bound by mutual interests.
I commend this letter to your discretion and prudence. It could compromise me completely. It is the country and the state that I fear to drag into misfortune in acknowledging so openly my hatred and the loathing my heart feels for them. For me personally, I should glory in avouing it openly and proving it on every occasion. So I beg you to keep this between ourselves – but especially don’t let any occasion go by without assuring your brave and honourable nation and the Admiral that the king, my husband, his son and my future grandchildren hold the same feelings of friendship, love and trust and our indebtedness to you all - and that these feelings will last all my life.
What I’m hoping to establish (with the help of Nelson and his World's detectives) is whether this is the Queen’s letter that Nelson kissed, and one of the letters he referred to in his last Codicil. How important is it, and where should it be placed within a narrative of the Battle of the Nile?
There’s a lot of confusing correspondence between the main players at the time, not to mention Emma Hamilton’s later petitions for a pension listing her services (including acquiring a - this? - letter from the Queen) as the lodestone of her claim. Motives for mystification or confabulation might include the need for secrecy – so as not to compromise the Sicilian Royal Family who were tied-in to a treaty of neutrality with the French. The passing years, the threat of penury, ill-health and previous failure to draw attention to her claims may also have encouraged Emma Hamilton to embellish her recollections after 1808.
I thought it might be fun to explore this new letter as a group online. Any additional evidence or counter-evidence would, of course, be gratefully received and fully credited if published.
Is this is the letter that Nelson kissed, and the basis for writing what he did such a short time before his death at Trafalgar?
Thanks in advance for any thoughts.