Nelson & His World

Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton
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Author:  RCS14 [ Mon Aug 10, 2015 10:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

It has been partially verified that Emma Hamilton & Lord Nelson had a son born at sea on one of Nelson's ships in late 1799.
Thomas Spencer(Lord Nelson's steward on the Vanguard) was asked by Nelson to adopt the boy.
As a result, Thomas Spencer(who was involved in a relationship with Mary Hever, Emma Hamilton's personal maid) decided to marry Mary Hever (Sir William Hamilton, Lady Hamilton & Lord Nelson were all at their wedding held in Palermo) - we have a copy of the marriage certificate.

In 1800, Sir William & Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson traveled back to England as did the newly weds Thomas & Mary Spencer along with their newly adopted son Horatio William Spencer.
When Thomas & Mary Spencer (along with their newly adopted son Horatio William Spencer) reached England late in 1800/early 1801, they traveled to Gotham, Nottinghamshire and took up residence at Highthorn Farm. The farm rental property was arranged by the family of Lord Howe's Nelson's friends. Rent for the farm being paid by Lord Nelson.

As we also know, Lady Hamilton & Lord Nelson had a second child(a daughter named Horatia) in 1801/1802. Again(as with their son Horatio William), their daughter was parented by a naval couple from Plymouth with the Lord Nelson & Emma Hamilton acting a god parents). Two years later, after the death of Sir William Hamilton, Emma Hamilton & Lord Nelson adopted Horatia and moved into their family home Merton Place.

Questions .....
1) It is believed that our "Spencer family line" are direct descendants of Horatio William Spencer(Nelson's illegitimate 1st son). We have been able to establish all the genealogical information relating to Horatio William Spencer and now only require genetic corroboration of our connection to the Nelson line. Can anyone from Nelson's direct line or voa Horatia Nelson's line help with this?

2) After Nelson's death in 1805 (on losing the financial support from Lord Nelson), Thomas & Mary Spencer apparently decided to leave Horatio William Spencer with their Spencer relatives in Gotham and we believe return to naval life?
Does anyone have any further naval or birth-death information on:
- William Spencer born(we believe in Nottinghamshire) in circa 1770 to 1772?
- Mary Hever born(birth location not known) circa 1772 to 1774?

Author:  Mark Barrett [ Tue Aug 11, 2015 8:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

RCS14 wrote:
It has been partially verified

Can you explain partially verified.

I have never heard this claim before.


Author:  RCS14 [ Tue Aug 11, 2015 7:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton


"Partially verified" means we have:
- The Vanguard muster Role indicating Lord Nelson & Thomas Spencer were on the ship in 1798/99;
- marriage certificate(Thomas Spencer & Mary Hever) witnessed by Lord & Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson in Palermo;
- we assume Nelson/Emma Hamilton's illegitimate son was named Horatio after him and his middle name William was from Sir William Hamilton;
Note: The naming is consistent with the name Nelson/Emma Hamilton's gave their illegitimate daughter "Horatia";
- we have evidence that Lord Nelson paid Thomas Spencer for the Gotham farm rent & upkeep of the young boy Horatio William;
- certificate for the 1804 christening of Horatio William in Gotham, Nottingham, UK also witnessed by Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton - this certificate indicates the boy was born at sea;
- there is a book about the existence of the Lord Nelson's illegitimate son named Horatio William called the Wayward Son By Howard George.

The only way to corroborate this story for sure is to undertake genetic testing with someone from the Nelson line.


Author:  tycho [ Tue Aug 11, 2015 9:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton


Welcome to the forum!

I can imagine how keen you are to confirm that you are a descendant of Nelson but I hope you won't be too despondent if I suggest that you are a little cautious.

There are several examples of children of Nelson's shipmates being given his name and of Nelson standing godparent or sponsor to them. It was typical of his generous nature to respond to requests like this.

Here is just one example that I quote from another thread:

There was the case of a child being named after Nelson recorded in Frederick Lloyd’s 1806 biography of Nelson.

The account is a long one, but to be brief: a Colonel Tyrwhitt, visiting Plymouth on 12 November 1805, encountered some children playing and heard them call one of their number ‘Nelson’. He enquired further and the child told him that Lord Nelson was his godfather but that he was shot and killed the other day in a great battle. Colonel Tyrwhitt went to the boy’s home and there discovered that the boy’s father had lost a limb in the Minotaur at the Nile. The boy had been born to his wife, a washerwoman on board the Minotaur in the bay of Leghorn. The father produced a birth certificate, naming the child Horatio Nelson, after Lord Nelson, and signed by Lady Hamilton, Sir William Hamilton and Lord Nelson. Nelson had stood sponsor for the boy and promised to give him a nautical education in preparation for a sea career. He had told the parents to write to him when they were settled in England but ‘this, through ignorance, they had neglected to do’. Colonel Tyrwhitt took it upon himself to assume responsibility for the boy’s education.

Another legend grew up that a child of Nelson and Lady Hamilton had been consigned to the Foundlings Hospital. In fact, Lady Hamilton visited the Hospital to celebrate the battle of Copenhagen in 1801. At a public ceremony, one of the children was named Emma Hamilton. At the same time, a boy was named Baltic Nelson and another William Hamilton. The practice of naming children after sponsors was stopped after children later attempted to claim their 'birthright'.

I think it quite possible that in your case, Nelson stood sponsor to a child who had been named after him. I could be wrong!

Author:  Mark Barrett [ Tue Aug 11, 2015 10:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Hi Roy

As Anna said I too would urge caution. As she says there were many children named after Nelson at that time and he stood godparent on several occasions.

Can you please post up a copy of the "christening certificate" that you say was witnessed by Nelson and Emma. When you say witnessed I don't know if you mean they attended the christening. But that would have been impossible as Nelson never set foot in England for the whole of 1804.

I hope you don't mind me being somewhat abrupt with my questioning but to me personally this is quite an unlikely story. But I would still like to get to the bottom of it. If it is true then it is groundbreaking to put it mildly! :)


Author:  brian [ Wed Aug 12, 2015 10:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Taking into account the relationship between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton in the hothouse atmosphere of Palermo, there is nothing intrinsically impossible about the idea of an illegitimate son.
What makes me sceptical about the circumstantial evidence presented is the extraordinary weakness – not to say extreme unlikelihood – of the description of the most crucial element in the story, namely the birth – ie that the child was “born at sea on one of Nelson's ships in late 1799.”

What this actually means, is that
i) first, that the most high profile and publicity seeking person in Palermo, namely the British Ambassador's wife and intimate of the Queen, who was regularly recorded at this time giving and attending innumerable parties, leading the entertainment with songs, dancing the local tarantella with a tambourine, and performing her attitudes before dragging the hapless and besotted Nelson on to late night gambling sessions; and who – like all celebrities - was the target of critical and salacious gossip by a large number of distinguished visiting Brits (notably Lord and Lady Elgin of ‘marbles’ fame), was pregnant without anyone noticing it and without it's attracting the slightest rumour
ii) second, that (instead of giving birth in some discreet and comfortable Palermo location) she slipped onto a British warship to give birth. Not only are the cramped, unhealthy and smelly confines of a ship probably the most unsuitable place in which to have a baby, but British warships were one of the most highly regulated and controlled environments in existence. Every happening was recorded one way or another. A shore visit by anyone - certainly by the British ambassador’s wife – could not have been done discretely, it would have to have been reported to the officer of the watch and written into the ship’s log, and then (if victuals or accommodation were involved) noted in the muster book not to mention the surgeon’s log. Many ship’s surgeons were, incidentally trained in obstetrics. Likewise with hundreds of men packed into a confine space, there wasn’t the slightest privacy on a warship and the news of such a birth could not have been kept secret. Nelson had a number of detractors who would have relished the opportunity to spread such news.

Has no-one undertaken the comparatively easy task of establishing which British warships were in Palermo between these dates? Have their logs, ship’s papers and surgeon’s reports been checked? And what is meant by ‘at sea’? The only time Nelson put to sea at this time was for fourteen days in October when to visited Minorca and Lady Hamilto was certainly not with him.

I am sceptical.


Author:  Phil [ Thu Aug 13, 2015 1:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Mention has been made of this story forming the basis of the historical novel 'The Wayward Son' by Howard George.

Not having come across this book before, a search on the internet led me to a review and a piece on how the author came to write the book. This is on

Part of this entry reads as follows:

" It was only after my great grandmother died aged 85 in 1950 and my aunt took to cycling to Gotham, South Nottinghamshire for conversations with the Rector of that parish and brought back the story of my great grandmother’s maternal grandfather, Horatio William Spencer, the apparent son of Lord Nelson’s steward and his wife Mary, that an interest awakened.

When Horatio Spencer had died in September 1889, approaching his 90th birthday, an inscribed Bible and letters from Lord Nelson had been removed from his home in Gotham by an unidentified lady in a private carriage. There were family members convinced that Horatio Spencer’s real parents had been Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton and that the infant had merely been passed off as the child of Thomas and Mary, before their return from Palermo, Sicily. Great grandfather who lived on to 1961 said the Spencer family’s great mistake was to allow the unidentified lady to remove the Bible and papers ".

So the author himself states he has a family connection as well as this intruiging byline to the tale. As I say a fuller explanation appears on the website.

According to the short review of the novel, this apparently refers to Lord Nelson arranging for Lady Hamilton to give birth on a transport ship rather than an actual British warship.


Author:  Phil [ Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Following my previous post concerning 'The Wayward Son' novel, I thought I'd have a look for any mention of Horatio William Spencer in the Nelson Dispatch.

Volume 10 Part 5 Jan 2010 page 318 has a short piece sent in by a Mr Frank Bland referring to an article in the Family History Monthly December 2009 by a Mr William Buchanan. This mentions that the East Leake & Gotham history groups had done research on Horatio Spencer from church records & censuses. Mr Buchanan apparently goes on to claim that further research has revealed that Horatio was the the illegitimate son of Nelson and Emma. However the birth is claimed to have been in the middle of 1800 at roughly the time that Thomas Spencer was discharged from the Foudroyant and returned to England, not late 1799 as previously mentioned. It also gives his wife's name as Mary Heber, a Portuguese lady.

The Dispatch editor asked for members comments and the following edition April 2010 page 381 printed a response from a Mr Mike Murray pointing out that this date would conflict with the subsequent birth of Horatia circa Jan 1801. There doesn't appear to be any further responses from other members.


Author:  brian [ Thu Aug 13, 2015 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Interesting Phil.

One of the criticisms levelled at Lord Nelson in the final months of 1799 (I am side-stepping the 'new' mid-1800 date!), is that while his ships were in action elsewhere, he insisted on remaining at Lady Hamilton’s side in Palermo.

In one sense of course this is true. The whole of Nelson's squadron was regularly deployed elsewhere in the Mediterranean at his time - notably at the siege of Malta, in Egypt with Sir Sidney Smith and off Genoa and Cadiz. Indeed, there were times when there was no regular British warship in Palermo at all. The Times reported in October that Nelson’s flag was flying from Sir William Hamilton's house; and when the hospital ship Charon visited the port in August 1799, the captain was surprised to see that that Nelson was flying his flag from a [government] transport. Likewise, when Thomas Hardy returned home in October, Nelson told him that the King of Sicily required him to stay in Palermo even “if my flag is in a transport” – though there is no indication as to the particular occasion to which he was referring.

If I were writing a novel including a birth afloat, I would certainly be attracted by the idea of Nelson's using a transport for the purpose since it would show a knowledge of the Palermo interlude. But isn’t August unlikely? One of Lady H's most well recorded appearances was at the elaborate outdoor fete champetre throw in honour of the Nelson on 3 September.

I am not sure however whether it was a warship or a transport makes much difference to my point. It is possible that the recording and control systems were slacker on a government transport - although some like Calcutta (which was one of those in the area at the time) was a decommissioned warship commanded by a half pay Lieutenant. But on the other hand, I would have thought that transports were even more unwholesome than warships, just as crowded and much more liable to leaks and gossip.

Again it should not be difficult to find out which transports were in Palermo. Apparently the Transport Board sent regular lists of transports on their stations to commander-in-chief giving the dates of their arrivals and departures.


Author:  Mark Barrett [ Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton


There are some very knowledgeable people on this forum and we will do our best to help you but we really do need absolute confirmation of certain facts.

I did a Google search and I guess you may also have posted on the Tracing Ancestors website. On there you say that this "baptism certificate" is signed by Nelson and Sir William Hamilton but don't give a date. On here you say that it was 1804 and witnessed by Nelson and Emma.

Well as I pointed out before Nelson didn't even set foot in the country in 1804 and people on here will be well aware that by 1804 Sir William Hamilton was DEAD.

In the era we are talking about here I'm not even sure what a "baptism certificate" was. But that may be just my ignorance.

Please help us out here by getting photographs or scans of the various certificates, proof of Nelson's payment of rent on the farm etc etc. As I said if these documents exist and are genuine then this is real groundbreaking stuff. But I find it hard to spend time on it until I have seen them with my own eyes.


Author:  Phil [ Fri Aug 14, 2015 11:23 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton


The "baptism/christening certificate" referred to is probably one that was issued by the parish church concerned. I have one myself from my christening. Given that the official birth certificates have been in existance since 1837, the baptism certificates have no real legal status and if they were issued in the early 1800's or before, I imagine these were given out at the discretion of the individual churches. I have done some family history research myself and don't recall any particular reference to them from this period. Perhaps other researchers could comment further.

Following my post yesterday, I have found a further article appeared in the Nelson Dispatch last year (vol 11 part 12 Autumn '14 page 709) concerning Horatio Spencer. This refers to a meeting held by the Midlands area group in September. Their guest speaker was Howard Cartwright, the writer of the 'Wayward Son'. Howard George is his pen name. The talk was about his investigations into his family tree and how it led him to write the novel. Interestingly it mentions that he has the christening record where 'Emma' had been written above the names in the parent's column, although it's not clear if this refers to an actual certificate or the entry in the parish baptismal register.

I'm rather surprised that the Dispatch did not have a fuller account or further comment regarding this talk, given the importance of the subject. I couldn't find any further reference in subsequent editions to it. You don't say Roy in your posts, if you have contacted the Nelson Society direct. I'm sure they would be of additional help in verifying your findings.

Good luck with your further research and I do hope there is a positive outcome. It would be great news to hear that there is such a close descendant of Nelson.



Author:  appear [ Fri Aug 14, 2015 3:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Hi everyone,
This link gives more detail about the author of The Wayward Son and you can read pages from the book here.

Author:  brian [ Fri Aug 14, 2015 7:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Before Birth Certificates were introduced in 1837, Baptismal Certificates were widely used in official situations where people had to prove their age. To take the RN lieutenant's exam, for example applicants had to prove, in addition as to minimum sea time, that they were 20 years old. The files recording these applications are full of the baptismal certificates they produced to prove this. There are of course well recorded cases when these certificates were fraudulent and put the applicant's dates of birth a few years earlier than reality so as to gain an advantage in the race for promotion.

Author:  Phil [ Sat Aug 15, 2015 10:09 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton


Thank you for the information on baptism certificates. It was interesting to learn that these documents had a more official use than just a record for the families to keep. As I said I had not previously discovered any personal documentation like this connected to my own ancestors, having to rely on the usual routes of census and parish registers and the odd reference in apprentice records kept by parish clerks etc.

Having not previously seen one, would I be correct in assuming these may have come in various styles issued by individual churches at the discretion of the vicar, rather than a formal laid down standard design. As you say, I am sure there was quite a market in fraudulent certificates to get round legislation such as the poor laws at that time.



Author:  brian [ Sat Aug 15, 2015 3:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Illigimate Son of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton

Hello Phil
As far as I can recall, the information given on these baptismal certificates was simple and pretty standard, but the size and style of printing varied - presumably according to the inclinations of either the parish or even the diocese.

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