Horatio Nelson's lost love letters are unearthed

More than a thousand unpublished letters from Lord Nelson - including private love notes to his mistress, Emma Hamilton - have been unearthed in what is being hailed as one of the most important finds in naval history.

More than a thousand unpublished letters from Lord Nelson - including private love notes to his mistress, Emma Hamilton - have been unearthed in what is being hailed as one of the most important finds in naval history.

The collection, compiled by the National Maritime Museum in London, also comprises military letters, personal correspondence to the future king and missives to his wife, notably colder in tone than those to his famous lover.

The correspondence of Britain's greatest naval hero, dating up to the Battle of Trafalgar which claimed his life, has been put together to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle next year and will go on public display in the spring. The most illuminating of the 1,300 letters - tracked down from collections across the world by the museum's Nelson's Letters Project - are written by Nelson to his mistress.

One missive in particular, penned at the height of the Trafalgar campaign, has been discovered for the first time, after prudish 19th-century editors had removed passages that were considered "too warm". In the letter, written while pursuing the French fleet in June 1805, Nelson tells Lady Hamilton, the wife of one of his closest friends, the high-ranking British diplomat Sir William Hamilton, that he would "with pleasure lay at your feet" when he returns from the campaign. He goes on to beg for "a sweet kiss" from her as "reward" for his "hard fag", before signing off with the line: "for Ever and Ever I am your faithful ever faithful and affectionate".

The letter, along with dozens of others addressed to Lady Hamilton, sheds new light on a love affair considered nothing short of scandalous in the early 19th century. In another unpublished letter, it is revealed for the first time that Nelson celebrated his victory at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 by throwing an impromptu birthday party for his absent mistress. Scores of others range from debates with his captains over tactics to friendly correspondence with the future King William IV.

Nelson won a string of crucial battles in the early 19th century, including Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar. He lost his life to a sniper in the last, but only after a tactical masterstroke had ensured victory against the odds for the British.

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