Rare opportunity to see Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton’s gold betrothal ring

Theirs was a love affair that scandalised society and continues to grip the imagination and this Valentine’s Day, 14 February, visitors to The National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard have a rare chance to get up close and personal to the betrothal ring Vice Admiral Lord Nelson gave to his mistress Emma Hamilton on the eve of his final departure from British soil.

The fede gold “betrothal” ring is one of two exchanged by the couple on 13 September 1805, shortly before Nelson returned to active duty. That month he left Portsmouth for the Battle of Trafalgar. He died onboard HMS Victory on 21 October having led the British fleet to victory.

The rings were exchanged in a conscious imitation of a marriage ceremony in Merton parish church, when the couple received Holy Communion. Rebecca Drummond, curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “Nelson was still married to Lady Nelson, so it was a private ceremony in Merton, close to where they lived, openly, together. He wrote a passionate love letter to her from on board HMS Victory just before the battle. The ring is usually displayed behind glass so we can’t think of a better way to mark Valentine’s Day by letting visitors get up close and personal to it for one day only.”

Featuring two clasped hands, the ring was inspired by a design which dated back to Roman times. The ring will be on display on Wednesday 14 February in the Nelson Gallery, The National Museum of the Royal Navy between 1.30 -2.30pm as part of the half term holiday activities.

A valid attraction ticket is required to see the betrothal ring. Visit our Portsmouth Historic Dockyard's ticket and offers page for more information. 

HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands