Many people, if asked whom they consider to be England’s greatest hero, would say “Nelson” without much hesitation. But not all of them know that there is a corner of Sicily with which the great Admiral is forever associated – although he never went there. Nelson has several connections with Sicily: he watered his ships at the Arethusa Fountain in Syracuse before the Battle of the Nile, and he ordered Marsala wine for the fleet from the winery in the west of the island. But it was not until 1799 that he became closely connected.
In the terrible year of 1798, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the French armies were invading Italy and had conquered much of the north. In Naples King Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies, and his Queen, Maria Carolina, who was a sister of the executed Marie Antoinette of France, were forced to flee, and it was Nelson’s ship, HMS Vanguard, which took them to their second capital, Palermo. The Admiral, together with the British Ambassador, Sir William Hamilton and his wife, Emma, were great friends of the royal couple. Some months later the King and Queen returned to Naples, but once again had to ask Nelson for his help in getting away to Sicily. This time he took them on HMS Foudroyant, and it was very shortly after their safe arrival in Palermo that the King, in his gratitude, made Nelson a splendid gift: the Duchy of Bronte, with its castle and estate of Maniace on the northern flanks of Mt. Etna. Nelson, who was to die six years later, was never able to visit his property, but he signed himself “Nelson & Bronte” for the rest of his life.