Having enjoyed her other lengthily subtitled book on How to Create the Perfect Wife, I moved on to this one, also in roughly the same period of English history. If anything, it's even better. While the young women of 'Wife' are largely ciphers (at least in the sense of having left behind written records), here both members of the disastrous marriage are vivid creatures with long paper trails.
The actual title of this book is.... Worst. Husband. Evar.
Mary Bowes was a wealthy heiress, whose first husband was the Earl of Strathmore, who died of TB (though not before the marriage produced 5 children). Since Victorianism was still in the future, Mary dallied fairly freely during and after her marriage.
And now the highlighting feature of the Kindle will haunt you with long blockquotes.
Educated to an unusually high standard by her doting father, Mary Eleanor had established a modest reputation for her literary efforts and was fluent in several languages. More significantly, she had won acclaim in the almost exclusively male-dominated world of science as a gifted botanist. Encouraged by senior figures in London's Royal Society, she had stocked her extensive gardens and hothouses with exotic plants from around the globe and was even now planning to finance an expedition to bring back new species from southern Africa. According to one writer, she was simply “the most intelligent female botanist of the age.”
Indeed, learned women were often viewed as objects of ridicule, if not scorn, since they offended the idealized image of the acquiescent, passive female. “Nothing, I think, is more disagreeable than Learning in a Female,” declared Thomas Sherlock, the bishop of London, while Lord Bath blamed the headaches suffered by the poet and classicist Elizabeth Carter on her devotion to learning. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu confessed to “stealing” her education by surreptitiously studying Latin when her family believed she was reading “nothing but romances.” Writing to her own daughter, Lady Bute, in 1753, she urged that her granddaughter should enjoy a similarly advanced education since “learning (if she has a real taste for it) will not only make her contented but happy in it.” But equally she took pains to urge that her granddaughter should “conceal whatever learning she attains, with as much solicitude as she would hide crookedness or lameness” since revealing her knowledge would engender envy and hatred.
Now an heiress and a countess, Mary chose as her next husband...
Andrew Stoney, who formed the model of Barry Lyndon and gave us the phrase, at least according to Moore, "stone broke". Stoney gets off to a fabulous start. Knowing of a rival, and knowing that certain newspapers were airing Mary's dalliances quite freely, Stoney contrived to get into a duel of honor over her. Grievously wounded, with his doctor not expecting him to live, Stoney asked to be married to her.
Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore, married Andrew Robinson Stoney, in St. James's Church, Piccadilly. Borne to the church on a makeshift bed, Stoney made his vows at the altar while doubled in pain. Mary Eleanor's footman, George Walker, and Stoney's friend and financial adviser, William Davis, were die witnesses. And it seemed to the small gathering who watched the ceremony that it could be only a matter of days before the groom returned to the church—in a wooden casket.
Oh, but when I said he contrived to get into a duel, I really mean contrived. It was all a fake. As was the gypsy fortune-teller that Mary visited some time previously. But the marriage was all too real. As a detail of the Bowes fortune, Stoney was obliged to change his name to Bowes.
In addition to needing and wanting money, he seems to have been exactly the worst kind of controlling and grotesquely physically and emotionally abusive person. As blackmail material, he made her write of all her dalliances and abortions. "Later she would claim that the account that Bowes would maliciously publish as The Confessions of the Countess of Strathmore was completely false, composed at his dictation and extracted under the threat that she would never see her children again; on occasions she would even deny that she had written it at all. Yet there is no doubt that the 100-page tract was written in Mary's hand and that much of it is accurate and corroborated by other sources."
He carried on his own dalliances in front of her, even asking her to translate his mash notes into French. She was often literally kept under lock and key, and her clothes worn to tatters, so that her maids sometimes gave her their own cast off underwear.
Oh, rather inconveniently, Mary had agreed to fund Paterson's botanical expedition to the interior of South Africa. Then after the marriage occurred, Stoney cut off the funds, but without telling Paterson who was knee deep in the middle of nowhere.
FOR WILLIAM PATERSON, back in Cape Town in early 1780 after returning from his fourth and final expedition into the south African interior, prospects had taken a severe turn for the worse. By now he had discovered that his mounting bills for provisions, lodgings, guides, oxen, and other necessities had all been returned from England unpaid, under Bowes's instruction. With his erstwhile patron now denied all access to her former riches, Paterson found himself seriously in debt, unable even to buy a passage home or to pay his daily expenses. Entirely dependent on the “protection and support” he had trustingly expected from his benefactor, he was now destitute and abandoned in a foreign land. The humble gardener from a remote Scottish hamlet had penetrated farther into the Cape interior than any British traveler, collected a treasure trove of botanic marvels, and discovered several new species.
Meanwhile, Mary donated Paterson's magnificent giraffe skin and bones [at the time the animal's very existence was doubted in Europe] to her friend John Hunter, quite possibly at the instigation of Bowes in payment for the surgeon's services so recently rendered. Whatever her motive for the gift, Hunter was ecstatic with the addition to his burgeoning anatomical collection. After examining and preserving the bones, and dissecting the ligaments of its neck in an effort to understand its stupendous stature, Hunter had the skin stuffed and placed in the hallway of his Jermyn Street house. With its legs hacked off so that it would fit in the hall, the beast sat on its haunches as an unsettling welcome to patients and guests.
Bowes managed to become an MP for a short time: "When his attempts to wine and dine the voters failed to secure the desired result, Bowes resorted to his usual dirty tricks. At one point he fooled a group of his opponents' supporters into boarding a ship in expectation of customary hospitality. Once aboard, the well-bribed captain weighed anchor and set sail for Os-tend, blaming unhelpful winds for his inability to return in time for polling."
But it didn't make him any nicer: "Bowes issued strict orders to the new gardener, Robert Thompson, to ignore all his mistress's instructions, to bar her entry to the walled garden and greenhouse on pain of being sacked, and to refuse her any fruits or flowers that grew within. At one point Bowes ordered Thompson to release hares in the garden deliberately to destroy Mary's flowers."
After some 8 years of this (and two children), Mary effected an escape with the help of her domestics: "Free at last from Bowes's iron grip, though not at liberty, Mary would never forget the courage and kindness of the four women who had rescued her and quite probably saved her life. Having left behind their own few belongings and unpaid wages, her maids now became valued friends who served her for no recompense; indeed, she owed money to them all. Not one male servant, she would later stress, had been party to the plan."
Then numerous lawsuits flew back and forth, including a rather rare suit for divorce in the ecclesiastical courts. The ins and outs of this are elaborate, but fascinating. The divorce was granted, amounting effectively to a legal separation without a right to remarry. But Bowes lodged an appeal, and then...
Rushing into print on the day after the kidnap, the London Evening Post announced: “Yesterday, about two o'clock, Lady Strathmore was forcibly taken away from the house of Mr Forster [sic], brazier, in Oxford-street, where she had called on business, by five or six armed men, who violendy seized and put her into her own carriage, which waited at the door.”
Halting shortly afterward at the Brick Wall turnpike, she begged to be allowed out for a call of nature. Trembling so much that she could hardly hold the chamber pot, she persuaded the tollbooth keepers to fetch her a pen and paper. But having been told by Bowes that they were headed for St. Paul's Walden Bury, on the pretext that one of her children was seriously ill, she scribbled a note to Morgan urging her to hurry there. Incredibly, the hastily scrawled note found its way back to London; even more incredibly, torn and stained with dampness, it still survives. “My Dear Morgan,” she pleaded, “Let me beg that you and Mr. Lacey will come to me immediately upon the receipt of this to Pauls Walden, & bring any other of our Friends with you, & for Heaven's sake don't lose a Moment.”
And once they learned that Bowes had barricaded himself in at Streatlam, local miners besieged the house, hollering for Mary's release and lighting immense fires in an effort to prevent her being removed under cover of darkness. Watching the castle night and day, and armed with guns, swords, and bludgeons, the formidable force was variously estimated at 200, 300, and even 500 angry and determined men illuminated by “great blazing coal fires” positioned in every avenue.
Having forced Mary to dress in a man's greatcoat and a maid's bonnet, he had smuggled her out of a back door and with Mary riding pillion, accompanied by his pregnant mistress and several armed accomplices, rode stealthily away across the moors.
The whole thing is astonishing. He kidnapped her and rode her off hundreds of miles across country, with the evident intention of taking her to Ireland, where he'd be relatively safe. She was fortunately rescued, and he was at long last, and with many a twist and turn, imprisoned. Though not without company -- the liberties afforded to prisoners with money -- he found himself a 16 year old girl to keep, locked up in a cell within a cell, who bore him 5 or 6 more brats, I forget how many.
"Mary was buried, at her own request, in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey, close to the graves of Chaucer, Spenser, and Dryden"
"the improbably named Clotworthy Skeffington"
"Mann wrote to Walpole, who was impatiently awaiting letters entrusted to Lord Strathmore a year previously, in May 1763 with the arch comment: 'I have often told you that your letters were in the hands of Lord Strathmore, and he [is] in the hands of the Countess San Vital.'"
"Only in 1803 would Parliament pass a law that specifically outlawed abortion and even then only after the baby's movements could be felt."
"The fact that the gallant captain was already married and had previously, if not still, kept a mistress in town, suggested that Mary's judgment of character was as flawed as ever."
"Bowes first halted at a rough cottage belonging to his mistress's father in a remote spot known as Roger Moor"