Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match (book #114)

Wendy Moore, 2009.

What a depressing book. It’s about the life of Mary Eleanor Bowes, the Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1749 to 1800), and in particular her marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney. He deceived her into marriage and was exceptionally abusive even for the time.

Here’s a summary of his treatment of her and her first escape, from the Guardian review:

Her second husband’s relentless physical and mental cruelty left Mary a changed woman. Beating her behind closed doors, he controlled her obsessively in public: she could not dress, eat, or converse without his permission, and was reduced to borrowing stockings from her servants. Jess√© Foot, Stoney’s two-faced friend and biographer, described her altered state with uncharacteristic poignancy. Convulsive sideways movements of her lower jaw mirrored Mary’s mental anguish. She was half-deaf from blows, and could barely speak. Redemption came in the figure of a female servant. Stoney’s staff usually ended up his spies, pimps or concubines, but Mary Morgan was different. After seeking legal advice, she recruited a small band of colleagues prepared to help their mistress escape. The support the countess received from retainers, tenants and colliers is stirring – many suffered in the fall-out from the failed marriage. Her loyal gardener tended her beloved plants and hothouses to the bitter end, secretly sending her the occasional consolatory pineapple.

Having escaped from her immediate danger, however, she then had no access to her money or to her children; and in fact was abducted by her husband again before being found and released.

Several of the reviews call it inspiring in that Mary Bowes did finally escape, manage to get a divorce and her fortune and her children back. But her experiences seem to have shortened her life and unsurprisingly left her with extreme anxiety.

Here’s a bit about her ex-husband’s abusive activities whilst in prison:

The teenage daughter of a fellow prisoner, who happened to own a considerable estate, Mary or “Polly” Sutton had caught Bowes’s eye when she visited her father. Applying his customary seduction technique, he charmed his prey with flattery and presents. When Polly fell ill with a fever, he sent Foot to tend her; the surgeon found her ‘feeding a pigeon with split peas out of her mouth’ and described her as ‘a girl of perfect symmetry, fair, lively, and innocent’. Making no attempt to preserve Polly’s innocence by warning her of her admirer’s depravity, Foot observed silently as Bowes duly seduced the girl and brought her to live with him in jail. If his treatment of Mary had made Bowes notorious, his most pitiful victim must surely have been young Polly whose voice would never be heard. Hiring a room for her, to which Bowes alone had a key, he kept Polly confined day and night; she was, effectively, the prisoner of a prisoner. In her lonely cell, she bore Bowes five children, all of whom shared her confinement. Never permitted to attend the dinners Bowes threw for fellow inmates, she lived the life of a recluse. Occasionally Foot caught a glimpse of her, when Bowes called him to treat one of the children, but found it impossible to speak to her since ‘Bowes was always present, hurried the visit as much as possible, locked the door, and took the key in his pocket’. Polly, who would remain with Bowes for the rest of his life, effectively became his third wife and was treated accordingly – subject to extreme domestic violence and blatant infidelity.

There’s an interesting blog review here.


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One Response to “Wedlock: How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match (book #114)”

  1. Lilly Says:

    The cheeriness…

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