With the death of her fabulously wealthy coal magnate father when she was just eleven, Mary Eleanor Bowes became the richest heiress in Britain. An ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II, Mary grew to be a highly educated young woman, winning acclaim as a playwright and botanist. Courted by a bevy of eager suitors, at eighteen she married the handsome but aloof ninth Earl of Strathmore in a celebrated, if ultimately troubled, match that forged the Bowes Lyon name. Yet she stumbled headlong into scandal when, following her husbands early death, a charming young army hero flattered his way into the merry widows bed.
Captain Andrew Robinson Stoney insisted on defending her honor in a duel, and Mary was convinced she had found true love. Judged by doctors to have been mortally wounded in the melee, Stoney persuaded Mary to grant his dying wish; four days later they were married.
Sadly, the captain was not what he seemed. Staging a sudden and remarkable recovery, Stoney was revealed as a debt-ridden lieutenant, a fraudster, and a bully. Immediately taking control of Marys vast fortune, he squandered her wealth and embarked on a campaign of appalling violence and cruelty against his new bride. Finally, fearing for her life, Mary masterminded an audacious escape and challenged social conventions of the day by launching a suit for divorce. The English public was horrifiedand enthralled. But Marys troubles were far from over . . .
Novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was inspired by Stoneys villainy to write The Luck of Barry Lyndon, which Stanley Kubrick turned into an Oscar-winning film. Based on exhaustive archival research, Wedlock is a thrilling and cinematic true story, ripped from the headlines of eighteenth-century England.
Moore clearly knows how to resurrect history from dry names and dates, and vividly recreates this eerily familiar era with a historian's love for detail and a storyteller's passion for a good yarn. Her wide-ranging knowledge of 18th-century medicine, marriage customs, birth control, child-bearing and rearing, botanical discoveries, and the first glimmers of suffrage always illuminate the subject without bogging down the fast-paced narrative. (Reviewed by Marnie Colton).
Washington Post Wedlock is serious, perceptive, thoughtful and -- by no means least -- compulsively readable.
Moore offers a well-informed if dispiriting glimpse into 18th-century marriage and the patriarchal legal and church systems as experienced by Mary
Moore skillfully depicts Mary's life with poignant detail in an exhaustively researched book that joins only a few works about Bowes.
The Independent (UK)
Mary's escape, her abduction by Stoney and dramatic rescue are grippingly told
Daily Express (UK)
The remarkable story of one woman's triumph over years of appalling violence and abuse
The Times (UK).
How Mary, with the help of a loyal servant, struggled to escape Stoney's clutches is the breathless and inspirational climax of this fine book
Daily Telegraph (UK)
This splendid book, well researched and richly detailed, is as gripping as any novel
Julia Fox, author of Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford
Drawing on her extensive research and sure grasp of the period, Wendy Moore has produced a gem. Her compelling account of the feisty Countess of Strathmore is a beautifully written page-turner of a book.
Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.
To call the truth stranger than fiction is, in the case of Mary, Countess of Strathmore, an outrageous understatement. Wedlock is the incredible story of her transformation from one of eighteenth-century England's richest, most free-wheeling heiresses into a piteous victim of a cruel, manipulative abuser into an improbable poster-child for modern women's rights. This book is what all history should be: exciting, inspiring, impossible to forget.
Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire.
A gripping story, brilliantly told. The tragic history of Mary, Countess of Strathmore, is more than a cautionary tale. Mary is a true heroine: a survivor and a fighter against a brutish husband and an uncaring society. Wendy Moore succeeds admirably in describing a marriage that was forged in hell but lived on earth.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Loriann Highly Overrated The summary on the back of the book was much better, more exciting and more titillating than the actual book. It wasn't well written, I found myself counting how many times the author used the word "lately" in one chapter (nineteen). It had great... Read More
Rated of 5
by San Antonio Reader Wedlock This true story of a mid-18th century English heiress duped into a marriage with an abusive, masochistic, fortune-hunting monster is jaw-droppingly fascinating. The period details are instructive and the laws regarding women's rights are... Read More
Women and Botany
Before her husband forbade her from pursuing any hobbies or interests, Mary Eleanor Bowes devoted considerable time to studying botany and overseeing the gardens at her family estates. She even became the patron of Scottish naturalist William Paterson, funding his expedition to South Africa, from where he brought native plant specimens as well as the first giraffe remains ever seen in England. Unfortunately for Paterson, his scientific accomplishments were obscured by the debt that he found himself in when Stoney/Bowes cut off the funds that Mary had promised; the fortune hunter thus added "impeding scientific progress" to his list of iniquities.
In a strange parallel, another 18th century British botanical enthusiast, Mary Delany (1700-1788) found herself, at the age of 16, coerced into marrying an alcoholic squire in his 60s and living the next 10 years in quiet desperation. Although her husband did not display the flagrantly evil traits of Stoney/Bowes and had not stooped to tricking her into matrimony, the marriage, engineered by...
Winner of BookBrowse's 2009 Nonfiction Book Award.
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A sweeping tale of love and loss, Girl in a Blue Dress is both an intimate peek at the woman who was behind one of literatures most esteemed men and a fascinating rumination on marriage that will resonate across centuries.
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