Excerpt from Wedlock by Wendy Moore, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore

by Wendy Moore

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  • First Published:
    Mar 2009, 400 pages
    Mar 2010, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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Still Bate blustered and equivocated. In the flurry of letters that flew back and forth across the city that weekend, all faithfully reproduced in the jointly agreed record, the men’s accusations and counter- accusations grew more and more heated. When finally he was denounced as a “coward and a scoundrel,” Bate had little alternative but to accept Stoney’s challenge. On Monday, January 13, therefore, Bate had consulted his own old army buddy, the rather dubious Captain John Donellan, who had recently been dismissed from ser vice in India. Already accused of various financial irregularities while serving with the East India Company, Donellan would eventually be hanged for poisoning his wife’s brother to get his hands on her family’s riches. Agreeing to stand as Bate’s second, Donellan had lent the parson his sword, which Bate hid under his greatcoat. That afternoon Bate had sent Stoney a final letter, which ended resignedly: “I find myself compelled to go so far armed, in the event at least, as to be able to defend myself, and since nothing can move you from your sanguinary purposes–as you seemed resolved, that either my life or my gown shall be the sacrifice of your groundless revenge–in the name of God pursue it!”

Having dined out on Monday afternoon, Bate set off apprehensively just after 6 p.m., his friend’s sword held ready beneath his coat, to walk the dimly lit streets to his home, one of the new Adelphi houses in Robert Street. Turning off the bustling Strand onto Adam Street, he was passing the doorway of the Adelphi Tavern when the towering figure of Stoney loomed toward him, seized him by the shoulder, and forced him inside. Still protesting that he did not wish to come to blows, “the Fighting Parson” had reluctantly accompanied the Irishman into the ground- floor parlor, where Stoney once more demanded he reveal the names of the writers of the offending articles. On Bate’s insistence that he did not know, the soldier declared: “Then, Sir, you must give me immediate satisfaction!”

In the sputtering light of candles, Stoney’s valet brought in a case containing a pair of pistols that had been purchased that day from the shop of Robert Wogdon, London’s most celebrated gunsmith whose exquisitely crafted dueling pistols were renowned for their lightness, speed, and–above all–deadly accuracy. A duel being now unavoidable, and the death of one or both duelists probable, both men sent word to summon their seconds. Stoney dispatched his valet to locate Captain Magra, while Bate sent a hurried note to find his friend Donellan. When neither of these fellows had appeared after some considerable delay, and with Bate becoming increasingly anxious to escape, Stoney abruptly locked the parlor door, stuffed the keyhole with paper, and placed a screen in front of it. Opening the case of Wogdon’s pistols, he had ordered Bate to choose his weapon. When the parson refused first fire, Stoney immediately snatched up a pistol and took aim. But for all his military training, the proximity of his target, and the superiority of Wogdon’s guns, his bullet had merely pierced the parson’s hat and cracked the mirror behind. In returning fire, according to dueling procedure, Bate’s aim was equally askew–or equally well- judged–for his bullet apparently ripped through Stoney’s coat and waistcoat without so much as grazing his opponent’s skin.

Still thirsty for blood, Stoney insisted that they now draw swords. Only when blood had been spilled, according to dueling law, could honor be said to have been satisfied. As Stoney charged toward him with his sword outstretched, Bate deflected the weapon and speared his opponent right through the chest. So fierce was the ensuing combat in the expiring candlelight that Bate’s borrowed sword was bent almost in half, at which point Stoney decently allowed him to straighten it. And although he was bleeding profusely and was severely weakened by his injuries, Stoney insisted on continuing the fight until the door finally burst open and Hull tumbled into the room. Quickly taking in the scene dimly reflected in the broken mirror, Hull and the other rescuers had little doubt that they had only just prevented a catastrophe.

Excerpted from Wedlock by Wendy Moore Copyright © 2009 by Wendy Moore. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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