Summary and book reviews of Wedlock by Wendy Moore

Wedlock

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

by Wendy Moore

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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About this Book

Book Summary

Moore resurrects 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.

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 husband’s early death, a charming young army hero flattered his way into the merry widow’s 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 Mary’s 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 horrified–and enthralled. But Mary’s troubles were far from over . . .

Novelist William Makepeace Thackeray was inspired by Stoney’s 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.

AN AFFAIR OF HONOUR
London, January 13, 1777

Settling down to read his newspaper by the candlelight illuminating the dining room of the Adelphi Tavern, John Hull anticipated a quiet evening. Having opened five years earlier, as an integral part of the vast Adelphi development designed by the Adam brothers on the north bank of the Thames, the Adelphi Tavern and Coffee House had established a reputation for its fine dinners and genteel company. Many an office worker like Hull, a clerk at the government’s Salt Office, sought refuge from the clamor of the nearby Strand in the tavern’s upper- floor dining room with its elegant ceiling panels depicting Pan and Bacchus in pastel shades. On a Monday evening in January, with the day’s work behind him, Hull could expect to read his paper undisturbed.

At first, when he heard the two loud bangs, at about 7 p.m., Hull assumed they were caused by a door slamming downstairs. A few minutes later, there was no mistaking the sound ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Questions for Discussion

  1. Mary Eleanor Bowes was brought up by her father to be a self-confident, ambitious, and clever girl. Thanks to him she enjoyed an education only normally provided for the sons of aristocratic families and through his wealth she enjoyed a pampered, privileged youth. Was this upbringing and education her downfall? Did it make her a poor judge of character, naively assuming that those who pandered to her needs had genuine affection for her? Or was it her final strength, which gave her the self-belief to escape and fight back against her bullying second husband?
  2. Mary Eleanor married her first husband, the ninth earl, with romantic expectations of a loving, harmonious marriage. She was just...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (654 words).

Media Reviews

Washington Post

Wedlock is serious, perceptive, thoughtful and -- by no means least -- compulsively readable.

Publishers Weekly

Moore offers a well-informed if dispiriting glimpse into 18th-century marriage and the patriarchal legal and church systems as experienced by Mary

Library Journal

Moore skillfully depicts Mary's life with poignant detail in an exhaustively researched book that joins only a few works about Bowes.

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

The Independent (UK)

Mary's escape, her abduction by Stoney and dramatic rescue are grippingly told

Daily Telegraph (UK)

This splendid book, well researched and richly detailed, is as gripping as any novel

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

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 enlightening...   Read More

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

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Beyond the Book

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 ...

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