Wedlock has an extended title How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match caught my eye back in 2009 when this book was first published but it wasn’t until August 2017 when I actually purchased a copy for myself.
Now regular readers have probably worked out I’m a big fan of the Victorian and Edwardian periods of history but I don’t tend to venture back as far as the eighteenth century too often so Wendy Moore was always going to educate me on the social mores of the time, and she did that in spades.
Mary Eleanor Bowes, who became Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne on her first marriage, was one of the richest heiresses of the time when she inherited her father’s fortune on his death when she was just eleven-years old. When she was sixteen she became engaged to John Lyon and because her father’s will stipulated that her husband should assume his family name, the Earl addressed parliament with a request to change his name from John Lyon to John Bowes, which was granted. They married on her eighteenth birthday on 24 February 1767. Over time through their children the name was combined with a hyphen and the Queen Mother was a direct descendent of this union.
The couple lived an extravagant life, Mary often left alone whilst John concentrated on restoring the family seat, Glamis Castle, found amusement with other men but she was proud to announce that all five of their children were legitimate. Sadly, or perhaps not that sadly from Mary’s point of view as she wasn’t well-treated by John, he caught TB and died in 1776.
What happens next absolutely proves the saying fact is stranger than fiction with the “worst husband” being Mary’s second foray into marriage. We go from illegal abortions to duels to imprisonment and all manner of horrible happenings which I’m not going to recount at length because that would spoil the revelations of the book itself, if you haven’t already read it.
This book is billed as reading like fiction, and for a book that is so jam-packed with information which has clearly been meticulously researched (there are pages and pages of references at the end), it does. It’s always hard to fully put yourself in the shoes of someone whose life is of a different style to your own, and Mary Bowes was incredibly rich, she originally inherited over a million pounds and that was in 1760! It is even harder when society was so very different and I’ll be honest, when she was young Mary played to her strengths and whilst I wouldn’t suggest that she deserved all that happened next, she didn’t treat potential suitors well and so it’s not altogether surprising that she didn’t come up smelling of roses. She also wasn’t a maternal woman, and even given the times I was shocked that she openly wrote how much she despised her eldest son. But what I couldn’t help but admire was her tenacity in making sure her second husband John Stoney didn’t get away with his dastardly deed, and she did it! John Stoney was a cad, he spent money that he didn’t have and one of the more random facts I learnt while reading Wedlock was that his name is the reason where the saying ‘Stoney broke’ originated. As often happens when you learn something like that the next three, yes three, books used the phrase and each time I had a little smile about it.
This really is a remarkable piece of writing, the book is long, but so entertaining and let’s be honest shocking; I wasn’t being overly dramatic with my fact is stranger than fiction assertion. If I didn’t know this was a true account, I wouldn’t have believed some of the things that were revealed.
Wedlock was my third read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and this exploration of the life of albeit one very rich wife and mother in the eighteenth century made me very glad to have been born much later when society no longer saw the woman as property of a man, either her father or her husband.