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Thursday, 8 October 2009


No no I'm not considering matrimony at the moment. Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met his Match by Wendy Moore is fascinating reading and as exciting as any historical novel. Mary Eleanor Bowes had a much better education than most women of her generation. She married the Earl of Strathmore and found her freedom curtailed by her status. They had 5 children before he died and it was only when she became a widow that her life really became what she wanted it to be.

She wrote poetry and plays as well as studying botany and financing plant hunting expeditions. She was wealthy in her own right - provided she remained unmarried. As the law stood at the time she couldn't hold any property or money once she married. Unfortunately she was tricked into marriage with the penniless soldier Andrew Robinson Stoney and found her life completely changed. She couldn't do anything without his permission, was beaten, raped and burned, half starved and dressed in rags. She was portrayed by Stoney as eccentric if not insane.

Mary Eleanor virtually lost her will to live before she managed to escape with the help of her servants who could see how her husband was treating her. The law permitted divorce but it was a long drawn out process. The law also permitted men to beat their wives and keep them confined for their own good. Even when Mary Eleanor escaped her problems weren't over. She tried to regain control of her fortune and did eventually succeed though only because her lawyers were willing to work for nothing. Stoney kidnapped her from the streets of London and held her captive. She was rescued by the tenants of her family's estates and continued her legal fight for freedom.

The book brings the 18th century vividly to life and shows how women were treated by the law at that time. There is an index, comprehensive bibliography and notes on each chapter and the book is written in an approachable style with plenty of quotes from original documents. I thought the portrayal of the servants was really good and their devotion to Mary Eleanor herself was way beyond the call of duty. This is a really interesting book which paints a comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the 18th century.

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