33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
If Andrew Robinson Stoney were a villain in a novel, any reader would put down the book long before finishing it. He was simply too unimaginably deceitful and cruel, the worst husband ever. In fact, he was the inspiration for William Makepeace Thackeray's grasping character Barry Lyndon, but Lyndon is a mere shadow of the original. Stoney was not fiction, and the factual story of his marriage turns out to be fascinating from beginning to end, as told by Wendy Moore in _Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore_ (Crown Publishers). Moore's previous book, _The Knife Man_, told of the grisly surgical research of John Hunter, who plays a small role here. This is the story of a marriage (or marriages, since it was the second marriage for both partners), but it also is a story of Georgian Britain, the place of women within society, and a landmark decision in the divorce courts.
Mary Eleanor Bowes was one of the richest women in Britain, well educated and vivacious, with inheritances from her father and her deceased first husband.She was just the target for Andrew Robinson Stoney, the eldest son of a rich Irish family, who had been a soldier, but had sought his fortune not martially but maritally. It was only by the most dramatic means that he was able to change Mary's mind to have him rather than the lover she had already selected. He defended her name in a duel, and was promptly run through by a sword. On his deathbed, he swore he could only die happy if he were married to the one for whom he had sacrificed his life. She consented, but without giving a surprising secret of the book away, it is fair to say that he arranged a dramatic recovery. He soon claimed all his marital rights, including those to all of Mary's wealth (wives could not own their own property or have a private income). If there is any weakness in Moore's book it is that she has to report assaults, pinchings, starvings, burns, attempted rapes, and imprisonments all through the eight years they lived together. Mary could not communicate with her family or visit her own gardens unless he gave assent. He arranged for hares to be set into her botanical garden. He threw food at her and then demanded she eat it. He held a knife to her throat, and he made her drink laudanum. If he were ever displeased about anything outside the home, she was liable for a beating, and the staff learned to ignore her screams. He took care to make sure that those outside the home got the impression that he was trying to calm the whims of an eccentric wife, and the law was on his side. Wives were little more legally than chattel to their husbands, and physical discipline was as necessary to train a wife as it was to, say, train a bad dog. A friend of Stoney, and an apologist while Stoney lived, waited two years after Stoney's death to proclaim the man "a villain to the backbone," concluding: "To sum up his character in a few words, he was cowardly, insidious, hypocritical, tyrannic, mean, violent, selfish, jealous, revengeful, inhuman, and savage, without a countervailing quality."
It was her servants who eventually rescued Mary from her torturous captivity. Stoney made a grave mistake in hiring Mary Morgan, who was instead of the typical concubine he hired to spy on his wife, a smart and independent woman to whom Mary eventually and with trepidation revealed the degree of bad treatment she had endured. Morgan got legal advice, and she recruited three other servants to help plan an escape. The most inspiring parts of the book are the stories of the retainers, gardeners, and tenants who supported Mary during the escape and afterwards; many of them were risking their livelihoods as they remained in Stoney's employ. Even after her escape, she was not safe, and was abducted by her husband and brutally mistreated until the authorities finally rescued her. The law eventually came around, along with the understanding of the public about just how badly Mary had been treated. She eventually won the battle in the press and in the courts, and her legal victory was a start to sensible divorce laws, although it would be many more years before wives were treated equally to husbands when seeking divorces, or before simple incompatibility was justification for ending a marriage. Stoney was imprisoned (for debt) for 22 years until he died. He took with him in prison yet another woman he had successfully seduced, and who bore his mistreatment as well as five children. _Wedlock_ is sensational. For all the extensive research that seems to have gone into it (it covers such topics as dueling etiquette and abortifacients, for instance), it is as thrilling and scary as the gothic novels of the period.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
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Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore
The story of Mary Eleanor, Countess of Strathmore -- of whom the late Queen Mother was a direct descendant -- is shocking and heartbreaking. Mary Eleanor, The Countess of Strathmore, had no legal or perhaps more importantly, social standing when it came to enduring and ultimately ending her abusive second marriage.
A woman who married lost her own identity in 18th Century England. Her husband became her owner, literally, as her money, her property, her children, her very life became his to dispose of. The Countess's second husband was an Irish bounder, a good-looking rake, and a psychopath. He tricked her into marriage because he had no fortune of his own, and she was enormously wealthy. He invented every possible excuse to beat her, burn her, and deprive her of any semblance of a normal life. He was inventive in his cruelty and flagrant in his own sexual depravity, raping servants, fathering countless illegitimate children, and bring prostitutes into his home to look after his children. Why didn't he just kill his wife and get it over with? There were plenty of opportunities, and he lived in a social milieu where a murder was easily covered up if you were rich and well-connected. The only conclusion that makes sense is that he enjoyed the abuse for its own sake. He made sure that her social standing was as a madwoman who had inexplicable "fits" and often fell down. He portrayed himself as the injured, long-suffering husband who was hard put to take care of her and prevent more "accidents." Why anyone who saw the Countess's bruised face, emaciated figure, and ragged clothing as anything but signs of horrible abuse is puzzling, but the entire society was complicit until late in the 19th Century with the abuse and imprisonment of wives.
Mary Eleanor's ultimately escaped and was vindicated in her accusations against her husband. Her reunion with her children, the belated recognition by her own family that she had been a victim of abuse and the peaceful last years of her life are the happy ending that I hoped this unfortunate woman would have. The scenes of her post-divorce kidnapping by her husband, and a harrowing chase across the north of England, read like a novel. Even for readers who typically do not read non-fiction, this book is about as engrossing as they come.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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In 18th Century England, if you were a second son with few prospects or a noble first-born son whose family fortune had run low you had one option to consider: marry a woman who was the sole heir to a large fortune. Like magic, her fortune would become yours entirely and she would cease to exist in the eyes of the law. It was like the lottery, only with a religious ceremony. Mary Eleanor Bowes was one such heiress who married first the Earl of Strathmore and then the inspiration for Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. Mary Eleanor, to put it kindly, had atrocious taste in men.
Wendy Moore's entertaining Wedlock tells the story of Mary Eleanor fight to divorce her rogue of second husband and fans of Stella Tillyard's Aristocrats and Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire will find themselves at home. This is popular history that is as accessible as it is enjoyable. Prior knowledge of the times is not required but those familiar with the era won't find the background provided tedious. Moore sets out to inform and entertain and she accomplishes both. The story does bog down a tad in the middle - given that the topic at hand the abuse Mary Eleanor suffers at the hands of husband #2 Andrew Stoney that's not too surprising. Moore so effectively paints a picture of the villainous Stoney that readers may find themselves, like me, sorely disappointed that hanging wasn't an option for this cretin.
This is a story of female empowerment Georgian-style and sisterhood; it's also the story of conning someone into marriage that is so complex and so amazing it's no wonder Thackeray made a novel of it. Along the way we have bad behavior among the rich and famous (including a year of girl-gone-wild antics from Mary Eleanor that would leave Britney Spears saying, "Wow, that's trashy.") and Georgian phrasing that never fails to entertain. I, for one, plan on using the phrase "my deranged finances" at tax time next year. When the Court responds to one of Stoney's lunatic lawsuits with the words "If it be possible to conceive the Husband, of all others, who ought the least to be permitted to question any such Dispositions made by a Wife, the Appellant is that Husband" you know that this is the 18th Century legal equivalent of "You have got to be kidding."
Highly recommended for fans of history and biographies.
Kindle note: no photographs or linked footnotes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
M. Marlene Smith
- Published on Amazon.com
Surely in all of history there has been no greater swine than Andrew Robinson Stoney. Narcissistic, psychotic and utterly amoral, he swindled Mary Eleanor Bowes, a wealthy heiress into marrying him just to get his hands on her money. And then proceeded to hold her prisoner, starve her, physically abuse her (variously by beating her with his fists, beating her with any object handy, burning her, yanking her hair, pinching her, kicking her, etc.), psychologically abuse her, parade his mistresses (for whom he bought baubles using MARY'S money) throughout HER house, rape the female servants, father dozens of illegitimate children whom he abandoned; there are far too many crimes this man perpetrated against his wife to list here in full.
Mary inherited several estates and mega-millions from her father, who died when she was a child, her mother having died giving birth to her. Mr. Bowes doted on his precocious daughter, nurturing her high intelligence with an excellent education and sparing no expense on clothing, gifts and other indulgences for her. Always susceptible to male attention, as a teen she enjoyed quite a number of admirers and indeed led quite a few on. As a young woman she took full advantage of her fortune, spending recklessly on shopping and outings to the opera. After the death of her first husband, Mary was wooed by several suitors, among them one Andrew Robinson Stoney. Betrothed to another, Mary fell for a ruse staged by Stoney, supposedly on his deathbed after being mortally wounded in a duel defending her honor. He asked for her hand in marriage and Mary obliged, for how could she refuse a dying man his heartfelt request? After his death she would be free to marry the one to whom she was already promised. Yet Stoney made a miraculous and rapid recovery, firmly securing the Bowes fortune for himself (at that time a woman had to forfeit all monies and properties to her husband). Having changed his name legally now to Bowes (a stipulation in her father's will so as to keep the estate in the family name), Stoney/Bowes proceeded immediately to terrorize his wife, servants and anyone else who dared cross him.
This is a remarkable story, not only because Mary survived the horrific abuse but because, once having escaped him physically, she embarked on an incredibly courageous quest for a legal divorce, virtually unheard of in 1700's England. Stoney/Bowes tried every lowdown, dirty rotten trick in the book to prevent the divorce, which would mean his coffers would no longer be stocked with sufficient funds to finance his depraved lifestyle. Having been betrayed by many former acquaintances from her freewheeling life before Stoney, (she is denied access to her own children from her first marriage and then to her children with Stoney) Mary was dependent almost solely on the servants, groundskeepers and tenants whose loyalty proved invaluable. Especially touching is the blind devotion of her poor, sickly gardener, Robert Thompson, who stubbornly continued to tend Mary's beloved gardens despite being threatened by Stoney, and arranged to have food and money sent to her when he was barely scraping by himself. When Stoney's dog falls into a mine shaft and dies, Thompson remarks "i wish it had benn him self."
Wendy Moore has done her research. I've never read anything so meticulously detailed, right down to the personal histories of most of the people in Mary's life and the types of plants and flowers in her gardens including how she acquired many exotic species. (Mary had shown early promise as a serious botanist). More impressive still are the details of the myriad legal proceedings. Although it starts off a bit slowly, it begins to pick up speed about 1/4 of the way through and is well worth the effort to read it. An outstanding book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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An unbelievable and spellbinding account of the life, marriage and divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore. This is a riveting account of the sad and compelling life of an abused woman in 18th century England who endured extreme physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her psychotic husband, Captain Andrew Stoney.
If this poor woman's abuse were not so highly documented via court records of the time, through Lady Strathmore's own writings, as well as the writings of her friends and servants, it would strain credulity. Thankfully, the biographer, Wendy Moore, is able to bring to life the abuses and subsequent divorce proceedings that allowed Mary Eleanor to not only divorce but have the courts imprison her abuser.
At a time when women became basically the chattel of their husbands, no matter if the women brought considerable fortune to the man, Mary Eleanor survived the abuse, abduction and near death at the hands of Captain Stoney, and challenged him in the courts.
This story must be read to be believed. This is a historical story but one that resonates today for women who have been mentally or physically abused in a domestic situation.
I was shocked and saddened but at the same time uplifted by Mary Eleanor's story and her ultimate triumph. Don't miss this one!