34 of 35 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.
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.