Wedlock by Wendy Moore
Subtitled, How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match.
And my word, he was indeed Georgian Britain's worst husband! I was drawn to this book by its eye-catching cover, and as my current writing project covers a period from Georgian to mid-Victorian times, I thought it would count as research. Plus I like a bit of biography now and again.
This book was unputdownable - it read like a novel. Mary Eleanor Bowes (an ancestor of the Queen) was Britain's wealthiest heiress when her first husband died, and became prey to a fortune-hunting Irish ex-army captain. He managed to charm her, then tricked her into marrying him by fighting a sham duel in her honour, and being apparently on his deathbed persuaded her to grant the last wish of a dying man. He was carried to the altar to make his vows, then made a miraculous and swift recovery. He then proceeded to abuse Mary, physically and mentally, for the ensuing eight years while he did his best to gamble his way through as much of her fortune as he could get his hands on. Eventually she, with the help of trusty maidservants, managed to escape and whilst in hiding, began divorce proceedings against him. In those days it was more or less impossible to divorce, and even if you did, you could not remarry. The law was biased in favour of the husband, and a divorced woman would certainly not be granted custody of any children. But Mary had a good case, and it all looked hopeful, when her husband found out where she was living and managed to abduct her, and take her on the run. She then endured appalling abuse which nearly killed her, before she was rescued. Her husband was convicted of abduction and later of non-payment of debts, but through contacts, charm and money managed to live quite comfortably while supposedly in prison. Poor Mary died before him, though she was able to live her last years peacefully and safely - interestingly for me, her last abode was within a mile of my home!
This book was completely brilliant. Fascinating and well-written, I did not want it to end. The author has written another biography - of Georgian surgeon John Hunter (who is a bit-part player in Wedlock) - and I have just ordered that too.