The Trampled Wife

The Trampled Wife: the scandalous life of Mary Eleanor Bowes

The Trampled Wife: the scandalous life of Mary Eleanor Bowes

Mary Eleanor Bowes, the great-great-great-great-grandmother of the present Queen, was known when she was in her teens as the heiress of ‘all the wealth of the north’, and inevitably was prey to fortune-hunters. Her first marriage, in 1767, to John Lyon, 9th Earl of Strathmore, was conventional, appropriate, and disastrous. He was a cold man, a gambler, and almost completely uninterested in his wife except as a machine for producing children. He took no interest in the fact that she was an intelligent woman – she wrote a verse play, and was a leading amateur botanist, and left her entirely to her own devices. Though she gave him three boys and two girls, she understandably flirted – with a gamekeeper, and possibly her own footman – and by the time he died, nine years after their marriage, she was pregnant by a lover, George Gray.

She was prepared to marry Gray – but before she could do so she had been seduced by another lover, Andrew Robinson Stoney, an Irishman who had already killed – or arranged the death of – one wealthy wife, and was now on the look-out for another. He persuaded the Countess into marriage – but was furious to discover that she had protected her fortune by a Trust. He began a violent campaign to lay his hands on the money, treating his wife violently, abducting her daughter and taking her off to Paris. With the help of faithful servants she escaped from their house in Belgrave Square; but later with a gang of roughs he kidnapped her and carried her into the northcountry, where she was beaten, threatened with rape, and dragged through snowdrifts about the countryside on horseback.

Eventually Stoney Bowes (he had taken her name) was arrested and several sensational trials followed. He and his accomplices were imprisoned; but her reputation was sullied by allegations that she had had affairs with her servants. The affair was the talk of London, and was used years later by the novelist Thackeray as the basis of his novel Barry Lyndon.

The Trampled Wife is the first biography of the Countess for many years, and has made full use of contemporary accounts of the trial, and of material such as caricatures by the great Gillray (one of which appears on the jacket).