A Scandal That Lasted into the Regency

My book by Brooks’s about Brooks’s sidetracked me right away. This story is about a Georgian-era sociopath. The woman, the Countess of Strathmore, is villified throughout even though it’s painfully clear she was a victim.

A: The Countess of Strathmore – Lady Strathmore married secondly Lieut. Robinson Stoney, who assumed the surname of Bowes, “than whom a more consummate villain never went through this world unhorsewhipped, and left it unhung.” Her history as the wife of this ruffian forms one of the most extraordinary romances of modern times.
See Lives of A. R. Bowes and the Countess of Strathmore by Jesse Foot, 1812 (Here’s a link to the book in Google Books) also Fordyce, History of Durham/
This marriage is believed to have suggested to Thackery the character of “Barry Lyndon.”

empahsis added. Because it’s true.

A Romance? No. Just, no. (Edited to add: Yes, I know Romance is not being used here in today’s sense. But to imply it’s a great story eviscerates the horror of what this man did and was.)

According to this account, as quite a young man Bowes married an heiress and once, in a fit of violent rage, pushed her down some stairs. She died shortly thereafter, but it’s not clear this was soon after (because of injuries) or some time after. Basically, we are to understand he was a violent man:

Anyway the Countess of Strathmore had been widowed for nine months…

Besides his Lordship having died so unexpectedly and in the prime of life the affairs of income were left perplexing and some of his own estates in Scotland were obliged to be sold and it was from serious reflection that the late Lord’s friends saw that a second marriage even with any body was against their and the children’s interest

Therefore when the Countess was addressed by Mr Gray they kept aloof and when she was abused and vilified attacked and defended in the Morning Print during the months of November and December previous to her marriage with BOWES in January they thinking that the abuse was useful to prevent the uiiion of Gray with the Countess suffered it to go on without the least opposition rather pleased at the treatment she met and for thus saying I have the authority to tell that the friend in Palace Yard and myself saw one of these attacks in manuscript before it was ever sent to the printer It was a letter condemning the Counters on her conduct towards her late Lord and comparing her with the QUEEN in HAMLET for being about to marry a second so soon after the death of her first husband and this letter was written and published under the signature of HAMLET

Bowes is plotting it seems…

The family now in the Square consisted of the Countess, Mrs Parish, the governess of the children, Miss Eliza Planta, sister to the governess and confidante of the Countess secretly in the interest of Bowes, the Rev Mr Stephens just now about to be married to Miss Eliza Planta, also in the interest of Bowes, the chief visitors of the family were Mr Magra a botanist and friend of Dr Solander and Mr Matra a consul at Barbary. These besides accidental visitors were the DRATMATIS PERSONAE at the Temple of Folly in Grosvenor Square.

Still plotting…..

Another stratagem he brought to his aid. Knowing that the Countess entertained romantic and visionary notions of things, he had a conjuror tutored to his wishes and got Miss P to make a party with the Countess and some others to have their fortunes told.

Not safe from his Clutches

The countess goes to visit her mother in Paul’s Walden, and Bowes sends her a letter that reads in part:

I am all impatience to see your Ladyship. I really cannot wait till Saturday. I must have five minutes chat with you before that time. You will think me whimsical but upon Thursday next at one o clock I shall be in the garden at PAUL’S WALDEN.  There is a leaden statue or there was formerly and near that spot (for it lives in my remembrance) I shall wait; and can I presume that you will condescend to know the place? Eliza shall be our excuse for this innocent frolic and the civilities shall never be erased from the remembrance of your faithful &c

 Then, it seems, Bowes contrives to undermine his competition, the Mr. Grey her family originally objected to, by have a letter sent to her by another woman, that reads in part:

One moment’s pause in the prosecution of your present cruel resolution may save me from destruction and make your character immortal. Cultivate Mr Gray’s affections because your late Lord’s friends and relations will accept of him as your husband but not of Captain S——. It is impossible that Mr Gray should keep these secrets from you. Mr Gray has had the address (which my simple and easy fool never could obtain) of first establishing his pretensions to you upon the confidence and zeal of your late Lord’s relations and friends Mr L—- Mr and Mrs O—– and Lady A S—–. It is with their warm approbation that he has wisely made his way to your heart. Plunge not therefore an artless hopeless desponding and forsaken maiden as I am into destruction and utter but restore some ray of comfort to the unfortunate.
     S

Which is pretty dang devious . . .  But then the narrative blathers on a bit and then this:

Of the person of the Countess when 1 first saw her I shall as far as I recollect give a description. It was the morning after the duel that she entered Bowes’s apartment at the St James’s Coffee House. [More blathering, basically the author goes on to say the Countess was hot and and a great rack.]

A duel

WTF? What duel??  Anyway, there’s this duel with swords AND pistols. They were effing serious, these guys. They fought at the Adelphi Tavern and someone shot a mirror. One Rev. Mr. B—— was not badly injured but Bowes was not so well off, according to the doctor (the author, Jesse Foot):

[U]pon examination I saw the wound on his right breast from whence the blood was then trickling upon a closer inspection I saw two wounds on the substance of the right breast about four inches distance from each other in an oblique line with each other. As I was given to understand that swords had been used as well as pistols and as I saw the swords one of which had been bent I never have had any other opinion but that these two wounds on the breast were made by the point of the sword passing in at the one and coming out at the other. There was another wound but not so important. His opponent was also wounded and by the wound being externally on the right thigh it excited considerable pain from the anatomical nature of the part and though not dangerous required rest and care to prevent inflammation.

However, both the duelists recovered and denied both the duel AND the wounds.

It’s all about the money . . .

The duel, however, took place before the marriage with the rival Gray unaware Bowes intended to marry the Countess. For her money. they were married 4 days after the duel after which he took possession of her Grosvenor Square house and its contents.

The purpose of the trial when the witness I allude to was called to prove that Bowes was not wounded was to recover estates mdde over to Bowes by the Countess in May 1777, a few months after their marriage in order that he might raise money upon them and when the Countess escaped from Bowes in the year 1785 and swore the peace against him these estates were claimed from Bowes founded upon the proof that they were obtained from her not with her fair consent but by ill usage and compulsion.

 
Lady Strathmore’s mother dies of the shock of the marriage. Then Bowes basically takes what he can get from and for the Grosvenor Square house, gives Mr. Gray 12,000 pounds (to get lost??) and spends the rest and the house is soon deserted. They move a couple times and four months later (!!) the countess delivers a baby. So yeah. Either there’s a missing 5 months or . . . .

Spending the Money . . .

Anyway, stuff happens. Bowes is busy decimating his wife’s fortune and, it kind of seems, the fortune of anyone else dumb enough to lend him money. If something can be sold, Bowes is selling it. He’s like this Georgian Nigerian scammer, writing letters about how he’ll unload property X for a bargain rate and YOU CAN KEEP THE PROFIT!  (I put in the caps for effect.)

Also, he’s taking out a lot of insurance on Lady S’s life. That can’t be good:

I shall take it as a favour if you will the persons you employ in this business to write me occasionally to mention what progress make as well as to send me a list of the they may have procured for though Lady more is in PERFECT HEALTH yet as she is child. I am determined to insure her life if I can do it for three guineas and I trust you will use your utmost to have this matter properly accomplished for me with all possible expedition.

There are several more letters asking if the insurance had been obtained yet. 18,000 pounds worth. Then it gets a bit dull, what with all his letters asking for money really what’s the deal, you won’t lose a penny….  Then Bowes wants control of  his wife’s daughters by Lord Strathmore. They already have guardians, but he’s scheming to get his hands on their money. Any money, really:

Escape?

The countess manages to make an escape and, it seems, gets legal protection from the duke of Norfolk and a court appointed bailiff. Bowes has also knocked up a maid. Actually, several maids. Then he plots the kidnap of his wife.  She’s in a carriage, on Highgate Hill, and he basically takes over the carriage.  The next day, they’re 195 miles from London. He has her for 11 days, and beats her and threatens to kill her if she won’t sign papers to stop the legal (separation) proceeding against him and agree to live with him as his wife. Several times. It’s horrifying, actually.

People are getting a bit upset about this, so he makes two servanst pretend to be him and his wife so that everyone thinks things are fine. What he does next is can only be described as torture.

She manages to escape and get back to London and the legal proceedings against her husband. He gets find 300 pounds, sentenced to 3 years in prison, and afterward post bonds of 15,000 pounds to stay away from the Countess for 14 years. She obtained a separation and a divorce.

While in prison, Bowes managed to seduce a young lady and lived with her afterward as well. He had five children with her while he kept her more or less a prisoner:

Upon the sickness of her children I happened to see her a few times but it was impossible to say one word more to her than what belonged to the case as Bowes was always present hurried the visit as much as possible locked the door and took the key in his pocket.

The countess died in 1800, and Bowes attempted to gain control of her remaining property, chiefly rents from properties he extorted from her.

It is my duty here to observe that Mr Scott who formerly had been Bowes’s counsel and to whose name Bowes had so often referred in his letters to his friend from Paris was the now Lord Eldon the Lord Chancellor before whom the revived litigation was to be heard he having succeeded the Lord Rosslyn and that Lord Eldon from motives of the nicest delicacy upon the hearings of the Lord Ross lyn’s LATENT ORDER called the master of the Rolls Sir William Grant to be present with him during the hearing of this cause. (emphasis added).

He spent a lot of time scheming and suing and behaving like the sociopath he seems to have been. He died on January 16, 1810 and was buried on the 23rd.

My final thoughts

1. I am damn glad I live in a time when the laws concerning women are more equitable.

2. I think we should all spend a moment or two remembering Mr. Bowes as the monster he was. He deserves to be held in contempt.

About carolyn

Carolyn Jewel was born on a moonless night. That darkness was seared into her soul and she became an award winning and USA Today bestselling author of historical and paranormal romance. She has a very dusty car and a Master’s degree in English that proves useful at the oddest times. An avid fan of fine chocolate, finer heroines, Bollywood films, and heroism in all forms, she has two cats and a dog. Also a son. One of the cats is his.
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10 Responses to A Scandal That Lasted into the Regency

  1. Truth can be much stranger than fiction… that’s an amazing account!

  2. Isobel Carr says:

    Yikes! What great inspiration for a bad, bad first husband. Or for a slimy villain in competition for your heroine. I’m so tucking this away.

  3. Carolyn says:

    @Girlygirlhoosier52 and @isobelCarr

    No kidding!

    What I can’t stop thinking about is how the legal system at the time put this woman in a situation where she had virtually NO protection and it wasn’t until it came out that he was beating her and torturing her– and there’s really no other word for what he did– that the courts acted at all, and even then it was his extortion and fraud, not his assaults on her, that seemed to have caused them to act.

    He kidnapped her and held (and assaulted) her for 11 days and everyone was like, well, he’s her husband …. And the media called her a whore and worse.

    Ack!!!

  4. Sophia Rose says:

    Who needs Halloween spook tales when you have a real life horror husband. Poor woman!

  5. Isobel Carr says:

    Society was already predisposed to be anti-second marraiges, so she had made herself a target from the get-go.

  6. Diane Gaston says:

    There is a wonderful account of the whole story that came out in 2009 – Wedlock: The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore by
    Wendy Moore

    http://tinyurl.com/3homn6w

    It reads like a novel. What was so poignant to me was that it was a woman servant who helped her escape.

  7. Yes, the book is an excellent account of this travesty of a marriage, O Divine One.

    And it goes to show you sociopaths are NOT a new phenomenon. There were rotters in every age!

    I cannot begin to imagine the helplessness she felt.

  8. librarypat says:

    Considering the position and rights of women back then, it is surprising she got what little help she did.

    Sadly even today the courts don’t always act on cases of abuse. It is getting better, but still has a way yet to go. Just this year, our senator, who is a physician, proposed a change to the rape laws. He said it wasn’t rape if the woman didn’t fight back – even if she were drugged. The same rule would apply to a child. In this day and age, how can any sane or moral person even consider such a thing. I have heard of cases in this area where the judge has said the abuse was justified because the woman needed to be taught her place.

    Thanks for a most interesting post.

  9. Elena Greene says:

    Wow, this guy is worse than the first husband in Lady Dearing’s Masquerade, who was no prize either. I suppose it is good to know my fiction was well within the bounds of historical reality but how sad for the women involved…

    And as Pat says, some of these attitudes persist.

  10. Carolyn says:

    The extent to which things have improved for Western/American women is heartening, just as it’s frustrating how some things have not changed. Not to mention how there are people who want the status of women to go back to the bad old days.

    It’s horrifying to me that people STILL propose definitions of rape that bear no resemblance to the reality of violence against women. And let’s flip that usual comparison: they don’t take into account the reality of violent men and the real damage they do.

    Those same people don’t seem to argue that their wallet can only be stolen if they fight to stop the theft. Never mind if the thief is bigger and stronger than you or has a weapon.

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