Wife selling reached its high point in the 1820s and 1830s

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A contemporary French print of an English wife sale.

“Wedlock”

One of the Queen’s direct ancestors escaped from eight years of marriage to a “despicable rogue” who imprisoned and tortured her for her fortune

Tragedy made Mary Eleanor Bowes the richest child in Britain. Mary was one of the wealthiest women in Britain: an heiress worth ?1 million (over ?150 million in today?s money) and raised in a life of privilege.?Yet in the late 1700s, no amount of money or status could save her from the man described as Georgian Britain?s worst husband. At a time when women had no legal rights and were not even recognised as separate beings in marriage, divorce was taboo.

This tale set in the late 1700s of a wealthy, intelligent heiress tricked into marriage with one of the worst human beings who ever lived. “Wedlock” is truly the correct title as it evokes the image of being chained, locked, stuck in a marriage. Mary Eleanor has a loveless first marriage, but her marriage to Andrew Stoney (he takes her last name as stipulated in her very smart father’s will) is truly horrific. Stoney physically and mentally abuses Mary: punching, kicking, burning, starving, isolating, etc. And then there’s the fact that a woman had no legal protection from this sort of behaviour. It was a husband’s right to treat his wife as he chose.

When a woman married, she surrendered her wealth to her husband. And such was the legal system and social mores that a man could verbally and physically abuse his wife with impunity. For eight years, Mary endured just such a humiliating fate at the hands of her second husband, the vicious adulterer Andrew Robinson Stoney-Bowes.

With the death of her fabulously wealthy coal magnate father when she was just eleven, Mary Eleanor Bowes became the richest heiress in Britain. An ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II, Mary grew to be a highly educated young woman, winning acclaim as a playwright and botanist. Courted by a bevvy of eager suitors, at eighteen she married the handsome but aloof ninth Earl of Strathmore in a celebrated, if ultimately troubled, match that forged the Bowes Lyon name. Yet she stumbled headlong into scandal when, following her husband?s early death, a charming young army hero flattered his way into the merry widow?s bed.

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