Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Mad and The Bad: Skeletons in the Royal Closet (1)

Page One of the 10 February 1785 edition of The Times of London carried two unrelated items concerning two unrelated families.

The first reported a visit by King George III (the mad one) and his family to the theatre. The second speculated on the reason for the domestic violence visited on the famously promiscuous Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, by her husband.

In 1923 these two families would unite when Albert, Duke of York, great-great grandson of George III married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, great-great granddaughter of the Countess. Their union later produced Queen Elizabeth II.

Mary Eleanor Bowes became the wealthiest heiress in Britain at the age of 11 when she inherited a fortune worth up to $AU300 million in today's money. After flirting with a couple of suitors she became engaged at 16 to the 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, John Lyon, renowned as one of the most beautiful men of the age.

John, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and Mary, his Countess.

Despite her husband's good looks, Mary grew bored with him after the first few kids were born, especially when he became ill, and not so 'robust' in his attention to her. She took lovers. She later admitted to having 'profaned' both Westminster Abbey - where the Queen, Prince Charles (1st time round), and Prince William all got married - and St Pauls Cathedral with her love-making. She fell pregnant a few times and induced abortion by drinking a 'black, inky medicine.'

Mary, with a daughter.

After the Earl died, Mary took back control of her fortune (wives automatically forfeited control of their money and assets to their husbands back then.) The Earl had spent more than 10% of her wealth fixing up Glamis Castle, his family seat. The Countess got her finances back in order and seemed content to take lovers.

Then came trouble.

She had an affair with Andrew Stoney, an army officer who'd already benefited from the death of his first wife - a lesser heiress. He was determined to marry the Countess.  Mary wasn't about to give up control of her fortune again, and marrying Stoney would see her slide many rungs down the social ladder. Things were perfectly fine as they were.

Andrew Stoney

 - he must have had some secret charm - 

not much to look at!

Then a newspaper printed scurrilous rumours about her. Stoney challenged the editor to a duel in defense of her honour.  He was wounded, perhaps mortally. Mary felt bound to marry him for his gallantry, and he was stretchered up the aisle of the church to place the ring on her finger.

He then had a miraculous and immediate recovery.

Stoney himself had written the articles defaming his beloved, and paid a newspaper to publish them. Like wise he'd paid the editor to fight him in a duel, and the injuries were faked. He could now take over Mary's fortune.

But Mary had been burnt once. She'd secretly arranged a 'pre-nup'. The only way he could get control of the money was if Mary died leaving a male heir he'd fathered. He abused her mentally and physically - but he couldn't kill her - the money would all go to her kids by the Earl.

Stoney kept the Countess prisoner for 8 long years of mental and physical abuse. Meanwhile he raped servants, brought prostitutes into the house, and fathered a number of illegitimate kids. Eventually Mary escaped with the help of a maid. Stoney kidnapped her back and dragged her across the countryside on horseback during an exceptionally cold winter.

This is when the article in the Times was printed - a story planted by Stoney to explain the goings on. Mary's ordeal was over though. A maid had alerted the authorities, the cry rang out around the countryside - Mary was rescued and Stoney arrested.

She got to keep her fortune, while Stoney died a bankrupt. She retired to a quiet life, devoted to her pets. Her descendant Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was born at Glamis Castle, where so much of Mary's fortune had been spent, in 1900.

George III with his wife and younger children.

George III had taken his family to Drury-Lane, no doubt to see the sensation of her age, Mrs Siddons, perhaps in her famous role as Lady Macbeth. Funnily enough, Shakespeare's Macbeth resides in the Strathmore's Glamis Castle, though the real Macbeth did not.

George III had with him that night, his older daughters and his 4th son, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn. Edward was a bit of a loser, always in debt and always in disgrace - not expected to amount to much. George fathered 15 kids, and there were 3 brothers ahead of Edward in the succession, so every birth just took him further away from the throne.

Young Prince Edward.

However Mad King George's kids did not seem to inherit the fertility of their parents, and when Edward's older brother William IV's only child, Princess Charlotte, died young, Edward's daughter Victoria became heir to the throne. Her great grandson Albert, named for her dead husband, was born in 1895, married Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923, and ascended to the British Throne in 1936, after the notorious abdication of his elder brother.

Albert, Duke of York marries Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon
 in the very same Westminster Abbey where her great-great grandmother 'entertained' a lover  150 years before.


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