“Wedlock” by Wendy Moore – the story of abuse and the vulnerability of women in Georgian society

Wedlock by Wendy Moore is marketed as some sort of story of revenge by a woman in a difficult marriage. It makes it seem quite exciting and almost humorous but, in fact, this is the story about the vulnerability of women in eighteenth century England and especially those who had money. It’s actually the story of fraud, tyranny and domestic abuse and one woman’s final escape from years of ill treatment. It’s an excellent read and a reminder of how recently women’s position in society actually put them in fear of their lives.

Mary Eleanor Bowes did not make good choices in men which may be a character flaw but shouldn’t have condemned her to a life of oppression. She was a very wealthy heiress and under the law at that time all her money and possessions became the property of the man she married. This made her much sought after and she married the Count of Strathmore who died young after making inroads into her fortune and treating her abominably.

On becoming a widow Mary Eleanor kicked up her heels a bit and became a notable society figure. She was still targeted by fortune hunters, however, and finding herself pregnant was all set to marry her lover when a series of events virtually forced her into wedding Andrew Robinson Stoney, a young Irishman. Stoney had actually engineered the events that caused her to make this decision. He was a con merchant, a fraudster and a chancer who ran through money as if it was water and who wanted her fortune. On marriage he abused Mary Eleanor both physically and mentally, separated her from her friends and family and caused her to live in fear that he would keep her from her children.

Everything that Stoney did was permissible by law at the time and it was nearly impossible to divorce so Mary Eleanor was stuck in her position. She had no money or friends and had lost confidence and the ability to take action. In the end she was saved by her servants who helped her escape the family home and seek a legal separation. Incredibly, Stoney did not stop at this point but kidnapped Mary Eleanor and dragged her around the country as a prisoner to try to get her to come back to him. The legal issues about the separation, which eventually became formal, are as interesting as personal story. In the end Mary Eleanor was left to try and pick up the pieces of her broken life, her damaged health and her difficult family relationships.

This book is gripping and terrifying too. Mary Eleanor had very few options and it is obvious that had she remained in her marriage she might have been killed even though it was to Stoney’s advantage to keep her alive because that way he retained rights to her money. This is textbook domestic abuse and the author has uncovered enough details to show how Mary Eleanor was drawn into a toxic relationship with her abuser and ended up enduring more than she ever thought possible. Mary Eleanor was a giddy young woman who made mistakes in her relationships and wasn’t particularly maternal and the author is clear about her flaws but no one deserves what happened to her and the story of her escape, and how it made new law for other women in similar situations, is definitely worth reading.

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