Who Wants to Marry a Millionairess?

In 18th Century England, if you were a second son with few prospects or a noble first-born son whose family fortune had run low you had one option to consider: marry a woman who was the sole heir to a large fortune. Like magic, her fortune would become yours entirely and she would cease to exist in the eyes of the law. It was like the lottery, only with a religious ceremony. Mary Eleanor Bowes was one such heiress who married first the Count of Strathmore and then the inspiration for Thackeray's Barry Lyndon. Mary Eleanor, to put it kindly, had atrocious taste in men.

Wendy Moore's entertaining Wedlock tells the story of Mary Eleanor fight to divorce her rogue of second husband and fans of Stella Tillyard's Aristocrats and Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire will find themselves at home. This is popular history that is as accessible as it is enjoyable. Prior knowledge of the times is not required but those familiar with the era won't find the background provided tedious. Moore sets out to inform and entertain and she accomplishes both. The story does bog down a tad in the middle - given that the topic at hand the abuse Mary Eleanor suffers at the hands of husband #2 Andrew Stoney that's not too surprising. Moore so effectively paints a picture of the villainous Stoney that readers may find themselves, like me, sorely disappointed that hanging wasn't an option for this cretin.

This is a story of female empowerment Georgian-style and sisterhood; it's also the story of conning someone into marriage that is so complex and so amazing it's no wonder Thackeray made a novel of it. Along the way we have bad behavior among the rich and famous (including a year of girl-gone-wild antics from Mary Eleanor that would leave Britney Spears saying, "Wow, that's trashy.") and Georgian phrasing that never fails to entertain. I, for one, plan on using the phrase "my deranged finances" at tax time next year. When the Court responds to one of Stoney's lunatic lawsuits with the words "If it be possible to conceive the Husband, of all others, who ought the least to be permitted to question any such Dispositions made by a Wife, the Appellant is that Husband" you know that this is the 18th Century legal equivalent of "You have got to be kidding."

Highly recommended for fans of history and biographies.

Kindle note: no photographs or linked footnotes.

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