|The orangery at Gibside|
Mary Eleanor Bowes was the daughter and heiress of George Bowes, a wealthy businessman who died when Mary was 11 years old. He left her a vast fortune estimated at between £600,000 and £1,040,000, which he had built up through control of a cartel of coal-mine owners. Mary became the wealthiest heiress in Britain, perhaps in all of Europe. She encouraged the attentions of many young men of noble birth and married the 9th Earl of Strathmore on her 18th birthday, 24 February 1767. According to her father’s will, the Earl changed his name from John Lyon to John Bowes. The couple lived extravagantly and the Earl spent much of his time restoring his family seat Glamis Castle.
On 7 March 1776, Lord Strathmore died from tuberculosis at sea on his way to Portugal.
At that time, the countess was pregnant by a lover, George Gray a Scottish "nabob" who had made and squandered both his and his first wife’s fortune.
Despite the pregnancy, the dowager countess was loath to marry Grey, since her loss of rank would be considerable and Grey's fortune had been lost. She maintained remarkably candid diaries for much of her life, and wrote of her many abortions brought about by drinking "a black inky kind of medicine.” She continued the affair with Grey and underwent further abortions and was on the point of marrying him when charming and wily Anglo-Irish adventurer, Andrew Robinson Stoney, manipulated his way into her household and her bed.
Calling himself "Captain" Stoney he insisted on fighting a duel in the dowager countess's honour with the editor of The Morning Post, a newspaper which had published scurrilous articles about her private life. In fact, Stoney had himself written the articles both criticising and defending the countess. He now faked a duel with the editor, the Revd. Henry Bate, in order to appeal to Mary's romantic nature. Pretending to be mortally wounded, Stoney begged the dowager countess to grant his dying wish: to marry her. Taken in by the ruse, she agreed.
The tale goes on, and it is easy to find out more about the tribulations of the countess and the prolonged court case that ensued. I have known most of these facts for many years, for the Bowes home and estates were at Gibside, not ten miles from where I live. Intrigued by the story and carried away by the sad romanticism of the now roofless Gibside Hall, I decided to write my own version, using only the bare bones of the story. Mary Eleanor became Frances Bowes, and the dreadful Stoney morphed into Mr Holbrook, so handsome in his regimentals. Frances’s mother, match-making hat firmly in place, claims that he’s admirable husband material but fails to convince Frances, who is far more concerned about Jack Slade’s dramatic re-appearance in the neighbourhood.
Gibside morphed in a fictional Gybford, but the lands and houses are true to the area if not to absolute fact, and I’ve incorporated a fictional tangle of emotions and a heart-rending denouement. I called the book Reluctance, and MuseItUp published it for me and made it available in several formats including Kindle.
Loaded by Jen Black, http://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com