In the latest issue:

Short Cuts

Jonathan Parry

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

But Stoney was BoldDeborah Friedell

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
by Wendy Moore.
Weidenfeld, 359 pp., £18.99, January 2009, 978 0 297 85331 2
Show More
Show More

Things to read when you’re between boyfriends and being on your own is making you miserable: The Trials of Claus von Bülow, When Husbands Come Out of the Closet, Romola, Hard Times. Wendy Moore’s history of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, might not have been written to make lonelyhearts feel better, but its purpose would otherwise be obscure. The countess was as unimportant as she was wealthy, and though her divorce was granted at a time when divorces were rare, there was little legally significant about it. Moore dedicates the book to her parents ‘in celebration of more than 50 years of marital harmony’, but what follows is a survivor story: what does it signify if you haven’t got a man, so long as you don’t marry a sociopath?

Mary Bowes

Mary Bowes was the richest heiress in 18th-century Britain, ‘perhaps even Europe’, and so never wanted for suitors. An MP had already tried to kidnap her and force her into marriage before she was 14. The indulged only child of a Yorkshire coal magnate, she was given a boy’s education, and later considered herself to have been a ‘prodigy of learning’: ‘At four years old I could read uncommonly well.’ As a young woman she published a five-act drama, The Siege of Jerusalem, in verse that nearly scans, about Saladin and his betrothed, the unfortunate Princess Erminia, who loves a Christian. Although Linnaean classifications were ‘too smutty’ for English women – all those reproductive organs – she was an ardent botanist, and sent expeditions to Africa, to bring back geraniums.

While other bluestockings might have found themselves unmarriageable, her father’s early death had left her everything, and the very wealthy are allowed their eccentricities. Only a few, like Lord Lyttelton, demurred: ‘As George Bowes’s vanity descends with his estate to his daughter, I don’t wish to see her my daughter-in-law, though she would make my son the richest, and consequently, in her present ideas of greatness, one of the great peers of the Realm.’ In 1767 she married the Ninth Earl of Strathmore, whose family was much in debt, because of his ‘beauty, which was then very great’. She trusted appearances, like all romantics, but when he died she considered it a lucky escape. Lord Strathmore had ridiculed what he called her ‘extreme rage for literary fame’, and during his final illness had written her a scolding letter criticising her wit: she must be less ‘tempted to say an ill-natured thing for the sake of expressing a bon mot’. At 27 Mary Bowes was a widow with five children, a lover, and a fortune that was all her own.

‘Where is the woman who would scruple to be a wife, if she had it in her power to be a widow?’ A married woman’s person, her property and children all belonged to her husband. But a widow could have her own money; she could even run a business. And as for sex, the Georgians were not the Victorians, and aristocrats did not have to behave like the middle class. Mary wrote to at least one man that she had been ‘so unhappy in matrimony that I was determined never to engage myself indissolubly’, but if he would be ‘satisfied with my affection, he would have it’. Abortions were generally considered legal until an 1803 Act of Parliament, and in her widowhood Mary terminated several pregnancies by taking what she described as a ‘black inky kind of medicine’, or when not available, emetic and pepper. But when one of her attempts failed, she reluctantly made preparations for a second marriage to George Gray or Grey, a Scotsman recently returned from India.

Enter the Irish adventurer Andrew Robinson Stoney, a former soldier and ‘villain to the backbone’, by his friends’ accounts. After reading in the Newcastle Chronicle that the earl of Strathmore was dead he headed to London, found lodgings near the countess’s mansion on Grosvenor Square, and set about bribing her servants for information and her friends into providing an introduction. A less confident man might have yielded once Mary’s engagement was announced. But Stoney was bold. Also experienced, having already persuaded one of Newcastle’s wealthiest women to marry him. But she had died – perhaps younger than she might have, had not Stoney locked her ‘in a cupboard in just her underwear … allowing her only an egg a day for sustenance’ – and he had run through most of his inheritance.

Andrew Robinson Stoney

In December 1776, Stoney arranged for salacious items to appear anonymously in the press, accusing the countess of ‘cold indifference’ to her late husband’s death, of forsaking her children, and of ‘being frequently made happy (tho’ at different periods) of the bonny, tho’ almost expended Scot, and the Irish widower’. Stoney went to his lady’s defence, demanding satisfaction from the editor of the Morning Post in the traditional manner. (Though duelling was technically illegal, at least 69 men lost their lives that way during the reign of George III.) After the firing of pistols, Stoney lay on the ground, pale and bloodied, and the doctors said his death was imminent. When he asked Mary, as his dying wish, to be married to her, how could she refuse? Poor bluestocking. Years later, she would ask ‘how an unsuspicious young woman … should expect to escape the snares of a wretch?’ The newspaper editor was in on it, the doctors were in on it. The blood was from pigs, the pallor was paint. Stoney was carried on a makeshift bed to his wedding at St James’s, Piccadilly. He took the name Bowes and the countess became his slave. Hearing the story a few decades later from one of Mary’s grandsons, Thackeray would be inspired to write his contribution to rogue literature, The Luck of Barry Lyndon.

Soon after his miraculous recovery, Bowes forbade his wife to leave the house or have visitors without his permission and supervision. Gray (or Grey) threatened to bring an action for breach of contract – engagements were legally binding – but was paid off with £12,000 and died not long afterwards in Bengal. At first, Mary may have consented to her cloistering: she was pregnant by another man, and in order to secure the child’s legitimacy would have to pretend that it had been conceived later than it had been. The baby was hidden for three months, then presented at its baptism as a newborn, which fooled no one. A pamphlet would notice how remarkable it was that Bowes ‘contrives also to have his children brought into the world with teeth, after the manner of Richard III’.

Bowes seems not to have minded claiming the child (‘a small price to pay’, Moore decides, ‘for the spectacular fortune he now possessed’). The other children were sent away to various schools. He obliged Mary to send cutting notes to her friends and relations, which he dictated, saying she would no longer want anything to do with them. The gardeners, on pain of sacking, were made to refuse their mistress access to her hothouses, and released hares to kill her flowers. Other old retainers were replaced by Bowes’s prostitutes. Mary would write that he ‘very soon began to beat me and pinch me, threatening at the same time to kill me if I did not tell my Maid, or any person who observed my bruises, that I had fallen down, or run my head against something’.

An absence in this otherwise thorough book is any meaningful attempt to account for Bowes’s brutality. Did he hate women or hate toffs? Moore writes that he was ‘quite probably psychotic’, though nothing suggests that he suffered delusions or hallucinations. Generally Moore treats him as a slightly nastier version of the typical Georgian husband-despot; ‘broken heads and bloody noses are rather the common consequences of the marriage state,’ a contemporary is quoted as saying. It’s true that 18th-century legal manuals gave husbands permission to beat their wives, since by law they were responsible for their behaviour, but even at the time Bowes was described as extraordinary, a stain on the honour of every feeling Englishman, a speck of barbarity that shocked humanity and outraged civilisation. For Moore, Bowes is simply a good villain – if less interesting than he might be.

If Bowes was mad, he was also savvy, and preferred to keep his worst abuses private. He had an image to protect. A month after the wedding, in February 1777, one of the Members of Parliament for Newcastle died, and Bowes began the first of his attempts to secure office. He stood as a Whig, though whether he had any political convictions is doubtful; historians tell us that his reason for standing was an obsession with obtaining an Irish peerage. He won his seat no more honestly than he had his wife. According to one observer, Mary was made to spend her days in the windows of public houses, ‘from whence she sometimes lets fall some jewels or trinkets, which voters pick up and then she gives them money for returning them – a new kind of offering bribes’. He couldn’t buy everyone, and Moore might have included one of the opposition squibs that equated Newcastle’s voters with Bowes’s abused wife:

We have not yet took him for better for worse;
Alas! She who purchas’d this arm full of woe
Has a bitter bad bargain – then let us say no.

On election day 1780, local Tories were fooled into boarding a pleasure ship in expectation of campaign hospitality. After setting off, Bowes’s captain refused to return to shore until polls had closed, blaming the wind. Once in power, Bowes rarely attended the Commons and is recorded as having voted only once, to oppose a bill ‘to reduce election bribery on the grounds that existing laws were already too severe’.

The wife-beatings had continued all along, but after failing to be re-elected four years later, Bowes developed a new habit. He would force Mary to appear deranged in public: ‘On occasions he would warn her only to reply yes or no to any question, at other times only to say that the weather was hot or cold, and sometimes to refuse to speak at all.’ If she deviated from his instructions, she would receive a special beating. ‘Meanwhile, he presented himself as the aggrieved husband, tenderly attempting to guide his awkward wife.’ It’s too ridiculous, like something out of The Woman in White, but Mary’s fear that her husband was laying the groundwork for her imprisonment in an insane asylum seems all too plausible. He meanwhile was raping nursery maids and beating his valets. What finally brings the story to a close is the hiring of a maid, Mary Morgan, who had the brilliant idea that the countess consult a lawyer.

Mary’s life was only made bearable thanks to ‘the least regarded and least influential members of Georgian society’, as Moore puts it. Maids sneaked Mary food when her husband demanded that she go hungry and lent her their savings. Prostitutes testified on her behalf to Bowes’s cruelty; tenants risked eviction by sending their rents directly to Mary instead of to her husband. Yet more high jinks ensued: Bowes hired a constable to spy on her, kidnapped her and spirited her away to the North, barricaded her in a tower, made her drink poison, perhaps tried to seduce one of her daughters – but how much of one woman’s bad marriage must we be expected to bear?

Only Bowes’s chutzpah keeps the narrative endurable. After Mary filed for divorce through the ecclesiastical courts, Bowes pressed perjury charges against her: ‘She had accused him of locking her in a “dark room” when Bowes claimed it was a “passage”, and of keeping her in a “pig sty”, which Bowes insisted was a “stable yard”.’ He lost, and was imprisoned twice, first for perverting the course of justice, later for debt. After 12 years of marriage, Mary got her divorce on grounds of cruelty and adultery, though the case is perhaps less of a landmark than Moore would like it to be. Wife-torture was still rampant and legal. As late as 1888, husbands could still seize and confine estranged wives; marital rape was legal until 1991. Mary retained her fortune only thanks to a prenuptial deed that she had signed the night before her wedding. Not until the 1870 Married Women’s Property Act were other women allowed to hang on to their own money.

Moore’s biography is more sophisticated and careful than Ralph Arnold’s now 50-year-old Unhappy Countess, but the earlier account has more charm. It begins with the injunction ‘never trust a man with a hyphen’ and ends with the story – it may be spurious – that after her divorce Mary had such a horror of the married state that she ‘virtually imprisoned’ her daughter Anna, ‘refusing to allow her to go to parties or to make any friends with the opposite sex’. She was less protective of her sons, and one, Thomas Bowes Lyon, was a great-great-grandfather of the Queen Mother. Though the world may not have shared Mary’s own opinion on the merits of The Siege of Jerusalem, she still arranged to be buried in Poets’ Corner, near Spenser, and no one has moved her. She spent her last days ‘lavishing attention on her many dogs’, ensuring ‘that each had its own bed and was treated to a hot dinner every day’. Wisdom had come to her.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.