Sunniside Local History Society
 

Mary Eleanor Bowes

 

Mary Eleanor Bowes Countess of Strathmore

(The Unhappy Countess)

The 3rd Earl of Strathmore died in 1695 and his successor married Lady Elizabeth Stanhope, daughter of the Earl of Chesterfield, a portent of the family's increasing ties with England. In contrast, however, John, 5th Earl of Strathmore was killed at the battle of Sheriffrnuir on 18 November 1715 fighting for the Stuart cause. In view of their service to the Scottish royal house through many generations, it was almost fitting that one of the family should be present at one of the Stuarts' fast attempts to regain their hold on the throne. The 5th Earl was ultimately succeeded, in 1735, by his third brother, Thomas.

It is through Thomas that a new strand entered the history of the family through its connection with County Durham. This connection became much less close after the death of the 10th Earl of Strathmore in 1820, but for ninety years the family almost abandoned its Scottish home and was established in the North East of England. Thomas married, on 20th July 1736, Jane, the eldest daughter and co- heiress of James Nicholson of West Rainton. Their marriage settlement dated 19th July 1736 refers to Jane's possession of a third of Haswell on the Hill or Great Haswell, Willington Hall, Billy Hall and the manor of Gisby in Yorkshire. Thomas and Jane had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Two daughters and one son died unmarried, and the remaining four children all married into the gentry of the county of Durham. Thomas, the third son, who inherited the Nicholson property at Hetton-le- Hole and lived at Hetton House, married Mary, daughter of Farrer Wren of Binchester. The 8th Earl's eldest daughter, Susan, married General John Lambton of Harraton Hall in 1763, and his second daughter, Anne, married John Simpson of Bradley in 1768. His eldest son, John, (pictured above) who succeeded to the title as 9th Earl of Strathmore, married Mary Eleanor, (pictured above) daughter of George Bowes of Streatlam and Gibside. The proposal by John Lyon, 9th Earl of Strathmore, was accepted by Mary Eleanor's mother in 1765, but the negotiations over the marriage settlement lasted for a further year and a half. One aspect which needed considerable negotiation was the requirement laid down in George Bowes' will that Mary Eleanor's husband should assume the surname Bowes. This the Earl did by Act of Parliament and thereafter he and the children of the marriage were always known by the name Bowes.

The 9th Earl of Strathmore was famous for his appearance; he was known as "the beautiful Lord Strathmore". His character was later described by Jesse Foot thus:

The late Earl of Strathmore was not calculated to make even a good learned woman a pleasing husband. His Lordship's pursuits were always innocent and without the smallest guile, but they were not those of science or any other splendid quality. A sincere friend, a hearty Scotchman and a good bottle companion were points of his character.

The 9th Earl was, then, a typical example of the gentleman, honest, upright and not too intellectual. Mary Eleanor Bowes was a very different type of person; she had been greatly indulged by her father and had been encouraged in precocious intellectual pursuits. She was interested in botanical studies and in 1769 had published a poetical drama entitled ‘The Siege of Jerusalem’. Although their marriage was not to be, because of their disparity in temperament, a particularly happy one, it was celebrated with the wealth and ceremony to be expected in the alliance of two great families.


 

Mary Eleanor's trousseau cost £3,000, in addition to which she was given by her mother a diamond stomacher which cost £10,000 and other diamonds costing £7,000. She was also given a green landau, a blue landau, a blue post coach and a stone-coloured chaise. The Earl and Countess spent their honeymoon at St. Paul's Walden Bury and at Gibside (pictured above). Apart from the use of the property at Gibside, Streatlam and St. Paul's Walden Bury, the Earl and Countess were assigned by Mrs. Bowes the lease of a town house in London at 40 Grosvenor Square. They had five children, John (who became the 10th Earl), George, Thomas, Maria Jane and Anna Maria. The marriage, in fact, lasted a comparatively short time, as Lord Strathmore developed tuberculosis and died at sea on 7th March 1776 while on a voyage to Lisbon in an attempt to recover his health. Mary Eleanor did not receive the news until 6th April when she received a last letter from her husband. Lord Strathmore was aware that he was dying and his letter, although not affectionate, contains advice which he obviously hoped would help his wife after his death. He was particularly concerned about the management of Mary Eleanor's great inheritance:

I would advise you most earnestly to appoint some person you can confide in, to fix with your sons' trustees for a certain sum payable quarterly or half yearly as you shall approve. 1 do not mean that you should receive less than the value of the Estate, that the person you employ will naturally take care of; but that you will know for certain what you have to receive, and be free from imposition of Steward, the plague of repairs and many troubles attending to management of a large Estate.

Another point of advice made by him perhaps reveals the difference in temperament and interests of the two: “I will say nothing of your extreme rage for literary fame. I think your own understanding, when matured, will convince you of the futility of the pursuit".


 

Mary Eleanor's income was estimated shortly after this time at between £16,000 and £20,000 p.a. and as she had not been devoted to her first husband, it was not surprising that she should marry again soon after she became free to do so. What was surprising was the person whom she chose to marry. On 17th January 1777 the Countess of Strathmore married Andrew Stoney, henceforth known as Stoney Bowes (pictured above).

In the first place, he was neither a Bowes nor a Strathmore. He came to Newcastle around 1770, as an ensign in the 4th Regiment of Foot. His first wife was the daughter of William Newton of Burnopfield. The Newtons had made a great deal of money in the coal trade, and lived at first in a house at Dyke Heads. He built the house at Burnopfield (pictured above), which belonged to the late Dr Watson. Stoney is said to have persuaded Miss Newton to elope with him from this house. Miss Newton's fortune was £30,000. They were married at St Andrew's Church, Newcastle, by the Rev Nathaniel Ellison.

This lady died leaving no issue, having, according to common report, endured much suffering at the hands of her husband. After her death, Lieutenant Stoney began to have designs on the hand of Eleanor, the young widow of John Lyon 9th Earl of Strathmore.

After the death of her husband the Earl, Eleanor lived at Chelsea, where she had extensive conservatories and vineries. Here she was paid attention to by a gentleman just returned from India, of similar tastes to her own, and might probably have married him, had not the young adventurer Andrew Robinson Stoney, come on to the scene. The Morning Post was then the fashionable society paper. In this paper several articles appeared from time to time insinuating that the young widow was not leading her life so innocently as to meet with the approval of the more rigorous moralists of the times. The correspondence led to a duel being fought between the editor of the paper and Lieutenant Stoney as the champion of the Countess. The gallantry of the Lieutenant was rewarded by the Countess marrying him four days later. It transpired, however, that Stoney himself had sent the articles reflecting on the Countess, and had also written those defending her.

The duel was a sham, and that an understanding existed all the time between the editor and Stoney which throws quite a different light on the affair. No matter, the end was secured and Stoney had become the husband of the Countess of Strathmore, residing at Gibside.

The expensive living of Andrew (Stoney) Bowes soon forced him to leave Gibside, he had very soon all but bankrupted Eleanor except for her shrewd investments prior to her second marriage. Luckily, Mary Eleanor had heeded her first husband's dying advice and had conveyed all the real and personal estate in which she enjoyed a life interest under the terms of her father's will to two trustees, to be held upon trust during her life whether she remained a widow or remarried. Stoney was so desperate for money, he had even cut down much valuable timber to sell, but no one would buy from him. He began to treat the Countess as he had treated his former wife. He used to lock her up in a closet and feed her only an egg and a biscuit a day. In order to obtain more influence over the Countess, Bowes took away one of her daughters by Lord Strathmore to Paris. This was the Lady Anna Maria, afterwards the wife of Colonel Jessop. But the young lady, being a ward in Chancery, was brought back by the Court. The following year, 1785, the Countess fled from his custody, and began divorce proceedings, the divorce was finalised in 1789.


 

It appeared from the evidence in the case, that shortly after her marriage she had been deprived of her liberty in every respect. The use of her carriage was denied to her unless with Stoney Bowes' special permission. Her own servants were dismissed and new ones engaged. She could not write a letter nor receive one without his knowledge or his knowing the contents. She was driven from her own table, or forced to sit at it along with Bowes' mistresses. While the divorce suit was pending, Bowes carried her off to Streatlam Castle and endeavoured to persuade her to be reconciled to him. Being pursued from London, Bowes hastily made off from Streatlam (pictured above), carrying her with him. He was overtaken at Darlington, and the Countess was freed. Proceedings were immediately instituted against him and he was bound over to keep the peace in sureties of himself for £10,000 and two sureties of £5,000 each.

Bowes' trial took place on Wednesday, 10th May 1787. The trial was for a conspiracy against Lady Strathmore to assault and imprison her. Various evidence of ill-usage were given, and the result was that Bowes had to pay a fine of £300, to be imprisoned for three years and to keep the peace for fourteen years. At the same time a trial against him took place, brought on by Lady Strathmore, to set aside the deed by transferred rents and other property to Bowes. This was successful, and he was deprived of all the property, and the whole of the rents which he had received. He was cast into prison, where he died on the 16th June 1810.


 

The Countess of Strathmore was restored to her property and severed from the unfortunate connection she had formed. She thereafter lived at St. Paul's Walden Bury until 1792 when she made over the property to her second son, George Bowes. *She then purchased Purbrook Park in Hampshire, where she lived until her death. Mary Eleanor's last years were devoted to her children. Two of her daughters lived with her at Purbrook and she followed the career of her eldest son John 10th Earl of Strathmore (pictured above), with obsessive interest, even going so far as to keep an album of newspaper cuttings which recorded his career. She died in April 1800 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, dressed in a superb bridal dress. Her tombstone may be seen in Poet's Corner, the inscription reads: 'Sacred to the memory of Mary Eleanor, Countess of Strathmore, of Streatlam and Gibside, in the County of Durham.'

* There are differences of opinion concerning Eleanor's place of death.

1) She died at Stourfield House, near Christchurch where she lived from the Autumn of 1795.

2) On 28 April 1800 Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, died, aged fifty-one, at Christchurch in Hampshire

I still believe that my source of reference is correct and that she died in April 1800 at Purbrook Park in Hampshire and was buried in Westminster Abbey.