The illegitimate child of Lady Diana Bolingbroke and Topham Beauclerk, Mary was obviously born with a propensity to shock.
Mary and her sister Elizabeth had little to do with their mother’s two sons by her first marriage to Frederick St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke. Then in 1787 Mary paid a visit to her half-brother George Richard, his wife Charlotte and their three young children where she clearly forgot her manners.
The couple embarked upon an incestuous relationship and later that same year Mary, accompanied by Charlotte, fled to Paris where she gave birth to a son whom her sister in law tried to pass off as her own to avoid scandal. A second son was born a year later and in 1789, pregnant for a third time, Mary, George Richard and their two little sons headed yet again for Paris where they intended to live as Mr and Mrs Barton, in exile and in secret for the rest of their lives. Poor deluded Mary.
The couple’s affair soon became common knowledge and the subject of gossip in court circles. Some commentators have suggested that George’s seduction of his sister was revenge upon his mother for her abandonment. However, after seven years and four sons, George deserted Mary at their bolt hole in Germany where they had removed.
But the resourceful Mary didn’t hang about and, perhaps surprisingly considering she had four illegitimate sons in tow, soon found herself a husband in Heidelberg where George had abandoned her.
In 1797 Mary married Francis von Jenison Walworth, Grand Chamberlain of the Household to the King of Wurteemburg and proceeded to have a further four children.
But the boys’ faithless father did not forget them or Mary apparently. George Richard might have effected a speedy getaway but in 1794 he made provision for Mary with £100 for each of his sons.
So what happened to the four Barton boys? Charles joined the navy and family folklore has it that he was killed fighting alongside Admiral Nelson. The other three boys ended up in America, arriving shortly before their father and Isabella Hompesch, the woman he had bigamously married.
Edward trained as a doctor and settled in Philadelphia. George worked as a Commission Merchant in Boston for Welles & Williams while Robert possibly had a much closer relationship with his father than was previously thought. There is evidence to suggest he was living with George and Isabella in New York and returned to Lydiard Park with them in 1806.
So maybe Elizabeth Beauclerk doesn’t qualify as a Lady St John, but she deserves to be included in an account of the life of her sister Mary.
Elizabeth was betrothed to George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke who was her first cousin, the son of Lady Di’s sister Betty. George had joined the British Army as an ensign in 1775 rising to the rank of General by 1812. Whig MP for the Pembroke family seat of Wilton, Wiltshire in 1780-1784 and again in 1788-1794, George was a Privy Councillor and also became Vice Chamberlain of the Household.
Tainted by her mother’s divorce and her sister’s shenanigans, poor Elizabeth’s engagement was also grist for the gossipmonger’s mill, including The Times society correspondent.
“The approaching nuptials of Lord Herbert and Miss Beauclerk promise well, and Hymen, who has been rather in the dumps during the winter, appears to be in high spirits on this occasion. There are those qualities and graces on both sides which from the constituent part of connubial happiness, and we hope and trust that no envious daemon will possess the power of troubling the pure fountain of their felicity.”
The wedding took place at St James’ Westminster on April 8, 1787. The couple began married life dividing their time between the Herbert’s London home in Hill Street and their country seat Wilton House, a former Benedictine Abbey that had come up for grabs during that famous 16th century property redistribution period, the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Following a miscarriage soon after her marriage Elizabeth gave birth to George in 1788, Diana in 1790 and Robert Henry in 1791. Pregnant yet again in 1793 poor Elizabeth died giving birth to her third son Charles. Her funeral took place on April 3 and Elizabeth was buried in Wilton.
Mary lived considerably longer, spending most of her time in Germany. She died in Neuenheim in July 1851 aged 84.
So did the Beauclerk sisters really have a hard time of it? Were they victims of circumstance or their own appetites? Personally I blame the parents!