Lady Mary Kerr married Frederick St John in December 1788. She had just celebrated her 21st birthday and he was soon to turn 25.
Mary was a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family seat was the medieval Newbattle Abbey at Dalkeith. Mary was the 4th child and 3rd daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.
Frederick St John was the younger of two sons born to the warring Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer whose marriage ended spectacularly in divorce in 1768.
Frederick Jnr joined the army in 1779 aged 14 as an ensign in the 85th Regiment of Foot and went on to become the second most senior general in the British Army. But in 1788 he had marriage on his mind and the young Lady Mary Kerr fitted the bill nicely.
Mary didn’t become pregnant immediately after the wedding, perhaps Frederick’s military duties took him away from home, but by February 1791 she was due to give birth to the couples’ first child. A son, Robert William, was born on February 5; the following day Mary died. She was 23 years old.
At first it seemed that this was about all the information I would be able to garner about Mary. Her death warranted a brief mention in the Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1791 – Lady Mary St John, lady of the honourable major Frederick St John. In The Gentleman’s Magazine the entry is equally brief 6 [February] at her house in Park Lane, Lady Mary St John, lady of Major St J. and daughter of the Marquis of Lothian.
Horace Walpole, Whig politician and friend of Frederick’s mother Lady Di, mentioned Mary’s death in a letter to Miss Berry, and that seemed to be that.
And then a visit to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre revealed a most fascinating document filed among the household bills of Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke.
Frederick had close family ties to the Pembroke family. Henry Herbert, the 10th Earl, was married to Lady Elizabeth Spencer, the sister of Frederick’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Their son and Frederick’s cousin, George Augustus Herbert, who became the 11th Earl of Pembroke, married Elizabeth Beauclerk, Frederick’s sister by his mother’s second marriage to Topham Beauclerk.
However, I certainly didn’t expect to find the following in a box of Pembroke family papers:
2057/A6/18 Account for the funeral of Lady Mary St John at Lydiard Tregoze; to be paid by Lord Herbert.
In fascinating detail this document recounts the cost of Lady Mary’s funeral, from the arrangements at her London home, the long journey to Wiltshire and the short one from the Hall in Lydiard House to the church at St Mary’s just footsteps away.
According to this document Lady Mary’s body was collected from her home in North Audley Street and she was buried on February 12 in the family vault at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire by the order of the Hon. Lord Herbert.
The first items to appear on the long list are:
Superfine Crape Shroud, headress & pillow neatly pink’d £2 2s
Large Superfine Crape Sheet to wrap the Body in £1 5s
An Elm Coffin lined with Superfine Crape, Quilted lining & a thick Mattress for the Bottom of the Coffin £1 11s 6d
Other expensive items include the outer lead coffin, inscription plate and brass handles, but it is the details of the journey which are especially interesting.
Feathers [ostrich] placed on the Corps in Audley Street & carried before the Funeral to the Stonesend, placed on the Corps at the Inn on the Road & place of Interment.
Travelling costs were expensive – Two men on Horseback as Porters to attend the Funeral to the place of Interment 6 days each cost £7 4s; a Hearse & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s and a coach & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s.
Rooms at the Inns on the Road for the Corps cost 17s 6d with a further 17s 6d for two men sitting up with the Corps.
As the funeral cortege neared Lydiard Tregoze a bell was tolled at Marlborough – 6s 8d and again at Swindon 5s.
At Lydiard Tregoze 8 Bearers were employed to carry the Corps from the Hall to the place of Interment by Mr Crooks appointment £2 2s.
The last item on the funeral account is the charge of Turnpikes £1 18s 6d.
The final bill came to £98 18s 8d.
Sadly so little is known about the life of Lady Mary St John, but a great deal is known about her after her death.