Lady Mary Wortley Montagu


Biography of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu poet

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (15 May 1689 – 21 August 1762) was an English aristocrat and writer. Montagu is today chiefly remembered for her letters, particularly her letters from Turkey, as wife to the British ambassador, which have been described by Billie Melman as “the very first example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Lady Mary Pierrepont was born in London on 15 May 15 1689; her baptism took place on 26 May at St. Paul's Church in Covent Garden. She was a daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 5th Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull, and his first wife, Lady Mary Fielding.

Her mother had three more children before dying in 1692. The children were raised by their Pierrepont grandmother until Mary was 9. Lady Mary was then passed to the care of her father upon her grandmother's death. She began her education in her father's home. Family holdings were extensive, including Thoresby Hall and Holme Pierrepont Hall in Nottinghamshire, and a house in West Dean in Wiltshire. She used the library in her father’s mansion, Thoresby Hall in the Dukeries of Nottinghamshire, to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin. Thoresby Hall had one of the finest private libraries in England, which she loved, but it was lost when the building burned in 1744. By about fourteen she had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel, and a prose-and-verse romance modeled after Aphra Behn's Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684). She also apparently corresponded with two bishops, Thomas Tenison and Gilbert Burnet, who supplemented the instructions of a governess she despised. Lady Mary would later describe her governess' teachings as "the worst in the world".

By 1710 Lady Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu and Clotworthy Skeffington. Mary's father, now Marquess of Dorchester, rejected Wortley Montagu as a prospect because he refused to entail his estate on a possible heir. Her father pressured her to marry Clotworthy Skeffington, heir to an Irish peerage. Although Lady Mary had fallen in love with another unidentified man, in order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, she eloped with Wortley. They were married on 23 August 1712 in Salisbury.

The early years of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's married life were spent in seclusion in the country. She had a son, Edward Wortley Montagu the younger, on 16 May 1713, in London. Her husband became Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1715, and shortly afterwards was made a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury. When Lady Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court. She was among the society of George I and the Prince of Wales, and counted amongst her friends Molly Skerritt, Lady Walpole, John, Lord Hervey, Mary Astell, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Abbé Antonio Conti.

In December 1715, Lady Mary contracted smallpox. She survived, but while she was ill someone circulated the satirical “court eclogues” she had been writing. One of the poems was read as an attack on Caroline, Princess of Wales, in spite of the fact that the "attack" was voiced by a character who was herself heavily satirized. Disgraced and unable to return to court, Lady Mary left London in August 1716 to accompany her husband on his embassy to Istanbul.

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Fragment to ******

Let mules and asses in that circle tread,
And proud of trappings toss a feather'd head;
Leave you the stupid business of the state,
Strive to be happy, and despise the great:
Come where the Graces guide the gentle day,
Where Venus rules amidst her native sea,
Where at her altar gallantries appear,
And even Wisdom dares not show severe.

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