In 1732 a ball was held in Dublin Castle. It was a very grand affair as one would have expected given the four decades of peace and settling in that had passed since James II was dislodged by his daughter Mary and her husband, William.
One of the enthusiastic attendees was Mrs Mary Pendarves (née Granville), an English lady who had recently arrived in Dublin from London. She had connections in Ireland. Her sister was married to Sir John Stanley of Grange Gorman and her friend Anne Donnellan was married to Dr Robert Clayton, bishop of Killala. It seems Robert was held in high regard by his west of Ireland flock as he lived in splendour on St Stephen’s Green in the building now known as Iveagh House. It was Anne Donnellan who invited Mary to Dublin, a city which pleased her greatly.
Mary described Clayton’s town house as magnifique and was also struck by the elegance of Stephen’s Green: “I think this square may be preferred justly to any in London.” Mary’s cultural interests and her lively and informed conversation made her a welcome guest at a “continuous round of card parties, suppers, ridottos and balls”.
It might be thought she was living a life of uncomplicated privilege but actually she had had her share of unhappiness and of such a degree that few would grudge her the good times she had in Dublin.
Her family and her first husband’s family were firm Tories with strong affections for the Stuart Pretenders and an equally strong dislike for the Whigs and the pro Whig Hanoverian monarchy. Her uncle was Lord Lansdowne, a forbear of both having died in the Battle of Lansdown fighting for Charles I in 1643 during the English Civil War. Lord Lansdowne and his wife spent two years imprisoned in the Tower of London for suspected disloyalty to the new German monarch.
With the accession of the pro-Whig George I the Granville family fortunes went into decline. Mary had been brought up in the expectation that she would become a maid of honour at the court. But with the death of Queen Anne, none of whose eighteen children survived infancy, and the advent of the Hanoverian monarchy, these hopes were dashed.
Her first marriage came about as a consequence of financial and political considerations. Following the death of Queen Anne administrative positions were no longer available to Tories. This was a particular loss to her father who, as a younger son, had not inherited. It left him entirely dependent on Lord Lansdowne, who gave him an allowance but was not above reminding his brother of his dependence and vulnerability.
Judging from the memoir of Mary Granville, Lansdowne was a man of good character, at least Mary thought so. The family’s ancestral estate was in Cornwall, which was a traditional Tory stronghold. Lansdowne wished to extend his influence amongst the Tories of that area and to that end married off the seventeen-year-old to an elderly MP, Alexander Pendarves. Her own father was not in a position to resist his brother’s machinations and perhaps even welcomed the alliance.
Mary’s autobiographical writings leave little doubt of her distaste for Alexander Pendarves:
I formed an invincible aversion towards him, and everything he said or did by way of obliging me, increased that aversion. I thought him ugly and disagreeable; he was fat, much afflicted with gout, and often sat in a sullen mood, which I concluded was from the gloominess of his temper.
A seventeen-year-old in those circumstances does not have many cards to play. She hoped that by making her views plain her family would, out of kindness, not persist. She was wrong.
I told them plainly he was odious to me, in hopes they would have had good-nature enough to have prevented what I foresaw ; but Laura (Lansdowne’s wife) called me childish, ignorant, and silly, and that if I did not know what was for my own interest, my friends must judge for me.
Lord Lansdowne himself was both cajoling and menacing in pursuit of his objective:
He took me by the hand, and after a very pathetic speech of his love and care of me, and of my father’s unhappy circumstances, my own want of fortune, and the little prospect I had of being happy if I disobliged those friends that were desirous of serving me, he told me of [Pendarves’s] passion for me, and his offer of settling his whole estate on me ; he then, with great art and eloquence, told me all his good qualities and vast merit, and how despicable I should be if I could refuse him because he was not young and handsome..
Mary Granville succumbed without further delay:
With great difficulty I said I was so sensible of his goodness to me, and of the gratitude I owed him, that I would submit to his commands, but must beg leave at that time to retire, and that he would excuse my appearing any more that evening. He gave me my liberty, and by a back way I avoided the company and went to my own apartment, locked myself up in my closet, where I wept bitterly for two hours.
Her views didn’t change with the wedding:
I was married with great pomp. Never was woe drest out in gayer colours, and when I was led to the altar, I wished from my soul I had been led, as Iphigenia was, to be sacrificed. I was sacrificed. I lost, with a man I looked upon as my tyrant—my jailor; one that I was determined to obey and oblige, but found it impossible to love. It was a happiness to me that my sister at that time was too young to observe my distress.
Things did not improve when they got to Roscrow Castle, which she found an ugly dilapidated hulk. She reported also that to his ruin and her misery Pendarves was rarely sober and the days he was not drunk were spent in sullen silence. Neither did his appearance please her:
[A]s to his person he was excessively fat, of a brown complexion, negligent in his dress, and took a vast quantity of snuff, which gave him a dirty look.
Although the views from Roscrow castle were said to have been of a high order Mary Pendarves was trapped in what we might now identify as a gothic nightmare. But sometimes life imitates art and as luck would have it the gouty old squire was carried off to his reward after a mere seven years of marriage. From the sound of it his heart gave out.
Her husband omitted, however, to include her in his will, as had been expected, so instead of several thousand a year she was left with a few hundred a year, which sum had been agreed with Lord Lansdowne when the marriage was arranged. Lansdowne apparently felt some guilt at her not inheriting but Mary felt no hostility towards her uncle. Perhaps she accepted the financial outcome as likely, given that she never disguised her opinion of her husband.
Such was her experience of the married state that when within a short period her family suggested marriage to a wealthy gentleman – not as old– she emphatically declined. She seems to have retained some feeling for a young man who had loved her but whose family objected owing to her paucity of means. That young man had suggested elopement but she declined on grounds of dignity. He, it seems, died later of pleurisy and a broken heart. Beneath his pillow was found one of her paper art works.
Mary Pendarves was an intelligent and gifted woman of high spirits and with a wide social network. Why would she need a husband? Back in London she enjoyed social and artistic life to the full. One of her friends was George Frideric Handel and she was later influential in his coming to Dublin to rehearse and perform his masterpiece, the oratorio Messiah, using – despite the difficulties Swift threw in his way – the choirs of both Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedral. Mary was friendly with Swift and through him met the clergyman Dr Patrick Delany, a noted wit of pleasant disposition.
Delany who was quite rich owing to an inheritance from his first wife proposed marriage to Mary. Initially she resisted, perhaps seeing little reason to compromise her freedom. Her family was also against the alliance. In time she relented, marrying in 1743 to become Mrs Delany, the name under which she became famous as an artist specialising in complex embroidery and highly regarded cut paper flower pictures. She also left behind an extensive cache of correspondence which Rebecca Minch, which the Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us constitutes an important source for eighteenth century social history.
Sources include Hallelujah, by Jonathan Bardon Dictionary of Irish Biography and The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville ( Mrs Delany).
Ann(e), the wife of John Stanley was Sister to Lord Lansdowne (George Granville) and Aunt of Mary Delany. Robert Clayton’s wife was Katherine Donnellan daughter of Nehemiah Donnellan, chief baron of the Irish exchequer. Katherine’s sister Anne was friend to Mary Pendarves who was later to marry Patrick Delaney. Robert Clayton was born in Dublin in 1695. Robert Clayton’s wealth came to him through inheritance.