Mary Anne Clarke, 1776-1852: Let A Woman In Your Life

Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.

The duke in question was possibly Frederick, second son of George the Third  (1763–1827), and rather a good man to have on hand if you were a soldier.  He was responsible for the administrative overhaul of the British Army that was instrumental in defeating Napoleon on the Spanish Peninsula and Waterloo.

He had a thing for women. No unusual thing in the Regency era, but it was his ill fortune that that thing was for Mary Clarke.

Ms Clarke was born to a tradesman and married at eighteen to a stonemason by whom she had a daughter. Not the worst fate on earth, but she thought she could do better, and so left the mason to the dustbin of history while she solicited more irregular connections to more prosperous men.  She was, it happened,  good looking enough and charming enough to make her way up to Frederick.  He had the means to set her up in the style to which she wished to become accustomed, both house and servants and random fripperies and everything else the heart could desire.

Well, mostly.  What were once luxuries soon became necessities and as Frederick was busy with the war and all, she had to find other sources of income.  She was too scrupulous to sleep with other men, but too reckless to avoid the snares of politics.  The current government, the one backing Frederick and the king, was Tory; one of her gentleman callers was Colonel Wardle, an MP of the opposition.  According to the always entertaining gossip Captain Gronow, the Colonel was having an intimate tête-à-tête with Ms Clarke when an emissary of the Duke showed up unexpectedly, obliging Wardle to dive beneath the sofa for the duration.

And so he was able to listen to a very strange conversation indeed, one that suggested the awarding of army commissions based on the quiet handing over of cash.  Then as now, and presumably forevermore, it’s not what you know but who you know and she knew the top man very well indeed.  Well enough to charge top pound for influence.

Well, Wardle was hardly going to let this kind of dynamite lie undetonated.  Questions were raised in Parliament, and kept on being asked despite all efforts by the Duke’s friends to keep the matter quiet.  Eventually Ms Clarke herself was forced to testify in the House of Commons, and appeared quite happy to spill whatever beans she might have lying around.  She contended that her sales efforts were done with the full knowledge of the Duke, which lead to his resignation and the end of their affair.

Things did not end there.  He was obliged to pay her off so as not to publish some of his more intimate letters, on the understanding that she was to leave the country.  The letters in question must have been pretty hot stuff if we assume that they are not those included in her tell-all volume, also of  that year, the  “Authentic memoirs of Mrs. Clarke, in which is pourtrayed the secret history and intrigues of many characters in the first circles of fashion and high life; and containing the whole of her correspondence during the time she lived under the protection of His Royal Highness the Duke of York, the gallant Duke’s love letters, and other interesting papers never before published.

This was followed by The Rival Princes; Or, A Faithful Narrative of Facts, Relating to Mrs. M.A. Clarke’s Political Acquaintance with Colonel Wardle, Major Dodd, &C. &C. &C., Who Were Concerned in the Charges against the Duke of York; Together with a Variety of Authentic and Important Letters, and Curious and Interesting Anecdotes of Several Persons of Political Notoriety.

A title like that was bound to fetch ‘em, and so it did.

It also landed her with a libel suit and a 9 month stay in prison.

She moved finally to France where such behavior as hers is viewed rather more lightly, and where perhaps, given who her paramour was, the locals felt a certain sense of schadenfreude.  Ever upbeat, never contrite, she continued to entertain any of her old aristocratic friends who chose to visit in what sounds like a very entertaining and gossipy salon indeed (largely trash talking her old paramour and his family. despite her continuing to get a fair amount of hush-money.).  Not surprisingly, many of them were regulars.

Her writerly talents may have been slight, but it is a matter of record that her grandson George Du Maurier wrote the monster best seller Trilby and her great granddaughter Daphne Du Maurier wrote, among many other successful books and screen plays, the timeless Rebecca.

And, touchingly, Mary Anne, an historical account of her scandalous ancestor.

4 thoughts on “Mary Anne Clarke, 1776-1852: Let A Woman In Your Life

  1. Pingback: George du Maurier, 1834-1896: The First Blockbuster | A History Blog by Bruce Ware Allen

  2. Should I read Trilby? Does it hold up as well as books by, say, Willkie Collins? Coincidentally, I’ve been on a bit of a Daphne du Maurier kick this summer. Reading stories by Isak Dinesen at the same time and getting them all jumbled together. But that’s not your problem…

    • You know how everyone makes fun of Bulwer-Lytton for starting out with “It was a dark and stormy night”?

      Trilby starts out with “It was a fine, sunny, showery day in April”.

      It’s good for a giggle, yeah, sure, go for it. The illustrations help as well. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself skipping entire chapters after a while. (By the way, why are there so few illustrations in novels these day? Seems to me that if the publishing industry really wants to rise above the coming ocean of self-published novels, one thing they could do would be to reintroduce really good illustrations. It really is too bad of them.)

  3. Pingback: The Brave | aperfumeblog by Blacknall Allen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *