Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bowes, Mary Eleanor
BOWES, MARY ELEANOR, Countess of Strathmore (1749–1800), was the daughter and sole heiress of George Bowes, M.P., of Streatlam and Gibside in the county of Durham, the head of a family well known in border warfare [see Bowes, Sir William]. After some flirtations with the brother of the Duke of Buccleuch, she was married on 24 Feb. 1767 to John Lyon, ninth earl of Strathmore. He was born at Houghton-le-Spring on 16 Aug. 1737, and after his marriage obtained an act of parliament which enabled him to take his wife's surname. In the same year he was elected a representative peer of Scotland. Three sons and two daughters were the fruits of this union. Lord Strathmore died on 7 March 1776, whilst on a voyage to Lisbon. After his death the widow had several suitors, and the Hon. George Grey was thought to be the favoured man. His 'Turkish Tale' is said to have been written for her entertainment. Her conduct was not very discreet, and some paragraphs reflecting on her character appeared in the 'Morning Post,' then controlled by 'Parson Bate' (the Rev. Sir Henry Bate Dudley), who went through a sham duel with another suitor, Andrew Robinson Stoney. This adventurer induced her to marry him on 17 Jan. 1777. Stoney was a bankrupt lieutenant on half-pay, who had wasted the fortune acquired with a previous wife, Hannah Newton of Newcastle. In the following month he assumed his wife's surname of Bowes, and found that when engaged to Mr. Grey the countess had executed a deed securing her estates to herself. This she had made known to Grey, who supped with her the night before her marriage, but not to her husband, who by cruelty induced her to make a deed of revocation. John Hunter was a witness to this document, which was executed at the dinner-table. Two children were born of this marriage, one of whom, William Johnstone Bowes, lieutenant in the royal navy, was lost with Sir Thomas Trowbridge in the Blenheim in 1807. Lady Strathmore's influence secured her husband's election as M.P. for Newcastle in 1780. He was nominated in 1777, and petitioned against Sir John Trevelyan, but lost the election. He was also sheriff of Newcastle. Bowes treated his wife with barbarity and was unfaithful to her. She instituted proceedings in the ecclesiastical courts for a divorce, and escaped from her husband, against whom she exhibited articles of the peace in the court of king's bench on 7 Feb. 1785. On 10 Nov. 1786 she left her house in Bloomsbury Square to call on business at a Mr. Foster's in Oxford Street, when she was abducted by a gang of men in the pay of her husband. At Highgate Bowes made his appearance. Lady Strathmore was hurried off to Straithland Castle. After much brutal ill-treatment she was rescued by some husbandmen and taken back to London by her deliverers. Bowes and his colleagues were convicted of conspiracy and sentenced on 26 June 1787 to a fine of 300l., imprisonment of three years, and to find securities for good behaviour for fourteen years. The deed by which she had placed her estates under the control of Bowes was invalidated on the ground of duress on 19 May 1788. The court of delegates made a decree of divorce on 2 March 1789 against A. R. Bowes. On the following day the lord chancellor pronounced in favour of the validity of the deed executed before marriage by Lady Strathmore, who was thus restored to the control of her own fortune. Bowes became in 1790 an inmate of the king's bench prison, but in the following year behaved creditably during a riot in the prison, and his imprisonment was relaxed. Lady Strathmore died at Christchurch, Hampshire, on 28 April 1800, and was buried in Westminster Abbey, arrayed in 'a superb bridal dress.' Her persecutor survived her until 16 Jan. 1810. There are engraved portraits of both husband and wife. Lady Strathmore wrote:
- 'The Siege of Jerusalem,' 1774. A few copies only were printed to be given away.
- 'The Confessions of the Countess of Strathmore : written by herself. Carefully copied from the originals lodged in Doctors' Commons,' London, 1793. This appears to have been extorted by her husband.
[Gent. Mag. lvi. 991, 993, 1079, lvii. 88, lix. 269, lx. 665, lxx. 488; Surtees's History of Durham, iv. 1 09; Baker's Biographia Dramatica; Martin's Catalogue of Privately Printed Books; Full and Accurate Report of Trial between Stephens, Trustee to E. Bowes, and A. R. Bowes, 1788; Report of the Proceedings in the High Court of Chancery in the matter of Andrew Robinson Bowes, 1804 ; Foot's Lives of Andrew Robinson Bowes and the Countess of Strathmore, 1810.]