Cultural Capital Gallery - Georgian Era [1714-1837] Contributors: Mary Eleanor Bowes
Stourfield House's isolation was likely part of its appeal for her: there is a reference to her choosing to live here as it was "...out of the world." Its original owner was a barrister, Edmund Bott, who had moved down to the coast from London when his health declined, and was known for entertaining learned guests such as local antiquarians. She herself rented it from its 2nd owner, Sir George Tapps, who bought it in 1790, after Bott's death. It became her final peaceful retreat from a past marital life the local historian Druitt characterised as one of "tears of blood."
She wrote at least two works, a now-forgotten antiquarian 5-act verse drama set during the Crusades, The Siege of Jerusalem (1771), and her 1793 Confessions, which were written under duress from her husband and were at the time a public sensation to the point of scandal. Though there was predictably a broader interest in the latter, it was the former work that allowed the Countess, an ancestor of the present monarch, a tombstone in Westminster Abbey’s Poets' Corner, where in April 1800, she was buried (in a macabre touch) in her wedding dress.
Though they lack detail on her last two (celibate) years of life, at Stourfield, there are three biographies dealing with Bowes’s scandalous and tragic marital life: Ralph Arnold’s 1987 The Unhappy Countess, Derek Parker’s 2006 The Trampled Wife, and Wendy Moore’s 2009 Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met his Match. It was also the basis of a 2008 Radio 4 play, 'An Unhappy Countess' by documentary filmmaker Paul Watson, with Susannah Harker as the Countess Strathmore. Her 1793 Confessions were reprinted by Forgotten Books as a paperback in 2012. The Parker biography has appendices covering her play The Siege Of Jerusalem and the connection with Thackeray's Barry Lyndon.
In the Kubrick adaptation of Thackeray's novel, Marisa Berenson plays the wife who soon realises her husband is a fortune hunter who feels no love for her - exactly what happened to the real Mary.
The film of Barry Lyndon was partly shot locally: here the Italian Gardens at Compton Acres in Poole stand in for the town of Spa in Belgium, where Barry first spots his luckless future wife.
Interest: Stourfield House
Above: Opposite Pokesdown Station is the village green with a signboard showing location and historical details of Stourfield House, which was used for early Council meetings.
Below: A section of map from 1826,
showing Stourfield House situated on what was then open heath, which began to be Inclosed after
1802. The dark-greyish area the house sits on the edge of was the limit of the Inclosures and
conifer plantations that were the first sign of the new township of 'Bourne.'
MEB’s stay here is not well
documented. Biographies barely mention her final move to Stourfield in 1795. In 1796, her beloved
servant-companion Mary, who had helped her escape captivity, died and was buried in Christchurch
Priory, with a brass plaque erected by MB. Her other companions were two young-adult daughters
and a pack of dogs.
The cover image above is based on a caricature by the political cartoonist Gillray, showing her carousing, with a pair of suckling cats dangling from her bosom.
|Right: Barry Lyndon, 1975:
Thackeray’s 1844 novel was inspired by his hearing of MEB’s fortune-seeking husband
Stoney from MEB’s grandson. Kubrick’s film adaptation was partly shot locally (Compton
Acres and Wilton House), but Kubrick, a former magazine photographer, just used the story to film
a period piece as an exercise in aesthetic formalism. Hence he removed all the picaresque satire
where the boastful ‘Barry’ is the classic unreliable narrator and made him a sympathetic
underdog, played straight by American comedy actor Ryan O’Neal, while the hapless wife was
played by an American fashion model, treated as a clothes-horse with almost no dialogue. Barry’s
downfall is due to a single incident, pictured here, where he is provoked into losing his temper
and attacks his titled stepson, who has tried to embarrass him in front of the assembled company.
Below right: In reality, MEB’s relentlessly violent and brutal husband Stoney-Bowes, who had eventually been jailed for abduction, was released when she died in 1800, but ended up in debtors’ prison when he tried unsuccessfully to contest her will (witnessed by locals) and could not pay his lawyers’ fees, dying penniless. This is said to be the inspiration for the expression someone is "stoney" broke. Below right, a contemporary illustration of his arrival in court, by the political cartoonist Gillray.
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