|The Berkeley Series|
Butcher's daughter rocks and rescues English dynasty. The story of Mary Cole, 5th Countess of Berkeley, focus of a sensational cause célèbre of the Georgian era.
When Mary Cole, a butcher's daughter, caught the eye of Lord Berkeley, it was as flint to tinder. A libertine and a forsworn bachelor, he was taken aback that the Catholic-reared beauty refused to be his mistress. Within weeks he'd brought her family to bankruptcy. When, still, she eluded him, he devised a theatrical plot to abduct her.
It was then that he knew he could not let her go.
Aided by his corrupt chaplain, Hupsman, the Earl duped his 'shepherdess' with fake nuptials.
Tumbling to the truth, Mary became passionately committed to gaining her eldest son's birthright. With an astonishing grasp of pastoral economy, she repaired the Berkeley fortunes while a succession of children compounded her plight.
Her estranged sisters, meanwhile, were moving among the glitterati of Pitt’s England and the New America and their scandalous activities had to be curtailed at the highest level before a legal knot was eventually tied.
Upon Hupsman's death, the temptation to affirm the ‘first marriage’ proved too strong for the Earl and Countess and they conspired in a criminal act to ‘find’ the registry. The upshot was a sensational trial in the House of Lords in 1811 whose repercussions were to shake the foundations of the Berkeley dynasty for ever and put Mary’s life at risk.
Was that marriage a sham? Or was it a timeless truth?
"I have been as much sold as any lamb that goes to the shambles!"
Often she had watched them in the fickle days of spring, skipping about the lush meadows of Gloucester, exulting in the gift of life. Steadily they grew fat and independent of the placid ewes, unaware of the shadow of the butcher's blade, or that they were destined for some rich man's table.
That was long ago, when Mary was a slip of a thing and Pa kept The Swan Tavern at Barnwood and grazed livestock there. He used to send his meat into the city of Gloucester and numbered among his customers many of the great houses of the Vale. They were well-known, the Coles. Folk grumbled about their airs and graces, but William Cole was a respected tradesman who never sold anyone short. He was proud of his three lovely daughters, of whom Mary was the youngest, and had high hopes of his fourth child, his namesake, Billy, despite the shameless way the women of the household mollycoddled him. His wife, too, was a comely body who earned pin money by nursing sick and newborn infants and saw no contradiction in this humble occupation and that state to which she aspired. "For," observed she, "high birth or lowly, tis nought but an accident. Nobility of character is what signifies." Mary possessed a natural reserve and took this dictum to heart, but her sisters were wanton and Cole was relieved when his eldest, Ann, took up with Will Farren, a likely fellow in the same trade as himself, and went to live in Butchers' Row, Westgate, in wedded safekeeping.
Life was simple then. The sun always seemed to be shining. Mary delighted in picking nosegays of sweet peas and lavender from her father's garden and went capering off to school with them, adding poppies and buttercups and Queen Anne's lace along the bridle way.
But in the year 1783, when Farmer George was King and Mary was full-grown, the recent death of old Cole marked a dramatic change in the family's fortune....
Now moving freely in aristocratic society, Mary must distinguish between enemy and ally! Even under her own roof, appearances can be deceptive and the husband about whom she has no illusions further falls from grace when certain matters come to light. The young Fitz’s philandering reputation is proving every bit as robust as his father’s and it's not long before he is caught up in amorous and political intrigue. When Hupsman's dying confession surfaces, the situation worsens and the dramatic death of Lord Berkeley brings the succession crisis to a head. Who will support the Countess’ story before the peers of the realm? And who will speak against her in revenge?
For, heaven be thanked, we live in such an age, when no man dies for love but on the stage.
Was Dryden’s wisdom to be trusted?
The Arundel ball had drooped to a close, its sprightly airs skimming the shadows of the mind. Dawn was breaking.
Frederick Augustus, 5th Earl of Berkeley, wondered grimly if it would be his last. He entered Rewell Wood with a bravura gait, taunted by flashbacks of a life that was more random patchwork than silk tapestry depicting a parable. He would be leaving behind a heap of disordered affairs.
A swell of pigeons let fly at his approach. The air was moss-damp and tainted with mould. No sign of his royal antagonist. Cumberland’s second had been instructed to resist any form of negotiation. The vengeful blade was as surly as he was suave, although Berkeley himself had thrown down the gauntlet upon catching his virtuous spouse in the Duke’s clutches. What was a fellow to do? Honour demanded that he defend her, King’s spawn or not. In the light of recent debate over the legitimacy of their eldest sons, it behoved him to take the Duke to task in the most decided terms. Besides, Berkeley loved Mary with a yearning he shied from admitting. It had flourished through stress and misfortune against all expectation. Back in the eighties, he had purchased her from butcher’s stock for the sum of one hundred guineas and little imagined how his solipsist world would be overturned. The Cole family had done very well out of him since then, and he who reckoned he was nobody’s fool had become the Jester of the deck.
The sun’s hemisphere began to smelt the edges of the horizon and send darting beams through the trees. A pheasant waddled across the misty track ahead as if daring him to pursue, a ridiculous creature without streamlined motion. Actaeon, he thought. (It was forty years since his academic days.) The hunter become the hunted.
His musings were interrupted by a heavy crackle in the brushwood. A patch of hide resolved itself into the finest heraldic beast he had ever seen, with antlers like blasted oaks, its proud head surrounded by the radiance of the morning. The stag gazed at him, imperially aloof, as if awaiting homage. Berkeley stood stock still. It was the start of the rutting season and he was not so foolish as to ignore that. Yet it was not fear that inspired him, it was a deliquescence of muscle and bone, stronger than for a covetable woman, at beholding such a creature in its perfect element. It listened, pawed the turf, then flexed its neck and vanished between the nankeen boughs.
Berkeley started, as out of a dream. Human voices announced the gruesome business of the day. Three figures were approaching. His adversary engaged his eye with cold reserve.
So this was it. The ritual of preparation. The careful pacing of distance. The cocking of pistols and taking aim. The fixing upon the white kerchief. Or was it a flag of surrender? His temples throbbed; his heart was in his fingertips. He was captive to the moment. Behind and beyond were meaningless.
A double salvo sent a raucous confusion of birds into the ether. Berkeley discharged upwards. Hot metal travelling at the speed of light whined past his ear. The power of it stung his skin. The smell of sulphur and singed hair filled his nostrils. Scalding blood surged back into his veins. He was alive! The sun in all its Indian summer glory was coming up! He was being given a second chance!
But Prince Ernest, Duke of Cumberland, single-sighted as he was, had not intended it so.
and The Violet, Third Book in the Berkeley Series 1812 - 1844 (WIP)
© Tate Britain
the most fragile flower can confound the rampant creeper! Despite her
history, the widow is not proof against the advances of powerful
suitors and becomes a respected hostess of politicians and foreign
diplomats. Mary watches her children make their (often chequered) way
in the world in the shadow of their parents’ infamy. For more than
thirty years she employs a watchman to pace the terrace below her
window at Cranford, assured that a carriage is waiting day and night
outside her secret tunnel lest the Regent (and then King George IV)
should die and the law besiege her! During these years, however, she
learns the art of inner contentment and on the day of her death sits
by the hearth reflecting upon her extraordinary life. Gazing into the
fire, the flame of life sinks lower and lower. She recalls that the
date is the anniversary of the late James Perry’s birth and feels
his presence powerfully. ‘Why, lassie,’ she hears him say, ‘you
found your way home….’