A daughter marries

Ruth Herman

Perhaps the most famous opening words of a novel are those of Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice concerning the centrality of money in marriage for the landed gentry.[1] This seems to be true even for the illegitimate children of this rank. In the case of the daughter of Earl Cowper of Cole Green, sometime Lord Chancellor under Queen Anne, the question of the financial status of the couple seems to have been a delaying factor. In 1720 a charming exchange of letters took place.

The background story is that Mary Culling was the acknowledged daughter of Earl Cowper by his mistress, Elizabeth Culling, an heiress of nearby Hertingfordbury. Elizabeth died while the two children were still under age and under the guardianship of their uncle. However, their father did not shirk his responsibility and took a keen interest in his natural offspring as they grew up.[2] In fact her father ensured that she had a fund of two thousand pounds and as we can see from the letter below, Mary is conscious of her obligation to him

She had met and clearly fallen in love with a young gentleman, Mr Isaacson. The young man was not rich but was respectable with a post in the customs, his father’s before him. In a touching letter to her father, Mary assures her father that before considering marriage she required his ‘approbation’ which would give her the ‘greatest happiness’.

According to your lordship’s desire [I] shall present to you an account of the affaire when I had the true happiness of having my brother’s company at Chiswick House. I [was] very often with him to wish his approving the addresses to me. My fortune then not being in any way agreeable to marry a man with a small one I have refused him. [On} his last attempt he pressed thus, that my circumstances being enlarged and his much better than before that the primary objections is removed, my answer was that without your consent I did never intend to marry, with my leave to let you know your approbation in any affair of this nature was always the greater happiness I ever proposed to myself. I beg of you to give yourself the trouble as to inform yourself of Mr I[saacson’s] character. If it should not answer both my brother and I have been very much deceived.

Your goodness in expressing that you have no right or inclination to be so strict is to overlook what I now think a very great fault and beg that you would forgive.

As to the report that I am married I hope you have a better opinion of me that I would deceive your lordship. But here I do assure you by all that’s sacred it’s false and groundless.

I thank you for your kind advice and am of your opinion that it should be inexcusable as to commit so great and indiscretion as you mention. … Mr Isaacson’s father lives in King Street in Bloomsbury and as for his circumstances I understand you are informed by a letter from Mr Grey.[3]

The Mr Grey that Mary is referring to was a colleague of Cowper’s from his days as an MP in the House of Commons. He was also a relation of Mr Isaacson who tried to engage his support in the negotiations as can be seen in Grey’s note that the young man had approached him as he left his house asking if he had been asked to write any marriage documents. Grey’s answer was evasive but he denied any involvement.

However he wished the best for the young couple, and was prepared to write to the exalted peer:

Not having the honour of being well known to your lordship I should not trouble you in this manner did I not think myself obliged in the behalf of my kinsman, Mr Isaacson.

I can assure your lordship he has been under me in the Customs for some years and is now in possession of a place that was his father’s not so inconsiderable in its value as your Lordship has been informed, not so mean in any respect but that it may be allowed a very good provision for any younger brother.

Notwithstanding Mr Isaacson is my near relation I wold not appear in his favour had I not great reason to believe him a man of strict honour and honesty.

I am pleased to tell you that the young couple married although they appear to have had some difficulties with the natural son of Mary’s brother, who died in Paris in 1719.

[1] “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”

[2] See the story about Mary’s brother http://www.hertsmemories.org.uk/content/herts-history/people/nobility/lord-chancellors-natral-children-part1

[3] DP/F/85

This page was added on 31/10/2016.

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