Monday, April 30, 2018

The Honourable Mrs. Graham

by Lauren Gilbert

The Hon. Mrs, Graham
(portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy)
by Thomas Gainsborough 
“The Honourable Mrs. Graham” is the name by which a portrait of Mary Cathcart Graham by Thomas Gainsborough is known. It is a beautiful portrait of a lovely woman painted in 1775, which was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1777. Gainsborough painted her more than once. She was also painted by the Scottish painter David Allan, who had been patronized by her father. Her face has appeared on biscuit tins and even in an advertisement for a Maidenform bra in the 1950’s. In her short lifetime, Mrs. Graham was known for her intelligence, her beauty and her kind nature. There was also a touching romance and tragedy in her story.

by Thomas Gainsborough
Possibly the original commissioned portrait

Charles Schaw Cathcart, 9th Baron, was born March 21, 1721. A soldier, he was against the return of the Stuart monarchs and, among other assignments, was an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. As a result of a wound to his face, he had a scar which he covered with a black silk patch, resulting in the nickname “Patch” Cathcart. He married Jane Hamilton, the granddaughter of William, 9th Duke of Hamilton, on July 13, 1753. (Born in 1722, Jane was just a year younger than her husband). They had several children. Mary was born March 1, 1757, the second daughter. Mary’s older sister (and the oldest child of the family) Jane was born May 20, 1754. Mary’s oldest brother was William (who would become the 10th Baron Cathcart and first earl) born September 17, 1755. Mary’s next sister Louisa was born June 1, 1758. Mary also had brothers Charles Allen born December 28, 1759, Archibald-Hamilton born July 25, 1764. (Another brother died in infancy, and there was a still birth.) In 1763, Baron Cathcart received the Order of the Thistle.

In February of 1768, the 9th Baron Cathcart was appointed ambassador to Russia, at the court of Catherine the Great, and moved his family there. The youngest daughter Catherine Charlotte was born in Russia on July 8, 1770, and Catherine the Great was a sponsor at her baptism. Mary’s mother Jane died of consumption (tuberculosis) in November of 1771. Shortly after that Baron Cathcart’s appointment ended, and he returned to Scotland with his children. Mary was known to be well educated with an intellectual mind, and polished by her years in Russia with exposure to its court. She spoke French fluently, and engaged in a large correspondence with friends in English and French. She was also artistic. Because of the death of their mother, Mary became particularly close to her youngest sister Charlotte.

Thomas Graham of Balgowan (also spelled Graeme) was born October 19, 1748 to neighbouring landowners. His father Thomas Graham Esq. 6th Laird of Balgowan died December 6, 1766, and Thomas as the only surviving son inherited a healthy income and properties in Perthshire (two older brothers had died). Privately tutored, he went to Christ Church, Oxford in November of 1766 as a gentleman commoner. He left Oxford in the summer of 1768 and went on a Grand Tour. He was in Rome by Christmas of 1769, and then he went to Naples in 1769 where he received hospitality from Sir William Hamilton (this was well before Hamilton’s second marriage to Emma Hart; Sir William’s first wife Catherine was still living). He was back in Scotland at Balgowan by 1771, and decided to enter politics. He was narrowly defeated by Col. The Honourable James Murray, the brother of John, the 3rd Duke of Atholl, in a by-election in 1772 for the Perthshire seat, but ended up dropping out before the general election in 1774.

On December 26, 1774, Mary Cathcart married Thomas Graham. It was a very suitable match. As neighbours in Perthshire, their families would have been known to each other. Thomas was known to be courting her during the year of 1774, and there is every indication that theirs was a love match. They were known to be engaged in October of 1774. Shortly before their marriage, the first of several adventures occurred when highwaymen stopped Thomas while driving with Mary and Jane. Foiling the robbery attempt, Thomas held one of them, had him arrested and sent to Newgate (the ultimate fate of the robber is not known). Mary and Thomas were married on December 26, 1774 in a double wedding with Jane and her fiancé, John Atholl (whose father had just died, making John the 4th Duke). All of the families involved were delighted with both matches.

In 1775, younger sister Louisa became engaged to David Murray, Lord Stormont, whom she married May 5, 1776. Mary’s father died August 14, 1776, also of consumption. At this point, her younger brother Archibald and sister Charlotte went to live with Mary and Thomas. Louisa and her much older husband (he was over 30 years older than Louisa) travelled to Paris 6 weeks after their wedding, where Mary and Thomas arrived to visit them in January 1777. Mary and Thomas stayed in Paris until the fall. In October of 1777, Mary and Thomas went to Brighton, where Mary met and became close friends with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. This friendship lasted through the rest of Mary’s life, primarily through a voluminous correspondence. 

After their marriage, Thomas and Mary lived at Brooksby in Leicestershire, as gentleman farmers, enjoying a rural life. Thomas especially enjoyed hunting, but both Thomas and Mary were interested in agricultural activities. They paid frequent visits to Scotland. In the fall of 1780, Mary was experiencing significant health problems, and it was decided that she could not spend winters in Scotland. They went to Portugal in October of 1780 and spent the winter there, and her travels continued in 1781. On a voyage, Mary and Thomas were on a ship stopped by American privateer, and taken to Spain, where they spent 10 days and were reportedly treated well by the Americans. From there they went to Portugal and on into France, from whence they returned to England in July of 1782. By 1785, they were spending summers in Balgowan, moving south to Brooksby or on to the Continent, depending on Mary’s health. In March of 1785, they visited Jane and her husband at Dunkeld, spent the autumn with Mary’s brother William (10th Baron Cathcart) at his estate, and returned to Dunkeld for Christmas, which attested to the improvement in Mary’s health.

Because they weren’t particularly fond of Balgowan, in 1787, Thomas and Mary bought the estate of Lynedoch, located near Perth. Improving this property kept them busy for some time. Charlotte remained with them. They went from Balgowan, Brooksby, Lynedoch and Dunkeld, with occasional visits to London, while Mary seemed to enjoy good health. Mary’s younger brother Charles, to whom she was very close, had a successful career in the Army and was chosen as envoy to China. En route to his post, Charles died of consumption on June 10, 1788 on the ship; he was buried on Java and the mission was abandoned. In December of 1789, Mary was to go to Louisa, to be with Louisa during Louisa’s confinement. (It is unclear which of Louisa’s two children by her second husband this may have been or if Mary actually was able to attend Louisa’s confinement.) Sadly in 1790, Mary’s older sister Jane, Duchess of Atholl, died of consumption, making four members of Mary’s immediate family lost to this disease.

In 1791, especially in light of the consumption that killed so many of Mary’s relatives, Mary’s health became an ever-increasing concern. In April of 1791, Thomas and Mary went to Hot Wells in Bristol, so Mary could take the waters. In June, Mary went to visit her brother William while Thomas went to Brooksby and then Balgowan. Later in the year, although there approved to be improvement in Mary’s health, Thomas and Mary went to Paris and on to Nice where the humid air appeared to make it easier and she was able to spend time with her friend, the Duchess of Devonshire. Unfortunately, her health continued to decline. In June of 1792, based on doctor’s recommendations, Thomas and Mary moved to Le Piol outside of Nice. A sea cruise was recommended and, on June 26, 1792, Mary died onboard ship just off Hyeres. Sadly, Thomas was on the mainland. She was just 35 years old.

By this time, France was in the throes of revolution. Thomas had the difficult job of getting her body back to Great Britain for burial. Reports indicate that, at Toulouse, soldiers insisted on the coffin being opened. Finally back in England, Thomas had Mary’s body placed in the Cathcart vault in the Audley Street Chapel (later known as the Grosvenor Chapel). A year later, it was moved to Methven, Scotland in Perth, where it was placed in a specially-built mausoleum in Methven Churchyard. No children had been born to the marriage. (There is an indication she may have had a miscarriage, but I found no details.)

After her death, Thomas could not look at her portraits which remained in storage until after his death. He never married and, after his mourning period, went on to pursue a distinguished military career, serving in the Peninsular Wars and at Waterloo. He earned a peerage in 1814 as Baron Lynedoch of Balgowan. He wore Mary’s wedding ring until his own death in 1843. He outlived her by over 50 years.


Belsey, GAINSBOROUGH’S BEAUTIFUL MRS GRAHAM.  2003: National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. Delavoye, Alexander Marin. THE LIFE OF THOMAS GRAHAM, LORD LYNEDOCH. 1880: Richardson & Co, Marchant Singer Co, London.  HERE ; The Court Magazine and belle assemble (afterw.) and monthly critic and the Lady’s magazine and museum. Vol. 24.  HERE

History of Parliament online. “Graham, Thomas I. (1748-1843) of Balgowan and Lynedoch, Perth.” Ref. Volumes 1790-1820. By David R. Fisher.  HERE “A Portrait of a Lady” (no author shown) published April 8, 2003.  HERE A BOOK OF THE GRAEMES. “Sketch XXXV. The Graemes of Balgowan, Descended of Garvock From Lord William Graeme of Kincardine Ancestor of the Earls of Montrose.” Last updated 2/20/2015.  HERE

Images: Wikimedia Commons HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband. Her first published book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, was released in 2011, and her second, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is in process. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she has long been fascinated with English history, especially the Georgian era. Find out more at her website HERE


  1. Thank you for such an interesting post. I enjoy looking at paintings like these to admire those gorgeous gowns!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. The gowns are lovely, aren't they? Thank you for commenting.

  2. I read this from beginning to end, fascinating. The great thing about history is one gets the rest of the story simply from the passage of years. We indeed learn what happened next because it happened long ago. Another marvelous thing is how like we are to those who lived long before. Dress changes,but mostly humans don't and this is why we care as we do. Thank you for the post.

  3. Thank you for all of the interesting details of this lovely lady. Long have I admired this beautiful portrait, in fact its one of my favorites. Now I know "The rest of the story."


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