Friday, December 27, 2019

Mary Edwards, An Independent Woman

By Lauren Gilbert

Portrait of Mary Edwards by William Hogarth
Mary Edwards (or Edwardes) has already been mentioned on the EHFA blog in connection with the arts and Hogarth. She was a fascinating and strong-minded woman, not afraid to make decisions or to take her life into her own hands.

Mary was born c 1704 or 1705, daughter of Francis Edwards of Welham Grove, Leicestershire, and his wife Anna Margaretta Vernatti, who was a wealthy Dutch woman. She may have been baptised May 25 1705 at Saint Anne Soho, Westminster, London. A great heiress, Mary succeeded to the estate of her father upon his death 1728-1729. Her estates included properties in the counties of Essex, Hertford, Kent, Leicester, Middlesex and Northampton, in the city of London, and in Ireland. She had an annual income between 50,000-60,000 pounds. All were at her disposal. Data indicates she preferred being in London rather than her estate at Welham.

Mary was of age and in control of her own fortune. Mary met Lord Anne Douglas Hamilton (who was the 3rd son of the James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton, and was born Oct 12, 1709) about 1730. He was the godson of Queen Anne, and named for her. He was younger than Mary by four to five years. Accounts indicate she fell in love with him. They may have been married sometime around 1730-1731, possibly in Fleet, but the location is unclear. Their marriage appears to have been a hasty marriage, as no one’s approval was required. A certificate may exist but has not been found.

Circumstantial evidence supports that there was a marriage in 1731 or earlier: on July 8, 1731, Mary granted property to Lord Anne in Leicester and on Aug 15 1733, her arms and crest were granted to Lord Anne; he added Edwards to his name as shown on bank stock September 11, 1733 in the name of Lord Anne Edwards Hamilton; she called herself Lady Hamilton Edwards.

Mary and Lord Ann had a son, born circa 1732-1733. There are indications that the child’s birth date may have been March 4, 1733 (old calendar). (A bill, Edwards v Mitford, filed in 1743 shows Gerard Ann Edwards as the surviving son of Mary Edwards and his age as 10, which supports a 1733 birth date.) Lord Ann’s possible marriage to Mary and their son appear in Anne Hamilton’s listing in The Peerage, as well as in the Scots Peerage, which implies that the question of the marriage’s validity has been a topic of discussion.

A patron of the arts, Mary’s name is linked to that of William Hogarth, and she was one of his most loyal patrons, encouraging his satirical works. She was also a subject for him. Coincidentally, some of his works appear to support the marriage:

A portrait of Anne Edwards Hamilton was painted in the uniform of the Second Regiment of the Guards c 1731 has been attributed to William Hogarth; Hogarth painted a portrait of her son Gerard Anne Edwards Hamilton c 1732 and the entire family (The Edwards Hamilton Family) c 1733.

The marriage disintegrated between 1733 and 1734. Available data indicates that Lord Anne was an avaricious spendthrift, and Mary was concerned about preserving her fortune and her child’s inheritance. Long before the Married Women’s Property Acts, Mary had no real recourse in law as Lord Anne’s wife to prevent him from draining her funds. So she took an unusual and drastic step and repudiated the marriage.

The process appears to have begun when she had their son christened as Gerard Anne Edwards on March 28, 1733 St. Mary Abbots Church, and showed herself in the record as a single lady. There was no marriage contract, and she allegedly bribed the officials at the Fleet to delete all references to their marriage from the Fleet registers. There is an indication that a final separation was established in a deed dated in May of 1734. The Leicestershire Archives show several documents from June of 1734 filed as Hamilton v Edwards, showing Mary Edwards as “spinster” that involve the support of Gerard Anne Edwards. She subsequently referred to herself as Mary Edwards, spinster. This process had the side of effect of rendering her son illegitimate legally. Mary never remarried.

Lord Ann was married (or married again, as one prefers) in Oct 1742 to Anna Charlotte Maria Powell, an heiress, in Bath. (This was before Mary’s death in 1743.) They had two sons. If, in fact, he and Mary were legally married, this marriage would have presumably been bigamous, which would have had serious ramifications for inheritance. The matter has not arisen as no primary evidence has surfaced, and efforts to document such evidence apparently have not been successful.

Mary made her will on April 13, 1742, leaving her entire estate to her son, and she died at approximately age 38 on Aug 23, 1743. There is an indication that her death may have been precipitated by her consumption of gin. A commemorative panel appears on family tomb in the Church of St Andrew Welham.

Mary’s mother Anna Margaretta survived her. Data shows her death occurring in 1765. Leicestershire Archives holds a copy of Anna’s will, proved April 15, 1765, leaving her estate to Gerard Ann Edwards (son of Mary Edwards, decd.).

Gerard Ann Edwards was married to Jane Noel, daughter of Baptist Noel, 4th Earl of Gainsborough on October 8, 1754. He died October 29, 1773. His only son, Gerard Noel Edwards, succeeded to the estate of his uncle Henry, 6th Earl of Gainsborough, and assumed by royal license the name and arms of Noel May 5, 1798.

Sources include:
Curzon, Catherine. (2015, June 13). “A Beloved Patron: Hogarth and Miss Mary Edwards,” on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Tscherny, N. “An Un-Married Woman, Mary Edwards, William Hogarth and A Case of Eighteenth Century British Patronage”, in WOMEN AND ART IN EARLY EARLY MODERN EUROPE: Patrons, Collectors and Connoisseurs edited by Cynthia Lawrence. University Park, PA : Pennsylvania State University Press, c1997.

Paul, Sir James Balfour, ed. THE SCOTS PEERAGE Founded on Wood’s Edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s PEERAGE OF SCOTLAND. Vol. 4. Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1907. [on Mary Edwards.]

Googlebooks. Maclehouse, James, ed. THE SCOTTISH HISTORICAL REVIEW. Vol. 5. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1908. [on Lord Anne Hamilton.]

The Peerage. “Lord Anne Hamilton,” last edited 15 June 2014; “Gerard Anne Edwards,” last edited 6 December 2009; “Mary Edwardes,” last edited 29 June 2008.

British History Online. “Welham” by J. M. Lee and R. M. McKinley in A HISTORY OF THE COUNTY OF LEICESTERSHIRE: Volume 5, Gartree Hundred. PP. 330-336. London: Victoria County History, 1964.

Kensington Parish News, Spring 2014. St. Mary Abbots Church. “Inspiring Women” by Jane McAllen (The article refers to Mary Edwards, and shows the date of baptism of Gerard Anne Edwards on 28th March 1733.)

Illustration: Portrait of Mary Edwards by William Hogarth [Public domain].


Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life.  Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History.  A long time member of JASNA, she has presented several programs. She lives in Florida with her husband.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available.  A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, her second novel is in production and will be available soon.  A long-time contributor to this blog, her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also researching material for a non-fiction work.  For more information, visit her on Facebook  and on Amazon.


  1. Mmm... interesting. The note re gin speaks volumes about the emotional turmoil all this fired.

    Thanks for sharing your research, Lauren.


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