When three heiresses arrived in London in 1816, they took London society by storm. Their large fortunes would enable them to overcome two little drawbacks that might bar them from achieving advantageous marriages: they were American and Catholic.
Marianne, Elizabeth, and Louisa Caton were three of four granddaughters of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence and the richest man in Maryland. Marianne was married to Robert Patterson, son of the second richest man in Maryland, and acting duenna to her two sisters on their way to London. Her sister-in-law Elizabeth Patterson had been married to Jerome Bonaparte, a brother of Napoleon’s.
Unlike many later American arrivals, the girls took London society by storm. Combining good looks with brains and piles of money, they became the toast of the season. Their filled bank accounts made them that much more attractive and enabled people to overlook their Catholic upbringing and provincial parentage.
The Duke of Wellington, already married like Marianne, fell violently in love with her and remained devoted to her all his life. After becoming a widow, she married the Iron Duke’s older brother Richard Wellesley in 1825. She thereby became the first American born Marchioness. While there were always rumours about her and the Duke of Wellington, they probably were nothing but rumours; if there had been substance to it, she would not have become Lady of the Bedchamber to the Dowager Queen Adelaide who was excessively strict in such matters.
Elizabeth had a mind of her own. She preferred to invest her money wisely and became a successful stockbroker. She ended up not only rich, but extremely rich. She was 44 by the time she finally married the widowed George William Stafford Jerningham 8th Baron Stafford in 1836.
Louisa in turn made an early marriage to Sir Felton William Hervey-Bathurst in 1817. Sir Felton was an Aide-de-Camp of the Duke of Wellingtons. After the early death of her husband, she married Francis Godolphin Osborne in 1828. When Francis became the 7th Duke of Leeds in 1838, she became the first American born Duchess.
Emilie, the youngest of the sisters, had remained with her grandfather in Maryland and letters were sent back and forth between the sisters. It is upon these letters that Jehanne Wake has based her book Sisters Of Fortune which was published by Chatto & Windus. With Marianne the most prolific writer, the book became more hers than that of her sisters. What we see in all their stories is that none of them had particularly happy marriages.
Jehanne Wake’s recreation of the lives of the sisters is spot on for most of the time; she runs into trouble when the letters dry up after the sisters are reunited in England in 1840. But the book gives a beautiful feel and an apt description of Regency London and the way the high society and the ton worked at the time.
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