Mary Boyle, Countess of Cork and Orrery
Mary Boyle, Countess of Cork and Orrery, née Mary(or Maria) Monckton (b. 21 May 1746, probably Serlby Hall, Nottinghamshire; † 30 May 1840 in London), known as Lady Cork, was an Anglo-Irish noblewoman known for her social salons and blue-stocking societies.
Mary Monckton was born the daughter of landowner and Whig politician John Monckton, 1st Viscount Galway (1695-1751), and his second wife Jane Westenra († 1788), sister of Irish politician Warner Westenra, were born, probably at the family seat of Serlby Hall in Nottinghamshire. Like her father and brothers, she was a supporter of the Whig partybut in her drawing room she received members of all political persuasions. As a young woman she was often in France at the court of Marie Antoinette.
On 17 June 1786, Mary Monckton married Edmund Boyle, 7th Earl of Cork, 7th Earl of Orrery, at her mother’s house. The marriage ended with his death in 1798 and remained childless. When not in London, she lived with her brother Colonel John Monckton (1739-1830) at Fineshade Abbey, Northamptonshire.
Lady Cork died at her home in New Burlington Street, London, on 30 May 1840, aged 94. She was buried either in Monckton Crypt in Brewood, South Staffordshire, or in Fineshade. A mural in Brewood church commemorates her.
Blue Stocking Societies
Lady Cork was known for the witty literary salons she gave into old age. Her blue-stocking societies were considered important London social events and brought together numerous women writers, politicians and other notables, first at her widowed mother’s house on Charles Street near Berkeley Square in London’s Mayfair district, …and later in her own house on New Burlington Street. She herself said of it, “. i have pink [evenings] for the exclusive, blue for the literary, and grey for the religious […] so I have them all in their rounds; besides, I have a society of all sorts of people, but I have no name for that.” Her marriage may have temporarily kept her from her activities as a salonnière; not much is reported about her during the twelve years of marriage. After her husband’s death in 1798, at the latest, she again gave societies that were praised for their liveliness. For instance, Lady Morgan wrote in 1825, “Dinner at Lady Cork’s this evening; nothing compares with the splendour of her entertainment and her premises.” The writer Amelia Opie (1769-1853) also regularly reported on her evenings at “Lady C.” Like Elizabeth Montagu, Boyle rejected card playing as an occupation of her societies. Other entertainment was, however, quite desirable: for example, Lady Cork owned parrots and macaws, and Horace Walpole saw the French ballerina Marie Madeleine Louise Catherine Crespé (1759-1799), called Mademoiselle Théodore, a member of Noverre’s ballet troupe, dancing at Mary Boyle’s in 1782. Famous foreign personalities also served for amusement, for instance once General Blücher was expected but did not appear – instead Caroline Lamb dressed up as Blücher. However, because Lady Cork usually managed to gather a wide variety of famous guests in her salon, she was considered a successful “lion hunter”. Lady Morgan, who had herself been presented as a “lioness” in 1806 after the publication of her first book The Wild Irish Girl, later wrote of it: “As for myself, I must say that this rapture, indulged perhaps a little too much at my expense at first, was followed by nearly twenty years of unswerving friendship, cordiality, and hospitality.”
She was closely associated with many figures in London society, such as the writers James Boswell and Samuel Johnson. From the latter, in 1781, she received the widely known nickname of “Little Dunce” (roughly: ‘Little Fool’):
“Johnson was prevailed with to come sometimes into these circles, and did not think himself too grave even for the lively Miss Monckton (now Countess of Corke), who used to have the finest bit of blue at the house of her mother, Lady Galway. Her vivacity enchanted the Sage, and they used to talk together with all imaginable ease. A singular instance happened one evening, when she insisted that some of Sterne’s writings were very pathetick. Johnson bluntly denied it. ‘I am sure (said she) they have affected me,’ – ‘Why (said Johnson, smiling, and rolling himself about) that is, because, dearest, you’re a dunce.’ When she some time afterwards mentioned this to him, he said with equal truth and politeness; ‘Madam, if I had thought so, I certainly should not have said it.'”
“Johnson was persuaded to come along into these circles now and then, and did not take himself too seriously, even to the quaint Miss Monckton (now Countess of Corke), who held the finest bit of blue at the house of her mother, Lady Galway. Her vivacity charmed the sage, and they usually spoke to each other with all imaginable ease. A particular incident occurred one evening when she insisted that some of Sterne’s writings were inspiring. Johnson flatly denied this. ‘I am sure (she said) that they moved me,’-‘That (said Johnson, laughing and rolling himself about) is because you, my best, are a fool.’ When she mentioned this to him some time after, he said, with as much truth as politeness, ‘Madam, if I had thought so, I am sure I would not have said it.'”
The two remained friends until Johnson’s death: in April 1784 Boyle, along with the writer Hannah More, visited the terminally ill Johnson at his bedside. She also counted, for example, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Sarah Siddons, Sydney Smith (1771-1845) and Mary Margaret Busk (1779-1863) among her close friends.
The writer Frances Burney described how Boyle came to visit her on 10 November 1782 with a desire to meet her and her friend Hester Thrale. Burney subsequently passes on a detailed description of Boyle and her salon on Sunday, 8 December 1782, saying that Boyle collected all the outstanding and interesting people for her London Conversations, which, like Elizabeth Vesey, mixed nobility and literature but left everyone else out. Burney’s opinion of Mary Boyle is ambivalent: she describes her as “very small, very fat, but pretty, grand & fantastically dressed, not indecently made up, though obviously & perceptibly eager for attention & admiration”, with an uncomplicated “levity in her manner, manner, voice & language”. Her parties, she says, are the “best in town & she knows so many people I’d like to meet.” She marvels that guests are not announced and Boyle usually remained seated when her guests arrived, only nodding briefly and asking how they were doing. In addition, Burney describes how Boyle made a point of having her guests sit in groups rather than in circles. Burney is finally able to talk to Edmund Burke about her book, alongside Joshua Reynolds, to her great delight. She concludes, “She is very much better in her own house than anywhere else. […] I had, taken together, an evening I shall always remember with pleasure.”
Salon guests (selection)
Influence in literature and art
Apart from a small poem attributed to her, there is no known literary activity by Lady Cork. Rather, she appeared as a kind of frahling and critic; for example, in 1837 she wrote to Amelia Opie: “Literary men sprout like mushrooms, but the works are sad dung.”
Lady Cork is mentioned in numerous autobiographies, volumes of letters, and stories, including those by Charles Robert Leslie, Benjamin Disraeli and Georgina Chatterton. Lady Morgan’s tales My First Rout in London (1829) about her first visit to Lady Cork’s drawing room in 1806 and Memoirs of the Macaw of a Lady of Quality (1831) are directly concerned with their societies. The question of whether Catherine Gore’s book The Dowager; or, the new School for Scandal (1840) depicted Lady Cork caused a scandal when it appeared. Gore admitted that some peculiarities would resemble Lady Cork.
Well acquainted with Benjamin Disraeli, Lady Cork is said to have been the model for the character of Lady Bellair in Henrietta Temple. Charles Dickens is also said to have been inspired by her for his character Mrs. Leo Hunter in The Pickwickians.
Judy Chicago dedicated an inscription to Lady Cork on the triangular floor tiles of the Heritage Floor of her 1974 to 1979 installation The Dinner Party. The porcelain tiles inscribed with the name Mary Monckton are associated with the place setting for Mary Wollstonecraft.
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- Reynolds paintings in the collection of the Tate Gallery
- Prints after Reynolds paintings in the collection of the British Museum
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- Parishes of Brewood and Bishops Wood: Memorials Inside Church.19 November 2008, accessed 5 February 2021.
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- Sydney Lady Morgan: Passages from my autobiography. R. Bentley, London 1859, p. 29 (Online [accessed 10 February 2021] Original: “My dear, I have pink for the exclusives, blues for the literary, gray for the religious – at which Kitty Birmingham, the Irish saint, presides – for I have them all in their turns; then I have one party of all sorts, and I have no color for it.”).
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- Amelia Opie: Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie: Selected and Arranged from Her Letters, Diaries, and Other Manuscripts. Edited by Cecilia Lucy Brightwell. Fletcher and Alexander, 1854(limited preview in Google Book Search).
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- Original: “In my own respect I have only to say, that this engouement, indulged, in the first instance, perhaps, a little too much at my expense, has been followed up by nearly twenty years of unswerving friendship, kindness, and hospitality.”
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- Gertrude Townshend Mayer: Women of letters. Vol. 2. Bentley & Son, London 1894, p. 109 (Online [accessed 10 February 2021] Original: “Poets are springing up like mushrooms, but the novels are sad trash.”).
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|NAME||Boyle, Mary, Countess Of Cork And Orrery|
|ALTERNATE NAMES||Lady Cork; Monckton, Mary|
|SHORT DESCRIPTION||british salonnière|
|DATE OF BIRTH||21. May 1746|
|STERBEDATUM||30. May 1840|