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Mary Wortley Montagu

(b. May 15, 1689, London, England – d. Aug. 21, 1762, London, England )

Gender: F

Lady Mary Pierrepont (1689-1762) was the daughter of Evelyn Pierrepont, 1st Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull, and his first wife Lady Mary Fielding, a cousin of the novelists Henry Fielding and Sarah Fielding. She described her early education as “one of the worst in the world”, but went on to become renowned as a wit, in the circle of Alexander Pope and Frederick, Lord Hervey. In 1712, having refused to marry the suitor chosen for her by her parents, she eloped with Edward Montagu; they had one son, Edward Montagu, and a daughter, Mary, who married the Earl of Bute. When Montagu was appointed British Ambassador to the court of the Ottoman Sultan, she travelled with him across war-torn Europe to Istanbul; the letters she wrote about her experience were circulated in manuscript during her life and published after her death. In 1716 her Town Eclogues, a satire on London society, were published in a pirated edition by Edmund Curll, and later published by Horace Walpole at his Strawberry Hill Press (1747). Lady Mary is now known to have introduced to England the practice of inoculation against smallpox, which she had observed during her time in Istanbul, and popularised the practice (against the opposition of the medical establishment) by persuading Queen Caroline to have her children inoculated. In 1739 Lady Mary, who was by this time separated from her husband (though he provided her with an income and they continued to correspond), left England in pursuit of Francesco Algarotti, a young Italian. She spent time in Avignon and was kept an effective prisoner for nearly ten years by an Italian bandit, finally reaching Venice in 1756. She returned to England following the death of her husband, in order to keep his estate out of the hands of her ne’er-do-well son, and died of breast cancer seven months later, in August 1762.

Also known as:

  • Mary Wortley Montagu

Mentioned in 2 letters

Please note that all dates and location information are provisional, initially taken from the library and archive catalogues. As our section editors continue to work through the material we will update our database and the changes will be reflected across the edition.