Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mary Bellenden: Spirited Courtesian and Remarkable Beauty

"Mary Campbell" by J. Heath (1798)

Mary Campbell (née Bellenden) of Mamore was born around 1685, the third daughter of John Bellenden, second Lord Bellenden, and Mary dowager countess of Dalhouise, who was the second daughter of Henry Moore, first earl of Drogheda. She was baptized in Edinburg on 4 May 1685. At the time of her birth the Bellenden family suffered from financial difficulties, which normally made socializing in aristocratic circles a challenging feat. Nevertheless, through her cousin, John Ker, first duke of Roxburge, Mary attracted the favor of his wife Mary Ker, the duchess of Roxburghe and found a place in the circles of aristocratic society. Through the recommendation of the duchess, Mary was selected as a maid of honor for Princess Caroline in 1715.

            As a young woman, Mary was considered “one of the most attractive women of her day” (Wilkins, 165). Horace Walpole held her in high esteem and stated, “Her face and person were charming… and so agreeable that she was never afterwards mentioned by her contemporaries but as the most perfect creature they had ever seen” (Ibid.) Not only did she gain recognition from the politicians but forged close friendships with poets John Gay and Alexander Pope. Pope and Gay feature her in their work, such as Gay’s “Damon and Cupid” and “Mr. Pope’s Welcome from Greece” and Pope’s “The Court Ballad."

Section of Gay's "Mr. Pope’s Welcome from Greece"
Part of "The Court Ballad" by Pope

Mary’s beauty and wit made her a perfect fit for the Hampton Court atmosphere of unbridled gaiety and talent the Prince and the Princess were determined to create (a sharp contrast to the dull court of George I). The unconventional court atmosphere allowed Caroline’s maids of honor to attend the Chapel Royal but some considered their presence a “disturbance.” Bishop Burnet to drew up a petition to have their gallery screened off in order to dissuade ogling admirers. Occasionally, Princess Caroline would ask Mary to “favour the company with a ballad” (Wilkins, 257), a request to which Mary readily obliged. Mary’s sister (or cousin), Margaret, attended court at the same time as Mary and was considered a more “pensive type of beauty” (Ibid, 165).

Renown for her charm, wit, and high spirits, Mary quickly gained the attention of male suitors in the court, including the Prince of Wales. Lord Hervey found Mary to be a remarkably engaging woman who possessed every necessary ingredient for attracting a lover but further remarked how she understood “the scandal of bing the Prince’s mistress without pleasure” and “resolved to withdraw her own neck as well as she could” (Hervey, 41). The matter of Mary’s relationship with the king remains unclear but most sources agree with Hervey’s assumption that Mary chose to avoid the Prince’s advances. In fact, it appears Mary had her heart set on Colonel John Campbell, the later Duke of Argyle, who was a Groom of the Bedchamber to Prince George and a Scottish Whig politician. Once the Prince discovered Mary’s affections lay elsewhere, he promised protection for Mary and her lover as long as she did not marry without the Prince’s knowledge. Skeptical of the Prince’s show of good faith, Mary wed John Campbell in secret in 1720. The Prince did not dismiss Campbell once he learned of their secret marriage, however, he continuously reproached Mary for her dishonesty.

Mary eventually left her position as Maid of Honor on 22 October 1720 while her new husband stayed on as a groom of the bedchamber. Eventually the couple moved to Combe Bank, Kent outside of London but Mary sorely missed her position at Hampton Court. In a letter to a fellow Maid of Honor, Mrs. Howard, in 1721 she lamented, “I wish we were all in the Swiss Cantons again” (Wilkins, 261). The “Swiss Cantons” refers to the nickname for the Palace rooms of Mrs. Howard. Nevertheless, Mary did not entirely disconnect from the court after her marriage. Caroline helped assist couple when they faced monetary difficulties after the death of Campbell’s father in 1729 and appointed Mary to the position of keeper of the palace of Somerset House. Throughout her marriage, Mary proved a supporting and doting wife even though she kept out of her husband’s politics and career in Parliament. The couple had one daughter, Caroline, who married Charles Buse, third earl of Ailesbury, and later Henry Seymour Conway, and five sons, including John Campbell, later the fifth duke of Argyle and Lord Frederick Campbell. Mary passed away in childbirth on 18 December 1736 and was buried five days later at St. Anne’s Soho, London.


John, Lord Hervey. Some materials towards memoirs of the reign of king George II. New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1970; 

Larsen, Ruth M.. “Campbell , Mary, of Mamore (bap. 1685, d. 1736).” Ruth M. Larsen In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP, May 2005. (accessed March 19, 2015).

Quennell, Peter. Caroline of England: An Augustan Portrait. New York: Viking Press, 1940. 

Pope, Alexander. The Complete Poetical Works, ed. by Henry W. Boynton. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1903;, 2011.[59].html#. Accessed March 19, 2015. 

Pope, Alexander. The Works of Alexander Pope. London: C. a J. Rivington, 1824.

Wilkins, W. H., Caroline, the illustrious queen-consort of George II, and sometimes queen-regent; a study of her life and time. London: Longmans, Green, and co., 1901.

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