When in the 17th- and 18th centuries many of the young men of Ireland’s aristocracy had to leave their native land to take up positions in the Habsburg Imperial army, they arrived with no money but many ambitions. One of the ways they hoped to achieve their aims was to look out for a beautiful young Austrian heiress but it not always went according to plan…
Dr Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel has been a member of the Department of History, University College Cork with a special research interest in Medieval History. She has lectured and published widely on the connections between Ireland and Europe from 600 to the 19th century.
Mary Pike, a young, wealthy Quaker heiress, was kidnapped, in July 1797, by a widowed knight, Sir Henry Brown Hayes, intent on forcing her into marriage and getting his hands on her money. She was rescued. He fled the country but then decided public opinion was in his favour and challenged her to face him in court. Her barrister was John Philpot Curran. Mary Pike won her case. Sadly , the history books tell us, the ordeal was too much for Mary Pike, she suffered a nervous breakdown and died in a mental hospital.
The story of Mary Pike warrants a closer look and reveals an amazing story.
Dr. Kieran Groeger , author of “the Much Maligned Mary Pike, “the Trial and Execution of James Cotter”, the “Little Book of Youghal”, along with other books and articles on local history, delights in stripping away the layers of a story to reveal the truth.
He is a retired teacher, avid Francophile and regular cyclist. He has been part of the group Youghal Celebrates History for far too many years.
I wanted to write about somebody who had everything and lost everything and I wanted to see how this affected them. That is why I chose Marie Antoinette although she lost her crown and her head she kept her majesty.
My father owned the swastika laundry in Dublin founded in 1912. We lived on Aylesbury road and I was educated at St. Michael school in Gloucester – a tiny Anglican convent.
I became a secretary to umpteen people who sacked me, then finally I went to someone who had already sacked 3 people and said she couldn’t sack another, so I stayed there. That was a fashion service bureau in Bond Street London. From there I was head hunted by Vogue as fashion forecaster.
I remained with Vogue as interior editor for 19 years.
During my time with Vogue I took a sabbatical to write an encyclopaedia of needle work, I also wrote a book on “Living in Vogue”.
When I returned to my beloved Ireland, I decided I wanted to write about somebody who had had everything and lost everything. Marie Antoinette filled that role perfectly.
Elite social history contains numerous examples, perhaps more numerous in Great Britain than in Ireland, of marriage to an heiress bringing a rich inheritance to the fortunate or calculating husband. In Ireland, there is probably no more striking example than the one we have just across the Blackwater from where we are gathered – the acquisition by the dukes of Devonshire of Lismore Castle and the vast Burlington estates in Cos. Cork and Waterford. Even this success-story was not quite as straightforward as it looks, and in other cases the result – from the husband’s point of view – could vary from inconvenient to disastrous. It is quite wrong to assume that a known heiress was easy prey – at least until the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1872. This piece of reforming legislation actually applied to the position of middle-class women, often of comparatively modest means, and not to that of the landed class. Women of the landed class had always been protected by marriage settlements and trusteeships, and this applied especially to known heiresses. The complication was that by no means all heiresses were identifiable as such when they married. A considerable number of them enriched their husbands (or their sons or grandsons) because of events, usually deaths, which occurred after their marriages and could not have been foreseen at the time. In other cases, however, it was the husband who was disadvantaged by unforeseen events – notably the childlessness of the marriage. And he was often disadvantaged from the outset, because the terms of his marriage settlement with the heiress stipulated that their second son (if they had one) would inherit her estate and assume her name, with the effect that her husband was a mere stud who provided an heir to somebody else’s property. Worst of all, some husbands were so anxious to secure a wealthy wife that they submitted, with unguarded optimism, to terms which jeopardised the descent of their own estates in their own patrilineal line.
Julian Walton is a former secondary schoolteacher and librarian with a lifelong interest in Irish history and genealogy, particularly relating to County Waterford. During the 1990s he worked at Waterford Heritage Genealogical Centre, where among other assignments he undertook the conservation of Waterford Cathedral Library. He was then employed at the library of University College Cork in the cataloguing of older printed books.
Since he “retired” in 2006 he has been Resident Historian at Dunhill Multi-Education Centre in County Waterford, where he lectures on aspects of local history. He is the author of The Royal Charters of Waterford and of many articles in historical journals, especially The Irish Genealogist and Decies, and is a former editor of both journals. His most recent publications are On This Day volumes one and two, which comprise historical snippets based on a series which he presented on Waterford Local Radio between 1994 and 2012.
He is currently researching the history of Curraghmore with the assistance of Willie Fraher and Marianna Lorenc. He is also an active member of the Bookplate Society.