When Mary Cole, a butcher's daughter, caught the eye of Lord Berkeley, it was as flint to tinder. A libertine and a forsworn bachelor, he was taken aback that the Catholic-reared beauty refused to be his mistress. Within weeks he'd brought her family to bankruptcy. When, still, she eluded him, he devised a theatrical plot to abduct her.
It was then that he knew he could not let her go.
Aided by his corrupt chaplain, Hupsman, the Earl duped his 'shepherdess' with fake nuptials.
Tumbling to the truth, Mary became passionately committed to gaining her eldest son's birthright. With an astonishing grasp of pastoral economy, she repaired the Berkeley fortunes while a succession of children compounded her plight.
Her estranged sisters, meanwhile, were moving among the glitterati of Pitt's England and the New America and their scandalous activities had to be curtailed at the highest level before a legal knot was eventually tied.
Upon Hupsman's death, the temptation to affirm the ‘first marriage' proved too strong for the Earl and Countess and they conspired in a criminal act to ‘find' the registry. The upshot was a sensational trial in the House of Lords in 1811 whose repercussions were to shake the foundations of the Berkeley dynasty for ever and put Mary's life at risk.
Was that marriage a sham? Or was it a timeless truth?