Cowper, Mary (1685–1724)

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Cowper, Mary (1685–1724)

English diarist and lady of the bedchamber to Caroline of Ansbach. Name variations: Countess Mary Cowper. Born Mary Clavering in 1685; died in 1724; daughter of John Clavering, Esquire, of Chopwell, Durham; married Lord William Cowper (lord keeper of the Great Seal and later lord chancellor to King George I), in 1706; children: several.

Described as well-educated, ambitious, and beautiful, Mary Cowper married Lord William Cowper, who became chancellor to King George I, in 1706, then spent several years caring for her family as well as translating her husband's writings into French. She also corresponded dutifully with Princess Caroline of Ansbach (future wife of George II), and in 1714, was named a lady of the bedchamber to Caroline, who had since become princess of Wales. Mary then began a diary of her observations of court life, which she hoped one day to present in more polished form. However, when her husband resigned his office in 1722, after being falsely accused of conspiring against the crown, Mary Cowper destroyed much of the diary in order to protect him. Only two portions of the work survived: entries from 1714 to 1716, and a section from 1720.

Amid a description of the coronation of George I in the earlier entries, Cowper included details of a poison pen plot to break up her marriage to Lord William. "[M]y Lord had a Letter every Day, some of whole Sheets of Paper, filled with Lies about me; to say I was a mean Wretch; that I was Coquette, and should be more so; that my playing so well was, and would be, a Temptation to bring all the Rakes in Town about me; that it had been so thus far in my Life." Further entries reveal that Cowper did not suffer fools gladly: "Mademoiselle Schutz is a very unreasonable Body, and would take no Hints that I wished to be alone, but took a Pleasure in staying, because I was uneasy at it." Nor did she approve of the behavior she sometimes encountered: "The Duchess of Roxburgh is certainly an ill Woman. She does not care what she says of Anybody to wreak her Malice or Revenge."


Blodgett, Harriet, ed. The Englishwoman's Diary. London: Fourth Estate, 1991.

Barbara Morgan, Melrose, Massachusetts