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Rich, Mary (1625–1678)

Rich, Mary (1625–1678)

Irish diarist, memoirist, and countess of Warwick. Name variations: Mary Boyle. Born at Youghal near Cork, Ireland, in 1625 (some sources cite 1624); died in Essex, England, in 1678; seventh daughter and thirteenth child of Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork; married Charles Rich, 4th earl of Warwick, in 1641 (died 1673); children: one son (died at age 21).

A privileged child of the rich and influential Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork, Mary Rich was independent, headstrong, and rebellious. At age 14, much to her father's displeasure, she refused the suitor he had chosen for her because, as she later explained, "living so much at my ease, I was unwilling to change my condition." Her father had recently moved to the Savoy in London and was the center of a bustling social life which his daughter actively participated in and very much enjoyed.

It was in London that she met the "poverty stricken" young Charles Rich, second son of the earl of Warwick, whose impecunious state of £1,300–£1,400 per year placed him far from the hope of ever attaining the hand of the great earl's daughter. Nonetheless, for two years he secretly courted her, and Mary reported him to be "a most diligent gallant to me, applying himself, when there were no other beholders in the room but my sister, to me; but if any other person came in he took no more than ordinary notice of me." When at 16 years of age Mary contracted the measles, Charles was so anxious about her that their relationship was discovered. Mary was sent to the country in disgrace, but not before accepting him as her fiancé. Her father held out for two weeks before finally agreeing to the match and providing her with a dowry, whereupon she insisted on eloping since she was "always a great enemy to a public marriage."

After the nuptials in 1641, Rich had one son on whom she lavished affection. When he fell ill in 1646, she made a vow to God that she would become a "new creature" if her son recovered. He did, and Rich, who had always held out against Puritanism because she enjoyed society so much, became a convert in the middle of the English Civil War between the Puritans and the Royalists. Her home in Essex was soon a refuge and hiding place for Puritan ministers and bishops who had escaped from London, and she helped to hide armaments from the Royalist soldiers during the siege of Colchester. When her son died of smallpox at the age of 21, she relied strongly on her faith to see her through the ordeal.

Rich's husband Charles, who was a member of Parliament during the war, became the 4th earl of Warwick when his brother died in 1659, thus making Mary Rich, countess of Warwick. When Charles died in 1673, he left to her the whole of his estate for her lifetime. She used her fortune to help those in need and was renowned for both her devotion and her charity.

Rich began a religious diary in 1666, and maintained it through the rest of her life. She began to write her autobiography in 1672, but died in 1678 without completing it, although some of her devotional writings were published in 1686. Her diaries are preserved in the British Museum.

sources:

Buck, Claire, ed. Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Dick, Oliver Lawson, ed. Aubrey's Brief Lives. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1957.

Malinda Mayer , freelance writer, Falmouth, Massachusetts

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