Carleton, Mary (DNB00)

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CARLETON, MARY (1642?–1673), 'the German princess,' was born, by her own account, at Cologne, her father being Henry van Wolway, lord of Holmstein. It was also said that she was the only daughter of the Duke of Oundenia, born 10 April 1639 (Life of the Famous Madam Charlton, pp. 2-3), but she confessed just before her execution that she was Mary Moders of Canterbury, daughter of a chorister of the cathedral, and born on 22 Jan. 1642. Various accounts are given of her early life, but all agree that she came from Holland about 1661 to London, where her imposture commenced. She was witty and handsome, 'Dutch-built … a stout Fregat.' One King, a vintner, and his wife were her first dupes, and to them she represented her fortune as approaching 80,000l. a year. In April 1663 she married John Carleton, Mrs. King's brother. A previous marriage to one John Stedman, still living, was discovered, and Mary was committed on a charge of bigamy to the Gatehouse, where she was visited by Pepys (Diary, 29 May 1663) and a great concourse of curious people. She was tried at the Old Bailey on 4 June 1663, and defended herself with such courage that she was 'acquitted by publique proclamation' (The Great Tryall, &c. title, and pp. 1-5). Carleton now attacked her in his 'Ultimum Vale … being a true Description of the Passages of that Grand Impostor, late a pretended Germane Lady.' 'My Lady Batten envieghed mightily against the German Princesse,' says Pepys (Diary, 7 June 1663), though he himself was 'as high in the defence of her wit and spirit, and glad that she is cleared at the sessions.' She answered the 'Ultimum Vale' in 'An Historicall Narrative of the German Princess … written for the satisfaction of the World at the request of divers Persons of Honour.' Other publications on the subject were 'The Great Tryall and Arraignment of the late distressed Lady, otherwise called the late Germain Princess' (1663), &c., 'The Arraignment, Tryal, and Examination of Mary Moders, alias, &c., &c.,' and 'The Tryall of Mary Moders for having two husbands.' After this Mary Carleton turned actress, and a play was composed expressly for her, with her own title 'The German Princess;' it was performed at the Duke's House, Dorset Gardens, where Pepys saw her the next year, 15 April 1664, and declared that 'never was anything so well done in earnest worse performed in jest' (ib. for that date). She became a common thief next, and was transported to Jamaica in February 1671; but she returned to London and her evil courses; in December 1672 she was sentenced to death for various thefts, and hanged at Tyburn on 22 Jan. 1672-3 (Granges, Biog. Hist. iv. 224-5). Her age was said to be thirty-eight.

Two broadsheets were published in 1673, 'An Elegie on the Famous and Renowned Lady for Eloquence and Wit, Madam Mary Carlton, otherwise styled The German Princess,' &c.; and 'Some Luck, Some Wit, being a Sonnet upon the merry Life and untimely Death of Mistriss Mary Carlton, commonly called The German Princess. To a new Tune, called The German Princess adieu.' There also appeared in 1673 'Memories of the Life of the Famous Madam Charlton … with her Nativity astrologically handled, to which is prefixed her portrait;' and J. G.'s 'Memoires of Mary Carleton … Being a Narrative of her Life and Death, interwoven with many strange and pleasant Passages, from the time of her Birth to her Execution … with her Behaviour in Prison, her last Speech, Burial, and Epitaph.' A reprint of the 'Historical Narrative,' called the second edition, appeared about 1720. Its title is 'The Life and Character of Mrs. Mary Moders, alias, &c. … with the Havock and Spoil she committed upon the Publick in the Reign of Charles the Second;' and it is said in Harley's 'Notes on Biographies' to have been republished because Alderman Barber was reported to be her son (Notes and Queries, 5th series, i. 291).

[Pepys's Diary, ed. Chandos, pp. 157, 159, 205; Granger's Biog. Hist. 2nd ed. iv. 224-5; Life and Character, &c., pp. 2, 70-6; J. G.'s Memoires, To the Reader, and pp. 1-118; The Fnmous Madam Charlton, pp. 2-9; The Great Tryall, pp. 4-7; Mary Carleton's Historicall Narrative, pp. 1-20; John Carleton's Ultimum Vale, Hearne's Collections, ii. 410-11; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. i. 228, 291.]

J. H.