Clarke, Mary Anne (DNB00)

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CLARKE, MARY ANNE (1776–1852), mistress of Frederick, duke of York, was, according to Elizabeth Taylor, who knew her well, the daughter of a man named Thompson, and was born in Ball and Pin Alley, White's Alley, Chancery Lane, in 1776. Her father died when she was very young, and Mrs. Thompson married a compositor named Farquhar. One romantic story says that the son of Farquhar's master fell in love with Miss Thompson while she was reading copy to him for proof correction, and he sent her to be educated at a good school at Ham in Essex. Whether this be true or not, there can be no doubt that she somehow had a fair education. In 1794, according to her own account, she married a man named Clarke. Miss Taylor says that he was the son of well-to-do people and a stonemason by trade, and that he did not marry her until after she had had two children; she herself said that he was the nephew of a certain Alderman Clarke of London, who denied the fact, and Captain Gronow absurdly says that he was an officer. How she got her first entrée into the fashionable circles where she met the Duke of York is also uncertain. Miss Taylor gives a list of various lovers, and says she played Portia at the Haymarket Theatre; and Captain Gronow tells a romantic legend about the duke's meeting her on Blackheath and taking her to the royal box at the theatre, where she was supposed to be the Duchess of York. The certain fact is that in 1803, under the name of Mrs. Clarke, she took a great house in Gloucester Place and began to entertain sumptuously, and that rumour from the first coupled her name with that of the Duke of York. She rushed into the wildest extravagances; she kept ten horses and twenty servants, including three professed men cooks; she ate off the plate which had belonged to the Duc de Berri, and her wineglasses cost two guineas each. The Duke of York had promised her 1,000l. a month, but it was very irregularly paid. She was soon much pressed by creditors, and there is no doubt that in order to get money she promised to use her influence with the Duke of York. The duke was at that time commander-in-chief, and had enormous patronage at his disposal, and as he was known to be an easy-going man, it was believed by those about her that he would do whatever she wished. For the promise of her influence she received various sums of money, especially from officers in the army, and the matter came to the public knowledge at last. The man who brought up the question in the House of Commons in 1809, Colonel Gwillym Lloyd Wardle, was certainly no better than herself. He brought eight charges against the duke for wrong use of his military patronage, and won for himself a short season of popularity. But the charges were found not proven against the duke, though there was no doubt Mrs. Clarke had received money for her influence with him, and her beauty and courage, and even the sauciness with which she stood her long examination at the bar of the house, won her many admirers. The result of the investigation was that the duke resigned his post of commander-in-chief, to which, however, he returned in two years, and that he broke off his connection with Mrs. Clarke. This scandalous case raised a cloud of pamphlets, some of which are very amusing, and most of them full of falsehoods; but the most curious of all was Mrs. Clarke's own book, ‘The Rival Princes,’ in which she freely discussed the attitude towards each other of the Dukes of York and Kent, and attacked the leaders of the party who had brought on the investigation, especially Wardle, M.P. for Salisbury, and Lord Folkestone. This work was answered by two of much weaker character, ‘The Rival Dukes, or Who is the Dupe?’ and ‘The Rival Queens, or What is the Reason?’ by P. L. McCallum, a spy upon Mrs. Clarke, who prided himself on being the real author of the investigation. At last Colonel Wardle prosecuted Mrs. Clarke and two pamphleteers, F. and D. Wright, for libelling him, and after a trial, which did not redound to his credit, the prisoners were all found ‘not guilty’ on 10 Dec. 1809. Mrs. Clarke next proposed to publish the letters she had received from her princely lover. This had to be stopped at all risks, and Sir Herbert Taylor bought up the letters, and offered Mrs. Clarke 7,000l. down and a pension of 400l. a year, and for this consideration the printed edition was destroyed, with the exception of one copy deposited at Drummond's bank. Her next publication, ‘A Letter to the Right Hon. William Fitzgerald,’ brought her into trouble, and she was condemned in 1813 to nine months' imprisonment for libel. She then settled down and devoted herself to the education of her daughters, who all married well. After 1815 she removed to Paris, where she was still sought after by the numerous admirers of her wit, to listen to her scandals of old days, and by no one more, according to Gronow, than by the Marquis of Londonderry. She died at Boulogne on 21 June 1852 at an advanced age.

[Of the mass of literature which appeared about Mrs. Clarke in 1809 the most probable stories of her are contained in Authentic Memoirs of Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke, by Miss Elizabeth Taylor; the Life of Mrs. M. A. Clarke, by Clarke; and Biographical Memoirs of Mrs. Mary Anne Clarke. See also the Trial of the Duke of York, with a portrait of Colonel Wardle, by Rowlandson; the report of the trial of Wardle v. M. A. Clarke and F. and D. Wright; and Gent. Mag. 1852, ii. 208–9.]

H. M. S.