Mary Ray, mistress of John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, had risen to a financially comfortable, if not quite socially respectable, position. John Montagu's wife had earlier been committed to an insane asylum, and Mary had been elevated from a sexual distraction to virtually the household head (having borne Lord Sandwich at least nine chidren). She was publically murdered by James Hackman, an ardent admirer, who then failed in a suicide attempt. The relationship of these three individuals, the realities of Georgian era society, and the changes in how historians have shaped this particular crime over the past 250 years fill the book.
Brewer carefully describes Georgian society in the mid-eighteenth century. Characterized by a great deal of male sexual liberty, society allowed a number of young women to make their way in society as mistresses, prostitutes and courtesans. Freedom of the press was virtually absolute, with respect for the truth a distant second to producing scandalous slander that would sell copy. Brewer documents a crime of passion and the subsequent trial, conviction, and quick execution of the murderer. Yet this crime continues to serve as fodder for writers of subsequent centuries.
Reviewed by ks, 9/09. Other reviews by ks.