Entertained in the House of Nell Gwynn
On 12th May 1682, Mary Woolstonecraft, spinster, Richard Webster and Anne, his wife, defendants, submitted their "Joynt and Several Answer" to the Bill of Complaint made by Abraham Marin. Contesting the bill and wishing to challenge the "manifold incertainties" and "insufficiencies", Mary began by explaining:
"That she was entertained in the house of Mistress Ellinor Gwynn as a governess to the now right Honourable the Earl of Burford and after this Defendant had lived in the said house as aforesaid for the space of three years or thereabouts the Complainant was likewise entertained in the said Mistress Gwynn’s house as a schoolmaster to teach the said Earl French".
"Entertained", what a lovely choice of word! I think it might have been quite entertaining too.
We have already established that the Earl of Burford was three or four years old when Marin came to live in the house. From Mary’s account, she must have been employed from about the time Nell Gwynn moved to 79 Pall Mall, in 1671. The Earl of Burford would have been about one year old. Mary’s description of her position in the household is interesting, particularly as it differs considerably from Marin’s. Not in the capacity of a maid, did she claim she was engaged, but as governess to the young Charles.
Mary maintained that previously Marin had lodged in "a garret in the house of one Mr Peacock in New King Street". Marin apparently had an additional interest:
"And this Defendant further saith that after this Defendant and the Complainant were some time acquainted the Complainant pretended great love and kindness for this Defendant and would have engaged her to marry him And the better to effect his design did take a house in New King Street near St James Square at the rent of two and thirty pounds ye anno But this Defendant doth deny that she ever solicited or importuned the said Complainant for the reasons in the bill mentioned or otherwise to take the said house or any other or ever promised or agreed to reimburse the Complainant all or any the charges he should be at upon that Account".
Mary’s explanation of the situation here was, also, rather different from Marin’s. He had been showing great affection towards her and she had assumed his intentions were honourable. She anticipated their marriage and the house in New King Street was to be their future home. Poignantly, Mary used the word, "pretended", she had long since realised he had been deceiving her.
"And the Defendant Mary Woolstoncraft denyeth that she ever solicited or importuned the Complainant to take or engage for an house for this Defendant’s Brother Charles Woolstoncraft or promised or agreed to save the Complainant harmless therein or to any the like effect But this Defendant hath heard that the Complainant did take a house in Sheere Lane London and that the said Charles Woolstoncraft lived therein for some time for which she believes he paid the rent thereof during the time he lived in the said house but upon what condition or upon what Terms the said Charles Woolstoncraft held the said house or what the Complainant paid to be discharged of the said house this Defendant knoweth not".
Marin had been trying to involve Mary in an arrangement between himself and her late brother. Mary denied any knowledge of the terms of the agreement, but believed that her brother had paid all the rent that was due.
Mary also denied knowing anything about the sums of £10 and £20 that Marin reported he had lent to her sister, Anne, and Anne’s husband, William Abell. She did, none the less, retort that she had lent Marin "several sums of money amounting to the sum of five and thirty pounds or thereabouts". When she could not recover the loans, she had had to accept his bonds in the sums of £25 and £10 instead.
Mary must have been totally beguiled by Marin, she seemed to have trusted him implicitly because she even:
"Did sell and Deliver unto the Complainant several sorts of things viz gold and silver, Lace point Cravats and Cuffes Sleeves, several parcels of silkes and satins, silk stockings, handkerchiefs pictures, several sorts of Ribbon, a White night gown, a purple Camblett Cloak andseveral other things a particular of the values whereof amounting to fifty odd pounds (but the more certain sum this Defendant cannot remember) this Defendant sent to the Complainant the which he acknowledged to be just and true and promised to pay this precise same Defendant".
This was quite an impressive list of articles! Marin had expensive tastes and Mary seems to have been stocking his wardrobe.
Although Marin agreed the value of the items and promised to pay, when no funds were forthcoming on either the bonds or the fifty odd pounds owed to her, Mary threatened to have him arrested and to take him before "King and Counsel". Marin "insisted upon privilege pretending he was resident to the Duke of Courland", but nevertheless, he was apprehended and granted bail.
"But the Complainant well knowing that the Debt for which the Defendant had then arrested him was Just he thereupon desired this Defendant to come to an agreement with him which This Defendant was very willing to do Thereupon on or about the twelfth of August last past the Complainant and this Defendant had a meeting and the accounts were stated between them in the presence of Robert Francis Esq a Barrister at Law (who as this Defendant conceives was the Complainant’s counsel) John Coques, William Rice and Richard Waite upon stating of which Account the Complainant was found indebted to this Defendant in sixty pounds and upwards besides five pounds and ten shillings which this Defendant before at several times received of the Complainant which was allowed to the Plaintiff on the said amount".
The only money Marin could be persuaded to part with immediately was eleven pounds seventeen shillings and sixpence which Mary had to accept on account together with:
"Two bonds of the Complainant the one of three and twenty pounds penalty conditioned for the payment of Eleven pounds eighteen shillings & sixpence on the thirteenth day of September now last past the other of forty pounds penalty conditioned for the payment of twenty pounds on the thirteenth day of September last past".
Mary agreed to return to Marin his bed that she had in her possession and he promised to return to her:
"Two silver spoons, three gold rings a silver grater and two silver-work purses".
Although she kept her part of the agreement, he did not return the items nor did he pay the monies due. She had him arrested and the case was pending in his Majesty’s Court of King’s Bench, Westminster. He was now on bail. With the permission of "this Honourable Court", Mary explained she would like to proceed with the action to try to obtain the money covered by the bonds, together with interest.
Anne now made her Answer to the Bill of Complaint. She described how Marin had rented the house in New King Street that had stood empty for some time. At first he let part of the house to one, Mr John Lucas Lyon, and the other part to a widow, Mrs Robinson. It was not until Mrs Robinson left that he "importuned and desired" her and her late husband, William Abell, to take some part of the house. She clarified her husband’s situation:
"William Abell who sustained great loss by the fire which happened in London in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred sixty and six and was afterwards forced to take upon himself Employment of a wine porter".
The Great Fire of London had taken place some sixteen years before this court case. With the devastation in the City, people were forced to move to the surrounding areas, while the massive programme of rebuilding got under way. Obviously Anne and William Abell were amongst those who had lost their homes, their livelihoods and had had to find accommodation and employment as best they could.
Anne and William Abell agreed with Marin an annual rent of £6 and lived in a part of the house in New King Street for about four years. During that time, the remainder of the house fell vacant and they lent certain articles of furniture to Marin to enable him to furnish it. He agreed to buy the items for £15, a figure that remained unpaid.
When Mrs Taylor ceased trading in the chandler’s shop, Marin bought the stock for £6, intending to run the shop himself. However, his circumstances changed and he was not able to continue with his plans. He agreed that Anne and William Abell should take over the shop with that part of the premises it occupied and they paid him £6 in settlement. They moved out of their former rooms and ran the shop for about two years until Lady Day (25th March) 1680, keeping their payments of the new annual rent of £9 up to date at all times. They continued in possession of the shop until the end of August, offering to pay the rent due, but Marin had refused to accept the money, saying it would reimburse them what he owed.
Anne Webster denied that she had "refused to depart the said house" but:
"That the Complainant was indebted to her and as Administratrix to her late husband in the sum of seventy one pounds sixteen shillings and nine pence for money received by him, goods sold to him, money lent to him and paid for him and for the use of the household goods and furniture aforesaid a particular whereof is hereunto annexed and no part thereof is satisfied".
Taking into account some small sums she or her late husband had borrowed from Marin, totalling eight pounds ten shillings, and the quarter’s rent, she had:
"Brought their Account in His Majesty’s Court of Kings Bench against the Complainant for the same".
The next part of the case I found particularly interesting:
"And these Defendants Mary Woolstoncraft and Ann Webster Jointly say that the Complainant having taken some Indian Silk out of a Trunk of Arnold Woolstoncraft these Defendants’ Brother thereupon a Bill of Indictment was preferred against the Complainant at the sessions house called Hicks Hall and these Defendants Mary and Ann were produced as witnesses to swear to the truth of the said bill which they did".
Arnold Woolstoncraft was mentioned again! Edward’s apprenticeship indenture showed his father was a weaver and, as such, it would be quite likely that he would have had Indian silk in his possession. Perhaps this Arnold Woolstoncraft really was related to Edward. Perhaps this was his father.
There are a number of coincidences here that are worth noting. As well as another Charles, there is another Mary Woolstonecraft. Each Mary earned her living as a governess. If indeed this Arnold were the missing link, Mary the governess to the Earl of Burford would have been the great, great-aunt of Mary, the revolutionary pioneer in women’s rights.
I also find it quite amazing to consider an ancestral relation may have been employed in the house of Nell Gwynn.
In their Answer, Mary and Anne concluded by denying all accusations of "combination and confederacy" and offered to answer any further questions that the court might care to ask of them.
"And all these Defendants do deny all and all manner of combination and confederacy charged in the said Bill and otherwise howsoever without that that any other matter or thing in the said Bill of Complaint mentioned and set forth and material and effectual for these Defendants to make answer unto and herein and hereby not well and sufficiently answered and avoided traversed or denied is true, all which these Defendants are ready to maintain and prove as this Honourable Court shall award and therefore pray to be hence dismissed with their reasonable Costs and charges in this behalf or most wrongfully sustained."
Attached to the papers held at the Public Record Office is the list that Anne Webster submitted in evidence of the money she was owed. The account she produced is fascinating, giving an idea of the commodities that were available in the seventeenth century as well as their cost. My transcription of the entire list follows.
Figure 35: Transcript of list submitted with Answer showing money due from Abraham Marin to Richard and Anne Webster in Marin v Woolstonecraft, C 5/521/31
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