Mary Coke - Lady Mirabel

Portrait of Lady Mary Coke by Allan Ramsay

Mary Coke

Born Feb 06, 1727
Died Sep 30, 1811 at Morton House, Chiswick

Alias: 

Lady Mirabel
Mary Campbell

Biography: 

Daughter of John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll (1680-1743) and Jane (ca. 1683-1767).  Married (April 1, 1747) Edward Coke, Viscount Coke (1719-1753).

Her marriage to Viscount Coke was a miserable one, and the couple was legally separated a full three years before the death of Viscount Coke at age 34 in 1753. The legalicies of Viscount Coke and of her father allowed her to live a full and independent life from then on.

She is characterised, at one place, by the following:

She loved gardening and she enjoyed reading history. She could spend an evening happily over Selden's Titles of Honour in the library at her mother's house 2 and she read Mrs. Macaulay's history 3. She spent money on books and in 1769 noted 'I have laid out in books since I came to Town about fifty pounds' 4. It gave her pleasure to meet the learned Miss Carter of Deal and she would have cultivated her society had they lived nearer to each other. But the social habit of spending the evening, even when a few ladies dined together, at loo or other games of chance was rigid. Lady Mary Coke always noted what she won or lost at 'lu'. On one occasion she 'had surprising luck, came off winning seventy-six guineas; and tho' I won all the money that was lost, the company was civil and good humoured, which does not always happen' 5. Lady Mary once noted sadly after losing 'seven and thirty guineas', 'it might have been better imploy'd'. But she never played on Sundays and when she asked to be excused waiting on the Princess Amelia on Good Friday she was hurt to hear the princess murmur 'the Pharasee'." 1

Mary Coke is today best known for her journal and letters which, like Boswell's, was not meant for publication, see the literature section below.

  • 1. Stenton, Doris Mary (1957) The English Woman in History. Allen & Unwin. p. 267

Life with Boswell: 

On January 14, 1763 Boswell quoted a conversation he had with a Lady Mirabel at Lady Northumberland's. Lady Mirabel was described as "a lady of quality whom I was a little acquainted with", and "[f]rom th[e] conversation and Lady Mirabel's looks, [he] entertained some notion that an intrigue would not be disagreeable to her Ladyship". According to Pottle in the notes in LJ, Lady Mirabel (which was quite explicitly a false name which Boswell used in his journal) may have been Lady Mary Coke.

Boswell visited her again on January 18 and met her at Lady Northumberlands on January 21. His memorandas from March 20 and 21, 1763 both announce his intention to go see her on those days, but his journal entries doesn't mention "Lady Mirabel" again.

On August 19, 1764, Boswell met Lady Mary Coke at Brunswick and on August 20 they were both at the Hereditary Princess's - on this occasion Boswell wrote:

"I was vexed with Lady Mary Coke, in whom I found all the absurd distance of manners by which the English ladies petrify people [...] At last I stepped up to her and said ,"How comes it, Madam, that I can speak to all these foreign ladies with ease, and can scarcely say a word to your Ladyship?" "Sir", said she, "we have not the same ease with them." Some more syllables feebly muttered in the air, and then our lips were again glued - not hers to mine and mine to hers, but as if each had been afraid that the other would bite and had got them bound over to the peace. O sad manners! Avaunt!"

Boswell's somewhat excessive reaction to Lady Mary's behaviour and his concluding comments are rather suggestive, and may be some of those "minor pieces of evidence" hinted at by Pottle in the above mentioned notes concerning the identity of Lady Mirabel.

Literature: 

The Letters and Journals of Lady Mary Coke have been published in a few editions of limited numbers, at least in 1889 and in 1970.