Day 21 Stranger than fiction.

Some historical figures lived lives worthy of fiction and Mr. Matthew Boulton in my opinion is one of those individuals.

Today, as an introduction to tomorrows post on 18th century marriage, I thought you might like to know about Mr. Boulton’s romantic life.


As can be seen from this portrait of him he had a certain quality in his appearance. Sources also say he had a good sense of humour, his intelligence is undoubted and he enjoyed music certainly. He employed musicians to play on canal boats at the opening of one canal.

Though much is known of his later life details of his childhood and adolescence are very sketchy. What is known is that at the age of twenty eight he married the daughter of a wealthy local merchant.

This all sounds quite normal for the era, there is evidence he courted her in the approved manner, negotiated with her parents and wed Mary Robinson strictly in accordance to society’s expectations of the day. It was the money he gained from his marriage that enabled him to develop his business.

Some of you reading may think her money passing to him was rather unfair and he was rotten to take it, but we can’t judge the past with the eyes of the present. A husband taking control of his wife’s fortune was law and continued to be so throughout Matthew Boulton’s life. If you read Jane Austin’s stories set fifty years beyond Matthews marriage you will find the rules are the same.

There is little evidence concerning his marriage with Mary. They did have three children who all died in infancy. Mary’s health deteriorated, there is a suggestion she may have been epileptic. Sadly, in August of 1759 she died. On her death Matthew wrote a note and it’s this that makes me wonder about his marriage to Mary.

 ‘Upon seeing the corpse of my dear Wife Mary, many excellent qualities of hers came to my mind and I could not then forbear acknowledging with my pen *extempore and depositing it in her coffin.’

* This is my version of what I think he meant. He’d written it as : extempory.

Times may have changed but this doesn’t strike me as if he greatly grieved her loss. I think the next part of his life shows I might be right.

At some point in the autumn of 1759 Matthew went courting. This, in an age when it was normal to grieve a loss for a year or more and his choice of lady, shocked her family. Matthew chose to court Ann Robinson, Mary’s sister.

He wrote her letters addressed to ‘my beloved angel,’ or ‘dearest creature’ and in those words affection rings.

Despite disapproval from the family and the fact marriage to his dead wife’s sister was forbidden in ecclesiastical law if not in common law, Mathew and Ann married in June 1760 in Rotherhithe.

It isn’t known if this was an elopement style of marriage, but in later years when consulted by another man who had the same problem in that he wanted to marry his dead wife’s sister, Matthew recommended this;

“I advise you to say nothing of your intentions but to go quickly and snugly to Scotland or some obscure corner of London, suppose Wapping, and there take lodgings to make yourself a parishioner. When the month is expired and the Law fulfilled, live and be happy … I recommend silence, secrecy, and Scotland.”

All evidence shows his marriage with Ann was very happy, they had two children and shared life in their beautiful home at Soho House.


To me it seems strange Matthew seemed so stilted in his comments on Mary’s death, when he seems so affectionate in his letters to Ann. This is not a cold man, or a man without sentiment. I wonder if something happened to push him to marry Mary when really his affections were taken by Ann. Perhaps he didn’t know it until he’d actually married Mary. Perhaps in his courtship of her , Ann had always been present too, and only later did he realise his mistake.

There is no way of knowing. I have to say though I do wonder, but even if Matthew had made a mistake, in the 18th century he could do little about. 

Tomorrow I am giving away a copy of my story Your Heart My Soul to one person who comments.