Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, born Lady Mary Pierrepont, was the daughter of the Duke of Kingston and was an early advocate of women's rights at a time when that concept was unthinkable. She is renowned as a writer and poet. She met Edward Wortley Montagu and they became friends; in 1712 they eloped and married; the couple had two children. In December 1715, Mary caught smallpox which disfigured her; the following year her husband was appointed as British Ambassador to the Porte (the court of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople). She accompanied him, taking their son with them. They arrived in 1717 and Mary began to immerse herself in the culture and manners of the Ottomans. She learned that the Turks innoculated against smallpox and in 1718 she had her son innoculated. The following year, the Wortley Montagus were recalled to London.
Lady Mary had a number of affairs which became public knowledge and in 1736 it was decided that she should leave England, not to return until her husband had died. They remained friends and corresponded at length, but her behaviour was unacceptable and socially she was ostracised. She remained in Venice until her husband died; she returned to London, already dying from breast cancer. Her daughter married John Stuart, third Earl of Bute, who became Prime Minister in 1762.
Last modified 22 January 2002