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Lady Mount Cashell

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Author: Keriann Hopkins
Student Project: Biography of Lady Mount Cashell. Copyright 2007 Keriann Hopkins.

    Margaret King, Lady Mount Cashell and Mrs. Mason:

         A Biography of One Woman


     Margaret Jane King was born in 1772 to Caroline FitzGerald and Robert King, Earl of Kingston.  She was the second of twelve children, all of whom were cared for by servants for the entirety of their childhood.  She was under the care of servants immediately after she was born.  Her mother was a figure of authority, not nurture, which was normal for their rank in Ireland.  None of the children’s governesses lasted long.  The governesses were treated with contempt by Lady Kingsborough, which caused them to be sarcastic and instate arbitrary punishments for the children.  Additional servants were hired to foster the children’s awareness of their rank.  This led the children to grow selfish and arrogant.

    Margaret was taught by traditional methods.  In her words, she “learned a little of many things and nothing well.”  One of her sisters, Caroline, grew to be a hypochondriac, for which the family spent a considerable amount of money buying heavy drugs.  In response to the effects of the drugs, Margaret profoundly disagreed with the doctors.  She grew to believe that children should not intake mercury and sulphide.  This largely affected her when she practiced medicine later in life, adopting a more naturalistic approach to medicine.

    Margaret was a difficult, awkward, abnormally tall girl.  Her great contempt for her unloving parents slowly decayed her own self-respect. This would lead her to attempt to fill the vacancy of love in her childhood with more intense relationships later in life.  She was highly practical and was opposed to the frivolous fashions and beauty standards of the day.  She believed that clothes should be plain to allow for movement and should not be low-cut, which allowed for colds.  Stays and lacing caused internal organ damage, and sometimes, even death.  Margaret preferred to focus her attentions on studies and academics, priding herself on learning. At the age of 17, a compliment to her mind flattered her significantly more than any flatters of her beauty from the eligible young men of her day.

    Since Margaret favored her mental abilities over her manners and figure, she developed a rude personality. It was a combination of her rude character developments and the speed in which the governess left that caused Lady Kingsborough to look to a sensible friend, John Prior, to find a governess with strong morals and a sense of discipline.  Prior recommended Mary Wollstonecraft, a woman with innovative and revolutionary ideas about children’s learning.  Mary Wollstonecraft was a governess to Margaret and her sisters, Caroline and Mary, from 1786 until 1787.  Mary believed that children were to be treated kindly and would thrive best in an environment that is suited to their unique learning styles and ideas.  She valued children’s experiences, which was uncommon in an era when children were virtually ignored.

    Margaret and her sisters valued Mary’s respect so much that within the first five days of their lessons, the sisters had agreed to give up their plan of driving out the governess.  Mary gave special attentions to Margaret because she exhibited specific faults that were alarming.  What Mary taught Margaret encouraged her to abandon her elite upper class identity for the furthering of her education.  Wollstonecraft tried to undo the elite, snobbish way of thinking that the Kings had drilled into their daughter and replaced it with respect for all creatures and mankind.  The methods that Wollstonecraft used are recorded in her book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788). Margaret grew to sincerely admire her governess during that year due to her noble mind.  Margaret respected her because she felt Mary’s understanding was the most cultivated of anyone she had met.  Wollstonecraft expanded her mind to make her realize that she needed to correct her faults and cultivate her understanding.

    After a year of serving as a governess to the King family, she was dismissed on the basis of increased arguments between Margaret and her mother and Margaret’s unceasing complaints while Wollstonecraft was away.  The two kept in secret correspondence for quite some time after their separation.  Wollstonecraft felt a motherly love for the young Margaret and even wondered if Margaret would be there for her in her old age, like a daughter would.  Mary’s impact on Margaret’s life was remarkable, changing her conscious, politics, and most notably, her future.

    At age 19, Margaret committed what she came to call one of the greatest mistakes of her life.  She became Lady Mount Cashell by marrying Stephen Moore Earl of Mount Cashell, age 21.  He was handsome, had gentle manners and a façade of an easy temper.  However, Margaret soon realized that his character was completely opposite hers.  His understanding was uncultivated and his mind narrow, which manifested itself most clearly in his aversion to literature.  Margaret had the idea of teaching him to broaden his mind, which turned out to be wholly unsuccessful, as she could never gain his respect enough to teach him anything.  Margaret found that he was completely obsessed with wealth and titles, and therefore incapable of comprehending the feelings of a noble spirit such as herself.

    She bore him seven children, which she nursed and raised all on her own.  She prided herself on the ability to raise her children with healthy constitutions.  All of them lived past childhood, which was highly unusual in the days of crude medical practices and neglect of children.  After arguing extensively with him at first, Lady Mount Cashell lived tolerably with her husband until it came to the point of educating their children.  Lord Mount Cashell could not bear to part with his money for something he saw as frivolous as education for women.  Lord Cashell decided to tour Europe and the family followed.  The more she traveled and broadened her knowledge, the more she wished to be liberated from his company.  As a result of coverture, Margaret no longer had a separate legal identity and could not maintain to material possessions of her own because all of it was under Lord Mount Cashell’s discretion.  This included the children.  Lady Mount Cashell entertained the idea of separation, but never seriously because she could not bear to part with her children.

    While traveling, Lady Mount Cashell met George William Tighe in a British circle in Rome.  She found him exciting in a dull, vulgar society and he could not have found a person more able to value his merit.  Soon after she thought it would be necessary to foreswear love forever, Lady Mount Cashell entered into an illicit, passionate affair with Tighe.  It lasted years and was the source of many anxieties and difficulties in her life.

The greatest punishment for her transgressions came in 1805 when Lord Mount Cashell left her in Germany and stopped her funds, leading Margaret to become fiscally challenged and separated from her children. She still clung to her youngest daughter, Elizabeth, age 2.  She fled Great Britain with Tighe and Elizabeth and traveled with them through Dresden, Carlsbad, Eger, and Ratisbon.  Pressed for funds, she wrote Stories of Old Daniel.  She and her husband were legally separated in November of 1812.  Margaret was to receive 800 pounds a year and a settlement of her accumulated debts.  She was forced to give up Elizabeth later that year, never to see her or any of her children again. 

The loss of her seven children to her husband was the severest of punishments. She attempted to reconcile herself to their loss by realizing that others would have more control over their education than she could have ever had due to her husband’s stubborn refusal of her requests.  After Lord Mount Cashell’s death in 1822, Margaret and Tighe married.  The love affair had sizzled, but the passion had been replaced by a strong friendship and companionship.  Margaret changed her name to Mrs. Mason, after the teacher in Wollstonecraft’s novel of children’s stories.  The change of her name marked the end of her aristocratic days as Lady Mount Cashell and the beginning of her medical career. 

    Mrs. Mason and Tighe had two children – Laurette in 1809 and Nerina in 1815.  Much of Margaret’s pain at her loss of her previous seven children was silent.  All that she remarked was that she had been justly punished for transgressing the laws of society.  Small glimpses of what the pain may have consisted of are revealed in the fact that her eldest daughter with Tighe, Laura, remained in her sight every moment, slept in her room or conjoined to her room, and was never allowed to spend a night away from her.  Nerina’s full name was Catherine Elizabeth Ranieri, glimpsed further into the pain Margaret felt for losing her youngest daughter.  The only one of her previous seven children that she corresponded with was her son Robert Francis Stanislas Moore, who was her favorite because of his amiable nature.  She later decided to tell him about Laura and Nerina in case they should ever need the protection and affection of a brother. 

    About a month before Napoleon would defeat Prussia, Margaret moved to Jena with Tighe.  In perhaps her most defiant act, she dressed as a man and attended medical lectures at a medical school in Jena that was known for its liberal student body.  She already had some experience in medicine by raising seven healthy children.  Very little is known about the persona she adopted while dressed as a man, but she was believed to have acted as a Frenchman with a boring history and poor conversational skills.  Her French allowed her to pass as a foreigner, as her German would have been recognizably not native. 

    When the health of her lungs began to decline, the family moved to Pisa.  There were several reasons for the move.  Pisa was known as a health resort, which would be good for her failing lungs.  There was also a decline of English society there, which Margaret had begun to detest.  Most importantly however, she desired to study under the famous professor of surgery, Andrea Vaccá Berlinghieri, at the University of Pisa.  She began practicing medicine in consultation with Vaccá.  Like Wollstonecraft, she believed in gentler treatment for smaller illnesses and that healthy care at home could help children live through childhood.  She also recognized the body’s own healing powers, which was far ahead of her time and a much more effective treatment than the witches’ brew and tortures imposed on patients earlier. 

    In 1819, Margaret received a visit from the daughter of Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley.  With Mary were her husband and her half-sister, Claire Claremont.  Mary Shelley’s party had moved about Italy in vagrancy.  Seeing that Shelley was in late pregnancy, Margaret encouraged her to settle in Pisa so that the child could receive medical advice from both herself and Dr. Vaccá.  Therefore, they settled in Pisa and formed an outcast, radical society of their own.  Margaret loved Mary Shelley almost as a daughter, which reflected and reciprocated Wollstonecraft’s motherly love of Margaret.

    Margaret King died in Pisa on January 29, 1835 from her declining health – a weakness in her chest.  The monument erected on her gravesite reads, “Here Lies the Remains of Margaret Jane Countess of Mount Cashell – Born A.D. 1773 – Died 29 January A.D. 1835.”  She was a woman much changed by her life experiences.  She made the best of everything, which was her strength, together with her passion for medicine. Her list of accomplishments runs long.  After the overwhelming popularity of her first storybook, she later published a sequel, Continuation of the Stories of Old Daniel in 1820.  Like her mentor, Wollstonecraft, Margaret’s stories involve children learning from real life.  She also wrote a book of practical medical advise for mothers – Advise to Young Mother on the Physical Education of Children, by a Grandmother.  In addition, she published a two-volume novel, The Sisters of Nansfield: A Tale for Young Women.  Over the course of her life and career, she went from a spoiled child Margaret King to a daring Lady Mount Cashell that took part in passionate, illicit love affairs, and ultimately became Mrs. Mason who defied gender boundaries and practiced medicine very successfully in a foreign country.

- by Keriann Hopkins

Works Cited
Gordon, Lyndall. Vindication: a Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. 1st ed. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. 
McAleer, Edward C. The Sensitive Plant. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina P, 1958. 
Todd, Janet. Daughters of Ireland: the Rebellious Kingsborough Sisters and the Making of a Modern Nation. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003. 
Todd, Janet. Rebel Daughters: Ireland in Conflict 1795. London: Penguin Books, 2003. 



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