The life of Mary Davies 1665-1730
Founder of Mayfair
by ©Tyne O’Connell
Mayfair represents the history of all women as the chattels of men in that it was founded upon the dowry of a young girl called Mary Davies. Her family were shrivners in the City of London. A shrivner is a scribe, one who can read and write Latin. In 17th Century London their income largely derived from drawing up legal deeds and other duties now performed by lawyers.
The Davies family owned five hundred acres of meadow land west of the built up City of London. Though the rents on the meadows were small, London was expanding fast and the opportunity for wealth growth was seen even then, specifically in the hundred acres that form modern Mayfair today. This part of the land parcel was Mary Davies dowry and is described in legal deeds as “lying south of the old Roman Road – now Oxford Street and east of Park Lane.”
Mary’s family saw an opportunity to align their humble family name with the aristocracy and began brokering an important marriage for baby Mary. In 1672 when she was eight an agreement was drawn up (by shrivners) whereby she was to be married to the Hon. Charles Berkeley once she was of a legal age to wed which was then age twelve.
As part of the contract, Lord Berkeley paid £5,000 as a downpayment on his son’s bride to be. The money was used to finish Mary’s father’s mansion and in the upbringing of the baby Mary. Lord Berkeley also agreed to settle land of a considerable annual value either on or in trust for his son and his bride-to-be by the time of the ceremony.
However, the marriage between Mary and Charles never took place as Lord Berkeley was unable to provide the promised land to settle upon the marriage. Although he was a rich man he had recently built Berkeley House in Piccadilly and purchased and south of the fields belonging to Mary called Brick Close in Mayfair.
Another husband was quickly found for Mary in the form of the baronet, Sir Thomas Grosvenor who came from an ancient Cheshire landowning family. He agreed to marry the twelve year old Mary, paid off the £5000 to Lord Berkeley and married her on 10th October 1677. She was twelve years old, he was twenty-one.
Mary gave her husband Sir Grosvenor, three sons and after he died she inherited a lifetime’s interest in the estate which left her both incredibly wealthy and incredibly vulnerable. For reasons unknown, Mary fled to Paris in 1701 at the age of thirty-six and married a Roman Catholic, Edward Fenwick who was the brother of a rector who had lived with the family on the Grosvenor family estate.
Mary and Edward remained in Paris for the next four years while the Grosvenor family fought to have the marriage annulled on the grounds of their mother’s supposed “insanity”. They had the forty year old Mary committed to a Lunatic Asylum which was where rich families placed difficult and wilful women in the 18th Century. We hear nothing more of Mary except that she eventually died alone in the lunatic asylum.
I find it heartbreakingly ironic that all we know of Mary, the daughter of scrivners is what we can glean through legal documents drawn up by scriveners. There are surviving no personal communications or journals or letters in her hand. Presumably they were destroyed either deliberately or because they were considered of no interest. Mary only appears to us as a human side note to men wrangling in latin legal speak over a valuable parcel of land.
Her role as land-owner, mother, daughter, wife and woman and her ultimate cruel confinement to a lunatic asylum is relevant only in so much as it relates to a precious parcel of land. We know nothing of her musical or literary taste or her talents or personality. Did she love riding, or prefer to spend her time indoors reading? Like so many women in history she only signifies in so much as the children and money that men could obtain from her.
What is important to history and historians is that this parcel of land she was attached to has remained virtually intact to the present day and still forms the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair. It is saddening for all women that this young girl, who’s fortunes were tied and tethered to Mayfair, has no memorial here to mark her life, other than one of the less grand streets which runs from Mount Street to Oxford Street named after her her. She doesn’t even have a blue plaque or a seat in a square of Mayfair to commemorate her life.
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