Love & Madness: The Murder of Martha Ray, Mistress of the Fourth Earl of Sandwich

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In eighteenth-century England the aristocracy dominated the imagination, their exploits — and misdeeds — discussed, debated, and gossiped about in the salons and parlors of London. Now author Martin Levy vividly re-creates one of the most shocking and scandalous events of the period, in a riveting true tale of passion, obsession, murder, and courtroom drama.

On a spring evening in the year 1779, a young woman emerged from London's Covent Garden Theatre amid a grand swirl of ...

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Overview

In eighteenth-century England the aristocracy dominated the imagination, their exploits — and misdeeds — discussed, debated, and gossiped about in the salons and parlors of London. Now author Martin Levy vividly re-creates one of the most shocking and scandalous events of the period, in a riveting true tale of passion, obsession, murder, and courtroom drama.

On a spring evening in the year 1779, a young woman emerged from London's Covent Garden Theatre amid a grand swirl of lords and ladies, their servants and coachmen. From out of the shadows a man emerged, dressed in a black suit. He raised a pistol and fired one fatal shot point-blank into the woman's head. A sudden and brutal murder, it was all the more shocking because of the identities of those involved. The victim was Martha Ray, famed aficionada of fashion and the arts, and longtime live-in mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, high-ranking minister to King George III. The assailant was James Hackman, a respected Anglican minister and Martha Ray's former lover.

It was a savage crime that rocked both British high society and the church, and inflamed the interest and imagination of such renowned personages as Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, noted biographer and lover of prostitutes and executions. And it resulted in a courtroom extravaganza unique in the annals of legal proceedings — where passion was the motive, the madness of "momentary phrenzy" the mitigating circum-stance . . . and love the ultimate justification for a crazed act of murder.

With consummate skill, author Martin Levy brings to breathtaking life the sights and sounds of an unparalleled era in history — when hangings were public entertainment and debauchery was a popular pastime of the wealthy and the titled — and expertly unravels the mystery behind a truly sensational slaying. Fascinating, startling, edifying, and entertaining, Love and Madness is a brilliant tale of crime and punishment as vivid and compelling as the headlines of today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though the 1779 affair between Ray, Sandwich's mistress, and her lover James Hackman ends with Hackman dangling from a noose for shooting Ray, it is not as enthralling as it sounds. The details of the affair consist mostly of a couple of passionate yet trite letters from Hackman and speculation and hearsay from those who knew each of them. Thankfully, Levy's book is able to plump up Ray and Hackman's woeful tale by using it as a jumping-off point for exploring the historical and sociological circumstances that surrounded the relationship. Levy, a historical researcher, does a fine job conjuring up the atmosphere of 18th-century London through the use of newspaper accounts and personal letters, and some investigation into the background of the writers of those works. He is particularly astute at capturing the inner workings of England's civil institutions, such as its legal and prison systems. By outlining the country's strict social-class structure, Levy also clearly demonstrates the precarious predicament Ray, a commoner by birth, was in as the mistress to Sandwich, a married earl. Still, Levy's greatest achievement is his analysis of some of the mysteries of human nature that make Ray and Hackman's story ageless. For instance, Levy asks why "unrequited love and madness" are eternally intertwined and why we take such "a voyeuristic delight" in seeing others' weaknesses brought into public view. Though he may not come up with definitive answers for all of his questions, in this age of "Bennifer" and the "Kobe Trial," he definitely gives readers something to think about. 15 b&w illus. throughout. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A stirring account of a crime of passion that was a tabloid sensation in mad King George's London. The antiquarian story is rather less sensational now. Leading players include the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty; his steadfast mistress, Martha Ray; and the Reverend Mr. James Hackman, besotted with unrequited love for Miss Ray. So great was his love that one evening in the spring of 1779, the young clergyman approached Ray in the piazza of Covent Garden and put a bullet through her skull. Then, with remarkable ineptitude, he tried to kill himself. (Suicide, in the mode of sorrowful young Werther, was a popular notion in the 1770s.) Historical researcher Levy only briefly outlines the lives and natures of the principals, giving more attention to Hackman's trial, prevailing attitudes toward such crimes, and the concept of love as a manifestation of madness. Levy follows the murderer from Newgate to sessions at the Old Bailey. After a trial of scarcely 90 minutes, the verdict soon brought Hackman to the hangman at Tyburn. His defense of "momentary phrenzy" didn't keep the redoubtable Mr. Justice Blackstone, an expert on temporary insanity, from pronouncing the fateful sentence, which included delivery of the shooter, postmortem, to anatomists for dissection. (This caused Hackman some concern regarding the feasibility of resurrection for his piecemeal body.) It was all of particular interest to raffish biographer James Boswell and other connoisseurs of crimes involving confused unfortunates and bewigged blackguards. Such offenses were often luridly recounted in contemporaneous prose and poetry, and we are given several appendices containing concomitant doggerel, essays, andletters devoted to the sad tale of Hackman, Sandwich, and Ray. Less heartrending than it was of yore, the once-notorious murder now offers little mystery, but plenty of historical romance. (15 b&w illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060559748
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/3/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Levy is a respected historical researcher who has written for the Oxford University Press. He makes his home in England.

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First Chapter

Love and Madness
The Murder of Martha Ray, Mistress of the Fourth Earl of Sandwich

Chapter One

Why Vainly Seek to Flee? Love Will Pursue You.

Martha Ray had a great deal on her mind during the evening of Wednesday, April 7, 1779, as her personal maid set about preparing her for a night at Covent Garden Theatre. She had not been out of the Admiralty building for several days, and as the mistress of one of George III's most hated ministers, the first lord of the Admiralty, John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich, she had good reason to worry about her security. Many people held the earl personally responsible for the country's difficulties in its lackluster campaign against the rebellious American colonies and for the fractious behavior of its naval officers. Although news had recently arrived in London of a British victory in the southern states, many of the king's subjects were unimpressed. They had heard it all before -- wild optimism, followed by retreat or surrender.

For several nights, gangs of roughnecks had taunted Sandwich and his mistress by singing antigovernment ballads under the Admiralty's back windows. To the household, their behavior must have recalled recent memories of the night of February 11, when the Admiralty had been attacked by a mob inspired by a court martial's acquittal of one of Sandwich's enemies, the member of parliament and admiral Augustus Keppel. On that occasion, the mob had torn the courtyard gates off their hinges and broken most of the Admiralty's windows. According to gossip Horace Walpole, Lord Sandwich, "exceedingly terrified," had fled with Miss Ray through the Admiralty garden to the Horse Guards nearby, where he had betrayed a "most manifest panic."

Martha was about thirty-four years old; Sandwich, sixty. She was five feet five inches tall, dark-haired, and "fresh-coloured," with a cleft chin, bright, smiling eyes, and a warm, open countenance. On this evening, her maid piled her hair fashionably high, dressed her in an expensively cut silk gown, ruched and lightly decorated, and finished by adorning her with a diamond cross and earrings.

It was Sandwich who persuaded her to go to the theater. He had much to occupy him at home. The opposition, led by the aristocratic and ineffective marquess of Rockingham and the epicurean Charles James Fox, had tabled another of several motions to inquire into his handling of naval affairs, and he had a speech to write and papers to assemble in his defense. As first lord of the Admiralty, his responsibilities included almost every detail of naval organization, from the inspection of George III's dockyards to matters of tactics and strategy.

Martha's heavy, four-wheeled carriage began the short journey to Covent Garden Theatre just after six o'clock. Although it was early spring, an unusual warm spell enveloped London and green tufts of grass sprouted between the paving stones. Due to the Easter holidays, most of the capital's wealthier residents had already departed for their country estates or the spa towns of Bristol or Bath. Conse- quently, much of the traffic Martha passed was ordinary Londoners and foreigners, who lacked cooking facilities and were headed to the eating houses that thrived during this hour.

Soot blackened most of the buildings Martha's carriage rolled by, for London was a prodigiously dirty city with an unenviable reputation for ruining the health of its inhabitants. Traveling along Whitehall and into Charing Crossher carriage took her through Cockspur Street and into the Haymarket and James Street. It then stopped outside a lodging house to pick up one of Martha's friends, a middle-aged Italian woman named Caterina Galli.

Soon the two women passed along some of London's liveliest streets -- probably Chandos Street and Henrietta Street, possibly New Street or Maiden Lane -- the locations of innumerable acts of braggadocio and uncountable numbers of brothels, cheap lodging houses, taverns,and coffeehouses. They then traveled by Covent Garden's popular fruit and vegetable market toward the northeastern end of Inigo Jones's once fashionable piazza,where the carriage stopped and the two women alighted. They now stood outside the entrance to Covent Garden Theatre,one of London's three patent theaters. On either side of the doorway two guardsmen stood stiffly at attention as the ladies entered the building, gliding into a dimly lit lobby area crowded with a large and noisy gathering of fashionable beaux, fruit women, procurers, soldiers on furlough,and similarly well-dressed ladies. Before long, Martha fell into deep conversation with a rakish young nobleman, an Irish beau named Lord Coleraine.

As the time for the play drew near, Coleraine escorted Martha and her companion into the theater and joined them for the evening. This night's entertainment was a benefit, one of a large number of performances set apart toward the end of each theatrical season in which the profits went to an actor or other member of the theatrical community. On this occasion Martha and others had purchased their tickets on the behalf of the singer and actress Mrs. Margaret Kennedy at the lady's lodgings in nearby Bow Street. Martha or Sandwich had paid dearly for the privilege, for Martha and her friends occupied some of the most expensive seating, one of the small number of stage boxes positioned immediately to the left and right of the stage and in full view of the rambunctious audience. It was here, too, that the king and other members of the royal family customarily sat; the king preferred Covent Garden to its rival at Drury Lane, partly because the latter theater was increasingly associated with opposition politics.

When the musicians filed into the orchestral well and the violinists began drawing their bows against their instruments' strings, a huge cheer arose from the upper gallery, which was reserved for servants and penny-pinching theater- goers and where seats cost one shilling. As was customary, they hurled orange peels into the pit area and onto the stage.

Love and Madness
The Murder of Martha Ray, Mistress of the Fourth Earl of Sandwich
. Copyright © by Martin Levy. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    A Matter of Intent

    Martin Levy's account of the murder of Martha Ray by a lovelorn clergyman is a much more riveting tale than one might expect from a 300-year-old crime. His scholarship and intensive research recreates the age and its peculiarities -- there must have been a remarkable number of men moping over spurned love, but there's no reason to think the rate of murder-suicide was actually greater than now. Despite all the scholarship, the book does not strike one as scholarly -- the writing is muscular and intense, and it reveals a good deal of mystery remaining in the case -- did the Rev. Hackman intend to kill only himself, or both himself and Ray? Did his brace of pistols reveal his intent to kill her too, or was it merely a matter of prudence? Levy's book illuminates a fascinating but rather nasty age, when murder victims were hauled off to the nearest pub, capitol trials required 90 minutes and pedestrians had to beware of having a bucket of urine dumped on them. Higly recommended.

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