cover image Inheritance: The Lost History of Mary Davies

Inheritance: The Lost History of Mary Davies

Leo Hollis. Oneworld, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-78607-995-4

In this well-crafted history, Hollis (Cities Are Good for You) views the making of modern London through the lens of an 18th-century marriage and property scandal. In 1701, Mary Davies Grosvenor, a 35-year-old widow with a history of “behaving strangely,” was married in a secret ceremony in Paris. Or so her new husband, Edward Fenwick, claimed—after returning to London, Mary denied it. Tracing the origins of Mary’s family wealth, Hollis takes readers through the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666, events that reshaped London and made her inheritance, a tract of marshy farmland on the city’s western outskirts, more valuable. After the death of her first husband, Sir Thomas Grosvenor, control of the land reverted to Mary, who held it in trust for her children. But with Fenwick claiming ownership as Mary’s new husband, her family intervened, arguing that she was insane (some scholars believe she suffered from bipolar disorder) and had been duped into the marriage. After a series of court cases, the marriage was annulled and the property, controlled to this day by the Grosvenor family, was developed into Belgravia and Mayfair, two of London’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Hollis unspools the story’s multiple threads with verve, and lucidly explains complex legal and historical matters. Anglophiles and urban history buffs will be delighted. (July)