3. Poverty, debt and the birth of Claire

Unfortunately, the Lethbridge letters give few clues to indicate how the relationshipbetween Mary Jane and John Lethbridge started. Similarly the probable sequence of events is ambiguous. It is probable that Mary Jane was lodging in London at the time (some time between 1795 and 1797), in the house of "A C", a woman whose identity is not revealed[1], but who was aware of the cooling off of Mary Jane’s affair with Lethbridge by December 1797. She used the name Mrs St. Julian in this period. From London, presumably already pregnant with Claire, she apparently returned to Bristol, and for a time stayed in Newport and Barry Island in Wales. (Claire’s actual date of birth has not been verified: she herself gave it as 27 April 1798).

After the departure of Charles Gaulis, ‘Mrs St. Julian’ contracted significant debts, in particular to William Kingdon, a well-known stockbroker and moneylender. Until her rescue by an aristocratic patron in 1800, Mary Jane’s life was dominated by the desperate need to find the means to support herself and her children: this is very evident in the letters to Lethbridge and his attorney Beadon.

Judging from the mannered way in which she expresses herself in her letters when seeking to persuade (in sharp contrast to her straightfoward and businesslike address on money matters), as well as from contemporary descriptions, Mary Jane Vial was conventional, socially sophisticated and "Continental". She was also, obviously, a woman determined to survive and to provide for her children by whatever means necessary. To this end she brought considerable intelligence and acumen to bear. For her, survival and making her way depended on contracting a suitable marriage or arrangement and a respectable situation. Contemporary reports show Lethbridge as a roue, ambitious and ingratiating with his social superiors, and certainly something of a bully. By contrast, Mary Jane seems to have been genuinely enamoured of him, although mercenary interest was a powerful motive for her as well.

Since Gaulis’ sister, the Baroness Clinton, was dead by the time Claire was born, it is unlikely that Mary Jane would have had immediate connections with the Gaulis family to whom she could appeal for help. Her letters indicate she required the intercession of an unidentified “baronet of Yorkshire” to secure the attention of family members. However, Huscher mentions the youngest Gaulis daughter, Rose, settled in Devon, who was executrix of Albertina Trefusis’ will and given charge of the children. Possibly Mary Jane was known to this member of the Gaulis family. No more is known about Rose (e.g. marriage, her husband’s name).

[1] See letter #47, 3 Dec 1797

Go to: