A fairytale for a Monday evening. Mondays need more fairy tales.
It was good to be in cloth, in England in the 17th century.
Sheep made wool, and wool, given the right tools and labour, could be made into cloth. Which fetched a good – sometimes extortionate – price way back then. Cloth could be extremely expensive, and cloth merchants were often very wealthy.
One such merchant family lived in Reading, in the county of Berkshire. The Kendricks lived in a flashy house on the hill outside the town, and the eldest daughter, Frances, had an income settled on her of £5000 a year- a small fortune.
Frances was not short of offers of marriage. Wedding her would mean advantage, status and security of any partner. But she was choosy: no-one caught her eye. People began to wonder whether the heiress – a kind-natured creature by all accounts – would ever settle down.
Then, in an instant, everything changed. At a friend’s wedding as it happened: she espied a very handsome man indeed. A lawyer. And she fell instantly in love.
One hitch: Benjamin Child was that rarity, a poor lawyer.
Frances knew her own mind, and money gives a woman power, does it not? Her friends counselled her against pursuing such an uneven match.
And she listened cordially, and then did exactly what she wanted.
She had taken the liberty of finding out not only Benjamin’s name, but his address. And one morning, a footman knocked on the door of Benjamin Child’s lodgings, bearing a challenge to a duel.
A duel in a local park, in fact. Benjamin racked his brains. Who could he have offended to the extent that someone might challenge him to fight to the death?
He went along, don’t get me wrong. His honour would have been compromised otherwise. He took along a good mate as his second, and arrived,baffled and fearful.
To find not a gentleman, but a lady in a mask.
Either fight, she told him: or marry me.
The best mate proved most useful as a confidante in this unusual situation. The friend, after a sharp intake of breath, advised him: you are so poor, Benjamin old chap, that you have absolutely nothing to lose. You might as well marry, rather than risk your life ending in a park in Reading in the twilight.
She got into her carriage and the two hapless men followed behind, all the way to the church, where she and Benjamin were married.
And then the friend was dismissed and she went home: to Calcot Park, a magnificent country home. Benjamin was told to wait and did, shuffling his heels in the great hall, until he was met by an elegant woman in a beautiful dress.
It was Frances, of course. And despite a very unorthodox beginning, the couple were incredibly happy and had two beautiful daughters.
Not The End. But The Beginning.