Lady Mary Montagu Wortley was a lifelong friend of Lady Henrietta Cavendish Holles Harley (who was later Countess of Oxford and Mortimer), with their family estates just 10 miles apart. In this online talk, Jo Willett, the author of The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu, will tell us all about these extraordinary women.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu grew up at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire and her amazing story follows her travels across Europe. She is a key name in the history of medicine, and an important early feminist.
In a courageous and highly contentious move, Lady Mary was the first person in the west to inoculate someone against smallpox. Three hundred years ago, in April 1721, she took steps to protect her three-year-old daughter during a smallpox epidemic. By championing inoculation, Lady Mary paved the way for Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination, which has prevented millions of deaths.
Lady Mary’s friend Lady Henrietta was the second of these three successive female heirs to the Welbeck estate. Women play an important part in Welbeck’s history, and this female line of inheritance is very unusual. Lady Henrietta’s daughter, Margaret, Duchess of Portland, was next in line. Duchess Margaret developed the largest natural history collection in the country. It is easy to see how she may have been inspired by Lady Mary’s achievements.
About Jo Willett
Jo is an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer. Her projects include The Making of a Lady (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness) and Bertie and Elizabeth (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage).
Alongside her TV work, Jo has begun to write historical autobiographies. The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu is her first book, and she is currently at work on her second.
This talk took place on 18th June 2021.