FOOTLIGHTS AND CORONETS REGENCY ROMANCE ERA ACTRESSES WHO MARRIED INTO THE PEERAGE - Part II
Duchess Lavinia had been dead thirty years when Mary Catherine Bolton, who was to follow in her footsteps, was obscurely cradled in Long Acre in 1790. Like Lavinia Fenton, Mary Bolton was born for the stage. As a child the sweetness of her voice and the grace of her movements charmed all who knew her. The greatest teachers of the day taught her to sing, and when only sixteen she made a brilliant début as Polly, recalling all the triumphs of her famous predecessor.
But it was as Ariel that she made her real conquest of London. "So pretty and winning in pouting wilfulness, so caressing, her voice having the flowing sweetness of music, she bounded along with so light a foot that it scarcely seemed to rest upon the stage." It is little wonder that Ariel danced her way into many hearts, and that even such a sedate personage as Edward, second Lord Thurlow, should so far succumb to her fascinations as to offer her marriage. Her wedded life was only too brief, but she rewarded her lord with three sons; and a liberal share of her blood flows in the veins of the Baron of to-day, her grandson.
Not many years after Mary Bolton had danced her way into the Peerage London was losing its head over still another "Polly Peachum"—Catherine Stephens, daughter of a carver and gilder in the West of London. Miss Stephens, who like her predecessors in the rôle, sang divinely even as a child, was but seventeen when she made her first stage curtsy, and won fame at a bound, as Mandano in Artaxerxes. One triumph succeeded another until she reached the pinnacle of success as Polly of the Beggar's Opera.
Catherine Stephens had no lack of gilded and titled lovers; but she was too much wedded to her art to listen to any vows or to be lured from it even by a coronet. Although, however, she eluded her destiny until the verge of middle age she was fated to die a Countess; and a Countess she became when George Capel, fifth Earl of Essex, asked her to be his wife. The Earl had passed his eightieth birthday, and was nearly forty years her senior; but he made her his bride, though he left her a widow within a year of their nuptial-day.