Margaret King (1773–1835) was an Irish hostess, writer, traveller, and medical adviser. Despite her wealthy aristocratic background, she had republican sympathies, shaped in part by having been a favoured pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft. In Italy in later life, she reciprocated her governess's care by offering maternal aid and advice to Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) and her travelling companions, husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and stepsister Claire Clairmont.
Margaret King was born to the Anglo-Irish Kingsborough family, leading members of the Protestant Ascendancy. Her mother, Caroline Fitzgerald (one of the wealthiest heiresses in Ireland and first cousin of the revolutionary Lord Edward FitzGerald) was married off at 15 to Robert King, second Earl of Kingston. The family seat was Mitchelstown Castle, in the north County Cork town of Mitchelstown.
As a young teenager, Margaret's life was touched by the pioneer educator and proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, to whom she was a "most devoted protegee". This appointment as her governess did not last more than a year, as Wollstonecraft could not get along with Lady Kingsborough. The children found her an inspiring instructor; Margaret King would later say she "had freed her mind from all superstitions". Some of Wollstonecraft's experiences during this year would make their way into her only children's book, Original Stories from Real Life (1788). The maternal teacher who frames these stories is called Mrs Mason, a name Margaret King adopted in later life.
Early adult life
She acquired the title Lady Mount Cashell by marrying Stephen Moore, 2nd Earl Mount Cashell. They eventually had seven children.The eldest son, Stephen Moore, 3rd Earl Mount Cashell, who went on to graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge, marry a Swiss woman, and live in several countries.
In 1798, her brother Robert King, 1st Viscount Lorton was involved in a scandal. He was tried for the murder of a relative who had seduced their younger sister.
In the context of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, she joined the Society of United Irishmen and wrote pamphlets about the Union Crisis in 1799-1800. She was a friend and cousin of the aristocrat and republican revolutionary Lord Edward FitzGerald. Her eldest brother, George King, was a prominent Loyalist.
In December 1801 she embarked on a grand tour as a group of "nine Irish adventurers", including her husband and a friend, the diarist Catherine Wilmot. Wilmot wrote extensive letters home, some of which were published in 1920 as An Irish peer on the continent (1801-1803) being a narrative of the tour of Stephen, 2nd earl Mount Cashell, through France, Italy, etc. These describe much detail of the Cashells' life and habits, including their lavish entertaining, especially during the first nine months in Paris. In June 1802 the Cashells had another son, Richard Francis Stanislaus Moore, and Wilmot records that its godparents were William Parnel, "the Polish Countess Myscelska", and the American minister.
While in Europe, Margaret met an Irishman named of George William Tighe. The two fell madly in love. Margaret eventually abandoned her husband and children and eloped with George to Italy. They called themselves ‘Mr and Mrs Mason’, taking the names from Mary Wollstonecraft’s book, ‘Original Stories from Real Life’.
She decided to study medicine at Jena, which necessitated cross-dressing. (She was as tall as a man.) She later studied with professor of surgery, Andrea Vaccá Berlinghieri of the University of Pisa. She wrote a book of household medicine for the care of babies and children.
By this point in her life she was a "no nonsense grande dame". She published some of her work with the London team of William Godwin, widower of her governess-mentor Mary Wollstonecraft, and his second wife, Mary Jane Clairmont. She had visited and grown friendly with them when she was in London in 1807.
She set up home at Casa Silva, Pisa, with Tighe and their daughters Lauretta and Nerina. They were visited there in 1820 by a young threesome: the poet Percy Shelley, his wife the writer Mary Shelley (daughter of Godwin and Wollstonecraft, and already author of Frankenstein), and their translator her stepsister Claire Clairmont. She felt maternal towards the women, as they were both in a sense daughters of her life-changing motherly governess. She offered "sage advice" to Shelley about his health and to Clairmont about her career. She introduced them all to a new intellectual and social circle in Pisa, and helped Mary set up her household, finding them pleasant lodgings and advising on servants.
Tighe provided Percy Shelley with a great deal of material on chemistry, biology, and statistics. The Masons inspired the Shelleys with "a new-found sense of radicalism".
Claire Clairmont lived with Mrs Mason in the 1830s, looking on her as a mother, and considering that time the happiest in her life. She continued the ties of family and friendship by remaining in correspondence with the Masons' descendents into the 1870s.
Margaret King, Lady Mountcashell, Mrs Mason died in January 1835 and was buried in the Old English Cemetery, Livorno. She was described, in the 1920 introduction to Wilmot's diaries, as "socially charming and attractive, highly cultivated, upright and refined", but "harsh to her children, a Freethinker in religion, and imbued with what were then the most extravagant political notions".
- Stories of Old Daniel: Or, tales of wonder and delight—children learning from real life
- Continuation of the Stories of Old Daniel in 1820
- Advise to Young Mother on the Physical Education of Children, by a Grandmother.—practical baby care & children's medical advice
- The Sisters of Nansfield: A Tale for Young Women—two-volume novel
- Melissa Benn's review of Lyndall Gordon's biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication
- See, for example, Todd (MW), 106–7; Tomalin, 66; 79–80; Sunstein, 127-28.
- Todd (MW), 116.
- Tomalin, 64–88; Wardle, 60ff; Sunstein, 160-61.
- "Kilworth (Stephen), Lord (KLWT810L)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- [Ascendancy: Lady Mount Cashell, Lady Moira, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Union Pamphlets Janet Todd Eighteenth-Century Ireland / Iris an dá chultúr Vol. 18, (2003), pp. 98-117 (article consists of 20 pages) Published by: Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30070996]
- Mary Shelley: romance and reality By Emily W. Sunstein p 175
- Before Victoria: extraordinary women of the British romantic era p49 By Elizabeth Campbell Denlinger, 2005
- Young Romantics: The Shelleys, Byron and Other Tangled Lives by Daisy Hay, 2010. p 184
- Shelley and the Revolution in taste: the body and the natural world By Timothy Morton, p232
- Todd. Rebel Daughters. "Aftermath" p332.
- Sunstein, Emily. A Different Face: the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1975. ISBN 0-06-014201-4.
- Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2000. ISBN 0-231-12184-9.
- Todd, Janet. Rebel Daughters: Ireland in conflict 1798 (2003)
- Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Rev. ed. 1974. New York: Penguin, 1992. ISBN 0-14-016761-7.
- Wardle, Ralph M. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1951.
- Wilmot, Catherine. An Irish peer on the continent (1801-1803) being a narrative of the tour of Stephen, 2nd earl Mount Cashell, through France, Italy, etc.
- The Sensitive Plant: A Life of Lady Mount Cashell by Edward C. McAleer; University of North Carolina Press, 1958
- Advice to young mothers on the physical education of children, by a grandmother. Florence, 1835 fulltext here