Celebrating Women and Power

A portrait of Mary Eleanor Bowes

During 2018 the National Trust is celebrating the anniversary of female suffrage. It’s 100 years since women fought for, and won the right for some women to vote in a British Parliamentary election.

We're marking the centenary of this step forward in equal rights by exploring women’s history and one woman in particular who played a huge part in Gibside's history.

As the richest heiress and Gibside's resident for a time, Mary Eleanor Bowes played an integral role in our history.

Mary Eleanor was bestowed an education by her father, coal baron George Bowes - unheard of during that time - and with a passion for botany she went on to pioneer botany expeditions and more. 

She went on to marry the 9th Earl of Strathmore creating the Bowes-Lyon name. Later, she was tricked into a second marriage by Andrew 'Stoney' Robinson and a chaotic life. Ultimately, she became triumphant in a divorce case against her abusive husband and paved the way for the reform of English divorce and custody laws.

A portrait of Mary Eleanor Bowes

Mary Eleanor Bowes (1749-1800)

After her father's death, Mary Eleanor Bowes had an inherited fortune of between £80m and £150m in today’s money. She was said to be the wealthiest heiress in Georgian England. With this, came a different price and she later became known as The unhappy Countess. But that didn't stop her from making her mark in history.

An image of The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum

If the story of the Bowes family has captivated you and you'd like to find out more as well as see precious items of theirs, The Bowes Museum is worth a visit. This year sees exhibitions Jonathan Yeo: Skin Deep; Queen Victoria in Paris; The BFG in Pictures and Catwalking: Fashion through the Lens of Chris Moore, alongside a full programme of events.