Maria Cosway

The Family

The father Charles, (... - 1776) rich merchant and the mother Isabella De Kock (... - 1810) had for children: Maria Luisa Caterina Cecilia (1760-1838); Giorgio (1763-1826) architect and engraver, under Jefferson's patronage, joined him in the US, and there he planned some of the government buildings in Washington; Elisabetta (called Bettina, 1770 ?-1819), William and Charlotte (adopted daughter, she will marry an Irish gentleman William Coombe). Before Maria's birth, Mr and Mrs Hadfield had had other four or five other children, that were put under custody of a nurse, but who all died untimely. Maria tells, in one of her writings, that the family suspected the nurse ever since she had been caught while she was whispering, with Maria in her arms: “my dear little creature, I have sent four to Heaven, I wish to send you too”. This was told to the father, some inquires were made and “since then, the woman was locked up for life”.

Charles Hadfield was one of those travellers who had an European mind; like others in the full splendour of the XVIII century, he settled out on the so-called "Grand Tour". The “Grand Tour” was a long journey, with departure and arrival in the same town, through-out continental Europe; it took place around the XVIII century, it was fashionable between young and rich British aristocrats and it was meant to improve their education. This tour could last from a few months up to 8 years. The principal destinations were France, Holland, Germany, but mainly Italy and especially Rome; usually were included stops in Venice, Florence, Bologna, Naples, sometimes Pisa, and then, the Campi Flegrei, the Vesuvian centres, Paestum and also Sicily.

Hadfield had stopped in Florence around 1745, embarking on the business of being a hotel owner on the Lungarno Guicciardini and in the Bruciato palace, beyond San Gallo Gate, in order to accommodate the “Grand Tour” travellers.

After her father's death (1776), on the 25th of June 1779 all the family moves to London and Maria writes in her memoirs: “this day we left Florence for London ... very unwillingly and they were forced to withdraw me from a convent were I had decided to stay”. The family had to deal with difficult moments and the concern of the mother was to marry her daughter Maria in a suitable way.

On the 18th of January 1781, in St. George's Church, Hanover Square, in London, Maria marries William Richard Cosway (1742-1821), miniaturist and primarius pictor (1785) of the Prince of Wales. Richard gives as a wedding present 2,000 Pounds.

The wedding is arranged by her mother, who was widowed, and Maria – in her memoirs – writes “I was informed about Mister Cosway, his offer was accepted, my mother's desires were satisfied and I married under age”. Being a minor, a permit from the Archbishop of Canterbury had to be issued (3rd of January 1781) by the Faculty Office. Her mother had to sign, instead of the bride, the wedding certificate; Maria confirms this in an autobiographical letter dated 1830.

la figlia di Maria CoswayFrom this marriage is born Louisa Paolina Angelica (4th of May 1790, in Stratford Place) but she will die aged six years old on the 29th of July 1796.

Cosway was already well-introduced into society so, besides comfort, he brought also as dowry many relationships with the most-known personalities of hight society. The reviewer William Hazlitt expressing his opinion on the success of Cosway's family, gives the following definition: “they weren't fashionable, they were the fashion in itself”. The marriage fails: this is due also to the outrageous infidelity of the husband who sees – according to information not sufficiently gathered - Mrs. P (Bedford Square), Mrs. L. (Hammersmith) and Miss Udny who – in fact – takes the place of Maria. Richard has a fine phyisique, he's proud and selfish and some people think he's bisexual (?), he's a follower of animal magnetism, he is part of a secret international organisation of occult sciences, of freemasons and cabals.

The couple corresponds for 14 years and Maria goes several times to London (in 1815 and then in 1817) to look after her husband and takes care of him even after he got paralyzed in his right hand (1818).

Fondazione Maria Cosway   Via Paolo Gorini, 6   26900 Lodi   C.F. 84511920153