An early feminist?

Further to my post yesterday about Judith Cowper, I thought I’d introduce you to her husband, Colonel Martin Madan. This is his description by the family’s biographer, Falconer Madan:

He was a well-bred gentleman, with engaging manners and presence. His Irish descent gave him a cheeriness and good humour which fitted him alike for court life and for the hardships of military campaigning.

I’m smitten already! Born on 1 July 1700 in Nevis, his plantation-owning parents died when he was very young and he was brought up in England by his aunt, Lady Russell. He joined the Coldstream Guards and then the King’s Own Horse, from which he retired as Lieutenant-Colonel on 24 December 1746, after battle honours at Dettingen and Fontenoy. His letters record fascinating details of life at the front:

Our entertainment here is confin’d to military affairs. The ladies shew themselves every evening in their coaches but as to conversation, we have none with them. Where the gentlemen are I know not, for except the Governour I have not seen one since I came here. It is said a company of actors are come to town & that we are to have a comedy thrice a week. I heartily wish it may be so for I very much want some reasonable amusement.

Had I not brought provisions with me from Aix I must have lived upon ammunition bread. As Commandant I’ve had a bed every night & have contributed to the fatt’ning a million of fleas, the greatest part of our officers have lain upon straw the whole march. I am heartily tired but very hungry, I have for dinner eggs & bacon, cold ham, tongue & 100 crawfish & a bottle of Old Burgundy to drink. I’ve invited my Lieutenant & Cornet.

I am possessed of a house where there are many rooms but no furniture except six chairs & a table, what I brought with me you very well know does not contribute to its magnificence. I fancy my self the inhabitant of a mansion recover’d after a twenty years Chancery suit, during which time it was without a master.

He was an Equerry to Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1736-49 and Groom of the Bedchamber from 1749-51, although he wasn’t impressed by court life, recording on one occasion:

The morning I’m employ’d as an Hostler to thirty horses & the afternoon as Valet de Chambre to thirty Boobies…

and on another:

Civilities, from Princes, are very apt to flatter and to dazzle the eyes of most men; but I shall ever put my chiefest trust in what is my own and independant of them.

Crippled by gout (with a diet like that, who’d be surprised?), he died in Bath on 4 March 1756 at the age of 55 and is buried in Bath Abbey.

What is most fascinating about Martin is his apparent freedom from the patriarchal attitude so dominant at the time. While his wife was anxious to appear subservient to his wishes in everything, declaring:

It is not life to me worth having that is not imploy’d in your service, which ever was & ever will be to me, perfect freedom

his frequent absences meant she had no choice but to take decisions herself. Judith made every effort to assure him she was doing as he would want, although one might say she sometimes protested too much:

Lady Russell set out for Stoke this morning, she has been so good to give you 20 Guineas toward furnishing your castle, which I am doing in the plainest & cheapest manner I can, & hope you will approve of what I have done.

I shall do with the supply of money you left me to the last moment possible, & belive I need not assure you of the most strict observance of everything that may conduce to your interest, which is so entirely, & truly my own, that tis scarce a compliment to tell you I shall make it my cheif study.

I have not once made a visit to London, I think it unreasonable for me to be spending yours & your childrens money in the gayities of a town life, whilst you are mortifying your self for their sakes in a country cottage.

But gloriously, to Martin all this was unnecessary. He understood exactly what was going on and, in an early gesture towards feminism, accepted and even welcomed their effective equality:

When I consider the power of women, it is surprising to me that man should imagine himself the first of the creation, that he is the superiour, that he is to be the absolute governour of his help mate woman. How empty & vain is this notion, when a tear from her we love can banish all our boasted reasoning & all our manly arguments vanish at her too deluding smiles. When you flatter us with the confession of our superiority, it is but to entangle us the more in the net, to have us the more in your power…

Notwithstanding all I’ve said, I am pleas’d to confess, that I am entirely yours & that you are my sovereign mistress, to be subject to your charms & sensible of your perfections, I esteem a greater happyness than to be conquerour of the world, & I am in the utmost delight when I can tell you that I am yours entirely & for ever.

I think he could teach something to some men even today… (readers of this blog excepted, of course!).

Quotations from Papers of the Madan family, Bodleian Library; details on request.

One thought on “An early feminist?

  1. Delighted to find this blog (and what a visual treat…calm and clear). Most interesting piece, which I shall reread…for now, it did hit me that there must have been a flowering of (male) feminism avant la lettre in the early 18th c…some of your essay was familiar in that I’d read a few similar, heartening (and private) words by contemporary chaps…Thanks for an intimate portrait of a very charming couple.

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