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16 October 2014
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Lady Elizabeth Cathcart -

But when Hugh discovered that his wife was far more wealthy than he had been told, he demanded her jewels and the deeds to her properties at pistol point..

Lady Cathcart held prisoner by her husband. -  Picture courtesy of Tempo Manor

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‘ If I survive I will have five’

Marion Maxwell recounts the story of the rather irregular marriage of Fermanagh-born Colonel Hugh Maguire of Tempo Manor and Lady Elizabeth Cathcart of Tewin Hall in Hertfordshire.

Lady Cathcart held prisoner by her husband. -  Picture courtesy of Tempo Manor
Lady Cathcart held prisoner by her husband.
Picture courtesy of Tempo Manor

The story appears in fictional form in the 18th century satirical Irish novel Castlerackrent, but its author Maria Edgeworth based it on a set of real events that unfolded partly in Fermanagh and partly in Co. Longford :

Castle Rackrent looked out on Allyballycarrickoshaughlin. Well, yes - it was really a bog, but Sir Kit had put a lot of improving thought into landscaping it with trees. So he was not impressed when his new English bride derided the vista as a black swamp.

Further tensions arose when, in defiance of his wife’s Jewish sensibilities, Sir Kit insisted on having pork sausages for breakfast.

Lurking in the background, need you guess, was some unresolved business: Sir Kit’s new Lady had declined to contribute her fortune in jewels to the needy family kitty. The result? He locked her up for seven years.


The story line comes from Irish writer Maria Edgeworth’s satirical novel Castle Rackrent, but her inspiration was a set of real events involving the incumbent of Castle Nugent, not far from the Edgeworths’ home in Co. Longford.


Audio Clip : Marion Maxwell tells the story of Lady Cathcart



Colonel Hugh Maguire was the real life Sir Kit and villain of the peace. He had inherited Castle Nugent from his mother, but it was probably in one or other of the Maguire ancestral properties in Fermanagh that the hapless bride’s imprisonment began.

At Hugh’s birthplace, Tempo Manor, the original building has since been replaced, but visitors there in the late 19th century with a taste for the gothic were shown the room - by then a stable block- where Elizabeth had been shut away in isolation. Furthermore - fact being stranger than fiction- she had been locked away not, as in the novel, for seven years, but for upwards of twenty.

The marriage of Lady Elizabeth Cathcart of Tewin Hall, Hertfordshire and Colonel Hugh Maguire took place in 1745. Daughter of a humble brewer by birth, Elizabeth was already thrice widowed, later reflecting that of her three childless marriages, number one had been to please her parents, number two had been for fortune, number three for rank.

That left love, and so it was as a menopausal ma’am of 53 that she finally admitted to tying the knot with stars in her eyes.

Her 35 year old Irish beau, lately returned to England from a term as a soldier of fortune in Austria, was joint heir to the heavily mortgaged Maguire estates in Fermanagh, but what this dashing emigre lacked in collateral, he made up for in roguish charm; he had already sweet-talked the merry widow into buying him a commission in the British army.

At their marriage ceremony, Lady Cathcart wore a specially commissioned ring bearing the legend, “If I survive I will have five”. Lady Elizabeth endowed her new husband with half the income from her properties. But when he discovered that she was far more wealthy than he had been told, Hugh demanded her jewels and the deeds to her properties at pistol point. She refused, so he smuggled her away to Ireland and locked her up. There, like his fictional counterpart Sir Kit, Colonel Hugh entertained the neighbouring gentry with lavish parties and balls. Far from seeking to hide his prisoner’s presence upstairs, he would ask the assembled company to drink her ladyship’s health and a servant, dispatched to deliver his compliments, would duly return conveying her ladyship’s thanks.

Lady Cathcart’s obituary, published later in the Gentleman’s Magazine, gives the true picture of her ordeal. Apart from her jewels which she had hidden in her wig and her petticoats, her possessions consisted of a prayer book and one old newspaper. Locked in a sparsely furnished attic with one tiny window, she struggled to retain her sanity by recording remembered conversations, pricking them on the wallpaper with a pin. After yet another menacing visit from Hugh, Elizabeth climbed onto the bed and managed to bundle her jewels out the window to a woman passer-by for safekeeping. Eventually, he wore her down and established that the deeds to her properties were hidden behind a panel in Tewin Hall. Setting off post haste for Hertfordshire, he located the hiding place of the coveted documents. Impatiently taking a jack-knife to the rusty lock, he cut his hand. Blood poisoning set in, he got lock jaw and within weeks he was dead.

Eyewitnesses recorded that, at her release, the poor prisoner: had scarcely clothes sufficient to cover her; she wore a red wig, looked scared and her understanding seemed stupified... Now 75, Elizabeth returned to Hertfordshire. She never did take husband number five, but by all accounts she recovered her spirits and was still enjoying dancing well into her Eighties. She died in 1789, in her 98th year, and was buried at her own wish with husband number one. Almost a quarter of a century had passed since husband number four had found his eternal rest back in Fermanagh, in the Maguire burying ground on Devenish Island.


Old Maguire house at Tempo, Co. Fermanagh,  1853 - demolished in about 1863 and replaced by present structure
Above: The old Maguire house at Tempo, Co. Fermanagh, 1853,
demolished in about 1863 and replaced by present structure.




Relevant links

You can read the full history of Tempo Manor on the Tempo Manor website

Your Place and Mine article - 'Tempo Manor' by Joe Simpson

This article by Marion Maxwell also appears on the Culture Northern Ireland website


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