“Tell me you do not feel as I do and I will leave you and you may be with another.”
~Tamara Rose Blodgett, The Savage Blood
All of us have probably experienced it – that frustrating moment in time when you liked someone who belonged to another. Most of us were mature and did not act on our feelings; we instead pined from afar, or perhaps hoped for the demise of the other relationship. Some, however, went once more into the breach and wholeheartedly involved themselves in a love triangle. History, both fictional and factual, is rife with them. In the movies, the hurt move on; in reality, the hurt often strike back.
A rival in love.
“A.Coward,” he repeated, and I briefly considered picking up the vase in the center of the island and throwing it at him. “Not making a choice is the coward’s way out. You love both of them. I get that. But you don’t feel the same kind of love for both of them, and the sooner you accept that the better.”
~Jennifer L. Armentrout, Every Last Breath
Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped with his first wife, Harriet Westbrook, in 1811, when he was 19 and she 16. In March of 1814, during a visit to the home of her (in)famous parents, Percy met 16-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. In July of that same year, the two ran away to the continent to marry, despite the fact that Percy was already attached to such a union. The couple returned in September of 1814; Mary was pregnant. Harriet removed herself back to her father’s house and then to her own situation in Knightsbridge, but did have another child by her husband in November of 1814. A year later, it was reputed she had taken a lover and bore him a child, but the stresses and strains of embodying a life of scandal were taking their toll. By early December of 1816, Harriet had enough and wrote a farewell letter to her father, sister, and husband. She then drowned herself in the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. She was 21-years-old.
In 1759, after losing his Countess to separation due to her growing madness, the Earl of Sandwich discovered 17-year-old opera singer Martha Ray. She was a “lady of an elegant person, great sweetness of manners, and of a remarkable judgement and execution in vocal and instrumental music” who became the permanent mistress/hostess/”wife” to the Earl; during their “marriage” she gave birth to nine of his children.
Sometime in 1775, army lieutenant James Hackman met Martha and established a friendship with her; as time progressed, so did his admiration, affection, and eventual obsession. He resigned his commission in 1777 to join the clergy and by March of 1779, he was given the position as Rector of Wiveton. Whether Martha and Hackman ever had more than a friendship remains the subject of dispute, but what is known is her commitment to continue her association with the Earl of Sandwich.
This was untenable to the now-Reverend Hackman, and on April 7, 1779 he trailed Martha to Covent Garden where he observed her with Lord Coleraine, a man he presumed to be her new paramour. Hackman left but returned armed, and killed Martha with a single shot to the forehead as she exited the performance hall. He turned the second gun on himself but sustained a mere flesh wound, which caused him to proceed to beat himself with the empty pistols. Upon his arrest, two letters were found on his person: one to his brother and one to Martha.
On April 16, 1779 – nine days after killing Martha outside the theatre – Hackman was brought to trial at the Old Bailey. He pleaded not guilty, but multiple witness gave testimony against him, including his own letters. Presiding Justice Blackmore ruled the evidence showed “a coolness and deliberation which no ways accorded with the ideas of insanity.” Reverend James Hackman was convicted and sentenced to death. Three days later, on April 19, 1779, Hackman hanged for the murder of Martha Ray at Tyburn.
The case was famously infamous, with The Newgate Calendar recording “this shocking and truly lamentable case interested all ranks of people, who pitied the murderer’s fate, conceived him stimulated to commit the horrid crime through love and madness. Pamphlets and poems were written on the occasion, and the crime was long the common topic of conversation.” Noted lawyer and author James Boswell wrote, in an article for the St. James’s Chronicle, the “natural Effect of disappointed Love, however, shocking it may appear, is to excite the most horrid Resentment against his Object, at least to make us prefer the Destruction of our Mistress, to seeing her possessed by a Rival.” It was not a justification for the murder, but an attempt at understanding: “I would say to all that are conscious that their Passions are violent, Think ye that this unfortunate Gentleman’s general Character is … worse than yours? No, it is not.”
“If she had looked into his eyes at that very moment she would have seen the inferno that she had thrown him into.”
~Llàrjme, Craving U
All definitions and/or examples taken from Cant: A Gentleman’s Guide, and 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Information on the lives of Percy, Mary, and Harriet Shelley taken from biographical snippets of Harriet Shelley and Mary Shelley. Information about the intertwined lives of the Earl of Sandwich, Reverend James Hackman, and Martha Ray taken from Executed Today and Murderpedia.