Mrs Graham was a renowned beauty, who had additional bonus exotic points for having been raised in Russia where her father, Baron Cathcart was Ambassador to the court of Catherine the Great. Her arrival back in England must have been akin to the return from Paris of Anne Boleyn two centuries earlier and it is no surprise that her husband was passionately in love with her. It is said that he once rode ninety miles in pouring rain to their country seat to fetch her a necklace that she wanted to wear to a ball in Edinburgh that night. No mean feat.
Sadly for her husband and dozens of ardent admirers, poor Mary was stricken with tuberculosis and began to waste away, becoming extremely frail and weak in the process although her beauty was apparently very little diminished. It was during a restorative holiday in Brighton that she was to be introduced to today’s other great beauty, Georgiana of Devonshire and the two became the best of friends, in fact some might say that they were more than friends.
It’s hard to say for certain what happened between Mary and Georgiana as most of their friendship was necessarily conducted by letter and the languishing, affectionate language used between women of the time may well seem laden with significance and innuendo to twentieth first century eyes but was just conventional in the eighteenth century and nothing out of the ordinary in a culture where sensibility and sincere friendship, amité were much admired and considered to be the ideal.
Desperate to improve his wife’s failing health, her husband took her to Nice in Spring 1792, where it was hoped that the more salubrious climate would help her recover or at least be more comfortable. Sadly she was to die on the 26th June and he would be faced with the difficulties of transporting her corpse back through a France that was ravaged by revolution and insurrection. Horribly, her coffin was opened in Toulouse by a group of French soldiers and mistreated, which must have added terribly to her widower’s grief.
The beautiful Mrs Graham was buried in a mausoleum in Methven and, unable to deal with his grief, her husband first covered her most famous portrait with a length of white cloth then decided to give it to her sister as he just couldn’t bear to look upon her face. The painting was later given to the National Gallery of Scotland, on condition that it was never allowed to leave the country. In contrast to her other portrait by Gainsborough, which now resides in Washington.
Mr Graham would initially try to cope with the loss of his adorable wife with a lot of foreign travel but the incident at Toulouse appears to have preyed on his mind, leading him to a great loathing and hatred of the French in general and French soldiers in particular which in turn seems to have influenced his decision to join the army and take part in the war against them. This could have ended badly but on the contrary he became well known for his gallantry and heroism.