She was an only child set to inherit thousands; he was a Captain in the Life Guards. Her mother knew of the attachment and did not actively stop it – he was perhaps not their first choice but he was acceptable. They ran off to Gretna Green, where they married.
The only thing that separates this story from many other similar elopement tales is the “extreme youth” of the bride.
She was 13.
In 1815, Mary Ann Stanley (1801-1881), a treasured only child (she was born 15 years after her parents, Sir Edmond Stanley and Jane Talbot, married) absconded with Captain Edward Trant Bontein (born in 1785 in Balglas, Scotland), a widower 16 years her senior.
The Morning Chronicle (7 June 1815) related the story of their flight:
The lady and gentleman were Miss STANLEY, daughter of Sir EDWARD STANLEY, now in a high official situation in the East Indies, and Captain BONTEIN, of the Life Guards, son of Sir James BONTEIN. Lady STANLEY was well aware of the intimacy which subsisted between her daughter and Captain BONTEIN, but never suspected that it had so nearly approached to a crisis, on account of her youth, she not being quite fourteen years of age. On Sunday morning, the 21st ult. the parties went to the Chapel Royal, and thence to to the house of Lady BONTEIN, where they partook of a cold collation; they then proceeded in a tilbury to Barnet, under pretence of taking an airing before dinner, where a coach and four was in waiting, and bent their way for Gretna Green, with all the dispatch possible. Lady STANLEY waited dinner till 7 o’clock, and her daughter not coming home as usual, inquiries were made, and circumstances came to light which rendered it evident that the lovers had taken their flight for Gretna. Lady S. accompanied by a person, immediately commenced pursuit, and they traced the flying couple every stage – but they “flew on the wings of Love,” and could not be overtaken. They passed through Carlisle about 3 o’clock on the Tuesday morning, and went on to Gretna, where they were married; and on their return, coming out of Longtown, they saw their pursuers approach, but avoided them by taking an unfrequented path, and remaining until Lady STANLEY’S coach went past – when they came on to the Bush Inn, in Carlisle where in consequence of advice, the Captain determined to await the event of an interview with Lady STANLEY, which took place, and all parties were reconciled, and they proceeded to town together by easy stages. The Lady will have a very large fortune. There were no objections to the match, but those which arose from her extreme youth.
However, the Northampton Mercury‘s report of 3 June 1815 was far less celebratory, correctly identifying Mary Ann as a child:
An elopement (if it will bear that term), of a very singular nature has recently taken place, which is likely to undergo a severe legal investigation. It is that of a female child of only thirteen years of age, being induced by some means yet unaccounted for, to be carried away by a captain of dragoons, (a widower), from a barrack near town, where this child was left a visitant to the officer’s mother. The child is the daughter of a governor, and heiress to a large fortune; this extraordinary event is related with circumstances of great aggravation, which it may be hoped will prove unfounded.
Mary Ann was 16 when she gave birth to her first son Edward in January 1818. Four months later the family sailed for Madras to join Sir Edmond. Just under a year later in September 1819 she gave birth to another son, James. She was only 18 when her husband died at the age of 34. The family stayed in Madras until 1824.
Little is known of Mary Ann’s life thereafter except that towards the end of his life she lived with her widowed father at Richmond. By this time her sons’ surname had been changed by Royal License to Stanley. Mary Ann called herself as Mrs Bontein Stanley and never remarried.
After her father’s death she lived Brussels, where she is buried.
A Brussels English language newspaper cutting 1881:
The remains of this much respected and deeply lamented lady, were conveyed from her late residence 17 Rue Belliard and interred in the Evere Cemetery on Monday last.
The high esteem in which the deceased lady was held, was indicated by the large numbers who assembled at her house, and after wards joined in the funeral service in the English church Rue Belliard. The Rev. A.K Harlock, assisted by the Rev. J.C . Jenkins, officiated, and among those present to pay a last tribute of regard to one who is so deservedly regretted, we observed his Excellency Sir J. Savile Lumley, K.C.B., and Sir Henry Barron, Bart, the Committee of the British Charitable Fund, many distinguished Belgian artists and the principal members of the English Community in Brussels. Several beautiful wreaths of flowers were laid upon the coffin by mourning friends, and it was quite evident that all present were deeply-affected on bidding a final farewell to one who had been such a universal favourite, and whose generous efforts in the cause of charity will long be remembered.