Friday, 3 September 2021

The May Scandal

The Mays were a family of landed gentry.

Sir Edward May's father, James, had been created a baronet in 1763.

Sir Edward succeeded to the title in 1811, following his father's death.

Sir Edward May, 2nd Baronet (1751-1814), MP for Belfast, 1801-14, married Eliza Lind (née Bagg), of Holborn, London, in 1773.

It can be presumed that the issue of this marriage were Sir Edward's four children, viz. Stephen, Edward, Anna, and Elizabeth.

When his father died in 1811, Stephen naturally assumed that he was the rightful successor to his father as third Baronet.

He therefore styled himself "Sir Stephen May Bt".

Anna, 2nd Marchioness of Donegall,
Photo Credit: Belfast Harbour Commissioners

His sister Anna married George, Earl of Belfast; and when Lord Belfast's father died she became the Marchioness of Donegall.

The next series of events remain unclear.

It transpired that Stephen’s mother Eliza, Lady May, had a previous husband living in the East Indies.

Bigamy was, I am sure, a serious offence in the 18th century.

As a consequence of this devastating development, Sir Edward May's marriage was declared null and void, thus his children were all effectively born out of wedlock.

Click to Enlarge

The unfortunate Stephen May therefore could not succeed to the baronetcy (though he was made a Knight Bachelor in 1816).

Instead, his uncle, Humphrey May, became the third Baronet.

Several questions remain unanswered in this sorry episode for the Mays.

When did Sir Edward and his children become aware that his first wife was already married?

What happened to Lady May, Eliza Lind?

Was she convicted of bigamy, and, if so, was she sent to jail?

Who was her first husband in the East Indies?

First published in August, 2019.


Handelian said...

It sounds like an episode of Downton Abbey. Roll on the film.

Timothy Belmont said...

Alex Kane: This is the sort of back story Conan Doyle liked to ‘borrow’ for Holmes adventures.

Brenda Bayliss said...

My family has direct descent from the May's, through Elizabeth May m Thomas Carew - Elizabeth being a dr of James May and Letitia Ponsonby. Elizabeth May's brother, James May, 1st Baronet May, was grandfather to Anna May, later Anna Chichester, Marchioness of Donegal