Mary Ann Starling Hookham

Mary Ann Starling (1801-76) was the daughter of George Augustus Starling, Esq. (1772-1846), a conveyancer, and Jane Ann Hall (b. 1781), who were married on 20 August 1798 at St. Clement Dane, London. They settled in Westminster around Piccadilly, living at 28 Vine Street, just off Piccadilly, according to Holden’s 1805 London Directory. Mary Ann Starling was born on 29 July 1801 in Westminster and baptized on 13 December 1801 (later census records place her birth in Hampstead, so she may have been baptized in Westminster but not born there). Her brother, George Augustus Starling (1803-71) also appears in her letters to Hays, as does her youngest brother, Thomas (b. 8 December 1817). At the time of her first letter to Hays (December 1819), the family was living in Brewer Street, just off Golden Square, near Piccadilly. They were preparing for their move to a new home in Marlborough Square, Chelsea (what Mary Ann refers to as “Little Lemans”).  The Starlings were still living there in 1829,1 but by the 1841 census they had moved to 40 Leicester Square, where George Augustus Starling remained until his death in 1846. By 1813 (probably earlier) her father had become an acquaintance of Thomas and Edward Thomas Hookham, both brothers known at that time to Percy Bysshe Shelley, the latter having been assisted by Starling in a suit concerning the poet’s forthcoming legacy, a suit that brought Starling into the company not only of the Hookhams and Shelley but also William Godwin and Thomas Love Peacock.2

Thomas Hookham, Jr., (1787-1867) was the son of Thomas Hookham, Sr. (c. 1739-1819), who opened a bookshop and library in Hanover Square in 1764. He moved to 145 New Bond Street in the 1780s and to 15 Old Bond Street in 1793, where the firm remained until 1871. As a bookseller, Hookham issued some 500 titles either alone or in combination with other sellers during his long career (1756-99).3 In the 1790s his library rivalled those of Bell, Boosey, Ogilvey, and Lane, even challenging, in some ways, James Lackington’s massive book depository, the “Temple of the Muses,” for on-location reading materials. His A New Catalogue of Hookham's Circulating Library claimed some 40,000 books on hand listed in more than eighteen categories and three languages,4 especially French, which warranted its own publication in 1791, Nouveau Catalogue Francois, de la Bibliotheque Circulaire de Messrs. Hookham. About the time Boosey closed his library in 1794, Hookham expanded his library’s services through the addition of a new Reading Room at his Old Bond Street location, creating a lavish space where his subscribers, predominantly aristocrats and members of the professional class, could read current periodicals and access a wide assortment of titles that now totaled nearly 100,000 volumes in English, French, and Italian.5 Whether Hookham’s library and his reading room would have been amenable to Hays’s work on Female Biography is not known, but she clearly left a mark there, for Hookham’s 1829 Catalogue lists copies for loan or sale of Hays’s Memoirs of Emma Courtney, The Victim of Prejudice, An Appeal to the Men of Great Britain in Behalf of Women, Female Biography, and Memoirs of Queens, Illustrious and Celebrated. Upon his retirement in the late 1790s, the business was managed for a time by the elder Hookham’s nephew, Jordan Hookham, although Thomas Hookham, Jr. and his brother, Edward Thomas Hookham, were actively involved in the firm into the mid-19th century.6

Mary Ann Starling married Thomas Hookham, Jr., at St. George, Hanover Square, on 15 April 1820. Her father consented to the marriage even though she was still a “minor,” as the certificate notes. She may have become aware of Thomas Hookham when her father became involved with the Hookhams and Shelley in 1813; whatever the case, by 1819 they were lovers, despite the fourteen-year gap in their ages. They moved into quarters above or behind the library/reading room at 15 Old Bond Street. In 1821 their son, Thomas Hookham III, was born (he would also become a proprietor of the Hookham Library), and in 1835 a daughter, Rosa, who never married during her mother’s lifetime. In the census for 1841 and 1851, Mary Ann is listed as “married” and a ‘Librarian’s Wife” living with her daughter, Rosa in their home in Old Bond Street, but in each instance, Thomas Hookham is not present in the census. Whether they were estranged during that time is not known, but he does appear in the 1861 census. Thomas Hookham died in 1867, and in the 1871 census Mary Ann had moved to the parish of St. Pancras, living at 4 Fitzroy Square; her daughter, however, was listed as living (and possibly working) at the family business in Old Bond Street (though she might not have stayed there much longer, for Hookham’s Library and its other business operations were sold to Mudie’s that same year). Mary Ann Hookham remained at Fitzroy Square until her death in 1876.7

After her initial meeting and correspondence with Hays in 1819 during Hays’s composition of Memoirs of Queens, Hookham spent the next fifty years intimately connected with Hookham’s Library and Reading Room in Old Bond Street as the “Librarian’s wife,” as the 1851 census put it. Surrounded by thousands of books, her desire for knowledge could easily be satisfied, though her family duties probably interfered with and may have postponed such pleasures and pursuits for many years. That may explain why, after the death of Thomas Hookham, Jr., in 1867, Mary Ann Hookham followed in the footsteps of Mary Hays and formally embarked on a four-year research and publishing venture, not an effort to chronicle the biographies of 300 women or the memoirs of 75 queens but to create an exhaustive history of just one woman – Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England (1445-61, 1470-71) during the reign of Henry VI. Hookham’s project may have been inspired by her interaction with Hays in 1819-20, for during that time, Hays also composed a biography of Margaret of Anjou that she included in her Memoirs of Queens, which was published not long after Mary Ann’s last letter to Hays by T. and J. Allman, Booksellers to Her Majesty located in Princes Street, Hanover Square, just a short distance from Hookham’s Library, which soon added Hays’s volume to its collections.8

Mary Ann Hookham’s Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England and France was published in two volumes in 1872 by Tinsley Brothers, on the Strand. Hookham’s work was widely reviewed, with many criticisms echoing similar complaints aimed at Hays seventy years earlier after the publication of Female Biography – that her sources were too common and not always judiciously employed, especially in choosing certain controversial subjects for Female Biography.”9 Hookham’s subject was not at all controversial, but her use of sources was just as contentious as it had been for Hays. Samuel Rawson Gardiner, writing in the Athenaeum, opined that it had become “one of ‘woman’s rights’ that the biographies of illustrious ladies shall be written by their own sex. Or if not a right, it is certainly a custom, founded on some law of nature, with which we have not the slightest wish to quarrel.”10 If women writing women’s lives had become a “custom” by 1872, then Mary Hays was doubtless one of the major reasons for that custom, though whether Gardiner even knew of Hays by 1872 is doubtful. He praised Hookham’s assiduous work ethic in locating sources for her book but was convinced “she would have added greatly to [the book’s value] had she but shown some critical discernment worthy of so much industry. Her book contains a larger mass of facts and statements with regard to Margaret of Anjou and her father than have ever before been brought together. The sources too, from which these statements are derived are most conscientiously acknowledged, sometimes in the margin, and sometimes at the foot of the page,” with some paragraphs receiving “a score of authorities.”11  Unfortunately for the reviewer, she listed the sources without any distinction as to their value. “Here we have the ‘Biographia Universelle’ and the popular histories of Rain, Hume, Henry, Lingard, and Sharon Turner, cited as authorities to authenticate still further facts already vouched for by reference to Fabian, Hall, Stowe, Holinshed, the Paston Letters, and Rymer’s ‘Fœdera’” (456). He later chided her for quoting from a manuscript in the Harleian Library “without telling us which particular MS. it is, out of upwards of 7,000 volumes. These things must be considered blemishes even in a work which cannot pretend to be of any critical value.” Other reviews followed Gardiner’s lead,12 but not all were negative. Bell’s Weekly Messenger proclaimed, “Let Mrs. Hookham’s history be as largely circulated as possible, and earnestly read in every home,”13 with another journal describing her biography as “one of the best and most complete views of England during the 15th century yet written.”14 The directors of the second version of the London Library (organized in 1841) apparently saw value in Hookham’s biography, for it soon found its way into the Library’s 1875 printed Catalogue, Hookham’s two volumes situated only a few titles away from the six volumes of Mary Hays’s Female Biography.15



   1 Entry appears in Pigot’s Metropolitan New Alphabetical Directory for 1828-1829.

2 Starling appears in Godwin’s diary on 21 August 1813, in which Godwin calls on Starling at his home and among those present is John Miles (1784-1856), the nephew of Joseph Johnson and later one of the proprietors of Simpkin and Marshall, Hays’s final publisher in 1821. Starling also appears in Shelley’s correspondence that year as well as a letter by Peacock to Shelley in 1822 involving another matter concerning Shelley’s property). See Kenneth Neill Cameron, ed., Shelley and His Circle 1773-1822, 3.267-68, 337-38; Richard Garnett, ed., Thomas Love Peacock Letters to Edward Hookham and Percy B. Shelley (Boston: Bibliophile Society, 1910, 93); see William Godwin’s Diary: Reconstructing a Social and Political Culture 1788-1836, eds. Mark Philp, David O’Shaughnessy, and Victoria Myers (

3 James Raven, The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007, 187.

4 A New Catalogue of Hookham's Circulating Library, on a New and more Extensive Plan than any yet extant: Consisting of Near Forty Thousand Volumes in English, French, and Italian . . . (London, c. 1785).

5 See A New Catalogue of Hookham’s Circulating Library on a New and more Extensive Plan than any yet extant, Consisting of Near One Hundred Thousand Volumes in English, French and Italian . . . (London: Hookhamn, 1794).

6 Also present are Godwin’s Memoir of Mary Wolstonecraft [sic] Godwin as well as works by Wollstonecraft, some of which M. A. Starling mentions in her 1819 letter to Hays as having recently read: History of the French Revolutionists, Letters from Sweden, Norway, &c, and Rights of Women, as well as an anonymous Defence of Mrs. Mary Wolstonecraft [sic] Godwin, by a Lady, an undated work that appears to be a lost text on Wollstonecraft by a woma2007n who most likely was known to Hays. It should not be confused with A Defence of the Character and Conduct of the late Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, founded on Principles of Nature and Reason, as applied to the Peculiar Circumstances of her Case; in a series of letters to a Lady (London: Printed for James Wallis, No. 46, Paternoster Row, by Slater and Munday, Oxford, 1803). What are not present in Hookham’s Catalogue are any of Hays’s historical, educational, and moral works designed for young readers and those within the lower or rising middle orders who were now becoming a consumer market of their own for inexpensive tracts and short imaginative works designed for the improvement of moral character and the elimination of social vices. These works were sold by booksellers often in conjunction with the various tract societies and the Sunday School Society and would not have been appropriate fare for the professional and upper-class clientele of Hookham’s Library and reading room in Mayfair.

7 The information on Mary Ann Hookham and her family has been taken from various London Directories, as well as parish birth, marriage, and death records and the National Census records for 1841, 1851, 1861, and 1871, all of which are generally available at the London Society of Genealogists, the National Archives [PRO] at Kew, the London Metropolitan Archives, and several of the local borough archives in London. Her final address is noted in an 1872 letter by Hookham to her editors at Tinsley concerning reviews of her book, a letter that was acquired and then sold by as an Historical Autograph at Julian Browning Ltd, London.

8 Mary Hays, Memoirs of Queens, 360-67, with her source given as “History of England.” It is interesting to note that Hays’s last publishers were within a short walk of Hookham’s printing business and library in Old Bond Street, Mayfair, which might suggest her friendship with Mary Ann Hookham may have played a role in Hays’s procurement of a publisher for her volume.

9 The Critical Review credited Hays with the ability “to take the accounts reputed most authentic, to change the style for the sake of uniformity, and abridge the histories where thy appeared too prolix. Of what, therefore, she found in books, she seems to have made a judicious use.” Even good sources, however, should not be “admitted as an excuse for the insertion of some lines, that with more propriety might have been omitted,” a reviewer for the European Magazine argued, for in Hays’s life of Abassa, her use of the General Biographical Dictionary and some notes found in Madame de Genlis’s Knights of the Swan were perfectly acceptable, but LaCroix’s Les Femmes Celebres was not “an authority for Mrs. Hay[s] to have followed.” To this writer, however (and other reviewers would express similar sentiments), Hays’s sources were not as important as were her subjects, for some women she included in Female Biography made her guilty of “mixing dross with sterling ore.” Critical Review, 2nd Series, 37 (1803), 416; and European Magazine 43 (1803), 451, 452.

10 Athenaeum 25 (April 1872), 455.

11 Ibid., 456.

12 Ibid., 456. Pall Mall Budget [also called the Pall Mall Gazette] 8 (April 5 – September 27, 1872), 26; Westminster Review, New Series 42 (July 1872), 250. Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science, and Art 34 (1872), 671.

13 Comments appeared in an advertisement for Hookham’s work by Tinsley Brothers in Notes and Queries, New Series 4, 9 (4 May 1872), 351.

14 The Canadian Monthly 1 (1872), 482.

15 Catalogue of the London Library, 4th ed., by Robert Harrison (London: The Library, St. James Square, 1875), 397.