Mary (Godwin) Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley (1797 - 1851)

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley formerly Godwin
Born in Somers Town, London, Englandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Sister of [half] and [half]
Wife of — married 30 Dec 1816 (to 8 Jul 1822) in St. Mildred, Bread Street, Londonmap
Died in Chester Square, London, Englandmap
Profile last modified 13 May 2020 | Created 13 Nov 2014 | Last significant change: 13 May 2020
16:43: Ros Haywood edited the Biography for Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley (1797-1851). (added link to bibliography) [Thank Ros for this]
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Mary (Godwin) Shelley is Notable.

Birth and Childhood

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born on 30 August 1797 at 29 The Polygon, Somers Town, London,[1] in the parish of St Pancras in the County of Middlesex, England. [2][3] She was the only daughter of William Godwin, the political philosopher and author; and the second daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, the writer and philosopher famous for her 1792 work A Vindication of the Rights of Woman'.

Mary Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever eleven days after her daughter Mary's birth[1][4] and was buried in St Pancras Churchyard. [5]

As non-conformists, Mary's family did not have her baptised in an Anglican church. Her birth was, however, registered nearly six months later on February 12, 1798 at Dr Williams's Library. The witnesses were Mary Hobby and Elizabeth Fenwick. [2][3]

Mary's childhood family life was unconventional. After her mother's death, William Godwin took over the care of both Mary, and her half-sister Fanny Imlay, the illegitimate daughter of Mary Godwin and Gilbert Imlay. In 1801 William married again: his new wife, Mary Jane Clairmont, (nee Vial) already had two illegitimate children, Charles Gaulis Clairmont (born 1795) and Clara Mary Jane (Claire) Clairmont (born 1798). William and Mary Jane had a son, William (born 1803) together, so the household contained five siblings all partially related in some way by marriage or birth. [1]

Mary received most of her education from her father, who taught her ancient and modern history, literature, mythology, and the Bible. She also had art and French lessons from tutors, and studied Latin. But it was not just the subjects that she was taught that informed Mary's intellectual development. As Betty Bennett notes in her article on Shelley in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'William Godwin set a high intellectual standard for the household, encouraging the children's aptitudes and imaginations, and instilling in Mary Godwin confidence in her own power and responsibility to effect change as an activist in a society in transition'.[1]

Marriage and Children

Mary Godwin met the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Harriet in late 1812. By the middle of the next year Mary and Shelley had fallen in love, and on 28 July they eloped together to the continent, leaving Harriet Shelley with a three year old daughter and another baby on the way. Two years later, Mary was pregnant with her first child, and the couple, in severe financial difficulties, returned to England, where they were greeted with disapproval from family and friends. [1]

On 22 February 1815, Mary gave birth to a baby girl, two months premature. The baby died two weeks later. [6][7] In January 1816 Mary gave birth to a son, William, who was given the nickname "Willmouse".

In 1816, Shelley having received an inheritance from his grandfather the year before, the couple spent the summer in Geneva, Switzerland, with their friend Lord Byron, his physician John William Polidori, and Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont. They also took their son William, now four months old. It was here that Mary conceived the idea for her iconic novel Frankenstein. [1]

On 10th December 1816, Harriet Shelley was found drowned in the Serpentine in Hyde park, London. [8] Less than three weeks later, on 30th December 1816, Mary Godwin married Percy Bysshe Shelley by licence and 'with consent of William Godwin, her father', on 30th December 1816. The marriage took place at the church of St Mildred, Bread Street, London. Percy was a widower, and Mary was a minor. [9] The witnesses were William Godwin and M. J. Godwin.[10] [11]

Mary and Percy's son William was not baptised until two years later, on March 9 1818 in the parish of St Giles in the Fields, Middlesex. His baptism took place at the same time as his younger sister Clara Everina (born 1817) and Clara Allegra Byron, the daughter of Lord Byron and Claire Claremont. The Shelley's address at the time of the baptism was 119 Great Russell Street, London. [12]

In 1818, soon after the baptisms, Mary and Percy travelled with their children, and Claire Clairmont and her daughter Allegra Byron, to Italy. There, on 24 September, aged only one year and 3 weeks, Clara Everina Shelley died of dysentery. In June of the next year, in Rome, their son William died of malaria. Percy Florence Shelley, who was to be their only surviving child, was born in Florence the following November. [1]

Death of Percy Shelley

In 1822 the Shelleys, still living a migratory life in Italy, were spending the summer in a villa, "Casa Magni" (now known as "Villa Magni") [13], in San Terenzo on the Lerici Coast. On 8 July, Percy Shelley and his friend Edward Williams, returning from a trip to welcome their friends Leigh and Marianne Hunt to Italy, drowned in a storm in the Gulf of Spezia. [1] Shelley's body was washed ashore ten days later near Viareggio. Edward Trelawney, who wrote an account of the discovery of his body and its later cremation on the beach, stated that he snatched Shelley's heart from the pyre. This organ became a source of conflict between Mary and Leigh Hunt, Mary eventually winning the battle for its custody. [14]

Later Life

A year after Shelley's death Mary returned to England. She continued to write, and also edited and published her late husband's works.[1] She was recorded on the 1841 Census living at 34 Half Moon Street, Mayfair, in the parish of St George, Hanover Square, London. In the household with her was her son Percy (aged 20) and four servants. Mary was recorded as being of Independent Means. [15]

Barrel Organ St Mary, Avington

In 1849 Mary gave a barrel organ to the church of St Mary, Avington. The writing on the panels records that the organ was given by Mrs Shelley on Christmas Day 1849. [16]


Mary died on February 1 1851, probably from a brain tumour. [1] She was buried at St Peter's Church, Bournemouth, and the remains of her parents William Godwin and Mary Wollstencroft were moved from St Pancras churchyard to lie with hers. [17]

Mary Shelley's Tomb

Selected Works

For complete bibliography, please see freespace page

  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818)
  • Mathilda (1819)
  • Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1823)
  • The Last Man (1826)
  • The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, A Romance (1830)
  • Lodore (1835)
  • Falkner: A Novel (1837)

Travel Narratives:

  • History of a Six Weeks' Tour (1817)
  • Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (1844)

As Editor:

  • Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824)
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1839)

Other Works:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Bennett, Betty T., Shelley (née Godwin), Mary Wollstonecraft (1797–1851), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. Accessed online 18 March 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 England & Wales Non-Conformist Births And Baptisms, LONDON: Dr Williams' Library Registry; Registers of certificates: 1-3800, National Archives Reference TNA/RG/4/4660. Image and transcript available at Find My Past (£), accessed 26 March 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; General Register Office: Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths surrendered to the Non-parochial Registers Commissions of 1837 and 1857; Class Number: RG 4; Piece Number: 4660; Piece Title: Dr Williams' Library Registry, Birth Certificates, 1792-1805. Ancestry Record 2972 #189098 Image available
  4. Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. [1974]. New York: Penguin, 1992.
  5. Find A Grave: Memorial #12828. Her remains were removed to St Peter's Church yard Bournemouth in 1851.
  6. Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. London: Cardinal, 1987, p. 49.
  7. Seymour, Miranda. Mary Shelley. London: John Murray, 2000, p. 128
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "Percy Bysshe Shelley," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 6, 2020).
  9. England, Pallot's Marriage Index, 1780-1837. Original data: The original paper slip index, from which this database was created, is owned by The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, Canterbury, England. Ancestry Record 5967 #1365492
  10. London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: Guildhall: DL/T/Ms 10420/2, Ancestry Record 1623 #1147257.
  11. London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: P69/MIL1/A/01/Ms 3467, Church of England Parish Registers. Record Collection 1623737620|
  12. William Shelley in the London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1917, London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: DL/T/036/030, via Ancestry,com. Free Ancestry Image, Ancestry Record 1558 #6639746. Accessed 6 May 2020.
  13. Wikipedia Contributors, "Villa Magni", Wikipedia, L'enciclopedia libera, // (accessed 13 May 2020).
  14. Michael O'Neill, Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792–1822), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, first published 23 September 2004, this version published online 26 May 2017. Accessed 13 May 2020.
  15. Census Returns of England and Wales, 1841. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), 1841. Household of Mary Shelley: Class: HO107; Piece: 734; Book: 4; Civil Parish: St George Hanover Square; County: Middlesex; Enumeration District: 7; Folio: 12; Page: 16; Line: 19; GSU roll: 438836. Free Ancestry Image, Ancestry Record uki1841 #8120352. Accessed 13 May 2020.
  16. The Church of St Mary's Avington and Early History of the Parish. Gill Graham Maw.
  17. Find A Grave: Memorial #1617
  18. Wikipedia contributors, "Lives of the Most Eminent Literary and Scientific Men," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed May 13, 2020).

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Comments: 4

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I think the statement starting "Mary's non-conformist baptism was registered..." is incorrect. The records kept at the registry that was maintained in Red Cross Street were of births, not baptisms (as is clear from the linked images.)
posted by Paul Betteridge
For information: I am shortly going to be updating this profile and biography on behalf of the England Project Managed Profiles team. Thank you.
posted by Sally (Rowe) Douglas
Hi Lynden, I've proceeded to add the England Project as profile manager to this profile as discussed. Thanks!
posted by Gillian Thomas
Hello Lynden, the England Project would like to take on the management of this project protected profile, as per About Project Protection. Please contact me if you would like to discuss, otherwise I'll proceed in a week or so. Thank you.
posted by Gillian Thomas

Mary is 21 degrees from Donald Howard, 15 degrees from Julia Howe and 14 degrees from Henry VIII of England on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.