On a verdant isthmus in Cumberland existed the small village of Buttermere. It was surrounded by rugged mountains and innumerable babbling streams. The village also consisted of a few scattered cottages, a white-washed parsonage, and a public house that stood alone by a rapid flowing brook and offered refreshments and relaxation to weary travelers. The public house was also clean, neat, and humble with two spare bedrooms available for anglers who wanted to enjoy the fine trout fishing in the area.
At the public house, in this pristine village, also lived a young woman named Mary Robinson but called the “Maid of Buttermere” or the “Buttermere Beauty.” Mary was a paragon of loveliness and first noticed by Joseph Palmer, who stayed at the inn in 1797-1798. Palmer later wrote “A Fortnight’s Ramble to the Lakes in Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland” that was published in 1810. In the book Palmer described Mary as follows:
“She brought in part of our dinner, and seemed to be about fifteen. Her hair was thick and long, of a dark brown, and, though unadorned with ringlets, did not seem to want them; her face was a fine oval, with full eyes, and lips as red as vermilion; her cheeks had more of the lily than the rose; … She was a very Lavinia, ‘Seeming, when unadorn’d, adorn’d the most” … she looked an angel; and I doubt not but she is the reigning Lily of the Valley.”
Mary helped her mother and father at the inn, so she was present one day when a fine gentleman appeared. His appearance in Buttermere was described by one newspaper.
“One fine morning … a handsome travelling carriage rattles up to the inn-door, and out steps a fine gentleman in the breeches and boots of the period. His powdered hair … tied in a club behind. His chocolate fustian coat … open at the throat to reveal a finely laced white cravat. With smiles and bows, the beau announces himself … He spends the summer months partly at Keswick, partly at Buttermere … To young ladies his nice combination of deference and presumption was irresistible; their mothers listened eagerly to the … references to his estates in Derbyshire and Cheshire and his ancient lineage; the martial envy of the men was stirred by stories of his exploits in the American War; desperate duels in France, travels in Egypt, Turkey, and Italy.”
The gentleman called himself the Honorable Alexander August Hope, M.P. Hope. Hope settled himself into one of the inn’s bedrooms and each day he went out to fish. Each day he also ingratiated himself more and more with the beautiful Mary. Over the course of several weeks, Hope gained Mary’s heart, and, at last, they married.
“The marriage took placed on the 2nd of October 1802, and a romantic account of it found its way almost immediately into the newspapers. It thus fell under the notice of various individuals in Scotland, who knew that Colonel Hope, who was said to have married the flower of Buttermere, had been aboard the whole summer, and was not residing in Vienna.”
The result was that a London newspaper soon reported Mary’s husband was not Colonel Hope but rather a notorious forger and swindler named John Hatfield, also known as “The Kewswick Imposter.” To make matters worse, the paper also reported that Hatfield was married to another woman.
Learning that he was about to be exposed, Hatfield borrowed money from some locals and escaped. He first travelled to Ravenglass, then to Wales, and finally to Swansea, where he was arrested by the Bow Street Runners. They returned him to London where Hatfield was charged with three indictments for forgery. One newspaper reported on the events of his trial stating:
“On the way thither, and afterwards during the examinations, he maintained a quiet plausible demeanor, affecting to consider himself as a persecuted individual, and representing, in particular, that in the alliance with Mary Robinson he had been rather sinned against than sinning. Mary, on the other hand, who was now announced to bear a child to her pretended husband,* refused to become accessory to his prosecution.”
Mary did, however, provide the prosecution with a letter noting that Hatfield had always presented himself as the Honorable Colonel Hope, brother to the Earl of Hopetoun. Other evidence presented by prosecutors also proved unfavorable for Hatfield. Thus, he was convicted and hanged on 13 September 1803.
With his death, Mary, now a widow, became an object of intense interest to everyone in England and her story captured the public’s imagination. One person reported, “The sorrows of the beautiful widow excited for many weeks the sympathy and the visits of many females, even from distant parts of the kingdom.” Her popularity also included the production of dramas and melodramas in the London theatres. Moreover, “for many a year afterwards shoals of tourists crowded to the secluded lake, and the … homely cabaret, which had been the scene of her [Mary’s] brief romance.”
Mary was distraught for a time over the affair, but her neighbors did not blame her. They understood and blamed the conniving Hatfield, which allowed Mary to “resume her situation in the little inn; and this she continued to hold for many years.” Moreover, time helped to fade her love for Hatfield. She later married a neighboring clergyman, Richard Harrison of Caldbeck, and together they had several children. When she died on 7 February 1837, her death was mentioned in The Annual Register. She is buried in the chapel at St. Kentigern’s Church in the village of Caldbeck.
*In June of 1803, a newspaper reported Mary delivered a still-born male child.
-  Palmer, Joseph, A Fortnight’s ramble to the Lakes in Westmoreland, Lancashire, and Cumberland, 1810, p. 252-253.
-  “Mary of Buttermere,” in Tamworth Herald, 3 June 1905, p. 2.
-  “Mary of Buttermere,” County Express; Brierley Hill, Stourbridge, Kidderminster, and Dudley News, 31 August 1867, p. 6.
-  Ibid.
-  The Mirror of Literature Amusement and Instruction, 1824, p. 82.
-  “Mary of Buttermere,” 31 August 1867, p. 6.
-  Ibid.
-  “June 11,” in Lancaster Gazette, June 11 1803, p. 3.