Westbrook, Harriet

(ENGLAND)
BORN 1 Aug 1795 - DIED 9 Dec 1816, London
GRAVE LOCATION London: small cemetery near Bayswater Road

First wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who eloped with her to Scotland on 25 August 1811 and married her three days later, against the wishes of his father. She was sixteen at the time and would bear him two childeren, Ianthe (1813) and Charles (1814). In March 1814 they were remarried in church in England, to prevent Ianthe from being illegetimate under English law.

But relations between the two worsened and Shelley fell in love with William Godwin's daughter Mary. They were far away at continent by the time Harried gave birth to Charles.

Harriet returned to her father and in 1816 she took lodgings under the name of Harriet Smith. She had a lover now, an officer based at Chelsea Barracks, by whom she became pregnant before she moved to Hans Place, Knightsbridge. It was probably on 9 December 1816 that she walked to Hyde Park and drowned herself in the Serpentine river (or possibly the old reservoir in the park). Certain is that on 10 December 1816 her body was found in the park near the Serpentine. She was identified as Harriet Smith and the verdict was "found drowned". The Times, however, wrote that respectable lady, far advanced in pregnancy, had committed suicide". In her last letter to her sister Eliza she made it clear that she was planning to kill herself.

In 1817 the Westbrooks started a legal procedure to take the custody for the children away from Shelley. Lord Chancellor Eldon proved them right and Shelley was no longer allowed to see his children.

Family
• Husband: Shelley, Percy Bysshe

Related persons
• met Shelley, Mary

Events
1812/11/11: Mary Godwin is in the same house as Shelley and Harriet
Shelley, his wife Harriet and Harriet's sister Eliza dined with the Godwins that night. But Mary was tired and she probably remained upstairs.
1814/7/0: Shelley takes laudanum after Mary refuses to see him
Shelley had written to his wife Harriet that he loved Mary Godwin. Harriet came to London and visited Godwin. Under pressure Mary promised to meet Shelley no more. But Shelley turned hysteric and he appeared with guns, laudanum and suicide threats. They managed to calm him down, but soon afterwards he took a huge dose of laudanum. Godwin hurried to his lodgings where he found Shelley and a docter. Shelley survived, but his friend Thomas Peacock hardly recognized him when he saw him.

Sources
• Raymond, Ernest, Two Gentlemen of Rome,, The Story of Keats and Shelley, Cassell & Company, London, 1952
• Holmes, Richard, Shelley, The Pursuit, Penguin Books, London, 1987
• Blunden, Edmund, Shelley, Collins, London, 1946


Weyher, Ruth

Published: 1 Jan 2006
Last update: 23 Nov 2009