Martha Ray sounds more like the name of a jazz singer than a tart, but a tart she is. But don't worry, the name isn't totally misleading; with a name that jazzy Martha was born to be in showbiz.
Miss Ray was born into the middle class. In her teenage years she decided to follow in her father's (a staymaker) business, and was an apprentice to a milliner. But Martha's true talent did not lie in fashion, she had a natural talent for singing. This talent caught the attention of John, the Earl of Sandwich who was as much a lover of music as he was of beautiful, naive teenagers. At seventeen, Martha gave up her sewing career and moved in with a man many years her senior.
Lord Sandwich was no stranger to mistresses and whores, but he seems to have really cared for, and even loved Martha. He paid for her to live in France in order to receive a proper education in social graces, and more importantly, refine her musical ability. After her training was finished she returned to Sandwich. Meanwhile a still very much alive, yet mentally unstable Lady Sandwich began to show the signs of insanity. Her husband openly living with some harlot couldn't have helped her mental state. But in the egocentric world of the nobility, Lady Sandwich didn't matter. Martha, couldn't have been happier. She would go on to have five of John's children, whom he seemed to care for more than his legitimate ones. This new extension of the Sandwich clan may have been built upon immoral foundations but it was the picture of domestic felicity.
But all was not perfect in Sandwich Land. A soldier by the name of James Hackman was introduced to the couple and soon became a regular visitor and friend. He also fell deeply in love with Martha, and didn't consider her off limits since she was not legally married. Perhaps Martha led James on, perhaps they actually did have some sort of relationship, but Martha never left John for the young officer, although he proposed to her multiple times. James' attentions veered on stalking, but fortunately enough he was dispatched to Ireland before more problems could arise.
Martha was however, getting a little frustrated with John. He was a typical rake, building up more debt than fortune. He also wasn't getting any younger; quite the opposite in fact! As a live-in mistress, Martha and her children had no financial security, especially if John decided to kick the bucket any time soon. Receiving no allowance from her benefactor, Martha decided to work for her money and began a successful stage career. John was reportedly horrified but, whether from lack of money or backbone, couldn't stop Martha.
James Hackman reentered Martha's life, this time as a newly-ordained Anglican priest. He had hoped that this respectable career change would change Martha's mind about marriage and maybe even Lord Sandwich would comply. On the night of 7 April, 1779 Martha was approached by James, who inquired after where she was going. When she told him that it was none of his business, James automatically assumed she was visiting a new lover. As she left her destination (Royal Opera House) that night and stepped toward her carriage, two shots rang out. The first one missed its target but the second one hit Martha in the head, killing her.
Those in Covent Garden who looked to see where the shots sounded and saw James Hackman. He had two pistols, the second of which he put to his head...and only injured himself with the shot. Amazing to think, how a former army officer/current priest could mess up a suicide at point blank range. James was apprehended and convicted of murder. Despite Martha being a fallen woman, she was still loved by many and her premature death shocked the nation. John was devastated by Martha's death but gave James his forgiveness before he hung at Tyburn, but still reminded him that he, "robbed him of all the comfort in the world."
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