INHERITANCE: The Lost History of Mary Davies

In June 1701, a young widow, Mary Grosvenor wakes up in a hotel room in Paris and finds a man, Edward Fenwick, in her bed. Within hours they are married.

Yet three weeks later, Mary fled to London and swore that she had never agreed to the wedding. So begins one of the most intriguing stories of madness, tragic passions and the curse of inheritance.

Inheritance charts the forgotten life of Mary Grosvenor, born in London during the Great Plague of 1665, and the land that she inherited as a baby. This estate would determine the course of her tragic life. Inheritance restores this history of child brides, mad heiresses, religious controversy and shady dealing. The drama culminated in a court case that determined not just the state of Mary’s legacy, but the future of London itself.

Today, Mary’s inheritance is some of the most valuable real estate in the world.

Who was Mary Grosvenor?

Born in January 1665, to the scrivener, Alexander Davies who died in the Great Plague, she inherited a plot of land while still a baby. The Manor of Ebury as 300 acres of farmland to the west of London that stretched from the Thames to what is today, Oxford Street. This land would determine the course of her life.

The Book

Inheritance tells the story of Mary Davies, her estate and how it impacted on her life. She was first betrothed in a marriage deal at the age of seven. This arrangement fell through and she eventually married Sir Thomas Grosvenor at twelve years old. When Grosvenor died in 1700, Mary became a very wealthy widow. Whoever was able to win her hand would also gain great fortune.

A dramatic trial in 1703 was called to determined the events that occurred in that hotel room in Paris. Was it a legitimate marriage? Was Dame Mary a lunatick? Had she been drugged and poisoned by the Fenwicks? What would happen to the estate, if the jury found the marriage legitimate?

The Grosvenor Estate

The book is not just the story of the Grosvenor estate but of London in the 17th century. This is the story of Civil War, Plague and Fire. In addition it is the narrative of urban development and the rise of speculation and architectural innovation.

This period saw London transform from a delapidated slum to the largest city in the world, and possibly the first modern city. The skeleton of that city can still be seen across the metropolis from Covent Garden to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Work started on Grosvenor Square in the 1720s, driven forward by Mary’s eldest surviving son, sir Richard. It swiftly became one of the premier address in the new capital. It became the keystone for the development of Mayfair. for more information, click here.


‘Identifying an authentic seventeenth-century mystery, Leo Hollis uses the form of the classic detective story to deliver a fast-moving and forensic account of the birth and development of the London property market.’ Iain Sinclair.

‘This wonderful book has many layers: the entwined stories of the men who  stamped their names on the streets of London and, in their midst, one  woman for whom a rich inheritance became an impossible cage. Leo Hollis knows the expanding city like the back of his hand, and brings a forensic eye and a deep empathy to the mystery at the heart of Mary  Davies’s tragic life. Combining biography and detective story with urban  panorama and a thought-provoking exploration of the nature of property, INHERITANCE is a consistently enthralling read.’ Helen Castor, author of Joan of Arc

‘Hollis expertly weaves together the human tragedy and high politics behind the explosion of one of the world’s greatest cities. His scholarship and story telling makes the 17th Century seem so familiar’ Dan Snow

‘Leo Hollis combines meticulous research with his trademark style once again in this perceptive and humane book on the one of modern London’s most significant origin stories.’ Lucy Inglis, author of Georgian London: Into the Streets

“A fascinating insight into a tragic backwater of London’s history, yet from which one of its most magnificent estates emerged…” Simon Jenkins, author of A Short History of London

more reviews

‘An enjoyable romp through the social history of a century from the Great Fire and the rebuilding of London to the Enlightenment, taking in discourses on midwifery, madness, child-rearing, burial practices, the birth and development of the London property market and the dangers of being a woman.’ — The Times

‘Genuinely gripping. Hollis tells a good tale… Inheritance is also a book about property… his knowledge shows here in confident and vivid descriptions of the capital at the start of the 18th century. But he comes at his subject from a novel angle.’ — Adrian Tinniswood, Literary Review

‘The story of an heiress whose patrimony lies at the root of a modern accumulation of a vast landed fortune, the Grosvenor Estate of the Dukes of Westminster… brilliant.’ — Ian Bostridge, FT


Travel through Time: Selecting 3 key moments in 1701 to tell the story of Mary Davies, and one momento to bring back to the present, with Violet Moller:

History Extra: Madness, Property and Power, the Strange case of Mary Davies:

How to buy Inheritance: click below



%d bloggers like this: