Character Spotlight—Catherine Barton Conduitt
Catherine Conduitt

Even in a cameo, this chick is a smoke show.

Catherine Conduitt was a badass—but not the “wield a sword and slay your enemies” kind of badass. She was supremely feminine, flawlessly graceful, and a perfect hostess. And, if you read between the lines of history, you might suspect that she shaped the hell out of England while she was alive.

I’m going to bullet point some facts for you. Now, I’m not saying Catherine made these things happen, but I’m not saying she didn’t either. You can make up your own mind.

  • In 1696, Isaac Newton—who has given zero fucks about politics in the preceding fifty-four years—comes to London to become Warden of the Mint and sort out England’s money problem. His seventeen-year-old (favorite) niece Catherine comes with him.
  • In 1698, Catherine takes a break from hosting her uncle’s parties to become Charles Montagu’s housekeeper. Less than three years later, they make Charles an Earl. When he dies in 1715, he leaves her five thousand pounds and two pieces of property (equaling about twenty thousand pounds) “as a small recompense for the pleasure and happiness I have had in her conversation.”
  • In 1717, when Catherine is thirty-eight, she meets twenty-nine-year-old John Conduitt (get some, you cradle robber you) who’s just returned from traveling abroad as a dragoon captain in the military. They are engaged within weeks, and married a month after that. John becomes her uncle’s aide and eventually takes over the Warden of the Mint post when Isaac dies.

Jonathon Swift and Voltaire both spoke very highly of her, despite their disagreements with her uncle and her political affiliations. The Kit-Kat club, populated by some of England’s greatest male minds, carved her name into a glass and would toast her cleverness and beauty.

Some people thought she was Montagu’s mistress. Maybe she was; I don’t think it really matters. The thing that caught my attention— every man she spent any serious time with, or held any affection for, found his circumstances drastically improved.

Catherine Conduitt ran shit. Quietly, in the background, with a beautiful face and a lovely smile, she changed men’s fortunes.

When I read about her, the details of her character started rolling around in my head. She would be subtle. She would be graceful. To have that big of an effect—and have cranky critics like Voltaire notice that effect, and still adore you—she had to be so goddamn pleasant to be around. A quiet smile and a rock-solid sense of self. A gentle hand with a brilliant mind behind it.

I love the sword wielding, in-your-face lady badass’s of history, but I am also fascinated by women like Catherine who embrace their femininity and use it in a way that cannot be denied. People tried to throw shade at her over the Montagu inheritance, but she smiled it off and it went away. Because who could hate someone so warm and gracious?

Writing Catherine was one of the hardest parts of writing A Convenient Engagement for me, because she was a real person and I wanted to do her justice. Because I strongly suspect Catherine Barton Conduitt was also one of the great minds of the eighteenth century, hiding cleverly behind the roles of housekeeper, niece, and wife.

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