Marie Corelli — British Novelist of the Early 20th Century

Steve Newman Writer
3 min readApr 10, 2021

She was also very fond of taking people to court…

Corelli. Image: wikimedia

Marie Corelli (real name Mary MacKay) was often two-faced and careless with the truth. She was extraordinarily Shakespearean, and, in 1900, decided she wanted to build a free library in Stratford, bearing her name, which was a noble thought. So she contacted an old friend, Fred Winter, a local store owner and part time real estate agent to find out the cost of a plot of land adjoining the Technical School in Henley Street, just fifty yards from Shakespeare’s Birthplace. When Fred Winter informed Corelli of the price she immediately changed her mind saying the plot was too expensive. Fred then persuaded Archibald Flower to buy the land, who then gave it to Stratford Town Council with the clear instruction that they contact Andrew Carnegie to see if he would like to build a free library on the site. They, and Carnegie, agreed. So far so good? Well, almost.

When Corelli heard about the plans (which included knocking down some cottages between Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the site of the library to create a fire-break) she complained bitterly, and very publicly, that the cottages were of great historical importance (doubtful) and that the ignorant peasants of Stratford didn’t need a library, especially one built by Carnegie, a man she hated.

The doughty Fred Winter wasn’t going to let her get away with that and immediately sent off a letter to the Stratford Herald informing its readers, and reminding Corelli of her desire to build her own library, and her request to him to find out the price of that plot of land in Henley Street. Corelli reacted by denying she had ever spoken to Fred Winter about building a library, let alone the cost of a plot of land in Henley Street.

She didn’t leave it there either but accused both Fred Winter, and George Boyden (the owner of the Herald newspaper) of libel and took them to court.

The case (which created world-wide interest) was heard at Birmingham Crown Court just before Christmas 1903, with the famous prosecuting lawyer, and MP for Southport, Sir Edward Marshall Hall, retained as Corelli’s barrister. Hall — who later became involved in the Dr Crippen murder case — naturally won the legal day, although the jury gave Fred Winter the moral…

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