Mariana Starke: ‘The Sword Of Peace’, 1788

On 9 August 1788  Mariana Starke’s play, The Sword of Peace; or, a Voyage of Love, received the first of six public performances that season at London’s Theatre Royal, Haymarket.  

sword of peace

This was certainly not the first play that Mariana had written,  but was the first to be professionally staged. See Mariana Starke: First Productions for mention of Ethelinda, which, possibly in 1787, Mariana had sent to George Colman, the manager of the Theatre Royal. He had been encouraging, but in the end had rejected it. He would, therefore, have been an obvious choice to receive her next dramatic work and in the Preface to the published edition of The Sword of Peace she thanks him most warmly. To Mariana’s play Colman added a Prologue and his son an Epilogue.

In her introduction to the online edition of The Sword of Peace Jeanne Moskal has suggested that prior to its short run at the Theatre Royal, the play may already have been produced in the private theatre of her friend and patron Mary Crespigny [see Mariana Starke: The Mystery of the Bodleian Diary]. This is possible, but if such a production was staged it is surprising that papers such as ”The World and Fashionable Advertiser’ and ”The Public Advertiser’ make no mention of it, while carrying information of other theatricals at Camberwell Grove that  involved Mariana and her brother, Richard. Mrs Crespigny’s activities were good ‘copy’for these papers and it seems unlikely they would have overlooked such an interesting item.

As the reader can so easily consult the online text of The Sword of Peace, together with the associated apparatus of notes which includes a summary of the play, I will not repeat it here, but would like to make one observation.

The Starkes' home, Hylands House, Epsom

Hylands House, Epsom, 0ne-time home of Governor Starke and his family’  (the two brick bays being a rather unfortunate later addition). A house, in the late 18th-century, replete with memories of and talk about life in India

This is an idea that occurred to me as to what Mariana might mean in her Preface when she observes that ‘the character of David Northcote is a real one. To Indians this is needless: the sketch, however, is not too faint, I hope, for others: it was dictated by a heart glowing with gratitude and admiration of his noble and unbounded goodness!’

It has been suggested, by Jeanne Moskal among others, that ‘David Northcote’ is based on Lord Cornwallis, who succeeded Warren Hastings as Governor-General of India. This assumption is quite probably correct. Hastings had been arrested in 1787, at a time when Mariana would probably have been writing the play; his trial was underway in Westminster Hall when The Sword of Peace played at the Theatre Royal. As ‘David Northcote’ was created as an exemplar of a good man in the midst of venality it may well be that Mariana was commending Cornwallis .

However, with the Hastings trial figuring so prominently in the news it seems just a little odd for the author to hope, even with the falsest of modesty, that ‘the sketch is not too faint’. Actually at the time it must have seemed blindingly obvious.  It occurred to me, however, that she may actually have had in mind a model for ‘David Northcote’ found rather closer to home, but more distant in time – one about which there might more justifiably be  a fear that the ‘sketch’ might be too  ‘faint’ .

Could ‘David Northcote’ have been modelled on Mariana’s father, Richard Starke, who, even at this time, 30 years after he had been forced from office, was always known as ‘Governor Starke’?

The name of the character does have resonances close to Mariana’s own circle. ‘David’ could be a nod to Fort St David, from which her father was ousted in 1756 by ambitious Robert Clive.

Mariana would have discussed the making of her play with her great friend, Millecent Parkhurst, whose father, John Parkhurst, was giving her advice on the construction of her dramas. John Parkhurst’s wife was born Millecent Northey, whose  family lived at Woodcote House, Epsom. When Mariana was pondering a surname for the hero of The Sword of Peace could she have created it out of this local association? For an essay on the Northeys and Woodcote House see here.

Among the final lines of the play, when Mr Northcote is created ‘Resident’, one of the characters describes how

‘They [the local inhabitants] do nothing but call him father—they keep blessing him and his children; and King George and his children; and their great prophet and his children’.

Would – could – that mention of ‘blessing him and his children’ have been a knowing authorial wink. The emphasising italics are in the original and there does not seem any reason for an allusion to Northcote’s children in terms of the play. Indeed, there is no mention of his being married, or having children. So was that a little joke -Mariana calling blessings on herself and her siblings, as well as her father -that the audience might have shared?

In terms of the plot of The Sword of Peace, a slight parallel between the careers of ‘David Northcote’ and Richard Starke occurred in 1752 when Governor Floyer of Fort St David was dismissed – accused of allowing a ‘Spirit of Gaming’  and ‘general neglect and want of order’ to prevail, as well as running up ‘Extravagant Expences’. Among the men entrusted to reinstate order was Richard Starke.

On 1 May 1787 ‘Governor Starke and family’ and ‘other names to India not unknown’ were present in the Playhouse, Covent Garden, for the performance of a new farce, Bonds Without Judgment, or, the Loves of Bengal, performed as a benefit for the actress, Mrs Wells. The plot concerns the fate of two young women who are sent to India in search of husbands…There is no mention in the World and Fashionable Advertiser’ report of 2 May 1787 of the author of the piece, but I understand it was one Edward Topham. The piece was acted for four nights in May 1787 but was never printed.

Could this play have motivated Mariana  to write her own? It is worth mentioning that the Prologue to ‘Bonds Without Judgment’ was written by ‘Mr Berkley’, surely her friend and collaborator, George Monck Berkeley (for whom see Mariana Starke: First Productions). In fact Oulton, The History of the Theatres of London suggests that Berkeley rather than Topham may have been the author of the entire piece. Incidentally, Mrs Crespigny took a very numerous party to Bonds Without Judgment.

The Sword of Peace was published in 1789, in London by J. Debrett and in Dublin by H. Chamberlaine, and returned to the Theatre Royal that year, on 30 July, for a further four perfomances.


Source: H.D. Love, Vestiges of Old Madras

P.S. UPDATE I knew that Mariana was not Richard and Mary Starke’s first born; a son, John, had died shortly before she was born and was buried at Epsom. I have now just found the gory details in a news report  in ‘The Public Advertiser’ of 21 June 1762, to the effect that this young boy, aged 20 months, had died the previous week after falling out of the coach in which he was ‘taking an airing’ with some women servants and was then run over by the vehicle’s wheels. Horrific.


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