Biography of Mary Shelley

Portrait of Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was a nineteenth century author as well as wife of the poet Percy Shelley and the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft.

When and Where was she Born?

30th August 1797, 29 The Polygon, Somers Town, London, England.

Family Background:

Mary Shelley was the daughter of the philosopher William Godwin and the women’s reformer Mary Wollstonecraft. Her mother died after complications with her birth on 10th September 1797.


Local day school’s in London and Miss Pertiman’s boarding School, Ramsgate.

Timeline of Mary Shelley:

1799: Samuel Taylor Coleridge comes to stay with her father and she hears a recital of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” for the first time.

1801: Her father remarries to Mrs Mary Jane Clairemont.

1803: Anthony Carlisle visits her father and recounts experiments which had been done to the bodies of executed prisoners at Newgate. Electricity had been passed through the corpses to make them move. Also present were Humphry Davy, Charles Lamb and S.T. Coleridge.

1806: She hides under the sofa to listen to Coleridge reciting “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”.

1807: Mary leaves the Polygon (and its close proximity to her mother’s grave) for 41 Skinner Street where her father sets up as a bookseller. The house is near the abattoirs for Fleet Street market as well as Newgate Prison.

1811: She is sent to Ramsgate for the good of her her health.

1812: Her father takes her to a Coleridge recital where she sees Lord Byron in the audience. She is sent to Broughty Ferry near Dundee in Scotland again for her health.

1814: Meets Percy Bysshe Shelley for the first time on 5th May at Skinner Street. Makes love to Shelley in the graveyard at St. Pancras on 27th June. Leaves for France with Shelley and Jane Clairemont on 28th July. Mary’s family disown her. They all travel to Paris and then on to Basle and Lucerne in Switzerland, eventually returning to England with no money left. They take a series of lodgings in St. Pancras and Knightsbridge.

1815: Birth of Mary Shelley’s first child Clara on 22nd February who died on 6th March. The family spend the summer in Torquay then Windsor. Claire Clairemont goes to stay in the cottage in Lynmouth, Devon where Shelley and Harriet had stayed in 1812. She suspects she is pregnant.

Villa Diodati
Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva
where Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley entertained each other 
with horror stories and Frankenstein was “born” (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1816: Birth of her second child, christened William Godwin Shelley on 24th January. Claire meets Byron. Mary, Claire, Shelley and Byron all decide to go to Switzerland. They arrive in Geneva in May and lodge at the Hotel D’Angleterre. They then move on to the Maison Chapus near Coligny. John Polidori probably falls in love with Mary. Byron is now lodging separately at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva where the others make frequent visits. On 15th June Byron suggests a short horror story competition to pass the time away during a storm. Mary realises the vision of Frankenstein for the first time. Mary writes out the first draft of Frankenstein on 26th August, although she did not fully complete the story until 16th September. They return to England and stay at Bath at 5 Abbey Churchyard next to the Pump Rooms. Claire is now expecting Byron’s baby. Mary’s stepsister Fanny commits suicide at the Mackworth Arms, Swansea on 9th October. Shelley’s wife Harriet kills herself in the serpentine in London in December and is found to have been pregnant. Mary marries Percy Bysshe Shelley on the 30th December at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his second wife attend.

Hotel D'Angleterre
Hotel D’Angleterre in Geneva on the lake shore where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1817: Shelley seeks custody of his children Charles and Ianthe but fails. Claire gives birth to a child called Alba on 13th January. Mary and Shelley, now married move to Albion House Marlowe, Buckinghamshire. Gives birth to her third child Clara on 2nd September.

1818: Clara dies in Venice during September “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus” is published for the first time.

1819: Their second child William died in Rome of malaria on 7th June. Fourth child Percy Florence is born in Florence on 12th November.

1821: Mary and Shelley visit Byron at Ravenna. Byron visits them at Pisa.

1822: Trelawny arrives in Pisa. Death of Allegra on 20th April. Mary has near fatal miscarriage. Percy Shelley sails to Leghorn to meet Leigh-Hunt. Mary Shelley sees Byron. Percy Shelley is drowned on the return trip.

1823: Mary Shelley arrives back in England  on 25th August and takes lodgings in Brunswick Square, London. A dramatisation by Richard Brinsley Peake of her book called the “Fate of Frankenstein” is performed at the Lyceum Theatre and English Opera House, London. She is rejected by Sir Timothy Shelley, Percy’s father, who forbids her to publish any of Shelley’s works to which she may hold copyright and refuses to give her any financial assistance. She is also rejected by London Society in general. Lives in a series of lodgings in North Holborn and Kentish Town, London.

1824: At Coram’s Fields she begins transcribing Shelley’s manuscripts and hopes, to get them published. 300 copies are produced but Sir Timothy bans their sale two months later. Visits the home of Edward Knatchbull on 9th July where the remains of Byron are being held three days prior to its funeral procession to Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Mary was writing the second Volume of the “Last Man”.

1826: Mary assists Thomas Moore with his projected life of Byron.

1828: She contracts smallpox on a visit to Paris.

1829: Mary Shelley lodges at 33 Somerset street, London and begins talking to a wide group of literary acquaintances.

1833: She moves to Harrow village to be near her son Percy whilst he is at school. begins writing “Lodore” but breaks off to start “The Lives of the Italians” which was to take five years to research and write. She held a particular dislike for working at the King’s Library of the British Museum.

1836: Mary moves back to London. Her father Godwin dies on 7th April..

1837: Begins the task of writing Godwin’s life and editing his papers.

1839: Prepares texts and biographical notes for Edward Moxon’s edition of Shelley’s work for which she is paid £500 pounds. This enables her to take out a lease on a house in Putney. Sits for her portrait to Richard Rothwell which was to be exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition the following year.

1840: Lodges in Richmond before embarking on a tour of Switzerland and Italy with her son Percy and his friend Knox. First signs in Italy of menigioma, the disease which was later to kill her.

1843: Mary spends a month in Paris with stepsister Claire. Lodges in Putney on her return home to England.

1844: Sir Timothy Shelley dies leaving Field Place to Percy and Mary. The property was in a terrible state of repair and its costs as well as her husband’s debts left her in despair.

1845: She buys 24 Chester Square, Belgravia, London.

1847:  She suffers a prolonged bout of illness in January.

1848: Her son Percy marries Jane St. John on 22nd June, the widow of Charles Robert St. John the younger son of Lord Bolingbroke. The three move back to Field Place and use Jane’s money to restore it. Both women suffer from bad health due to the dampness of the house.

1849: Jane and Percy purchase Boscombe Lodge near Bournemouth hoping to restore Mary’s health.

1850: Mary Shelley’s health worsens and she is taken back to Chester Square in London.

1851: Mary suffers a series of fits and lapses into a coma on 23rd January. After her death Percy arranged for the bodies of her father Godwin and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft to be exhumed and reburied alongside Mary in Bournemouth. A small museum and shrine was created at the Boscombe house to Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

When and Where did she Die?

1st February 1851, Chester Square, London, England.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1818: “Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus”.
1819: “Mathilda”.
1823: “Valperga, or the Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca”.
1826: “The Last Man”.
1830: “The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck.”
1832: “Prosperine, a Mythological Drama in Two Acts.”
1835: “Lodore”.
1837: “Falkner”


30th December 1816 To Percy Bysshe Shelley at St. Mildred’s Church, Bread Street, London. Her father William Godwin and his second wife attended.

Site of Grave:

St. Peter’s Church, Bournemouth, England.

Places of Interest:


Boscombe House Museum.


British Museum Library.
National Portrait Gallery.
John Murray Archive, Albemarle Street.