Mary Pierrepont was the first child of parents from families distinguished for rank, wealth, and intelligence. The loss, by the age of nine, of both her mother and her grandmother, and consequent changes of home, gave her little security in childhood. She next passed into the care of her father, the earl of Kingston, where she had the run of a well-stocked library, glutting herself on French and English romances, but later “stealing” some skill in Latin, the gateway to higher education at that time reserved to males. The education provided by her father covered the usual domestic and social skills, as well as Italian. All her life, her beauty or her talents claimed admiration and flattery, which she admitted to enjoying. Poems, essays, and novels survive from her thirteenth year onwards. She wrote in many genres throughout her life, for private circulation or anonymously: a woman of her rank could not present herself as a professional author. Her husband, Edward Wortley, was rich, a member of Parliament, and the friend of men of letters. He encouraged his wife to continue writing; she urged him to push his career with the Whig administration of the new Hanoverian king, George I. Their son was born in 1713. In London she became close to court circles and made friends who were to be of great influence on her life, especially the poets Alexander Pope and John Gay. Then she became dangerously ill with smallpox, the disease that had already killed her only brother. Her beauty was marred.
In 1716 Wortley was appointed ambassador to the Turkish court, charged with brokering a peace between the sultan and the Austrian emperor. Their train of coaches set out for the East via Cologne and Frankfurt to Vienna. King George summoned them north to Hanover; they returned to Vienna via Dresden. Thence they passed through devastation in war-torn Hungary to enter the Ottoman Empire. For the three weeks that they were held up in Belgrade she