Mary Ann Canning (1747/50-1827) was the mother of George Canning (1770-1827, twice foreign secretary and briefly prime minister). She had eleven other children. For sixteen years she was an actress; she also wrote a novel and marketed a patent eye ointment. George was separated from her at the age of six. From the time he was 17 he provided for her as well as he could. All his life he kept in touch with her. But he would not allow her to mix socially with his wife or have more than a few fleeting glimpses of his children.
In 1803 she wrote a long account of her life, explaining and justifying her actions and making a passionate plea to be allowed to see her grandchildren. She emerges as a determined, intelligent woman, and her story has much to say about the plight of women in a man's world, as well as throwing light on the eighteenth century theatre and on the complex and controversial character of her famous son. While it is easy to cast the story into an adversarial mould, we can also see Mary Ann and George as two decent people struggling to make the best of an intolerable situation which was not of their making.
The story of their troubled relationship is told here (PDF file; 14,000 words).
I have also written a book-length account, George Canning Is My Son which is described here. It is available as a (large) PDF file, and I will happily email it to anyone who asks.
Julian Crowe (jfec1947 [at] gmail.com)
28 March 2015