Partner Marie Corelli, buried together

Queer Places:
Hall's Croft, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6BG, Regno Unito
Mason Croft, Church St, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6HP, Regno Unito
Evesham Road cemetery, 32 Evesham Rd, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9AA, Regno Unito

Bertha Vyver (11 June 1854 – 20 November 1941) was a caretaker for Scottish poet Charles Mackay and the companion of Marie Corelli. In the relationship with Marie Corelli, Bertha was "Mamasita" and Marie "Little Girl". Marie Corelli was supported both emotionally and professionally throughout her career by Bertha Vyver. Bertha was the daughter of a French Countess and gave up her own career as a painter to help promote Marie's career, encouraging Marie to regard herself as a talented novelist and creating the successful persona of Marie Corelli. Adopting a mortherly role towards Maries, who described herself to Bertha as "your wee little one", Bertha kept house and nursed Marie's invalid father, while Marie financially supported them both. Bertha's role was not, however, a purely private one and the two women also attended public functions together as a couple.

Vyver edited Corell's memoirs "Memoirs of Marie Corelli". From 1875 until his death in 1889, Vyver kept house and nursed Mackay, later caring for her own mother prior to her death. Relieved of her nursing duties, Vyver remained with Corelli encouraging and facilitating her writing career. When Corelli died, Vyver became executor of her literary estate and wrote a biography of the author.

Bertha Amelia Adriana Francisca van der Vyver was born on 11 June 1854 as one of three daughters born to Alphonso Peter Francisco Adrian van der Vyver and his wife.[1] Her father was often reported as a Belgian-Spanish merchant and her mother as a Belgian countess.[2] In actuality, the father, known in England as Peter Francis Adrian Vander Vyver was Dutch and his wife, Pauline Maria Josephine Francisca was French.[3][4][5] They married in Jersey in 1850 and moved to England soon after,[4] settling in Lambeth where their daughters Paulina Bertha Laura, Bertha and Adriana Francisca "Ada" were born.[1][6][7] The father was an unsuccessful businessman, declaring bankruptcy several times, and made his living from selling fake hereditary titles. He extended the title Count and Countess to himself and his wife.[3] When his daughter Paulina married a real Spanish count, Vander Vyver refused to attend the wedding.[4][8]

In 1856, the father advised his wife that their marriage had not been legal and they remarried at St George's, Hanover Square on 10 April. In 1859, the Countess, as she was known, removed to Glasgow with the children. The father followed once again setting up a business that went bankrupt.[5] The Countess filed for divorce in Scotland in 1860, which was contested by Vander Vyver on the grounds that the couple were Dutch and could not divorce under Scottish law.[5][4] Thereafter, they lived separately and the Countess returned to London with the daughters.[9] The Countess established their home at 7 Cleveland Terrace, living a few blocks from Minnie Mackay, who would become a lifelong friend and companion to Bertha.[10] Mackay, who would gain fame as Marie Corelli, shared a similar obscure past,[11] as the illegitimate daughter of Charles Mackay.[12] In the 1860s, the two girls attended convent school together in Paris.[2]

In 1875, Corelli's mother became very ill and was unable to continue caring for the Mackay household. The Countess suggested that Vyver take up the position of caretaker and she moved in with them. The household finances were difficult, as Mackay's pension of £100 per year and income Vyver received were the sole sources of earnings.[13] As Mackay's health declined, the two women and he were forced to move closer to medical facilities and moved to Kensington in 1883. Mackay was left semi-paralyzed from a severe stroke and Vyver was rarely able to leave his side.[14][15] Besides caring for Mackay, Vyver took up photography and became quite adept, though few of her images have survived.[16] In the meantime, Minnie decided that using her father's name had not helped her earn a living from her writing and she invented a new identity, the Venetian writer, Marie Corelli.[17][18]

Hall's Croft, Stratford upon Avon

Mason Croft, Stratford upon Avon

When Mackay died at the end of the year in 1889, Vyver was able to travel with Corelli to Eastbourne for a few days of respite in January 1890.[19] Soon after returning home, they learned that the Countess, who Corelli had considered as a second mother, was dying as well. The pair went to her home and remained with the Countess until she died in the spring.[20][21] From that point, Vyver was free to travel with Corelli and encourage her writing.[22][23] Vyver and Corelli were companions who lived together for nearly forty years.[24][25] In 1901, they moved into a house in Stratford-upon-Avon called Mason Croft on Church Street, which is currently owned by the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham.[26]

Corelli dedicated several books to her.[a] They lived together until 1924, when Corelli died[2] and in accordance with her will, left everything she owned to Vyver.[28]

One of the great friendships of modern times knit together the hearts and minds of Miss Marie Corelli and Miss Bertha Vyver.... Her own heart was the hearth of her comrade, and thought and love of 'Marie' thrilled through Miss Vyver's veins.... In loneliness of soul, Miss Vyver mourns the loss of one who was nearer and tenderer to her than a sister.... Over the fireplace in the fine, old spacious lounge at Mason Croft, the initials M. C. and B. V. were carven into one symbol. And it was the symbol of life.

— Sidney Walton, in the Yorkshire Evening News following Corelli's death[28]

Vyver continued to maintain the house at Stratford-upon-Avon, as if Corelli were still alive. As literary executor, she published Corelli's Open Confession the year following the author's death.[29] Vyver wrote "Memoirs of Marie Corelli", which was published in 1930.[30] In dwindling health, by 1939, Vyver was weary of maintaining the estate trusts, but was determined to keep it intact as per Corelli's wishes. The war intervened in the trustees taking action until after her death.[31] The two women are buried together in the Evesham Road cemetery, Stratford-upon-Avon.[25]

Evesham Road Cemetery, Stratford upon Avon

"Boy" by Corelli has the dedication "To my dearest friend in the world Bertha Vyver who has known all my life from childhood and has been the witness of all my literary work from its very beginning this simply story is gratefully and lovingly dedicated." "Thelma" (1887) was also dedicated "To my dearest friend, Bertha Vyver, in recognition of her sweet companionship, tender sympathy, and most faithful love".[27]

My published books:

See my published books