Josephine Murray married a debauched and wealthy Earl out of ambition. Out of malice, he disowned her, claiming he had made a previous marriage. Lady Lovel — if Lady she could correctly be called — abandoned, friendless, with a daughter to bring up — was for many years helped and sheltered by a local tailor, as a matter of common humanity. When the Earl dies, leaving his estate to yet another supposed wife from Italy, Lady Lovel successfully challenges the will. But the case is complicated by unprovable reports of yet another marriage. While the legal processes grind slowly on, her daughter, Lady Anna, has fallen in love with the tailor's son. The legal experts, who have an heir to the earldom in a distant cousin (who is perfectly agreeable) suggest that a convenient solution to the tangles of the estate would be for Lady Anna to marry the new young Earl. But she will have none of it. She has given her word, and will not be moved — not even by the increasingly desperate machinations of her obsessive mother, which lead her to the brink of madness.