Mother-in-law’s lesson in ‘manners’ for bride

An email from her future mother-in-law berating a young woman for sleeping late, fussy eating and general 'uncouthness' has been released to the world. Whose side are you on?

'I pity Freddie,' wrote Carolyn Bourne, 60. Her stepson is engaged to be married to Heidi Withers, 29, whose behaviour during a visit to the family home in Devon, South West England, fell so short of her expectations that she fired off a long and very angry email detailing 'a few examples of your lack of manners'.

These included sleeping late in a household that rises early, starting her food before everyone else and taking extra helpings of food without being asked. She also criticised Miss Withers for not writing to thank her hostess.

'Your behaviour on your visit… was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace,' Mrs Bourne continued.

'If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with the utmost haste.'

Moving on to plans for the couple's wedding, she suggested that if Heidi's parents weren't paying, she should 'lower her sights and have a modest wedding'.

'No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity-style behaviour.'

The next day, the father of the bride-to-be hit back, calling Mrs Bourne 'Miss Fancy Pants' and saying she had been 'snotty' at a meeting of the two families.

'Of course at the wedding we will shake hands and toast Heidi and Freddie,' he promised. But he added that he would never forgive Freddie's stepmother for her attack on his daughter.

The groom himself is keeping a very low profile and refuses to comment on the battle raging around him.

But online people felt free to express their sympathies for one or other of the members of the family. On Twitter, one wit joked: 'These women sound ghastly. Freddie would do well to run away and find himself a nice young man.' Another said it made her feel better about being single.

Main event

Never mind Prince William and Kate Middleton, this looks set to be the most closely-watched wedding for a long time – that is, if it goes ahead.

Perhaps we all love the spectator sport of watching someone else's relatives tear each other apart. To quote Leo Tolstoy, 'Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' So these unique wrangles are interesting.

Whatever the reason, this story seems to divide people between supporters of Mrs Bourne and those who think that she, and not her future daughter-in-law, is the one who needs to learn 'ladylike and gracious' behaviour.

You Decide

  1. Was Heidi Withers behaving well on her visit to her fiancé's family? Was it good manners for Mrs Bourne to send the email?
  2. Is there a difference between the older generation's emphasis on good manners, and young people's emphasis on respect?


  1. Write your own top ten rules for good manners when emailing or texting. Take inspiration from online etiquette guides likethis oneby 'Miss Debrett'.
  2. In pairs, one of you has to explain to the other, as politely as possible, that their behaviour on a recent (imagined) visit to your home was unacceptable. Then reverse the roles. Difficult?

Some People Say...

“Manners maketh man.' William of Wykeham (1324-1404)”

What do you think?

Q & A

Wow, this email went all over the world!
Yes, it really struck a chord with people. Maybe because there are two powerfulstereotypes to latch onto – the wicked stepmother and the difficult mother-in-law. Women who have to be stepmothers or mothers-in-law themselves will argue that it's sometimes not easy to avoid being cast as the villain.
But isn't Heidi Withers to blame too?
Well, lots of parents' comment on this story seems to blame Miss Withers for being a terrible guest with overly-grand ideas about her wedding, even if they don't agree with the decision to send an angry email.
What's the solution?
It's often difficult to get the generations to agree on what constitutes good behaviour. In the past there were stricter rules and young peoplekow-towed to their elders. Now it's more free and easy, but publishers still regularly bring out modern etiquette guides.

Word Watch

To criticise someone forcefully and repeatedly.
A code or rules of socially acceptable behaviour.
Leo Tolstoy
Perhaps the most famous of the great Russian novelists. The line quoted is at the very beginning of Anna Karenina, the tragic story of a failed marriage and catastrophic love affair.
Definitions of a type of person that lead to prejudice against an individual. The wicked stepmother is a stock character in fairy tales, but an increasingly common feature of modern families.
Kow tow
A verb from the Chinese gesture of showing respect by kneeling on the ground and bowing to touch your head on the ground before someone. It has come to mean grovelling or acting with extreme deference.


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