Carolyn Bourne’s email on English manners says it as it is – no wonder Heidi Withers withers

Carolyn Bourne
Carolyn Bourne has become famous. Not because she is an expert breeder of those splendid but under-estimated garden plants known as Pinks but because she took a dramatic step in trying to teach her future daughter-in-law a few lessons in English manners. I hope her actions will encourage people to grow more pinks in their gardens as there is nothing quite like their elegant brightness and powdery perfume to put you in the mood for a glass of Pims with your strawberries. 
It is the email though and not those gentile plants that has caught the English imagination. Apparently the formidable M/s Bourne was less than thrilled by a recent visit from M/s Heidi, yes, this is true,  Withers who is all set to marry Carolyn’s step-son Freddie. A lot of withering appears to be going on on both sides of this family dispute which has come to everyone’s attention when the said email was circulated on the web by some of Heidi Withers’ outraged friends.

Heidi Withers and Freddie Bourne

The nation is now at war! Sides have divided more dramatically here than at any time since King Charles I upset the Roundheads. I hope, however, that it leads to no more decapitations than the odd and slightly more aggressive than usual dead-heading of garden pinks.

Now this brings me to a difficult moment. I have always liked to think of myself as a relatively liberal kind of guy, easy-going as far as other people’s little habits go but I have surprized myself by having no little sympathy for the out-spoken Carolyn Bourne.
I have not had the pleasure of meeting Heidi Withers and I do not want to tarnish her reputation as I am sure that she must be a lively, confident and out-going type of person, a classic young modern English woman, I am sure, who is ideal material these days as a PA in a trendy London office but reading Carolyn Bourne’s email does fill in some less attractive and very believable details about her social graces or lack of them. I have to admit to usually finding food-fadish house guests irritatingly self-regarding, I have been known to get annoyed when people stay and decide to lie in bed ’til lunchtime and I worry about these modern English marriages where the happy couple think it is romantic to bankrupt themselves before they even get their first gas bill by getting hitched in some fantasy environment taken from the most sentimentalised of true-love pulp fiction. 
That’s just me though – aggressive and irritable English wolf that I am. I do not know Carolyn Bourne and she may be so difficult to live with that even the most demure of young ladies might get provoked into hiding in bed all day and she might be unaccustomed to imbibing alcohol and thus got so intoxicated that she made those personal remarks in “the pub” and, it is possible that Carolyn’s food is so poisonously bad that poor Heidi had no choice but to refuse most of it and to save herself from starvation but asking for more bread. As I say I don’t know these women but I’m with Carolyn in principle. All cultures have their codes for living together relatively peaceably but it so happens that here in England we increasingly sneer at a relatively short list of habits and mannerisms that do actually help to make things like weekend visits easier for everyone. It may seem stuffy but really most of Carolyn’s comments about good manners are to do with being sensitive to other people and, dare I say it, not behaving like a spoilt child.

One thing though, it is usually wiser if you want to write an angry email to just do the draft and then delete it immediately. We seldom feel good later when we have sent off an email that says what we really think.

However, I wish them all great happiness and would love to be a bee in that bouquet of pinks when the happy couple, with Carolyn Bourne in attendance, tie the knot at their expensive, baronial but I am sure sweetly romantic wedding.
About English manners though, you decide – here is the famous email:

“From: Carolyn Bourne

To: Heidi Withers

Subject: Your lack of manners

It is high time someone explained to you about good manners. Yours are obvious by their absence and I feel sorry for you.

Your behaviour on your visit to Devon during April was staggering in its uncouthness and lack of grace.

If you want to be accepted by the wider Bourne family I suggest you take some guidance from experts with utmost haste. There are plenty of finishing schools around. You would be an ideal candidate for the Ladette to Lady television series. Please, for your own good, for Freddie’s sake and for your future involvement with the Bourne family, do something as soon as possible.
WHEN you are a guest in another’s house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat – unless you are positively allergic to something.

YOU do not remark that you do not have enough food. You do not start before everyone else. You do not take additional helpings without being invited to by your host.

WHEN a guest in another’s house, you do not lie in bed until late morning in households that rise early – you fall in line with house norms.

YOU should never ever insult the family you are about to join at any time and most definitely not in public. I gather you passed this off as a joke but the reaction in the pub was one of shock, not laughter.

YOU regularly draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should ask yourself why. No one gets married in a castle unless they own it. It is brash, celebrity-style behaviour.

I UNDERSTAND your parents are unable to contribute very much towards the cost of your wedding. (There is nothing wrong with that except that convention is such that one might presume they would have saved over the years for their daughters’ marriages.) If this is the case, it would be most ladylike and gracious to lower your sights and have a modest wedding as befits both your incomes.

ONE could be accused of thinking that Heidi Withers must be patting herself on the back for having caught a most eligible young man. I pity Freddie.”

If you are more interested in garden pinks then you can contact Carolyn’s nursery at http://www.


  1. Your comments are exactly what I was thinking! A self absorbed attention grabbing lazy person with no financial responsibility could use a little coaching. Unfortunately, it probably should have come from her fiance and not her future mother-in-law. Oh the future holiday gatherings will be sooooo much fun!

  2. The Mum in law is way out of line… While the future daughter in law is practically family she should still be treated with respect. If Mrs Bourne wants to see her grandchildren she better pull her head in and be much more tolerant. I don't eat a lot of foods, I stay out of the way in the mornings when in someone elses house. If Heidi got up early and started helping with the cleanig she would have been accused of saying the house was not tidy enough… She would not have been right in whatever she did. Carolyn should have bitten her fingers and been much more tolerant. Heidi should have fely confident enough to help herself to more food in that environment… Perhaps Carolyn should have offered her more… Sounds like Carolyn is stingy and the typical firey dragon mother in law. Also we don't know if Heidi had been working long hours prior and deserved a lie in. Is Carolyn expected to pay for the wedding venue? The email doesn't say.
    If I was Heidi I would be expecting an apology… And to say this in an email was cowardly and uncalled for.

  3. This isn't the full text of the email. Heidi has diabetes I and has to be careful of what, when and how much she eats. The MIL disparages her for bringing up her condition at all (in the full text of the email) I agree about the thank you notes but this woman is a total cow.

  4. I completely agree with what you have said, Miss Withers needs in my opinion to learn some manners. Surely it is simple that you don't behave that way to your host. Most brides want their mother in law to like them so behave appropriately.
    I do also agree that this matter could have been delt with differently with possibly a quiet word with her son.
    What fun their family get togethers will be!

  5. Mrs Bourne complaines about her future daughter-in-law failing to send a thankyou card after the visit, yet she chooses to voice her criticisms by email! I assume, like all ladies in the social position she aspires to, Mrs Bourne posesses good quality writing paper, envelopes and a fountain pen. She could have set an example by using them and then, for the price of a stamp, saved this rediculous situation from going public!

  6. This is the reason that America was born, to rid ourselves of self-righteous dictators. I would like to give Mrs Bourne a few lessons on anal sex and take her down a few notches 😉

  7. Well, even though this letter refers to English etiquette and I am a foreigner, even I have to admit that the future daughter-in-law displayed a certain outgoing rudeness that is easily taken as "charming" in these days. But what I think is even more rude is that she sent this letter to her friends and that those had the audacity to sent them around, making a public display out of an domestic affair. I wonder if the young bride will in the future put up one of those "tweets" and keep the public informed of how badly she is treated by her mother-in-law. She sounds as if she likes to take private things into public. I really do not envy Mrs. Bourne for her daughter in law, because this young lady bites back most viciously by publishing things that should stay behind closed doors.


    Mrs. Johansen

  8. I do find it interesting that with so many big issues in the world – war, famine, financial crises to name but three – so much of the web is taken up with this story.

    None of the three come out well – mother-in-law (smug, bossy and self-important), daughter-in-law (tittle-tattling on the Internet) or son / husband (weak or stupid) – a bunch of people who ought to know better.

    All these people going on about manners would do to remember the wisdom, and politeness, or keeping your opinions to yourself. As I'm uncouth, it doesn't matter.

    I've rather taken to Ms Withers' father, though.

    I wonder how many of the people posting today will come back and post on another subject. Or are they not really contributing, just looking for somewhere to voice their opinions?

  9. Ahhh, but how very devious of Mrs. Bourne to spend the entire weekend tallying up wrongdoings and then list them out point by point in a mean spirited email. If she was that offended, she could have spoken to Freddie about it and let him help his fiancee be a better guest. When people come visit me, my motto is, "Be my guest!" And if you have special needs, especially something medically relevant, I say, "Do what you must to keep yourself healthy." Mrs. Bourne is a snooty snob. If she doesn't want to pay for a castle wedding, she has the choice to say so. Nobody is twisting her arm. We all have choices in life, and Mrs. Bourne needs to quit playing the victime.

  10. You all writing comments are so wrong about her picky food comments. Heidi is diabetic. Find the full version out there. A good hostess should have asked the guests prior what Heidi was able to eat. A good hostess aims to please their guests not make them feel uncomfortable in the home. Which I am sure Carolyn did at every available opportunity. Everyone disagrees about wedding, especially the people having to throw money into it. It is not out of the norm and Carolyn was just spewing wrath because she doesn't like her daughter in law to be. Oh well…

  11. It's unfortunate. I think Mrs Bourne has made a mistake expressing herself this way as she probably just doesn't like the girl or the fact that her son is marrying at all.
    Depending on his character, she may have alienated him and their future children. At the very least she'll have impacted on his happiness where a less critical 'hard line' appeoach might have been more successful.
    It's partly a 'generation' type thing – personally, if my son brought home a girl who helped herself at dinner I'd be flattered she liked my cooking and felt relaxed in my home.
    Mrs Bourne isn't the queen of her son's affections anymore. Whilst still being the matriach of the family I think she needs to come to terms with this.
    It's poor taste to talk about money as she does – she should have spoken up to her son about budgeting when things were being arranged.
    Manners move on and the best thing to do is to be generous hearted enough to cut youngsters a little slack, set an example and negotiate.

  12. I find it very revealing that only part of the email in question is posted. Where is the part in which MIL states her feelings about the BTB being diabetic? If MIL knew of the BTB's diabetes and didn't make allowances for it at meal planning then it seems to me that MIL was definitely trying to put the BTB in a bad position. Diabetes is not a game and the wrong foods, too little food, etc can lead to coma and death. If the girl had to bypass the larger part of the meal and take seconds on what she could eat then that is on MIL and her bad meal planning. She put the BTB in the position of having to explain why she couldn't eat certain things and then MIL complains about it. That is the epitome of passive aggressive behavior as well as the epitome of bad manners. Good manners would have been to have shown care for the girl's diabetes, and at the very least tried to make the BTB comfortable in the GTB's family home. A true and gracious hostess places her guests needs above her own sensibilities, attempts to make everyone feel welcome, and makes herself aware of any special needs of guests, none of which, it seems, was done by MIL. So my question is "who truly shows bad manners?"

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