Rundell, Maria Eliza Ketelby, 1745-1828

Titles by this author
A new system of domestic cookery : formed upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families

Maria Eliza Rundell was born in 1745, the only child of Abel Johnstone Ketelby of Ludlow, Shropshire, England. She married Thomas Rundell, partner of the prominent jeweler and silversmith firm, Rundell & Bridges of Ludgate Hill, London. The couple had several daughters. After her husband died, Rundell moved to the fashionable spa city of Bath, and frequently visited her daughters. On one such visit in Swansea, Wales, she put together a manuscript of collected recipes and household management advice for her daughters. John Murray (1778-1843), an old family friend and important London publisher of such writers as Lord Byron and Washington Irving, offered to put the work into print. Historical accounts suggest it was Murray who came up with the name "Domestic Cookery," responding to the public need for a domestic family cookbook, as opposed to those intended for large households or taverns.

The first edition, in 1806, had many errors, but sold out quickly anyway. Murray and Rundell worked together on the second edition, Rundell choosing recipes from collections that Murray sent her, and Murray taking pains this time to edit the book properly, and to add engravings. The second edition, in 1807, sold quickly, too, as did the many that followed. The first American edition, published in 1807 (and possibly pirated) sold well, fulfilling a similar need for a domestic manual suited to upper class families. It went through thirty-seven American editions, "effectively replacing all eighteenth-century cookbooks as being rather old-fashioned, almost more in language than in content," according to historian Karen Hess. American publishers added American recipes, and rewrote the title to American Domestic Cookery and The Experienced American Housekeeper, or Domestic Cookery. But its popularity did not last as long in America as it did in England, eventually yielding to American cookbooks by Mary Randolph, Maria Lydia Child, and Eliza Leslie. In England, however, it continued to sell for decades, reaching 245,000 copies in print by 1865, and coming out in new editions as late as 1880. Rundell's name, of course, never appeared on the book until after her death.

Being a lady of means, and a friend of John Murray's, Rundell never asked for recompense. However, when she attempted to have another publisher issue the book in London, Murray succeeded in enjoining the publication, and the two became entangled in litigation. Murray had made a lot of money from Domestic Cookery, even using his copyright as surety to purchase the lease of his house. Eventually, in 1821, he paid Rundell 2000 pounds to settle their dispute, more money than was paid for most literary properties of the nineteenth century.

Rundell wrote two other books, Domestic Happiness (1806), and Letters Addressed to Two Absent Daughters (1814). In later years, she moved to Lausanne, Switzerland for her health, and died there at age 83, in December 1828. She was honored as the subject of an entry in the British Dictionary of National Biography, one of only two women -- the other being Hannah Glasse -- recognized solely for her success as a cookbook author.


  • Randolph, Mary. The Virginia Housewife: or Methodical Cook. Facsimile, with Historical Notes and Commentaries by Karen Hess. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1985.
  • Rundell, Maria Eliza, A New System of Domestic Cookery, Formed Upon Principles of Economy, and Adapted to the Use of Private Families. By a Lady. Boston: W. Andrews, 1807.
  • ----------, A New System of Domestic Cookery . . . Facsimile, with an Introduction and Glossary by R. Arthur Bowler. Youngstown, New York: Old Fort Niagara Assoc., Inc., 1998.
  • Smiles, Samuel, A Publisher and His Friends. London: John Murray, 1891.
  • Stephen, Sir Leslie and Sir Sidney Lee, Eds., The Dictionary of National Biography, From the Earliest Times to 1900. Vol. XVII. London: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Written by Anne-Marie Rachman