- Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806)
- Regency History: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire ()
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William continued to have numerous affairs. Lady Elizabeth had separated from her husband, John Thomas Foster, an Irish politician, the year before. Largely destitute after the separation, and with two sons in her care, Georgiana took pity and invited them to move into Althorp. This may have been a fatal mistake, since quite soon the Duke and Lady Elizabeth became lovers. Along with his legitimate children by Georgiana, all these children would be raised together at Devonshire House, the London residence of the Duke. The three-way relationship was complex.
The Duke and Elizabeth were clearly lovers, but the relationship between Georgiana and Elizabeth is unclear.
Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806)
Neither was Lady Elizabeth true to the Duke, having numerous liaisons with other men, but where Georgiana stood in all this was and continues to be a topic for speculation. Many feel that the popular portrayal of Georgiana as betrayed by her best friend is far from being the whole story. Georgiana had her first child in when her daughter Georgiana Dorothy was born. She was followed in by Harriett Elizabeth — whose middle-name is perhaps telling.
The male heir, de rigueur among the aristocracy, would not arrive until May , when William George Spencer Cavendish was born. During the s Georgiana became involved in the political activities of her husband. The Whigs were the party of the 18th-century version of liberalism, against the monarchy and for the then-novel idea of Liberty. Many supported both the American and French Revolutions. Dinner parties at the Devonshire houses often became political meetings, and Georgiana was known for encouraging women who did not, of course, have the vote to support Whig policies.
She gained notoriety during the elections of , where she supported a distant cousin, Charles James Fox. Dismissed by the King, Fox was fighting for re-election in his Westminster constituency. Georgiana campaigned vigorously in his support, walking the streets, talking to commoners as equals, and even bribing a shoemaker with a kiss to vote for Fox.
Her efforts attracted considerable satirical attention, and she retreated to working for the Whigs behind the scenes.
As well as attracting literary figures, including the great Dr Samuel Johnson, to her home, Georgiana is credited with writing two novels, anonymously. Both were epistolary, that is, written as an exchange of letters, the normal style for novels in the 18 th century. The first, Emma; Or, The Unfortunate Attachment: A Sentimental Novel , is attributed to her with some reliability, but the second, The Sylph , is more doubtful, and may have been ghost-written by Sophia Briscoe, an obscure novelist of the time.
She also had two poems published. What is more certain than her literary talent was her talent for losing at cards. Early in her marriage, she began to gamble, a habit that would keep her heavily indebted for life. At first, she turned to her parents to pay, but they ordered her to tell her husband, who repaid her parents and from then on was obliged to pay more and more.
Her mother admonished her regularly, but she too had the same problem and lost most of the Spencer fortune gambling.
The Duke at one point threatened to end the marriage but relented. It must have been a powerful tool for him to stay in control of his complex household. Under the social rules of the time, Georgiana could only take a lover once her duty to produce an heir was discharged. Following the birth of William George, she was free and chose Charles Grey, a Whig politician and a future prime minister who would abolish slavery. It was perfectly acceptable for a married woman to take a lover, but much less so to bear his child, so when she became pregnant in she was sent to France to have the child — a daughter — in secret.
Lonely and fearing she would die in childbirth, her time there was miserable. In the event, there were no complications at the birth, and she returned home, but her daughter was brought up by the Grey family. Grey was almost certainly not the only man Georgiana had affairs with, and she lived the rather dissipated life of parties, elaborate clothes and hair-styles, gambling, drinking and secret liaisons that was especially common among the wealthiest classes.
Older now, and worn down by the tribulations of her life, the Duchess became more domestic, spending time with the Duke, and writing. Her health declined, her gambling continued, until in , only 48 years old, she died of an infected liver. There was great mourning in her family and across society, for someone who had always been a shining star of the social world. Jonathan is a consummate Anglophile with an obsession for Britain that borders on psychosis.
Anglotopia is his full time job and he's always dreaming of his next trip to England, wishing he lived there - specifically Dorset - and is always trying to figure out a way to move to England. It will happen one day. Keep up with him on Twitter here. A celebrated beauty, Georgiana was constantly written about in the newspapers and her sense of style was reported with great interest.
Yet her true passion was gambling. Gambling parties were all the rage and although Georgiana was technically wealthy, her husband controlled the family finances, giving her only an allowance. When her debts exceeded the generous four-thousand pounds annually given to her by the duke, her mother never failed to admonish her for her gambling debts.
Despite that she was married to one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom, she was constantly borrowing money from her friends, from the Prince of Wales, and would flatter the wealthy banker Thomas Coutts with her friendship in exchange for him settling some of her debts.
Regency History: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire ()
Georgiana was sought after by the most famous artist and was painted several times by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. At Chatsworth today, if one stands in the dining room, Georgiana looks down from her Gainsborough portrait. Georgiana was responsible for providing an heir, which resulted in several miscarriages before giving birth to three children with her husband and an illegitimate daughter fathered by the 2 nd Earl Grey. Although Lady Elizabeth eventually married the Duke after the death of Georgiana, she gave birth to an illegitimate son and daughter by the Duke.
Before her time, Georgiana led an arduous door-to-door campaign in the Westminster election of and is credited with helping Fox and Lord Hood gain victory. As the opposition party, the Whigs dressed in the blue and buff colors of the American rebels and carried fox tails—a manner of dress Georgiana was only too happy to adopt. Her canvassing resulted in a flagrant political rumors and satirical cartoons that implied she exchanged sexual favors and money for votes.
Georgiana refused to stay in her carriage, instead walked the streets and faced commoners as an equal.
Though she never publicly acknowledging her authorship, Georgiana did admit it in private. The book was a thinly veiled autobiography about an aristocratic bride seduced into wickedness and was written during one of her many attempts at reform from gambling and her fast lifestyle in public and in private. Though she had suffered from ill health, those around her sensed she was truly ill this time and persuaded her mother to come.
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On March 30, , Georgiana, aged forty-eight, died at three-thirty in the morning. Until almost the very end she was surrounded by her mother, the duke, her sister, Bess and Little G. All of them were said to be nearly inconsolable. She was mourned by thousands of Londoners who streamed into Piccadilly, where Devonshire House was located, to pay their respects.
Three years after Georgiana died the duke married Bess.
When Bess gloated about the duke giving his illegitimate daughter a larger dowry than his legitimate daughter Harryo, it was met with pride. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire will be remembered for her beauty and loyalty to family, but most importantly her willingness to break with past traditions and live her life to the fullest. She was the undisputed queen of society.
February 28, at am. Her family had destroyed most of her correspondence but these survived and were handed to the now Dowerger Duchess Debo Mitford, it was so nice to see them back in thier rightful place at Chatsworth. Nanette Watson said:. Janice, How exciting! What a family saga and what a place!!! You are so very fortunate to see it all up close and personal. Nanette Watson. Laura said:. January 30, at pm. January 31, at am. August 24, at am. I am thinking to write about a blog post about her thats how i came across yours.