Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806), formerly Lady Georgiana Spencer, was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire
William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, KG was a British aristocrat and politician. He was the eldest son of the William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire by his wife the heiress Lady Charlotte Boyle, suo jure Baroness Clifford of Lanesborough, who brought in considerable money and estates to...

, and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, the 1st Earl Spencer
John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer
John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer was a British peer and politician.Spencer was born in 1734, at his family home, Althorp. He was the son of Hon. John Spencer and Georgiana Carolina Carteret , and a grandson of the 3rd Earl of Sunderland...

, was a great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim, KG, PC , was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs through the late 17th and early 18th centuries...

. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb
Lady Caroline Lamb
The Lady Caroline Lamb was a British aristocrat and novelist, best known for her affair with Lord Byron in 1812. Her husband was the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, the Prime Minister...

. She is an ancestor (via her illegitimate daughter Eliza Courtney
Eliza Courtney
Eliza Courtney was the 'natural'/illegitimate daughter of the Whig politician and future Prime Minister Charles Grey and the society beauty Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, while Georgiana was married to William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.The Duchess was forced by her husband to relinquish...

) of Sarah
Sarah, Duchess of York
Sarah, Duchess of York is a British charity patron, spokesperson, writer, film producer, television personality and former member of the British Royal Family. She is the former wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, whom she married from 1986 to 1996...

, the current Duchess of York
Duchess of York
Duchess of York is the principal courtesy title held by the wife of the Duke of York. The title is gained with marriage alone and is forfeited upon divorce. Four of the twelve Dukes of York did not marry or had already assumed the throne prior to marriage, therefore there have only ever been eleven...

. She is related to the "former" Diana, Princess of Wales, who was her great-great-grandniece.


The Duchess of Devonshire was a celebrated beauty and socialite
A socialite is a person who participates in social activities and spends a significant amount of time entertaining and being entertained at fashionable upper-class events....

 who gathered around her a large circle Salon
Salon (gathering)
A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to...

 of literary and political figures. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage
"Suffragette" is a term coined by the Daily Mail newspaper as a derogatory label for members of the late 19th and early 20th century movement for women's suffrage in the United Kingdom, in particular members of the Women's Social and Political Union...

 was still over a century away. The Spencers and the Cavendishes were Whig
British Whig Party
The Whigs were a party in the Parliament of England, Parliament of Great Britain, and Parliament of the United Kingdom, who contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s. The Whigs' origin lay in constitutional monarchism and opposition to absolute rule...

s. The Duchess of Devonshire campaigned for the Whigs—particularly for a distant cousin, Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox PC , styled The Honourable from 1762, was a prominent British Whig statesman whose parliamentary career spanned thirty-eight years of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and who was particularly noted for being the arch-rival of William Pitt the Younger...

—at a time when the King (George III) and his Ministers had a direct influence over the House of Commons, principally through their power of patronage. During the 1784 general election, the Duchess was rumoured to have traded kisses for votes in favour of Fox, and was satirised by Thomas Rowlandson
Thomas Rowlandson
Thomas Rowlandson was an English artist and caricaturist.- Biography :Rowlandson was born in Old Jewry, in the City of London. He was the son of a tradesman or city merchant. On leaving school he became a student at the Royal Academy...

 in his print "THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes".

Famously, when she was stepping out of her carriage one day, an Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 dustman exclaimed: "Love and bless you, my lady, let me light my pipe in your eyes!”, a compliment which she often recalled whenever others complimented her by retorting, "After the dustman's compliment, all others are insipid."

In 1779, she anonymously published the epistolary novel
Epistolary novel
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use...

 The Sylph. The Duchess was also instrumental in formulating, with Thomas Beddoes
Thomas Beddoes
Thomas Beddoes , English physician and scientific writer, was born at Shifnal in Shropshire. He was a reforming practitioner and teacher of medicine, and an associate of leading scientific figures. Beddoes was a friend of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and, according to E. S...

, the idea of establishing a Pneumatic Institution
Pneumatic Institution
The Pneumatic Institution was a medical research facility in Bristol, England, in 1799–1802. It was established by physician and science writer Thomas Beddoes to study the medical effects of the gases that had recently been discovered...

 in Bristol.

Husband and children

Lady Georgiana Spencer married the Duke of Devonshire on her seventeenth birthday: 7 June 1774.

She had a number of miscarriages before giving birth to four children: three with her husband, and an illegitimate daughter fathered by the 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

. She also raised the Duke's illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, who was conceived with a maid.
  • Lady Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish ("Little G") (12 July 1783 – 8 August 1858), married the 6th Earl of Carlisle
    George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle
    George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle KG, PC, FRS , styled Viscount Morpeth until 1825, was a British statesman...

     and had issue (children).
  • Lady Harriet Elizabeth Cavendish ("Harryo") (29 August 1785 – 25 November 1862), married the 1st Earl Granville
    Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville
    Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville GCB PC , known as Lord Granville Leveson-Gower from 1786 to 1814 and as the Viscount Granville from 1814 to 1833, was a British Whig statesman and diplomat....

     and had issue.
  • William George Spencer Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, later 6th Duke of Devonshire
    William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire
    William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire KG, PC , styled Marquess of Hartington until 1811, was a British peer, courtier and Whig politician...

     ("Hart") (21 May 1790 – 18 January 1858), never married.
  • Eliza Courtney Ellice
    Eliza Courtney
    Eliza Courtney was the 'natural'/illegitimate daughter of the Whig politician and future Prime Minister Charles Grey and the society beauty Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, while Georgiana was married to William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire.The Duchess was forced by her husband to relinquish...

    , (20 February 1792 – 2 May 1859), illegitimate daughter of the 2nd Earl Grey
    Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey
    Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, KG, PC , known as Viscount Howick between 1806 and 1807, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 22 November 1830 to 16 July 1834. A member of the Whig Party, he backed significant reform of the British government and was among the...

    . Georgiana was forced to give her to Grey's parents. Eliza married Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Ellice and had issue, naming her eldest daughter Georgiana.
  • Unknown named son - illegitimate child of one of Georgiana's lovers. Died as a child.

The Duchess introduced the Duke to her best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, and lived in a ménage à trois
Ménage à trois
Ménage à trois is a French term which originally described a domestic arrangement in which three people having sexual relations occupy the same household – the phrase literally translates as "household of three"...

 with them for the next 25 years. Lady Elizabeth had two children by the Duke, a son (Augustus William James Clifford) and a daughter (Caroline Rosalie St Jules).

Fashion and debt

The Duchess of Devonshire is famous not only for her marital arrangements, her catastrophic affairs, her beauty and sense of style and best clothes, and her political campaigning, but also for her love of gambling. Even though her own family, the Spencers, and her husband's family, the Cavendishes, were immensely wealthy, she was reported to have died deeply in debt because they did not give her any money. She died on 30 March 1806, aged 48, from what was thought to be an abscess of the liver
An abscess is a collection of pus that has accumulated in a cavity formed by the tissue in which the pus resides due to an infectious process or other foreign materials...

; she was buried at All Saints Parish Church (which is now Derby Cathedral
Derby Cathedral
The Cathedral of All Saints , is a cathedral church in the City of Derby, England. It is the seat of the Bishop of Derby, and with an area of around is the smallest Anglican cathedral in England.-History:...

). At her death, she owed today's equivalent of £3,720,000. The Duchess was so petrified of her husband discovering the extent of her debts that she kept them secret; the Duke only discovered the extent of her debts after her death and remarked, "Is that all?"

During her years in the public eye, Georgiana was painted by Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough
Thomas Gainsborough was an English portrait and landscape painter.-Suffolk:Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk. He was the youngest son of John Gainsborough, a weaver and maker of woolen goods. At the age of thirteen he impressed his father with his penciling skills so that he let...

 and Joshua Reynolds
Joshua Reynolds
Sir Joshua Reynolds RA FRS FRSA was an influential 18th-century English painter, specialising in portraits and promoting the "Grand Style" in painting which depended on idealization of the imperfect. He was one of the founders and first President of the Royal Academy...

. Gainsborough's famous painting of her in a large black hat (a style which she made sensationally fashionable, and came to be known as the 'Gainsborough' or 'portrait' hat) was lost for many years. It had been stolen from a London art gallery by Adam Worth
Adam Worth
Adam Worth was an American criminal. Scotland Yard detective Robert Anderson nicknamed him "the Napoleon of the criminal world", and he is commonly referred to as "the Napoleon of Crime".-Earlier life:...

 then somehow restored to Agnew's Art Gallery
Sir William Agnew, 1st Baronet
Sir William Agnew, 1st Baronet was an English politician and art dealer.-Career:Agnew was a Liberal Member of Parliament, first for South East Lancashire between 1880 and 1885 and later for Stretford from 1885 to 1886...

 by William Pinkerton of the American detective agency Pinkerton's. It turned up again at Sotheby's
Sotheby's is the world's fourth oldest auction house in continuous operation.-History:The oldest auction house in operation is the Stockholms Auktionsverk founded in 1674, the second oldest is Göteborgs Auktionsverk founded in 1681 and third oldest being founded in 1731, all Swedish...

 a decade ago and was purchased by the 11th Duke of Devonshire
Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire
Andrew Robert Buxton Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire KG, MC, PC , styled Lord Andrew Cavendish until 1944 and Marquess of Hartington from 1944 to 1950, was a British Conservative politician...

 for the Chatsworth
Chatsworth House
Chatsworth House is a stately home in North Derbyshire, England, northeast of Bakewell and west of Chesterfield . It is the seat of the Duke of Devonshire, and has been home to his family, the Cavendish family, since Bess of Hardwick settled at Chatsworth in 1549.Standing on the east bank of the...


Titles and styles

  • Miss Georgiana Spencer (7 June 1757 – 3 April 1761)
  • The Hon. Georgiana Spencer (3 April 1761 – 1 November 1765)
  • The Lady Georgiana Spencer (1 November 1765 – 7 June 1774)
  • Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1774 – 30 March 1806)

In popular culture

Contrary to popular belief, the play The School for Scandal
The School for Scandal
The School for Scandal is a play written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It was first performed in London at Drury Lane Theatre on May 8, 1777.The prologue, written by David Garrick, commends the play, its subject, and its author to the audience...

was not written about the Duchess of Devonshire's scandalous affairs. Despite interacting with Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan was an Irish-born playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For thirty-two years he was also a Whig Member of the British House of Commons for Stafford , Westminster and Ilchester...

, the playwright, the inspiration for the play's various characters came from actors Sheridan knew personally.

Film portrayals

  • The Divine Lady (1929), played by Evelyn Hall.
  • Berkeley Square
    Berkeley Square (film)
    Berkeley Square is a drama film produced by Fox Film Corporation, directed by Frank Lloyd, and starring Leslie Howard, Heather Angel, Valerie Taylor, and Colin Keith-Johnston. The film was thought to be a lost film until rediscovered in the 1970s....

    (1933) played by Juliette Compton
    Juliette Compton
    Juliette Compton was an American actress whose career began in the silent film era and concluded with That Hamilton Woman in 1941....

  • The House in the Square
    The House in the Square
    The House in the Square, also titled I'll Never Forget You and Man of Two Worlds, is a 1951 science fiction film about an American atomic scientist who is transported to the 18th century, where he falls in love. It starred Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth. It was adapted from the play Berkeley Square by...

    (1951), played by Kathleen Byron
  • The Duchess
    The Duchess (film)
    The Duchess is a 2008 British drama film based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It was released in September 2008 in the UK...

    (2008), played by Keira Knightley
    Keira Knightley
    Keira Christina Knightley born 26 March 1985) is an English actress and model. She began acting as a child and came to international notice in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham...

    . The film, directed by Saul Dibb
    Saul Dibb
    Saul Dibb is the British director of Bullet Boy, for which he was nominated for the Douglas Hickox Award, The Line of Beauty, and The Duchess. He is a graduate of the University of East Anglia.-Notes:...

    , is based on the biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
    Amanda Foreman (biographer)
    Amanda Lucy Foreman is a British/American biographer and historian.-Family:Her father was the renowned screenwriter and film producer Carl Foreman who had to move to England in order to work after being blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios during the McCarthyism of the 1950s...



Further reading

  • Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman (1998) ISBN 0-00-655016-9 (now published as The Duchess)
  • Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Brian Masters, Hamish Hamilton, 1981.
  • Georgiana, The Earl of Bessborough (editor), John Murray, London, 1955.
  • The Two Duchesses.., Family Correspondence relating to.., Vere Foster (editor), Blackie & Son, London, Glasgow & Dublin, 1898.
  • An Aristocratic Affair - The life of Georgiana's sister Harriet, Countess Bessborough, Janet Gleeson, 2006, ISBN 0593054873
  • Portraits of Georgiana by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Cosway and others.
  • Extra material not included in Amanda Foreman's book
  • Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph, ed. Jonathan David Gross (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-8101-2229-4.
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