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Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire

Lady Georgiana Spencer was born to Earl and Lady Spencer on June 7 1757. Her family were supporters of the Whig party and she was married on her seventeenth birthday (1774)  to the strongest patron to the Whigs, William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire.

William was a man of very few words and was only really happy when with his dogs and the Duke is often refered to as ‘the only person not in love with his wife’.  Georgiana was extremely popular amongst the aristocrats as well as political personalities and was often seen as a fashion-icon for many women. She worked as an active political campaigner for the Whigs, using the great attention on her to her advantage. During the general election on 1784, Georgiana was rumoured to have exchanged kisses in favour for votes for a distant cousin, Charles James Fox, whom the Devonshires often campaigned with. In 1782, Georgiana met Lady Elizabeth Foster in Bath, who would become a lifelong confidant and later mistress to the Duke.

However, the marriage wasn’t playing out to be a very happy one. Early on in the marriage, Georgiana suffered a number of miscarriages early on in the marriage and William was very distressed not to have a son and heir. Their first surviving child, Lady Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish (known as ‘Little G’), was born July 12 1783, nine years into the marriage. Soon after, their second child, Lady Harriet Elizabeth (or ‘Harryo’ to the family), was born August 29 1785. At the same time Lady Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter by the Duke. Two years later Elizabeth had a son. The Duke finally got his legitimate male heir on May 21 1790, William George Spencer Cavendish (‘Hart’), Marquis of Hartington. She also brought up the Duke’s illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, who was conceived by a maid.

Georgiana found herself involved in a great scandal when she started an affair with Charles Grey (later Prime Minister) and soon became pregnant with his child. However, Georgiana refused to leave to Duke to live with Grey after the Duke said that if shee left him he would never let her see her children again. Her and Elizabeth went abroad where she gave birth to her illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtney, who was bought up as Grey’s family.

In the mid-1790s her health rapidly deteriorated. She had an infection in her eye and doctors were worried that she would never regain sight. Leeches were often applied to her eyes. She died March 30 1806, aged 48. Crowds were gathered outside of her residence of Devonshire House though her final weeks.

She was also famous for her debts and love of gambling. She kept the extent of her debts secret for fear of the Duke’s reaction and they were discovered after her death. The debts accumulated to a total of today’s equivalent on around 3.7 million. When the Duke found out, he famously remarked, ‘Is that all?’


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