Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was born Georgiana Spencer, the eldest daughter of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734– 1783) and Margaret Poyntz (1737–1814).
In 1774, at the age of 17, Georgiana was married to the fabulously wealthy William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748 – 1811). She was accounted a great beauty and was of an easy going temperament and loved to socialise. Her new husband, however, was a man of few words who was happiest at home with his dogs.
The new Duchess of Devonshire succeeded in making herself the undisputed queen of fashionable society, an influential hostess and an important figure in the Whig party, campaignng for her distant cousin, Charles James Fox, Georgiana was rumoured to have exchanged kisses for votes in his favour and was satirised by Thomas Rowlandson in his print "The Devonshire, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes".
Famously, as she stepped out of her carriage one day, an Irish dustman is said to have 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." She came to be adored by the public at large, but was incapable of satisfying her husband, who preferred instead her best friend. The Duchess introduced the Duke to her friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster and lived in a triad with them for the next 25 years.
The Duchess gave birth to her first child, Georgiana (or little G as she came to be known in the family) in 1783. Two years later both the Duchess and Bess were pregnant by her husband, both gave birth to daughters, Harriet (or Hary-O) and Caroline St Jules, who spent the first few years of her life in Europe and France until Bess could bring her back to Chatsworth. Bess had a son, Augustus, 2 years later.
The longed for son and heir to the Devonshire estates, William George Spencer Cavendish, the future sixth Duke of Devonshire (known as Hart in the family) was born in Paris in 1789. After a scandalous affair with the Whig politician and future Prime Minister Charles Grey, Bess gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, called Eliza Courtney in Paris in February 1792. She was forced by her husband to give up Eliza, shortly after her birth, who was raised raised by Grey's aunt and uncle but visited her in secret.
The Duchess of Devonshire is famous not only for her marital arrangements, her catastrophic affairs, her beauty and sense of style, but also for her love of gambling and became addicted to gambling and extravagent parties. She borrowed heavily from her friends to fund these habits and used her influence to borrow more from such people as Thomas Coutts of Coutts bank.
She died deeply in debt on 30 March 1806, at the age of 48, from an abscess of the liver and was buried at Derby Cathedral. At the time of her death, Georgiana owed today's equivalent of £3,720,000.The Duchess was terrified of her husband uncovering the extent of her debts and accordingly kept them secret, on discovering the ammount of her debts after her death he is said to have remarked , "Is that all?". After her death the Duke married his long term mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster.