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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

(1757-1806)

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), née Spencer, wife of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire. Famous London beauty, socialite, political activist and sometime novelist, who gathered around herself many important political and literary figures. Campaigned on behalf of the Whig politician Charles James Fox, and was known to be a friend of the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, who expressed Whig sympathies at the time. Other than her political work, she was probably best known for her decadent, profligate lifestyle and numerous lovers. In 1782, she befriended Lady Elizabeth Foster, who came to live with her and her husband, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, in a menage a trois -- an arrangement that lasted nearly 25 years until Lady Georgiana’s death. The Duchess was also known as a gambler and accumulated debts totaling what would be between 7-8 million in today’s dollars. She died in 1806 of a liver abscess.

Elizabeth Cavendish (1759-1824), Duchess of Devonshire, nee Elizabeth Christiana Hervey, and later Lady Elizabeth Foster. Early female novelist, probably best-known today for her marital arrangement with William and Georgiana Cavendish, Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Was married twice, for the first time in 1776 to John Thomas Foster. The couple separated after some 5 years due to the husband’s infidelity. In 1782, Elizabeth met the Cavendishes in Bath and soon thereafter moved in with them to form a menage a trois. She bore the Duke several children, and was alleged to have other lovers as well, notably the Cardinal Ercole Consalvi. In 1809, after the death of the Duchess, and with her blessing, she married the Duke to become the next Duchess of Devonshire. She died in Rome in 1824.

Georgiana, Countess Spencer - her mother. On the potrait she is with Georgiana future Duchess of Devonshire as a child.
George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer - her brother

See: Thomas Gainsborough.  Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Angelica Kauffman. Lady Elizabeth Foster.
Sir Thomas Lawrence. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Lady Elizabeth Foster (1759-1824), Later Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire.
Sir Joshua Reynolds. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Her Daughter. Georgiana, Countess Spencer, and Her Daughter. George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Lady Elizabeth Foster.

Bibliography:
Elizabeth & Georgiana: The Duke of Devonshire and His Two Duchesses by Caroline Chapman, Jane Dormer. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.
The Two Duchesses by Arthur Calder-Marshall. NY. 1978
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. By Brian Masters. London. 1981
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Modern Library , 2001
The Two Duchesses - Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire: Family Correspondence of and Relating to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, ... Foster, bart., and others, 1777-1859 by Vere Foster. Cedric Chivers Ltd, 1972.
The Bachelor Duke: A Life of William Spencer Cavendish 6th Duke of Devonshire 1790-1858 . By James Lees-Milne. 1991.

“When Lady Georgiana Spencer married the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1774 she was just seventeen. Her ebullience, her charm, her freedom from aristocratic aloofness, all combined to make her not only the leader of London’s high society but one of the most popular figures that English social life has ever produced. However, beneath the brilliant façade she was afflicted by private sorrows – incurably addicted to gambling, unloved by her apathetic husband and childless.
Then into her life and that of her husband, came Lady Elizabeth Foster who was not only to remain her closest friend and confidante for the rest of the Duchess’s life but also her husband’s mistress. For over twenty years the three lived together with a harmony only interrupted by Lady Elizabeth’s departure abroad to give birth to the Duke’s children, and Georgiana’s own banishment to Europe when she was carrying a baby by Charles Grey, later to be P rime Minister. The various offspring, legitimate and illegitimate, made for a complicated nursery.”

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Brian Masters. London. 1981

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