Episode 17: Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire

Posted 18 November 2011 by

You voted and we are pleased to present the first winner of our Guaranteed Content Poll- Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, The Duchess of Devonshire!

This woman wasn’t just another pretty face under a big wig with an unusual home situation… oh, no! She was an author, a mother, a fashion trend setter, and a political powerhouse that altered the landscape of British politics at a time when women should have been seen, but not heard.

If anyone knew anything about being seen- it was Georgiana.

Born in 1757 , she was the first of three children born to the love match of John and the former Margaret Georgiana Poyntz.

Georgiana was, from the get-go, Mama’s favorite. You know us by now, we go into a lot more detail on the podcast, but young Georgiana was raised in a loving home by parents who exposed her to a wide variety of subjects. A series of the finest tutors taught Little G the usual: deportment, and languages, and writing and geography and singing…but also harp , French, Italian Latin. And the lessons that our young Lady excelled in the most: etiquette.  Mama was proud. And also fairly ambitious. And did we forget to mention: wealthy. Daddy would become the 1st Earl of Spencer when Little G was just a child.

Mama and her pride and joy

This family is connected.

And what other family is connected and nearby? The Cavendishes. And their first son, William, was just about the right age for our fair, well bred, charming Georgiana! And what does he bring to the table? Well, um, his dogs? Ok, so he wasn’t as polished as our Little G, but opposites attract, right?

William Cavendish the Duke of Devonshire

She marries up, and becomes the 5th Duchess of Devonshire. He gets a beautiful, graceful bride guaranteed to bring him a male heir.

Ahem… guaranteed to bring him a male heir.

Is this thing on?

Georgiana doesn’t exactly have the easiest time getting pregnant. She partakes in some pretty wacky measures to do so with no success. (And allows us to prattle on about 18th century medicine- which we really enjoy.)

Georgiana, by Thomas Gainsborough

She does use this time to throw quite a few parties, and created an environment where politics can be played. She sets some trends in fashion.  And, oh yeah, she writes a book- The Sylph which is an thinly disguised autobiographical novel with the author credit given to,” a young lady”.  Four editions? Everyone knew who wrote it.

by Matthew Darly, Courtesy British Museum

How DO you ride in a carriage with all that hair? (by Matthew Darly, courtesy British Museum)

She does become a mother…although step-mother would probably be a better description…when one of William’s former mistresses dies, leaving his daughter Charlotte. Georgiana steps up to the plate and not only takes the child into her home, but into her heart.

But  she is still without a male heir of her own production. Her last medicinal attempt at conception was to go to Bath and take the waters- which meant drink or bathe in the hot mineral waters of the area. Also at Bath was a woman a woman who would be a force in their home for the next 25 years: Elizabeth “Bess” Foster.

Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster

Lady Elizabeth "Bess" Foster

To put it delicately, Georgiana, William and Bess struck up a relationship for the ages. All three of them. And that’s about all we are going to say here (but gush on and on in the podcast with a little less tact).

But let’s not focus on that, it worked for them, who are we to judge? And to talk about it in detail takes away from the rest of the life of Georgiana. (psst, listen to the podcast for more details) First off she got on the baby train…girl, girl, FINALLY a boy and heir! WOOT! And because she was on a roll, she went and had a baby from an affair with Charles Grey. We tell you all about those children, how she was as a mother, and what a political mover and shaker she was.

by Joshua Reynolds (She sounds like a pretty hands on Mama!)

Really she had smarts, charm, and charisma that she used to advance the politicians that she favored.

And she also had a gambling addiction. And a laundenum addiction. And, quite possibly an eating disorder. She lived a life as big and bold as the ginormous big hair wigs she was famous for!

But all good things come to an end, after a series of medical issues Georgiana dies at the age of 48 in 1806.

Give a listen to the podcast for more juicy details about the life of this amazing woman!

Time Travel With The History Chicks

Of course we only introduce you to her awesomeness, and give you a working knowledge of her life. But you want more, right?  And where can you go for that? PLEASE check out this blog, The Duchess of Devonshires Gossip Guide to the 18th Century. First off, it’s gorgeous. Second it is jam packed with stories and art from the era of this woman. We can’t say enough good things…so, go…http://georgianaduchessofdevonshire.blogspot.com/

The book that we both devoured:

By Amanda Foreman

Amanda Foreman also has a website that is full of intel: http://www.amanda-foreman.com/

And there is a movie, which is visually stunning but has some factual holes in it:

It was, um..pretty.

Yes, we know…some of you have skimmed this post looking for the name of this book by Arthur Calder-Marshall:

The Two Duchesses:The Sexual and Dynastic Intrigues of Two Bewitching Aristocrats in a Time of Unbridled Extravagance and License

And, finally, when you have absorbed everything…take a trip! Visit Althorp! http://www.althorp.com/estate

As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at  www.music.mevio.com