Episode 17: Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire

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

Episode 16A: Mary Shelley

It was a dark and stormy night. Three friends sat around the fire taking turns reading German ghost stories…

No, really. It was. Ok, maybe that night wasn’t stormy, but it was a summer night in 1816, when a then  18 year- old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, and the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron were sitting around a fire at Lake Geneva. It was here that the three challenged each other to write the scariest story they could, Mary’s contribution would become her first published work and a tale so creepy that it would endure to present time, and beyond: Frankenstein: or the Modern Prometheus.

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell

In this mini-cast we take a little time to look at the life before, and after, Mary Shelley wrote her most famous book.

The story of Mary Shelley begins ten days before her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, dies.

How is that for a dramatic entrance?

Born on August 30th, 1797, she was the first and only love child of writers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. (For the details on this woman, please give a listen to our podcast on Mary Wollstonecraft). Her mother had a  young daughter from another relationship, Fanny Imlay, who was to be raised by now single dad Godwin with his own daughter- Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin…not to be confused with his wife, Mary Wollstoncraft Godwin. (Susan puts down her head and weeps…why must you people name your children the same name as you have!?)

When Mary was four, her father remarried Mary Jane Clairmont who brought two children, Charles and Claire into the home.  William was a pretty involved father, and while Claire was sent off to school, Mary was pretty much educated at home. But being educated at home by an intellectual who ran in some pretty cool circles- as well as encouraging you to read all the writings of your mother-isn’t exactly a lacking education.

By now you should know that we love to get into the more, er, gossipy side of women’s lives. And Mary Shelley gave us a bit to look at. As a young teen she meets Percy Shelley. MARRIED Percy Shelley. He falls for her while studying at the feet of her father. And helping to pay his bills. At one point, Daddy says “stay away from my daughter”, but that’s not to happen.

Pretty boy-Percy Shelley

At 17, Mary runs off with Percy, taking her step-sister Claire with them.

Oh! This is a road trip for the ages! We do go into it in detail in the podcast, but by the time a penniless Percy and Mary come back to England she is pregnant, and his wife is pregnant. Harriet Shelley gives birth to a son, and Mary gives birth to a premature daughter, who dies shortly after birth.

So sad! Right before little William's death in 1819

We do tell you all about Mary’s five pregnancies, and the one child who lives to adulthood. About the death of Percy’s wife, the marriage of Mary and Percy, and the travels of the trio of Percy, Mary and Claire and their children. We chat about the creation of Frankenstein, Lord Byron, and the death of Percy.

Lord Byron...(yeah, we don't get into THAT much detail)

This may be a mini-cast but it is full of drama! What a life this woman created and lived!

After Percy’s death, Mary’s life settles down somewhat. She is a writer, but never sees success to the likes of Frankenstein- which in our opinion- makes her quite a writer indeed.

The end of  Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley’s life was full of illness and living with her remaining son*sigh* Percy. She died of a brain tumor in 1851 at the age of 54.

Time Travel with The History Chicks

We admit, this was a minicast about the full life of a woman who did a lot of living in her years. Here is a great starting place to look  a bit more into the life of Mary Shelley, and there are other posts about her on this site as well: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mary-wollstonecraft-shelley

Just because we thought it was an interesting look at the beginnings of Frankenstein: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/26/frankenstein-hour-creation-identified-astronomers

And we really liked this book:

Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality  by Emily Sunstein

Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, by Emily Sunstein

Go, read Frankenstein! Read the graphic novel! Watch the movies! Enjoy! It’s a classic!

1931 with Boris Karloff

heh heh...