So we are here once again to discuss another most interesting couple of the Regency era. the 5th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, and his wife, Georgiana . The Duchess was born Georgiana Spencer (yes, she was a relation to Princess Diana) and married twenty four year old William, Duke of Devonshire when she was but seventeen years old. Her husband possessed an enormous fortune. They lived a typical noble life, never residing in each other’s pockets, the duke spent most of his evenings at Brooks, his club, while Georgiana used her considerable fortune to gather society around her like a glittering court.
She and her husband were fervent Whigs and she was an early proponent of woman’s rights, as well as other reforms. Her dinner parties, where she would bring together politicians with the most radical ideas, became legendary. The King hated the Whigs and his son Prince George (later the Prince Regent-Prinny) who was more than happy to irk his father, became a fixture at Georgiana’s table. She loved the thrill of political posturing and would canvass the streets for support, carrying the Whigs foxtails for Charles Fox, the leader of the party.
Georgina was famous not only for her beauty and her political acumen, but also for her gambling obsession. She tried to hide it from her husband, but when she once lost almost all of her four thousand pound yearly allowance, she had to ask her parents to pay the debt for her. The duke found out and paid her parents back, but even though she promised to stop gambling, she couldn’t. Married to one of the wealthiest men in the kingdom, she couldn’t control herself and constantly borrowed money.
It was also rumored that she suffered from anorexia and bulimia.
Georgiana had problems with carrying pregnancies and suffered many miscarriages before giving birth to three girls and finally a boy. The duke had been having an affair at the time of their marriage with his milliner’s assistant, and already had a daughter by her. Typical behavior for the nobility.
Just eight years after her marriage, while on vacation in Bath, the duke and duchess met Lady Elizabeth Foster, (Bess) who quickly became a close friend to Georgian, and an even closer friend to the duke. She was invited to return home to live with them and for the next twenty five years (yes you read that correctly) she lived within the Devonshire household, as best friend to Georgiana and mistress to the duke. She received letters from the duke declaring how much he missed her and there is speculation there may have been not only a menage a trois type of relationship but a lesbian relationship between Bess and Georgiana. This is all based upon letters written between the three.
Adultery was so commonplace amongst the nobility, but still there was a warped code of honor. The wife would not take a lover until an heir was produced. Once she accomplished that feat, Georgiana sought her lovers.
No such rules of course existed for the men, and the duke was purported to have had Lady Jersey as one of his many lovers.
No one really understood the nature of the relationships between Bess, the duke and the duchess. Bess herself had many affairs outside of the duke, yet she brought her children to live and be raised with his, in his home The strangest thing is that Georgiana was fine with it. Was she truly a friend to Georgiana, or was she blackmailing her about her gambling debts and sleeping with her husband for his fortune? Or, did the duchess simply not care, because she had no feelings for the duke?
Because of her massive gambling debts there was a time that the duke and duchess lived apart. He was incensed with her spending and her behavior. However his need for an heir pushed aside his pride and they returned to living with each other again. Finally she gave birth to a son.
Georgiana fell in love for the only time in her life with Charles, Earl Grey (of the tea fame) and to her horror, discovered she was pregnant. When the duke found out he threatened her with divorce. He also threatened her with never seeing her three other children unless she gave up both Grey and their child. She agreed and went abroad and gave birth to a girl. Grey’s parent’s raised her and she never acknowledged her as her own, although she did visit her from time to time. Her affair with Grey ended, as he was unhappy that she chose to give him and their child u.p
Georgiana died possibly of an eye infection or of a liver ailment when she was 49 years old.
The duke married Bess Foster and had the blessing of Georgiana before she died. He and Bess had no legitimate issue. He died at 62.
Georgiana’s son, known as Hart, became known as The Bachelor Duke” because he never married. He intended to marry but she married another.
Here are some of the various people
The Duchess and Bess Foster
Charles, Earl Grey
Hart, The Bachelor Duke-6th Duke of Devonshire