Women’s Wednesday: Georgiana Cavendish 5th Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish the 5th Duchess of Devonshire


For those who don’t really know me, I am a history buff.  I love the regency period especially when you find someone who doesn’t fit.  Georgiana was one of those people.  She was loved by everyone and loved everyone.  Why didn’t she fit?  What made her different…well obviously I am going to go over that.

Georgiana was never seen as pretty, she was handsome, but never pretty.  What made her most sought after by her husband the Duke was her manner.  She was very good at drawing a crowd and entertaining anyone.  She had a likeness nobody could ever catch according to her son and she did whatever she pleased in a time where it was certainly a man’s world.  For anyone who has seen the Duchess, do NOT believe her to be this docile creature they portrayed her as.  I love the movie, but it’s missing some key components that make her real and not just a little victim of her husband (who wasn’t nearly as horrible as portrayed).  It’s a good movie leave it to Hollywood to take an interesting story and decide that it needs to be more interesting even if it’s supposed to be historical.

Georgiana was born on June 7th 1757.  She was born in a time where women rarely owned land, and gentleman ruled the world.  Her early life was typical of any lady of breeding; she was raised by a governess.  Her mother actually took quite an interest in her, her sister Harriet, and her brother, George which made it harder on them when she would leave for extended periods of time.  As with women of the time she was extremely well educated.  She was extremely charming and was eager to please due to abandonment issues she had from her parents extended time away.  Don’t see them as unfit, it was common practice.

Due to her charm and wit a Duke asked for her hand and at the age of 17 she became his Duchess.  He had a child by the maid previous to his marriage.  Georgiana loved her as her own and even wrote to her mother about how she was the most beautiful baby.  Her name was Charlotte.  Then she had three children with the duke.  She had two girls and a boy.  Names were Georgiana, Harriet, and Hart.  She breastfed all three which was unheard of at the time but it was cut short with Hart when she was exiled.  I will write more on that later.  Georgiana (her daughter) said she was an amazing mother.

Her husband took up with a woman known as Bess who was the Duchess best friend.  The Duke and her had a couple children and it’s suggested that Georgiana, Bess, and the Duke were all in a relationship.  Before I knew I was polyamorous I felt drawn to this and called my husband and my best friend “our Bess”.  They even adopted their own drawl, sort of like baby talk known as the Devonshire drawl.

bess and gio


Bess and Gio.

Georgiana  was very into politics.  She was into the Whig party.  Because she was very fashionable, stating that “a woman’s wardrobe is one of the few ways women get to express themselves”.  She was quite the commodity.  She and her female comrades worked endlessly in a time where women weren’t involved in politics, before women even secured the right to vote.  This was easily one hundred years before women’s suffrage even began.  That’s another thing I find absolutely astonishing about her.

She became pregnant with her lover’s child, Charles Earl Grey (who the tea is named after).  The became involved sometime while she was campaigning the Whigs he being an active Whig and much her junior.  Her husband wasn’t upset about the affair but with her lack of discretion.  There was no way he could pass the child as his own and he was increasingly angry with her gambling debts.  Bess who usually would have sided with her lover knew how it was to have an illegitimate child that she wouldn’t be able to hold and love and go home with her.  She chose to go with her friend into exile further upsetting the Duke. Charles parents raised Eliza Courtney.  When she learned who her biological mother was she said that she remembered the kind lady that brought her gifts and treated her with kindness.

Charles tried to get Gio to leave with him but she refused to leave her children.  They later would rekindle their romance but by that time he would be married.  They kept care this time to be more discreet with their romance.

It wasn’t long after that she ended up getting ill and her face ended up malformed due to an abscess on her eye. And not long after that she would get ill again and pass away at the age of 48. She knew her children were not thrilled about Bess so she protected her leaving her in charge of her debts.  She was a compulsive gambler and her debts added up to modern day over 3,000,000 pounds.  She also gave them her blessing to marry, which they did.

Before her death she wrote a novel called the Sylph in 1779. Since it was published anonymously there is still speculation of her being the author but it’s said with little doubt that due to her short stories published before that were known to be her, it is also indeed her work.

I love Georgiana because she is so brilliantly flawed like everyone.  She was so perfect as far as how she looked and her nature but then she owed millions in debt.  She was so ahead of her time and never made it an issue that she couldn’t vote herself but made thousands of men vote her way.  She openly loved many and that has to be my favorite attribute of hers.

I got all of my facts from reading over and over the Duchess by Amanda Foreman.  I no longer have this book because I gave it to the woman I used to call “my Bess”.  I need another copy so I can read it a million times more.


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