HBICs of history » G e o r g i a n a, duchess of Devonshire
Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women’s suffrage was still over a century away. During the 1784 general election, the Duchess was rumoured to have traded kisses for votes in favour of Fox, and was satirised by Thomas Rowlandson in his print THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes.
Famously, when she was stepping out of her carriage one day, an Irish dustman exclaimed: “Love and bless you, my lady, let me light my pipe in your eyes!”, a compliment which she often recalled whenever others complimented her by retorting, “After the dustman’s compliment, all others are insipid.”
Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire on her seventeenth birthday: 7 June 1774. She had a number of miscarriages before giving birth to four children: three with her husband, and an illegitimate daughter fathered by the second Earl Grey. She also raised the Duke’s illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, who was conceived with a maid. The Duchess introduced the Duke to her best friend, the Lady Elizabeth Foster (who later married the Duke), and lived in a ménage à trois with them for the next 25 years. Lady Elizabeth had two illegitimate children by the Duke, a son and a daughter.
Georgiana is famous not only for her marital arrangements, her catastrophic affairs, her beauty and sense of style and best clothes, and her political campaigning, but also for her love of gambling. Even though her own family, the Spencers, and her husband’s family, the Cavendishes, were immensely wealthy, she was reported to have died deeply in debt because they did not give her any money. She died in March,1806 (aged 48), from what was thought to be an abscess of the liver; At her death, she owed today’s equivalent of £3,720,000. She was so petrified of her husband discovering the extent of her debts that she kept them secret; the Duke only discovered the sum she owed after her death and remarked, “Is that all?