Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

by Amanda Foreman


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Tuesday, July 23


The winner of Britain's prestigious Whitbread Prize and a bestseller there for months, this wonderfully readable biography offers a rich, rollicking picture of late-eighteenth-century British aristocracy and the intimate story of a woman who for a time was its undisputed leader.

Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as famous in her day. In 1774, at the age of seventeen, Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying one of England's richest and most influential aristocrats, the Duke of Devonshire. Launched into a world of wealth and power, she quickly became the queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince of Wales, a dear friend of Marie-Antoinette, and leader of the most important salon of her time. Not content with the role of society hostess, she used her connections to enter politics, eventually becoming more influential than most of the men who held office.

Her good works and social exploits made her loved by the multitudes, but Georgiana's public success, like Diana's, concealed a personal life that was fraught with suffering. The Duke of Devonshire was unimpressed by his wife's legendary charms, preferring instead those of her closest friend, a woman with whom Georgiana herself was rumored to be on intimate terms. For over twenty years, the three lived together in a jealous and uneasy ménage à trois, during which time both women bore the Duke's children—as well as those of other men.

Foreman's descriptions of Georgiana's uncontrollable gambling, all- night drinking, drug taking, and love affairs with the leading politicians of the day give us fascinating insight into the lives of the British aristocracy in the era of the madness of King George III, the American and French revolutions, and the defeat of Napoleon.

A gifted young historian whom critics are already likening to Antonia Fraser, Amanda Foreman draws on a wealth of fresh research and writes colorfully and penetratingly about the fascinating Georgiana, whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375753831
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/28/2001
Series: Modern Library Paperbacks Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 107,312
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Amanda Foreman is a Visiting Research Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London. She won the Whitbread Prize for Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which was adapted for the screen as The Duchess. Educated as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College and with master’s and doctorate degrees in history from Oxford University, she is now married with five children and lives in New York.

Read an Excerpt


Georgiana was only fourteen when people began to speculate on her choice of husband. Lady Spencer thought it would be a dreadful mistake if she married too young. "I hope not to part with her till 18 at the soonest," she told a friend in 1771.37 Her daughter's outward sophistication led many to think that she was more mature than her years. In 1772 the family embarked upon another grand tour, this time with all three children in tow. The rapturous reception which greeted Georgiana in Paris confirmed Lady Spencer's fears. According to a fellow English traveller, "Lady Georgiana Spencer has been very highly admired. She has, I believe, an exceedingly good disposition of her own, and is happy in an education which it is to be hoped will counteract any ill effect from what may too naturally turn her head."

Georgiana combined a perfect mastery of etiquette with a mischievous grace and ease which met with approval in the artificial and mannered atmosphere of the French court. Wherever Georgiana accompanied Lady Spencer people marvelled at the way in which she seemed so natural and yet also conscious of being on show. Many were daunted by the complex and highly choreographed set-pieces which passed for social discourse in French salons. "It was no ordinary science," reminisced a retired courtier, "to know how to enter with grace and assurance a salon where thirty men and women were seated in a circle round the fire, to penetrate this circle while bowing slightly to everyone, to advance straight to the mistress of the house, and to retire with honour, without clumsily disarranging one's fine clothes, lace ruffles, [and] head-dress of thirty-six curls powdered like rime. . . ."

The family travelled around France for a few months and then moved on to Spa, where Georgiana celebrated her sixteenth birthday, in the summer of 1773. They found many friends already there, including the twenty-four-year-old Duke of Devonshire. His family had always been regular visitors: it was at Spa that his father the fourth Duke had died in 1764, aged forty-four, worn out after his short but harrowing stint as Prime Minister in 1756.* The Devonshires ranked among the first families of England and commanded a special place in British history. They had been involved in politics since the reign of Henry VIII, when Sir William Cavendish oversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir William was the second husband of four to the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, the richest woman in England after Elizabeth I and the most prolific builder of her age. He was the only one whom she married for love, and when she died all her accumulated wealth went to her Cavendish sons. The eldest, William, used his mother's fortune to purchase the earldom of Devonshire from James I for ú10,000. His descendants followed his example and devoted their lives to increasing the family's wealth and power.

* Political life had not suited the reserved and honest Duke. But for the rivalry between Henry Fox and William Pitt, neither of whom would support a government with the other as its leader, George II would not have chosen this "amiable, straightforward man," who was noted "for common sense rather than statesmanship." The Duke shared with Lord

Georgiana's future husband was only sixteen when he came into an income that was twice Lord Spencer's; by one account it amounted to more than ú60,000 a year. His property included not only the magnificent Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Devonshire House in London, but five other estates of comparable grandeur: Lismore Castle in Ireland, Hardwick House and Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and Chiswick House and Burlington House in London. He was one of the most sought-after bachelors in London—although Mrs. Delany was mystified as to the reason why. "The Duke's intimate friends say he has sense, and does not want merit," she wrote. But in her opinion he was boring and gauche: "To be sure the jewell has not been well polished: had he fallen under the tuition of the late Lord Chesterfield he might have possessed les graces, but at present only that of his dukedom belongs to him."43 As one newspaper delicately put it, "His Grace is an amiable and respectable character, but dancing is not his forte."

Superficially, the Duke's character seemed not unlike Lord Spencer's: however, behind a shy exterior Georgiana's father concealed strong feelings. One of his few surviving letters to Georgiana, written after her marriage, bears eloquent witness to his warm heart: "But indeed my Dearest Georgiana, I did not know till lately how much I loved you; I miss you every day and every hour."45 The twenty-four-year-old Duke had no such hidden sweetness, although Georgiana thought he did. Knowing how awkward her father could be in public, she assumed that the Duke masked his true nature from all but his closest confidants. The fact that her parents treated him so respectfully also elevated the Duke in her eyes. The Spencers were extremely gratified by the interest he showed in their eldest daughter, and it did not escape Georgiana's notice that she was being watched; she knew that her parents wanted her to succeed.

By the end of summer, having danced with the Duke on several occasions and sat near him at numerous dinners, Georgiana had fallen in love with the idea of marrying him. His return home upset her greatly; she feared that he would make his choice before she was grown up. "I have not heard that the Duke of Devonshire is talked of for anybody," her cousin reassured her after receiving an enquiry about a rumour linking him with Lady Betty Hamilton. "Indeed I have heard very little of him this Winter."46 Lady Spencer, on the other hand, was relieved that the Duke had not made a formal offer. Even though there could be no more illustrious a match, she did not want her daughter to be a child-bride. Georgiana "is indeed a lovely young woman," she confided to a friend, "very pleasing in her figure, but infinitely more so from her character and disposition; my dread is that she will be snatched from me before her age and experience make her by any means fit for the serious duties of a wife, a mother, or the mistress of a family."
In fact the Duke had already made up his mind to marry Georgiana. She was an obvious choice: socially the Spencers were almost equal to the Cavendishes, she had a large dowry, she seemed likely to be popular, and, most important, she was young and malleable. Despite Lady Spencer's reservations, discussions between the two families began in earnest while the Spencers were still abroad, and were concluded after they returned to England in the spring of 1774. By now Georgiana was almost seventeen and preparing to make her entrance into society. Hers was not to be an arranged marriage in the sense of those common a generation before. She was not exchanged in lieu of gambling debts, nor thrown in as part of a political alliance.* However, it cannot be said that Georgiana had been free to make a proper choice. Unlike her mother she had not been out for several seasons before her marriage, and she had not accepted the Duke because she loved him "above all men upon Earth." She would go to any lengths to please her parents, and that included thinking herself in love with a man she hardly knew. But her happiness at his proposal convinced the Spencers that they were facilitating a love-match.

* In 1719 the Duke of Richmond, finding himself unable to meet his obligations, paid off his debts by agreeing to have his eighteen-year-old heir married to the thirteen-year-old daughter of the Earl of Cadogan. The ceremony took place almost immediately, after which the girl was returned to the nursery and did not see her husband again until she was sixteen.

As the marriage approached, Georgiana's faults became an obsession with her mother, who feared that her daughter did not understand the responsibilities which would come with her new role as a society wife and political hostess: "I had flatter'd myself I should have had more time to have improv'd her understanding and, with God's assistance to have strengthened her principles, and enabled her to avoid the many snares that vice and folly will throw in her way. She is amiable, innocent and benevolent, but she is giddy, idle and fond of dissipation." Whenever they were apart, Lady Spencer criticized Georgiana's behaviour in long letters filled with "hints to form your own conduct . . . when you are so near entering into a world abounding with dissipation, vice and folly." In one, she included a list of rules governing a married woman's behaviour on Sundays. Georgiana would have to rise early, pray, instruct the children or servants, then read an improving book, and above all "make it a rule to be among the first [to church], and to shew by my good humour and attention to everybody that I saw nothing in religion or a Sunday to make people silent, ill-bred or uncomfortable. . . ." Flirting and gossip were to be absolutely avoided on this day.

Most observers shared Lady Spencer's disquiet, although not for the same reason.

We drank tea in the Spring Gardens [recorded Mary Hamilton in her diary]: Lady Spencer and daughter, Lady Georgiana, and the Duke of Devonshire joined us: he walked between Lady Georgiana and I, we were very Chatty, but not one word spoke the Duke to his betrothed nor did one smile grace his dull visage.—-Notwithstanding his rank and fortune I would not marry him—they say he is sensible and has good qualities—it is a pity he is not more ostensibly agreeable, dear charming Lady Georgiana will not be well matched.

Mrs. Delany had come to a similar conclusion. She happened to be at a ball in May where Georgiana danced for so long that she fainted from the heat and the constriction of her dress—"Which of course made a little bustle," she informed her friend. "His (philosophical) Grace was at the other end of the room and ask'd 'what's that?' They told him and he replied with his usual demureness (alias dullness), 'I thought the noise—was—among—the—women.' " He did not even make a pretence of going over to where Georgiana lay to see how she was.

Meanwhile the Spencers assembled a trousseau more lavish than those of many princesses on the Continent. In three months they spent a total of ú1,486 on hundreds of items: sixty-five pairs of shoes filled one trunk, forty-eight pairs of stockings and twenty-six "and a half" pairs of gloves filled another. They bought hats, feathers, and trimmings; morning dresses, walking dresses, riding habits, and ball gowns. There was her wedding dress to be made, her court dress, her first visiting dress, as well as cloaks, shawls, and wraps. The prospect of a union between two such wealthy and powerful families naturally caught the attention of the press—there had been no Duchess of Devonshire for over two decades. People described the marriage as the wedding of the year and anticipated that the new Duchess of Devonshire would revive the former splendour of Devonshire House. The Whig grandees also looked upon the match with favour, hoping that the married state would have a beneficial effect on the Duke.

The wedding took place on June 7, 1774, two days earlier than the official date. There had been so much publicity about the marriage that the Spencers feared the church would be mobbed with curious onlookers. They persuaded the Duke to leave the comfort of his home temporarily and stay with them at Wimbledon Park, so that the marriage could take place in the peace and quiet of the local parish church. According to Mrs. Delany, Georgiana knew nothing of their plans until the morning of the ceremony. She did not mind at all; a secret marriage appealed to her. "She is so peculiarly happy as to think his Grace very agreeable" and, to Mrs. Delany's surprise, "had not the least regret" about anything. She wore a white and gold dress, with silver slippers on her feet and pearl drops in her hair. Eighteenth-century weddings were small, private occasions. There were only five people present at Georgiana's: the Duke's brother Lord Richard Cavendish and his sister Dorothy, who had married the Duke of Portland, and on Georgiana's side only her parents and paternal grandmother, Lady Cowper. George and Harriet remained at Wimbledon, waiting for the wedding party to return.

Georgiana's feelings clearly showed on her face, while the Duke appeared inscrutable. His new wife may have occupied his thoughts, although they may well have turned to another Spencer. Not very far away in a rented villa, on a discreet road where a carriage could come and go unseen, Charlotte Spencer, formerly a milliner and no relation to the Spencers, was nursing a newborn baby: his—their—daughter Charlotte.
Fashion's Favourite

By now, three months into her marriage, Georgiana could not help but suspect the true nature of the Duke's feelings towards her. He was kind in a distant sort of way, but he was naturally reticent and she soon realized that they had little in common. Her innocence bored him and Georgiana was too acute not to notice his lack of interest in her. She told her mother that she was secretly making an effort to be more attractive to him. Since he was so much more worldly than she, she read Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son; and knowing of his interest in history and the classics, she began several books on ancient Greece and on the reign of Louis XIV, "for as those two periods are so distant there will be no danger of their interfering so as to puzzle me."

At first Lady Spencer tried to reassure her that the Duke "was no less happy than herself." She also supplied her daughter with advice on how to please him, suggesting that she should curb any thoughts of independence and show her submission by anticipating his desires:

But where a husband's delicacy and indulgence is so great that he will not say what he likes, the task becomes more difficult, and a wife must use all possible delicacy and ingenuity in trying to find out his inclinations, and the utmost readiness in conforming to them. You have this difficult task to perform, my dearest Georgiana, for the Duke of D., from a mistaken tenderness, persists in not dictating to you the things he wishes you to do, and not contradicting you in anything however disagreeable to him. This should engage you by a thousand additional motives of duty and gratitude to try to know his sentiments upon even the most trifling subjects, and especially not to enter into any engagements or form any plans without consulting him. . . .

Unwilling to disappoint her mother, Georgiana made sincere efforts to appear cheerful, sending her carefully composed accounts of her life. Lady Spencer was particularly delighted when Georgiana wrote her letters in French and interspersed her news with little poems or religious reflections. Since she had been told that she ought to be content, Georgiana asserted that she was: "I have been so happy in marrying a Man I so sincerely lov'd, and experience Dayly so much of his goodness to me, that it is impossible I should not feel to the greatest degree that mutual happyness you speak of." But she could not help adding anxiously, "My only wish is to deserve it and my greatest pleasure the thought of being in any manner able to add to His Happyness." She was quite sure that she did not add to his happiness in the slightest degree.

Georgiana had entered into marriage thinking that, like her mother, she would be a wife and companion. She soon discovered that her chief role was to produce children and carry out her social obligations. The Duke was used to his bachelor life: love he received from his mistress, companionship from his friends; from his wife he expected loyalty, support, and commitment to the family's interests. His was an old-fashioned view, greatly out of step with an age which celebrated romantic sentiment and openly shed tears over Samuel Richardson's novel Clarissa. The Duke did not know how to be romantic; never having experienced tenderness himself he was incapable of showing it to Georgiana. He did not mean to hurt her, but there was a nine-year age difference between them and a gulf of misunderstanding and misplaced expectations.

They left Chatsworth in January, much to Georgiana's relief. In London she would be surrounded by her own family and friends and no longer reliant on the monosyllabic Duke or his critical relations. The caravan of carriages and coaches, piled high with boxes of plate and linens, set off once more. Most of the servants joined the back of the train to take up their duties at Devonshire House, leaving behind a skeleton staff until the family's return in the summer.

Devonshire House lay in London's western end, known as the "polite" end, encompassing Piccadilly, St. James's, and Hyde Park. Before the eighteenth century the grand nobility lived in private palaces along the Strand, overlooking the river Thames, but after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when William and Mary, the Protestant rulers of Holland, sailed to England at the Whig party's request and helped to depose the Catholic King James II, the nature of political life changed. Parliament no longer met at the King's command but according to a set calendar, while the court resided permanently at St. James's Palace when Parliament was in session. The aristocracy had to be in London for much longer periods of time, and in a location convenient for both the Houses of Parliament at Westminster and the Palace of St. James's nearby. The concentration of so much wealth and power transformed the city. By the mid-eighteenth century one in ten Englishmen had lived in London at some point in his life. There was a frenzy of building as the capital spread out westwards. Speculators widened country lanes into streets, turned fields into smart squares, and built shops, arcades, and churches on previously empty spaces. By the 1770s modern London was envied throughout Europe for its glass-fronted shops and spacious roads that easily accommodated two lanes of traffic.

The aristocratic "season" came into existence not only to further the marriage market but to entertain the upper classes while they carried out their political duties. The season followed the rhythm of Parliament: it began in late October with the opening of the new session, and ended in June with the summer recess. The two most popular nights of the week were Wednesday and Saturday, when Parliament was not in session and the men's attendance could be assured. A completely new form of public architecture appeared, the sole purpose of which was to facilitate social intercourse. Coffee houses—where men of all classes gathered during the day to read newspapers and discuss politics—sprang up. White's, the first of the London clubs, opened in St. James's in 1697; Almack's, Boodles, and Brooks's followed half a century later. For evening entertainment people went to Covent Garden or to the Italian Opera House in the Haymarket to hear Handel, or to Drury Lane to watch David Garrick. Afterwards they could amuse themselves at the commercial gardens of Ranelagh, or visit its riverside competitor, Vauxhall, to dance at a masquerade, attend a concert, or watch the fireworks.
With her instinctive ability to make an impression, Georgiana immediately caused a sensation. She always appeared natural, even when she was called upon to open a ball in front of 800 people. She could engage in friendly chatter with several people simultaneously, leaving each with the impression that it had been a memorable event. She was "so handsome, so agreeable, so obliging in her manner, that I am quite in love with her," Mrs. Delany burbled to a friend. "I can't tell you all the civil things she said, and really they deserve a better name, which is kindness embellished by politeness. I hope she will illumine and reform her contemporaries!" Even cynics like Horace Walpole found their resistance worn down by Georgiana's unforced charm and directness. Observing her transformation into a society figure, Walpole marvelled that this "lovely girl, natural, and full of grace" could retain these qualities and yet be so much on show. "The Duchess of Devonshire effaces all," he wrote a few weeks after her arrival in London. She achieved it "without being a beauty; but her youth, figure, flowing good nature, sense and lively modesty, and modest familiarity, make her a phenomenon."

Whatever she wore became instantly fashionable. Women's hair was already arranged high above the head, but Georgiana took the fashion a step further by creating the three-foot hair tower. She stuck pads of horse hair to her own hair using scented pomade and decorated the top with miniature ornaments. Sometimes she carried a ship in full sail, or an exotic arrangement of stuffed birds and waxed fruit, or even a pastoral tableau with little wooden trees and sheep. Even though the towers required the help of at least two hairdressers and took several hours to arrange, Georgiana's designs inspired others to imitate her. "The Duchess of Devonshire is the most envied woman of the day in the Ton," the newspapers reported. It was true; women competed with each other to construct the tallest head, ignoring the fact that it made quick movements impossible and the only way to ride in a carriage was to sit on the floor.

Another of Georgiana's innovations was the drooping ostrich feather, which she attached in a wide arch across the front of her hair. In April Lord Stormont, the British ambassador in Paris, presented her with one that was four feet long. Overnight it became the most important accessory in a lady's wardrobe, even though the tall nodding plumes were difficult to find and extremely expensive. The ton wore them with a smug arrogance which infuriated the less fortunate. The fashion generated resentment: it was too excessive and too exclusive. The Queen banned ostrich feathers from court, and according to Lady Louisa Stuart, "the unfortunate feathers were insulted, mobbed, hissed, almost pelted wherever they appeared, abused in the newspapers, nay even preached at in the pulpits and pointed out as marks of reprobation."

In less than a year Georgiana had become a celebrity. Newspaper editors noticed that any report on the Duchess of Devonshire increased their sales. She brought glamour and style to a paper. A three-ring circus soon developed between newspapers who saw commercial value in her fame, ordinary readers who were fascinated by her, and Georgiana herself, who enjoyed the attention. The more editors printed stories about her, the more she obliged by playing up to them. Her arrival coincided with the flowering of the English press. A growing population, increased wealth, better roads, and an end to official censorship had resulted in a wider readership and more news to report. By the end of the 1770s there were nine daily newspapers, all based in London, and hundreds of bi- and tri-weekly provincial papers which reprinted the London news. For the first time national figures emerged, Georgiana among them, which the whole country read about and discussed, and with whom they could feel some sort of connection.

What People are Saying About This

Simon Schama

Georgiana bursts from the pages of Amanda Foreman's dazzling biography like the force of nature she undoubtedly was - passionate, political, addicted to gambling and drunk on life. This is a stunning book about an astonishing woman.

Michael Holroyd

A most impressive debut. I predict a great future for Amanda Foreman. She is a scholar who matches her learning to a sense of adventure and writes with engaging vitality.

Brenda Maddox

Stunning historical research plus feminine acuity yield a vivid portrait of a shrewd, seductive ancestor of Princess Diana in an age before democracy or contraception.
— Brenda Maddox, author of Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom

Reading Group Guide

1. Georgiana emerged into the world with considerable poise and charm, but she was desperately needy and easily manipulated. How much can her lack of emotional balance be attributed to her mother, Lady Spencer's, influence?

2. The Duke of Devonshire was a shy man who had hardly known his parents. He craved affection but did not know how to receive or give it. Was his marriage to Georgiana doomed from the start?

3. Georgiana clearly adored the attention of the press. How much of her celebrity was self-created and how much was foisted upon her because of her style and status?

4. Lady Elizabeth Foster was considered to be so "artificial, it almost seemed natural." Was her friendship for Georgiana pure calculation, or did she share Georgiana's feelings?

5. By 1782 Georgiana had become the most powerful woman in the Whig party. Do you think she wanted power for herself?

6. After her triumph at the Westminster election in 1784, Georgiana wrote, I hate myself " She displayed classic symptoms of bulimia; she resorted to alcohol and drugs to find relief-, and, worst of all, she became a gambling addict. Was this behavior a form of protest against her unhappy marriage, an expression of anger against a society that favored men over women, the result of childhood trauma, a demonstration of character weakness, or an amalgamation of all of these?

7. When Fanny Burney met Georgiana she assumed that blackmail had to be at the heart of Georgiana's continuing friendship with Bess. What kept the two women together by the 1790s?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Georgiana 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
auntie_amy More than 1 year ago
I had to read this book for a graduate class on European Biographies and I'm glad I did. It was an extremely interesting book. Well worth the time it took to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A beautifully written biography of an incredibly interesting woman. The author obviously came to love her subject but without being blind to her faults... the perfect recipe for a wonderful history book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is about a woman who is born with every good fortune life can bestow including wealth, high birth, beauty, talent and intelligence. She then marries the richest man in England and becomes the most famous, the most popular, the most powerful woman of the day. And yet she is so lonely, so miserable, that she embarks on a course towards total self-destruction. However, unlike most biographies of famous-but-flawed people, this one is about destruction followed by regeneration. What I enjoyed most in 'Georgiana' was reading about her successful struggle to overcome her problems (which included gambling, drug addiction and bullimia)and her re-entry into society as a reformed and happy woman.
just_another_book_lover More than 1 year ago
I bought this book without realizing there was a movie out based on it, and I am so glad I read the book first. The story of the Duchess as told by Ms.Foreman is very full and rich. The character development is excellent, and the detail of the events of Georgiana's life are excellent. I had some background in 18th century English history, so some of the names in the book such as Fox and Pitt are familiar, but this knowledge is not absolutely necessary to a successful reading of the book. The book does an excellent job of recreating the world of the late 18th century, touching on events such as the American and French revolutions and the rise of Napoleon, and Georgiana had a front row seat for it all. I did however, always feel as though she was just out of reach, that I could almost step in her shoes, but not quite. I would highly recommend this book. If you think you may be even remotely interested in reading it, do so, you won't regret it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amanda Foreman never loses you. The book flows perfectly through the many scandals and heart-felts. Factual without being a textbook.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An excellent biography -- it deserves every award it's garnered, and presents a fabulous look at the celebrity that Georgiana was.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you saw the movie and liked it, or have any inclination to know more about Georgiana, then read this book! I absolutely fell in love with her. Amanda Foreman not only chronicles Georgiana's life, but everything political and societal concerning her as well. The fact that it's a biography may seem daunting to some, but Foreman's writing combined with such a fascinating life makes it read more like a novel. I will definitely be rereading this!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Well written and researched. The subject is an interesting person, certainly, though finding a likeable character in this book was difficult-to-nearly-impossible. Reading a long treatise of people who repeat their same mistakes over and over ... quite trying. The author makes assumptions that one is familiar with several society figures of the day, introducing them into the text little to no reference nor context in some cases. A good social history. Not light reading.
drmarymccormack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of biographies,this was just so-so. I was hoping for more.
thewatch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The life and times of a unique and fascinating woman. It's also an interesting look at 18th Century politics and the role women of the aristocracy played at the time. Her life covered some great moment in history like the French Revolution and she provides a perspective on people and events well worth reading.
SusanBainbridge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an interesting book that shed a lot of light on late 18th Century lifestyles and attitudes. The sections that delved into the details of parliament and politics were too long and dry, but most of the book was captivating.
bbellthom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was interesting, at times I was lost with all the political maneuvering and keeping track of who everyone was. I think I have a general understanding of all the political happenings but couldn¿t repeat them to anyone coherently. I enjoyed reading about Georgiana¿s personal life more and found her to be an intriguing woman.
kiravk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading Janet Gleeson's wonderful biography of Harriet Spencer, I was eager to get my hands on the acclaimed book about her more talented sister. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, did not disappoint. Lady Georgiana Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Diana, became the most prominent woman in Britain after marrying the wealthy Duke of Devonshire. She captivated the nation with her avant garde involvement in politics, but newspapers were more enthralled with her lavish personal life. Her million dollar gambling debts, scandalous love affairs with leading politicians, bulimia, heavy drinking, lesbian involvements, and unhappy marriage would be considered riske even by today's standards...and this was the 18th century. The supporting characters in Georgiana's life are just as interesting as she is. Bess, her conniving best friend, schemed to become the Duke's mistress and upon doing so, promptly turned the marriage into a menage-a-trois. Her life long friend Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, shared her love for extravagant gowns and helped her set the tone of fashion for the era. Grey, the Whig politician who became the love of her life, fathered her illegtimate child. Amanda Foreman breathes life into the decadent lifestyles of the Regency era nobility and the privilege of the period. I really loved this book--enough to buy it--- but I would recommend picking it up only if you're interested in the Regency/French Revolution era.
DieFledermaus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written and well-researched biography of a fascinating woman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was a tabloid celebrity in the late 18th century, the leader of the ton who set the fashions and partied and gambled excessively. She was also a strong supporter of politics and canvassed for Whig party candidates in a public fashion that inspired a backlash. Political meetings were regularly held in Devonshire House and she helped maintain the unity of the party, though she couldn¿t prevent it from falling apart due to internal squabbles. Through family connections and friendships, she kept abreast of the events of the day ¿ the French revolution and Irish rebellion ¿ and tried to push policies that she supported through her favored politician, Charles Fox, and her brother, a member of William Pitt¿s opposition cabinet. Georgiana had a wide variety of interests. She supported the arts and developed a passion for mineralogy - at her death, she had amassed a museum-quality collection. She wrote poetry and novels as well as musical compositions.Her personal life was often unhappy. Married to one of the richest men in the land, with a lofty title, she was never loved by the Duke, who took multiple mistresses. Her parents had had a loving marriage and she strove to be a good wife, but her husband was generally cold to her. Foreman provides a good explanation of his character ¿ he never had an affectionate upbringing as his wife did, was naturally reserved and thought of marriage as more of a duty ¿ his mistress was the one to who he showed affection. Georgiana also had massive debts and for years did not produce a male heir. The vicious reports of her behavior could not help. Georgiana sought love in other quarters. Various affairs were attributed to her ¿ with Charles Fox, the politician she supported for years, and her close female friends. After meeting Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana and her husband became close to her and she lived with them on-and-off until Georgiana¿s death (Bess married the Duke soon after). Bess became the Duke¿s mistress though speculations arose about her relationship with Georgiana. Whether the relationship was physical or not, Foreman notes, the more important part was Georgiana¿s emotional dependence on her. Foreman delineates the motives of the characters skillfully and provides excerpts from letters and documents. The story reads like a good novel. She mentions in the intro that she grew attached to Georgiana and perhaps the one quibble would be in the way she writes Bess and, to a lesser extent, Georgiana¿s sister-in-law, Lavinia, who disliked her. Foreman often describes negative feelings ¿ jealousy, schadenfreude ¿ for both women when it¿s not clearly supported by evidence (though they could clearly be imagined). Bess is not a sympathetic woman but in a way, she was acting just like others in the ton ¿ having affairs, stealing other women¿s husbands, out for money. She did seem to care about her children (legitimate and illegitimate) but, for example, when she¿s able to bring her illegitimate daughter to live with the Devonshires, Foreman notes how she must have felt triumph at spiting Georgiana¿s mother, who had a longtime grudge against her.Georgiana¿s documented affairs were with another member of the ton, the Duke of Dorset, and another Whig politician, Charles Grey. She gave birth to his daughter but had to give her up after her husband threatened to deny her access to their children. Foreman creates an excellent portrait of high society in the late 18th century. Everyone knew everyone and had affairs with each other, even wives. The only scandal came when a couple would run off together ¿ then the ton would have to ostracize the woman. Of course a husband still controlled the marriage, leading to situations like Georgiana¿s, where her husband¿s illegitimate children were brought into their household, but he forced her to give up Grey¿s daughter. Geo
princessivory on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales. Married in 1774 at the age of 17 to the Duke of Devonshire, she was at the forefront of society and fashion. But she was also very intelligent, and at a time when women were not involved in politics, she immersed herself in Whig politics, working actively behind the scenes and publically to campaign for the party.I was fascinated by the affairs and romantic intrigues, and found it interesting to see how illegitimate children (the product of affairs) were often brought into the home and raised alongside the legitimate offspring of the nobility.I did find that the book bogged down in the middle, with too much emphasis and detail about politics.This book was recently made into a movie, The Duchess, starring Kiera Knightly. I am looking forward to seeing it. I wanted to finish the biography first, so that I had a better grounding in the historical facts. I am sure Hollywood will have taken liberties. If nothing else, they would need to compress and leave out a great deal of the politics. The book is simply too long to fit it all into a film. And people will be far more interested in the fashions and intrigues than they will the politics of the Whigs versus the Pittites.
AzureMountain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
English (later British) history from 1066 to 1603 is my time period. I have been reading on the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses since I found out my mother is related to the Lancaster's at age nine. So this period of history is outside my usual!Like many people, I am sure I looked for a book about Georgiana after seeing the recent movie. I was fascinated by her portrayal and wanted to find out what was fact and what was fiction.After reading this book, The Dutchess of Devonshire is now one of my favorite historical characters and I am sure I will continue to read everything I can get my hands on about her and her time period. That she was contemporary to Marie Antoinette - and a friend - also fascinates me as I have been reading on Marie lately.Enough about meThe book is well executed and reads wonderfully. You jump in and can't get out! Period history is not boring or tedious through Ms. Foreman's eyes. I learned a great deal about the politics of the period and the social mores of the aristocracy.
Mendoza on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A stunning biography - but then , how could it not be when the life of Georgiana was filled with money, sex, adultery, lesbianism, aristocracy, drug addiction, gambling, politics, scandals, betrayals, blackmail, fashion, theater, and the French Revolution.... and I've probably overlooked some of the more interesting aspects of her life.This is the first biography that I have gone back and reread - it is that interesting.
antiquary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Before reading this book, I admired the duchess as a supporter of the Whigs. After reading it, I regarded her as just another amoral, irresponsible celebrity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Penned-in-Ink More than 1 year ago
I enjoy learning about historical figures, but most biographies manage to turn into a laundry list of circumstances and events which may set the subject firmly in time but do little to give one the sense of the subject as a person. Happily, the author has avoided this pitfall. (An upfront disclaimer: I have not finished reading "Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire." At this point I'm about one third of the way through.) From her birth, her future was destined by the constraints and expectations of the aristocracy which, at the time, limited a woman's life to providing a male heir (preferably an heir and a "spare") and maintaining a social presence that upheld her husband's standing in society. In other words, she was basically a tool - used by her spouse to meet his expectations and further his causes. That's just the way it was. It's easy to fall into a predictable, sympathetic telling that puts the subject in an "oh, poor _____" mode. Again, the author avoids this. Georgiana was a complex woman who developed a backbone, left the social confines of a wretched marriage, and became an icon of fashion and high society. Women wanted to be her, men wanted her. And everyone wanted to be on her guest list. Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire was a larger-than-life personality and the talk of her time. This biography serves her well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Foreman paints an incredibly vivd portrait in the mind's eye of this amazing woman and her life. It was like Foreman was there and took notes on what she saw! SO SO SSOO happy I bought this book and have the pleasure of having it in my bookcase.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago