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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Regency History nominated for One Lovely Blog Award

The best part about writing a blog is when people take the time to let you know that they have enjoyed what you have written. Last week, I was delighted to receive an email from Susan Ardelie, author of the Life Takes Lemons blog, thanking me for my blog and nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award.

What a wonderful way to encourage others! It is all too easy to criticise rather than praise, so I am taking this opportunity to encourage other bloggers, which is particularly appropriate during this season of goodwill. So, thank you, Susan, for nominating me – I hope you continue to enjoy my blog for a long time to come and that this post will encourage others as much as you have encouraged me.

Seven things about me

Ben Ainslie wins gold in the Olympic sailing,
held in the waters of Weymouth and Portland
1. My favourite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and for me, the BBC dramatization with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is the best adaptation ever.
2. I used to live in Alton, Hampshire, near to Chawton where Jane Austen once lived.
3. Now I live by the sea (which I love) in Weymouth, Dorset, where George III visited almost every year from 1789 to 1805.
4. I started researching my family tree when I was thirteen and have since discovered ancestors who lived in the 1700s.
5. When I was at school, I played the part of Josephine in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the Pirates of Penzance.
6. I graduated from university the day before I got married.
7. Every Christmas I watch Scrooged (a 1980s film based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) starring Bill Murray and Karen Allen.

Seven blogs to look at over Christmas

I am nominating the following seven blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award :

1. The Regency World of Author Lesley-Anne McLeod – lots of wonderful information about the Regency period, including a post (on 14 December) with puzzles from 1809-14 to tease your brain.
2. Georgian Gentleman by Mike Rendell – includes a wealth of original material from his ancestor, Richard Hall.
3. Laura Purcell - a blog by a lady in love with the Georgians.
4. Regina Jeffers – includes entries from a Regency era lexicon.
5. Austen only – everything about Jane Austen. Definitely one to keep an eye on with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice coming up next year.
6. Word Wenches – lots of fascinating historical posts.
7. 30daybooks by Laura Pepper Wu – a blog full of advice on writing and publishing.

The six rules for a One Lovely Blog Award post:
1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Add the One Lovely Blog Award image to your post.
3. Share seven things about you.
4. Nominate seven blogs for the award.
5. Include this set of rules.
6. Let the writers of your nominated blogs know.

All photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Did they have Christmas trees in the Regency?

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle
from The Illustrated London News
Christmas supplement (1848)
With the approach of Christmas, I decided to do a little research into what a Regency Christmas might have been like. I knew there were Christmas trees in Victorian times, but did they have Christmas trees in the Regency, and if so, were they the same as those we have today?

Queen Charlotte’s Christmas tree 1800

It was back in 1800, more than a decade before the Regency began, that I found the earliest reference to a yew tree being used in Christmas celebrations. The Christmas custom of taking a tree inside your house and decorating it was well-established throughout the German states, and Queen Charlotte, who came from the German duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, introduced this tradition to England.

Queen Charlotte
from Memoirs of her most excellent majesty
Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain
by John Watkins (1819)
John Watkins describes the royal family Christmas celebrations of 1800 in his biography of Queen Charlotte:

“At the beginning of October the royal family left the coast for Windsor, where Her Majesty kept the Christmas-day following in a very pleasing manner. Sixty poor families had a substantial dinner given them; and in the evening the children of the principal families in the neighbourhood were invited to an entertainment at the Lodge. Here, among other amusing objects for the gratification of the juvenile visitors, in the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew-tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in papers, fruits, and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted.”

It is interesting to note that the tree stood in an “immense tub” in the middle of the room, presumably on the floor; all the other references that I found talk about table-top Christmas trees.

Princess Victoria’s Christmas 1832

Christmas trees continued to be part of the celebrations in the royal household. Queen Victoria’s mother was also German, and the young Princess wrote of Christmas trees in her diary for 24 December 1832:

“We then went into the drawing room near the dining room. After Mamma had rung a bell 3 times we went in. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the tree. I had one table for myself and the Conroy family had the other together.”

The Duchess of Kent,
Queen Victoria's mother
From La Belle Assemblée (1825)
Prince Albert’s Christmas tree 1848

However, Christmas trees did not become fashionable in Victorian England until after the Illustrated London News printed an engraving of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family gathered around their Christmas tree at Windsor in 1848. This has led to some people wrongly attributing the introduction of Christmas trees to Prince Albert, whereas, as we have seen, they were already well-established in the Christmas celebrations of the royal family by this time.

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle
from The Illustrated London News
Christmas supplement (1848)
Princess Lieven’s Christmas fête 1829

Charles Greville
from The History of White's (1892)

But did anyone outside of the royal family have Christmas trees before their widespread popularity after 1848? It would seem that some people did, especially those with German connections of their own.

Charles Greville, who stayed with the Cowpers at Panshanger for Christmas 1829, described the Christmas celebrations there in his diary. Princess Lieven, one of the patronesses of Almack’s, was also staying there.

“On Christmas Day the Princess [Lieven] got up a little fête such as is customary all over Germany. Three trees in great pots were put upon a long table covered with pink linen; each tree was illuminated with three circular tiers of coloured wax candles – blue, green, red, and white. Before each tree was displayed a quantity of toys, gloves, pocket-handkerchiefs, workboxes, books, and various articles – presents made to the owner of the tree. It was very pretty. Here it was only for the children; in Germany the custom extends to persons of all ages.”

A watercolour box c1820
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Regency Christmas trees

So, did they have Christmas trees in the Regency? The royal family did, from at least 1800, and some people copied the royal tradition.

This was true of William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, who is recorded as having a Christmas tree at Welbeck Abbey in 1807. His descendant Matthew Ward says: "He picked the habit up from court as he was the Prime Minister at the time."(1)

Also, other families connected with Germany may have brought the Christmas tree custom to England by that time, quite independent of the royal family.

However, it would appear that Christmas trees as we know them were not popular until after 1848, and that many of the trees that people had were smaller and placed on tables rather than the floor. If you know any more about Christmas trees in the Regency, please let me know by leaving a comment.

(1)  I am indebted to Matthew Ward, a descendant of the Duke of Portland, for this information. The Duke of Portland's papers are held at the University of Nottingham.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1825, London)
Bourke, Hon Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Greville, Charles, A journal of the reigns of King George IV and King William IV, edited by Henry Reeve (Longmans, 1874)
Illustrated London News (1848)
Queen Victoria's journals online - December 24 1832
Watkins, John, Memoirs of her most excellent majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain (1819, London)

All photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Friday, 7 December 2012

An unusual gift idea for your parents for Christmas 1813

I was amused when I found this advertisement entitled "Christmas presents" in the January 1814 issue of Ackermann’s Repository:


Some of the words are quite difficult to decipher, but I think that it reads like this:


Christmas approaching, every absent child feels anxious to receive the customary favours of their indulgent Parents. During this inclement, but auspicious season, what could be more acceptable than a pair of MARSTON’S PATENT STAYS or CORSETS, which are admirably well calculated to improve the shape, and comfort and support the weak and debilitated; and which are selling at the OLD PRICES, notwithstanding the exorbitant charge for materials: warranted to be manufactured by the first hands in the business and in the most elegant and fashionable style, full TWENTY-FIVE PER CENT under the regular trade price.
Genteel rooms for Ladies to try on.
Country Orders executed with integrity and dispatch on the most liberal terms


The advert suggests that,  whether your parents are “weak and debilitated” or “elegant and fashionable”, “a pair of Marston’s patent stays or corsets” would be a most acceptable gift! What an unusual idea for a Christmas present for your parents!

Front cover of
Ackermann's Repository
(Jan 1814)
I assume that the January 1814 issue must have been available in December or otherwise that the advertisement was submitted late. 

Sources used:
Ackermann, Rudolph, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1814)

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828)

Lady Caroline Lamb  from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)
Lady Caroline Lamb
from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)

Lady Caroline Lamb (13 November 1785 - 26 January 1828) was a prominent member of Regency society and the author of the scandalous novel, Glenarvon. She was the wife of William Lamb, later Viscount Melbourne and British prime minister, and had a very public affair with the poet Lord Byron.

A temperamental child

Caroline Ponsonby was born on 13 November 1785, the only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and Henrietta Spencer, younger sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough  from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Caroline was brought up in the shadow of her parents’ unhappy marriage, influenced by the unrestrained decadence of the Devonshire House set. In person, she was slight and agile; in character, unconventional, intense and highly temperamental. She liked to gallop bareback and dress up in trousers, was frequently lost in day dreams and subject to mood swings. Her austere grandmother, Lady Spencer, into whose care she was frequently placed, found her unmanageable.

'The Fairy Queen'

In 1802, Caroline made her debut and became the most vibrant personality in London. She was a captivating conversationalist with ethereal good looks that led to her being nicknamed 'the Sprite' and 'the Fairy Queen, Ariel'. On the other hand, she was highly volatile and often flew into rages. However, such was the bewitching intensity about Caroline that people were always ready to forgive her exasperating behaviour.

A love match

Amongst the men that Caroline captivated was William Lamb, second son of Lord Melbourne, but he could not propose marriage because, as a younger son, he was not a good enough match. However, in January 1805, his fortunes changed with the death of his elder brother, Peniston, and as soon as the initial period of mourning was over, he proposed and was accepted.

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William and Caroline were married on the evening of 3 June 1805 in Cavendish Square, London. But the day did not pass without incident. At the end of the service, the increasingly hysterical Caroline flew into a rage and had to be carried from the room. This outburst of emotion caused William to become very protective of his new wife, screening her from anything that might upset her.


Childbearing was not easy for Caroline and she had only one surviving child, a son, Augustus, who was born on 29 August 1807(1). It soon became apparent that he had learning difficulties, a fact that his father never really came to terms with. He remained with a mental age of about seven until his death in 1836.

A craving for attention

At first, the Lambs seemed to be an ideal couple, always flirting with each other, spending their time either at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire or in London. But their idyllic happiness was short-lived. Caroline saw life as a drama in which she was the heroine and when life did not match up to her ideals, she reinvented it, living in a world of unreality. William was naturally lazy and peace-loving and did not believe in Caroline’s idealism. He failed to live up to her romantic notion of what a lover should be like. Their marriage became a sequence of arguments and reconciliations.

By 1810, the couple were living separate lives. William devoted himself to his parliamentary work, whilst Caroline developed friendships which would feed her ego. These included two with women of dubious reputations, Lady Wellesley and Lady Oxford, as well as intellectuals such as Monk Lewis. She also had a violent and very public flirtation with Lady Holland’s son, Sir Godfrey Webster.

Lord Byron

Lord Byron  from The Life of Lord Byron   by Thomas Moore (1844)
Lord Byron
from The Life of Lord Byron
 by Thomas Moore (1844)
In March 1812, the first part of Childe Harold was published, and Lord Byron became famous overnight. After seeing him for the first time, Caroline wrote in her diary that he was “Bad, mad and dangerous to know.” Later she added: “That beautiful pale face will be my fate.”

Caroline pursued Byron, whom she saw as the sinfully romantic hero of Childe Harold and not the sulky man with the face of an angel and a lame leg. Their affair was conducted very publicly, each passionately jealous for the other’s attentions.

But Byron soon tired of Caroline’s obsessive behaviour and turned to less demanding companions: Caroline’s mother-in-law, Lady Melbourne, who became his confidante and Lady Oxford, his mistress. William did nothing, but waited for Caroline’s game to be played out.

The Byron obsession

When Byron wrote to end their relationship, Caroline’s sanity showed signs of collapse. She dressed her menservants in new livery with buttons saying “Ne crede Byron” (do not believe Byron) and ceremonially burnt his gifts to her on a bonfire.

On 5 July 1813, Byron and Caroline met for the first time since the end of their relationship, at a ball given by Lady Heathcote. Caroline broke a glass and started slashing her arms with the pieces, causing a tremendous scandal. She had taken a step too far and society shunned her.

But Caroline could not let Byron go. He had become a fixation with her. She wrote to him and kept turning up at his London rooms, often dressed as a page. On 2 January 1815, Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke, William’s cousin. Caroline predicted that it would fail. It did.


Caroline’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable and in 1816, she was threatened with being sent away. In desperation, she wrote Glenarvon, a strange Gothic tale of fashionable society whose characters were based on real people. It was published anonymously on 9 May 1816 and met with instant success. But Caroline’s authorship was an open secret and the scandal was enormous. Lady Jersey rescinded Caroline’s voucher for Almack’s and even her cousins eschewed her.

Though William’s initial reaction to the novel was that he would never see her again, perversely, when people began to cut her, he relented and stood by his deranged wife: “We will stand or fall together.”

Opening page of Glenarvon   by Lady Caroline Lamb (1816)
Opening page of Glenarvon
 by Lady Caroline Lamb (1816)

Caroline was desperate for admiration but was now an outcast from polite society. She had a number of literary friends, such as Lady Morgan, and some very unfashionable admirers, the most presentable of whom was Bulwer Lytton. William did not seem to be jealous. He pitied any man who was caught in his wife’s toils and saw them as fellow sufferers.

When Caroline learned that Lord Byron was dead, she fell into a hysterical fever. Later, she accidentally met with his funeral procession, and collapsed on discovering whose wake it was. She frequently had violent moods where she broke things or galloped wildly round the park. Her appearance became unkempt, she ate erratically and she frequently resorted to laudanum and brandy.

William looked after Caroline, soothing her nerves and helping her with her novels - Graham Hamilton (1822), Ada Reis (1823) and Penruddock (1823). But caring for Caroline took its toll on William, and in 1825, it was decided they should separate. However, after just a few months apart, he relented, and Caroline was back living at Brocket. Though William lived in London, he often visited.

Illness and death

Soon Caroline’s health began to fail. She was weary of life, and at last, became calmer. Now, it seemed, her affection was all for her husband. William was away, having been appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, but the letters between them were tender and affectionate.

By October 1827, Caroline was dangerously ill with dropsy. In mid-January, she asked: “Send for William. He is the only person who has never failed me.” A few days after William’s arrival at Melbourne House, on 26 January 1828, Caroline died. She was buried in Hatfield churchyard on 7 February.

(1) Some sources say 11 August.

Sources used include:
Cecil, Lord David, Melbourne (1939, 1954)
Franklin, Caroline, Lamb, Lady Caroline (1785-1828), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005, accessed 28 Nov 2012)
Lee, Elizabeth, Wives of the Prime Ministers 1844-1906 (1918)
Moore, Thomas, The Life of Lord Byron (1844)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

30 Beau Brummell quotes and anecdotes

George Brummell  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
George Brummell
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Beau Brummell was famous not only for his elegance in dress, but also for his wit. He loved to play practical jokes and took great pleasure in confounding his audience by saying something unexpected and making them laugh at his absurdities. Often he used his wit to depress pretension. Many quotes and anecdotes about the Beau exist. I expect that most of them are true though some may simply be stories that grew up or were invented by the Beau to entertain.

1: “Who’s your fat friend?”

Jesse describes how the Prince and Lord Moira were out walking in the street and met Lord Alvanley and Brummell coming the other way. The Regent pointedly talked to Alvanley, but ignored Brummell, hence his oft-quoted remark: “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?”

William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Another version of the story suggests that the famous interchange happened at a ball held by Brummell and three friends where the Regent openly ignored his host, leading to the rude rejoinder.

2: Brummell sells out

When applying to the Regent for permission to sell out of the army, Brummell replied:
“Why the fact is, your Royal Highness, I have heard that we are ordered to Manchester. Now you must be aware, how disagreeable this would be to me; I really could not go - think, Your Royal Highness, Manchester! Besides,” he added with tactfulness and revealing the real reason for his dislike of the move, “you would not be there.”

3: “I made him… and I can unmake him.”

Brummell is reported to have said of the Regent to Colonel McMahon, the Prince’s private secretary: “I made him what he is, and I can unmake him.”

4: Lack of respect for Mrs Fitzherbert

At a ball at Lady Jersey’s house, the Prince asked Brummell to order Mrs Fitzherbert’s carriage. He did so, purposely stressing the request for Mistress Fitzherbert’s carriage, rather than the customary Mrs, much to that lady’s annoyance.

Mrs Fitzherbert  from The Creevey Papers  by Thomas Creevey (1904)
Mrs Fitzherbert
from The Creevey Papers
by Thomas Creevey (1904)
5: Big Ben and Benina

The Prince had a porter at Carlton House who was very tall and beefy who was nicknamed Big Ben. Brummell formed the habit of referring to the Prince, who was growing increasingly fat, as Big Ben, and Mrs Fitzherbert as Benina.

6: A note on the Prince’s lack of propriety

After Brummell’s flight to France, his possessions were sold in order to pay his debts. A note was found in one particular snuffbox: “This snuffbox was intended for the Prince Regent, if he had conducted himself with more propriety towards me.”
George, Prince of Wales, later George IV  from Memoirs of Her Late Majesty  Queen Charlotte  by WC Oulton (1819)
George, Prince of Wales, later George IV
from Memoirs of Her Late Majesty
Queen Charlotte by WC Oulton (1819)
7: On preserving a favourite snuffbox

Even when he was in exile, the snuffbox was still a matter of contention. Whilst George IV was staying in Calais, word was sent to Brummell requesting some snuff for the King. “With all my heart,” replied Brummell, “but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again.”

8: A snuffbox is not an oyster

When Brummell found that someone had been trying to open a favourite snuffbox of his with a knife, he exclaimed: “Confound the fellow, he takes my snuff-box for an oyster.”

9: Brummell on fashion

His biographer Jesse said of Brummell: “No perfumes, he used to say, but very fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.”

10: A tailor’s opinion of Brummell

A baronet went to Schweitzer for a coat and asked his tailor what cloth he recommended. “Why, Sir,” said the tailor, “the Prince wears superfine, and Mr Brummell the Bath coating; but it is immaterial which you choose, Sir John, you must be right; suppose, Sir, we say Bath coating - I think Mr Brummell has a trifle the preference.”

11: Shoes or slippers?

Brummell asked a friend of his what he called those things on his feet. “Why shoes,” he replied. “Shoes, are they?” said Brummell doubtfully, and stooping to look at them, “I thought they were slippers.”

12: The Duke of Bedford’s coat

The Duke of Bedford asked Brummell for an opinion on his new coat. Brummell examined him meticulously from head to toe and then said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, “Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?”

13: Brummell on his brother

When Brummell’s brother William was in town, he was asked if he was not going to see him, Brummell replied: “Yes, in a day or two; but I have recommended him to walk the back streets till his new clothes come home.”

14: On the cost of being fashionable

When asked by a widow lady of fashion how much it would cost for her son to be fashionably dressed, Brummell is credited with replying, in all seriousness: “My dear Madam, with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred a year.”

15: Brummell on mornings

Brummell used to say that “whether it was summer or winter, he always like to have the morning well-aired before he got up”.

16: Brummell on Brighton

“Come to Brighton, my dear fellow,” Brummell once said to Cecil Jenkinson, later Lord Liverpool. “Let us be off tomorrow; we’ll eat currant-tart, and live in chintz and salt-water.”

Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion
17: The Beau depresses pretension

On one occasion, a woman called down to Brummell from her balcony, inviting him up to take tea. “Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.”

18: Brummell on the Lake District 

An acquaintance once asked Brummell which of the lakes in the Lake District he preferred. Brummell, quite tired of the man’s tedious raptures, turned his head imploringly towards his valet, who was arranging something in the room, and said, "Robinson."
"Which of the lakes do I admire?"
"Windermere, sir," replied that distinguished individual.
"Ah, yes, - Windermere," repeated Brummell, "so it is – Windermere."

19: Brummell on vegetables

A lady at dinner, observing that he did not take any vegetables, asked him whether such was his general habit, and if he never ate any. He replied, “Yes, madam, I once ate a pea.”

Peas in a pod

20: Brummell’s dislike of cabbage

Brummell was taxed with why a matrimonial prospect had failed. “Why what could I do, my good fellow, but cut the connexion? I discovered that Lady Mary actually ate cabbage!”

21: Brummell’s opinion of himself

Brummell wrote to Lady Hester Stanhope: “If the world is so silly as to admire my absurdities, you and I may know better, but what does that signify?”

22: An absurdity

One day a friend, meeting him limping in Bond Street, asked him what was the matter. He replied, he had hurt his leg, and the worst of it was, “it was his favourite leg”.

23: Another absurdity

Once Brummell had a bad cold, and a friend asked him how he had got it. Brummell replied: “Why, do you know, I left my carriage yesterday evening, on my way to town from the Pavilion, and the infidel of a landlord put me into a room with a damp stranger.”

24: Dealing with unfashionable persons

At an Ascot meeting, early in the day, Brummell walked his horse up a certain lady’s carriage. She expressed her surprise at his throwing away his time on her, or running the risk of being seen talking to such a very quiet and unfashionable person. “My dear Lady ___,” he replied, “pray don’t mention it; there is no one near us.”

25: Brummell’s self-importance

Brummell was once offered a lift to Lady Jersey’s ball in the carriage of a young gentleman. “Thank you exceedingly,” replied the Beau, “very kind of you, indeed! But pray how are you to go? You surely would not like to get up behind; no that would not be right, and yet it will scarcely do for me to be seen in the same carriage with you.”

26: Brummell on the horrors of prison

“Imagine a position more wretched than mine - they have put me with all the common people. I am surrounded by the greatest villains, and have nothing but prison fare.”

27: Lord Byron on Brummell

Lord Byron described Brummell to Leigh Hunt as “having nothing remarkable in his style of dress, except a ‘certain exquisite propriety’”.

Lord Byron from   from The Life of Lord Byron  by Thomas Moore (1844)
Lord Byron from 
from The Life of Lord Byron
by Thomas Moore (1844)
28: A fashionable arm

When Brummell was accused by an angry father of leading his son into a disreputable gambling transaction, Brummell replied, “Really, I did all I could for the young man. I once gave him my arm all the way from White’s to Watier’s.”

29: Thompson and Johnson

There were once two ladies in London who both liked to hold great parties, one called Mrs Thompson and the other, Mrs Johnson. Sometime after the Beau’s quarrel with the Prince, Mrs Thompson gave a party which the Prince was to attend. As a result, Brummell was not invited. Nevertheless, he turned up at the party whilst the lady was anxiously waiting for her royal guest. Mrs Thompson explained that he was not invited.
“Not invited, Madam! Not invited! Surely there must be some mistake,” declared Brummell. He sought in his pocket for an invitation card and handed it to the lady.
“That card, sir, is a Mrs Johnson’s; my name is Thompson.”
“Is it indeed?” replied Brummell. “Dear me, how very unfortunate! Really, Mrs Johns – Thompson, I mean, I am very sorry for this mistake; but you know, Johnson and Thompson – and Thompson and Johnson, are really so much the same kind of thing.”

30: Bad champagne

Once when Brummell was dining at a gentleman’s house in Hampshire, the champagne was far from good. Brummell waited for a pause in the conversation and then raised his glass and said, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, “John, give me some more of that cider.”

Sources used include:
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell, esq., Commonly called Beau Brummell (Saunders & Otley, 1844, London)
Kelly, Ian, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005)
Macfarlane, Charles, Reminiscences of a literary life (J. Murray, 1917)

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The rise and fall of Beau Brummell (1778-1840)

George Brummell  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
George Brummell
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)

George "Beau" Brummell (7 June 1778 - 30 March 1840) was a Regency dandy and fashion leader, famous for his elegant dress, his witty remarks and his friendship with George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV.

From Downing Street to Eton

George Bryan Brummell, famously nicknamed “Beau”, was born on 7 June 1778, the younger son of Billy Brummell and Mary Richardson. He was born in Downing Street, where his father worked as private secretary to Lord North. In 1783, Billy Brummell retired from politics and bought an estate, Donnington Grove in Berkshire.

In 1786, Brummell was sent to Eton with his elder brother, William. They were Oppidans or fee-paying boys and boarded with Dame Young. Brummell mingled with the aristocracy, becoming known for his gentlemanly manners and ready wit, which kept him out of trouble. He developed an interest in dress and his elegant bearing earned him the nickname Buck Brummell.

A grand inheritance

When Brummell’s father died in 1794, he left his estate to be shared equally between his three children, rather than the whole going to his eldest son. The estate, valued at around £60,000, was to be held in trust until the children came of age. This was a huge fortune, equivalent to more than £5 million today using the retail price index, and more like £70 million when relative earnings are taken into account.(1)

The Hussars

Brummell went up to Oriel College, Oxford, in May 1794, but after just one term, he asked his father’s executors for a commission in the army. He became a cornet in the 10th Light Dragoons – the Prince of Wales’ own regiment. The dragoons wore elaborate uniforms and liked to be known as Hussars. They were disorderly, hard drinking and known for their lack of morality, and included many of the Prince of Wales’ set, of which Brummell soon became an important member.

Brummell obtained promotion to lieutenant in 1795 and then captain in 1796, and with each promotion came a new, and grander, uniform. But life in the army had its costs. A fall, or possibly a kick, from his horse broke his nose, damaging his classic profile.

Brummell and the Prince

George, Prince of Wales  from Memoirs of George IV  by Robert Huish (1830)
George, Prince of Wales
from Memoirs of George IV
by Robert Huish (1830)
It seems incredible that a non-aristocratic boy of sixteen should be accepted into the Prince’s own regiment and then into his circle of intimate friends. How Brummell first came to the Prince’s notice is not known, but it seems likely that it was his wit and dress sense that attracted the Prince, probably while Brummell was still at Eton.

Brummell supported the Prince at his wedding to Princess Caroline in 1795; he was also one of the drunken companions whom she accused of ruining her honeymoon.

When the regiment were ordered to Manchester in 1798, Brummell sold out, anxious not to lose his position of influence with the Prince. The following year, he came into his inheritance. He was now a man of means and meant to make his mark.

Beau Brummell the dandy

Brummell moved into 4 Chesterfield Street in 1799 and determined to become the best dressed gentleman in London. His levées became events of great importance as gentlemen, including the Prince of Wales, came to see how he dressed. It was around 1800, after Brummell’s first season in London, that he acquired the nickname Beau.

His style was understated elegance, with a limited palette of colours, rather than the gaudy finery of the Georgian gentleman. He was famous for the intricate folds of his neck cloth and the Bath coating material of his blue jacket. He patronized a variety of tailors so that no one could say that they made him famous.

Brummell rules the ton

For many years, it was Brummell’s opinion that mattered. It was he who influenced who should be given vouchers for Almack’s. He could bring someone into fashion by showing them favour or put someone out of fashion by cutting them.

He was a member of Whites, Brooks and Watiers. A bow window in his club at White’s became known as the Beau window because that was where Brummell liked to sit. He was the perpetual president of Watiers which was established to provide better suppers to the gentlemen who ate in their clubs.

The bow window at White's  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
The bow window at White's
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Brummell’s lady friends

Though he flirted prolifically, Brummell’s affections were rarely engaged. Brummel’s first love was reputedly Julia Storer, later Julia Johnstone, who became a famous courtesan. 

He was particular friends with Lady Hester Stanhope, the eccentric bluestocking; Lady Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Rutland, until his rudeness alienated her; and the Duchess of Devonshire who wrote poems for his collection.

But his closest lady friend was Frederica, Duchess of York. He loved her unstructured house parties at Oatlands and shared her love of animals. He gave her a dog, Fidélité; she sent him gifts in exile, including a comfy chair. One of the few items in Brummell’s possession at his death was a miniature of Princess Frederica’s left eye. This suggests a level of intimacy that can only be guessed at. Brummell claimed it was out of respect for promises to the Princess that he refused to publish his memoirs even when he was desperate for money.

Frederica, Duchess of York  from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,   Duke of York and Albany  by John Watkins (1827)
Frederica, Duchess of York
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
 Duke of York and Albany
by John Watkins (1827)
Brummell’s downfall

Brummell was famous for his wit, but infamous for his rudeness. It was this rudeness which eventually cost him the Prince of Wales’ regard. “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?”(2) he asked, referring to the Prince.

Brummell ran up debts through his extravagance, but also through his heavy gambling losses. He was continually borrowing money, but matters came to a head when a man named Richard Meyler discovered that Brummell was going to renege on his debt to him. He sat in White’s and told all who came of Brummell’s infamous conduct. He was, effectively, asking him out. Meyler became known as Dick the Dandy-killer.

Escape to Calais

On the night of 16 May 1816, after attending the theatre, Brummell fled from London to escape his debts. He travelled through the night to Dover and on to Calais, which was as far as he could go without a passport. He stayed at Dessin’s Hotel and entertained in his apartments whilst learning French and writing his memoirs.

Brummell had escaped his debts, but he could not escape the reality that he was ill. He probably acquired the habit of visiting prostitutes whilst in the army, and at some point, late in his time in London, he was infected with syphilis.

Before he died in 1830, George IV made Brummell the British consul in Caen. The salary enabled him to start paying off the debts he had already accumulated in Calais. He celebrated his freedom in Paris before taking up his post.

Consul in Caen

In Caen, he lodged with Madame de St Ursain and fell in love with her teenage daughter, Aimable. By now, he was suffering from terrible headaches and depression from the progression of his illness.

But his position as consul did not last and when the post was abolished in 1832, his debts became pressing and he had to hide to escape the bailiffs.

That summer, Brummell suffered a temporary paralysis. His letters to Aimable were discovered and her furious mother evicted him from his lodgings. When she was sent to England, Brummell gave her his album – poems that he had collected from his friends.

Brummell as an old man  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Brummell as an old man
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Decline and death

On 4 May 1835, Brummell was arrested for the money he owed to Leleux, the owner of Dessin’s Hotel in Calais. George Armstrong, a Caen grocer, agreed to travel to England to seek pecuniary help on Brummell’s behalf. Brummell was awarded compensation for the loss of the consulship and was duly released from prison on 21 July 1835.

Brummell struggled on as the syphilis took its course. He was increasingly in pain, delusional, depressed and subject to seizures and eventually insanity. In January 1839, he was transferred to an asylum where he died on 30 March 1840. His death went virtually unnoticed in England where he had ruled as king of the ton for so long.

Read more about Beau Brummell - 30 quotes and anecdotes.

(1) For a closer look at how relative worth is calculated, please see my blog, "How much did a ticket to a Regency ball really cost?"
(2) From Jesse's The Life of George Brummell Volume I p273.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1806, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Carter, Philip, Brummell, George Bryan (Beau Brummell) (1778-1840), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2011, accessed 5 Oct 2012)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell, esq., Commonly called Beau Brummell (Saunders & Otley, 1844, London)
Kelly, Ian, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005)
Watkins, John, A Biographical Memoir of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1827, London)

MeasuringWorth website - for calculators of relative worth

Sunday, 4 November 2012

What did Regency visitors think of the Brighton Pavilion?

A fairytale palace

Brighton Pavilion from the gardens
Brighton Pavilion is a fairytale palace – a bizarre mixture of domes and minarets, fitted out internally in luxurious but eccentric style. You cannot help but marvel at the unconventional architecture and the sumptuous decoration, but it is not to everyone’s taste. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Pavilion last week and see the exhibition on Princess Charlotte. The audio commentary reminded me that, when it was built, the Pavilion was far from universally admired.

 A litter of cupolas

Brighton Pavilion from the Steyne

“The Pavilion in Chinese style – beautiful and tasty,” wrote William Wilberforce, “though it looks very much as if St Paul’s had come down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas”.

Sydney Smith agreed: “It looks as if St Paul’s Cathedral has come down to Brighton and pupped.” These quotes are so similar that it seems likely that one was derived from the other.

Turnips and bulbs

William Cobbett claimed that the Pavilion, which he nicknamed the Kremlin, had “long been a subject of laughter all over the country”. He described the Pavilion in very unflattering terms, no doubt strongly influenced by his disgust at the Prince Regent’s extravagance in rebuilding it:

Brighton Pavilion- the entrance
“Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, leave the stalks nine inches long, tie these round with a string three inches from the top, and put the turnip on the middle of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, threat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of bulbs of the crown imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! That’s ‘a Kremlin’!”

Pumpkins and pepper boxes

William Hazlitt was similarly unimpressed:
“The Pavilion at Brighton is like a collection of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes. It seems as if the genius of architecture had at once the dropsy and the megrims. Anything more fantastical, with a greater dearth of invention, was never seen.”

The skyline at Brighton Pavilion
The Folly at Brighton

Another less than flattering reference to the Pavilion and its owner was in The Joss and His Folly, a poem illustrated by George Cruikshank. The verses were written by William Hone and appeared in an 1820 pamphlet, The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder, which accompanied a “national toy”. The first four verses refer to “The Folly at Brighton”:

The Joss and His Folly by George Cruikshank
From The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder
by William Hone (1820)
The queerest of all the queer sights
I’ve set sights on;
Is the what d’ye call’t thing, here,
The Folly at Brighton

The outside – huge teapots,
All drill’d round with holes,
Relieved by extinguishers,
Sticking on poles;

The inside – all tea-things,
And dragons, and bells,
The show-rooms – all show,
The sleeping rooms – cells.

But the grand Curiosity’s
Not to be seen –
The owner himself –
An old fat Mandarin.
A Regency icon

I like Brighton Pavilion. To me, it sums up George IV so beautifully. It is a vivid statement of his lifestyle – extravagant, inconsistent and hedonistic. He was continually redecorating and rebuilding, filling his palace with beautiful things and entertaining lavishly. And yet when it was finished, he decided its situation was too public, and soon after, he abandoned it for the privacy of Windsor. Yes, it is over the top and I am not a big fan of all the dragons and snakes, but I am so glad that the palace has been preserved as a lasting symbol of the Regency.

Sources used include:
Cobbett, William, Rural rides in the counties of Surrey, Kent etc during the years 1821 to 1832, ed Pitt Cobbett (1893)
Low, Donald A, That Sunny Dome - a portrait of Regency Britain (Book Club Associates, 1977)
Feltham, John, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places (1815)
Hazlitt, William, Notes of a journey through France and Italy (1826)
Hone, William, The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder (1820)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nash, John, Views of the Royal Pavilion with commentary by Gervase Jackson-Stops (1991)
Wilberforce, Robert Isaac and Samuel, The Life of William Wilberforce (John Murray, 1839)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Friday, 26 October 2012

Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821)

Harriet, Lady Bessborough
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)

Harriet, Lady Bessborough (16 June 1761 - 11 November 1821), was the younger sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was a leading figure in society and notorious for her affairs with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and Lord Granville Leveson-Gower.
Early life

Henrietta Frances Spencer was born in Wimbledon, Surrey, on 16 June 1761, the second daughter of John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer and Lady Margaret Poyntz. Henrietta, known as Harriet, was tall and attractive, but lived in the shadow of her elder sister, Georgiana, who became the Duchess of Devonshire at the age of seventeen.

An unwise marriage 

Harriet was passionately attached to Georgiana and this encouraged her to choose Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, the Duke’s cousin, as her husband, even though she was unsure of his character. They were married on 27 November 1780 and quickly became part of the Devonshire House set, with its dissolute habits.

Harriet became addicted to gambling and amassed thousands of pounds of debt that she could not afford to pay. Duncannon proved to be an abusive husband, desperate to get his hands on Harriet’s financial settlement, and frequently Harriet had to turn to her family for help. They had four children, John William (1781), Frederick Cavendish (1783), Caroline (1785) and William (1787).

Whig canvassing

In 1784, she canvassed for votes for the Whig leader, Charles James Fox, alongside her sister Georgiana, in the Westminster Election. Although their actions were similar, it was Georgiana who was ridiculed in the press, no doubt because of her greater position of popularity and importance in the ton. In the 1788 by-election, Harriet canvassed for the Whigs again; Georgiana stayed at home.

Affairs of the heart

Harriet was unhappy in her marriage and jealous of Lady Elizabeth Foster’s influence over Georgiana. She embarked upon an affair with Charles Wyndham, one of the Devonshire House set, but was prevented from eloping with him by her brother and mother. They successfully persuaded her to drop the connection before her husband found out.

But this did not stop her indulging in other affairs. In 1788, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright and MP, became Harriet’s lover. The affair almost ended in divorce, but the Duke of Devonshire, with all the weight of the Cavendish family behind him, induced Harriet's husband to drop proceedings. He then insisted that the Duncannons visit him and Georgiana in Brussels, in order to avoid any possibility of further problems with Sheridan.

Years later, in 1805, Sheridan became obsessed with Harriet, causing her great distress by pressing his attentions on her in public.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
from The Creevey Papers (1904)
Speculation and collapse

In 1791, Harriet and her sister were involved in a financial scandal. They had speculated in a risky share syndicate which failed. Both lost large sums of money.

At the same time, Harriet’s health collapsed. She had some kind of stroke which left her paralysed down one side and subject to fits. There has been much speculation as to the cause of this illness. It may have been as a result of a miscarriage or possibly an attempted abortion. Alternatively, it may have been caused by attempted suicide or ill treatment at her husband’s hands, which may in turn have been a response to her financial losses.


Whist still suffering from partial paralysis, Harriet caught bronchial pneumonia, and it looked as if she would not survive. Although the Duke was on bad terms with his wife over her enormous debts, he showed compassion on her and her ailing sister by renting a house in Bath for them and all their children to live in, so that Harriet could benefit from taking the waters.

Entrance to the Royal Baths, Bath
The exile party

But in the autumn of 1791, the situation changed drastically. Georgiana was sent abroad by the Duke in disgrace: she was pregnant with her lover’s child. This coincided with recommendations that Harriet visit a warmer climate to aid her recovery, providing a useful cover story for the party, which included Georgiana, Lady Spencer, Lady Elizabeth Foster and the Duncannons.

They travelled to Montpellier, where Georgiana had her baby, and then through southern France and Switzerland to Italy, where it was hoped that the warm, dry air would help Harriet’s lungs.

Countess of Bessborough

On 11 March 1793, Duncannon’s father died and he became 3rd Earl of Bessborough. He left Harriet, who was still far from well, in Naples, and returned to London.

Lord Granville

The Duke finally allowed Georgiana to return home in September 1793, but Harriet was too ill to travel and stayed with her mother in Naples. However, Lady Spencer’s presence did not prevent her from falling in love again.

When Harriet returned to England a year later, fully recovered save a weakness in her legs which necessitated the use of walking sticks, she was embroiled in the most serious love affair of her life. This time the object of her affections was Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, a handsome young man, twelve years her junior, who was both politically ambitious and very prone to falling in love.

Lord Granville Leveson-Gower
    from Lord Granville's
Private Correspondence

Secret births

Harriet had two children by Lord Granville, Harriette Arundel Stewart (1800) and George Arundel Stewart (1802), to whom she gave birth in secret and then placed with foster parents. It was a source of great sorrow to her that she could never openly acknowledge these children as her own.

A volatile daughter

Harriet was an affectionate parent and worried about her emotionally volatile daughter, Caroline. She failed to dissuade her from marrying William Lamb in 1805. Lady Caroline Lamb’s public love affair with Byron, and extreme behaviour after it ended, was one of the greatest scandals of the day.

A dreadful bereavement

By 1805, Harriet’s health had started deteriorating. She wrote to Lord Granville that he would find her “quite a cripple” because she had “grown very lame again”. (1)
In 1806, Georgiana became seriously ill and died. Harriet was devastated. She wrote to Lord Granville: “Anything so horrible, so killing, as her three days’ agony no human being ever witness’d.” (2)

Georgiana Cavendish in the "picture hat"
after Thomas Gainsborough c1785-7
  from The Two Duchesses,
 Family Correspondence (1898)
Lord Granville's marriage

On Christmas Eve 1809, Lord Granville married Harriet’s niece, Georgiana’s daughter Harryo. The letters exchanged between Lord Granville and Harriet at the time suggest that, though it must surely have been painful, Harriet had encouraged the match. However, she later doubted whether Granville had ever really loved her and their previous intimacy must have caused considerable awkwardness in the family.

Ironically, the Prince of Wales chose to champion Harriet at this time, abusing Lord Granville to her face for his inconstancy and throwing himself at Harriet’s feet until she could talk him back to reason!

The final years

Harriet remained a popular figure in society, but found the greatest enjoyment in her family. She often stayed with her sons and their families, and it was while she was visiting William in Florence, Italy, that she died, on 11 November 1821. Harriet was buried in the Cavendish family vault in All Saints Church, Derby.

(1) From a letter from Harriet to Lord Granville 10 August 1805.
(2) From an undated letter from Harriet to Lord Granville after her sister's death.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence, ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Creevey, Thomas, The Creevey Papers, A selection from the correspondence & diaries of the late Thomas Creevey, MP, ed by Sir Herbert Maxwell (John Murray, 1904, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Ponsonby, Henrietta Frances, Countess of Bessborough (1761-1821) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2008, accessed 14 Oct 2012)
Leveson-Gower, Lord Granville, Private correspondence 1781-1821, ed by Castalia, Countess Granville (John Murray, 1916, London)

 All photographs by Andrew Knowles -

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire (1758-1824)

Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire,  in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Lady Elizabeth Foster, later Duchess of Devonshire,
in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth

Lady Elizabeth Foster (baptised 13 May 1758 - 30 March 1824) was the intimate friend of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and the mistress of Georgiana's husband. She became the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana's death.

Early years

Elizabeth Christiana Hervey was baptised on 13 May 1758 in Horringer, Suffolk, the daughter of Frederick Hervey and Elizabeth Davers. The family moved to Ireland when Hervey was appointed Bishop of Cloyne (1767) and then Bishop of Derry (1768) through the influence of his brother. Elizabeth, known as Bess, spent her childhood in relative poverty, in Ireland and on the continent. The family fortunes changed drastically when Hervey became 4th Earl of Bristol in December 1779, but by this time, Bess was already married.

A short-lived marriage

On 16 December 1776, Bess married John Foster, an Irish MP. She had two sons, Frederick (1777) and Augustus (1780), but the marriage was not a success and in 1780, the couple separated. Foster was unfaithful, but on her side, Bess may have been regretting marriage to someone beneath her newly elevated status as Lady Elizabeth Foster. Bess gave up custody of her sons to Foster and returned to England, where she was forced to live in reduced circumstances.

The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire  in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

in South Sketch Gallery, Chatsworth
In 1782, Bess met the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in Bath. Seeing an opportunity to improve her circumstances, she attached herself to the emotionally-starved Duchess, with whom she formed an instant bond. She succeeded so well that when Georgiana went home, Bess was invited to accompany them. Eager to please, Bess provided the Duke with the companionship he needed and at some point became his mistress.

Intrigues abroad

Georgiana’s mother, Lady Spencer, was keenly jealous for Georgiana’s position and encouraged the Cavendishes to send Bess abroad for her health. Bess duly left for France in December 1782, acting as governess to Charlotte Williams, the Duke’s natural daughter. The doors of Parisian high society were closed to her as a governess, but she enjoyed the freedom of being on her own in receipt of a large income.

Rumours drifted back to the Duchess that Bess was involved in scandalous behaviour in Italy. Bess hastened to reassure Georgiana but did not hurry to return home, afraid that she would have lost her influence after the birth of Georgiana’s daughter. Eventually, Bess was persuaded to return to Devonshire House, in July 1784.

A secret birth

She did not remain long. At the end of 1784, Bess went abroad again, ostensibly for her health. The reality was that she was pregnant. This time, she was given letters of introduction to the Duchesse de Polignac to enable her to move in polite society in Paris. Despite carrying the Duke of Devonshire’s child, she became mistress to the Duke of Dorset.

Duchesse de Polignac    from Seven Splendid Sinners,   by WRH Trowbridge (1908)
Duchesse de Polignac
  from Seven Splendid Sinners,
 by WRH Trowbridge (1908)
When her pregnancy could no longer be hidden, she fled to her brother in Naples and confessed all. He arranged for her to have the baby in a squalid inn and quickly reappear in society to preserve secrecy. In July 1786, Bess left her daughter, Caroline, with the elderly Comte St Jules who agreed to accept paternity, and finally acquiesced to the Duke and Duchess’ pleas for her to come home.

Ménage à trois 

By this time, Georgiana could no longer be in any doubt about the relationship between her husband and her best friend, but, to the amazement of society, she accepted the strange threesome, or ménage à trois. It is unclear whether this was due to Georgiana’s emotional dependence on Bess or whether Bess was blackmailing her over her massive debts which she was anxious to conceal from the Duke.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire  after Sir Joshua Reynolds    stipple engraving pubd 1808    NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
after Sir Joshua Reynolds
  stipple engraving pubd 1808
  NPG D13723 © National Portrait Gallery, London
An illegitimate son

In 1788, Bess was pregnant again and went abroad to have her child. She had her son, Augustus Clifford, in relative comfort, and left him with foster parents before returning to England. There was some question about Augustus’ paternity, as Bess had also had an affair with the Duke of Richmond, but the Duke of Devonshire accepted that the child was his. Two years later, she succeeded in having Caroline and Augustus brought to England, to be raised with the Cavendish children.

The bonds of friendship

After the birth of her son in 1790, Georgiana confessed her debts to the Duke. Bess stood by her throughout the ordeal. But the real test of her friendship came the following year when Georgiana was banished abroad because she was carrying Charles Grey’s child. Bess went with her.

After two years abroad, the Duke relented, and Georgiana and Bess came home in the autumn of 1793. They resumed their strange ménage à trois, but Georgiana and the Duke were getting on much better than before, and Bess feared that her influence was waning.

The Duke of Richmond

Anxious for her long-term future, Bess rekindled her affair with the Duke of Richmond and became his mistress. When, in 1796, both the Duchess of Richmond and her own husband died, she expected the Duke to marry her. But after many months of waiting, it was clear that the Duke had no intention of doing so.

Charles Lennox,  3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennoxl    by George Romney 1775-7    NPG 4877 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Charles Lennox,
3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox
  by George Romney 1775-7
  NPG 4877 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
The new Duchess of Devonshire

On 30 March 1806, Georgiana died. Bess was distraught. “She was the charm of my existence,” she wrote to her son, “my constant support in all my sorrows, the doubler and sharer of every joy.”1

Georgiana had secured her friend’s immediate future by making her sole guardian of her papers. The Cavendish children might resent her presence, but the Duke found he could not do without Bess to look after him.

Eventually, on 19 October 1809, the Duke and Bess were married. But Bess did not have long to enjoy the attainment of the position that she had coveted for so long. The Duke died on 29 July 1811, less than two years later.

Roman excavations

After the Duke’s death, Bess lived alone, in style, in Piccadilly before moving to Rome in 1816. Here, Bess found a new vocation as a devoted patron of the arts, in particular, archaeology. For eleven years, she funded the excavation of the Forum, enabling the recovery of the Column of Phocas and the stones of the Via Sacra. In Rome, she also found the last love of her life - Cardinal Hercule Consalvi, secretary of state to the Vatican.

The Forum, Rome
The Forum, Rome
Bess died in Rome on 30 March 1824 and was buried in the Cavendish family vault in Derby Cathedral.

(1) From a letter from Lady Elizabeth Foster to her son Augustus (9 July 1806).

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and others, The Two Duchesses, Family Correspondence ed by Vere Foster (Blackie & Son, 1898, London)
Foreman, Amanda, Cavendish, Elizabeth Christiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP 2004, online edn May 2010, accessed 11 Oct 2012)
Foreman, Amanda, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (HarperCollins, 1998, London)
Horringer Parish Registers with biographies (1900)
Trowbridge, WRH, Seven Splendid Sinners (1908)