Georgiana Spencer was born 7 June 1757 in Althorp, Northamptonshire to John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783) and Margaret Georgiana Poyntz (1737-1814) and died 30 March 1806 Piccadilly Devonshire House, Westminster, England of unspecified causes. She married William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811) 6 June 1774 in Wimbledon, Surrey, England, United Kingdom.


Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1757 – 30 March 1806), formerly Lady Georgiana Spencer, was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and mother of the 6th Duke of Devonshire. Her father, the 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her niece was Lady Caroline Lamb. Among the descendants of her family are the present Duke of Devonshire (via her great great grand neice); Diana, Princess of Wales, and Sarah, Duchess of York (via her illegitimate daughter Eliza Courtney).


With her siblings, Henrietta and George, by Angelica Kauffmann, c. 1774. The painting was painted just before Georgiana's marriage to the Duke of Devonshire

"THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes", by Thomas Rowlandson, 1784

The Duchess of Devonshire was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. The Spencers and the Cavendishes were Whigs. The Duchess of Devonshire campaigned for the Whigs—particularly for a distant cousin, Charles James Fox—at a time when the King (George III) and his Ministers had more direct influence over the House of Commons, principally through their power of patronage. During the 1784 general election, the Duchess was rumoured to have traded kisses for votes in favour of Fox and was satirised by Thomas Rowlandson in his print "THE DEVONSHIRE, or Most Approved Method of Securing Votes".

Famously, when she was stepping out of her carriage one day, an Irish dustman exclaimed: "Love and bless you, my lady, let me light my pipe in your eyes!”, a compliment which she often recalled whenever others complimented her by retorting, "After the dustman's compliment, all others are insipid."[1][2]

In 1779, she anonymously published the epistolary novel The Sylph.

Husband and children

Lady Georgiana Spencer married the Duke of Devonshire on her seventeenth birthday: 7 June 1774.

She had numerous miscarriages before giving birth to four children; three with her husband, and an illegitimate daughter fathered by the 2nd Earl Grey. She also raised the Duke's illegitimate daughter, Charlotte, who was conceived with a maid.

The Duchess introduced the Duke to her best friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, and lived in a ménage à trois with them for the next 25 years. Lady Elizabeth had two children by the Duke, a son (Augustus William James Clifford) and a daughter (Caroline Rosalie St Jules).


Offspring of William Cavendish and Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Harriet Elizabeth Cavendish (1785-1862) 29 August 1785 25 November 1862 Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville (1773-1846)
Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish (1783-1858) 12 July 1783 8 August 1858 George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle (1773-1848)
William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858) 21 May 1790 Paris, France 18 January 1858 Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, England, United Kingdom



Offspring of Charles Grey and Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806)
Name Birth Death Joined with
Eliza Courtney (1792-1859) 20 February 1792 Aix-en-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France 2 May 1859 Norwood, Surrey, England, United Kingdom Robert Ellice (1784-1856)

Fashion and debt

Georgiana's elaborate fashion sense is captured in this Thomas Gainsborough portrait

The Duchess of Devonshire is famous not only for her marital arrangements, her catastrophic affairs, her beauty and sense of style, and her political campaigning, but also for her love of gambling. She was reported to have died deeply in debt, even though her own family, the Spencers, and her husband's family, the Cavendishes, were immensely wealthy. She died on 30 March 1806, aged 48, from what was thought to be an abscess of the liver; she was buried at All Saints Parish Church (which is now Derby Cathedral). At her death, she owed today's equivalent of £3,720,000.[3] The Duchess was so petrified of her husband discovering the extent of her debts that she kept them secret; the Duke only discovered the extent of her debts after her death and remarked, "Is that all?"[3]

During her years in the public eye, Georgiana was painted by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Gainsborough's famous painting of her in a large black hat (a style which she made sensationally fashionable, and came to be known as the 'Gainsborough' or 'portrait' hat) was lost for many years. It had been stolen from a London art gallery by Adam Worth then somehow restored to Agnew's Art Gallery by Allan Pinkerton of the American detective agency Pinkerton's. It turned up again at Sotheby's a decade ago and was purchased by the 11th Duke of Devonshire for the Chatsworth collection.

The Duchess of Devonshire managed to keep a "natural relationship"[4] with the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette; the similarity of the lives they led is often observed.

Titles and styles

  • Miss Georgiana Spencer (7 June 1757 – 3 April 1761)
  • The Hon. Georgiana Spencer (3 April 1761 - 1 November 1765)
  • Lady Georgiana Spencer (1 November 1765 - 7 June 1774)
  • Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire (7 June 1774 - 30 March 1806)

In popular culture

Contrary to popular belief, the play The School for Scandal was not written about the Duchess of Devonshire's scandalous affairs. Despite interacting with Sheridan, the playwright, the inspiration for the play's various characters came from actors Sheridan knew personally.

Film portrayals

  • The Divine Lady (1929), played by Evelyn Hall.
  • Berkeley Square (1933) played by Juliette Compton
  • Mrs Fitzherbert (1947), played by Mary Clare.
  • The House in the Square (1951), played by Kathleen Byron
  • The Duchess (2008), played by Keira Knightley. The film, directed by Saul Dibb, is based on the biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman.



Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
  • Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman (1998) ISBN 0-00-655016-9 (now published as The Duchess)
  • Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Brian Masters, Hamish Hamilton, 1981.
  • Georgiana, The Earl of Bessborough (editor), John Murray, London, 1955.
  • The Two Duchesses.., Family Correspondence relating to.., Vere Foster (editor), Blackie & Son, London, Glasgow & Dublin, 1898.
  • An Aristocratic Affair - The life of Georgiana's sister Harriet, Countess Bessborough, Janet Gleeson, 2006, ISBN 0593054873
  • Portraits of Georgiana by Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney, Cosway and others.
  • Extra material not included in Amanda Foreman's book
  • Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph, ed. Jonathan David Gross (Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2007), ISBN 0-8101-2229-4.


  1. ^ "Beauty — A natural compliment", The Every-day Book and Table Book; or, Everlasting Calendar of Popular Amusements, Sports, Pastimes, Ceremonies, Manners, Customs, and Events, Each of the Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days, in Past and Present Times; Forming a Complete History of the Year, Months, and Seasons, and a Perpetual Key to the Almanac, Including Accounts of the Weather, Rules for Health and Conduct, Remarkable and Important Anecdotes, Facts, and Notices, in Chronology, Antiquities, Topography, Biography, Natural History, Art, Science, and General Literature; Derived from the Most Authentic Sources, and Valuable Original Communication, with Poetical Elucidations, for Daily Use and Diversion. Vol III., ed. William Hone, (London: 1838) p 344. Retrieved on 2008-06-11
  2. ^ "The Disappearing Duchess", The New York Times, 31 July 1994. Retrieved on 2008-06-11.
  3. ^ a b Michael Hellicar (2008-08-29). "Diana and me - by Keira... or how movie marketers used the princess' troubled marriage to promote The Duchess". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  4. ^ Antonia Fraser

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.


Footnotes (including sources)

‡ General
¶ Death
  • Buried at Derbu Cathedral, Derbyshire, England