Myths and History

Female BAMFs of History
- Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana was born Georgiana Spencer in 1757 on the 7th June to father the 1st Earl Spencer (John Spencer) and mother Margaret Georgiana Poyntz. She was the first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, and also the mother to the 6th Duke of Devonshire. She is the great-great-granddaughter of the 1st Duke of Marlborough, the aunt of Lady Caroline Lamb, and, via her illegitimate daughter Eliza, an ancestor of Sarah the Duchess of York. Also among her relations, she is related to Lady Diana Spencer - the later Princess of Wales, who was her great-great-grandniece. (It is also speculated that she is related to Lucrezia Borgia, but this has not been proven.)

Georgiana - often called Gee  - was a beauty socialite who married her husband, the Duke of Devonshire, on her seventeenth birthday. She had three children by him; Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish (the later Countess of Carlisle), Harriet Elisabeth Cavendish (the later Countess of Granville), and William Cavendish (the Marquess of Hartington and Duke of Devonshire after his father). Gee also had an illegitimate child with the 2nd Earl Grey, Eliza Courtney, and also brought up her husband’s illegitimate child with a maid; Charlotte.

Gee is known not only for her immense fashion sense, but also for living in a menage a trois (commonly known as a “household of three”, it basically means a three-way marriage arrangement) with her husband and a woman who she had introduced to him as her best friend, the Lady Elizabeth Foster. Elizabeth, having three children already, also had two children with the Duke; Caroline Rosalie Adelaide and Sir Augustus Clifford.

Her fashion sense was elaborate and very unique, and she was the leader of the ‘ton’, a group of fashionable aristocratic ladies who pioneered the towering hairstyles that Gee is so famous for. Her hair was usually topped by large ostrich feathers, massively oversized hats, or artificial aviary. Gee was also known for being very political, and in the 1784 election, she traded kisses in favour for the support of Fox.

Though she was seen as very ladylike, she was also enamoured with gambling. Her family, the Spencers, were very wealthy, but refused to support her gambling habits. Gee was so terrified of her husband discovering her gambling debts that she kept them secret - only for him to discover when she died in 1806, aged 48, from what is thought to be an abscess of the liver. After being buried at All Saints Parish Church (Derby Cathedral), she owed today’s equivalent of £3,720,000. When the Duke of Devonshire was told about these debts, he commented “is that all?”

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