Notable Names: Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire

Born in 1757, Georgiana Spencer became a prominent noble within British history, but did so for various reasons. From a young age Georgiana was her mother’s favourite, and was said to be quite beautiful. Being born into privilege to John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer and Margaret Georgiana Poyntz, gave Georgiana all the makings of proper young lady.

On Georgiana’s seventeenth birthday, she walked down the aisle of Wimbledon Parish Church where she wed William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire. This marriage was not one of love, but in reality it was a brilliant match. Upon marrying The Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana’s sole responsibility was to present him with an heir, a task that seemed difficult for the young Duchess. Georgiana was not prepared to enter a marriage where her husband already had a mistress, let alone a union that was not emotionally fulfilling.


Georgiana struggled with supplying her husband with an heir that he so desperately desired, but eventually gave birth to four children. Her last child Eliza was the daughter of Charles Grey, the future Prime Minister, and Georgiana’s one time lover. The love Georgiana felt for Charles Grey was overshadowed by her social position, and almost ruined her. Earlier in her marriage Georgiana also adopted William Cavendish’s illegitimate daughter, a girl by the name of Charlotte. By the time the Duchess gave birth to the future heir of Devonshire, her relationship with her husband was nothing but a façade.

Being that Georgiana was not fulfilled in her marriage, she sought comfort in others things such as, gambling, politics, and fashion. The Duchess campaigned for women’s suffrage, and devoted her time to the Whig party. Georgiana’s influence on the politics of her time significantly increased over her lifetime, and endorsed political factions to work together. Ideals that were far ahead of her time, but Georgiana passionately believed in her cause.

When it came to fashion, Georgiana was at the forefront of it all. People gathered to see her changing fashions, which ultimately influenced a time period. Historians claim her to have been a friend of Marie Antoinette, another influential female of her time, whom the Duchess no doubt acquired fashion trends from. Along with her fashion trends, The Duchess also spent vast sums of money on gambling, which put a huge strain on her relationship with the Duke.

In 1782, things began to look up for the Duchess when she met a woman by the name of Lady Elizabeth Foster while holidaying in Bath. Georgiana took such a liking to Lady Elizabeth that she invited her to come home with her, a choice she might later regret. Lady Elizabeth made herself invaluable to the Duchess, and soon became the Duke’s official mistress. For Georgiana this became difficult because she needed a friend, and Lady Elizabeth fit that bill perfectly. Soon they were all living together, until Georgiana passed away in 1806, making Lady Elizabeth the next Duchess.

Regardless of all of her downfalls, Georgiana was a distinguished woman who appreciated fashion, etiquette, politics, and gambling. Also, she was a wonderful mother, who dedicated herself to her children later in life. Georgiana’s story is one for the ages, and she was a woman who was ahead of her time. Her legacy lives on through many movies, portraits, as well as a few books.


photo:  Ben Sutherland