Excerpt from Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire

By Amanda Foreman

Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2000,
    464 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2001,
    480 pages.

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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 1,486 pounds 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

Excerpted from Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman . Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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