The Duchesses of Devonshire in the long eighteenth-century

We all know of the famous (or infamous) Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish née Spencer. But, what of the other Duchesses of Devonshire during the long eighteenth-century? Today, we are taking a whistle-stop tour to look at them one-by-one.

We start with Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), daughter of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. In 1662 she married William Cavendish (1640-1707), then merely Lord Cavendish, the eldest son of William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire; in 1684 Mary became the Countess of Devonshire when her husband succeeded to the earldom. His support of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 brought him the support of William III (of Orange) and in 1694 the Earl and Countess of Devonshire became, additionally, the 1st Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), Duchess of Devonshire by Willem Wissing
Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), Duchess of Devonshire by Willem Wissing; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

Next is the Honourable Rachel Russell (1674-1725), daughter of William Russell, Lord Russell and the wife of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (c.1672-1729) (you might be gathering by this point that the Cavendish family weren’t that imaginative when it came to naming the heir!). William and Rachel married on 21st June 1688 and had five children.

Rachel Russell (1674-1725), Duchess of Devonshire by Godfrey Kneller
Rachel Russell (1674-1725), Duchess of Devonshire by Godfrey Kneller; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

The eldest son of the 2nd Duke and Duchess was… you’ve guessed it! William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire (1698-1755). At a young age, he married Katherine Hoskins or Hoskyn (c.1698-1777) of whom little appears to be known.

An interesting snippet concerning the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, they are the most recent common ancestors of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer; Charles is descended from the 3rd duke’s eldest son (who we will come onto next, go on, have a guess at his name!) and the second eldest daughter of the family, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (who married John Ponsonby) was the direct ancestor of Diana.

Katherine outlived her husband by more than 20 years.

Portrait of Katherine Hoskins, Duchess of Devonshire as St Catherine by Charles Jervas
Portrait of Katherine Hoskins, Duchess of Devonshire as St Catherine by Charles Jervas; Chatsworth House

Yes, you’re correct! The next to hold the title was William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire who, when Marquess of Hartington, married Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle, the only surviving daughter of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (it was a wedding which had been planned since they were both children, and was a very happy one). Charlotte inherited all her father’s estates and the title of Baroness Clifford in her own right.

Lady Dorothy Boyle (1724-1742), Countess of Euston, and Her Sister Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754), Later Marchioness of Hartington by Dorothy Savile
Lady Dorothy Boyle (1724-1742), Countess of Euston, and Her Sister Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754), Later Marchioness of Hartington by Dorothy Savile; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

Now, strictly speaking, Charlotte should not be included here as she never actually became the Duchess of Devonshire. She died of smallpox at Uppingham in Rutland at the beginning of December 1754, mere months before her husband became the duke upon the death of his father (and tragically, she died just over 8 months after the birth of her fourth child). So, Charlotte was only ever Marchioness of Hartington, but we felt she should take her place on this blog.

Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton
Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton; English Heritage, Chiswick House

And so we come to William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), who married Lady Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806) in 1774, on her 17th birthday at Wimbledon parish church. It is well-known that the marriage was unhappy; the duke was emotionally cold to Georgiana although he continued to entertain mistresses.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

In 1782, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire made the acquaintance of Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster née Hervey (1758-1824), the daughter of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol who was separated from her own husband (and three sons). The two ladies became friends, and Bess and the duke more than that; Bess went to live with the couple and something of a ménage à trois developed, reluctantly tolerated by Georgiana (Bess and the duke had two illegitimate children together).

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Elisabeth Foster, miniature by Jean-Urbain Guérin, 1791.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Elisabeth Foster, miniature by Jean-Urbain Guérin, 1791. The Wallace Collection

Georgiana embarked upon an affair of her own after having given birth to two daughters (Lady Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish, known as Little G and Lady Harriet Elizabeth Cavendish, or Harryo) and a son and heir, William George Spencer Cavendish, aka Hart (as his title from birth was Marquess of Hartington). Her lover was the politician Charles Grey (later Earl Grey), and the affair resulted in a daughter, known as Eliza Courtney, in 1792, resulting in the duchess being banished abroad for a period of time before she was allowed home to live with her husband, children and Bess.

After Georgiana’s early death in 1806 (she was 48), the 5th Duke of Devonshire married Bess, so she too gained the title of Duchess of Devonshire although the duke died just two years after their wedding.

Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman
Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman; National Trust, Ickworth

Hart (otherwise William Cavendish, 1790-1858), the eldest son of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and Georgiana did in time become the 6th Duke (in 1811) but he never married.

After Hart’s death, in 1858, the title passed to the eldest son of George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Burlington who, in turn, was the eldest son of the 4th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Charlotte Boyle. With excellent forward planning, he too was named William Cavendish and, although we’re well out of the ‘long eighteenth-century’ now, we’ll share one last image with you, of another woman who took her place in the Cavendish family tree but who never became Duchess of Devonshire.

In 1829, the 7th Duke, before he had come into his estates and titles (he was, from 1834, the 2nd Earl of Burlington), married Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), the daughter of George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle and Georgiana Cavendish who we have already mentioned above as ‘Little G’, the eldest daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), Countess of Burlington by John Lucas
Lady Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), Countess of Burlington by John Lucas; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

It was to be a short but happy marriage, engineered by Hart, the childless 6th Duke of Devonshire; five children were born to the couple before Blanche died in 1840, aged just 28. For the last two years of her life, Blanche, Countess of Burlington, was one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies of the Bedchamber.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, then you might enjoy our Georgian and Victorian era biographies which are available with worldwide free postage from Book Depository or from all good retailers.

Featured image

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with her infant daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish by Joshua Reynolds; Chatsworth House.

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