Reunited in death, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana and Bess

Having previously written about the final days of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire it seemed appropriate to also write about the demise of her husband, William, 5th Duke of Devonshire and that of her successor, Lady Elizabeth Christiana Foster, née Hervey, better remembered to the world as Bess, as they were probably the most famous ménage à trois of the period.

Until her death in 1806, Georgiana lived alongside her husband, in her name only, whilst he and Bess effectively lived as husband and wife, although, of course, unable to marry whilst Georgiana was still alive.

From the film, The Duchess
From the film, The Duchess

1809 proved to be a busy year socially for the Duke and Lady Elizabeth, as not only did their illegitimate daughter, Caroline Rosalie Adelaide St Jules (1786- 1862) marry George Lamb, in May of that year, but this was to be followed by Bess’s own marriage, finally, to the duke on 19 October 1809, at their Chiswick home. Given the lack of commentary in the media, it appears to have been a somewhat low key event.

Chiswick House. Yale Centre for British Art
Chiswick House. Yale Centre for British Art

The third marriage of the year was that of Lady Harriet Cavendish, known by the family as Harryo, the younger daughter of Georgiana and the duke. Harryo married Lord Granville Leveson-Gower on 24 December 1809, also at Chiswick House.

Bess’s marriage to the Duke proved to be relatively short lived, as the 5th Duke of Devonshire died suddenly at his house in Piccadilly on 29 July 1811. It was reported that he had been feeling unwell for a couple of weeks, however, that day his condition greatly deteriorated, and he died peacefully in Bess’s arms.

William Cavendish 5th Duke of Devonshire. Pompeo Batoni
William Cavendish 5th Duke of Devonshire. Pompeo Batoni

As the duke’s death was regarded as sudden, a post mortem was carried out, at which, around three pints of fluid were found in his chest and it was agreed by the doctors present that this would have been the cause of his death. Today we would most likely describe this as plural effusion.

Following the post mortem, the St James’s Chronicle reported that the duke’s remains would be taken from Devonshire House early in the morning and would proceed as far as Woburn, where the cortège would remain overnight before travelling onwards to Derby to be deposited in the vault close to the late Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Sir Thomas Lawrence. Holburne Museum. © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Sir Thomas Lawrence. Holburne Museum. © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth.

As was the case for Georgiana, the duke’s final resting place was also to be in the magnificent mausoleum, at All Saints Church, better known as Derby Cathedral.

On 5 August 1811 the duke’s remains were removed from Devonshire House and headed via the Great Northern road, for the family vault at Derby, with the procession being led by Messrs. Wilson, the undertakers.

Following the procession was his personal carriage with six horses and a mourning coach with six horses containing the upper servants of the household. His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent’s coach with six horses, four grooms and footmen in their liveries.

These were followed by the Prince Regent’s carriage and six; Earls Bessborough, Spencer, Liverpool and Cowper; Lords Holland, Yarborough, Morpeth and Gower plus sets of horses. This must have been an impressive sight for the average person to witness.

His coffin was described as being very beautiful and, if possible, even more highly decorated than that of the late Duchess of Devonshire. It was covered with Genoa crimson velvet, ornamented with exquisitely chased handles. The stars were silver and the coronets, rails etc were silver gilt. On a plate of copper gilt was engraved:


Fifth Duke of Devonshire

Born December 24th, 1748

Died July 29th, 1811

At Kentish Town the Price Regent’s carriage left the procession and proceeded to Highgate, whilst the remainder continued their onward journey, arriving at Derby Cathedral on 8 August, 1811.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire died 30 March 1806 and it would exactly 18 years later to the date, that on 30 March 1824, in Rome, her successor, Bess’s life would also come to an end.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire. British Museum
Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire. British Museum

According to the Morning Post, 16 April 1824, the cause of her demise was inflammation of the bowels. Bess was aged 65 when she died.

The 6th Duke sent a courier to Rome to collect her body to have it repatriated to England. The journey took the courier some nine days to get there. After three days, arrangements were made for the repatriation and on the fourth day the procession left. It was estimated that her remains would reach Calais the following week. A hearse left London for Dover in readiness to receive her.

Bess’s body was then taken to Devonshire House and from there a state cavalcade took her to the family vault at All Saints church, Derby, where the Duke and Georgiana were already interred on 26 May 1824.

Her funeral was nowhere near as grand an affair as it had been for Georgiana and William, although it followed the same route when leaving London heading for Derby. It was simply preceded by one mourning coach and six outriders. The arms of family were on each side of the hearse and the initials E.D.D. The carriage containing her remains was drawn by six chestnut horses with crepe on their bridles; a second mourning coach closed the procession.

The ménage à trois were, once again reunited, this time for eternity


Pilot 1 August 1811

General Evening Post 3 Aug 1811

Globe 5 August 1811

Morning Advertiser 24 May 1824

Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire’s travels in exile

Georgiana had three legitimate children with William, 5th Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana, known as ‘Little G’ born 1783, followed by Harriet, known affectionately as ‘Harryo’, born 1785 and finally, a son and heir William, who was born in May 1790, whilst the couple were in Paris and who would later become 6th Duke of Devonshire. The 5th Duke also had an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte Williams, about whom I have written previously (see highlighted link)..

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The couple waited until 20 May 1791 to have their son baptised at St George’s Hanover Square and the following month attended court to celebrate King George III’s birthday. It would have been around this time that Georgiana found herself pregnant again, this child however, was the result of her affair with Charles Grey.

Lawrence, Thomas; Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey; National Portrait Gallery, London

The child, named Elizabeth Courtney, was said to have been born on 20 February 1792, at Aix de Provence, France. She was then taken back to England to be raised by Charles Grey’s parents, as his sibling, rather than his daughter. Eliza, as she was known, although seeing her mother, was unaware of the familial connection until after the death of Georgiana.

The disgraced, Georgiana was given a choice by her husband, either a divorce which would give him the ability to remarry, or to go into exile. In order to protect her children, she chose the latter.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire after 1778. Royal Collection Trust
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire after 1778. Royal Collection Trust

In October 1791 she left England for Paris, accompanied by Lord and Lady Duncannon, probably better known as Bessborough, Georgiana’s sister and brother-in-law, which would have been an interesting journey, given that Lord Bessborough had begun divorce proceeding against Henrietta the previous year. By this time Georgiana would have been about five months pregnant.

Her poem, The Passage of the Mountain of Saint Gothard, was based on her passage of the Saint Gotthard Pass in August 1793 on her return to England.

The Hampshire Chronicle, 6 January 1800, along with other newspapers printed the poem in full accompanied by a brief extract about her travels. This was just over one year after the birth of Elizabeth Courtney.

The extract gives us a fleeting glimpse into where she visited and who she travelled with, although it’s not entirely clear who all her companions were. The newspaper article began with an advisory, that publication was delayed for the following reason:

We have, through the length of the French Constitution, and other important, but temporary matter, deferred till now inserting the above elegant piece of composition; confident that its merits would render it acceptable to our readers at any time. Her Grace has adopted the measure, and justice compels us to add, caught the spirit of Gray’s Elegy. There are many passage, which in sublimity, beauty and classic allusion, divide approbation even with that celebrated performance.

In 1799 her most famous poem was published, not only in book form but also in the newspaper and can be read in full by following this link.

The published extract from her journal which gives us a very brief glimpse into what her journey would have been like at that time:

We quitted Italy in August 1793 and passed into Switzerland over the mountain of St Gothard. The third crop of corn was already standing in Lombardy.

We left Lady Spencer and Lady Bessborough at the Baths of Lucca, intending to pass the winter at Naples.

The contrast between Switzerland and the Milanese appeared very striking. The Milanese were infested with a band of robbers that caused us some alarm and obliged us to use some precautions; but from the moment we entered the mountains of Switzerland, we travelled without fear, and felt perfectly secure. Death is the punishment of robbers; this punishment, however, very rarely occurs. At Lausanne there had been but one execution in fifteen years.

On the 9th we embarked upon Lago Maggiore, at the little town of Sisto, situated where the Tesino runs out of the lake. In the course of two days navigation, we particularly admired the striking and colossal statue of St. Charles Borromeo (with its pedestal two feet from the ground). The beautiful Borromean Islands, and the shores of the lake, are interspersed with towns and wood, and crowned with the distant view of the Alps.

On the evening of the 10th, we landed at Magadino, one of the three Cisalpine Baliages belonging to Switzerland; and as the air was too noxious for us to venture to sleep there, we sent for horses to conduct us to Belinzona, a pretty town in the midst of high mountains, under the jurisdiction of three of the Swiss Cantons, Switz, Underald and Uri. From hence (after having prepared horses, chairs and guides, and having our carriages taken in pieces) we set out on the evening of the 12th to enter the mountain and ascended gradually by a road that nearly followed the course of the Tesino.  The Tesino takes its rise not far from the summit of St. Gothard and joins the Po near Pavia.

St Gothard itself arises from the top of several other high mountains. Some have given 17,600 fee of perpendicular height from the level of the sea; but General Plyffer, who completed the celebrated model of that part of Switzerland surrounding Lucerne, makes it only 9,075 feet about the Mediterranean.

There is a small convent at the top of the mountain, where two monks reside and who are obliged to receive and entertain the poor traveller that passes that way. Padre Lorenzo had lived there for twenty years and seemed a sensible and benevolent man. They have a large dairy and make excellent cheese. Five small lakes which are at the top of the mountain supply them with fish. The monks are Capuchins and belong to a convent at Milan.

Although Georgiana returned in 1793, her mother and sister remained in Europe for a further year, with Georgiana meeting them at Harwich.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) c. 1774 Jeremiah Meyer. Royal Collection Trust
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806) c. 1774 Jeremiah Meyer. Royal Collection Trust

Following this enforced exile, Georgiana returned to England to continue caring for her children, living in a ménage à trois and playing out the role of the dutiful wife, until her death in March 1806.


The Passage of the Mountain of Saint Gothard: A Poem; by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Sketch of a descriptive journey through Switzerland to which is added a poem by her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire. Attributed to Rowley Lascelles 1816

Derby Mercury 9 June 1791

The World 24 November 1791

True Briton 11 August 1794

Featured Image

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her daughter Georgiana, later Countess of Carlisle 1807-08 by William Etty. Royal Collection Trust

View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection

What became of Charlotte Williams, the illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire?

NPG D1752; William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire by John Raphael Smith, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

You may be aware that just before William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire married Georgiana Spencer in 1774 he had had a relationship with a Charlotte Spencer (no relation to Georgiana) and that as a result of this liaison a child was born. This child was named Charlotte, after her mother and Williams after her father, but not until her mother had died in 1781*.

During the early part of her life, she was provided for by the Duke but raised by her mother, a milliner, until she died. At this point, Charlotte was taken into the Cavendish household and lived with him and his wife Georgiana as an ‘orphaned member of the Spencer family’.

Georgiana always treated Charlotte as if she were her own child, unlike her own illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtney, who was taken from her shortly after her birth and raised by her lover, Charles Grey’s parents, although, perhaps a small comfort to Georgiana, was that Eliza was occasionally taken to the Grey’s London home and met up Georgiana as her ‘unofficial godmother’.  Eliza was not told of her true parentage until after Georgiana’s death.Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787

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

Everything went well until Charlotte acquired a new governess, Elizabeth Foster, who later became the Duke’s mistress. Soon after this Elizabeth took Charlotte to France, partly for her own health and partly for Charlotte’s education. Elizabeth was fond of socializing and preferred to party rather than spend time with Charlotte and so at this point, Charlotte was sent to Paris until the start of the French Revolution when she returned to England.

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

So, what became of Charlotte?

This question has been asked numerous times and the answer has always been that she was married off, then simply vanished. Given our love of solving mysteries we simply had to investigate. We had read in Amanda Foreman’s book, The Duchess, that Charlotte married – if that were true, who was her husband? Did she have her own family? What happened to her?

Well, on the 28th February 1793 Charlotte did marry. In fact, she married the Duke of Devonshire’s agent and auditor, John Heaton’s nephew, Jonathan Kendal, at St James in Piccadilly.  The Morning Post of the 1st March 1793 noted that they were both of Old Burlington Street. (John Heaton’s sister Ann, married Reginald Kendal at Romaldkirk, Yorkshire in 1759).

According to his baptism Jonathan was some nine years older than Charlotte and Robert Athol, the Archives and Records Manager at Lincolns Inn Library, says that Jonathan was ‘admitted on 21st February 1784, the nephew of John Heaton, also a member of Lincoln’s Inn. He is not listed in our bar books that list members of the Inn who have been called to the bar, however, nor does he appear in any of the Law lists for the time which suggests to me that although he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, he didn’t pursue a career in law’.

Lincoln's Inn Gate. Picturesque Views with an Historical Account of the Inns of Court in London and Westminster, 1800. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Lincoln’s Inn Gate. Picturesque Views with a Historical Account of the Inns of Court in London and Westminster, 1800. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

We know from the Land Tax records that the Heaton family were living in a property owned by the Duke of Devonshire on Old Burlington Street so it seems highly likely that Charlotte, shortly after her return from France, moved to there and that is where she met her future husband.

Tantalizingly, the baptismal register for St George, Hanover Square records the birth of a Charlotte Cavendish, daughter of Charlotte and William, born  February 22nd, 1774 and baptised March 20th, 1774 – could this be her? It seems highly likely, as the 1851 census recorded that she was born in London.  If so, she was born just before the Duke of Devonshire’s marriage to Lady Georgiana Spencer on June 7th, 1774.

If we assume that this birth was for Charlotte, then she had not reached adulthood when the couple married, i.e. she was under 21-years. That being the case it is usual to see parent’s permission on the marriage entry but there was no such reference as you can see.

Charlotte Williams marriage

The couple lived at Barrowby in Lincolnshire for the majority of their married life as Jonathan appeared on Polls books and electoral registers in that village for many years.

According to the Clergy of the Church of England Database, on the 10th March 1800 Jonathan became a curate and served in the church for the remainder of his life; the living of Barrowby was in the gift of the Duke of Devonshire who was Lord of the Manor. One interesting entry against his name is that he was also appointed as Domestic Chaplain to the 6th Duke of Devonshire.

William Spencer Cavendish c.1806/1807, later the 6th Duke of Devonshire; National Trust, Hardwick Hall
William Spencer Cavendish c.1806/1807, later the 6th Duke of Devonshire; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

The 1841 census shows the couple still married and living at Barrowby at the Rectory House, along with 7 servants. Their son was born 1797 and followed in his father’s footsteps. After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge he became the Rev Charles Edward Kendal, stipendiary curate of Barrowby in 1821, then in 1822 took a posting at Brindle, Lancashire.  Charlotte was to see her son be married by her husband to a Miss Catherine Downing in Barrowby church in 1825.

Jonathan and Charlotte 1841 Census

As the parish vicar and his wife, Jonathan and Charlotte would have led a life typical of any rural cleric, spending time tending to his flock, supported by his wife. According to the parish register at Barrowby Jonathan was buried there on the 11th May 1849.  Charlotte outlived Jonathan by just over 7 years. In Jonathan’s will, he refers to Charlotte as ‘my most dearly beloved and truly affectionate wife‘.

It certainly appears that the couple were happy together and Charlotte specified in her will that she wished to be interred in the vault alongside her beloved husband at Barrowby.

However, after Jonathan’s death we find that Charlotte had moved to Leamington in Warwickshire, and on the 1851 census, she was visiting a relative in Dover. The census recorded her as a widow, aged 78 and her place of birth as London, although as yet no baptismal entry has been found, as to what name she would have been baptized under remains a mystery, if she were baptized at all!

All Saints Church Barrowby, Lincolnshire

The next and seemingly final record of Charlotte appeared in The Standard of Saturday 13th December 1856 with the record of her death:

On the 8th Inst. in Newbold Terrace, Leamington Charlotte, the relict of Rev Jonathan Kendal, Rector of Barrowby, in her 84th year.

For some reason her wish to be buried in the same vault as her husband in Barrowby was not carried out and she was buried at Leamington Priors on the 15th December 1856.

Charlotte Burial

Whilst the 5th Duke of Devonshire made bequests in his will to his second wife, his children and John Heaton Esquire, sadly, there was no mention of Charlotte, but overall, it would appear that Charlotte led a quiet and happy life and the mystery is now solved. We know from John Heaton’s will though that he made a bequest to Charlotte’s husband of £100 a year when he died in 1818, which would be worth about £6,000 in today’s money.

For some relatively unknown, private sketches of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire that were drawn by Thomas Orde, 1st Baron Bolton, at a private event in Buxton, Derbyshire in 1777, just a few years after her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire, click on the highlighted link.

And, to read our blog about Charlotte’s mother, the duke’s mistress, Charlotte Spencer, click here.


But, if you are interested in the mysterious life of another Charlotte Williams, one who was a Georgian heroine, then click here to discover the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.


* A burial took place on 8th May 1781 for a Charlotte Spencer at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.

Header image

View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection