A Morning Ramble, or, The Milliner's Shop; Carington Bowles after Robert Dighton, 1782.

The Duke of Devonshire and Charlotte Spencer

In an earlier blog, we looked at the life of Charlotte Williams, illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire; Charlotte was brought up in the duke’s household by his beleaguered wife, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It has proved to be one of our most popular blogs, so we thought it was worth trying to shed a little more light on Charlotte’s mother, a milliner named Charlotte Spencer.

The Duke of Devonshire and his mistress, Charlotte Spencer, a milliner. Town and Country Magazine, 1777
The Duke of Devonshire and his mistress, Charlotte Spencer, a milliner. Town and Country Magazine, 1777 (Lewis Walpole Library)

If you’ve watched the film, The Duchess, you will no doubt remember the scene early on when Georgiana, pregnant with her first child, is introduced to her husband’s young daughter, who is brought to Devonshire House in London following the death of her mother. Using artistic licence, the timings are, however, slightly out in the film.

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

On 7 June 1774, at Wimbledon, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, married Georgiana Spencer, d/o John, Earl Spencer and his wife Georgiana (née Poyntz). The groom’s parish was stated to be St George, Hanover Square, that of the bride Westminster St James. Charlotte Williams was known to be born a few months before this grand union; just weeks earlier, on 20 March, a little girl named Charlotte had been christened at St George, Hanover Square, her parents named as William and Charlotte Cavendish (and her birthdate given as 22 February).

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

All we really know of the mother, Charlotte Spencer, comes from one of the Town and Country Magazine’s gossipy tête-à-tête articles which appeared in the spring of 1777; Memoirs of the D___ of D___ and Miss Charlotte S____r. If Georgiana had been in the dark about her husband’s mistress, she would certainly have known all about it when this magazine hit the streets.

Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, William Cavendish had succeeded to his title, on the death of his father. Left an orphan, he was raised by three bachelor uncles who sent him abroad on the aristocratic ‘gap year’, the Grand Tour. The tête-à-tête article claimed that while in Paris, Cavendish captured the heart of Louis XV’s maîtresse-en-titre, Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry, some five years older than the duke but much more worldly wise. The duke’s uncles got wind of things, and rushed him home.

Fête donné à Louveciennes, le 2 septembre 1771 (en présence de Louis XV et de la comtesse Dubarry)
Fête donné à Louveciennes, le 2 septembre 1771 (en présence de Louis XV et de la comtesse Dubarry): Louvre Museum

Finding she [Madame du Barry] had built too much upon her charms, influence, and attractions; and, at the same time, that her heart was too far engaged in the conflict, she became the dupe to her own artifice; and the young English nobleman had his vanity so far gratified as to be the rival of the grand monarque.

Jeanne Bécu, comtesse Du Barry, en Flore by François-Hubert Drouais, 1773/4 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN / © Christophe Fouin
Jeanne Bécu, comtesse Du Barry, en Flore by François-Hubert Drouais, 1773/4 © Château de Versailles, Dist. RMN / © Christophe Fouin

Returning to London, the duke made the acquaintance of a pretty milliner who had ‘the finest eyes he had ever beheld’. He became a customer, and then her lover. Charlotte Spencer was the daughter of a country curate whose situation had allowed of nothing more than a ‘tolerable education’ for his daughter. After his death, Charlotte travelled to London where she fell into the clutches of  ‘a veteran procuress, who, under the veil of religion, prevailed upon Charlotte to be a lodger in her house, that she might take care of her salvation’. It is suggested that Charlotte had at least one pregnancy (and possibly a termination) while lodged in this brothel before leaving, only to fall into the hands of ‘an old debauchee, who pretended to adore her mental, as well as her personal attractions’. This old rake gave Charlotte a handsome allowance and set her up in an elegant house, but she hated the life; after a few months her ‘keeper’ died and left her mistress of a fortune enough for her to set up a milliner’s shop. Where, soon afterwards, the 5th Duke of Devonshire found her…

A Morning Ramble, or, The Milliner's Shop; Carington Bowles after Robert Dighton, 1782.
A Morning Ramble, or, The Milliner’s Shop; Carington Bowles after Robert Dighton, 1782. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The duke and Miss Spencer seem to have lived happily together for some years; she left the milliner’s shop behind and the duke provided for her. He set her up in a discreet rented villa.

We may now suppose our hero in full possession of all Charlotte’s charms, and that she was happy in an alliance with a young nobleman every way amiable. Yet a paradox still remains to be solved; which is, that after some years intercourse with Miss S___r, who was now rather approaching the decline of beauty, our hero should marry a nobleman’s daughter, a universal toast, still in her teens, with every personal accomplishment, who gives the Ton wherever she goes, and that he should still be fond of his antiquated (by comparison) Charlotte?

The truth is that the duke needed a male heir, and while he was clearly fond of Charlotte Spencer, the teenaged, wealthy and well-connected Miss Georgiana Spencer (it is an ironic coincidence that the two ladies bore the same surname) was the more suitable bride and prospective mother for a son and heir. Poor Charlotte had only given him a daughter.

Georgiana married her duke in May 1774, and this little scandal broke in the press almost three years later. Popular gossip said that the duke continued to see Charlotte regularly during the first years of his marriage.

There is a caprice in mankind, it is true, that cannot be accounted for – whim prevails more than reason – but that the blooming, the blythe, and beautiful D___ should be neglected for Charlotte S___r is really astonishing!

The duke’s affair with Charlotte Spencer fizzled out after 1778, and all available evidence suggests that she had died by May 1780 when the six-year-old Charlotte Williams was brought, with her nurse, Mrs Gardner, into the Cavendish household.

Despite her unhappy marriage, the Duchess of Devonshire was the toast of the town. Extravagant, vivacious and addicted to gambling, Georgiana was also compassionate and caring; when the young and motherless Charlotte Williams was presented to her, Georgiana took the girl to her heart and brought her up as her own daughter. In time, Georgiana had three children of her own by the duke, Georgiana (Little G) born 1783, Harriet (Harry-O) in 1785 and William (known as Hart, as his courtesy title was Marquess of Hartington) who was born in 1790. (Georgiana suffered many miscarriages during her marriage.)

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

A couple of years or so after Charlotte Spencer’s death, Georgiana met Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster at Bath; Bess quickly became an indispensable member of the Cavendish household, given a role as Charlotte Williams governess and replacing Charlotte Spencer in the duke’s affections. Something of a ménage à trois developed. Georgiana retaliated with an affair of her own, falling in love with the future prime minister, Charles Grey; in 1792 and in exile from her husband and children, Georgiana gave birth to Grey’s daughter. Known as Eliza Courtney, this girl was brought up by Grey’s family although Georgiana did manage to make secret visits to her. Bess Foster accompanied Georgiana during these years of exile before the two returned to the duke in 1793. Bess, after Georgiana’s death, would become the duke’s next wife.

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

Sources:

Town and Country Magazine, March 1777

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1999)

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!

Barrowby_Lincolnshire,All_Saints_Church
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.

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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.

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