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:

The Most Noble WILLIAM CAVENDISH,

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

Sources

Pilot 1 August 1811

General Evening Post 3 Aug 1811

Globe 5 August 1811

Morning Advertiser 24 May 1824

A View of Chiswick House from the South West by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack

The Duchess of Devonshire’s Public Breakfast at Chiswick House, 1802

Today, we’re taking you back in time to a public breakfast given by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire at the end of June 1802, at her villa, Chiswick House. Public it might have been, but entry was only for those ‘of note’ in the fashionable world. You’ll be mingling with around 700 members of London’s high society so, in order to look the part you’ll need to dress in the latest fashions. Gentlemen should wear boots for practicality as the event is mainly outdoors. For ladies, we’d recommend a simple white muslin dress with an understated headdress (maybe one with just a few feathers as decoration). You’ll have to manage in a pair of dainty slippers, but we’re sure the suited and booted gentlemen will be on hand to offer assistance.

A View of Chiswick House from the South West by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack
A View of Chiswick House from the South West by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

The breakfast rounded off the ‘fashionable arrangements’ for that particular week, which had started with a grand dinner given by the Prince of Wales on Monday 21st June and continued with a variety of musical evenings, routs and balls on every evening. By the time the weekend dawned, on Saturday 26th June, the haute ton were faced with the choice of attending two public breakfasts, one given by Mr Angerstein at his mansion, the Woodlands at Blackheath, or the Duchess of Devonshire’s gathering. No contest, we’re going to the latter!

Her Grace’s villa has long been deservedly the theme of public panegyric; but if it were always inhabited by as many beautiful women as appeared there on Saturday last, it would be a perfect Elysium.

Breakfast it might have been, but this was polite society and they kept fashionably late hours. The guests did not start arriving until the early afternoon, and they were the crème de la crème of society, headed by no less a person than the duchess’s friend, George, Prince of Wales who arrived dressed in green.

Miniature of George IV when Prince of Wales by George Engleheart, 1801-02.
Miniature of George IV when Prince of Wales by George Engleheart, 1801-02. Royal Collection Trust

We’ll pick you a handful of others from the list of noted attendees. The Duke of Orléans was present (Philippe Égalité’s son) and the Countess Conyngham who would become the Prince of Wales’ mistress some years hence. From a banking family, the countess was a beauty but snootily regarded as somewhat vulgar, due to her ancestry. The Prince’s current mistress, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey is not mentioned as being in attendance… but a Mrs Fitzherbert is, and she is more than likely Maria Fitzherbert, the prince’s on-again, off-again one true love.

A View of Chiswick House Gardens with the Bagnio and Domed Building Alleys; Pieter Andreas Rysbrack
A View of Chiswick House Gardens with the Bagnio and Domed Building Alleys; Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

Some of the people present were those we know well; they are present within the pages of the books we have written. The Earl and Countess (later Marquess and Marchioness) of Cholmondeley were there; the earl was, for several years, the lover of our ‘infamous courtesan’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and he brought up her daughter, Georgiana Seymour, even though the girl’s father was not the earl but the Prince of Wales. Georgiana would have been almost 20 years of age and although she is not specifically mentioned as attending, it’s totally possible that she was there. If so, then she would have seen the man who, six years later, she would marry: Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger son of the 3rd Duke of Portland.

Other guests are familiar from our former blog posts, ladies such as the Marchioness of Salisbury, the Honourable Mr and Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe.

Large French print of Chiswick with a plan of the gardens
Large French print of Chiswick with a plan of the gardens; Royal Collection Trust.

It was a perfect summer’s day and the guests strolled on the lawns and in the grounds. The Serpentine River provided rowing for any gentlemen who wanted a bit of exercise (aren’t you glad you wore your boots now?), and swings and a see-saw had been set up to provide a bit of fun (the latter reportedly ‘afforded much diversion’ and on the former, the ‘ladies assisted one another in swinging’).

A View of the Back Part of the Cassina, & Part of the Serpentine River, terminated by the Cascade in the Garden of Chiswick House.
A View of the Back Part of the Cassina, & Part of the Serpentine River, terminated by the Cascade in the Garden of Chiswick House. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Amongst this elevated and merry company strolled the Duchess of Devonshire, arm-in-arm with her eldest daughter, fondly known as Little G, Georgiana, Viscountess Morpeth. Just 20 years of age, Lady Morpeth had married a year earlier, to the 5th Earl of Carlisle’s eldest son. Little G had recently become a mother; her son, the future 7th Earl of Carlisle, had been born on the 18th April 1802, so a little over two months before this breakfast. In a sea of white dresses, the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughter managed to be the centre of attention. They both ‘looked remarkably well [and] wore a new sort of bonnet, with a large lace veil over it, serving as both cloak and bonnet. This was one of the handsomest promenade dresses we saw’.

The day was hot, so the veil which doubled as a cloak must have provided a little protection from the sun while not being too heavy. We wonder if it resembled the fashion plate below, which dates to the same period?

Journal des dames et des modes, 14 June 1802
Journal des dames et des modes, 14 June 1802

Around 4 o’clock, the company sat down to their breakfast. The tables, set with bouquets of fresh flowers and piled with refreshments, were scattered over the estate.

In the house covers were laid for 200, viz. in the two salons, the dining and green-rooms, and the dressing-room. In the Temple, &c. 100 were accommodated, and in the two Grand Marquees, and the other tents, about 200 more. Tables were likewise placed under the trees at the entrance of the lawn; the effect was cool and refreshing, the situation being impervious to the rays of the sun… the desert of fruit was very fine, cherries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, pines, in abundance.

The Pond and the Temple at Chiswick House by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack
The Pond and the Temple at Chiswick House by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

By 7 o’clock the guests started to drift away and an hour later most had departed, leaving the clearing up operation by the duchess’ servants to begin.

It had been a great success, but we have to note that two very important names did not appear on the list of guests. Neither the Duke of Devonshire nor his mistress Lady Bess Foster who lived with the couple in a form of ménage à trois, appear to have been present.

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

NB: The images used of Chiswick House are of an earlier date when the house was owned by the Duke of Devonshire’s ancestor, the Earl of Burlington, but give a good idea of how the house and grounds would have looked.

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Sources:

Morning Post, 21 June and 28 June 1802