A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
Now a major motion picture starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes
Lady Georgiana Spencer was the great-great-great-great-aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, and was nearly as famous in her day. In 1774 Georgiana achieved immediate celebrity by marrying William Cavendish, fifth duke of Devonshire, one of England’s richest and most influential aristocrats. She became the queen of fashionable society and founder of the most important political salon of her time. But Georgiana’s public success concealed an unhappy marriage, a gambling addiction, drinking, drug-taking, and rampant love affairs with the leading politicians of the day. With penetrating insight, Amanda Foreman reveals a fascinating woman whose struggle against her own weaknesses, whose great beauty and flamboyance, and whose determination to play a part in the affairs of the world make her a vibrant, astonishingly contemporary figure.
an uproar as was raised by his threatening us with the danger of provoking the Prince to assert his right,” wrote a witness to the pandemonium.10 The Whigs had destroyed any chance of a smooth passage into office, but rather than follow Pitt’s example and concentrate on tactics they continued to squabble about places. “Great disturbances in the arrangements,” wrote Georgiana on December 12. “The Prince has promised Ld Sandwich to the 1st Ld of the Admiralty and both the Duke of Portland and
Melbourne, “This poor old man continues very ill, and in the trouble of this country it really is very necessary that something should be done about securing Caroline’s little income—and getting it into safe hands.”16 Nothing survives that would explain Bess’s influence with the old man or why he would consider offering his protection to her child. Nevertheless, they succeeded in making him sign a paper just before he died but at considerable cost: the only way Harriet was able to prevent Lady
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 wd 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.52 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
persons of distinction. . . . Previous to the supper there was music. The Prince of Wales was of the party, and the company did not depart till near four o’clock in the morning.”19 Something of Georgiana’s former celebrity had returned and she was mobbed whenever she appeared in public. Lady Spencer was not very sympathetic, “as to the crowds that follow you,” she wrote, “it is a small inconvenience to anybody used to crowds as you have been.”20 However, Georgiana was plagued by more than
Lord Holland, and Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the second Duke of Richmond. Although an unscrupulous and—even for the age—corrupt politician, Lord Holland was a tender husband and an indulgent father who shamelessly spoilt his children. No eighteenth-century upbringing has received more attention or encountered such criticism as Fox’s. By contemporary social standards the Holland household was a kind of freak show. There were stories of Fox casually burning his father’s carefully prepared