alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions

Anglophile Edition: Chatsworth & Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire


View of Chatsworth from the River Derwent

View of Chatsworth from the River Derwent
by Tom Herbert, via Flickr

Last spring, on the same trip where I slogged through the rain in the Lake District, I also had a posher interlude. I visited the Chatsworth Estate in the Peak District. (Notice how many Districts they have in England?). This is not normally my cup of tea. (Sigh, puns already.) I *prefer* hiking 15 miles a day through the mud to museums, galleries, plaque-reading & etc. But several years ago, I came across pictures of the estate online and was smitten. Add the fact that Chatsworth was likely the inspiration for Pemberley, that the current Duchess is an actual Mitford sister, and you can actually stay in the Hunting Tower on the estate, and…well. When I found out that it was an easy distance from my in-laws in Yorkshire, I knew we had to go.

Georgiana as Cynthia from The Faerie Queen, by Maria Hadfield Cosway

One of the most well-known residents of Chatsworth was Georgiana, wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire. By the standards of any era, Georgiana was a larger-than-life figure. Like any properly fascinating personality, she was a heady mix of admirable and out-of-control:

Society beauty & fashion trend-setter. She set the fashion for extravagantly high wigs sprouting ostrich feathers. Whatever she wore was reported in the newspapers and copied slavishly.

Compulsive gambler. From the beginning of her marriage, Georgiana could not resist the card table. She repeatedly ran up debts, begged money from friends to pay them off, lied about them to her husband, and ran up more. The outstanding debt upon her death totalled nearly 20,000 pounds. Wikipedia estimates this amount as today’s equivalent of £3,720,000.

Best friend of her husband’s mistress. The Duke, the Duchess, and her friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster  (‘Bess’), lived and traveled as a threesome for 25 years. In 1785, both Georgiana and Bess were pregnant by the Duke at the same time. When Georgiana was in the doghouse with the Duke for her gambling debts or other indiscretions, she appealed to Bess to keep peace in the household.

Political hostess and fundraiser. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes for the Whig party, arranging for rivals to meet, for strategies to arise, and money to flow. She was also the first woman to campaign for a political candidate, in an election in 1784, for which she was castigated and caricatured in the press for her unwomanly-ness.

Unfaithful wife. The Duke was not the only one to find comfort outside their marriage. In 1792, Georgiana gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Eliza Courtney, fathered by future Prime Minister, Charles Grey. The Duchess was forced to give her up to be raised by Grey’s aunt and uncle, though she visited her daughter in secret.

Diarist & writer. She found time to write a novel, ‘The Sylph,’ in 1780. As a close confidante of the Prince of Wales, her diaries were invaluable to modern historians in reconstructing the happenings in the palace during the Regency Crisis & the serial illnesses of King George the III, presented to modern audiences in the fantastic, “The Madness of King George.” What-what?

Rockhound, mineralogist, & amateur chemist. I can’t really get behind her personally with the chemistry, but I think it’s a pretty impressive hobby for an 18th century noblewoman, and I do like a good rock. So did Georgiana. She “endowed Chatsworth with a collection of stones and minerals of museum quality,”* many of which are displayed in the halls of Chatsworth House, near the Faerie Queen portrait.

I leave you with more views of the estate

On the Chatsworth Grounds
by Kevin Smith, via Flickr

Another view of Chatsworth Gardens
by Kevin Smith, via Flickr

Chatsworth Lion
by Hunter333, via Flickr

*Amanda Foreman, The Duchess, p.269

Author: Alisa Alering

I write stories. I read stories.

14 thoughts on “Anglophile Edition: Chatsworth & Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

  1. Thank you for writing about your Chatsworth visit! I shall live through this pictures until I can visit myself. 🙂

  2. Have you ever been to the UK? I used to be an awful Anglophile when I was a young teen (all those Regency romances!), & I thought I wad dead glamorous when I went to London for the first time when I was undergrad, but now that I visit relatives and stuff I get to be all blase and “yeah, England” about it. Still, they do an awfully good line in inherited privilege. And moody landscape.

    • I went in 2003 at Christmas to visit my then-boyfriend, but we mostly stayed around Sheffield. We did get up to Haworth, but the Bronte house had already closed for the day so we just did a jaunt through the graveyard at dusk. I would love to go to the Lake District, tour some truly grand homes, and experience England as a person no longer in their muddled twenties. 🙂

  3. Sheffield, yes! Grim industrial north represent! It’s actually really close to Chatsworth, we drove through on our way there. And, Haworth, I have to go back. We did get into the parsonage and saw the teeny, tiny dresses the sisters wore, and the groove they had worn walking around the table. We started off on the walk to Top Withens, but too late, and had to turn back before we reached it. Now that I’m going to start writing romances, I’m going to call these trips Research.

  4. i haven’t been to england… yet. i do love moody landscapes (as long as i’m dressed warm and my feet are dry).

    • Fiery skull, you’re in Kentucky, right? What’s the Kentucky version of a moody landscape?

      • i think the landscape is surprisingly similar! we have shorter winters and less rainfall, but there are the lush green rolling hills here in the central part of the state, with the appalachian mountains in the eastern part. i searched “english countryside” and “kentucky countryside” back to back and found some pictures that could arguably be either one. i can’t wait to see england and its countryside for myself!! i just know i’m going to fall in love with it.

      • I’m in Indiana, and I don’t think we do ‘moody’ or ‘atmospheric’ very well – though the leaf colors around town ARE dazzling right now. I do recall, though, being at Shaker Village outside Lexington, standing on a hill in a cow field in a cold drizzle & looking out at the foggy valley and thinking ‘Wow, I could totally be in England right now.’

        Any other places on your dream visit list?

      • ah, exactly! i’m glad you’ve seen it. :]
        all i’ve seen of indiana is very… flat. flat like kansas, but with cornfields.

      • My part has little hills- thank goodness. I am an Appalachian girl; I wouldn’t be able to stand it otherwise.

  5. There are some beautiful parts of the countryside here in the UK – my personal favourites are Suffolk and Bath, mainly because my lasting impressions of both places are such a contrast. Suffolk is full of rolling hills and fields that at different times of the year are a riot of colour as the crops grow, bright yellow squares separated by rich green hedges. The houses in the small towns and villages are painted in bright colours and lean up against each other in wonky lines (look at pictures of Woodbridge or Long Melford). In contrast Bath is whiteness everywhere, the buildings are grand and it appears (in my memory) so clean and preserved and straight.
    Slightly off topic – sorry.
    However, The Duchess (Kiera Knightly) was a great portrayal of Georgiana.

    • Sounds like I should Bath on my must-see list. It’s not a part of England I’ve ever been to, and if the internet is to be believed, the architecture is gorgeous. Maybe I should think about writing some Steampunk Regency, and then I can call a visit “research”. Thanks for putting it on my radar.

  6. Beautiful! I love the lavish gardens on those estates.

    I just read “a death at pemberley” which is a recent novel that takes place about six years after Elizabeth and Mr Darcy get married – and it renewed my love for Pemberley.

    • If I had a fortune that just wouldn’t quit, I wouldn’t need much in the house, but I would totally spend it on the gardens.

      Death at Pemberley–that’s the PD James, right? I’m not a huge fan of contemporary authors revisiting the classics, but I do like PD James. Do you think she was true to Austen? And maybe more important, was it a good mystery?

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