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Charlotte Williams, The Natural Daughter Of The Duke Of Devonshire

On 7 June 1774, William, Duke of Devonshire, married Georgiana Spencer, a young, charming, and fashionable lady full of hopes for the future. Georgiana was aware that her main job was to provide her husband with a heir, and possibly a spare too, but little did she know that she would be required to raise his natural daughter too. The day the couple married, the Duke’s mistress Charlotte Spencer (no relation), a former milliner, was nursing her newborn daughter, another Charlotte.

Although, technically, the baby was conceived before the marriage, William kept seeing Charlotte even after his wedding. He made sure both his mistress and their child lived comfortably in a decent home and he even hired a nurse, Mrs Gardner, for little Charlotte. Things went well until 1778, when the Duke finally tired of his mistress. Shortly after he dumped her, Charlotte died. Life was not easy for an illegitimate and motherless child, and who knows what might have happened to Charlotte if William hadn’t taken both her and her nurse into her home.

Not a lot of wives would react nicely to having their husband’s illegitimate child live under her roof. And Georgiana had, so far, also failed in her duty to give her a husband an heir. Four years after the wedding, the couple was still childless. But the Duchess of Devonshire loved children and she was really excited at the prospect of adopting the little girl. After her first meeting with Charlotte, Georgiana wrote to her horrified mother:

She is a very healthy good humour’d looking child, I think, not very tall; she is amazingly like the Duke, I am sure you would have known her anywhere. She is the best humour’d little thing you ever saw, vastly active and vastly lively, she seems very affectionate and seems to like Mrs Gardner very much. She has not good teeth and has often the toothache, but I suppose that does not signify as she has not changed them yet, and she is the most nervous little thing in the world, the agitation of coming made her hands shake so, that they are scarcely recover’d today.

Georgiana always treated Charlotte as her own. This was such an unusual behaviour that sent many tongues wagging, but Georgiana didn’t care. Instead, the little girl, who had no surname, was given the last name of Williams (naming illegitimate children after their father was a common practice at the time), and introduced the girl to anyone as an orphan relation of the Spencers.

When she was nine years old, Charlotte got a new governess, Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana’s frenemy and the Duke’s would-be mistress. The arrangement seemed to suit both Elizabeth, who would both be closer to the Devonshire family and receive a stable income, and to Charlotte, who had not thrived under the care of Mrs Gardner. Soon after the decision was taken, the two departed from France. This would allow Bess to heal from her cough (the gentler climate was supposed to do her good) and Charlotte to refine her education.

The Devonshires, though, would soon regret their decision. Bess soon got bored with her job as governess and started partying her way through Europe, dragging the shy Charlotte with her. But, in Naples, she went too far. She, and Charlotte, moved in with two of her lovers! When Georgiana found out, she was horrified. Rather than turn Charlotte into a refined lady, her time in Europe with Bess had traumatized her. Bess lost her job, and Charlotte was sent to Paris to further her education. She returned home shortly after the revolution broke out.

In 1794, Charlotte married the Duke’s agent’s nephew. Sadly, from this point on all traces of her disappear from the historical record. Not even her face was recorded. No known portraits of her exist. We can only hope that she led a quiet and happy life with her husband.

Further reading:
The Duchess by Amanda Foreman


After sixteen years of marriage, several miscarriages and two healthy daughters, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, finally gave birth to a long-awaited heir. The happy event took place in Paris, on 21st May 1790, during the French Revolution. Georgiana had gone to Spa, in Brussels, where it was hoped the warm climate and calm atmosphere would help her conceive.

That seems to have done the trick, but once pregnant, the journey back to England had been deemed too dangerous for a woman who had miscarried several times before, so she had moved to Brussels where, a few days before the birth, the revolutionary Belgians, suspicious of her royal links, had kicked her out of the country. So, she had gone to Paris, where she had given birth to a healthy son.

News soon reached Derbyshire, England, where the church bells rang all day in celebration. The baby was named William, but everyone called him Hart, short for Marquess of Hartington, the title bestowed on him upon his birth. Soon, mother and baby were back in England. However, Hart didn’t enjoy the company of his mother for long. Georgiana had embarked on an affair with Charles Grey. When she became pregnant, her husband forced her to choose between her family and her lover and their unborn child.

Georgiana, who couldn’t stand even the thought of being separated from her three children, chose her family, but the Duke still banished her. Hart was one year old, and kept screaming, “Mama gone, Mama gone!”. He was inconsolable. Georgiana was finally allowed to returned two years later and by then, the young toddler had forgotten her. Whenever she tried to touch him, he would scream. Georgiana was devastated.

Eventually, though, mother and son became very close. Hart, who had been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, grew up into a handsome and shy man. He had lost most of his hearing, due to an infection, as a child, which probably contributed to his shyness and lack of confidence. Hart fell in love with his cousin Caroline (her mother was Harriet, Georgiana’s sister). Caroline turned him down and married William Lamb instead. Poor Hart was devastated.

So, Hart remained a bachelor all his life. That gained him the nickname The Bachelor Duke. But, of course, that didn’t mean he had sworn off women. He still kept several mistresses. He also dedicated a lot of his time to redecorate and improve his eight houses, including Chatsworth, the family’s country house, where he entertained his friends, which included Charles DIckens, Czar Nicholas, and the Prince Regent. When he became king in 1821, Hart carried the Orb at his coronation.

Hart was a good businessman and managed to pay off his parents’ debts after their deaths. He then gracefully got rid of Bess, his father’s second wife, who had demanded titles and money. He was also Lord Chamberlain of the Household between 1827 and 1828 and again between 1830 and 1834. In 1826, he was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary to the Russian Empire on the coronation of Czar Nicholas I, and a year later, he was made a Knight of the Garter. Hart died at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, on 18 January 1858. His title was inherited by his cousin, William Cavendish, 2nd Earl of Burlington.

Further reading:
The Duchess by Amanda Foreman