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Caroline St Jules

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and her best friend, Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster fell pregnant around the same time. It would’ve been a lovely coincidence if the babies didn’t share the same father, Georgiana’s husband William. Awkward. While Georgiana, as the legitimate spouse, was allowed to give birth to her second daughter Harriet in the comfort of her home, Bess was discreetly sent abroad. Her daughter Caroline Rosaline was born, a few days before Harriet, in an Italian hostel/brothel.

Bess wasn’t even allowed to raise her own daughter. Baby Caroline spent the first few weeks of her life with a poor family her parents didn’t know before being handed over to a respectable middle-class family. Years later, the ever persuasive Bess convinced the Comte St Jules to adopt her and give her his name.

Bess hoped to bring her daughter to England and raise her with Georgiana’s daughters, but the Duke had other ideas. He sent her to Paris, to be educated together with her other illegitimate step-sister Charlotte, who had been conceived shortly before the Duke’s marriage to Georgiana so that time at least he hadn’t, technically, committed adultery.

Bess eventually had her wish. Help came from the most unlikely of sources. Lady Spencer, Georgiana’s mother, had always despised Bess. But circumstances outside her control meant that, for once, Lady Spencer had to put her personal feelings aside. In 1790 Georgiana gave birth to her son Hart just outside Paris during the French Revolution. In her hurry to escape the country and bring her family to safety, Lady Spencer allowed the two illegitimate daughters of the Duke to go with her.

To be fair to Lady Spencer, she actually liked Caroline, whom she found to be very obedient. Georgiana’s friend Fanny Burney wasn’t so nice. She described the young girl as “fat and full of mincing little affections and airs.” Ouch! Her harsh judgement may have been influenced by her dislike for Bess. Mother and daughter were said to have similar personalities, which is probably why the young Caroline was her father’s favourite child.

Caroline’s illegitimacy and her unpopular mother didn’t prevent her from marrying well. The huge dowry of $30,000 bestowed on her by the Duke surely helped. So, on 17 May 1809, she married George Lamb, the son of Lady Melbourne and the younger brother of William Lamb, later Lord Melbourne. William had married Caroline Ponsonby, daughter of Georgiana’s sister Harriet.

To avoid confusion, the two Carolines were referred to as Caro William and Caro George. But while Caroline Posonby was very happy with her husband, Caroline St Jules’ marriage was a bitter mistake. The couple never had any children, and it was even rumoured that the marriage was never consummated.

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

An Uncaring Fiancé

When Georgiana Spencer agreed to marry William, Duke of Devonshire, she erroneously believed he had the same character as her father: distant, cold and awkward in public, but warm and affectionate in private. Unfortunately, she was wrong. Her fiancé was just distant and cold. An incident that happened when they were in Bath, and that was recorded by Mary Granville in her autobiography, should have made her realize the truth. Sadly, it didn’t.

Spencer’s, &c, still at Bath. One night, at a ball, Lady G. S.* overcome with heat, fainted away, which of course made a little bustle. His (philosophical) Grace was at the other end of the room and ask’d ” What’s that?” they told him, and he replied with his usual demureness (alias dulness), “I thought the noise —was—among—the women.”

The Duke didn’t even try to go over to Georgiana to see how she was. He just carried on as if nothing had happened. Poor Georgiana!

*Georgiana Spencer

Further reading:
The autobiography and correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany

The Devonshire Amusement

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was the subject of many satirical prints that ridiculed not only her fashion sense but also her involvement in politics. In a time when women were supposed to stay at home taking care of their husbands and children, a woman who overstepped these boundaries was seen as threatening and out of control and was thought to be of loose morals. And Georgiana did overstep the boundaries when, in 1784, the year her first child was finally born after years of miscarriages, she became the first woman to canvass for a political leader. The candidate she supported at the Westminster elections was Charles James Fox.

Satirists and cartoonists had a field day with it. One of the most famous prints published in that year was The Devonshire Amusement, which could succinctly be described with the words of a contemporary newspaper: “while her Grace is busied in canvassing the Constituents, her domestic husband is employed in the nursery”. The Duke too is ridiculed in this print for being a weak man not able to control his wife. Although I doubt he cared much about what the papers said about him… The Devonshire Amusement is divided in two parts.

On the left, the “Political Mad” Duchess. She’s wearing ostrich feathers in her hair (she was often ridiculed for introducing this fashion) and a Fox favour on her bodice, while a loosen garter, with the motto “Cavendo tutus” on it, appears from under her petticoat. Cavendo tutus is the Cavendish family motto and means “safe through caution”. In one hand, Georgiana’s holding a staff which has on it the head of Fox (he can be easily identified by the two fox tails hanging from the staff) and a cross-piece with the word “liberty” written on it. In her other hand, she’s holding a print depicting The Prince of Wales (the future George IV), who was one of the leading figures of the Whig party and a friend of Georgiana. The Duchess is saying: “A Prince should not be limited”. At the feet, on the ground, there’s a peace of paper that bears the words “Secret Influence”, while above her head a bird is flying and saying: “No Tax on Maidenheads no Wray”.

On the right is depicted Georgiana’s husband William. He’s sitting in a chair, which has a ducal coronet on the back, with his daughter on his lap. Next to him, clean towels are hanging on a line, which suggests the Duke is busy changing a nappy. But he’s not happy about it. He’s saying: “This Work does not suit my Fancy. Ah William every one must be cursed that like thee takes a Politic Mad Wife”. A paper titled “Letters to Married Women” is hanging from his coat-pocket, while on the ground there’s another sheet with the words “Your Votes are requested for C. J. Fox”. Behind him, on the wall is hanging a portrait of him with horns, which hints at the fact he’s a cuckold. The room is also furnished with a shelf with pottery on top of it, a table on which are a tea-pot and a cup, while at the Duke’s feet lies the baby’s cradle.

What I really like about this print is that, although at the time it was clearly intended as an insult to the Devonshire couple, now it can be seen to represent women’s emancipation and their freedom to choose their own path in life. And it is also a perfect example of why I am fascinated with Georgiana. She wasn’t just a pretty face setting the latest fashions, she also had a personality to boot, was involved in politics and had an influential role in the Whig party at a time when women were usually confined to their domestic duties.