Obituary of the Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1775-6
Huntington Art Gallery
Obituary of the Duchess of Devonshire

The Universal Magazine of April 1806

Died at Devonshire house, Piccadilly, aged 49, on the 30th of March, after a short but severe illness, her grace, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. She was eldest daughter of the late Earl Spencer, and Georgiana, his countess, daughter of Stephen Poyntz, Esq. was born June 7, 1757, and married to the present Duke of Devonshire, June 6, 1774. She was educated under the immediate inspection of her venerable mother, the present Countess Dowager Spencer, and indicated even from her infancy the most flattering promises of worth and loveliness, and on her presentation at court, like a comet above the horizon, all inquiries centered in who was to be the happy man destined to receive the fair hand of so much grace and beauty.

Gainsborough’s Georgiana, on display at Chatsworth

The young Duke of Devonshire was reserved for the honour and soon after the union of this noble pair, her grace not only became the head, but actually gave, the fashion to every article of female dress, not an apron, gown, cap or bonnet but were Devonshire. So high a station did the duchess retain among the fashionable world, that when the contest with America brought our military into camps, then was her grace found dressed in the uniform of the Derby militia of which the Duke of Devonshire was colonel, and from that time every lady, young or old, became dressed a la militaire. At the first drawing room which the duchess attended after her marriage, she was accompanied by all the distinguished females of the two great families from which she was descended, and to which she was allied. It is asserted that she was literally loaded with jewels, even to produce inconvenience. In the course of the summer of 1792, the Duchess of Devonshire visited the continent, in company with her mother, the Countess Spencer, and her sister Lady Duncannon, both of whom were in declining states of health. During this excursion her grace mixed with the company of several foreign literati, among whom we may enumerate Sausure, Tissot, Lavater, Necker, and the English historian Gibbon; on this occasion public fame attributed to her a short descriptive poem, not void of taste, entitled, the Passage of the Mountain of St Gothard. During the latter part of her life the duchess did not appear in the gay world so much as she had formerly done, yet at the institution of the Pic Nic society in 1801, she stood forward as one of its principal promoters; but the formidable opposition which was organized against these theatrical dilettanti, soon became more than a match for the subscribers to this favourite dramatic project. In the cause of one of the greatest statesmen of the age, (we allude to Mr. Fox) she interested herself frequently and essentially; and in the Westminster election of 1784, her grace took so active a part in favour of that gentleman as subjected her in some degree to the censure of public opinion. The disorder which terminated the life of this distinguished personage, is said to have been an abscess of the liver, the attack of which was first perceived about four months ago, while she sat at table at the Marquis of Stafford’s, and which from that period so increased its feverish progress, as eventually resisted all the efforts of the first medical skill. Her mind was richly stored with useful as well as ornamental endowments; she was well read in history, but the Belles Lettres had principally attracted her attention. Though forced into female supremacy by that general admiration which a felicitious combination of charms had excited, she yet found leisure for the systematic exercise of a natural benevolence, which yielding irresistibly and perhaps too indiscriminately, to the supplications of distress, subjected her to embarrassments that the world erroneously imputed to causes less amiable and meritorious. Her grace has left issue, 1. Lady Georgiana Cavendish, born July 12, 1783, married March 21, 1801 to Viscount Morpeth. 2. Lady Henrietta, born August 12, 1785. 3. William George, Marquis of Hartington, born May 21, 1790.

Hart, later the 6th Duke of Devonshire, on display at Chatsworth

3 thoughts on “Obituary of the Duchess of Devonshire”

  1. There was a lot of her life left out of that obituary! It makes me sad that this beautiful woman lost her looks in later life, having some disease of the eye which was mistreated.

    only other thing I can say is, that last sentence of the obit was 6 lines long. Whew!

  2. They definitely knew how to couch the less than acceptable moments in one's life in the most amorphous of terms.

    She was far more gracious than I. I'd have taken some sheep shears to the Duke and his mistress. They'd be wearing wigs for a reason when I finished with them.

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