Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Duchess of Devonshire
Princess Di’s great-great-great-great aunt.

by Sheryl Hoyt writing as SaralynnHoyt
I recently saw the movie The Duchess, with Ralph Fiennes and Keira Knightley after having read the book Georgiana, by Amanda Foreman many years ago. This is one of my favorite time periods and after having visited Versailles in 2009, I really got a feel for how these mega-rich aristocrats lived.

The movie was actually pretty well done considering the length and depth of the book, which was generally created from actual letters written by or to the Duchess. What maybe wasn’t related very clearly in the movie was that Princess Diana was a descendant of this wildly dysfunctional couple’s family. Must be genetic.

What I found most fascinating about Lady Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was that she was deeply political in a time when women could not vote and really had no hope of such a right. Yet she was a very powerful influence and sought after political force for the emerging Whig party. She was an ally of the Right Honourable Mr. Charles Fox, who practically ran the party for decades and he discussed the current politics with her at length, according to letters saved from her estate. My guess would be this was because her husband had little interest in the subject and it was the only way for the Whig party to capture his ear. There are almost no letters saved from the Duke’s correspondence as it was common practice for them to be burned upon a high ranking person’s death in order to preserve their legacy (in case the political tide turned).

Another fascinating aspect of Georgiana’s life was her obsession with doctors and medicine. It’s a wonder she and her children weren’t poisoned by all the crazy concoctions that the surgeons and apothecaries thought up during that period. For goodness sake they prescribed mercury for their patients!

Georgiana was a maverick in fashion as well inventing the Devonshire Brown, a Devonshire Hair Powder, applied to her elaborate and slightly ridiculous hair-do’s called hair towers.  These consisted of what looked like a panorama of miniatures all arranged in a monstrous coif.

If you are interested in more information about Georgiana, just Google her and you can find many books, blogs and websites dedicated to this fascinating woman and her family.

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