81. ‘The Duchess’ by Amanda Foreman.

Before I start, I have to say I was initially very put off by the obvious reference to Martin Bashirs 1995 interview with Princess Diana on the cover, regardless of how true the quotation is to both marriages.. ‘There were three of us in this marriage, so obviously it got a little crowded’. Of course there is a link between Diana and Georgiana – they were both Spencer daughters, brought up at Althorp House. I was also disappointed that Keira Knightley as the Duchess of Devonshire in the 2008 movie was used as the cover illustration, instead of the rather marvellous portrait of the real Georgiana in her picture hat by Gainsborough, below. But, of course, it’s all to do with marketing, and once I had got past that, well, what a book!

I enjoyed this so much. Yes, it is history and a biography – no artistic license allowed – but about two chapters in I had already decided I would have really LIKED this woman if I could have met her!

Born into the immense wealth and privilege of Britain’s aristocracy in the 1700’s, Georgiana, unusually tall, well educated and unconventionally attractive in an era when women were supposed to be dainty, shrinking and quiet, was destined to make a ‘great’ marriage, which she did, to the insanely wealthy 5th Duke of Devonshire. It wasn’t a happy marriage however, and, although it appears that seeking love outside of marriage was accepted at the time, it definitely wasn’t until after the birth of a legitimate male heir. And it was, ‘obviously’, the woman’s fault if said heir failed to materialise. Unfortunately for Georgiana, it took two girls and several miscarriages before the requisite heir was born.

It was certainly not a dull life for Georgiana. She became a fashion icon, and featured regularly in the media of her times, a trend setter – the milliners of England were overwhelmed with demands for picture hats after Georgiana’s portrait showed her in one. She was a compulsive gambler, spending most of her life in horrible debt and trying to conceal the extent of her debts from her husband. Her closest female friend ended up having an affair with her husband, she was caught up in the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution, and she was a political force to be reckoned with.

The author also presents her well researched analysis of the politics of the time, something Georgiana threw herself into, supporting the Liberal Whig party both on the hustings and by hosting dinners and soirees. Georgiana’s own letters, both to and from her, and excerpts from her diaries, add a wonderful and very touching glimpse into her world. And I was left in no doubt that she would probably have been Prime Minister herself had she been born 200 years later than she was.

In short, a good biography of an intelligent, beautiful and caring woman; eminently readable, well written, and enlightening. I highly recommend. This copy, which belonged to Mum, has already been gifted forward, but here’s an Amazon link to purchase your own copy should you wish to.