Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire
The Duchess of Devonshire
Bess in 1787, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds
|Born||13 May 1759|
|Died||30 March 1824(aged 64)|
Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (née Elizabeth Christiana Hervey, subsequently Lady Elizabeth Foster), (13 May 1759 – 30 March 1824), is best known as an early woman novelist, and as the close friend of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth supplanted the Duchess, gaining the Duke's affections and later marrying him.
Lady Elizabeth was the daughter of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, and was familiarly known as "Bess". She was born in a small house in Horringer, St Edmundsbury, Suffolk, England. In 1776, she married Irishman John Thomas Foster (born 1747). He was a first cousin of the brothers John Foster, last Speaker of the (united) Irish House of Commons, and Bishop (William) Foster. When her father became the Earl of Bristol in 1779, she became Lady Elizabeth Foster. The Fosters had three children; two sons, Frederick (3 October 1777 – 1853) and Augustus John Foster (December 1780 – 1848), and a daughter, Elizabeth, who was born prematurely on 17 November 1778 and lived only 8 days. The couple lived (after 1779) with her parents at Ickworth House in Suffolk. The marriage was not a success, and the couple separated within five years, plausibly after Foster had a relationship with a servant. Foster retained custody of their sons, and did not allow the boys to see Bess for 14 years.
In May 1782, Bess met the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in Bath, and quickly became Georgiana's closest friend. From this time, she lived in a triad with Georgiana and her husband, William, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, for about 25 years. She bore two children by the Duke: a daughter, Caroline St Jules, and a son, Augustus (later Augustus Clifford, 1st Baronet), who were raised at Devonshire House with the Duke's legitimate children by Georgiana. With Georgiana's blessing, Lady Elizabeth married the Duke in 1809, three years after Georgiana's death, during which time she had continued to live in his household.
Bess is also said to have had affairs with several other men, including Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, Count Axel von Fersen, Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, and Valentine Quin, 1st Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl. There is some evidence that Quin fathered an illegitimate son by her, who became the noted physician, Frederic Hervey Foster Quin. Quin joined the Duchess as her travelling physician in Rome in December 1820, and afterwards attended her in that city during her fatal illness in March 1824.
Lady Elizabeth was a friend of the French author Madame de Staël, with whom she corresponded from about 1804. Lady Elizabeth Foster was depicted by Hayley Atwell in the 2008 film adaptation of The Duchess.
With John Thomas Foster:
- Frederick (3 October 1777 – 1853)
- Elizabeth (17 November 1778 – 25 November 1778)
- Sir Augustus Foster, Bt (December 1780 – 1848)
With William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (prior to their marriage):
- Caroline Rosalie Adelaide (1785–1830), who later as Caroline St Jules married George Lamb
- Sir Augustus Clifford, Bt (1788–1877)
- Miss Elizabeth Hervey (1759–1776)
- Mrs John Foster (1776–1779)
- The Lady Elizabeth Foster (1779–1809)
- Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire (1809–1824)
- Vere Foster (editor), The Two Duchesses.., Family Correspondence relating to.., Blackie & Son, London, Glasgow & Dublin, 1898.
- Vere Foster (1819–1900), her grandson, was a renowned Irish philanthropist and educationalist.
- Brian Masters, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Hamish Hamilton, 1981, (pages 298–299, re. Wintour).
- Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1998).
- Caroline Chapman & Jane Dormer,Elizabeth and Georgiana, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2002.
- Archival material relating to Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire listed at the UK National Archives