Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

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"Elizabeth Foster" redirects here. For other uses, see Elizabeth Foster (disambiguation).
Her Grace
The Duchess of Devonshire
Bess Foster.jpg
Bess in 1787, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Born (1759-05-13)13 May 1759
Died 30 March 1824(1824-03-30) (aged 64)
  • Lady Elizabeth Foster
  • Duchess of Devonshire

Elizabeth Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (13 May 1759 – 30 March 1824), was an English novelist and duchess. She is best known as Lady Elizabeth Foster, the close friend of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth supplanted the Duchess, gaining the Duke's affections and later marrying him.[1]


Elizabeth Foster's second husband, with whom she lived from 1782 on: William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire

Known as Bess, she was born Elizabeth Christiana Hervey in a small house in Horringer, St Edmundsbury, Suffolk. Her father, Frederick Hervey, later became the fourth Earl of Bristol.

In 1776, Elizabeth married Irishman John Thomas Foster (1747–1796). He was a first cousin of the brothers John Foster, last Speaker of the (united) Irish House of Commons, and Bishop (William) Foster. The Fosters had two sons, Frederick (3 October 1777 – 1853) and Augustus John Foster (1780 – 1848). Their only daughter, also named Elizabeth, was born prematurely on 17 November 1778 and lived only eight days.

When her father succeeded as the earl in 1779, she became Lady Elizabeth Foster. The couple resided 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.

Lady Elizabeth with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Guérin, ca. 1791

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 illegitimate 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. Georgiana grew ill and died in 1806; three years later, Bess married the duke and became the Duchess of Devonshire. He died two years later.

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.[citation needed] 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.[2]

Lady Elizabeth was a friend of the French author Madame de Staël, with whom she corresponded from about 1804.

Film portrayals[edit]

Lady Elizabeth Foster was depicted by Hayley Atwell in the 2008 film The Duchess.[3]


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):


  • 13 May 1759 – 1776: Miss Elizabeth Hervey
  • 1776 – 23 December 1779: Mrs John Foster
  • 23 December 1779 – 1809: The Lady Elizabeth Foster
  • 1809 – 29 July 1811: Her Grace The Duchess of Devonshire
  • 29 July 1811 – 30 March 1824: Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Devonshire



  • 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.


  1. ^ Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1998)
  2. ^  Boase, George Clement (1896). "Quin, Frederic Hervey Foster". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 47. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  3. ^ The New Yorker

External links[edit]