Did the movie “The Duchess” (2008) have a happy ending?
More, importantly, did the life of Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire (nee Lady Georgiana Spencer, born 1757) have a happy ending?
Here are the answers to nearly every question about what happened to Georgiana:
Note: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire is an ancestor of Prince George of Cambridge and Princess Charlotte of Cambridge.
Did Georgiana ever “produce a male heir”? Yes. She had a child with her husband, the 5th Duke. Her son was William Hartington Spencer and he became the 6th Duke. So, both Georgiana and the 5th Duke felt like they had an heir who would carry on. (Though, “Hart” never had children.)
Did the male heir save the Devonshire name and riches for Georgiana and The Duke’s family? No…but it was saved.
Georgiana’s son, the 6th Duke, never produced a direct heir. Though, the line did come back to the branch of the 5th Duke, through Georgiana’s female descendants. Because…Georgiana’s daughter Georgiana, had a daughter Lady Blanche Howard. And, Blanche – Georgiana’s granddaughter – married her cousin, William Cavendish, who had inherited the title from the other side of the family tree. Then, Blanche had a male heir, Spencer Compton who became the 8th Duke.
But, then, Spencer the 8th Duke had no children, so the line came back again to the 5th Duke’s branch, more directly through Georgian’s daughter, Georgiana Cavendish. Because…our Georgiana nee Spencer, had a daughter Georgiana Cavendish, who had a son Victor Cavendish, who became the 9th Duke of Devonshire.)
So, those girls that the 5th Duke of Devonshire was not so keen on, ended up being the ones who kept the money, the title and the real estate in his family.
What happened regarding Georgiana’s daughter, born out of wedlock with Charles Gray? The child, Eliza, was sent to live as the sister of her father. Georgiana was able to visit with Eliza and correspond with her, with the child believing Georgiana to be simply a friend of the family. While Georgiana was alive, Eliza never knew who her true mother was. Though, after Georgiana died, Eliza discovered who her mother was. Eliza became friends with Georgiana’s other siblings. And, Eliza named her daughter Georgiana. At the Wikipedia entry for Eliza are two poems that Georgiana composed for her child: here.
What happened to the children after Georgiana’s death? (ie: all the children of Devonshire House during Georgiana’s reign as Duchess):
A special note on this topic: After Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire died, all of her children, including her child who was born out of wedlock, were friendly towards each other. In addition, all of the children of the household shared a sense of community and caring for each other. (Though history does not specifically tell much about the 5th Duke’s first child Charlotte after she was married off happily enough to the nephew of her parents’ agent.) All of the children of Georgiana and Bess stayed together in some sense of “family.” This included: The three children of the 5th Duke and Georgiana; Bess’s two sons with her ex-husband; and Bess’s son and daughter with the 5th Duke. The most prominent Duchess of Devonshire biographer, Amanda Foreman, writes, “The eight children belonging to Georgiana and Bess…remained on good terms with each other all their lives.”
Georgiana’s child with The Duke, Lady Georgiana Cavendish:
Married George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle and became Georgiana Howard, Countess of Carlisle.
Georgiana’s child with The Duke, Lady Harriet Cavendish:
Georgiana’s child with The Duke, Lady Harriet Cavendish (Harry-O): Married Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville (who had, oddly enough, been lover of Harry-O’s maternal aunt, and father of her aunt’s two, illegitimate children.)
Georgiana’s child with The Duke, William “Hartington” Spencer: Became the 6th Duke. Good to his siblings and to Bess’s children. A well liked member of society who made a splash in the world of art and gardening. Did not have his own children, so, after Hartington, the Devonshire line went to his second cousin.
Georgiana’s child with Charles Grey, Eliza Courtney: Eliza married Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Ellice and had children. One of Eliza’s descendants is Sarah, Duchess of York (aka “Fergie”).
Other children in the Cavendish family:
The daughter of The Duke and his lover before he married Georgiana, Charlotte Williams: Loved and treated as her own child by Georgiana. Bess was her governess for a time, which did not work very well. Charlotte was eventually married off fairly well. History does not record much about her after that.
The son of Lady Elizabeth Foster and her first husband, Frederick: Became a country gentleman.
The son of Lady Elizabeth Foster and her first husband, Augustus: Knighted in 1835 for his services to diplomacy.
The daughter of Lady Elizabeth Foster with The Duke, Caroline St. Jules: Caroline St. Jules married the Honorable George Lamb. They had no children.
The son of Lady Elizabeth Foster with The Duke, [Augustus] Clifford: Received the Royal appointment of Gentleman of Usher and became a baronet.
A historical irony about Georgiana’s off-spring: A famous pair of friends — Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York — were both descendants of the family of Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire. Diana from the legitimate family line, and Sarah from Georgiana’s daughter Eliza Courtney, whom Georgiana DofD had with her lover Charles Grey. (Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire is the great-great-great-great-aunt of Princess Diana.)
Was Georgiana appreciated?
When Georgiana died, her life with the Duke and Bess was in a relative state of domestic bliss. When Georgiana fell ill, many people came to the gates of Devonshire House to gather around. And, when she died, obituaries praised her and her contributions to society. Amanda Foreman’s book contains the quote:
Wednesday morning, the remains of the Duchess of Devonshire were interred with great funeral pomp in the Family Vaults, at St. Stephen’s Church, Derby. The hearse was met 3 miles from Derby by the whole of the County Nobility and the Duke’s tenantry residing there, who conducted the remains to the place of interment. – The Times, April 10, 1806
Georgiana has now been celebrated in the biography by Amanda Foreman, and in a successful movie “The Duchess.”
Did Lady Elizabeth Foster (“Bess”) ever become the Duchess? Yes. And, it appears that Georgiana supported Bess becoming Duchess. Because, Georgiana made Bess the administrator of Georgiana’s letters. That position made it so that no one could cast Bess entirely out of the picture, and tended to mean that Bess should stay at their home.
There is a biography of Georgiana at onthewilderside blog: here.
Many of the facts in this plot spoiler were discovered at Wikipedia or the biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman.