Friday, June 13, 2008

Tart of the Week: Bess Foster




Okay. It's time to get down and dirty. If the tarts were having a party, this one would be the belle of the ball. So what better way to "celebrate" my most paranoid of days than to introduce a key player in the life of Georgiana, Lady Elizabeth 'Bess' Foster.

In 1782 on a healing trip to bath, Georgiana and the Duke met Bess, who would become a key player in the theatrics of their lives forever more. Instantly she analyzed them for what they were: lonely. Immediately she put a plan into action, and told her sob story. She was born to the notorious Herveys, an aristocratic family with barely any money. She married John Thomas Foster, whom she later claimed frightened her and consequently resisted the match. However, records show she was happy about it at the time. By the time she had her second son (her first son Augustus is an ancestor to Anna Wintour) the marriage was a disaster. Foster seduced Bess' maid and then shortly afterward kicked her (Bess) out, securing the custody of his two sons. I am sure she retold this harrowing tale with many embellishments to the Duke and Duchess who immediately took her in. So began 20 plus years worth of puppetry in the Devonshire home.

Bess manipulated everyone around her with her damsel in distress act (she was one of those, 'I know I am cute types'). Unfortunately the Duke and Duchess never seemed to see it. Many others did including Georgiana's mother Lady Spencer, who spent many years criticizing Bess verbally and through letters. Bess was even bold enough to add post-scripts on Georgiana's letters to her mother, the nerve! Bess quickly became Georgiana's best friend and a permanent guest in her homes. Given Georgiana's tendencies they could have been more than just friends, but thanks to Victorian ancestors censoring old letters, we will never fully know the truth. With the enthusiasm of a girl in Elementary school, Lady Bess would even attempt to dress like Georgiana (well who didn't) reusing her clothes. Just as quickly as a friendship developed with Georgiana, an affair developed with the Duke. Two children were the result of this affair that continued throughout the years in front of Georgiana. "Why would she put up with this shit?" you might be asking. Well my friends, that is the art of manipulation. I can tell you she didn't like it but her dependency on the friendship (Bess manipulated Georgiana through her insecurities) made her very forgiving of this fault.

Bess, like her Duke-lover, is said to have had affairs with many including Ercole Cardinal Consalvi (a man of the cloth), John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (well, who hadn't slept with him), Count Axel von Fersen (Marie's Man), Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, and Valentine Richard Quin, 1st Earl of Dunraven (married). She really lived in a fantasy thinking she was some sort of gift from God because she was bff with Georgiana and the Duke, but really that was the only reason people tolerated her. Once when she needed a place to stay in France, Georgiana wrote her references to her dear friends the Polignacs (who would do anything for her). The Polignacs, being a fun bunch welcomed Bess in but soon despised her. Bess left confused.

When Georgiana died in 1806 Bess quickly swooped in and forced the sad Duke to marry her, against his legit children's wishes. She then proceeded to bully him into making their bastards legitimate. When the Duke finally died (not in peace obviously!) Georgiana's children had to bribe Bess to just leave them alone finally. They never considered her a Duchess of Devonshire and just wanted to be rid of her and her nasty ways.

51 comments:

Lo said...

i KNEW it was gonna be bess i totally knew! but i am not sure how much i like her -so i was like...no shes not a tart gr! haha

Heather Carroll said...

Oh she is so tart I can taste the sour from here. I had to leave a lot out to make it blog-friendly, but is such a conniving backstabber!

Elyse said...

What a thoroughly entertaining summary! :D Bess is someone you love to hate.

Heather Carroll said...

Oh ISN'T she! I think we've all had a Bess in our lives at some point.

Elisabeth said...

Waaoo... I didn't know Bess was like that.
I like very much the second portrait you posted by Kauffamnn but I didn't know the woman who sit in was so...eeeerk!!!

Heather Carroll said...

Well maybe I'm biased, I just picked up a new book called Elizabeth and Georgiana, which is basically a biography of Bess trying to set the record straight that she wasn't such a hag. I have yet to read it; I got as far as the introduction which was already beginning to defend her and I put it back on my bookshelf.
I guess I'm not ready to accept her as a protagonist!

But yes, Bess did turn out some great portraits...(at the Duke's expense)!

Anonymous said...

Is this story of bess is true

Heather Carroll said...

Yes. Georgiana's biographer, Amanda Foreman likes to summarize Bess as being a sort of "celebrity stalker" as in her affection of G wasn't genuine. It was more that she wanted to be G. However, to her credit, G did love her and find a comfort in her, and Bess did help her out with many of her gambling debt problems (not in paying them of course, but in helping to lessen the blow when she would have to admit them to the Duke).

Anonymous said...

Great website, just found it and planned on reading more.

Anonymous said...

Oh the nerve of that woman! Not only backstabbing, also the husband stealer! Ugh! After watching the movie I was so mad and couldn't believe G actually put up with it for so many years!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

just wanted to say, i just found your site, and i love it! also, i recently watched The Dutchess, and my heart broke for what G had to go thru. She put up with alot, but women in that time didn't have the same choices we have today....it's just sad. but, it today's term's, Bess was a B***h.

Heather Carroll said...

Thank you so much! You should read the bio just to get to the true depths of the Bess mess. I hope to see you around more!

Neri-chan said...

OMG. I just found this blog site when I was googling for Georgiana Spencer. And I so love it! Please post some more.

Heather Carroll said...

Thanks, I hope to see you around more!!

Anonymous said...

i watched the dutchess and i made out bess was lovely. Was she really like this??

Heather Carroll said...

This is based on what Georgiana biography (which the movie was based on) said. The Duchess portrayed Bess as very assertive and not nearly as manipulative as she was in real life.

Anonymous said...

"The Polignacs, being a fun bunch welcomed Bess in but soon despised her. Bess left confused."
-nice. haha!

Heather Carroll said...

Ha ha, thankye kindly!

Angela Martin said...

My sister has just finished reading a biography of Bess (called appropriately 'Bess') and it seems that the author is suggesting that Hart was actually Bess's son - that he loved her and spent a lot of time with her after his father's death 7 and that he was with her when she died???? I know Hart was a sweet natured boy... but could he have really been so close to the woman who made his own siblings lives so difficult???

Heather Carroll said...

Well, I think that Hart was just an all around nice guy. Which means he, like his mother, was probably taken advantage of throughout his life. That's why he was the only Cavendish child who was close to Bess. In Foreman's biography on Georgiana she argues against the theories that Bess was the actual mother.

Anonymous said...

Thats interesting, the relation to Anna Wintour, she is my older sisters idol, so I try to get her more interested in the 18th century fashion and etc. since i happen to love it, since i'm a male, Im critisized by it, but I found the manipulation bess did to the duke and duchess completely brilliant, although I don't support it, it was a smart plan, but to marry the duke was just a stupid idea for Bess.

~Kinzcove

Check out my youtube at http://www.youtube.com/Kinzcove

Lessons Incredible Fun Experimentation = LIFE said...

In the movie, when I first saw it, Bess seemed to be a headstrong woman with an assertive-I-Know-what-I-want attitude. At first, she seemed to be alright, but I do admit that in the movie I had a strange feeling about her.
After reading this article I re-watched the movie, and did see the manipulation side to her -- but I had to read in-between the lines.
Now it makes me wonder (from the movie) if the Duke REALLY "threw" himself onto Bess, now I think she would have been the one to "throw" herself onto him.
Poor Georgiana. I used to be friends with someone that was manipulative, thankfully, I am no longer gullible -- I wish that Georgiana had the same trait in this circumstance.

Thank you for posting this blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Okay when i watched the movie, I HATED how Bess and The Duke had an affair! Bess was a liar and was always making excuses to be "acceptable" in people's eyes. I just want to punch something everytime i think of what Bess and The Duke did! Then Georgiana didn't really get any happiness other than the love of her children, while The Duke and Bess continued on with their little "arrangement", even though The Duke "claimed" to love her. She even had to give up her child that she had with the Earl, even though the Duke raised his illegitimate children, it just wasn't fair!It just makes me so mad! I believe that the Duke was jealous of how Gorgiana had an affair with The Earl. Overall, Bess was a tart and it's funny how people (200 years later) still hate her, haha!

Anonymous said...

I have been waiting for someone to agree with me that Bess was a complete tart! Thanks for straightening out how Bess really was a liar and used people, it makes me so mad and it's 200 years later, haha!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if anyone knows wheter or not it is true that Georgiana gave her blessing(?!)for Elisabeth and William to marry after her death? If read this now on some sites and I cannot believe that this was the case!

I just noticed by the way that Georgiana and Elisabeth both died on the 30th of March...just a little fact I wanted to throw out there, thought that was very strange!

P.s. Love this site!

Heather Carroll said...

Thank you! I personally don't know of any blessing and I thought it was odd that they said that at the end of the movie.

Anonymous said...

Please learn to spell. I couldn't make it through the article because of the many, many mistakes.

Heather Carroll said...

Please learn some manners!

Bad spelling doesn't look nearly as bad as anonymous comments that could be voiced nicely on a blog.

Anonymous said...

I can't STAND Bess! She is horrible! I wish Georgianna could have seen her for what she was.

Kell said...

Fascinating article! I love history and am currently reading Privilege and Scandal,the biography of Harriet Spencer,Georgiana's sister. It's a wonderful book but I'm only on page 32 cause I keep finding things I want to look up on the net. I can't wait to read Geogiana's biography. What interesting sisters they were!!

Melinda in Australia said...

I read the Duchess years ago. And I was so shocked that such a powerful pair of aristocrats could have been so sr.wed over. There is no doubt, Bess was an opportunistic whore. But lets remember she was cast out of her marraige, had no income and of a class that couldnt earn one. Issue is, even when ur down on your luck u dont shag your friends man... Well, maybe once (but not 4eva or marry)

Melinda in Australia said...

Further comment and query. Georgaina had a deep and supportive relationship with her sister Harriet. And they shared loads of serious secrets. So why in gods name did she need Bess??? Also Harriet was held in the highest esteem by the Duke and she did assist in breaking the news to him about G's debts often. Ive never figured how Bess made herself so essential to them.

Debra said...

I just watched The Duchess for the first time (procrastinator) and now I'm learning more about G. online. I'm glad I found this site ~ looks very cool, very interesting. The reason I'm having a hard time buying anything that Bess said is because she had the nerve to actually EDIT G's personal letters, sometimes chopping out whole sections of a page. Obviously she has left a very slanted impression of herself to history! Also, it's fascinating to realize that Diana was a descendant.

Heather Carroll said...

@Melinda, A good question and one I can only answer with the fact that Bess was very very manipulative!

@Debra, Bess did the same sort of thing with her own personal diary too, writing it with an audience in mind!

Oh well, the Victorian ancestors did more editing damage than Bess in the end.

Anonymous said...

I bet the Duke was smiling!

Bess was a stunner.

Given G's tendencies, I reckon there was some 3-some action going on....

:-)

Char said...

Char said
G was the whore having another man's baby whilst married to the duke and Bess protected her then G's lover Charles Grey chose his politics over G and their baby Eliza, G was an immature spoilt rich brat who the duke only married a womb

laverne said...

Just watched the movie "The Duchess" and I could not believe how a woman who believed in the right to be free could not be "free."
I'm glad I live in the 21st century.
I really enjoyed the movie, which prompted me to look for more information.
Laverne

misstotokaos said...

In defense of Bess, though she was a tart, she did seem to really care about both Georgiana and her sister Harriet. Not only did she VOLUNTARILY join Georgiana in exile when Devonshire discovered that she was 6 months pregnant with Charles Fox's kid, even though she knew that Lady Spencer, who was NOT happy considering Georgiana's illigitimate bun in the oven, was insistant on coming with them, she also knew that Devonshire had cut off Georgiana, and even Bess's allowance, so the ONLY source of money they would have would be whatever Harriet could somehow scrape together, without letting anyone know why she needed it. As is being stuck in exile with Georgiana for over a year wasn't enough of a reason to cut her some slack, she also stuck by Harriet through out most of her pregnanacy with her and Granville's second illigitimate child, and helped her to deliver the child in secret. So tart though she might have been, she still had a good heart deep down inside. Nor were Georgiana or her sister Harriet paragons of virtue either.

I highly suggest the book Privilage and Scandal by Janet Gleeson, which is a VERY well written biography of Harriet.

Heather Carroll said...

You are absolutely right, Privilege and Scandal is an absolutely fantastic book...I have a review of it somewhere around here. It's true, Bess isn't the devil incarnate- on her deathbed she had a lock of Georgiana's hair. However, I find people tend to not want to read flattering descriptions of Bess and I don't mind obliging!

Mrs.Lindner's Art Room Blog said...

Re-watched "Duchess" recently and, wanting to learn more found your lovely blog! Will be back often- thanks!

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else think that the portrayal of the Duke in the movie was pretty harsh? From the Foreman book, it doesn't seem likely that he would have physically mistreated Georgiana.

Anonymous said...

I just saw "The Duchess" and though the cinematography, locations and costumes were lavish, the uninspired script left me hungry to research the Cavendish/Devonshires further.

One mustn't judge either Georgiana or Bess too harshly, both women having lived in a world where being female and aristocratic was the equivalent of having bound feet. On the exterior it seems G was excessive and Bess a manipulator, yet neither woman, though upperclass, had any individual choices other than the clothes they wore, food and drink they consumed (or purged) and the pursuit of amorous adventures. Bess may have been manipulative but I believe was motivated to have an affair with the Duke in an attempt to secure both her and her children's future. An aristocratic woman could not work, and would go penniless and need to live off the kindness of other nobles rather than have the shame of working as commoners did. How different is it with the royals of today?!!!

We musn't attach 21st century mores in critiquing either of the two Duchesses behaviours, as judging by how the Duke treated them both, and English society at the time, both were prisoners of their gender and social class.

Anonymous said...

I see that in a lot of ways Bess wanted to be G..I feel badly for both woman...I find it shocking that G did put up with Bess s affair with the duke...I think it came as a shock to G that bess would betray her this way..But Her Love for Bess was so strong Because Bess made G feel she could not do with out her...I do think in her own weird way Bess did truely love G and G her.....Not in a gay way but in a sisterly best friend way.....I mean she was wearing G s hair when she died and had a lock of it beside her bed.....

nokomarie said...

What a nasty piece of work. Famous people are out of their minds. It's a wonder that the entirety of the nobility don't have congenital syphilis.

Michael Creighton said...

Do you have any info about Mary, Countess of Erne, who was Bess's sister? Mary married the quite elderly John Creighton first Earl of Erne and apparently had an affair with Abraham Creighton, the Earl's young son by his previous marriage, producing a son who it seems is my great-great-great grandfather. Mary was in Bath in 1781 with Bess, having left the first Earl following her affair with his young son, when they both met Georgiana. Quite a pair Mary and Elizabeth, though Mary disappears from public life to a large extent.

Amy said...

My Goodness! It would seem that women have been cunning and malicious creatures from the start, doesn't it? I despise the character of Lady Bess, and consider it a shame that her full name is Elizabeth. I have read about and personally known some lovely women with that ancient and proud name. How horrible that such a fame crazed, wicked woman should have the name, too. It is my hope that younger women will not romanticize the actions of the depraved character of Lady Bess. I have noticed a trend in the actions of popular culture to ignore the sanctity of womanhood (to be honorable to thine ownself first and foremost and doing so reveal the innate honor of all women) and launch themselves into experiences that debase first them as individuals and, as a result, lower the public well being of all of womankind. Truly, I hope that other women will view the historic behavior of Lady Bess and her many lovers (many of whom were married men - and presumably also a few married women) and ask the question, "Have you no shame, woman! Do you care for no one but yourself and yourself, alone?!"

Staleys.blogspot.com said...

Very interesting site, just found you. I, for some reason I am thoroughly engrossed with any article, clipping, etc., having to do with The Duchess of Devonshire. Loved the movie and am searching any and all information regarding her life. Seems like there sure was a lot of "tarts" back in the day. So much sex! Did anyone have morals back then or was that just normal? Anyhow, thanks for this great blog

Anonymous said...

She reminds me of Camilla Parker-Bowes!!!!!!

Heather Carroll said...

History repeats itself :)

bonnie monsanto said...

Fictiionalized version of this story to be found in a book called "The Man in Grey" by Lady Eleanor Smith. A great read if you don't take it too seriously - there was also a movie with the same title.

Heather Carroll said...

Had no idea! Thanks for letting me know!