Monday, March 30, 2009

The Death of a Duchess

Today marks the 203rd anniversary of Georgiana's death. Much of Georgiana's 48 years of life were marked with health issues and in the second week of March 1806 it appeared that she had contracted jaundice. Rather than her health improving over the next few days, Georgiana grew worse and everyone became more and more concerned. The yellow/orange colour of skin was not due to jaundice but another liver ailment. Unbeknownst to the doctors an abscess had formed on her liver and was killing her. Harriet moved into Devonshire House to tend to her sister and "crowds" of people came to inquire daily after the state of Georgiana's health. Doctors felt that the sickness would pass but her friends and family were gravely concerned.

By the 26th, Georgiana was seizing for eight hours. The doctors shaved off all her lovely hair and put blister plasters on her skin which did nothing but cause her more pain. Amanda Foreman writes that,

"By the twenty-seventh everyone in Devonshire House knew that Georgiana was dying. The family, friends, and servants waited for the end to come. The crowd outside the gates grew in size."
Harriet watched as her sister struggled to speak and constantly seized for days, feeling as though she was dying with her. At 3:30 in the morning of 30 March Georgiana died surround by some of the most important people in her life, her husband, mother, sister, Bess, and Little G.

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The loss of Georgiana shook everyone. The crowds continued to visit Devonshire House to pay their respects, but those closest to Georgiana were the most effected. Charles Fox sat by himself at his former canvasser's home with big, fat tears rolling down his cheeks. Little G wrote that she wished she could strew violets over her dying bed as Georgiana had strewn sweets over her life. The Prince of Wales was in a state of shock, almost not believing that she was gone. Lady Spencer had to deal with watching her favourite child die. Bess was devastated as well and also concerned that her friends' death meant that she had no valid reason to be living with the Cavendishes. She and Harriet bonded to each other in a means of support for the devastating loss

But perhaps the most affected person may be the most shocking. The Duke of Devonshire was inconsolable. In the final years of Georgiana's life the two had finally become close, and dare I say, even loving. Of course they would have their typical married-people bickering but it was if the calmer, more matronly Georgiana was the wife that Canis had always wanted. Her loss was a blow that the Duke, with his famous countenance, never really recovered from and put him in a sort of numb state until his own death. Guilt as well as the realization that Georgiana would not be holding his hand on his deathbed ate away at him. He locked himself in his room and then one night snapped. Bess stayed up all night with him and described the Duke as "hysterical." He never truly recovered from the blow.
"A woman more exalted in every accomplishment of rapturous beauty, of elevated genius, and of angelic temper, has not adorned the present age..."

The Morning Chronicle, 31 March 1806

19 comments:

Ms. Lucy said...

What a lady...Isn't it funny how she's still missed and thought about today? There's something about her that every woman can relate to, I think. Thanks for this post Heather.

cota said...

hoo georgiana was so young when she died! so sad

Judy said...

I had forgotten that Georgiana had died at 48...for that period that was probably past middle age...but she had lived a full life so perhaps that's why I thought her life had been longer.

Ingrid Mida said...

What an agonizing way to die. I cannot imagine anything more horrible!

Heather Carroll said...

Oh tell me about it! I remember when I read about it the first time I was like this would make for such an amazing movie; the death scene would bring tears to everyone's eyes. Of course The Duchess only encompassed such a tiny portion of her life. There needs to be a miniseries on Georgiana, to do her justice!

Eliza Ward said...

You'd think PBS or the BBC would've already made a miniseries out of her life. Personally I find the Charles James Fox part (I'm already dividing it into parts!) most interesting. But as Judy pointed out, she really did live quite a full life.

Eliza Ward said...

Totally off-subject, but some time ago someone was wondering if there were any photographs of people who'd had portraits painted when they were younger. I don't remember who it was or when, but there's another one on Jane Austen's World today.

Sara said...

Man, I hate going to the doctor now...I can't imagine how afraid I would have been in the 18th century! (well, pretty much any century until now). That whole bloodletting thing really freaks me out!

Sad that Canis was the most affected when she was gone...why did he always have to have a mistress? It's unfortunate how people waste perfectly good relationship potential...

Heather Carroll said...

Stupid men not appreciating the babes they have!

That's what you meant to say right ;o)

Anonymous said...

Gee, I never thought that the duke was that affected by georgiana's loss. I've always thought that he appreciated bess more that his wife. I haven't read the book yet, Ive just seen the movie twice. So that means have to grab a copy of my own so that I would be able to know the real story behind the Devonshire's.

jazibelle said...

I would love to know more about Georgiana's fabulous life. Ive just seen the movie twice, but I know that there is more than what we saw from the movie. I think I should grab a copy of that book, cant wait! and by the way, I never thought that the duke felt such a terrible feeling since Georgiana's death.

Heather Carroll said...

You must grab a copy! It's such a wonderful biography, great even for first-time biography readers. I could be biased but I think it is much more interesting than what to movie portrayed.

There are lots of used copies of it on Amazon

Or you can get this lovely version which is short and full of paintings from her life too

Anonymous said...

You stated that the Duke never fully recovered after Georgiana's death. Do you think that toward the end he started to love her the way she had always wanted, or had he "in his way" (as stated in the movie) always loved her but just didn't show it, and when she died, he was consumed with guilt about everything he did to her? Some say that he loved Bess more than his wife, I don't, especially since she forced him to marry her in the end. I don't think that he would have married Bess if she hadn't of forced him especially if he never got over Georgiana's death.

Heather Carroll said...

I don't think it was guilt, I think it was really that he loved her. They had been married for almost 30 years so even though the marriage was rocky the Duke was losing his long time companion. The movie took lots of liberties with Georgiana's story. I thought they portrayed the Duke's personality correctly but vilified him more than they needed to.

When Bess forced a marriage upon the Duke he was an old man who was a skeleton of his former self. He had lost any real passion for life. The truth is, when Georgiana retired from the spotlight and stayed more at home, she was finally the type of wife Canis had always been looking for. I think he wanted someone to spend solitary hours by the fire with his dogs with him, and Georgiana became that person toward the end of her life.

Anonymous said...

So you think that he loved Georgiana, I do too. In the movie, It indicates that Georgiana thought that Canis loved Bess early on, do you think he ever did, or did he always have more of an affection for Georgiana and his relationship with Bess was more that he thought he needed another woman and Bess (being a tart) used that power over him?
I am about to read the book and I have been trying to find info on what really happened in her life, that's why this site is great! I have learned so much...

Heather Carroll said...

You will LOVE the book! It puts the movie to shame and it is so well written you will fly through it. Georgiana had such an amazing life and you can't contain all of it in a mere 2 hours.

(I think he did love Bess too, early in their relationship but I think it fizzles to something more platonic by the end)

Anonymous said...

It's funny because I would have these arguments with my friends about whom Canis loved more, Georgiana or Bess. I just can't stand Bess, because she was a liar and used people (sleeping with her friend's husband, ugh!)and it just makes me mad! You think that he loved Bess early in their relationship, I can see that but it seemed almost like whether he loved Bess (and how much at that), he had more feelings for Georgiana and he just couldn't let Georgiana go out of his mind in that regard. It's hard to explain what I mean but it's like he cared for Bess but Georgiana held more of his heart than Bess ever could but because he felt like he had to be in control, he wouldn't let himself be taken as a whole, if you get what i mean. What do you think? I think as well that toward the end, it was more of a fondness for Bess because of everything that has happened in his and hers and Georgiana's life, than love and it was more Georgiana that had his love (not Bess) after everything.

Thank you so much for discussing this with me.

Heather Carroll said...

I think what you're trying to say is Georgiana is Miss Right whereas Bess is Miss RightNow ;)

Anonymous said...

Hahaha! Exactly! That's putting it in short terms...
In the end though, people in their time period and today would always remember Georgiana (including The Duke until his dying day) and Bess as "The tart who slept with her friend's husband)...
It's nice to know that in the end The Duke really did care for her.