Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

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Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish (Hervey), Duchess of Devonshire

Also Known As: "Bess"
Birthplace: UK
Death: Died in Rome, Italy
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol and Elizabeth Hervey, Countess of Bristol
Wife of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire
Ex-wife of Sir John Thomas Foster
Mother of Elizabeth Foster; Frederick Foster; Sir Augustus Foster, 1st Baronet; Caroline Clifford and Augustus William James Clifford, 1st Baronet
Sister of Mary Caroline Crichton, Countess Erne of Crom Castle; George Hervey; Captain John Augustus Hervey, Lord Hervey; Louisa Theodosia Hervey and Frederick William Hervey, 1st Marquess of Bristol

Occupation: lady elizabeth foster- duchess of devonshire
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

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

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 acceded to the earldom of Bristol until 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 premature on 17 November 1778 and lived only 8 days. The couple lived (after 1779) with her parents at Ickworth House, the ancestral Bristol home. 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 ménage à trois with Georgiana and her husband, William, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, for about twenty-five years. She bore two children by the Duke: a son, Augustus (later Augustus Clifford, 1st Baronet), and a daughter, Caroline St. Jules, who were raised at Devonshire House with the Duke's legitimate children by Georgiana. Lady Elizabeth finally married the Duke in 1809, three years after the death of his first wife, during which time she had continued to live in his household.

Bess is also said to have had affairs with several other men, including Ercole Cardinal Consalvi, John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, Count Axel von Fersen, Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond, and Valentine Richard Quin, 1st Earl of Dunraven. There is some evidence that Quin fathered an illegitimate son by her, who became the noted physician, Frederick Hervey Foster Quin.

Bess also had literary pretensions, and was a friend of the French author Madame de Staël, with whom she corresponded from about 1804.


With John Thomas Foster:

• Frederick (3 October 1777 - 1853)

• Elizabeth (17 November 1778 - 25 November 1778)

• Augustus (December 1780 - 1848)

With William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (prior to their marriage):

• Caroline St. Jules

• Sir Augustus Clifford (1788 - 1877)

Titles :

• 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.

Comment by a book club reader :

I finished Amanda Foreman's excellent biography of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, in August with a wish to know more about her devoted friend, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was also the Duke's lover and his second wife. I wondered whether Foreman's clear partiality for Georgiana had led her to paint Bess with a blacker brush than was warranted. Therefore, I was very pleased to find a copy of Caroline Chapman's Elizabeth and Georgiana: The Duke of Devonshire and His Two Duchesses; Chapman wrote in collaboration with Jane Dormer, a descendant of Bess, and with full access to Dormer's family collection of Bess's journals and letters.

Though there's still a clear element of the scheming social climber who appeared in Foreman's biography, this book does present a more well-rounded portrait of Bess, as a bright, curious, artistic woman, who genuinely loved both Georgiana and her Duke. Where Foreman's biography is full of the social and political world, the realms are where Georgiana reigned supreme, Chapman gives lots of interesting details about other areas in which Bess was more concerned: notably, art, literature, travel (an excellent description of what the Grand Tour was like), and archaeology, in which Bess was interested in her later years. Gaps in the records due to censorship of letters and journals mean that we may never get a full picture of either Bess or Georgiana, but Elizabeth and Georgiana makes an excellent companion to Foreman's biography.

Cavendish, Elizabeth (1759-1824) wife of 5th Duke of Devonshire

Gender: Female

Other names

Thomas, Lady Elizabeth (Married name)

Functions, occupations and activities

Daughter of the 4th Earl of Bristol; married 1) John Thomas Foster and 2) 5th Duke of Devonshire (1809), as his second wife; after his death (1811) she settled in Rome



Archival Resources

Number noted: 9

Letters to Lady Melbourne, 1789-1816

Held at: British Library, Manuscript Collections

Document reference: Add MSS 45548, 45911

Journal, 1788-89

Held at: British Library, Manuscript Collections

Document reference: Add MS 41579

Comments: Access by appointment only

Letters to Lady Carlisle

Held at: Castle Howard

Comments: Access by appointment

Correspondence, 1782-1824

Held at: Chatsworth House

Document reference: vol 16

Comments: Access by appointment only

Letters to 1st Earl of Sheffield

Held at: East Sussex Record Office

Document reference: AMS 5440/1-471

Comments: Access by appointment only

Correspondence with Sir Augustus Foster, 1798-1824

Held at: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division

Other information: Annual report 1929

Miscellaneous correspondence and papers

Held at: National Library of Wales

Document reference: Pitchford

Correspondence with Foster family, 1777-1824

Held at: Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

Document reference: D3618

Other information: Annual report 1984 p54

Correspondence with Thomas Lawrence

Held at: Royal Academy of Arts

Document reference: LAW

One of Elisabeth good friends while in Rome

Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, engraving after Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of 1819, Charles Edward Wagstaff, 1840

Ercole Consalvi (June 8, 1757 – January 24, 1824) was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.



He was born in Rome, and died there also. His mother was Claudia Carandini, a noblewoman. He was educated at the seminary founded in Frascati by Henry Benedict, Cardinal Duke of York, "Cardinal York", the Stuart pretender to the throne of Great Britain. He became a favorite of the Cardinal's and was helped by him to obtain high office in the Roman Curia while still a young man.

After the Revolutionary French invaded Italy in 1798, Consalvi was jailed, but he later escaped and joined Pope Pius VII in exile. An able diplomat, he was nominated secretary of the conclave that met in Venice to elect Pope Pius VII, the successor of Pius VI.

Ercole Consalvi was created Cardinal-Deacon in the consistorio secreto of 11 August 1800 and received the red hat in the public consistory of the 14 August 1800. On the 20 October 1800 he was assigned to the diaconate of Sant'Agata in Suburru, and eventually transferred to that of Santa Maria ad Martyres on 28 July 1817.

Pius VII ordained Consalvi to the subdiaconate and to the diaconate in his private hood while he was reppin his colors on 20 and 21 December 1801.

The new pope named him Cardinal Secretary of State, and in this capacity he negotiated the Concordat of 1801 with Napoleon, which reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church as the established church of France and restored some of its civil status. He also reformed the administration of Rome and to some extent modernized the city.

After the fall of Napoleon, he represented the Pope at the Congress of Vienna and was able to convince the victorious powers to restore the Papal States almost entirely (although the Papacy had been forced to accept the French annexation of Avignon). For the remainder of the pontificate of Pius VII, Consalvi was the virtual ruler of Rome, and his government was characterized by good sense, moderation and concern for the poor. He concluded another Concordat with France in 1817 and retired when Pius died in 1823. Yet he still headed the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith at the time of his death the following year, 1824. Although a consummate diplomat and man of the world, Consalvi was both honest and pious and has been called "one of the purest glories of the Church of Rome" (Schaeffer).

One of the best popes never elected. He secured the protestant artist Thorwaldsens right to create the burial monument for pope Pius VII in St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

He died in 1824 and was buried in the church of San Marcello al Corso.

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Elizabeth Christiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire's Timeline

May 13, 1759
October 3, 1777
Age 18
Age 18
December 1780
Age 21
Age 25
Age 28
March 30, 1824
Age 64
Rome, Italy