xii Illustrations Elizabeth Chudleigh, pastel by Francis Cotes, dated 1763. Courtesy ofLainston House Hotel, Sparsholt, Hampshire (01962 863588). Photograph © Mark Bottomley The Duchess of Kingston, full length, in a White and Pink ...
Author: Claire Gervat
The fascinating and delightfully entertaining story of the eighteenth century beauty and bigamist -- Elizabeth Chudleigh. In 1743 Elizabeth Chudleigh, an exceptional beauty, was appointed maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales. She was soon surrounded by a crowd of admirers. The next year, in a secret ceremony, she married John Hervey, a naval lieutenant and brother of the Earl of Bristol. Hervey immediately returned to sea, and by 1747 their marriage was effectively over. Elizabeth continued to revel in court life, letting herself be known as “Miss Chudleigh.” Causing raised eyebrows at her frivolous behaviour, she became known for the best parties in London. She also became mistress to the Duke of Kingston. In 1768, when Hervey asked for a divorce, Elizabeth refused him, fearing a scandal. All the same she was keen to marry the Duke of Kingston, and in February 1769 she won a case in the ecclesiastical courts, which ruled her a spinster. She and the duke were married by special license soon after. When the duke died in 1773, his nephew, furious that he hadn’t been the main beneficiary of his uncle’s will, leveled a charge of bigamy against Elizabeth. The trial took place in the House of Lords in 1776 and attracted tremendous attention. After five days of a packed House of Lords, with counterfeit tickets on sale due to the demand, Elizabeth was found guilty of bigamy, overturning the ecclesiastical court ruling. But Hervey’s brother, the Earl of Bristol had died, passing his title on to Hervey, so Elizabeth escaped punishment by claiming the benefit of peerage. She spent the rest of her life in Europe buying properties in France and St. Petersburg, where she charmed Catherine the Great and set up a brandy distillery.