Thursday, November 13, 2008

Devonshire Progeny: Charlotte

Charlotte was not the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire but she was raised by both of them. She was actually the Duke's first (known) child and was born of the commoner Charlotte Spencer (no relation of Georgiana or her Spencer family). Charlotte was born in 1774, the same year that Georgiana married William so he technically hadn't committed adultery in Charlotte's conception. However, he did keep Charlotte's mother as his mistress after her birth, so we can't totally clear him of those early adultery charges.

Charlotte's early life was likely comfortably lived with her mother by the grace (and wallet) of the Duke. He likely provided them with a decent home and even paid for Charlotte to have a nurse. By 1778 he had tired of his mistress, and unfortunately for the the tot, Charlotte Spencer died not too long after the breakup. Now Charlotte was both motherless and a bastard-child. Most children in this situation were doomed a horrible and short existence unless they were charitably recognized by their father. Despite his coldness, and awkwardness with human affection, William was no monster and took his illegitimate daughter, and her nurse, into his home.

By the time the four or five-year-old came into the Devonshires' home, Georgiana and the Duke had been married at least four years and still had no children of their own. You may think that having the illegitimate daughter of her husband in her home would send Georgiana into a rage, but it did not. She immediately doted on the child and gushed about her as if she were her own, much to her mother's horror. Georgiana seemed impertinently ignorant of the whispers about welcoming the little girl into her family. At the time little Charlotte had no surname so the last name of Williams was created for her to distinct her as her father's child-though not legetimate child.

Charlotte grew up dearly loved by both Georgiana and William but with the arrival of Bess she became a neccessary tool in order to keep Bess close to the Devonshires without causing too much scandal. Lady Bess Foster was given the position of Charlotte's governess when the girl was about nine years old. As soon as this arrangement was settled the two set off for France to further Charlotte's education and refine her as a proper little lady (with Bess!? Dear lord, they should recheck her papers...). When Bess got bored with her task at hand and went partying in Europe poor, introverted Charlotte was dragged with her. Georgiana was horrified when word got to her that Bess and Charlotte were living in Naples with two of Bess' lovers. Eventually it was decided that Bess might not be the best fit for Charlotte, who seemed traumatised by her experiances abroad with Bess rather than "much improved." She was left in Paris to continue her education, even through the Revolution.

In 1794 the Devonshires were happy (and relieved) when their agent's nephew asked for Charlotte's hand in marriage. He was no aristocrat, but it was a good and secure marriage, especially considering Charlotte's unfortunate background. Nothing else can really be known of her after that, but Charlotte was likely relieved to settle down to the quiet life of a wife after her circus-like life as a Devonshire.


  1. Great Post. My daughter is named Charlotte so I always try to collect stories of famous Charlottes to tell her when she is older.

    But what is with the label? You put this post under the label "bastard children". ha ha. I think i will think that part out in my retelling.

  2. Thanks for another fabulous post. It's been years since I've read the bio, but the film gives the impression that poor Charlotte was introduced into the Devonshire household soon after they were married. (Though I have to say that I found the chronology of the film confusing, to say the least.)
    And from a practical and 'worldly' point of view, the estate agent's son may have made a good match. However illegitimate, she was still the daughter of his ducal employer---with a dowry and high connections. And she sure was more fortunate than others in her situation.

    I can hear Lady Spencer from here. Oh, Lordy!

  3. BL- Yeah, I was about to do "illegitimate children", but that sounds too pc for my liking, this is a gossip guide after all! I have nothing against illegitimate kids, but I think "Bastard children" gets gossipers' attention :o) (I'm a marketing genius, I tell ya!)
    That's so cute about collecting Charlotte stories, I love it! You should have a nice collection built up!

    P- Yes the film, seemed to give G too modern a perspective: being outraged at having to accept Charlotte, bringing her acceptance up in arguments, etc. I feel bad for poor Charlotte, she was usually hidden away when Lady Spencer visited...probably for her own safety! Haha

    Thanks girls, glad you liked the post!

  4. Thanks Heather for this post and for bringing up that scene in the movie where Georgiana was so outraged about little Charlotte. It would have been nice if they had included a scene where she actually softened or the fact that Bess had been hired to be Charlotte's governess. Oh, but that would have screwed up the story they were trying to tell with those pesky fact thingies.

  5. I just the dog supposed to be a Newfoundland?

  6. E- Hahaha! Darn those pesky fact thingies-always getting in the way!

    P- I'm not sure although it is very likely. Newfies were pretty popular in England at time.

  7. My Mother's family history says that her ancestor was 5th dukes daughter eloped unsuitably, my mid 19c family name was North seems more likely it was a descendent of Charlotte they ended up in Cambridge UK

  8. Charlotte was my great-great-grandmother. I am happy to say that her family lives on in much of Canada through the Wilson and now Walker names. My adopted daughter is named after her and I am sure she will not be the last.

  9. Please consider rewriting the part about Charlotte not being the daughter of the Duke and Dutchess. True she was not born of the Dutchess but she was definately the daughter of William Cavendish.

  10. She [Charlotte] ]was actually the Duke's first (known) child and was born of the commoner Charlotte Spencer...

    Second sentence; I'm afraid I just worded it so it was a bit confusing. Apologies

  11. Hello! I am glad to have happened upon your Blog and this entry, in a google search for more information on William´s first child, Charlotte. Would you happen to have a "Royal" documented source for her existence and her descending from William? And for her biological Mother´s name, being Charlotte Spencer. (Who I have read in yet another blog, was a "Milliner" from trade and not a mistress.)
    I ask, not to be a pain and contest the information you´ve included in your write up, but because I am having issues with other collaborators on a family tree project, for having added her and her husband and her mother, to the tree... and they are now, demanding I either produce high academic level resources for my claim(s) or delete them, from the tree. Please, help!
    My email addy is I would be more than, thrilled to hear from you, with some sources, I could quote, for them. Thank You!