Friday, March 20, 2009

Tart of the Week: Elizabeth Campbell

Elizabeth Gunning was born in 1734, a year after her sister Maria. Being so close in age, the sisters were best friends and a true duo. This especially rang clear when their mother, unable to afford raising them, moved the girls to Dublin to become actresses.

Elizabeth and her sister may not have necessarily been good actors, but they did become very popular and were soon known as "The Beauties." Even Peg Woffington was seen with the Gunning sisters. As proof of just how popular Elizabeth was, when James Duke of Hamilton (who had just been jilted by Elizabeth Chudleigh) met Elizabeth he wanted to marry her that night, and marry her he did. He called a local parson who refused to marry the couple without a license or even a ring. This didn't deter the lovestruck duke who brought Elizabeth to Mayfair Chapel and with a bed curtain ring, made her his duchess in a clandestine ceremony. Oh the scandal! It all seemed way to easy. A mere actress who couldn't even afford her own trousseau was now one of the grandest Duchesses in Scotland.

Elizabeth promptly retired from the stage, and her wedding ring was likely replaced with many jewels. Elizabeth enjoyed her new position as a Duchess and now used her charisma to be a successful society hostess. She also fulfilled her wifely duty of providing her husband an heir and spare. But sadly, their marriage would end prematurely. While out hunting, the handsome 33 year old Duke caught a bad cold which killed him. The young beautiful was now a widow.

She got over the loss very quickly, for before James' body could even begin to decay she was already another Duke! While so many aristocratic mothers lost sleep over trying to get their daughters married to any sort of peer, Elizabeth made it look all to easy to capture these men of the highest rank's hearts. This duke was Francis, the Duke of Bridgewater who was very young and, of course, wealthy. However the engagement was short-lived when Francis told Elizabeth that in order for them to marry, she would have to give up her acquaintance with her sister, Maria. Elizabeth was all, "screw you Bridgewater!" and he died without a wife or an heir almost fifty years later.

Our gorgeous heroine did not have to wait quite so long to find love (or at least a husband) again. A year later she was married. The lucky guy this time was another Scotsman, John the Marquess of Lorne, a strapping soldier. Since he ranked under her, Elizabeth was still considered the dowager Duchess of Hamilton which she would go by until 1770, when John became the Duke (of course) of Argyll.

The saucy beauty was finally done marrying the richest men in Scotland but she continued to break hearts at court while she served Queen Charlotte as a Lady of the Bedchamber for 23 years. While she went through the heartbreak of loosing her sister to lead poisoning in 1760 she also happily had four of her sons succeed to Dukedoms and became a baroness in her own right (something highly unusual). Not bad at all for a second-rate actress!


  1. Perhaps Cameron Diaz out to move to Scotland - obviously there is hope.

  2. What a gorgeous smart-tart...she didn't do so bad at all:)

  3. Three Dukes in her thrall. What an accomplishment! (I'd settle for a mere Earl.)

    That portrait of her with the dog is beautiful. Do you know where it hangs?

  4. Wow, she really was quite beautiful. I wish my hair was that color!

    Sounds like she had a bit of luck, too. Usually the story sees the Duke quickly losing interest, having affairs, and neglecting his wife.

  5. Hi there, I love this period in history and I love your blog. Did you see the costumes Ralph Fiennes and Kiera Knightley wore in "The Dutchess" displayed in the HMV store in Oxford St while you were there. Kathy.

  6. She did have a lot of luck on her side didn't she? Plus it helped that she was clever and beautiful.

    @Polonaise- It hangs at the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland although I don't recall it being on display when I was there. That museum is so overwhelming, it is quite easy to loose track of all the wonderful paintings.

    @Mama- You've got to be kidding me. I only walked by it a billion times probably. I had no idea they were on display there. I just saw her hat at the V&A, grr!

  7. Oh I enjoyed this. Her life could be a book called Three Dukes and a Tart!

    You are so clever at these Tart stories heather. I just live for them!

    Cheers, LA

  8. I love that!! Thank you so much you made my day :)