Gunning, Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton and of Argyll 1734-1790, younger daughter of John Gunning of Castlecoote, co. Roscommon, by Bridget, youngest daughter of Theobald, viscount Mayo, one of two sisters famous for their beauty of face and figure, was born in 1734, and came to London in 1751 [see under Coventry, Maria, Countess of, sister of Elizabeth]. She surreptitiously married James, sixth duke of Hamilton, at half-past twelve at night, on 14 Feb. 1752, at Mayfair chapel, with, Horace Walpole says, a ring of the bed-curtain (Walpole, Letters, ii. 279). When she was presented on her marriage, the anxiety to see her was so great that it was said that the noble mob in the drawing-room clambered upon chairs and tables to look at her (ib. p. 281). A poem entitled The Charms of Beauty, 1752, 4to, was written in her honour. By her marriage with the Duke of Hamilton she had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Edward, twelfth earl of Derby, and two sons, James George and Douglas, who both became dukes of Hamilton. Her husband died on 18 Jan. 1758, and she was for a short time engaged to Francis Egerton, duke of Bridgewater [qv.], but the match was broken off because she refused to give up her intimacy with her sister. On 3 March 1759 she married John Campbell, marquis of Lorne, lieutenant-colonel of the 42nd regiment, and heir to the dukedom of Argyll. Her beauty was unimpaired, and her behaviour modest (ib. iii. 211). In October 1760, when her sister, who is said to have been the lovelier of the two, died of consumption, she was thought to be dying of the same disease. She was ordered to Italy, but her health improving, she seems to have passed the winter with her husband at Lyons (ib. pp. 345, 358, 371). She returned to England in restored health, and almost in possession of her former beauty, was one of the ladies commissioned to conduct the Princess Charlotte to England in September to be married to the king, and was appointed a lady of the bedchamber (Memoirs of George III, i. 70). In August 1763 she was in Paris, where she was engaged in a suit about the Douglas estate, and Horace Walpole, though considering her sadly changed by ill-health, remarks on the bad taste of the French who thought the Duchess of Ancaster better-looking. It is said that Queen Charlotte was jealous of the king's admiration for her. During the Wilkes riots in March 1768 she behaved with great resolution, and though her husband, Lord Lorne, was absent, and she was in delicate health, refused to illuminate her house in Argyll Buildings at the bidding of the mob, which battered the doors and windows for three hours. Her husband succeeded to the dukedom of Argyll in 1770, and on 4 May 1776 she was created Baroness Hamilton of Hambledon in Leicestershire, with remainder to her male issue as barons. Sir N. Wraxall says that even when far advanced in life, and with very decayed health, she was remarkably beautiful, and seemed composed of a finer clay than the rest of her sex. By her second husband she had three sons: George John, died in infancy; George William and John Douglas, who both became dukes of Argyll; and two daughters: Augusta, who for a short time captivated the Prince of Wales (George IV), and who married Colonel (afterwards General) Henry Clavering; and Charlotte Susan Maria, afterwards Lady Charlotte Bury [qv.]. The duchess died at London, on 20 May 1790, and was buried in the collegiate church of Kilmun in Argyllshire. Her barony descended to her second son, Douglas, eighth duke of Hamilton, her eldest son having died without issue in 1779. On the death of the Duke of Hamilton without issue in 1799, it passed to George William, her eldest surviving son by her second husband, the Duke of Argyll. There are portraits of Elizabeth Gunning as duchess of Hamilton by F. Cotes, engraved by James McArdell; by W. Hamilton, engraved by J. Finlayson; as duchess of Argyll by C. Read (in a lace-cap), engraved by J. Finlayson 1770. An engraving by Cook from this picture forms the frontispiece to Jesse's Selwyn and his Contemporaries. There is an engraved portrait by R. Houston in Houston's Miss Gunnings. Another portrait by Read was engraved by R. Lawrie 1771 (Bromley, Cat. of Portraits, p. 417).
Horace Walpole's Letters, ii-ix. passim, ed. Cunningham
Memoirs of Reign of George III, i. 70, iii. 188
Last Journals, ii. 296
Works, iv. 366, ed. Berry
Wraxall's Memoirs, v. 369, 370
Quarterly Review, cv. 477
Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, i. 119, 723, ed. Wood
Courthope's Historic Peerage, p. 233.
Contributor: W. H. [William Hunt]