Cavendish, Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire 1758-1824, daughter of the fourth Earl of Bristol, was baptised 13 May 1758. In early life she married John Thomas Foster. After she became a widow she spent some time on the continent with Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire [qv.], and other ladies, and at Lausanne in 1787 met Gibbon, who had then just finished his History. He read to her some of the concluding portions, and her admiration was so warmly expressed that Gibbon suddenly surprised her by an offer of his hand. The offer was declined, but Gibbon took the disappointment philosophically, and while his estimate of her fascinations remained as high as ever, his friendly feelings towards her underwent no change. Comparing her with Georgiana, the first duchess, he writes: Bess is much nearer the level of a mortal, but a mortal for whom the wisest man, historic or medical, would throw away two or three worlds if he had them in possession. He also gave it as his opinion that if she chose to beckon the lord chancellor from his woolsack in full sight of the world, he could not resist obedience. In 1809 she became the second wife of the fifth duke of Devonshire, and after the death of her husband in 1811 she took up her residence in Rome, where she enjoyed the friendship of some of the most distinguished Italians and foreign residents, and her house became the great resort of the brilliant society gathered together in Rome from all countries. Ticknor relates that he went to her conversaziones as to a great exchange to see who is in Rome, and to meet what is called the world (Letters and Journals, i. 180), and Moore refers to her and Lady Davy as the rival ciceroni at Rome (Journal and Correspondence, iii. 48). Ticknor gives it as his opinion that the duchess, though a good respectable woman in her way, yet attempts to play the Mæcenas a little too much. She spent large sums in excavations at the Forum with considerable success, and she was one of the most liberal patrons of the fine arts. Canova and Thorwaldsen were her personal friends. In 1816 she printed at Rome a splendid edition of Horace's Iter ad Brundusium, or Fifth Satire of the First Book, with engravings by the brothers Ripenhausen, and an Italian translation attributed to Molagani. Its title is Horatius Flaccus Quintus: Satyrarum lib. i. Satyra v. (cum Italiciana versione), Romæ de Romanis. On account of various errors in the translation and printing, discovered too late to prevent its circulation, she resolved, on the advice of Cardinal Consalvi, to have another version prepared, which was printed at Parma by the press of Madame Bodoni, with engravings by Caraccioli, and is one of the finest works ever issued by that famous press. Its title is Horatius Flaccus Quintus: Di Q. Orazio Flacco Satira v., traduzione italiana con rami allusivi (col testo latino). Parma con tipi Bodoniani, 1818. In the following year she printed in two volumes a similar edition of the Æneid of Virgil, with engravings by Marchetti from designs by Lawrence. It is entitled L'Eneide di Virgilio recata in versi italiani da Annibal Caro, Roma de Romanis, 1819. Her portrait is prefixed. Copies of these works were presented by her to various European sovereigns, and to several of the more important public libraries. She also published in 1816 a Journey through Switzerland, originally published anonymously in 1796, and added to it the poem by Georgiana, the former duchess, on the Passage of the St. Gothard. She contemplated éditions de luxe of the works of Cora and Dante, but died before these purposes were carried into execution, 30 March 1824. On her death several medals illustrative of her works were struck. Her portrait when Lady Elizabeth Foster was painted by both Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough. A portrait by the latter, stolen in 1876 from the London gallery of Messrs. Agnew, who had purchased it from the Wynn Ellis collection, was recovered in Chicago in 1901 and, after exhibition in London, was sold to Pierpont Morgan of New York for 30,000l.
Annual Register, lxvi. 217-18
Gent. Mag. 1843, new ser., xx. 586-91
Gibbon's Autobiography and Correspondence
Moore's Journal and Correspondence
Notes and Queries, 5th ser. vii. 137, 179, 413, viii. 79
Cat. Chatsworth Libr.
Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]