Elizabeth Foster, ‘Bess’ is one of the larger than life characters that occasionally flits across the pages of history. Born in 1757 as Elizabeth Christiana Hervey, the daughter of the eccentric Frederick Hervey, Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, she led a privileged life and married John Thomas Foster in 1777. Following their separation, Foster took her infant sons from her and the distressed Bess led a bitter life, made more tolerable by the kindness and affection shown to her by her best friend, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The friendship developed into a further intimate friendship with ‘Canis’ the nickname given to the Duke by Bess and Georgiana. Soon they were living in a ménage à trois resulting in two illegitimate children, which Bess bore in exile in France, terrified of discovery and social ostracism. The births were successfully kept secret, and the children themselves grew up without knowing who their true mother was. The children were Caroline St. Jules, and a son, Augustus (later Augustus Clifford, 1st Baronet), who were later raised at Devonshire House with the Duke's legitimate children by Georgiana.
Two years after Georgiana’s death in 1806, Bess married ‘Canis’ and the couple lived together in happiness at Devonshire House and at Chatsworth, but the happiness was short-lived, for after only 21 months ‘Canis’ died. Bess spent much of the remainder of her life in Italy.
Fluent in French and Italian, and living abroad for many years, Bess maintained a voluminous correspondence, and as a consequence an amazing picture has been built of this amazing woman, the friend of Marie Antoinette, the Prince Regent and many in the top circles of society in England, France and Italy. Following John Foster’s death, she was re-united with her beloved Frederick and Augustus, and much of the correspondence in later years is between her and her influential sons.
Dorothy Margaret Stuart was a poet and the author of 28 books, mainly historical biographies. Little is known of her life and it seems likely, or at least plausible that she was a direct descendent of Bess. Notwithstanding this, and the inevitable favourable colour with which she paints her subject, Dorothy Stuart was a poetess and an author of skilled old-school competence and as a consequence her text reads smoothly, cleanly with well-crafted passages making the biography a delight to read. She died unmarried in 1963.
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
Illustrations: 16 b/w