The Duchess Countess (Hardback)Catherine Ostler (author)
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In this exquisitely crafted biography of the Duchess Countess Elizabeth Chudleigh, who was tried for bigamy in 1776, Ostler paints a fascinating portrait of a woman who vehemently refused to conform to the social norms of her time.
When the glamorous Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, Countess of Bristol, went on trial at Westminster Hall for bigamy in April 1776, the story drew more attention in society than the American War of Independence.
A clandestine, candlelit wedding to the young heir to an earldom, a second marriage to a Duke, a lust for diamonds and an electrifying appearance at a masquerade ball in a diaphanous dress: no wonder the trial was a sensation. However, Elizabeth refused to submit to public humiliation and retire quietly. Rather than backing gracefully out of the limelight, she embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, being welcomed by the Pope and Catherine the Great among others.
As maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales, Elizabeth led her life in the inner circle of the Hanoverian court and her exploits delighted and scandalised the press and the people. She made headlines, and was a constant feature in penny prints and gossip columns. Writers were intrigued by her. Thackeray drew on Elizabeth as inspiration for his calculating, alluring Becky Sharp. But her behaviour, often depicted as attention-seeking and manipulative, hid a more complex tale - that of Elizabeth's fight to overcome personal tragedy and loss.
Now, in this brilliantly told and evocative biography, Catherine Ostler takes a fresh look at Elizabeth's story and seeks to understand and reappraise a woman who refused to be defined by society's expectations of her. A woman who was by turns, brave, loving and generous but also reckless, greedy and insecure; a woman totally unwilling to accept the female status of underdog or to hand over all the power, the glory and the adventures of life to men.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Number of pages: 480
Dimensions: 234 x 153 x 34 mm
'What a superb, gripping, decadent, colourful biography that brings an extraordinary woman and a whole world blazingly to life. Filled new research, written so elegantly with empathy, passion and cool analysis, The Duchess Countess is an unforgettable, unputdownable read that seems both modern and historical, utterly relevant today - featuring a cast of characters from Marie Antoinette to Catherine the Great, but also the life of a woman who is both adventuress and victim, who achieved vast wealth and great notoriety, becoming one of Europe's most famous women and the star of the most scandalous court case of the century.' - Simon Sebag Montefiore
'Although this book is a beautifully written and deeply researched life of one of the most remarkable women of the eighteenth century, it is also a scintillating portrait of an age. Since Elizabeth Chudleigh knew so many of Europe's most talented, fascinating and important people - as well as its most dissipated rakes - the book is populated by as wide a galere of personalities as one is ever likely to meet in a biography. The author has ransacked every archive and visited every place connected with her subject from London to St Petersburg, and the result is the first ever fair-minded estimation of one of the great adventuresses of history. Funny, intelligent, witty, profound and on occasion moving, this book sets a new standard for eighteenth-century biography writing.' - Andrew Roberts
'Fascinating. Magnificent. Sensitively told. Complex, capricious, beautiful and boldly ambitious, Elizabeth Chudleigh was also one of the most reviled women in Georgian England. In resurrecting her tale, Catherine Ostler allows the Duchess of Kingston to emerge from the prejudices of the past like a resplendent phoenix.' - Hallie Rubenhold
'Before there was Becky Sharp, there was Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and the greatest social grifter of them all. She lives once again, thanks to Catherine Ostler's captivating biography. Definitely dangerous to know, pretty bad and quite possibly mad, there's no better fun to be had than a ringside seat at the tragi-comic circus that was her life.' - Amanda Foreman
'A masterclass in biography. Ostler brings her protagonist to life with dazzling prose, meticulous research and unique human sensibility. An immersive, glamorous odyssey stretching from rural England to the glittering palaces of St Petersburg, The Duchess Countess is a technicolour portrait of one of history's most dynamic, but least understood heroines. An instant classic.' - Natalie Livingstone, author of The Mistresses of Cliveden
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