Ambassadress Extraordinaire

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Every time I pass the blue wrought-iron gates, now on the Piccadilly side of Green Park but formerly at Chiswick House, they serve to remind me of Lady Granville, who died there. Harriet Granville came out of the topmost drawer of the tallboy housing the various ranks of later Georgian society and made full use of this elevated position and its rarefied atmosphere to gain a particularly clearsighted view of her world, with all its rules of conduct and its pretensions. Her keen intelligence and sense of the ridiculous were combined with amiability, but she also had strong feelings, was virtuous, was good. When she praised Lady Harrowby, one of her sisters-in-law, as ‘honourable, sincere, open, vérédique’, she was describing qualities she herself possessed.

Hary-O, as she was called, was born in 1785 to the beautiful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and incurable gambler, and the 5th Duke, who seems to have passed his life largely disengaged from his surroundings. With her elder sister Georgiana, who became Lady Morpeth then eventually Countess of Carlisle, and younger brother William, always known as Hart, the bachelor 6th Duke, she formed an unrivalled mutual admiration society. Whenever they were apart, they were the most assiduous of correspondents, which means that we can enjoy Hary-O’s mordant wit and shrewd commentary through her letters to them. She once strikingly invoked Georgiana: ‘O sister of my own sort, liver of the chicken to which I am gizzard.’

Perhaps fortunately, Hary-O did not inherit her mother’s looks. While at Ramsgate in 1802 she reported that her beauty was ‘alas! Much in the same state . . . I fear (though Sir Walter [the family doctor] and Mama are very sanguine) that I shall never be rode or bathed into a beauty.’ But at Bath the following year, as well as Boswell’s Johnson and a history of England, she immersed herself in the letters of Madame de Sévigné, which one suspects gave her a far greater stimulus

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About the contributor

Roger Hudson has been devoted to Lady Granville for forty years.

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