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'Outrageously scandalous, soaked in sex and money, aristocracy, adventure and grandeur...Catherine Ostler's superb, gripping, decadent biography brings anextraordinary woman and awhole world blazingly to life. An unforgettable, unputdownable read that seems both historical and modern, utterly relevant today.'-Simon Sebag Montefiore,author ofCatherine the Great and Potemkin
'Fascinating. Magnificent.Sensitively told.' Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Five and The Covent Garden Ladies
When the glamorousElizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, Countess of Bristol, went on trial at Westminster Hall forbigamyin April 1776, the story drew more attention in society than theAmerican War of Independence.
Aclandestine, candlelit weddingto 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 aGrand Tourof Europe,being welcomed by thePope andCatherine the Greatamong 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 toovercome personal tragedy and loss.
Now, in thisbrilliantly 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.
Catherine Ostler is an author and journalist who has been Editor-in-Chief ofTatler, ES, theEvening Standardmagazineand Editor ofThe TimesWeekend. She has also written for a wide range of publications, including theFinancial Times,Vogue, theDaily MailandNewsweek. She read English at Oxford University,specialising in eighteenth-century literature.
'What a superb, gripping, decadent, colourful biography that brings anextraordinary woman and a whole world blazingly to life.Filled new research, written so elegantly with empathy, passion and cool analysis, TheDuchessCountess 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 caseof 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, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny and Napoleon the Great
'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.'
'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, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
'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 DuchessCountess 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