The Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalised a Nation by Catherine Ostler - review by Miranda Seymour

Miranda Seymour

Kiss Me, Chudleigh

The Duchess Countess: The Woman Who Scandalised a Nation

By

Simon & Schuster 466pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

The Duchess Countess, like its subject, is a bit of a teaser. Which duchess is being written about and what should we deduce from the jacket’s intriguing image of an anonymous hand holding an ostrich feather? It’s reasonable to guess that an anxious marketing team feared that the name of Elizabeth Chudleigh alone wouldn’t guarantee sales.

Elizabeth is best remembered today for appearing as Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia at a Georgian masquerade ball during which she bared her breasts – and, in the wishful thinking of contemporary printmakers, a good bit more (one saucy image showed her tripping into the assembly wearing only a garland slung around her hips). As Catherine Ostler points out, the fact that Elizabeth shrewdly recruited the help of her actress friend Mrs Cibber in designing the outfit indicates that she donned some faint approximation of a dress.

Claire Gervat wrote an excellent and well-researched life of Elizabeth back in 2003; Ostler breathes new life into a fabulous subject by taking the reader on a social tour that follows the irrepressible Elizabeth from the tough and insouciantly decadent world through which she frolicked as a Hanoverian belle to

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