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Kingston, Elizabeth, Duchess Of

KINGSTON, ELIZABETH, DUCHESS OF (1720-1788), sometimes called countess of Bristol, was the daughter of Colonel Thomas Chudleigh (d. 1726), and was appointed maid of honour to Augusta, princess of Wales, in 1743, probably through the good offices of her friend, William Pulteney, earl of Bath. Being a very beautiful woman Miss Chudleigh did not lack admirers, among whom were James, 6th duke of Hamilton, and Augustus John Hervey, afterwards 3rd earl of Bristol. Hamilton, however, left England, and on the 4th of August 1744 she was privately married to Hervey at Lainston, near Winchester. Both husband and wife being poor, their union was kept secret to enable Elizabeth to retain her post at court, while Hervey, who was a naval officer, rejoined his ship, returning to England towards the close of 1746. The marriage was a very unhappy one, and the pair soon ceased to live together; but when it appeared probable that Hervey would succeed his brother as earl of Bristol, his wife took steps to obtain proof of her marriage. This did not, however, prevent her from becoming the mistress of Evelyn Pierrepont, 2nd duke of Kingston, and she was not only a very prominent figure in London society, but in 1765 in Berlin she was honoured by the attentions of Frederick the Great. By this time Hervey wished for a divorce from his wife; but Elizabeth, although equally anxious to be free, was unwilling to face the publicity attendant upon this step. However she began a suit of jactitation against Hervey. This case was doubtless collusive, and after Elizabeth had sworn she was unmarried, the court in February 1769 pronounced her a spinster. Within a month she married Kingston, who died four years later, leaving her all his property on condition that she remained a widow. Visiting Rome the duchess was received with honour by Clement XIV.; after which she hurried back to England to defend herself from a charge of bigamy, which had been preferred against her by Kingston's nephew, Evelyn Meadows (d. 1826). The house of Lords in 1776 found her guilty, and retaining her fortune she hurriedly left England to avoid further proceedings on the part of the Meadows family, who had a reversionary interest in the Kingston estates. She lived for a time in Calais, and then repaired to St Petersburg, near which city she bought an estate which she named " Chudleigh." Afterwards she resided in Paris, Rome, and elsewhere, and died in Paris on the 26th of August 1788. The duchess was a coarse and licentious woman, and was ridiculed as Kitty Crocodile by the comedian Samuel Foote in a play A Trip to Calais, which, however, he was not allowed to produce. She is said to have been the original of Thackeray's characters, Beatrice and Baroness Bernstein.

There is an account of the duchess in J. H. Jesse's Memoirs of the Court of England 1688-1760, vol. iv. (1901).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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