6 Degrees of Harriet Granville
Lady Harriet Cavendish was born in 1785, the daughter of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, and the former Lady Georgiana Spencer, who became a celebrated society beauty and political hostess as Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana was a strong supporter of the Whigs and their charismatic leader Charles James Fox. She had a love affair with Earl Grey, a young Whig politician who eventually became prime minister in 1830. Georgiana bore Grey a daughter, Eliza, in secret, a half-sister of Harriet's who was raised by Grey's parents.
Lady Caroline Ponsonby was Harriet's first cousin, the daughter of Georgiana's sister, Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough. Caroline married William Lamb, son of the famous Whig hostess Lady Melourne. Though it began as a love match, the marriage was not happy. Caroline is probably best known to history for her love affair with Lord Byron. She dramatized the love affair in Glenarvon, a roman à clef which scandalized the ton and had them madly speculating on which character was based on which real person. After Caroline's death, William, by then Lord Melbourne became young Queen Victoria's prime minister and political mentor.
William's sister Emily, Countess Cowper, was a patroness of Almack's. After her husband's death she married her longtime lover (though the love affair wasn't precisely exclusive on either side), Lord Palmerston, who later became prime minister himself. (A visiting dignitary once stumbled into an embarrassing situation by remarking on how much Palmerston's son resembled him. The young man in question was in fact officially Palmerston's stepson and the son the late Earl Cowper, though Palmerston almost certainly fathered him.). As Lady Palmerston, Emily was also a celebrated political hostess.
Harriet's childhood at Devonshire House included another Caroline, Caroline St. Jules, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, who lived for many years in a menage-à-trois with the duchess. Caroline St. Jules married William Lamb's brother George (and was referred to by the family as "Caro George" to differentiate her from "Caro William"). Her marriage was not entirely tranquil either. At one point she left her husband and ran off to the Continent with Henry Brougham, a radical Whig politician who later defended Caroline of Brunswick, the Prince Regent's estranged wife, when he attempted to divorce her after he became George IV. Emily Cowper went abroad and helped persuade her sister-in-law to return to her husband.
Harriet's aunt, Lady Bessborugh, had a love affair the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but the love of her life was Lord Granville Leveson-Gower, a politician and diplomat and younger son of the Marquess of Stafford. She bore him two children in secret who were placed in foster homes. In 1809, Granville's affair with Lady Bessborough had ended. Granville needed to marry and produce legitimate children. Harriet was four-and-twenty and unhappy at home. Her mother had died and her father had married his longtime mistress Elizabeth Foster. That Granville proposed to Harriet, niece of his longtime mistress, and that Harriet accepted (with her aunt's blessing) is not entirely surprising given their circumstances. That the marriage proved remarkably happy is more startling ("Granville, adored Granville, who would make a barren desert smile," Harriet wrote). They had five children and also raised the two illegitimate children he had had with Harriet's aunt. Granville became Viscount and then Earl Granville. For many years he and Harried presided over the British embassy in Paris while Granville served as ambassador.
Harriet had an intriguing and seemingly quite happy life which put her within six degrees or less of a number of prominent people of the day. Do connections between real historical figures intrigue you? Writers, are have you ever found an unexpected connection between two real historical figures while researching? Do certain real historical figures keep finding their way into the pages of your books?