As happy as Mrs. Darcy?

As happy as Mrs. Darcy?

History, they say, is just gossip that has grown old gracefully.

This certainly holds true for me. I can’t remember significant dates and I don’t even try to. It’s the little things that catch my eye, that I actually look for and remember fondly. The day-to-day life, with its ups and downs. People talking about other people and about themselves, in letters and diaries. Who fell in love with whom, and did they marry? What about Lord Paget’s elopement with the sister-in-law of the future Duke of Wellington? Or the children of a certain high society lady, who were collectively known as ‘The Harleian Miscellany’, because no one could tell with absolute certainty who the father was in each and every case?

Ever since I discovered my fascination with the Regency period, over the years I have been snooping into many people’s lives, looking for details about what they wore, what they ate and when, what they read, what plays they saw, where they went and in what sort of carriages and what they did to occupy their time. But I found so much more than what I had bargained for! Not just details about their way of life, or the juicy gossip. Now and again I was lucky enough to stumble upon happy stories, and here is one of my favourites:

It’s actually about a lady who grew up at Chatsworth.Chatsworth House

She was the second daughter of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and her name was Lady Harriet Cavendish.


After her mother’s death, her life had some hints of Cinderella. Not the rags of course, nor the evil stepsisters, but the stepmother she eventually acquired was, if not evil, then certainly eager to advance her own children to the detriment of her predecessor’s.

But then the gentleman she had secretly been in love with for quite some time finally proposed, and the young lady got married.


Lord Granville_portraitAlthough considered very handsome by many ladies of his generation, her husband – Lord Granville Leveson Gower, first Earl Granville – wasn’t exactly Darcy-like in conduct in his early youth, truth be told. Will it shock you dreadfully to hear that, some years before his marriage, as a very young man he actually had a longstanding affair (let’s call it liaison) with Lady Harriet’s own aunt, an older and very sophisticated married woman, and oddly enough nobody batted an eyelid? And it gets worse: there were two children from that liaison, a boy and a girl, which Lady Harriet eventually adopted and brought up, along with the couple’s own children.

You’d be right to ask ‘So, what has this sordid little tale got to do with the Darcys?” Well, it’s all in the details – or rather, in the letters. Lady Harriet wrote many, the most candid ones to her sister, who had married the son and heir of the Earl of Carlisle from Castle Howard, a magnificent country house in Yorkshire.

In my opinion, these letters might very well have been written by Elizabeth Darcy to Jane Bingley. Not so much the other way around. Lady Harriet comes across as thoroughly besotted, but full of wit and humour, in a style that brings Elizabeth to mind, rather than Jane. Here are a few snippets, and I hope you’ll like them just as much as I did:

“… my attention is taken up this morning with G’s profile at chess. I never saw him in such beauty. […] his blue eyes watching the pawns are quite irresistible. He is really more adorable than ever and his kindness, sense and sweetness make every hour passed with him happier than the one before it.” 

“… it is quite amusement enough to look at his beautiful face. How angry it would look if he knew what I was writing! He is much handsomer than ever.” 

“God bless you, my dear, dear sister. Granville is putting up all his beautiful regular features and saying – ‘Now leave off’ [the letter-writing], it is really too foolish, tiring yourself.’ What an angel he is, eating buttered roll!” 

“Granville is delightful and I am so happy and healthy that I think I must be a comfortable sight to the humane and charitable.” [She was by then heavily pregnant]. 

“Granville’s constant kindness and attention and his reading to me, driving me, etc. make him so necessary to the enjoyment of every moment of my time that I feel quite helpless without him, as if my hands, feet and understanding were all with him in the Town Hall at Stafford.” [where her husband was attending the assizes at the time]. 

“You will grow sick of hearing me repeat that I am happier every day. It is the only subject that occurs to me. Granville’s kindness is not to be described.” 

“Granville is like any steward all day at business and accounts till I wish there was no such thing as coal or a sixpence in the world.” [He had recently inherited some small coal-mining property in Staffordshire and was busy putting his affairs in order]. 

“He is shooting this morning and I submit to his absence with very good grace for he comes home so radiant in health and beauty […]. I really think I am happier every hour. There never was anything as angelick [sic] as his kindness, so adorable as he is in every way.” 

“Granville is a talisman to preserve me from every evil in life, great and small.” (*)

There is more, a lot more – not just about her husband but also about daily life, friends, acquaintances, grand dinners, pregnancies, dieting and servants – but to me, that last phrase says it all. So would Mr Darcy be: a talisman to preserve the woman he loves from every evil. And it’s so wonderful to discover that sometimes he has his match in real life, and he is not just a figment of a brilliant imagination!

I hope you have enjoyed reading about this happy marriage, and please come back soon!

(*) The quotes are from ‘A second Self – The Letters of Harriet Granville 1810 – 1845’ edited by Virginia Surtees.


29 Responses to As happy as Mrs. Darcy?

  1. That is a beautiful love story! So he had his previous affair, not so unusual even today. The point is that they found each other and apparently lived a true happily ever after. Thanks do much for sharing these snippets!

    And of course you are correct that reading letters from the era are the best way to learn about the small, normal, and intimate details of life.

    More please!!

  2. How beautiful is true love. The letters are what I could imagine Lizzy writing. She was so happy and loved her husband so much that she didn’t bat an eye at adopting and raising his illegitimate children. I wonder if he loved her as much? Thank you for sharing this Joana.

    • That’s what I would have liked to find out too, Debbie. I kept looking for his letters, even though I didn’t dare dream a gentleman in that day and age would have been as open as a lady writing to her sister. The jury’s still out, I couldn’t find anything like that. Oh well! I’d just like to hope he did! Thanks for popping by to read, so glad you liked it!

  3. Thanks Joana for sharing your findings. I love all of the little tidbits the authors so generously put forth. It puts us all closer to the era and we have even greater appreciation for the wonderful stories we read and their relevance to the times. ~jen red~

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Jennifer!Thanks so much for the lovely words! It’s amazing how their way of life and ours can be so shockingly different in so many ways, yet so similar in others! Have a great week!

  4. Ah, this was beautiful! I hate memorizing social customs and dealing with people who will sit there and say “Oh, but it was improper to ride in a carriage with a man!” Yeah, I don’t care what the conduct books said. Look at Catherine Morland and Marianne Dashwood. No one was forced into a marriage. But this is the type of thing that my historian side adores!

    I’ll just forget entirely about Granville’s earlier life. 🙂

    Oh, and I admit to finding cases like Lord Paget’s elopement fascinating. I will also add that I think we see happier marriages from the people who were young during the setting of P&P (whether you place it truly in the Regency era or an earlier date) than we do the generations before them. I think literature supports that. There was clearly a move for marriage for suitable temperaments and even love. You just usually found it within your own circles. Then you get to the Victorians and love is all they can think about.

    Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks for the lovely long comment, Rose! Loved it! I wholeheartedly agree, yes, what about Marianne and Catherine? Maybe if it was something drastic, like the carriage wheel broke and they were missing for half the night, like Rhett Butler and the Charlestonian Miss he refused to marry. But I guess that was written by someone who didn’t live in those times either, so her guess is as good as ours.

      Lord Paget’s elopement was really fascinating (I got the gossip from Lady Harriet’s earlier letters, before her marriage). Apparently he and Charlotte Wellesley fell in love, although they were both happily married (to other people 😉 ) and with a batch of kids apiece. He went to war and actually exposed himself to danger, rather than command from behind the lines, in the hope to ‘die in the bed of honour’ as the letters put it. But he didn’t. He came back, as infatuated as ever. Still torn between the family and the ladylove, once the affair had become too public, he found himself ‘honour-bound to elope’ (which might be laying it rather too thick, but there we go). Not sure if they lived happily ever after though. I haven’t found anything about that yet.
      Take care and have a great week.

  5. That was so heartwarming! I can relate to so much of what she wrote too – I don’t write them down in letters, but I often think them to myself when my own husband is being sweet or when I quietly watch him and admire his profile when he doesn’t realize I’m doing it. Thank you for sharing this, a lovely bit of sunshine warming us from centuries past.

  6. It’s so nice to know that there were love matches like Darcy and Elizabeth in real life. It was such a shame her mother didn’t have the same. Keira Knightley was a great choice to play her and at least she won the love prize in P&P. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. I was thrilled to know that a few happy marriage existed during that time. She was really in love with him and a good person to take in his illegitimate children. Like the others, I think she felt they were part of him and loved them for that reason. I had heard of her, but only in relation to her mother when she was a child. I thought her mother’s story one of the saddest I have ever read. Thank you for sharing this.

    • That’s exactly how I feel too, Brenda! You hear so much of ‘marry first, love comes after’ and often it never does. There’s so much talk of marriages of convenience, rarely because the young lady was compromised 😉 , just because Papa and Mamma thought it would be a good match (just as the parents of the Duchess of Devonshire thought). It’s absolutely thrilling to think of Lady Harriet finally getting the man of her dreams AND discovering she struck gold, rather than some Mr Wickham.

  8. Yes, sigh, sigh, sigh. Men like that exist in reality? How lovely to imagine a couple like ODC out there at some time, some place. I will just have to live vicariously thought posts and books describing such. My husband is such a sports nut and with all the sports channels on TV nowadays his attention is glued to the paper or the Golf Channel or ESPN. But thank you for sharing this and how nice to learn of this romance. I felt so sorry for her mother, The Duchess, when I viewed the movie.

    • I really liked the movie too, especially as Keira Knightley played the Duchess. It didn’t tell the whole story, of course, and played massively on the romance and drama factor. In fact, her husband wasn’t really that bad, just someone interested far more in his dogs than his wife, and Lord Grey wasn’t necessarily the heartbroken romantic hero either (though I LOVED the portrayal). If you have the time and patience, you might enjoy the book (it’s by Amanda Foreman). Funnily enough, this is the book that got me hooked on the Georgians. But it’s chock full of politics, and that gets a bit much after a while.

  9. It’s lovely to know that there were love matches in the time period, and see the evidence, rather than all the for money and family and shade preserving. LOL She really was very much attached to her husband apparently. The illegitimate children were pieces of him so she probably loved them for that alone. Quite the interesting piece Ms. Joana!! Love some history in the morning!

    • My thoughts entirely about the love matches, Stephanie! I just said that in the reply to MaryAnne.
      What a lovely thought about his children! It must have been the case, and she was richly rewarded for it, because they both became very attached to her, and a great source of comfort, especially the daughter.

  10. What a great way to start my morning off by reading a wonderful the beautiful way you wrote this article! We all strive to see the little things in life that make us happy and try to avoid the bad. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone thought the same way. Yes, she really did love him!

    • She really did, MaryAnn. It’s such a warm feeling to read about real love matches, when we get to hear so much about how a lot of high society people married for connection, for political alliances, or just for plain hard cash.
      I’m so glad you liked the article and thanks so much for popping by to read it!

  11. What fascinating information, Joana. Yes, she sounds very much how I imagine Elizabeth to be after her marriage. And Lizzie didn’t have the illegitimate children to contend with either.

    Have you read any of the replies her sister sent to her?

    • Sadly no, Anji! I don’t even know if her sister’s letters were published. Lady Harriet’s were because the Granvilles became prominent public figures later in their lives, he was the British Ambassador in Paris for a while (I think) then held other public office. I tried for years to lay hands on Lord Granville’s letters, so that I could get his voice too, the ‘male perspective’. I searched in old book shops, hovered on ebay (and I once got them snatched from under my nose at the last minute – grrr) then finally I got them. But, to my disappointment, very few were the letters he wrote. Most of them were the letters wrote to him. Very interesting, huge amount of information about the Napoleonic wars and all sorts of politics, but I’ve still to find ‘Mr Darcy’s voice’ somewhere.

  12. This was great, as all your posts are! Strange where we find happiness it is the little things for sure! Everyday I have a gratitude prayer and focus on the little things. When I meet new people I try to see what makes them special Awesome!

    • Thanks so much, Jeanna, for the kind words. I totally agree, it’s the little things that matter and make us thankful.
      Have a wonderful day and chat soon. Hugs!!

  13. Thanks for sharing Joana! Besotted seems to be the word for this lady. Isn’t it grand to have her correspondence available – to basically peek over her shoulder at how life was like at Chatsworth and other grand estates. What will future generations, peeking over our e-shoulders, think of our lives?

    • Dread to think Dave 😉
      It’s really lovely to peek, I can tell you that! Diaries, letters. Biographies, not so much, they don’t end well 😉
      Thanks so much for the comment, lovely to hear from you! Take care, keep well and chat soon!

  14. Joana, Thank you for this. I want to say her letters were very touching. She had it bad, in that she so adored him; but she also was very fortunate because it sounds as if he was a caring husband. This was a sweet little gem. 🙂

    • So glad you liked it, Barbara!! You’re right, she really sounds like she had it bad 😀
      It’s so nice to read those letters and think that they were very happy!
      There’s so much more in her letters, shrewd observations about contemporaries and all sorts of comments that make her sound like an Elizabeth rather than a sappy Lydia or Kitty, but that makes the sappy phrases even more adorable. Thanks for your comment, I’m so pleased you liked the little gem!

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