Greedy and cunning, Lady Elizabeth Chudleigh spent her entire life trying to bury the greatest secret of her youth: an illicit marriage gone terribly wrong. She lied her way to the very top, making dangerous enemies along the way. Tainted by duplicity, Elizabeth set fire to her own life—and when the smoke finally cleared, she was a chilling shell of the beautiful woman she once was.
1. She Was Destined For More
Elizabeth experienced tragedy right out of the gates. When she was only five years old, her father, having squandered his money, met a sudden end. This left little Elizabeth in genteel limbo. She neither starved nor enjoyed the luxuries of the extremely wealthy. However, Elizabeth was destined to become embroiled in the British royal court—and it would only lead to notoriety and scandal.
2. Her Beauty Survived The Worst
At the age of 15, a threat to Elizabeth’s blooming beauty darkened her doorstep. She survived a dangerous bout of smallpox, but in a stroke of luck, escaped the curse of any lasting scars. Of course, her flawless face wasn’t the only thing going for her. Elizabeth was exceedingly charming and witty—and before long, she caught the eye of a much older “gentleman”.
3. She Was A Victim
Elizabeth’s very first foray into romance was enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. Still a child in many ways, she became politician William Pulteney’s object of affection. He was a powerful man with a seat in the House of Commons, and even more unsettling—a wife. But despite all this, Pulteney couldn’t resist the temptation of a defenseless teenage girl.
And that’s when things got even more disturbing.
4. She Attracted An Older Man
For all his pomp and circumstance, William Pulteney was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. With his beady eyes on Elizabeth, he showed a disturbingly strong interest in her education and began spending long hours alone with her. According to her first biographer (and to nobody’s surprise), their “intimacy” wasn’t always platonic. But with a favorable eye cast upon her daughter, Elizabeth’s mother only encouraged their close connection—and it created a legendary ripple effect.
5. She Followed A Dangerous Path
After spending much time with her, Pulteney made a suggestion that changed the course of Elizabeth’s life forever. He advised her to move to London and ingratiate herself in the royal court. You see, the king had smiled on Elizabeth’s older “friend,” making him the earl of Bath. This opened a whole new world for Elizabeth. But, little did she know, it was a world more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.
6. She Rubbed Shoulders With Royalty
Elizabeth left her childhood struggles in the dust when she arrived on the glittering threshold of the British royal court. Not only did she find herself with an income of £400, but she also snagged the role of maid of honor for the wife of the prince of Wales, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. To her credit, Elisabeth became incredibly popular—so much so that she wowed the likes of the king himself.
7. She Was Dressed Scandalously
Elizabeth certainly knew how to make an impression—and nothing is more memorable than a beautiful woman in a scandalous outfit. On one notorious occasion, she attended a masquerade in the Haymarket, and, when she made her entrance, jaws dropped. Elizabeth had transformed into the Greek princess Iphigenia, swathed in a stunning dress. But that wasn’t the shocking part.
8. She Caught The Eye Of The King
This dress was incredibly sheer and flesh-colored, so much so, that in the warm candlelight, Elizabeth appeared to be wearing nothing. King George II took immediate notice of her. Instead of being offended, however, he was delighted. In fact, he was so enraptured by Elizabeth that he outwardly voiced his approval of his son’s wife’s lady and even ordered another masquerade in her honor.
With every eye on her, Elizabeth could only hope to make a prosperous match—but, of course, her heart got in the way.
9. She Faced The Vices Of Courtship
The royal court was not all prim and proper. In fact, it teemed with vice and ravenous suitors, and this was where Elizabeth met the most eligible bachelor of the time. Entranced by her beauty and charms, James, Duke of Hamilton made a proposal of marriage. But there was one hiccup in this plan. Before they could marry, James had to leave her side and embark on a Grand Tour of the Continent.
Unfortunately for James, this gave Elizabeth ample time to have her head turned by another suitor.
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10. She Was A Rebel
Although James was quite the catch, that didn’t stop Elizabeth from tapping into her more rebellious side. While attending a horserace, she came face to face with Augustus John Hervey—an incredibly dashing suitor. Only, Augustus was not cut from the same cloth. In fact, he was a poor and lowly naval officer. Did this stop Elizabeth from making the most reckless decision of her life? Heck no.
11. She Married In Secret
Elizabeth fell head over heels for Augustus, and as a result, she didn’t think twice about dealing the Duke of Hamilton a vicious betrayal. In 1744, a secret marriage came to pass. She and Augustus met at a quiet Hampshire church, and, at 10 pm, the illicit ceremony began. Only a handful of friends and servants attended. You see, if anybody found out, the consequences would be utterly severe.
12. She Risked Everything
Most shockingly, Elizabeth kept her marriage a secret from her own mother. If anyone close to her exposed the truth, she'd risk losing her hard-won job and status. Her quickie marriage had been brash, spontaneous, and, most of all, doomed from the beginning. Not long after saying "I do," the couple had a sudden falling out—and the reason why was surprisingly sinister.
13. Her Husband Mistreated Her
There's a good chance that Elizabeth's marriage to Augustus imploded due to aggression and mistreatment, particularly in the bedroom. They went from hot to cold and instant, and when Augustus returned to his fleet, Elizabeth extinguished their romance. She never wanted to lay eyes on him again. However, this horrifying experience would come around to haunt her in a terrible way.
14. She Was A Shameless Flirt
Despite the disappointment of her twisted first love, Elizabeth continued to bat her eyes in court. She was an incredibly gifted flirt and became linked to more than one notorious courtier. Even King George II had a soft spot for her, and while rumors hinted at a potential affair, Elizabeth—for once—steered clear of that kind of entanglement. However, she did take advantage of his keen favor.
15. She Took Everything She Could
Under the appreciative gaze of the king, Elizabeth bestowed some of her perks on her own mother. The king gave her mother a role as a housekeeper at Windsor Castle. Now, mother and daughter both brushed shoulders with royalty, enjoying their hefty incomes. Everything seemed to be going well for Elizabeth, that is, until her pesky husband returned home to England—and ruined everything.
16. Her Mistake Came Back To Haunt Her
By this time, Elizabeth acknowledged that marrying Augustus Hervey had been a disastrous mistake. When he made his presence known, she refused to see him. And that's when the threats began. Augustus used their secret marriage as leverage, threatening to reveal their relationship to the world. Elizabeth had no choice but to go to him...and that's when her worst nightmare began.
17. She Couldn't Fight Him Off
Once Augustus had Elizabeth alone, he reportedly forced himself on her. This chilling interlude was bad enough, but when Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant, her courtly agendas took a back seat. She had no choice but to withdraw from court until her child was born. Her absence went unexplained, though, naturally, there was no shortage of nasty rumors at her back.
18. She Didn't Want To Be A Mother
Elizabeth's tormented road to motherhood only ended in sadness. After the child arrived, a wet nurse took over, and in the end, the baby didn't survive very long. When she returned to court, Elizabeth tried to put the whole debacle behind her—but that was easier said than done. She fought the rumors with complete exaggeration in order to make them seem less believable.
Her attempts were laughable at best.
19. She Fought Off Sordid Rumors
Desperate to obliterate the pregnancy rumors, Elizabeth once jested with Lord Chesterfield, "The world says I have had twins." His response was brutal and oh so telling: "Well I make a point of believing only one half of what the world says." Oof. Despite this deranged setback, however, Elizabeth returned to court with her head held high.
But drama followed her wherever she went, and she was about to shake things up like never before.
20. She Snagged A Fabulously Wealthy Lover
Elizabeth had certainly learned from her past mistakes. When it came to her next romantic conquest, she did not aim low. The Duke of Kingston, Evelyn Pierrepont, was just the kind of man to turn her life around. First of all, he came from a wealthy family: He had sprawling estates, not to mention a delicious income of £17,000 per year. But there was just one thing standing in her way.
21. She Overshadowed His Mistress
In order to dig her claws into the Duke of Kingston, Elizabeth had to break some hearts along the way. You see, the Duke already had a concubine, but once he met Elizabeth, the other girl just didn't stand a chance. To Elizabeth's delight, he ruthlessly dumped his French mistress for her. Oh, but his jilted lover did not respond well to being replaced, and she sought her revenge on Elizabeth in a vicious way.
22. She Won The Ultimate Prize
The duke's ex-mistress fled to Paris where she penned a hostile book about Elizabeth. Elizabeth, meanwhile, had won. She'd come out on top, and shamelessly enjoyed her new lover's constant attention. At 30 years old, she wanted nothing more than to keep her man in check. And while she didn't completely abandon her flirtations, she adored basking in the glory of her duke's wealth most of all.
Little did she know, her greed would one day become her Achilles' heel.
23. She Spent All His Money
For Elizabeth, slipping beneath the Duke of Kingston's sheets paid off in a big way. With one hand in his pocketbook and the other holding his heart, she spent his money like water. She filled his estates, as well as the homes he'd gifted her, with shiny bobbles and expensive ornaments. The duke kept her trussed up in the latest styles and provided every luxury she desired.
Her life was a dream, and above all, it afforded her protection from the fickle tongues of her peers—those that would, otherwise, tear her apart.
24. She Threw The Most Lavish Parties
By this time, Elizabeth's reputation had gone through the wringer, but even so, she remained a magnetic force within society. Who could resist her lavish parties plucked straight out of a fairy tale? There were fireworks and mountains of strawberries, tableaus, and endless entertainment. With that said, high society was more than happy to turn a blind eye to the dark rumors that cast a shadow on her character.
But this wouldn't last forever.
25. Her Duke Deceived Her
Elizabeth had bagged "the handsomest man in England" and enjoyed her spoils to no end—but it was all about to take a very messy turn. In 1764, the duke went behind her back and had a brief affair with a hatmaker. The betrayal caused Elizabeth to take a step back from their ongoing affair—and you can bet she used her freedom to kick up her skirts.
26. She Painted The Town Red
Although Elizabeth enjoyed her comfy life with the duke, she didn't take his deception lying down. During their time apart, she traveled to Europe where she graced the court of King Frederick II of Prussia. There, she let her party-girl nature soar. At one of the dances, she drank far too much and ended up completely intoxicated. But wild nights aside, she still yearned for the duke.
So, when he asked her to come back to him, she didn't hesitate. But just when her love life seemed to right itself, her past came back to ambush her from behind.
27. She Couldn't Divorce Him
Elizabeth just couldn't escape the blight of her first marriage. Her husband Augustus reared his again, and this time, with threats in tow. He wanted to sue her for a divorce so that he could marry another woman. Sure, Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to divorce him, but she had her reputation to worry about. A scandal like this could destroy her hopes of marrying her very wealthy duke.
She had no choice but to join forces with her husband—the man she despised the most.
28. She Schemed With Her Enemy
In response to Augustus' nasty threat, Elizabeth quipped back with a chilling warning. You see, if Augustus exposed their marriage, he'd have to take responsibility for her staggering £16,000 in debts—a burden Augustus had no desire to take on. So, they put their heads together and came up with an underhanded scheme. To get both of them out of this mess, she would sue him.
29. She Beat Him In Court
In many ways, Elizabeth and Augustus came up with the perfect plan. She sued him on grounds of his "jactitation of marriage". And what is "jactitation," you may ask? Well, it's when one claims to be married when they are not. During the trial, Augustus purposefully made his defense as weak as possible. Simple, cunning, and absolutely brilliant.
In 1768, the court sided with Elizabeth and declared that the couple had never been married. Problem solved...right? Wrong.
30. She Was The Queen Of Hypocrisy
This win seemed great and all, but there's an ironic twist to the story. You see, years before, in 1759, Elizabeth's greed caused her to make the silliest decision imaginable. She'd heard that Augustus' older brother, the earl of Bristol, was on death's doorstep. If he passed, then Augustus would inherit the title and the fortune, effectively making Elizabeth a countess.
Well, this was a prize she just couldn't resist—and so, she wanted proof that the marriage had occurred.
31. Her Devious Plan Went Awry
Spurred on by the promise of fortune, Elizabeth rounded up the surviving witnesses of her marriage and asked them to sign an oath, proving the legitimacy of her marriage to Augustus. But the joke was on her. The earl of Bristol did not succumb to illness as expected and Elizabeth had to scuttle back into her hole. Nine years later, her two-faced nature bubbled to the surface.
She publicly swore that she had never been married to Augustus. Elizabeth was a cunning opportunist—but it was only a matter of time before karma came calling.
32. She Made It To The Altar
Now freed from the shackles of her first marriage, Elizabeth could finally marry the Duke of Kingston. In 1770, she finally captured her "happily ever after"—but a dark current ran beneath their blissful facade. Society letters from that time revealed some unsettling truths about this marriage. In fact, some reports alleged that Elizabeth controlled her husband.
33. She Was A Control Freak
Within society, Elizabeth was the boss of her home and husband. One account even claimed that she required the duke to ask her permission if he wanted to step outside for fresh air. However, in the end, their time together was heartbreakingly short-lived. Only three after marrying, her husband passed away. And this is when her dreams really came true.
34. She Became One Of The Richest Women Around
Elizabeth, now a duchess, inherited all of her husband's fortune. This was a hard pill to swallow for the duke's nephew, who didn't stand to see a cent until Elizabeth herself passed. All he needed was a reason to go after the duchess for bigamy. And luckily for him, the opportunity presented itself in a shocking way. This time, Elizabeth would not escape her lies unscathed.
35. A Writer Knew Her Secrets
The beginning of Elizabeth’s sordid unraveling began with a play. One of Elizabeth’s servants had been in contact with the writer Samuel Foote, and he didn’t hesitate to use the duchess’s fascinating life story as the basis for his play, A Trip to Calais. It’s safe to say, he did not paint her in the most flattering light. When Elizabeth found out, her reaction was nothing short of diabolical.
36. She Had To Put An End To It
Elizabeth certainly didn’t appreciate being presented as Lady Kitty Crocodile, and that was exactly what Samuel Foote hoped for. You see, he had an inkling that Elizabeth would be willing to pay an exorbitant sum of money just to squash the play entirely. Unsurprisingly, she summoned him. He answered her call. And when she asked him to read some of the play’s passages to her, he watched as her expression morphed into one of horror.
37. She Didn't Want To Pay the Price
Elizabeth knew she had a problem on her hands. Seething with rage, she asked Foote how much it would cost to suppress the incriminating script. Samuel Foote was no fool though. He had his price at the ready—a stunning £2,000 could buy his silence, and no less. Elizabeth was scandalized by the amount and offered to only pay £1,600. But Foote wasn’t budging. Her stinginess would be her downfall.
38. Her Plan Backfired
Elizabeth Chudleigh did what she did best and went on the attack—but it backfired terribly. She ran to a member of the Whig Party, spouting accusations of blackmail. Meanwhile, Foote also had friends in high places. He took the story of Elizabeth’s bigamy to Lord Hertford and insisted that there was evidence of her deception. But that wasn’t the worst part.
39. She Had No Supporters
To make matter worse for Elizabeth, the duke’s disinherited nephew, Evelyn Medows, also backed the claims of bigamy against the duchess. She had nobody in her corner. Faced with mounting evidence, the Grand Jury decided that a trial was, indeed, in order. Elizabeth’s worst nightmare was finally coming true. She had no choice but to answer the summons.
If she did not, she would become an outlaw.
40. Her Case Caused A Sensation
Little did Elizabeth know, this case was about to blow up in her face. It went to the House of Lords—and caused an unprecedented sensation. Trial spectators flocked to Westminster Hall to watch the drama unfold. In fact, the stands were completely full. But that wasn’t the worst part. Oh no, there were huge names in attendance: Queen Charlotte and her children, including the future kings.
This was shaping up to be quite the affair, and it only got worse from there.
41. Her Fall From Grace Became Infamous
Elizabeth’s story ignited the interest of the entire nation: a rags-to-riches tale led by a manipulative protagonist. She’d clawed her way to the top. In fact, she’d become one of the richest women in Britain. And what’s more entertaining than watching the high and mighty fall? Gossip made this case infamous—and before long, it raged out of control.
42. She Earned A Humiliating Nickname
Elizabeth Chudleigh earned herself a humiliating nickname: the Duchess Countess. You see, her first husband had recently become an earl, and so, in a way, she was both a Duchess and a Countess. Things were not looking good for Elizabeth. For her, the trial was a harrowing experience. Even her attire was as dramatic as the whole debacle.
43. She Wore Black
Elizabeth attended her trial draped head to toe in black. She even wore a black hood. But there was something eerily familiar about her appearance. She looked just like Mary Queen of Scots facing down her impending execution. What’s more? 56-year-old Elizabeth had lost the blushing beauty of her youth. In fact, one witness recalled her looking “large and ill-shaped”.
But although she lacked her physical graces, Elizabeth still had a penchant for manipulation. The only question was: Would it be enough to save her?
44. She Wasn't Fooling Anybody
Elizabeth, known for throwing outrageous tantrums, reigned her selfishness in. She put her best foot forward and tried to appear as pleasing as possible. She spent a long time testifying in her own defense—but it just wasn’t enough. She’d sorely underestimated the power of her servants. One, in particular, held the key to her ruination.
45. Her Servant Betrayed Her
The entire trial went south for Elizabeth when her old servant Ann Craddock presented some chilling evidence. Simply put, she threw the duchess under the bus, not sparing her an inch of mercy. This week-long trial was considered “the event of the year”—and if the onlookers were thirsty for blood, then, by the end of it all, they certainly weren’t disappointed.
46. She Was Guilty
The gig was finally up for Elizabeth. It was time to pay for her reckless ambition. When the guilty verdict rang through the air, Elizabeth reportedly collapsed "lifeless to the ground". She was convicted of bigamy, but because of her illustrious station, she didn't have to face the gruesome consequence of having an "M" (for "malefactor") branded onto her skin.
For Elizabeth, however, the fight still wasn't over.
47. She Had The Last Laugh
If Elizabeth wanted to escape with her fortune, she had to act quickly. She knew that her husband's disinherited nephew Evelyn Medows would want to sue for the will to be overturned. He was also likely to bar her from leaving the country. Well, Elizabeth had one last laugh in her yet. She decided to trick him—and it was infuriatingly brilliant.
48. She Played A Dirty Trick
Elizabeth's coach was very recognizable, and so she had her driver spirit it all over town. Meanwhile, her own home would be alive with a raucous party. To any outsiders, including Medows, it would seem that she was busy entertaining. This would give her ample time to escape. She liquidized as many assets as she could, and then fled the country entirely, landing in France with infamy at her back.
49. She Slipped Through His Fingers
Elizabeth had successfully slipped through the fingers of not only Medows, but also her only real husband, Augustus. He'd wanted to divorce his wild wife once and for all, but because of their past transgressions, he was advised not to pursue it. As for Elizabeth, well, life was never really the same again. However, she still managed to wheedle her way into the favor of new high-class societies.
50. She Flourished
Despite the trial, Elizabeth managed to overcome her spoiled reputation. For the next 12 years, she enjoyed her life and traveled through Europe. She even fell into the good graces of the Russian royal family and the pope himself. Although she became stingier with age, she was as healthy and robust as ever. In fact, Elizabeth wanted for nothing; she was still a wealthy woman and owned multiple estates.
51. Her Rage Spelled The End
On the day before her passing, Elizabeth Chudleigh didn't seem ill at all. And then, in a single moment, it was all over. As the historian Lewis Melville wrote, "According to one account, the immediate cause of death was the breaking of a blood-vessel as the result of a violent outburst of rage on hearing that a lawsuit in Paris had gone against her."