Portrait of Duchess of Hamilton by Gavin Hamilton (1752-53) Commissioned by the Duke of Hamilton
He first sees her at an Opera House masquerade. She is the shy Gunning sister, demure compared with the spirited and more beautiful Maria, but the Duke of Hamilton is fascinated. Spurned by his former fiancée Elizabeth Chudleigh eight years prior, the bachelor Hamilton is freshly returned from his second continental tour. He sets foot in London when the Irish Miss Gunnings are the toast of town. They are 17 and 18, heralded as THE diamonds of 1752 despite hailing from an impoverished gentry, and soon the Duke of Hamilton will make one of them his duchess.
On the night of February 24, 1752 the dissolute gambler and drunkard, who is known to begin drinking anew as soon as his hangover diminishes, is hours away from the altar. Gossip would later say he acted upon a wager during a binge, but either way, the result is the same.
At a ball thrown by Lord Chesterfield to celebrate his sparkling new Grosvenor residence on South Audley Street, the duke sets his sights on Elizabeth Gunning. She is dressed in a simple Quaker’s gown and no sooner is his proposal aired than they are spirited away to Mr. Keith’s Chapel, the so-called “Gretna Green of Mayfair.” The hour is midnight, and with one of the chaplains awakened, the ceremony on Curzon Street commences. A curtain ring, you must know, is used in place of a jewel.
By earliest morning your graces are married and proceed immediately to the Hamilton seat of Sunburn in Hampshire for their honeymoon. By the middle of March, the new duchess is presented at Court and come March 30th, they depart for Scotland before a crowd gathered outside Hamilton’s townhouse on St. George Street. The duke, who proves a much better suitor than a husband, dies six years later and the ever successful Elizabeth goes on to bag a second duke, the Duke of Argyll.
The Duchess of Argyll by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1760)
Spring has finally sprung in my nook of the world, and these gorgeously flushed cheeks and breezy dresses are exactly what the doctor has ordered. From Ackermann’s Repository:
“PROMENADE DRESS A fine cambric round robe, with high bodice and long sleeves, not so full as of late; embroidered stomacher front and high collar, trimmed with muslin or lace; Tuscan border of needle-work the feet. A Cossack mantle of pale ruby, or blossom-coloured velvet lined with white sarsnet and trimmed entirely round with a broad skin of light sable, ermine, seal, or the American squirrel; a short tippet of the same, the mantle confined at the throat with a rich correspondent silk cord and tassels, very long. A mountain hat of velvet, the colour of the mantle, finished round the verge with a narrow vandyke trimming; a small flower placed in the hair beneath, on the left side. Half boots colour of the mantle and glove of primrose kid or pale tan.”
“MORNING DRESS A petticoat and bodice of fine jaconot muslin, finished round the bottom in vandykes and small buttons. The Rochelle spencer composed of the same material, appliqued with footing lace down the sleeve, and trimmed at each edge with a narrow, but full border of muslin. Double fan frill of muslin round the neck, very full, continuing round the bottom of the waist, where it is gathered on a beading of needle-work. Bourdeaux mob cap, composed of lace, with treble full borders, narrowed under the chin. A small flower placed backward, on the left side. Hair much divided in front, and in full waved curls on each side. Necklace of twisted gold and pearl, with pendant cross in the centre. Spring Greek kid slippers; and gloves of the same.”
Ackermann’s Repository, April 1814
“Bridal morning robe of fine cambric, richly embroidered, and trimmed with puckered muslin round the border and down the front, which folds over á la Sultan. Elizabeth spenser and bonnet of etherial blue; the spenser elegantly ornamented in a novel style with white satin, &c. The bonnet of blue satin and fine net, crowned with a superb bouquet of full blown white roses; a Brussels lace cornertte is worn with this elegant bonnet. Cachemire shawl drape, with a rich variegated border: triple ruff of broad Brussels lace. Half-boots of etherial blue kid, the upper part of fine cachemire coloured cloth.” From Ackermann’s Repository, May 1818
“Patent moveable axles for four wheeled carriages.” From Ackermann’s Repository, March 1819