Skip to Main Content

About The Book


'A rollicking read... [Ostler] tells Elizabeth's story with admirable style and gusto' Sunday Times
'Terrifically entertaining: if you liked Bridgerton, you’ll love this. . . and her research is impeccable' Evening Standard

When the glamorous Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, Countess of Bristol, went on trial at Westminster Hall for bigamy in April 1776, the story drew more attention in society than the American War of Independence.

A clandestine, candlelit wedding to the young heir to an earldom, a second marriage to a Duke, a lust for diamonds and an electrifying appearance at a masquerade ball in a diaphanous dress: no wonder the trial was a sensation. However, Elizabeth refused to submit to public humiliation and retire quietly. Rather than backing gracefully out of the limelight, she embarked on a Grand Tour of Europe, being welcomed by the Pope and Catherine the Great among others.

As maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales, Elizabeth led her life in the inner circle of the Hanoverian court and her exploits delighted and scandalised the press and the people. She made headlines, and was a constant feature in penny prints and gossip columns. Writers were intrigued by her. Thackeray drew on Elizabeth as inspiration for his calculating, alluring Becky Sharp. But her behaviour, often depicted as attention-seeking and manipulative, hid a more complex tale – that of Elizabeth’s fight to overcome personal tragedy and loss.

Now, in this brilliantly told and evocative biography, Catherine Ostler takes a fresh look at Elizabeth’s story and seeks to understand and reappraise a woman who refused to be defined by society’s expectations of her.

About The Author

JP Masclet

Catherine Ostler is an author and journalist who has been editor-in-chief of Tatler, the Evening Standard (London), and editor of The Times (London) Weekend Edition. She has also written for a wide range of publications, including VogueDaily Mail (London), and Newsweek. She read English at Oxford University, specializing in literature. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (April 15, 2021)
  • Length: 480 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471172564

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

‘What a superb, gripping, decadent, colourful biography that brings an extraordinary woman and a whole world blazingly to life. Filled new research, written so elegantly with empathy, passion and cool analysis, The Duchess Countess is an unforgettable, unputdownable read that seems both modern and historical, utterly relevant today - featuring a cast of characters from Marie Antoinette to Catherine the Great, but also the life of a woman who is both adventuress and victim, who achieved vast wealth and great notoriety, becoming one of Europe's most famous women and the star of the most scandalous court case of the century.’

– Simon Sebag Montefiore

‘Although this book is a beautifully written and deeply researched life of one of the most remarkable women of the eighteenth century, it is also a scintillating portrait of an age. Since Elizabeth Chudleigh knew so many of Europe’s most talented, fascinating and important people – as well as its most dissipated rakes – the book is populated by as wide a galere of personalities as one is ever likely to meet in a biography. The author has ransacked every archive and visited every place connected with her subject from London to St Petersburg, and the result is the first ever fair-minded estimation of one of the great adventuresses of history. Funny, intelligent, witty, profound and on occasion moving, this book sets a new standard for eighteenth-century biography writing.’

– Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny and Napoleon the Great

Fascinating. Magnificent. Sensitively told. Complex, capricious, beautiful and boldly ambitious, Elizabeth Chudleigh was also one of the most reviled women in Georgian England. In resurrecting her tale, Catherine Ostler allows the Duchess of Kingston to emerge from the prejudices of the past like a resplendent phoenix.’

– Hallie Rubenhold

‘This is a scintillating story superbly told by Catherine Ostler... She has a remarkable ability to demonstrate her deep knowledge of the period without being boring or a show-off. She packs every paragraph with eye-opening detail, making you feel as though you’re living in the 18th century, but never veers from the central story of a woman trying to hold herself together in that vicious society while the men did as they pleased.’

– Ysenda Maxtone Graham, The Times

'A rollicking read...[Ostler] tells Elizabeth's story with admirable style and gusto, and clearly finds her heroine irresistible. A series of gloriously implausible soap-opera twists... anticipating Thackeray's Becky Sharp... All this would be entertaining enough, but the real drama was yet to come. No wonder the scandal sheets loved it.'

– Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

'A dazzling portrait of a woman and an age - I was gripped from start to finish.'

– Antonia Fraser

‘Before there was Becky Sharp, there was Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and the greatest social grifter of them all. She lives once again, thanks to Catherine Ostler's captivating biography. Definitely dangerous to know, pretty bad and quite possibly mad, there's no better fun to be had than a ringside seat at the tragi-comic circus that was her life.’

– Amanda Foreman, author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

'Chudleigh’s life is like the longest and most jaw-dropping society story you’ve ever read. Ostler paints a glittering picture of London in the reign of George II...She also provides a close-up of what she calls “the psychodrama of the Hanoverian succession”. It’s all terrifically entertaining: if you liked Bridgerton, you’ll love this. The story romps along with great style and gusto, and her research is impeccable.'

– Marcus Field, Evening Standard

'Excellent... Ostler has undertaken impressive international archival research and always follows the money meticulously. The book’s spritely, wry tone is a pleasure to read throughout. By the end, however, I was ... in awe of Catherine Ostler’s thoughtful portraiture, both of Elizabeth Chudleigh and her century.'

– Ophelia Field, Times Literary Supplement

‘A masterclass in biography. Ostler brings her protagonist to life with dazzling prose, meticulous research and unique human sensibility. An immersive, glamorous odyssey stretching from rural England to the glittering palaces of St Petersburg, The Duchess Countess is a technicolour portrait of one of history’s most dynamic, but least understood heroines. An instant classic.’

– Natalie Livingstone, author of The Mistresses of Cliveden

'Well written and is a gripping tale'

– Anne de Courcy, Spectator

'In this sparkling gallivant through the 18th century, Catherine Ostler has done justice to a remarkable life... The real delight is the intimate detail of the royal court. The book also does an excellent job of shining a light on issues with thought-provoking modern resonance. Elizabeth is not flawless...[but] she could be just the heroine we need right now.'

– Emily Brand, BBC History magazine

Fans of Bridgerton (so, basically, everyone) will adore former Tatler editor Catherine Ostler’s deliciously evocative biography of Georgian anti-heroine Elizabeth Chudleigh, whose real-life antics make the Ton seem positively tame by comparison.

– Vogue, Best Summer Reads

'Ostler breathes new life into a fabulous subject by taking the reader on a social tour that follows the irrepressible Elizabeth from the tough and insouciantly decadent world through which she frolicked as a Hanoverian belle to the court of Catherine the Great. The centrepiece of Ostler’s fascinating book – and of Elizabeth’s life – is the sensational trial...for bigamy. Ostler has written as juicily readable a book as Amanda Foreman’s celebrated life of another Georgian beauty, the Duchess of Devonshire.'

– Miranda Seymour, Literary Review

'Makes for thrilling reading'

– Tatler

'In this brisk retelling Catherine Ostler does a good job of making us see how this ambitious army officer’s daughter was doing nothing more wicked than making the best of an indifferent hand of cards. For her latest biographer there is something quite admirable about the Duchess Countess, a girl who battled the law of the land, not to mention a good chunk of Britain’s aristocracy, in order to become her own woman.'

– Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

'Ostler is very good at conjuring up the 18th century "in all its elegance and acidity".'

– Roger Lewis, Daily Telegraph

'This is a brilliant biography that gives a stunning portrait of the age in all its glory and decadence, underpinned by the ever-present fear of losing face or fortune. Elizabeth comes across as a woman who snubbed the dictates of authority, and refused to be cowed by the paparazzi of her day. Very highly recommended.'

– Deborah Swift, Aspects of History

'Ostler writes beautifully of a Hanoverian life that was emblematic of much more than scandal. Elizabeth not only helped to inspire Thackeray’s Becky Sharp but scorched her way through a patriarchal society without compromise. Highly recommended.'

– Matthew D’Ancona, Tortoise Media

'A witty and engaging life of Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and Countess of Bristol, who was tried for bigamy in 1776, which for all her subject’s scandal-ridden life is ultimately sympathetic.'

– Andrew Roberts, History Today, Books of the Year

'A lively portrait of the resilient Elizabeth Chudleigh (b. 1721), who was found guilty of bigamy and then hurtled off to St Petersburg to become best friends with Catherine the Great.'

– Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Spectator, Books of the Year

'The eye-popping story of Elizabeth Chudleigh, inspiration for Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp, the racy society beauty who in 1776 was convicted of bigamy, and ended up running a vodka distillery in Estonia.'

– Iona McLaren, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year

'There is a great line in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: “If scandal is to your taste, Miss Mackay, I shall give you a feast!” Elizabeth Chudleigh, the subject of The Duchess Countess gave the British nation a feast in 1776 when she was put on trial for bigamy. Catherine Ostler tells the life of this unembarrassable Georgian social climber with verve. She was Becky Sharp meets Liz Hurley - George II fell in love with her when she wore a see-through dress to a ball - with a dash of Gwyneth Paltrow.'

– Robbie Millen, The Times, Best Biographies of 2021

'Welcome to this riveting story of racy society beauty and Georgian bigamist Elizabeth Chudleigh, who ended up running a vodka distillery in Estonia. She was a woman ahead of her time, someone who rose above her reversals of fortune. Her story shows the strength of the human will, and is an inspiration for anyone facing their own struggles, be they psychological or physical.'

– Rachel Kelly, The Idler, Books of the Year

'Begging for a Netflix adaptation, with shades of Jane Austen, Bridgerton and a dash of The Scarlet Letter. Ostler’s fittingly bubbly for the 'ton', or fashionable set.'

– Michelle Ruiz, New York Times

'In this skilful and highly entertaining biography, Ostler theorises that the uninhibited Chudleigh was a bit unhinged. The real strength of the book is the author’s painstaking effort to corral all the facts in recounting a life that even her contemporaries found wildly improbable. Bridgerton fans take note: for sheer incident and drama, Chudleigh’s story rivals any episode of the popular Regency-era Netflix series. And it’s all true.'

– Clare McHugh, Washington Post

'Catherine Ostler draws a vivid portrait of this remarkable woman. Ms Ostler has written a rich and compelling book, the fruit of deep and assiduous research.'

– Allan Massie, Wall Street Journal

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images