The duchess herself was now embarked on a life so full that one wonders why brain-fag, that very modern product, did not attend on the life of rush which was the portion of so ambitious and beautiful a woman. "Few women have played a more conspicuous part in the theatre of fashion, politics, and dissipation," said Walpole of her. And he also described a day in the life of this "Empress of Fashion." "She was awake and energetic sixteen hours out of the twenty-four at a time when most fine ladies only got up in the afternoon. She went first to Handel's music in the Abbey. She then clambered over the benches, and went to Hastings' trial in the Hall; after dinner to the play; then to Lady Lucan's assembly: after that to Ranelagh, and returned to Mrs. Hobart's faro-table: gave a ball herself in the evening of that morning, and set out for Scotland next day."
She was a great friend of Queen Charlotte, and for fourteen years her house was the centre at which the adherents of Pitt met and consulted. When George III. became insane, and the Duchess of Devonshire supported the Prince of Wales for the Regency, the Duchess of Gordon supported Pitt. In his cause she flung aside the social rules, of which she had certainly never taken overmuch notice. She sent for M.p.s to her house, and worked early and late for her favourite. It was she who, by her tact and influence, made it possible for the scandal regarding the Prince of Wales's debts to be hushed up.
In the meanwhile she had taken the whole management of the Gordon estates into her own hands, increased the duke's fortune by £200,000, fostered the art of spinning and weaving in Kingussie - whence in one year a hundred new colours and fabrics were put forth to the world - and in twenty-eight years only exceeded by 1,420 - which was laid out on a farm - the personal allowance of 500 a year which the duke made her.
But her two most famous exploits were the raising of the Gordon Highlanders and the marrying of her daughters. In 1793 Louis XVI. was beheaded, and the whole of Europe was threatened with anarchy. The Duke of Gordon had already raised two regiments from his estates, and the land was almost drained of possible soldiers, but the duchess resolved on raising another regiment, which her son, the young Marquis of Huntly, might command. The letter of service was issued to the duke in February, 1794, and on the 24th of the following June the famous 92nd Regiment was embodied. To raise a regiment in that time, and from a drained population, was a miraculous thing. It was only carried out through the extraordinary personality of this wonderful woman.
She invented a bonnet nine inches high, consisting of a full crown of blue silk velvet, with a flat border going stiffly round the head, of pleated ribbon forming red, white, and green dice. It had tassels on one side and a cockade on the other, and it is now in the possession of the Gordon Regiment, whose feathered bonnets still perpetuate its outline.
In this extraordinary headgear the duchess rode through the villages, a scarlet cloak flung over her riding habit, her eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, her handsome young son by her side, and the king's shilling, much enhanced in value by the now historic fact that every lad who enlisted received a kiss from-the lovely Duchess of Gordon.
Her other exploit, the marrying of her daughters, was unique. She had for sons-in-law three dukes and a marquis, but these were not obtained without unwearied exertions and occasional humiliations. When Napoleon was First Consul, off went the Duchess of Gordon to Paris, to try and marry her youngest daughter to Eugene Beau-harnais, the stepson of the "Great Little Corsican"; but he had more ambitious ideas, and the duchess came back unsuccessful, and credited with what was then the unpatriotic saying that she wished she might see Napoleon breakfast in Ireland, dine in England, and sup at Gordon Castle.
Georgiana finally married the Marquis of Tavistock, afterwards Duke of Bedford, and on the Bedford estate in London we still have Huntly Street and Gordon Square in memory of his bride. Another daughter she tried to marry to Beckford, the author, a very rich man, and at that time a widower; but when she went down to visit him with her daughter, he simply kept his room. "I never could have served any other lady so, I hope. I never enjoyed a joke so much," he wrote afterwards.
The brilliance of her career came to a sudden close when the duke fell in love with a country girl of no family or education, and installed her at Gordon Castle. The duchess found herself without authority in her own house, which she had proudly left before ever the "bloodsucker," as she called her rival, had come there. The duke built a cottage for her at Kinrara, but hers was not a spirit to suffer in silence, and for some years she wandered about fighting for her lost rights in vain.
She died in a hotel in Piccadilly, where she lay in state for three days in crimson velvet. The duke seems to have behaved very shabbily, depriving her of money, and there was even a story of a divorce obtained when the duchess was ill, and a sham marriage with Jane Christie. After the duchess's death be really married her, but when this second duchess died, in 1824, the family refused to erect a marble slab to her, and it is still in existence in an attic in Gordon Castle.
The duchess, if not very lovable, had a very strong and interesting character. She had wit, and her letters show her as a woman of decided literary power. Her intellect was very fine. Although she could grasp a complicated political situation, she was just as much interested in the veriest frivolities of life. She was of so free a tongue that, even in a coarse age, she shocked many people. But she possessed one great virtue not always found in reigning beauties - she was a staunch friend.