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Short biography
Elizabeth Chudleigh was the daughter of Thomas Chudleigh, a military officer and administrator of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, London, and his wife and cousin Henrietta. Her paternal grandmother was the writer Mary Lady Chudleigh (1656-1710), author of The Ladies Defence, a satire on marriage. Elizabeth's father died when she was a small child, leaving the family in genteel poverty. She was considered witty and attractive, and had many admirers. In 1744, after a whirlwind courtship, she quietly married Augustus Hervey, a naval officer from an aristocratic family. The marriage was kept secret so that Elizabeth could retain her salary and position at court as a maid of honor to Augusta, Princess of Wales. Hervey rejoined his ship and did not return to England until the end of 1746. The union proved to be unhappy, although Elizabeth secretly gave birth to a child in 1748. The baby died shortly after birth and the couple separated. She became a prominent figure in London society, throwing lavish parties, and by 1752 was the mistress of Evelyn Pierrepont, 2nd Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull. When Hervey decided he want a divorce, Elizabeth went before an ecclesiastical court and denied that they had ever been married. In 1769, the court pronounced her a spinster, free to marry, and within a month, she married Pierrepont and became Duchess of Kingston. Her husband died four years later, leaving her all his property on the condition that she remain a widow. In 1775, her late husband's nephew and heir, Evelyn Meadows, brought a charge of bigamy against her in the hopes of establishing a legal rationale for challenging the terms of the late duke's will. As a peer of England, she was tried by the House of Lords at Westminster Hall in 1776. The trial was eagerly attended by all of fashionable London society. Elizabeth was found guilty of bigamy. She left England to avoid further proceedings by the Meadows family and traveled through Europe and to Russia. She continued to style herself Duchess of Kingston until her death near Paris in 1788.
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