When the glamorous Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and Countess of Bristol, went on trial in Westminster for bigamy in April 1776, the story drew more attention in society than the American War of Independence. Now, in Catherine Ostler's brilliantly told and evocative biography, we get to see the full story of how Elizabeth came to be there and how she responded to what should have been the most humiliating episode of her life. Born in relatively modest circumstances, Elizabeth's father died when she was only five, leaving her vulnerable and eventually ensuring that marriage was the best way for her to secure her future.
What followed included a clandestine, candlelit wedding to a young earl who immediately set sail on his travels, and an appearance at a masquerade ball in a transparent dress that caught the eye of the Duke of Kingston. Soon they too were married, but when he died and left his inheritance to her, his children from a previous marriage decided to look into her past and contest the will. Rather than backing from the limelight, Elizabeth went on a Grand Tour of Europe, being welcomed by the Pope, Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great among others. In a world where a woman's place was severely circumscribed, Elizabeth had found a way to plough her own path as a spirited adventuress, and very much a pioneer for modern celebrity culture.