21 December 2014

The Duchess of Sutherland: 'The great ornament of Mr. Pitt's society'

Fig. 1: Lady Elizabeth Gordon (aged about 17 in c. 1782) by George Romney 

One of the main arguments I advocate strongly on this site is that Pitt was interested in women. I prefer to rely on primary source material, and I'm more inclined to give credence to the accounts of people who knew Pitt personally (e.g. his friends). One such friend whose testimony I trust is Pitt's friend Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (1760-1842). Thirty years after Pitt's death, Wellesley wrote to John Wilson Croker, relating some interesting anecdotes about Pitt. Wellesley told Croker that the Dowager Duchess (Countess) of Sutherland (Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, née Gordon, 1765-1839) was once "the great ornament of Mr. Pitt's society, and much admired by him." [1] Wellesley believed that she was "greatly attached to his [Pitt's] memory. I have frequently met her at Dundas's [where Pitt often went], at Wimbledon, and have observed that she was delighted with Mr. Pitt's conversation" [2].
Fig. 2: Richard, 1st Marquess Wellesley, by Thomas Lawrence (early 19th century)
She was married in 1785 to George Granville Leveson-Gower, known as Earl Gower from 1786 to 1803 (he became Marquess of Stafford in 1803, and the Duke of Sutherland in 1832). It is, therefore, highly improbable that she was anything more to Pitt than an admiring friend and a fellow witty conversationalist. The Dowager Duchess (Countess) of Sutherland lived for another three years after the date of the 1836 letter from Wellesley to Croker, but it isn't recorded whether her opinions about Pitt's memory were consulted further.

Fig. 3: Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, later the Duchess of Sutherland, by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland

It has rarely been acknowledged that Pitt had close female friendships. We would have to look elsewhere to learn more about the Duchess of Sutherland's revere for Pitt's memory as the letter from Wellesley to Croker is deceptively vague. To the Marquess Wellesley, however, it was enough that Elizabeth Leveson-Gower was once the 'great ornament' of Pitt's society of friends at Wimbledon.


1. Jennings, L.J. (ed.) (1884) The Croker Papers, Vol. 2. London: John Murray, p. 295.

2. Ibid.

Image Credits:

Figure 1: Lady Elizabeth Gordon, afterwards the Duchess of Sutherland (c. 1782) by George Romney. Source

Figure 2: Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (early 19th century) by Thomas Lawrence. Source

Figure 3: The Duchess of Sutherland, then known as Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland. Source


  1. Interesting post. I thought for many of her earlier married years, she was known by her family title -- Countess of Sutherland -- rather than her husband's title. I hadn't see that exquisite Romney painting of her. How lovely.

    1. That's right, Cheryl. She wasn't known as the Duchess of Sutherland until 1832. :)

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