John Finlayson after Catherine Read
Elizabeth Dutchess of Hamilton & Brandon, And Dutchess of Argyll
18½ x 24½ inches
Elizabeth Gunning was born in Huntingdonshire in 1733 but moved with her family to Ireland in 1740 at the age of seven. When she and her sister came of age their mother, concerned about the family's relative poverty, encouraged the girls to seek work upon the stage in Dublin. This was not a particularly respectable endeavour and many similar girls ended up as courtesans to wealthy benefactors or, even more distressing, prostitutes hanging around the stage door. Luckily for Elizabeth she had the good fortune to go to London in 1752 and there attended a party at Bedford House thrown by the Duke of Hamilton. The Duke fell for her instantly and vowed to marry her that very night. A priest was summoned but refused to conduct the marriage as the bans had not been read and there was neither a licence or a ring. The Duke was so impassioned that they escaped the party and were married at The Mayfair Chapel in a clandestine ceremony later that evening.