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Elizabeth Hamilton, Duchess of Hamilton

(b. Jan. 26, 1753, Scotland – d. March 14, 1797, England )

Gender: F

Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Hamilton (1753-1797) was the daughter of James Hamilton, 6th Duke of Hamilton, and Elizabeth Gunning. On 23 June 1774 she married Edward Smith-Stanley, grandson of the 11th Earl of Derby. The wedding was celebrated at the Oaks, Smith-Stanley’s estate at Carshalton, Surrey, with an extravagantly expensive fête champêtre that included dancers, acrobats, opera singers, and a mock wedding attended by nymphs with Lady Elizabeth presented at its altar. They went on to have three children. Lord Stanley acceded to the title as 12th Earl of Derby two years later. He was an influential figure in British horse-racing: the Oaks and Derby races are named after him. In the late 1770s, Lady Derby had a very public affair with John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, a notorious rake. In 1778, she moved out of Lord Derby's house, in the expectation that her husband would agree to a divorce and the Duke would then marry her. However, Lord Derby made it known that he had no intention of divorcing his wife, and denied her access to her children. The countess was socially ostracised for the remainder of her life; she lived abroad until 1783.

Also known as:

  • Countess of Derby
  • Elizabeth Hamilton (née  Gunning)
  • Duchess of Hamilton

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Please note that all dates and location information are provisional, initially taken from the library and archive catalogues. As our section editors continue to work through the material we will update our database and the changes will be reflected across the edition.