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Kitty Douglas, duchess of Queensberry and Dover


Catherine [Kitty] Douglas, duchess of Queensberry and Dover (1701–1777), literary patron, was the second daughter of Henry Hyde, second earl of Rochester, later fourth earl of Clarendon (1672–1754), son of Laurence Hyde, first earl, and his wife, Jane Hyde (c.1672–1725), daughter of Sir William Leveson-Gower, though Lady Mary Wortley Montagu always said that Kitty's real father was Henry Boyle, first Baron Carleton. Henry Hyde, Baron Hyde, was her brother. Her mother was a great beauty and Catherine, usually known as Kitty, was brought up in a household frequented by literary celebrities such as Alexander Pope and Matthew Prior. They made much of her, and when she was about sixteen Prior composed his well-known poem ‘The Female Phaeton: upon Lady Kitty Hyde's First Appearing in Publick’.

On 10 March 1720 Kitty married her second cousin Charles Douglas, third duke of Queensberry and second duke of Dover (1698–1778), at a magnificent ceremony in her father's house in Whitehall, London. Both were tall and slim, Kitty with large brown eyes, fair hair, and a famously graceful figure. They were a devoted couple. The duke, who had inherited great wealth when he was only twelve, was a quiet, patient man, a good listener, and a natural diplomat. This was fortunate, for Kitty had strong opinions and no hesitation in voicing them. Perhaps as a reaction to the flattery heaped upon her in her mother's house, she hated artifice. She could dress magnificently when she chose, but she rarely wore jewellery, as her portraits show, and she often startled her friends by appearing at court in the simplest of garments. She avoided alcohol, loved walking, and was an enthusiastic planter of trees on her husband's estates. Convinced that she knew best, she was all too ready to tell other people how they should live their lives, but in spite of her blunt manner she had a kind heart and her friends valued her common-sense advice. She and the duke had two sons, Henry, Lord Drumlanrig, born in 1723, and Charles, born in 1726. A daughter, Catherine, died in infancy.

The duke was lord of the bedchamber to George II, and at their London residence, Queensberry House, their regular guests included Handel, Pope, Prior, William Kent the architect, Charles Jervas the painter, and John Gay the playwright. When, in 1729, Gay was refused a licence for Polly, a sequel to his immensely successful Beggar's Opera, Kitty took up his cause, quarrelled with the lord chamberlain, offended the king, and was ordered to withdraw from court. London society was horrified at her temerity, but the duke stood by her and resigned his appointment as vice-admiral of Scotland, despite the king's kindly urgings that he should stay on. When Gay fell ill, Kitty took him in and nursed him tenderly. The duke and duchess, he told Swift, could not have treated him more kindly had he been their nearest relative. On his death in 1732 they arranged his magnificent funeral in Westminster Abbey and put up a monument by Rysbrack, describing him as ‘the warmest friend, the gentlest companion, the most benevolent man’.

For the next fifteen years the duke and duchess divided their time between Amesbury, their Wiltshire and Oxfordshire estates, and Drumlanrig Castle, the duke's ancestral home in Dumfriesshire. Kitty was finally received back at court in 1747. By then her sons were grown up, but her happy family life was shattered when the recently married Lord Drumlanrig apparently committed suicide in 1754 while suffering from depression, and his younger brother died of tuberculosis the following year. After that, Kitty and the duke preferred to live quietly at Amesbury. Even in her seventies she was as tall, upright, and energetic as ever. She died at Queensberry House in London on 17 July 1777, after a brief illness caused, according to Horace Walpole, by a surfeit of cherries. Her servants said that she had been suffering from a chest complaint. She was buried in the duke's family vault at Durisdeer, near Drumlanrig, Dumfriesshire.

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024