Gower, Elizabeth Leveson (duchess of Sutherland) née Sutherland, 1765—1839
by Benjamin Colbert
Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, was born at Leven Lodge, near Edinburgh, on 24 May 1765, the daughter of William Sutherland, eighteenth earl of Sutherland (1735-66) and Mary Sutherland, née Maxwell (c.1740-1766). As a consequence of the early deaths of her parents without male issue, several claimants contested the Sutherland title, which was finally settled on Elizabeth L-G by the House of Lords in 1771. Raised by her maternal grandmother, Lady Alva, Elizabeth L-G grew up with all the advantages of an aristocratic education and received training in the fine arts.
In 1785, she married George Granville Leveson-Gower, Viscount Trentham (1758-1833; ODNB), who succeeded his father in 1803 as second marquess of Stafford. From 1790 to 1792, they removed to Paris when he was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary to revolutionary France. Back in England, Elizabeth G-L’s interest included raising local militias under her patronage, managing ‘improvements’ on her Scottish estates, and, with her husband, patronizing the fine arts. She was not only a subject (her portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, among others), but a collector, and herself an artist. Her presence in this database results from a privately printed collection of her drawings, etched by herself, accompanied with letterpress descriptions, as Views in Orkney and on the North-Eastern Coast of Scotland (1811). According to Thomas Frognall Dibdin, these were ‘executed with a spirit and correctness which would have done credit to the most successful disciple of Rembrandt’ (715n). As a result, the 120 copies printed were highly sought after and fetched substantial sums from collectors (as late as 1864 Jacques Charles Brunet referred to it as ‘Cet ouvrage magnifique’).
Elizabeth L-G’s improvements on her Scottish estates did not always keep her name in the public eye in a positive way; the consequent displacement of tenants in favour of arable and grazing land had its detractors and debates rumbled on into the early 1840s as to her rights in the matter. But her presence as a society hostess both in Edinburgh and London, and as the devoted mother of her four children largely outweighed this negative press. Even in her lifetime, there were numerous reprints of her portrait and biography like the ‘Illustrative Memoir’ published in La Belle Assemblée (1831), all of which express a high regard for her person, her titles and family, and her pursuits.
She died at London in January 1839, and was buried in the Sutherland, Scotland.
‘Account of the Improvements on the Estate of Sutherland, belonging to the Marquis and Marchioness of Stafford. Written in 1815’. Farmer’s Magazine 17 (Feb. 1816): 39-57. Print.
Brunet, Jacques-Charles. Manuel du libraire et de l’amateur de livres. Vol. 5. Paris: Librairie de Firman Didot Fréres, 1864. Gallica. Web. 1 Nov. 2017.
Dibdin, Thomas Frognall. Bibliomania or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance in Six Parts. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1811. Print.
‘Illustrative Memoir of the Most Noble, Elizabeth, Marchioness of Stafford, Countess of Sutherland, and Baroness of Strathnaver’. La Belle Assemblée 14.79 (July 1831): 1-6. Print.
Pinkerton, John. The Literary Correspondence of John Pinkerton, Esq. Now First Printed from the Originals in the Possession of Dawson Turner. Vol. 2. London: Henry Colburn, 1830. 367-68; 391. Print.
Richards, Eric. 'Gower, Elizabeth Leveson- [née Lady Elizabeth Sutherland], duchess of Sutherland and suo jure countess of Sutherland (1765–1839), landowner'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Oxford University Press. Web. 1 Nov. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/42000
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