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Privilege and Scandal: The Remarkable Life of Harriet Spencer, Sister of Georgiana

3.87  ·  Rating Details  ·  451 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Sweeping and scandalous, rich and compellingly readable, here is the first biography of Lady Harriet Spencer, ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, and devoted sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Harriet Spencer was without a doubt one of the most glamorous, influential, and notorious aristocrats of the Regency period.

The second daughter of the prestigious Spencer
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published June 5th 2007 by Crown (first published August 1st 2006)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,335)
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Rebecca Huston
A really intriguing look at the lesser known of the Spencer girls -- Harriet, the sister of Georgiana, and quite a person in her own right. This biography struck the right note with me, and I enjoyed it very much. Recommended for those who loved the film The Duchess, or who have read Amanda Foreman's biography about Georgiana. What really surprised me was how Harriet was related to, or influenced, many of those powerplayers in the Victorian period.

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As I've said repeatedly in my reviews, I'm a confirmed Anglophile with a particular love for micro history. I am deeply fascinated by the Georgian/Regency period, & that fact has a lot to do with the Spencer family, particularly Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, & her sister, the less famously written-about Harriet, Lady Duncannon. Her life was every bit as full as Georgiana's, though, & she wrote just as much about it (& was written about, as well). Gleeson does a remarkable job ...more
Aug 08, 2008 Jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: english-history
Seeing as I had read the bio of her sister, it seemed only fair to read about Harriet.

Along with her sister Georgiana, Harriet ruled society of Regency England. She fell victim to all of its vices--love affairs, gambling, politics. Involved in the very heart of power, Harriet manipulated, arranged, and negotiated between the Tory and Whig factions.

Fun to read, well documented, and vibrant, this book was incredbily interesting, and gave a lot of insight into both the woman, and her time period.

Dec 25, 2014 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dee Ann
Aug 02, 2013 Dee Ann rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-favorites
Harriet's sister, Georgiana, has been more famous over time (see THE DUCHESS, with Keira Knightley), but in their own time, the inseparable sisters were almost equally celebrated. What an extraordinary life she led. Based on her own voluminous correspondence with friends and family, Harriet's life as an 18th century aristocrat was certainly privileged, but filled with emotion and exuberant highs and lows. She and her sister lost fortunes gambling. In the relaxed standards of her time, she carrie ...more
Oct 26, 2007 Kate rated it it was ok
This should actually be more like two and a half stars. I can't bring myself to give it three, because I can't really say I liked the book, though I did find it extremely interesting.

I think that the author at times shows an unswerving loyalty to Harriet at the expense of some of the other people in her life. There are times when she seems to be trying to portray Harriet in a favorable light no matter what. I think this leads to some letters being over-interpreted, with too much added and assume
I was drawn to this book mainly due to the Spencer family as I loved Princess Diana and was interested in discovering her family history. Hardly a commoner, this family was wealthly with huge status and influence with politians and royalty of their day. I would never have guessed from the beginning of this book how Harriet would develop and found it a very revealing sometimes shocking account of life in the 1800's. I often found myself compairing the scandals of todays celebrities paling into in ...more
Dec 31, 2015 Claire rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: female-lead, 2015
An enjoyable look at the life of Georgiana's younger sister Harriet. Unfortunately although Harriet was a great correspondent throughout her life many of her letters were destroyed outright or heavily edited in order to whiten her reputation. As a result the book does run into some generalities but nevertheless it is an interesting account of an aristocratic life at the end of the Georgian period / start of the regency.

Harriet was extremely well-connected socially, married 'well', and had many l
Apr 25, 2015 Susie rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished
I really enjoyed this. What an amazing life. She was able to influence politics despite having virtually no rights as a woman. Yes she was a party girl---but she was also very smart and grasped politics!
Jul 23, 2010 Jodi rated it liked it
Have read the book on Georgiana Spencer and this was a bit of a repeat obviously. Gleeson has thoroughly researched the topic which made it a bit disappointing when conclusions were reached without proof (so much was footnoted that the larger claims were glaring when they were not proven). For example: "Harriet opened each new letter from her husband, recalled each embarrassing extravagance, and plunged deeper into an abyss of misery, self-hatred, and terror that he would abandon her." Quite a c ...more
Victoria (vikz writes)
This book is an excellent description of a vibrant, exciting, but flawed woman, who was at the centre of a turbulent society. It explores the world that surrounds the characters portrayed so well in the film 'The madness of King George'. In exploring the life of this intriguing woman; it gives the reader a glimpse of the the animosity that existed between; the king and his son, the Whigs and the Tories and the various other factions that existed within society. Harriet, and her sister Georgiana: ...more
May 20, 2009 April rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 21, 2015 Sue rated it did not like it
Shelves: aarf-yuck-ugh
Book starts out by burning a myriad of original documents. Did not find anything interesting here. Guess you had to be there.
Mar 03, 2009 Lynne-marie rated it it was ok
Given the scope of the subject, Harriet Spencer was an intimate of Lord Byron (or was he pursuing her daughter? a fraught subject), was present at the battle of Waterloo, and general debauched herself at a court that was reknown for debauchery, this book fell quite flat for me. Perhaps I'm not truly into debauchery or perhaps I prefer it with a spice of wit and intelligence, which the author doesn't seem to capture for our Harriet. Lots of nasty secrets, but they didn't hold my interest. It was ...more
Dec 03, 2015 Bill rated it liked it
Though this book is well researched and well written I did not care for it as much as I supposed I would. I learned I am not very interested in the scandalous goings on of the 18th and early 19th century even though they were of the rich, the famous and the remembered of the day. If you like this sort of thing you will love this book if you do not then skip it.
Oct 20, 2007 Yvonne rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished, own, book-club
This is one of the best biographies I have read. Don't be put off by its size -- yes, it's a long book, but it's also an easy read. Gleeson makes you forget that Harriet is from centuries ago -- she really gets the reader to connect with Harriet and feel for her. Though Harriet is far from perfect, she is extremely easy to like. I highly recommend this book!
Jun 27, 2015 Jake rated it liked it
Not quite as readable as the famed biography of her better-known sister. Interesting nonetheless.
Dec 08, 2012 Whimsical rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
Extremely interesting and scandalous life of Harriet Spencer. Having read the book written about her sister Georginia, Duke of Devonshire much of the information overlap; however, one does get insight into Harriet's personality, her many dalliaces and her love and comment to family and politics.
The book was not as dry as most biographies tend to be, but it also wasn't quite as entertaining as a non-fiction book by Antonia Fraser. I liked it, but I wasn't loving it and was actually avoiding the book until I decided I would give up on it and find something more interesting.
Oct 17, 2008 Alec rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biographies
I found this book very entertaining, as well as informative about the lifestyle of the elite of that period. Harriett was a fascinating woman traveling in really interesting circles. I had little idea that women had an active role in politics at that time.
May 18, 2012 Shannon rated it really liked it
The title says it all. This is a great book to read after Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire. Harriet had an interesting (and scandalous -- yay!) life in her own right. You'll also learn what the heck a bathing machine is.
Kate Evans
Nov 01, 2007 Kate Evans rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: biography fanatics, anglophiles
This biography is a fun look at the sick world of British nobility. Harriet Spencer's letters to her lovers show that not much has changed since the late 1700s -- affairs, gambling, shopping binges, even paparazzi.
May 19, 2008 Heather rated it it was ok
Shelves: gave-up-on
This is not a selection I'd normally choose on my own. I am reading it for my book group. It's kind of interesting but I'm going to give up on it. It's time for something light and airy in my life . . .
Faye Faye
Nov 08, 2010 Faye Faye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A much more interesting book and character than that of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. A recommended read to anyone interested in late 18th/early 19th century aristocracy and players.
Jun 29, 2010 Sheila rated it really liked it
The book focuses a bit too much on Harriet's romantic liaisons but that is consistent with the title. It is illuminating to learn more about Georgiana through reading about her sister.
Feb 24, 2009 Emily rated it really liked it
Great, great, GREAT!!! Totally enjoyed it - it was factual, but engaging enough to keep me interested :)
Oct 08, 2015 Dianne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hands down, this book was a fascinating read, that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end.
Nov 24, 2015 Carolyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: england, 18th-century
This love story would make a great movie. So much drama, so much lost time and information.
Janika Puolitaival
No wonder she is legend if even half of this book is true.
Anna Anderson
Apr 10, 2010 Anna Anderson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Good and juicy
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