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Lafayette L1374
Neg. Date: 06-07-1897

copyright V&A

Georgina, Countess Howe (1860-1906) née Spencer-Churchill, photographed when Viscountess Curzon in a costume worn in 1897 to the Devonshire House Ball.

The fifth of six daughters of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, she married in 1883 Richard George Penn Curzon-Howe, 4th Earl Howe. Their only child and son Francis Richard Penn Curzon, 5th Earl Howe, took up racing later in his life and became one of Britain’s best known drivers. 

Georgina’s husband came to the Ball dressed as his famous ancestor, Admiral Richard Howe (1726-1799) and even carried the original sword presented to the Admiral by King George III upon his great victory against the French, which is known in naval history as ‘The Glorious First of June 1794’. Although it might have appeared more suitable for his wife to accompany him to the Ball as Mary Hartopp, the Admiral’s spouse, it was Georgina’s mother-in-law who acted the role! Georgina dressed herself as Queen Maria Leszczyńska (1703-1768), wife of King Louis XV of France and daughter of the dethroned Polish King Stanisław Leszczyński. 

Her choice of costume was perfectly matched by Lafayette, who equipped his studio with a fitting roccoco background and props, when she sat for him three days after the ball to have her portrait made for the Devonshire House Ball’s commemorative album.

As part of the international set, Daisy, Princess of Pless and Georgina met again at Cowes in 1903, at a dinner aboard the Emperor Wilhelm II’s yacht, and at a house party at Chatsworth. Georgina must have been very fond of Daisy as some years later she wrote that the Princess of Pless was “a dream of beauty” and that she would “never see such grace, dignity and perfect carriage again.”

The Howe couple enjoyed the intimate friendship of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and entertained them on many occasions at their country seat, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, and at Curzon House in London. During the King‘s last visit, Lady Howe was already gravely ill. She insisted, however, upon being  wheeled to the dinner table in an invalid chair in order that the august guest might enjoy the society of his hostess.

Countess Howe died after a long illness on 9 February 1906.