Wandering through the newly refurbished gardens at Chiswick House you might pause at the entrance to the Amphitheatre and wonder what the Latin inscription says on the plinth at its entrance. It is a monument to a dog and the inscription translates as:
Beneath this monument lies Lilly, a little dog and the most good-natured of all dogs, of long time a most beloved companion, and in beauty and loyalty, a model of canine genius. She was free of the weaknesses of humankind while manifestly exhibiting its virtues. She was entirely without malice, but not without love. This tomb, and her mistress’s tears bear witness to her virtues. Her memory will not perish from the earth.
An entry in the Duke of Devonshire’s Household Accounts for Chiswick in the Archives at Chatsworth suggests that the monument had been erected by 1804: June 1st 1804, £28 paid to Mr Wood for a pedestal erected in the garden to the memory of Lilly by His Grace’s order.
So who owned the dog? The 5th Duke of Devonshire did own a dog called Lilly but it could not be the dog commemorated since there is a reference in his daughter, Lady Harriet Cavendish’s diary, to this dog giving birth to puppies in 1807. The Duke took Harriet to Chiswick in November 1807 for the express purpose of inspecting Lilly’s puppies. She wrote to her sister: ‘…he really thinks of little else and the whole time of dinner and supper he feeds and watches them, laughs excessively every time they squeak or run and listens to no conversation with half the pleasure as he does when the puppies are the subject’
The inscription anyway suggests that the dog’s owner was female, which means that it probably belonged to either Georgiana, 5th Duchess of Devonshire, or to Bess – Lady Elizabeth Foster – who lived in a strange ménage à trois with the Duke and Duchess for over 20 years. Three years after Georgiana’s death, the 5th Duke made her his second Duchess in a low key ceremony conducted at midnight at Chiswick House in November 1809.
Bess did own a dog called Lili. It is recorded in her diary entry of 25 May 1788, when she was in Rouen awaiting the birth of her second illegitimate child by the Duke. She writes:
The apartment tolerable, but in a close confined street on one part and a stinking court on the other. The Physician comes to me sometimes, but else poor Lucille [her maid] and Lili [her dog] are my only resources.
Bess’s dog Lili would have been over 16 years old in 1804 but, given the fact that the Devonshires, along with many of the nobility, were often slow in paying their bills, the dog might have died some years earlier and the monument been constructed before 1804. And then again there is always the chance that Lilly might have been a name frequently used by dog owners in the Devonshire family.
Gillian Clegg is the author of Chiswick Past, The Chiswick Book, the website chiswickhistory.org.uk and the recently published Brentford Through Time. She is also a co-compiler of the Chiswick House Gardens Archive