The ladies of the title are the two wives of William Cavendish, fifth Duke of Devonshire, who flourished through the American and French Revolutions, and noticed with sorrow the deaths of their friends Marie Antoinette and Lord Nelson. Theirs is a curious and interesting tale, though not told so well as it might be. Georgiana Spencer, the first fifth duchess, succeeded by her marriage in uniting two powerful houses and fortunes. The second fifth duchess, though the daughter of an earl and hence duly addressed as Lady Elizabeth, had demeaned herself by an imprudent first marriage. She was saved from a seedy existence by Georgiana's generosity, and once in the Devonshire circle, became indispensable to both the Duchess and the Duke--to whom she bore two illegitimate children. It is Calder-Marshall's thesis that hers was a bed-warming duty, that only with his eroticism aroused by Lady Liz was William able to impregnate his wife. Given the author's coyness, the reader cannot decide. It was a licentious age, and bastards were accepted and provided for. But legitimate title was everything; the whole system of primogeniture that kept powerful houses afloat depended on legitimacy. The Marquis of Hartington, later the sixth duke, was born with an array of witnesses to attest that it was indeed Georgiana who bore him. . . . A sad story, one to make a housemaid weep for the sorrows of the great. Georgiana lost one eye and all her beauty. Elizabeth, having persuaded William to marry her 22 months before his death, ended her days in Italy, a would-be patroness of the arts. Calder-Marshall is grievously pompous. His scholarly pretentions, when examined, leak like a sieve; most of his many footnotes refer to secondary sources, and phrases like, ""It may be supposed the Duchess felt. . ."" abound. Dishearteningly.