The Plurality of Worlds

Elizabeth Gunning
Translator of
Plurality of Worlds

Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton

Maria, Countess of Coventry

Brief Notes on the Life of Elizabeth Gunning

The Gunning Family

Elizabeth Gunning (1769–1823) was the daughter of Major General John Gunning of Castle Coote in Ireland and the novelist Susannah Gunning (née Minifie). John Gunning, the son of a barrister, was away fighting in North America for much of Elizabeth’s childhood. He ‘shewed the greatest proofs of military conduct and personal bravery’ at Bunker’s Hill and was mentioned in despatches. Off the battlefield, John Gunning (who claimed, with little evidence, to be descended from Charlemagne) was a spendthrift and libertine.

The Gunning Sisters

John's sisters, Elizabeth's aunts, were the famous Gunning Sisters, great society beauties of their time. Elizabeth Gunning senior (1733-1790) married first the Duke of Hamilton and then, on his death, the Duke of Argyll. Maria Gunning (1732-1760) married the Earl of Coventry. Sadly, it may have been an attempt to match such successful marriages which led the young Elizabeth into an embarrassing and very public scandal.


When she was about twenty, she became involved in a scandal involving forged letters from the Marquess of Blandford. It appears to have been an attempt to rekindle the affections of her cousin, the Marquess of Lorne, whose sister referred to her as the ‘ugly cousin’. We beg to differ! The engraving by Bartolozzi is very pretty, and even Gillray’s ‘The Siege of Blenheim’ makes her appear very attractive. General Gunning kicked Elizabeth and her mother out of the house, claiming to know nothing about the forgeries. However, a statement he made in 1792 indicates that he had sacrificed their reputations for his own. Facing a ruinous claim against him for criminal conversation (adultery), he fled to the continent with his mistress to avoid creditors and an angry husband.

Elizabeth published a number of novels, as well as her translation of
Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. It was her only book on astronomy.

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