Grace Dalrymple Elliott: Inventor of the Bellona Cap or Helmet, 1786

As many of you will be aware we are busily writing the biography of the noted 18th century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, for a few months mistress of ‘Prinny,’ who was later to become King George IV.  Her daughter Georgiana was said to be the Prince’s progeny.

Grace's daughter Georgiana as an infant. The portrait is now held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Grace’s daughter Georgiana as an infant. The portrait is now held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

So far much of our work has been researching her life, leaving little time to write any blogs about her.  We’re really excited by this research which will shed new light on Grace but in the meantime we felt that it really was about time we began to share something about her with our readers.  Whilst we can’t give away too much yet, there are one or two things we can release and so we give you the Bellona Cap or Helmet, as invented by Grace herself which was the height of fashion and taste during the spring of 1786 in Paris.

Firstly a description of the cap from The General Evening Post of the 30th March 1786, and it’s attribution to Grace’s invention:

Bellona’s helmet is the fashionable ornament at present in Paris for the mode comme il faut. The vizor is of tiger spotted sattin, bordered with a narrow black ribbon, the cawl, very high and puffed, of blue sattin, tied round with a broad nakara-coloured ribbon, edged with black. This ribbon forms a large bow before, and another behind, and joins two wide lappets of Italian gauze, descending below the waist. Five feathers, two of which are green, two nakara, and one black, form the crest of this beautiful helmet: The hair flowing behind, and two large buckles falling on the bosom, complete the tout ensemble. The honour of this invention is intirely due to our handsome countrywoman Mrs. E____, still the favourite of the D. of O.

The Whitehall Evening Post, reporting a couple of days later also made mention of Grace.

Mademoiselle E. the Duke of O.’s mistress, is at present the Perdita of Paris. Her new invented Bellona Cap is the reigning ton there . . .

And now, the cap itself, from Cabinet des Modes, 15th March 1786. As you can see it completely matches the description above, right down to the black edged nakara (bright poppy red) ribbons.

Bellona cap, as worn by Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
Rijksmuseum

In case you wondered, this is not an image of Grace sporting the hat, sadly!  We do know from archive records that not only was Grace an innovator of fashion but that she was also the Imelda Marcos of hats, having purchased in the region of 100 hats and bonnets  in a wide variety of colours, styles and fabrics, but predominantly made from silk and taffeta, over a two year period whilst in France, costing in total around 2,000 Francs!

Bellona was a Roman goddess of war, always depicted wearing the military helmet which inspired this cap. In ancient Rome senate meetings were held in the Temple of Bellona (Templum Bellonæ) where the fetiales (priestly advisers) held ceremonies regarding war, peace and foreign treaties which raises the very interesting possibility that Grace was presenting herself as such an adviser to her lover, the Duke of Orléans, in pre-revolutionary Paris?

Courtesy of British Museum -  Image AN00058095
Courtesy of British Museum –  Image AN00058095

For more information about hats from the era, you might enjoy our blog ‘Hideous Hats’.

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8 thoughts on “Grace Dalrymple Elliott: Inventor of the Bellona Cap or Helmet, 1786

  1. Jo Manning wrote an excellent bio of Grace published by Simon & Schuster. My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan, 2005.

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  2. Jo Manning

    I wrote the first thoroughly researched biography of Grace Elliott, My Lady Scandalous, published by Simon & Schuster in 2005. There was much more to her than the invention of a hat. And, yes, much of what had been said of her in the past had been inaccurate. I also contributed to the Dictionary of National Biography to try to set the record straight. After the publication of MLS, I found even more that I would have loved to have incorporated into my biography.

    Have you read my book?

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Victoria and Jo, thank you for your comments.

      Grace first came to our attention some years ago whilst we were researching an entirely different person. Knowing little of her ‘My Lady Scandalous’ was our first port of call and we did indeed read it with great interest.

      Continuing our research into our original subject we then came across a wealth of new information on Grace that illuminated areas of her life which were previously hidden and we felt we needed to take that further.

      The book we are writing focuses on these areas and on her background (much more than just giving new information on her headwear!) and so we hope that it will complement the information about her already published. Our book is just about complete so we hope to be able to share our research on Grace with you soon.

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  3. Gabriele

    I wonder if Dorothy L. Sayers had her in mind when she named Lord Peter’s club in the
    “Unpleasantness” story…I confess in reading the title of this article that was my first thought (and of course Lord Peter took a first in History…

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Thank you so much for your comment.

      We think that it would be fairly safe to say that the choice of name for the club being Bellona would have been as a ‘nod’ to the Roman Goddess of war given that many members of the club were soldiers.

      Both Grace Dalrymple Elliott & Dorothy L Sayers would no doubt have been aware of Bellona and used her in differing ways as their inspiration.

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Thank you so much for your kind comments. There will quite possibly be more to follow, in the meantime we hope you enjoy our other articles. 🙂

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