Today we are going to take a look at the French village of Ville d’Avray, where Grace Dalrymple Elliott ended her days. In the eighteenth-century Grace had been known as a notorious courtesan and mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales (when he was young and handsome) and Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans. The Prince was the reputed father of her daughter, Georgiana, although Cholmondeley was the man who brought her up as if she was his own.
But, by the time the Regency ended and her former lover took the throne as King George IV, Grace’s heyday had passed. Elderly and in ill-health she left England and settled instead in Ville d’Avray, a quiet village in between Paris and Versailles, where she died in 1823.
Originally a rural village, with copious vineyards on its exposed hillsides, it was transformed by the nearby Versailles, and the royal palace there. The forest, La forêt de Fausses-Reposes, which surrounded the village was used for hunting and, until the French Revolution, the Fontaine du Roy provided drinking water to the French royal family when they were at Versailles (it was known to provide the best drinking water in the area around Paris). The large pond on the edge of the village was connected to another royal residence, that of the Château de Saint-Cloud, by an underground aqueduct. The Parc de Saint-Cloud is still connected via that aqueduct, and water from the pond at Ville d’Avray flows to the ponds and waterfalls of Saint-Cloud, and the forest at Ville d’Avray eventually merges into the scenery of the Parc de Saint-Cloud.
In 1789 Marc-Antoine Thierry gained the title of Baron and began to build a château and paid for a new church to be built. The construction began just three days before the fall of the Bastille and, although Thierry fell a victim to the Revolution (he was assassinated in the Abbaye prison during the September massacres in 1792), these buildings have survived.
Following the Revolutionary years Ville d’Avray gradually became more residential and people from all disciplines of the arts fell under its charm and spent time living there. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), a well-known landscape artist, lived in the village for many years and left behind may fine paintings of the pond and forest on the edge of Ville d’Avray. Although all but one of his paintings shown here date from many years after Grace died, they can’t be that much different from the scenery she would have known and recognised from her last home.
If you would like to know more about Grace, our biography, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, is now available for pre-order at Amazon and elsewhere and due to be published by Pen and Sword in January 2016.
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.