This is a little extra blog as, for those who have not yet read our books, we would like to let you know of not one, not two, but THREE money-saving offers across our titles; one of our books is now less than £1.
First, our publisher Pen & Sword is offering a ‘buy 2 get 1 free’ deal when you buy An Infamous Mistress, A Right Royal Scandal and our latest title, A Georgian Heroine together, saving an incredible £19.99. This offer comes with free UK P&P too, and you can take advantage by clicking here.
If you prefer eBooks, then Pen & Sword are also offering An Infamous Mistress (in ePub and Kindle format) for just £4.99.
And, for just 99p, you can download A Right Royal Scandal, again via Pen & Sword, as and ePub or Kindle book.
We’re not sure how long the bargain offers on the eBooks are going to be available for, so it’s a case of grab them while you can.
If you take advantage of any of these offers, we’d love to hear from our readers; you can contact us via this blog or find us on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you enjoyed reading, please do consider leaving a review online; it’s the best way you can thank an author.
Our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: the intriguing life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now here in the UK and available to pre-order elsewhere (it’s due for release in the US in May). If you are outside the UK, Wordery is good value and offers free delivery worldwide.
A Georgian Heroine, the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.
We never initially set out to research Mughal India and the East India Company (EIC) but, time and time again, the people we were looking at took us east. It all started with the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s family. Grace had a brother and three male cousins who all ventured to India in different capacities with the EIC. Perhaps best known of these is Colonel John (Jack) Mordaunt, who has been captured for posterity in the middle of a cock match against Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudh. Mordaunt, a keen cock-fighter, had imported birds from Europe which he thought were superior to those of the Nawab’s.
And as well as her male cousins out in India, Grace also had two female cousins – sisters – who travelled to the country on an ultimately successful husband-hunting trip. The EIC was concerned about its officers taking Indian women as wives and adopting Mughal dress and habits. In an effort to stem this, they encouraged British girls and young women to embark on ships for an Indian adventure and to provide suitable marriage material.
You can find more on Grace and her relations, who travelled the globe, in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
Our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, looks at the ancestors of the British royal family, specifically Anne Wellesley, her second husband Lord Charles Bentinck and their son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck but, first, we examined Anne’s background. She was the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington’s older brother) and Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, a Parisian opera dancer whom the marquess fell in love with as a young man. Richard was posted to India as Governor-General but Hyacinthe Gabrielle, chronically afraid of the sea voyage, refused to accompany him, a decision which would ultimately lead to the break-up of their marriage.
And so we come to our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as our heroine preferred to be known, fell in love when she was only sixteen years of age with a young lad who left her behind when he sailed to India in search of adventure, subsequently joining the EIC as a junior officer and rising to become a general and a baronet. This man, Sir David Ochterlony, remained Charlotte’s one true love throughout all her many adventures and exploits. Towards the end of their lives, David and Charlotte once again reached out to each other, albeit by letter and from one side of the globe to the other. Ochterlony, like so many before him, had ‘gone native’, dressing in flowing Mughal robes and smoking a hookah pipe while sitting cross-legged on his diwan, watching dancing girls. He could be spotted each evening with his multiple Indian wives, each atop an elephant as they perambulated around Delhi. Did Charlotte dare to dream that the only man she had ever loved would return to England to claim her, in her dotage?
If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte, all is revealed in our book. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?
In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.
Colonel Mordaunt and Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh at a Cock Fight, Company School, Patna, circa 1840, after Richard Earlom’s mezzotint of Zoffany’s ‘Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, via Sotheby’s website.
In our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, we uncover Grace’s maternal family for the first time and reveal that her aunt was the Countess of Peterborough. Robinaiana Brown was, for many years, the mistress of Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough (and 2nd Earl of Monmouth): he could not marry her for he already had a wife. When that wife died he married Robinaiana with indecent haste, anxious that the child she was carrying could be born legitimate.
The 4th Earl of Peterborough was not the only member of his family to have marital misadventures, for three successive generations of the House of Mordaunt made irregular marriages. We’re going to slip in to the end of the reign of Queen Anne to have a look at the 4th earl’s father, John, wonderfully titled the Viscount Mordaunt of Avalon in the county of Somerset (c.1681-1710), who, like his own father Charles Mordaunt (1658-1735), the ‘celebrated’ 3rd Earl of Peterborough (and 1st Earl of Monmouth), was a noted military commander.
John was a Colonel in the army, fighting bravely with the Duke of Marlborough’s forces: a wound received during the Battle of Blenheim (August 1704) caused him to lose his left arm. He also followed the example of his father when it came to matters of matrimony. The 3rd Earl of Peterborough had eloped with John’s mother, Carey Fraser and initially kept the marriage secret. (Carey Fraser the daughter of Sir Alexander Fraser was, by her mother, a descendant of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne, as was the 3rd earl’s mother, Elizabeth Carey.)[i]
Following John’s rejection (in 1703) as a suitor for the hand the Duke of Marlborough’s daughter, Mary, the duke wrote:
I have heard that he is what they call a rascal, which can never make a good husband.
In 1705 history repeated itself and John Mordaunt eloped with Lady Frances, daughter of Charles Powlett, 2nd Duke of Bolton. His parents, despite their own elopement, disapproved. Lady Frances might have been the daughter of a duke but she had brought no money to the marriage and there were no expectations of a later settlement from her father. John’s mother was especially displeased, writing to Lord Shaftesbury that her son’s:
‘unhappy marriage had shown the deepest ‘ingratitude’: ‘O that Heaven had left him no hand to dispose of!’
Their marriage has not yet been discovered and possibly it was conducted abroad, for Lord Mordaunt was neglecting his military duties in 1706 to attend to ‘his lady, who is at Ghent’.
By April 1708 Lord Mordaunt and his regiment were quartered in York. As well as his military career he had also entered the political arena, but now he stood down. The parish register of St Mary Bishophill Senior in York contains the baptism entry, on 19th Oct 1708, of Charles, son of Lord Mordon [sic] and on 16th Dec 1709 the baptism of John, son of the same. John, Lord Mordaunt and his wife Frances were living at Middlethorpe Hall at the time, a beautiful William and Mary country house located about two miles from York city centre, built in 1699 for Thomas Barlow, a master cutler from Sheffield.[ii] We have a brief description of the Hall dating from 1702 recorded in the diary of the Yorkshire antiquarian Ralph Thoresby:
17th September 1702. ‘Received a visit from Mr. Barlow, of Middlethorp, near York, which very curious house he built after the Italian mode he had observed in his travels to Rome…’
As the Barlow’s retained custody of the hall well into the latter years of the eighteenth-century, the Mordaunt’s were temporarily renting the residence. (Following the Mordaunts’ residence there, in 1712 Thomas Barlow embarked upon the Grand Tour with his son Francis and the hall was let to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.)
By September 1709 the disagreement between the 3rd Earl of Peterborough and his eldest son over the elopement was at an end. For the earl was also staying at Middlethorpe Hall; he wrote to the Duke of Marlborough from there, congratulating him on his recent military success in France in taking the fortress of Tournai. Possibly the birth of John’s son and heir had mended the rift?
Sept. 12th, 1709
I received the late agreeable news at my Lord Mordaunt’s house in Yorkshire, where Lord Huntley had brought his wife to see me… I congratulate your Grace the more upon this occasion, because it seems by the account we have received that the enemies never fought so well; the vigorous resistance added a grace to your victory and will make their submission less shameful. Upon Lake’s death, I desired Lord Mordaunt to make all possible haste to his regiment.
A year later all turned to tragedy. Smallpox was a dreaded disease at the time, with no class distinctions, striking down the wealthy in just the same way as the poor. It must have been particularly virulent that year as both John, Viscount Mordaunt, and his younger brother Henry (a naval officer) succumbed to the disease. By the middle of April, both brothers had been consigned to their eternal rest inside the family vault at their estate of Turvey in Bedfordshire.[iii]
On Thursday last, the Lord Mordaunt, only Son to the Right Hon. the Earl of Peterborough and Colonel of the Scotch Fuziliers, died of the Small-Pox, at Winchester, much lamented; he has left behind him two Sons.
John died intestate and administration of his effects was granted to a creditor in August 1711. Regardless of the fact that his ancestors lay buried there, many years later Charles, 5th Earl of Peterborough and 3rd Earl of Monmouth sold Turvey to cover costs following a Criminal Conversation case after Lord Foley discovered him in flagrante delicto with Lady Foley in a shrubbery.
The 5th Earl was Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s cousin – who knew that she was not the only member of her family to appear in a Criminal Conversation trial! But, for more information on Grace and her family you’ll have to read our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Currently, and for a limited time, it is available at the bargain price of just £4.99 as an eBook (Kindle and ePub) direct from Pen and Sword.
If you prefer to read a physical book, Pen and Sword also have both An Infamous Mistress and our second book, A Right Royal Scandal on offer at the moment for just £31.49 with free postage when they are bought together, saving 30% on the RRP price. You can get this offer by clicking here.
[i] The 3rd Earl of Peterborough married, secondly, the opera singer Anastasia Robinson – and that marriage was kept secret for many years, publicly acknowledged only months before the earl’s death.
[ii] Viscount Mordaunt died intestate; his probate confirms the place of his death and says he was ‘of Middlethorpe.’
[iii] Henry Mordaunt died on the 24th February 1710 at Bath (and was buried on the 1st March). Just over a month after his brother’s burial, John, Lord Mordaunt, also succumbed to the same disease, dying at Winchester on 5th April and joining his brother in the family vault on 13th April 1710.
As the nights start to draw in, it’s a perfect time to curl up in the warmth by your fireside with a book or two and so we’re delighted that our publisher, Pen & Sword, have chosen to offer both our current biographies as a discounted bundle deal. Even more so as they are perfect companion books to each other, together telling the full story of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her extended Scottish family as well as documenting the life of her daughter and granddaughter, continuing into the Regency and Victorian eras and culminating in a marriage into the British royal family.
And, is it yet too early to mention Christmas and Christmas shopping? These two books would make the perfect festive present for anyone who is interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history, the French Revolution or indeed anyone who has an interest in the royal family or has enjoyed watching period dramas such as Victoria on ITV.
You can buy both An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott and A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, in hardback, with a saving of 30% off RRP when bought together for a limited time by clicking here and selecting the ‘get this product as part of a bundle’ offer at the top of the page.
If you have enjoyed An Infamous Mistress and A Right Royal Scandal, watch out for our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, coming soon.
The Pastor’s Fireside: The family of Sir Thomas Acland, 10th Bt, Being Read to by the Vicar of Silverton by Henry Singleton (1766–1839); National Trust, Killerton.
The earliest known portrait of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott is a miniature painted by Richard Cosway around the time of her marriage to Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. It can be viewed on the cover of our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress.
Incidentally, Cosway lived on Berkeley Row where Grace was seen in a bagnio with the worthless Viscount Valentia, an indiscretion which led to a Criminal Conversation trial and her divorce; Cosway was called to the trial as a witness and testified to the disreputability of Mrs Jane Price’s house.
Then there are the two well-known portraits of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough, both now held in museums in New York. The full-length of Mrs Elliott was commissioned by her lover the 4th Earl (later 1st Marquess) of Cholmondeley and hung in his mansion in Piccadilly, and remained there even after their romance was over and Grace was in Paris, in the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Reputedly, the young Prince of Wales stood in front of this portrait and expressed his wish to meet the original; Cholmondeley was despatched to Paris to bring Grace home and she enjoyed a few short weeks as the Prince’s paramour and gained a permanent reminder and claim to the royal purse in the form of their daughter, born nine months later, Georgiana Seymour. We have examined this portrait, now in the Met Museum, in more detail in a previous blog post.
While her star burned brightly as Prinny’s courtesan (she replaced Perdita aka the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson in the prince’s affections), Gainsborough was commissioned to paint a head and shoulders portrait of Grace. Although by the time it was finished, the prince had long since abandoned its subject, it is a stunning portrait and one that gained an instant fame when it was first exhibited. Grace, it was thought, exuded a much too ‘knowing’ look.
These are all the confirmed portraits of Grace. There is a chalk drawing by Hoppner which is traditionally thought to be of Grace, and the jury is out on this one with us. It could possibly be her (we’ve discussed this drawing before too, here).
But Grace was a noted beauty and, for many years, a fixture in the society gossip columns. We can’t believe that there were no other portraits of her. We know of none painted while she was resident in France, and the Duke of Orléans would surely have commissioned a portrait or at least a miniature of his stunning mistress. It was with some excitement then, that we noticed a pastel portrait supposed to be of Grace had been added on to The Getty site. The provenance for the sitter being Grace comes from a 1906 edition of The Connoisseur, in which the portrait is reproduced as a colour plate; it is this image which is on The Getty website. The publication gives no other evidence for claiming the sitter is Grace. However, we can’t see Grace in this portrait (although we’ll grant the nose is a similar shape). Doing a little digging we found that there are several versions of this portrait. Many have passed through various auction houses over the years, as a portrait of an unknown woman, one is held in Riga Castle and one in the Royal Collection where it is traditionally claimed to be a likeness of one of the daughters of George III. So, we’ll leave this one with you, for your response. Do you think it is Grace, or not?
In the late eighteenth-century, John Wilkes, journalist, radical and politician, took a cottage on the Isle of Wight in which he installed his middle aged mistress Amelia Arnold and subsequently he was a frequent guest at Knighton Gorges Manor, the nearby house of Maurice George Bisset and his wife. Bisset’s wife, formerly Harriat Mordaunt, was the illegitimate daughter of Charles Henry Mordaunt, the 4th Earl of Peterborough and his mistress (and later second wife) Robinaiana Brown and also cousin to the infamous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we reveal in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot. Another local landowner was Sir Richard Worsley whose wife Bisset had, some years earlier, eloped with, leading to a very public and shocking criminal conversation case (for more information on the infamous Lady Worsley see Hallie Rubenhold’s excellent biography, The Scandalous Lady W).
John Wilkes had a legitimate daughter, Mary (Polly) (to whom he wrote about Lady Peterborough and Miss Mordaunt in 1775) and two illegitimate children, a son by his housekeeper Catherine Smith who he passed off as his nephew and a daughter named Harriet by his mistress, Amelia Arnold.
Thursday, Oct. 16, 1775
Lady Peterborough, Miss M___t, more gloomy and dejected than ever, and Miss G___d as pert and flippant as at Bath, more is impossible, are here, and no other ladies I believe of your acquaintance.
Wilkes wrote to his daughter Polly from Sandham Cottage, his house on the Isle of Wight, on 15th July 1791 to tell her that ‘Captain Bissett dined here yesterday, but I have neither seen nor heard of Sir Richard Worsley. The French ladies are at Knighton House, a grandmother, mother and little daughter’ and later that same month he wrote again, mentioning that he was kindly supplied with melons and other fruit from Knighton Gorges. The French ladies were perhaps aristocratic emigrants who had run for their lives before they lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Grace Dalrymple Elliot and her friend Lady Seymour Worsley (Sir Richard’s wife) were not quite so lucky, and while they kept their heads on their shoulders, they were unable to flee Paris and had to endure the terror of those years, documented in An Infamous Mistress.
Knighton Gorges (now demolished) was one of the most magnificent houses on the island, a contemporary description in an island history says of it:
The manor house is an ancient building, but appears to have been constructed with much taste and judgment; and great attention has been evidently paid to it, to preserve its original beauty, in the various reparations which inevitably have been bestowed upon it. In particular we may observe, that one part of the building is finely variegated by the ivy that binds its gable ends, which perhaps, are too numerous to afford pleasure and delight to the eye; and that the windows in front are all latticed and retain their antique pillars of stone for their present supporters. It is finely situated on the gentle rising of a hill between some fine woods, but at a sufficient distance to afford some very beautiful prospects.
The picture at the head of the article is of (from left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)
Letters from the year 1774 to the year 1796, of John Wilkes, Esq. addressed to his daughter the late Miss Wilkes, Volume 4, 1804.82-83
A New, Correct and much improved History of the Isle of Wight, John Albin, London, 1795
In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we mention her uncle by marriage, John Dundas who married Helen Brown, Grace’s determined and strong-minded maternal aunt who was a constant presence in Grace’s formative years. In 1748, some six years before Grace was born, John Dundas was a Captain in the 34th Regiment of Foot and was placed in command of a troop of soldiers hunting two fugitives from Newgate Prison.
William Gray and Thomas Kemp had been arrested for smuggling, both members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the south coast of England from Kent to Dorset during 1735 to 1750. On the 30th March 1748, these two, along with five other smugglers who were all being held in Newgate, managed to escape, all taking different routes through the London streets. Five of them were soon taken, but Gray and Kemp got clean away. They evaded capture for some weeks until, in mid-May, the following report appeared in the newspapers:
By an Express from Hastings we have an Account, that William Gray, who lately broke out of Newgate, was last Tuesday Morning retaken by a party of Lord Cobham’s Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Dundass, of Cholmondeley’s Regiment of Foot and carry’d to that Place; and that Kemp, who broke out at the same Time with Gray, narrowly escaped being taken with him.
William Gray stood trial and was sentenced to be transported for seven years; the Penny London Post reported on 27th July 1748, that Gray had given the Government information regarding smugglers and he was to be pardoned, however, he remained in Newgate and the General Evening Post, 19th November 1748 mentioned that he was so ill his life was despaired of. Thomas Kemp was recaptured along with his brother in 1749, after breaking into a house armed with pistols; both were sentenced to death.
More information on John Dundas and his wife Helen Brown can be found in our book which documents not only Grace’s life but those of her extended family as well.