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
We are delighted to welcome a new guest to our blog, Stew Ross. Stew is a retired commercial banker who embarked on writing books more than five years ago. He enjoys writing about important and interesting historical events of Paris and its time periods. He takes his readers around Paris on defined walks to visit the buildings, places, and sites that were important to the theme of the book. Stew is currently working on two books covering the Nazi occupation of Paris between 1940 and 1944 (Where Did They Put the GestapoHeadquarters?). These books will follow his first four books—two volumes each—Where Did They Put the Guillotine? A Walking Tour of Revolutionary Paris and Where Did TheyBurn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of MedievalParis (click here to find out more). Stew hopes you will visit his blog at www.stewross.com as well as follow him on Twitter and Facebook. So, now over to Stew…
I’m honored to have been asked by Sarah and Joanne to write a piece for their blog site. Although I first learned of Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754–1823) through an article in the BBC History Magazine, it was Sarah and Joanne’s book, An Infamous Mistress which provided me an expanded view into Grace’s life and in particular, her activities during the French Revolution.
GRACE AND JULIETTE
I would like to introduce you to Juliette Récamier (1777–1849). Although twenty-three years younger than Grace, Madame Récamier had many things in common with Mrs. Elliott—although I’m not quite sure the term “courtesan” would apply to Juliette as it did for Grace. Similar to Grace, Juliette married an older man (by 30-years) and suffered a loveless and unconsummated marriage (he was rumored to have been her biological father). Each of them moved about effortlessly in the upper echelons of society but died virtually penniless. Both of these women were so gorgeous that famous artists clamored to paint their portraits.
Juliette Bernard was born into the family of Jean Bernard, King Louis XVI’s counselor and receiver of finance. Her mother ran one of the most sought after salons in Paris and it was there, at the age of fifteen, that she was introduced to and ultimately married the 42-year-old banker Jacques-Rose Récamier. By the time Juliette had turned eighteen, Marie Antoinette had heard of her beauty and sent for her. Unlike Grace, Mme Récamier hid her loveless marriage and divorce was not an option. Reportedly, she remained a virgin until the age of forty-two.
It is a wonder that Juliette’s husband escaped the blade of Madame Guillotine during the French Revolution. It seems his friendship with the revolutionary Jean Jacques Régis de Cambacérès (1753–1824) allowed M. Récamier to keep his head.
When Juliette was twenty-one, M. Récamier purchased the former residence of the king’s finance minister, Jacques Necker. Located on Rue du Mont-Blanc—today 7 rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin—the mansion would serve as the site for Juliette’s luxurious balls, receptions, and most important, her salon.
Besides her exquisite beauty, Juliette was well known for her Paris salon and as one of the city’s leaders of fashion. Her salon was extremely fashionable with discussions centered on politics and literary interests. Her circle of friends included Lucien Bonaparte (Napoléon’s brother), Mme Germaine de Staël, François-René de Chateaubriand, various foreign princes, and many famous contemporaries during the time of the Empire and first Restoration.
Juliette turned down an invitation to be lady-in-waiting for Napoléon’s wife, Joséphine. Coupled with her strong friendship with Mme Staël, Napoléon ordered Juliette to be exiled along with Mme Staël, a fervent monarchist and outspoken opponent of Napoléon and the Empire—Juliette moved to Italy whereas Germaine took up residence in Switzerland.
Juliette returned to Paris after Napoléon was sent into his exile (turn about is fair play?). She continued to receive visitors at her apartment located at 16 rue de Sèvres (the building was demolished in the early 20th-century).
Juliette Récamier died of cholera and is buried in the Cimetière de Montmartre. We will visit Juliette’s grave in my seventh book Where Did They Bury Jim Morrison the Lizard King? A Walking Tour of Curious Paris Cemeteries.
THE RÉCAMIER SOFA
One of the legacies Juliette left us with is the Récamier sofa. She is lounging on the sofa in Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait of her. The original Récamier sofa can be seen at the Louvre. As you view the painting at the top of the post, notice Juliette is not wearing any slippers or shoes. When David introduced the painting to the general public there was a huge scandal over her being presented barefoot.
We are delighted to once again welcome to our blog the lovely Geri Walton, blogger and now author. Geri, like us, has long been interested in history and fascinated by the stories of people from the 1700 and 1800s. This led her to achieve a degree in History and resulted in her website which offers unique history stories from the 18th- and 19th-centuries.
Marie Antoinette has always fascinated readers worldwide. Yet perhaps no one knew her better than one of her closest confidantes, Marie Thérèse, the Princess de Lamballe. The Princess became superintendent of the Queen’s household in 1774, and through her relationship with Marie Antoinette, a unique perspective of the lavishness and daily intrigue at Versailles is exposed.
Born into the famous House of Savoy in Turin, Italy, Marie Thérèse was married at the age of seventeen to the Prince de Lamballe; heir to one of the richest fortunes in France. He transported her to the gold-leafed and glittering chandeliered halls of the Château de Versailles, where she soon found herself immersed in the political and sexual scandals that surrounded the royal court. As the plotters and planners of Versailles sought, at all costs, to gain the favour of Louis XVI and his Queen, the Princess de Lamballe was there to witness it all.
This book reveals the Princess de Lamballe’s version of these events and is based on a wide variety of historical sources, helping to capture the waning days and grisly demise of the French monarchy. The story immerses you in a world of titillating sexual rumours, blood-thirsty revolutionaries, and hair-raising escape attempts and is a must read for anyone interested in Marie Antoinette, the origins of the French Revolution, or life in the late 18th Century.
The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Orleans first met when the Duke visited England in 1783. The two men hit off because both men were wealthy and enjoyed idling away time. They were known to regularly “drink, bet at races, and gamble with dice and cards.” A second visit by the Duke made in the spring of 1784 had them visiting a variety of race tracks where they bet on the horses, and a third visit by the Duke, in the autumn, cemented the men’s relationship further when they went to Brighton, which was little more than a fishing village at the time.
Despite the Duke (b. 1747) being 15 years older than the Prince (b. 1762), the two men had other commonalities that encouraged their friendship. Both men enjoyed all sorts of vices, such as wasting time and constantly spending money. This caused the Prince’s father, George III, to view the Duke as a bad example for his son. In addition, reports about the Duke’s orgies did not help his standing with the King nor did the fact that George III had already issued a “royal proclamation against vice and immorality, and all kinds of swearing, drunkenness, and licentiousness.”
Despite the King’s proclamation, the Prince continued to live a wanton lifestyle. Similar to the Duke, the Prince also had a number of mistresses. In fact, one mistress the Prince and the Duke had in common was the divorcee Grace Dalrymple Elliott. The Prince first met Elliott when he was eighteen. They eventually had an affair, which resulted in Elliott giving birth to his daughter on 30 March 1782 and caused the Prince to supposedly remark, “To convince me that this is my girl they must first prove that black is white.”
The Prince did eventually admit the girl was his although even before her birth, the Prince and Elliott’s relationship had fizzled. With the Prince tired of Elliott, he introduced her to his friend the Duke of Orleans. Despite being married, the Duke was interested in Elliott. (He had married on 6 June 1796 Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, who was sister-in-law to the ill-fated Princesse de Lamballe.) The Duke pursued Elliott, made her his mistress, and, by 1786, she moved to Paris to be closer to him.
As time passed, the Duke and Prince’s relationship continued to strengthen. At one point the Prince commissioned a portrait of the Duke, and the Duke ending up buying a house in Brighton because of his frequent visits to England. Moreover, during one of the Duke’s stays in Brighton, the Duke “had 28 fallow deer brought from France as a present to the Prince, who had recently formed a kennel of staghounds in Brighton.” Unfortunately, on the way to deliver them to the Prince’s kennels, a revenue officer seized the deer, and it was only after much wrangling that the deer were released and sent on their way to the Prince.
The two men also forged closeness in other ways. First, the Duke of Orleans invested large sums of money in England, and, second, he embraced everything “English” to the point the Duke made anglomania fashionable in France. Another reason for the men’s closeness was their common dislike for Louis XVI and the French monarchy. The English were “bitterly exasperated against the court of Louis XVI for aiding in the emancipation of America,” and, so, the Prince saw little wrong with the Duke supporting French revolutionaries, who were pitted against Louis XVI and the monarchy.
Despite the Duke and Prince’s similarities and common dislike for the French monarchy and Louis XVI, their friendship eventually began to wane. It completely ruptured after the Duke voted for the death of his own cousin, Louis XVI. Before the infamous vote, Elliott asked the Duke of Orleans, how, in good conscience could he allow his King and his cousin to be condemned by “blackguards.” He reassured her nothing would ever induce him to vote for the King’s death. However, he also noted “he thought the King had been guilty by forfeiting his word to the nation.”
When the vote was taken, the Duke did not keep his word to Elliott. Later, after the vote, Elliott would say there was no one she detested more than the Duke. The Duke’s vote also caused many people to believe the Duke was attempting to undermine the monarchy and seize power for himself. This belief resulted in him becoming “a hated figure among the exiled aristocrats. He was [also] soon a figure of contempt for fellow republicans, who whatever their political principles, retained a belief that blood was thicker than water.”
Although the Prince of Wales disliked the French monarchy and Louis XVI, he also believed blood was thicker than water. After he heard the news that the Duke had voted for the death of his cousin, Louis XVI, the Prince of Wales became livid. “He leapt up from his chair, dragged down from the wall the portrait of Philippe that he had commissioned from Joshua Reynolds decades earlier and smashed it to pieces in the fireplace.” Thus, the friendship of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Orleans ended forever.
Ambrose, Tom, Godfather of the Revolution, 2014
Bishop, John George, The Brighton Pavilion and Its Royal and Municipal Associations, 1900
Craik, George Lillie and Charles MacFarlane, The Pictorial History of England During the Reign of George the Third, 1849
“London, (Thursday) March 24,” in Derby Mercury, 24 March 1785
Major, Joanne, and Sarah Murden, An Infamous Mistress, 2016
We are delighted to be featured on the fabulous Amazing Women in History website, with an article about Grace Dalrymple Elliott. We think that Grace certainly qualifies as an ‘amazing woman’ and we very much hope that you do too.
Grace was a born survivor; when she was cast out after her divorce, her reputation in tatters and her options limited, she dusted herself down and determinedly set out on a career as a high-class courtesan. But there was much more to Grace than just her infamy and frequent appearances in the gossip columns.
She showed incredible bravery when she remained in Paris during the French Revolution, hiding a royalist sympathizer at great personal risk to herself and undoubtedly saving his life, intriguing for the ill-fated French queen, Marie Antoinette, and dabbling in espionage. She was the author of one of only a few first-hand accounts of those years written by a woman.
So, without further ado, we invite you to check out our article by clicking here to read more on Grace. Do have a look at the bio’s of the other amazing women too while you’re there as they make for fascinating reading.
Header image: Marie Antoinette with her children and Madame Élisabeth, facing the mob that had broken into the Tuileries Palace on 20 June 1792 (via Wikimedia).
“I have often wished to enquire, my dear Mrs Lightfoot, how it was you came to make the acquaintance of Grace Dalrymple Elliot.”
We’ve been lucky enough to receive a preview copy of the respected author and historian Hallie Rubenhold’s new novel, The French Lesson which is launched in the UK on 21st April 2016. It’s a book we’ve been waiting with baited breath to read as it has our leading lady Grace Dalrymple Elliott as one of the main characters.
As Hallie’s work is fictional she had free rein with Grace and we were keen to see how Hallie’s Grace measured up to the Grace we had come to know and love during our many years of research into her life and family. We had high hopes as Hallie’s expertise in the eighteenth-century is outstanding (she also wrote the biography of Grace’s boon companion Lady Worsley which was turned into a BBC drama last year, The Scandalous Lady W, as well as works on the notorious Harris’s List) and we’re glad to say we were not let down. By the end of the first chapter we knew Hallie had nailed Grace.
This is the second book in a trilogy. In the first, Mistress of My Fate, young Henrietta (Hetty) Lightfoot fled from her home and was faced with the ugly realities of the Georgian world but found love in the arms of the handsome Lord Allenham. In The French Lesson, our heroine’s adventures begin in Brussels, with Allenham missing, forcing Henrietta to venture to Paris in search of him where Grace takes Miss Lightfoot under her wing, and further educates her in the ways a woman can survive on her own wits and using her own body.
“You must not feel shame for your deeds, but enjoy the liberties that have been bestowed upon you.”
This advice is not welcome to Henrietta but Grace, as she would have been in real life, is worldly wise; she knows that to live in any kind of style as an unmarried woman, Henrietta must rely on the patronage of wealthy men. This was Grace’s course in life, and Henrietta would do well to take Grace’s counsel, for Grace had chosen wisely with her protectors.
Grace’s old lover, Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans is portrayed with a wickedly vivid perspective, and his lover (and Grace’s rival) Madame de Buffon is brought wonderfully to life, as is Paris and its environs.
We don’t want to give away too much of the plot and spoil the story, which will keep you guessing until the end; suffice to say that the tale romps, twists and turns marvellously while Henrietta does her best to survive and work out just who she can and can’t trust as the shadow of the guillotine grows ever darker.
We loved The French Lesson. Hallie fully transported us into the streets of revolutionary Paris and the intrigues of Henrietta’s life. Her portrayal of Grace Dalrymple Elliott is real, gritty and uncompromising but a version we could clearly recognise and believe in.
The French Lesson is available from Amazon and other leading bookshops.
‘Compelling and operatic…Reads like a modern thriller’ SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE, author of The Romanovs
‘A dark and irresistible historical novel’ LUCY WORSLEY
‘Fast, funny, excoriating, scary, sexy… and such a *very* satisfying ending. The power is in the voice: I’ve rarely read such a powerful voice in fiction’ MANDA SCOTT
Visit Hallie’s website by clicking here for more information.
In the December of 1796 work began on building a prisoner of war camp at Norman Cross on the border between Huntingdonshire and Leicestershire. Built to house French prisoners of war, it was the first such purpose built camp anywhere in the world.
The site was chosen carefully – it could not be too close to the coast (which would make escape attempts more likely), near enough to London to be reached easily but not too close and in an area in which food and water would be readily available. Norman Cross fitted the bill perfectly.
The numbers of men held in the camp varied, but on average the population was around 5,000, mainly from the lower ranks of soldiers and sailors (occasionally wives were also taken up, if they were captured at their husbands sides on board ships, but they were generally held outside the prison as were some officers and civilians of a slightly higher status who were trusted on their honour not to break their parole). Escape attempts by the rank and file prisoners were a regular occurrence, sometimes successfully.
George Borrow (1803-1881), author and friend to the gypsies, remembered the camp from his youth – his father Captain Thomas Borrow was, around 1811, one of the men guarding the camp and the prisoners along with his regiment, and his family travelled with him. From Lavengro: The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest (1851), a mix of memoir and novel:
At length my father was recalled to his regiment, which at that time was stationed at a place called Norman Cross, in Lincolnshire, or rather Huntingdonshire, at some distance from the old town of Peterborough. For this place he departed, leaving my mother and myself to follow in a few days. Our journey was a singular one. On the second day we reached a marshy and fenny country, which owing to immense quantities of rain which had lately fallen, was completely submerged. At a large town we got on board a kind of passage-boat, crowded with people; it had neither sails nor oars, and those were not the days of steam-vessels; it was a treck-schuyt [trekshuit, a form of barge or narrowboat], and was drawn by horses.
Young as I was, there was much connected with this journey which highly surprised me, and which brought to my remembrance particular scenes described in the book which I now generally carried in my bosom. The country was, as I have already said, submerged—entirely drowned—no land was visible; the trees were growing bolt upright in the flood, whilst farmhouses and cottages were standing insulated; the horses which drew us were up to the knees in water, and, on coming to blind pools and “greedy depths,” were not unfrequently swimming, in which case the boys or urchins who mounted them sometimes stood, sometimes knelt, upon the saddle and pillions. No accident, however, occurred either to the quadrupeds or bipeds, who appeared respectively to be quite au fait in their business, and extricated themselves with the greatest ease from places in which Pharaoh and all his host would have gone to the bottom. Nightfall brought us to Peterborough, and from thence we were not slow in reaching the place of our destination.
And a strange place it was, this Norman Cross, and, at the time of which I am speaking, a sad cross to many a Norman, being what was then styled a French prison, that is, a receptacle for captives made in the French war. It consisted, if I remember right, of some five or six casernes, very long, and immensely high; each standing isolated from the rest, upon a spot of ground which might average ten acres, and which was fenced round with lofty palisades, the whole being compassed about by a towering wall, beneath which, at intervals, on both sides sentinels were stationed, whilst, outside, upon the field, stood commodious wooden barracks, capable of containing two regiments of infantry, intended to serve as guards upon the captives. Such was the station or prison at Norman Cross, where some six thousand French and other foreigners, followers of the grand Corsican, were now immured.
What a strange appearance had those mighty casernes, with their blank blind walls, without windows or grating, and their slanting roofs, out of which, through orifices where the tiles had been removed, would be protruded dozens of grim heads, feasting their prison-sick eyes on the wide expanse of country unfolded from that airy height. Ah! there was much misery in those casernes; and from those roofs, doubtless, many a wistful look was turned in the direction of lovely France. Much had the poor inmates to endure, and much to complain of, to the disgrace of England be it said—of England, in general so kind and bountiful. Rations of carrion meat, and bread from which I have seen the very hounds occasionally turn away, were unworthy entertainment even for the most ruffian enemy, when helpless and a captive; and such, alas! was the fare in those casernes. And then, those visits, or rather ruthless inroads, called in the slang of the place  “straw-plait hunts,” when, in pursuit of a contraband article, which the prisoners, in order to procure themselves a few of the necessaries and comforts of existence, were in the habit of making, p. 24red-coated battalions were marched into the prisons, who, with the bayonet’s point, carried havoc and ruin into every poor convenience which ingenious wretchedness had been endeavouring to raise around it; and then the triumphant exit with the miserable booty; and, worst of all, the accursed bonfire, on the barrack parade, of the plait contraband, beneath the view of the glaring eyeballs from those lofty roofs, amidst the hurrahs of the troops, frequently drowned in the curses poured down from above like a tempest-shower, or in the terrific war-whoop of “Vive l’Empereur!”
Borrow had his first encounter with the gypsies outside Norman Cross. In a paper given by David Nuttall at the Easter Conference of the George Borrow Society, he speculates that the gypsies Borrow met, probably Faden John and Morella Smith, were in the area specifically because of the money-making potential from the prisoner of war camp and carding straw plait ready to sell on for illicit use in the prison where it was turned into plaited objects which then could be sold.
Gambling was rife within the walls of the camp, with some men gambling away both their clothes and their food rations – some even died of starvation because of this. But generally discipline was good and the prisoners crafted various objects to sell to supplement their income. Fanny Chapman, whose diaries are hosted on our sister blog, recalled being given an ivory chess set in 1811 which had been carved by a French prisoner of war at Norman Cross.
As the war ebbed and flowed, so did the number of prisoners – by the summer of 1802, following the Treaty of Amiens, the prison stood empty and the government advertised the buildings for sale. This was swiftly countermanded just months later when it became obvious that, with hostilities resumed, the buildings comprising the camp would once again be needed for their original purpose. A year later, Dutch and French prisoners were being marched from the prison ships in which they had been held to Norman Cross.
After peace had been declared between France and Britain in 1814 the remaining prisoners were free to return home and most, although not all, did so. One Jean (John) Habart married a local girl and settled in Stilton near Peterborough where he worked as a malster and innkeeper and ‘bore an excellent character for honesty and integrity’. He died, aged 63 years, in 1846 when he was discovered, his neck broken, on the ground next to his cart on his return from Peterborough market. The inquest into his death returned a verdict of ‘accidental death’ but it seemed to have been suspected that foul play might have been the cause.[i] He was possibly the Jean Hobart captured with two other men on the 26th June 1803 from a French fishing vessel off Calais, who was employed as a baker while in the camp and discharged in 1811.[ii]
Further information on the burials of the 1,770 men who never left Norman Cross can be found here including the details of 41 men who were Trafalgar veterans.
[i] Cambridge Chronicle and Journal (31st January 1846) and Stamford Mercury (6th February 1846).
An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available from Pen and Sword Books (click here to order) and all good bookshops.
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It is impossible for us to ignore one of the major events of the French Revolution, the execution of Marie Antoinette which took place on 16th October 1793 given our interest in the French Revolution and her reputed acquaintance with Grace Dalrymple Elliott, so with that in mind we thought it might be an idea to take a ‘whistle stop tour’ of just a few of her paintings and of course, in our usual manner, if slightly disrespectful, we simply had to include a couple of caricatures of her too. We also came across some newspaper reports about her last days which we simply had to include.
Unlike Grace and many others of her time for whom very few, if any paintings still exist, Marie Antoinette totally spoils us with so many remaining for us to enjoy, making it difficult to select just a few. She was one of the most painted celebrities of her day, even right up to her execution.
Our first offering is one from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and is dated 1775, so when Marie was just a mere 20 years old and some five years after her marriage to Louis XVI. We have to say that in our opinion she looks much older than her age, so it’s not very flattering, but it clearly highlights her long slender neck – who could possibly have foreseen how events would end when this image was produced!
Our next is again from the Metmuseum, but has no artist nor date, but one that we like very much for its beautiful simplicity, not at all like some of the highly elaborate paintings that exist of her.
Marie’s most notable portraits were those painted by the artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, this one painted around 1783 being our favourite one. Her luscious blue dress, with copious amounts of lace and that beautiful ‘old fashioned’ pale pink rose, quite possibly the highly scented rose, ‘Autumn Damask’ or ‘Cuisse de nymphe’. If anyone can identify it we would love to hear from you.
This next portrait is in stark contrast to the previous one. Marie making quite a statement in her low cut beautiful red velvet dress accompanied by her two children.
Our next two as promised are caricatures of her, the first a search for her being carried out with Marie disappearing out of the door whilst they try to kill her in her bed.
The next the Royal Runaways as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are trying to make their escape, but are captured.
We move to her last few days and in a newspaper article referring to her time in the Conciergerie which confirmed that the total number of prisoners in Paris prisons at that time as being some 2,989. Life, although extremely cramped, was described as being one of mirth and gaiety, guzzling Bordeaux with their dinner which was described as splendid and sumptuous, suppers consisted of ham and salad* – how accurate a reflection of the truth we could not say.
According to the St James’s Chronicle of November 21, 1793 Marie’s situation was in stark contrast, she was confined to a small cell, half underground and a mere 8 feet by feet –
‘her bed was made of straw, one mattress and an old tattered coverlid, and terrible to tell she was continually and in all situations in the presence of four Gens d’Armes, who never quitted her chamber. Her food was such as given to common prisoners ; her health was visibly declining; her hair became grey; and the monsters fearing her natural death might deprive them of their wretched victim hurried her to the scaffold.
Some days before her death she was wearing black and even sleeping in her mournful attire, expecting every instant to be dragged from her bed of woe by executioners. She wished to die in mourning for her unfortunate consort, but the barbarous regicides deprived her even of this last consolation and compelled her to put on a white waistcoat’.
A further report in the same newspaper, dated 3rd October 1793 sheds a little more light of her situation :
‘She rises every day at 7 o’clock and goes to bed at 10 o’clock at night. She enjoys a good appetite her breakfast consists of chocolate and a small roll; dinner of soup, fowl, mutton chops etc. She only drinks water and is in this respect said to imitate the late Empress Maria Teresa her mother, who never drank wine. She performs the business of her own toilet with great care. Her eyes are red from weeping and restlessness; her hair turned grey. Her looks still remain sweet and her deportment royal and majestic’.
At midday Marie reached Place de la Revolution; she showed some emotion but quickly regained her composure, climbed the steps to the scaffold. A mere fifteen minutes later the blade came down – Marie Antoinette died just two weeks before her 38th birthday.
According to the English newspaper reports that appeared following her execution she was described as having
‘preserved a calm and steady countenance. During the first hours of her trial she played with her fingers upon the bar of the chair with an appearance of unconcern and it seemed as if she were playing on the piano-forte’.**
Our final offering shows the demise of Marie Antoinette and was a sketch by Jacques Louis David, the sketch requires little explanation in our opinion.
We also came across a document listing everyone who was sent to the guillotine and is an immensely helpful resource. It includes Marie Antoinette, but records her death as being 17th October 1793, rather than the 18th as commonly recorded.