The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, eighteenth-century courtesan and mother of the Prince of Wales’ reputed daughter.
Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young granddaughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her. She was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.
Grace left a will, one which caused a little trouble to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, the guardians of her granddaughter. To the Cholmondeleys fell the trouble of sorting out her affairs as they related to England and to her granddaughter. An adopted daughter, formerly known as Miss Staunton, laid claim to Grace’s French assets.
The marquess hired an English attorney, Mr Allen, to sort the matter out. In his accounts he lists a payment for a woman he described as Grace’s sister, to cover the cost of a carriage she took to Sèvres to testify to Grace’s handwriting. A sister? Grace only had one known sister, Jacintha, who had died some years earlier, although a shadowy third sister is mentioned in some sources. In our biography, An Infamous Mistress, we suggest who this lady could be, the one lady left in Grace’s latter years who had both an interest in Grace’s will and a genuine affection for her.
Our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, is now available and published by Pen and Sword Books. It is the most definitive account to date of Grace’s life and also sheds new light on her equally fascinating wider family and ancestors, giving us a better understanding of the real woman behind her notorious persona.
Header image: Ville d’Avray, the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840. WikiArt.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we have been recounting to our readers, lived an adventurous life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England and France. However, our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, also documents the fascinating stories of her relatives.
Grace’s elder sister Jacintha showed no less enthusiasm for adventure and travel than her better-known sibling. The wife of Captain Thomas Hesketh of the Royal Fusiliers (the 7th Regiment of Foot), she bravely followed him to Canada and then into America during the American War of Independence. Like Grace, she had her fair share of charm and beauty and she came to the notice of no lesser a person than General Washington when her husband was taken prisoner.
Captain Hesketh was held in Philadelphia where he was treated fairly, and his name entered into the exchange of prisoners (at the personal request of Washington). There were problems however before his exchange, and the lack of Captain Hesketh’s personal possessions in Philadelphia was one of them as his baggage was at Lancaster, some miles away. Some of the letters referring to this ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, rather than in our book, so we give them in full here as a little extra detail for our readers.
In September 1776 the Philadelphian Secretary of War Richard Peters (whose father had been born in Liverpool, England) wrote to Jasper Yeates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania asking for assistance for Thomas Hesketh.
Philadelphia, September 27, 1776
A Captain Hesketh’s baggage is at Lancaster, under the care of his servant and Sergeant Cooper, prisoners of war. He wants it much at Philadelphia and does not know how to get it. Do be so good as to take the pains of inquiring after it and send it down, directed to my care. If it be in the custody of the Committee, this letter will, I fancy, be a justification for their delivery of it. He is a British officer, a prisoner of war and a very good, but a very helpless man, therefore requires assistance in this matter. I will pay any expense attending the baggage. The reason of troubling you is, that the chests are broke open and require either new locks or to be corded and sealed and sent in the care of some trusty person. As the baggage is under these circumstances, I know it is disagreeable to have anything to do with it. But he knows this and though he believes the people who have them honest, he must run the risk.
I am your affectionate, humble servant,
To Jasper Yeates, Esq
Unfortunately Jasper Yeates was at Pittsburg and did not receive the letter. Richard Peters sent a further plea.
War-Office, October 9, 1776.
A Captain Hesketh, a British officer, prisoner of war at this place, is in great want of his baggage. I wrote at his request, to Mr. Yeates to send it to him, but am informed by letter from Mrs. Yeates that he is at Pittsburg. If any of your body will be so obliging as to call on Mrs. Yeates and get from her that letter I wrote him and comply with the request therein made, you will oblige your very obedient servant,
Richard Peters, Secretary at War.
To the Committee of the Town of Lancaster
Captain Hesketh’s baggage consists of one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens.
Luckily for Captain Hesketh, this time the request did receive a response and the Lancaster Committee of Observation, Inspection and Correspondence, on the 12th October 1776, agreed to send on the baggage.
In Committee, Lancaster, Pa., October 14, 1776.
Our last post brought the Committee your letter of the 9th instant, upon receipt of which I applied to Mr. Yeates for your letter respecting Captain Hesketh’s baggage, which is now sent by Christian Schwartz’ s wagoner, being one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens, which Sergeant Cooper says contains all the baggage of Captain Hesketh which was under his care, except the coat and breeches mentioned in the Captain’ s letter to the Sergeant, which are delivered to Allen’ s wife by Cooper. Sergeant Cooper desires me to mention that Captain Hesketh’s late servant, Allen, is dead.
I have made no agreement with the man about the price he is to have for carriage, but leave that to you.
I am, sir, your very humble servant,
William H. Atlee, Chairman.
To Richard Peters, Esq
At a Committee of Treasury meeting held on the 17th October 1776 it was stated that there was due to Captain Thomas Hesketh $26, being his allowance of $2 a week between the periods 20th July to 19th October.
In December, Captain Thomas Hesketh was allowed to leave Philadelphia for New York, upon trust that the British would substitute another prisoner for him, on the express orders of General Washington.
I met Captain Hesketh on the road and as the situation of his family did not admit of delay, I permitted him to go immediately to New-York, not having the least doubt but that General Howe will make a return of any officer of equal rank who shall be required.
Captain Hesketh’s wife, Jacintha, was with him and heavily pregnant; had she personally interceded with the general on behalf of her husband? Washington specifically referred to Jacintha in a letter written at Brunswick on 1st December 1775 to Lieutenant-General Howe.
Besides the persons included on the enclosed list, Captain Hesketh, of the Seventh Regiment, his lady, three children and two servant maids, were permitted to go in a few days ago…
Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh was born in New York in January 1777. He would, in time, become Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh of Rufford Hall in Lancashire.
More information on Jacintha and her husband’s time in America can be found in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-1776
An East Perspective View of the City of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pensylvania, in North America, taken from the Jersey Shore, 1778. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century 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 history 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.
The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorization of the monarch to implement the advice of the government.
On the night of 23rd March 1784, thieves had entered Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow’s Great Ormond Street house and stolen some money, but more importantly they stole the Great Seal, a symbol of royal authority. A new one had to be hastily made to replace it as it was not recovered and popular opinion suggested that Fox or his supporters were behind the theft.
A satirical rhyme, ‘The Consultation’, made fun the finances of Colonel Richard FitzPatrick and Charles James Fox, referencing the recent theft of the Great Seal from the house of the Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow.
Says F__t____k to Fox, ‘Oh how can we ate!
By Jasus you know we have both pawn’d our plate?
Black Reynard replies, ‘We can have one good meal,
By filching from Thurlow his boasted Great Seal
A contemporary print, depicting Fox as Falstaff holding the Prince of Wales on his shoulders with Mary Robinson (Perdita) standing alongside, is thought to show FitzPatrick leaning out of the window of Thurlow’s house handing down the Great Seal.
Whilst rumours spread, the truth of the theft may in fact have been slightly different, if the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (Wed 21 April 1784) was correct:
William Vandeput was on Monday committed to New Gaol, Southwark, where he is now doubled ironed, on a charge of burglary in the house of the Lord Chancellor, and stealing there-out the Great Seal. A Jew in Petticoat Lane was yesterday apprehended, on an information against him for having purchased and melted the Great Seal into an ingot; but while he was conducting to the Rotation Office in Southwark, for examination, he was released from the Peace Officer by eight ruffians. The Jew melted the seal, while the robbers remained in his house.
As to which story was true, we will never know, but certainly William Vandeput was a well known criminal and was sentenced to death eventually in October 1785 and was executed on 1st December 1785.
Just as an aside, in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we unmask Richard FitzPatrick as one of her lovers when he was taking a break from his long term mistress, a celebrity in her day but forgotten now, Mrs Moll Benwell.
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’re now just a few weeks away from the publication in the UK of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history (in the US it will be out on the 14th April 2017). Obviously we are very excited to share our work with you and thought we’d go into a little more detail today about what the reader can expect.
A Right Royal Scandal starts in 1815, just a matter of weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, with a Regency scandal in London when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck (brother to the Duke of Portland; his first wife had been Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s daughter by George IV) eloped with Wellington’s niece, the haughty but beautiful Anne Abdy née Wellesley, wife of Sir William Abdy, Baronet. As you might imagine, tongues were set wagging the length and breadth of the ton and, with the ensuing Criminal Conversation case and divorce, the gossip continued into the next year before the first of the two marriages that ‘changed history’. Anne Abdy became the second Lady Charles Bentinck.
In time, Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck’s eldest son, Charles Cavendish Bentinck (Charley) fell in love with a girl deemed unsuitable by his family. Sinnetta Lambourne was of humble working class stock and had gypsy blood running through her veins courtesy of her Romany mother. They married, despite the opposition to their union.
Charley’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter were to sit upon the throne of Great Britain, but it was the tragic life and death of a young gypsy girl which lay behind the greatness.
Although A Right Royal Scandal is something of a family saga stretching from the Regency into the Victorian era and beyond – we also document the life of Lord Charles Bentinck’s daughter by his first marriage (Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s granddaughter) – it is also a thoroughly well-researched biography of two generations of this family, and a chapter in the history of the British royal family which has never been examined closely until now. We also delve a little into the background of Anne Wellesley and her parents, Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess, and his wife (and former mistress), Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland. We are pleased to have been able to add a little new information to the Marquess’ story in the addition of some biographical detail on his illegitimate son (by another mistress), Edward John Johnston. The monarchy as we know it now would have looked very different but for Sinnetta Lambourne’s death, and we end our book by looking at the royal family today, Charley Cavendish Bentinck’s descendants.
If you have already read our first book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, then A Right Royal Scandal forms a sequel to Grace’s story, continuing the life of her granddaughter through to the publication of Grace’s memoirs (set during the French Revolution), and beyond and the second family of Grace’s son-in-law, Lord Charles Bentinck. But A Right Royal Scandal can also be read as a stand-alone book. It is available now to pre-order (both here, in the US and elsewhere) from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
(Readers outside the UK might find Book Depository useful, as they ship free worldwide and have competitive prices.)
Reviews for An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott:
Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines. – Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W
An Infamous Mistress is a fascinating read, yet it’s more than that. If anything, it’s a shining example of research done well, presented coherently on the perfect subject: a powerful courtesan that time forgot. – History of Royals magazine
This major new biography explores the life, loves and family of this celebrated personality who ended up as a prisoner of war during the French Revolution. Set for the first time in the context of Grace’s wider family, this is a compelling tale of scandal and intrigue. – Scots Heritage magazine
This tale of scandal and intrigue will not only appeal to history buffs, but to those who enjoy a ripping yarn. As well as being an in-depth social and family history, An Infamous Mistress is simply a great story. – Scottish Field
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the subject of our book An Infamous Mistress, was only around seven years of age at the time of the coronation of King George III on the 22nd September 1761 at Westminster Abbey.
Grace, living in Scotland with her maternal relatives after her father had abandoned his young family, might just have had a first-hand account of the ceremony from her aunt, Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, who attended the coronation.
As Peers of the Realm the Earl and Countess of Peterborough would have been expected to wear their robes of state and coronets. An Earl’s coronet was a:
. . . circle [of gold], richly chased, having eight pearls raised upon high points of gold, which spring out of the upper rim, with an equal number of strawberry leaves, formed of the same metal, standing upon lower points between them. It has also a doubling of Ermine, cap and tassel . . .
The Earl of Peterborough’s robes would have been of crimson velvet, lined with white sarcenet and with three guards of Ermine. Robinaiana’s state robe too would have consisted of crimson velvet and ermine, with her coronet having a cap also of crimson velvet turned up with Ermine and a button and tassel of gold on the top. The length of the train of the robe was regulated by the rank of the wearer; a Countess was allowed a train of up to a yard and a half in length.
Whilst we know of no picture representing the Earl and Countess of Peterborough dressed for the coronation, there is one hanging at Doddington Hall in Lincolnshire which shows the Earl and Countess of Mexborough dressed for the occasion.
Horace Walpole mentioned Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough’s appearance at the coronation, and you can read more about that in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, available now from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops.
A Faithful Account of the Processions and Ceremonies observed in the Coronation of the Kings and Queen of England: exemplified in that of their late most sacred Majesties King George the Third and Queen Charlotte with all the other interesting proceedings connected with that magnificent festival. Edited by Richard Thomson, 1820.
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).
We are delighted to be featured on The History Vault, an online history magazine, with a post relating to Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s elder brother, Henry Hew Dalrymple and the ‘Bulam Expedition’.
Henry Hew was a slavery abolitionist and one of two men who were the driving force behind a project to colonize an uninhabited African island, with the ultimate intention of freed slaves being able to settle there. Many ‘ordinary’ people were caught up in this scheme, and both their and Henry Hew’s stories have been largely lost to history. We cover this in our biography on Grace and her family, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, but we did not have the space to go into greater detail within its pages about the people who travelled with the expedition to settle the island and who suffered tragedy and heartache. It was important for us to record some of their names however, and you can find out more about them and the expedition by checking out our post on the History Vault (click here).
Do take time to check out the other fascinating articles on the History Vault too, while you are there.
Charles Henry Mordaunt, the 5th Earl of Peterborough (and 3rd Earl of Monmouth) and cousin to Grace Dalrymple Elliot did little of note throughout his life apart from embroil himself in a couple of scandals with high-born ladies, and if he is remembered at all to history it is chiefly, as we mention in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, on account of his extravagant funeral.
The Earl had died at his Wiltshire seat, Dauntsey House, on the 16th June 1814 and was buried in the adjacent churchyard. A description of this funeral can be found in Wiltshire: The Topographical Collections of John Aubrey, which although largely written in the seventeenth-century was never then published. It was brought up to date by John Edward Jackson, including the information on the 5th Earl’s funeral, and published by the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1862. We thought it might interest our readers to hear the details.
The Funeral ceremonies of this last Earl were conducted on the most expensive scale. The body lay in state in a very large room hung from the ceiling with superfine cloth; eighty wax lights, many of them weighing a pound each, were kept burning. The dress of the body in the coffin was composed of satin and the finest cambric; the coffin, covered with the richest Genoa velvet and escutcheons of Arms: for the silver-gilt nails alone £85 was charged. The pall gorgeous. The body was placed on a magnificent platform ornamented with festoons of black satin, surmounted with a dome lined inside and outside with rich black velvet and covered with ostrich plumes. The platform fringed with velvet and behind it a transparency of the Armorial bearings. Banners and shields round the room and eight mutes in constant attendance. From the room to the Church is about 20 yards: but the procession, in order to be seen, went a circuit of two miles. It consisted of a hearse, seven coaches and six, a carriage and four for the clergymen, six marshalmen, eight mutes, two feather-men, eight underbearers, forty six pages and a grand page on horseback bearing the coronet. Nine servants received two suits of clothes each. The undertaker’s bill was £3000. The executors Sir E. Antrobus and Mr. Coutts Trotter objected. An action was brought at Salisbury: they paid £2000 into Court. Justice Burrough advised a reference and Mr. Moore, a Barrister, finally settled the whole cost to be £2568.
David Russell had acted as an assistant to Mr Dore, the undertaker, and said that, in the twelve years he had been in that line of business ‘the funeral ceremonies were on the largest and most expensive scale that he had ever witnessed or heard of.’ Mr Dore had received his first instructions on the funeral ‘from an intimate friend of the late Lord Peterborough, Mr. Smith, who informed him that the funeral was to be conducted in no ordinary way and that he must exercise his own judgment in the preparation of it, on a plan of adequate splendour.’ Mr Smith was Joseph Bouchier Smith, also mentioned in our book, making free with the money of others in planning his friends’ funeral! The ensuing disagreement over the bill took some four years to settle.
Dauntsey Park House – you can read more about the house, now a wonderful location for film, television, events and weddings, by clicking here.
Today’s blog is a little different. Our biography An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott has now been released worldwide, so we thought it might interest our readers if we wrote a little Q&A style piece for anyone who may be thinking about buying our book, to tell you a little more about it.
What made us decide to write about Grace and her family?
Grace simply landed in our lap, we didn’t go out looking for her. The reality was that we were actually researching someone else who turned out to have a familial connection to her and so up she popped. For someone so well known in her day, there still seemed to be huge gaps in what was known of her life and, ever ones to enjoy a challenge, we set out with the intention of merely filling in these gaps and were astounded by how much new information we eventually uncovered.
Being genealogists, we also looked at her wider family and ancestry, particularly her maternal family who had lain undiscovered until now. The only information which was already known was some scant information about her father, and of course her sister Jacintha who married into the Hesketh family, but that was about it.
Her Journal is there in the public domain for all to read, so why write about it again?
The deeper we dug, the more we realized that research into her life has long been muddied by the misinformed biographical information given in the preface to her own Journal of My Life during the French Revolution, which was published posthumously.
Replete with mistakes and half-remembered anecdotes, it was supplied more than two decades after Grace’s death by her granddaughter and a friend. Despite two former biographies on this fascinating woman, the elements which were actually truthful in her Journal were still disputed. For instance, it mentioned a brother, but no brother had ever been identified before (in fact Grace had two brothers which we are able to introduce to her story!).
We have been able to correct this mishmash of information but, more than that, we located previously unconsulted documents, including family ones, which shed new light on the areas of Grace’s life which had formerly lain in the shadows, enabling us to tell her story more completely, and more accurately, than it has ever been told.
Her Journal as it relates to her experiences during the French Revolutionis another area we have attempted to illuminate more fully than it has been before. Glaring errors contained within its pages have discredited what ought to have been a superb first-hand account of that period. Grace is placed in confinement in French prisons awaiting the guillotine with notable personalities, when it can be proved that the people so named were not there at that time. Added to the biographical inaccuracies, it has led to people washing their hands of the whole Journal. We set to with a fine tooth comb, to try to establish fact from fiction (a task not helped by Grace habitually misspelling names, either she had a terrible memory for them or the person who transcribed the pages she had written could not read her handwriting).
Slowly but surely we were able to verify much of it, even down to a plausible account of her acting as a courier for the French queen, Marie Antoinette (rumours have ever swirled that Grace courageously worked as a spy). The errors all come in towards the end of the Journal, put there (we strongly suspect) by the over-enthusiastic publisher who wished to have a more dramatic finale to it. The ending we discovered was perhaps a little more mundane, but it is truthful and perhaps, we hope, gives back some credence to Grace’s Journal as an excellent source for those researching the French Revolution, especially as it is an invaluable first-hand account written by a woman.
Why didn’t we simply write about Grace’s life alone?
That would, of course, have been the easy option and for those who regularly read our blog, we rarely take the easy option! We are both genealogists as well as historians and love nothing more than seeking out new pieces of information about the Georgian period. It may be a slightly contentious decision on our part, but the more we discovered, the more fascinated we became by the people we uncovered, especially her siblings and maternal family, and we hoped that the reader would be too for they each had a story to tell, especially one of her brothers!
Were any of Grace’s relatives famous?
None remain well-known today, although we’d contend that Grace’s eldest brother deserves as much renown as his ‘celebrated’ sister, but some were certainly among the ‘great and the good’ of the day. They made their way around the globe, made the acquaintance of several personalities of the day (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to name but two) and their lives exhibit a snapshot of a strata of Georgian society and offer an invaluable insight into the social history of the period. The fact that they are all but forgotten now does not make their lives any the less interesting and we relished the chance to rescue them from the obscurity they have long languished in.
We also realized that Grace’s actions and decisions became much clearer when viewed in the context of her wider family. For instance, knowing that two of her aunts made their fortunes and gained their social standing by first being mistresses to wealthy and titled men, that one of these aunts was mistress to an earl and ultimately became his countess, what light does this then shed on Grace herself following their path and becoming a courtesan? What counsel did these two worldly-wise women give to their wayward niece? Grace was well-born too, when most courtesans had been plucked from the stage or the London bawdy houses by their ‘keepers’. Only a few, notably Grace, the scandalous Lady Worsley and Gertrude Mahon (aka the Bird of Paradise) were of good birth. But to know that Grace was from a once landed and noble family, you need to understand and be conversant with her ancestry.
Lastly, we believe that charting the lives of her wider family gives a contrast to Grace’s own life. Although she hated her husband, would she have been better, in that day and age, to have survived a few more years of marriage to arrive at a titled and wealthy widowhood whilst still young enough to contemplate a good marriage to a man of her choosing? Grace could have ended her days like her cousin, mistress of both a country pile and a smart London townhouse and entertaining royalty at her dinner table, rather than in her bed.
What have other readers said?
We’re delighted to say that we have received some excellent reviews for our book. You can read more on our Press page.