An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott
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 à-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history that 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.
Family Tree – February 2016
This lively account of the life and times of the notorious 18th-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, has an appealing family history slant…
… The authors, Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, are historians and genealogists who have engagingly interspersed Grace’s biography for the first time with evidence of her equally fascinating family history… In doing so, the duo provide wonderful insight into the Georgian era as well as influences that helped to shape Grace’s remarkably eventful life, repeatedly touched by scandal but ultimately ending happily. Including family trees, copious end notes and a bibliography, this is also an education in how family historians can build a genealogical story around a figure from history, whether ‘infamous’ or not.
Lincolnshire Life Magazine – April 2016
… the authors have uncovered a huge amount of new information about Elliott and her kin that enriches our understanding.
For those who are drawn to the period – the social picture is given in vivid detail, drawing on numerous archival sources – and desire a fuller sense of the milieux in which Elliott lived, this will be an invaluable trove of information.
Scottish Field Magazine – May 2016
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.
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.
Prior to the serialisation of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen series, I’d be willing to bet that not that many people had heard of Elizabeth Woodville – OK, it might just have been me, but that situation was soon put right with the TV series and a wonderful series of books from Amberley. This time it’s Pen and Sword that brings to our attention the remarkable story of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, with a superb character study and biography by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. English history at its very best.
An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of The Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott provides an unprecedented insight into the life and times of one of the most notorious courtesans of the late-18th century… An Infamous Mistress is a fascinating read, yet it’s much 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.
Reviewed by Steve Earles
When an author of the calibre of Hallie Rubenhold (author of ‘The Scandalous lady W’) praises a book, as she does this one, it is a good indication of its quality.
Grace Dalrymple Elliot was a spy, a mistress, a prisoner during the French Revolution, and was reputed to be the mother of the Prince of Wales’ child. It’s fair to say that, living in eighteenth and early nineteenth-century London and Paris, she had an extraordinary life.
Moreover, she was a born survivor and as you read the book it is easy to admire her. The book not only acts as fine biography of her subject but gives a great insight into the social history of the Georgian era.
The authors have not only done great research but have written with great empathy on their subject and her world.
This book would form a great basis for a documentary on Grace, and it is a beautifully bound and illustrated book.
Scots Magazine – August 2016
Courtesan, spy, survivor. This is the grippingly-researched account of the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, at times scandalous but always engaging.
This book is packed with thorough research. Unlike most biographies it is extremely well written – most just seem to be a stream of barely related facts without context because the writer cannot bear to throw away hard-won material… they refer to many gossipy newspaper articles which use no names and in some cases no nick-names but, when pieced together with the other material they have are definitely about their subject(s). In every case they offer a convincing explanation of the link… the book is an inspiration to family historians as well as a fascinating insight into the sexual and social mores of the period. Highly recommended.
This is the most complete biography of a figure who is largely forgotten in histories of the late 18th century. Women’s voices, of course, are seldom quoted in conventional histories, and courtesans, although famous in their day, have had even few advocates. Harriette Wilson, who bedded the Duke of Wellington and myriad others, famously wrote her memoirs, offering to leave out names for a consideration (it was a sort of friendly blackmail) but there were not many others.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott was not like Harriette or indeed Emma Lyons (later Hamilton), both of whom were from humble backgrounds. She was well born and well connected (her father was an Edinburgh advocate who abandoned his family when Grace was a child). Tall (her nickname as Dally the Tall) and stunningly beautiful, she had natural charm and intelligence.
Of course, as a female, Grace’s options in life, even as a member of the gentry, were limited. She married young (aged 17) and, worse, married the wrong person (a rich and much older society doctor) and then had an ill-judged affair and was promptly divorced when scarcely legally an adult. As a divorced woman she was a social outcast and there was only really one way to go: liaisons with Lord Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales and the duc d’Orléans followed. She bore a child who was widely accepted to be the Prince’s daughter.
In order to receive a maintenance allowance from the Prince, Grace was forced to live abroad. She had been educated in France and spoke the language well so off to Paris she went, but before long she was struggling to survive amidst the Revolution and subsequent Terror. This is where her story becomes truly remarkable.
Grace later wrote her reminiscences of this time, when she smuggled friends and acquaintances out of the city and lived by her wits on few resources. Arrested and imprisoned several times, she used her skills of persuasiveness to convince the authorities of her loyalty. There are some hairy moments, including the time her house is thoroughly searched by men with bayonets who stuck them in all the mattresses. Grace remained in her bed, feigning modesty, all the while protecting a fugitive hiding behind her.
The authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden have uncovered new sources for Grace’s life as well as unravelled her hugely complicated family tree. They are genealogists and it shows in their meticulous detective work amongst the vital documents. For instance, they have tracked who was present at baptisms and marriages, using this information to document who was in touch with whom in a vast network of friends and family. The detail is astonishing.
Major and Murden, who write a much-loved blog All Things Georgian, have given themselves a wide remit, including the stories of various members of Grace’s family, amongst them her brother Henry Hew Dalrymple, a republican sympathiser and supporter of abolition who was a driving force behind a little-known inept plan to colonise Bolama (now in Guinea-Bissau).
The tone of the writing is friendly and informal, pulling the reader along and pointing up the humanity of the subjects. The authors are to be applauded for their achievement.
A beautifully written, scholarly, and very readable account of the life and times of the celebrated Georgian courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliot(t). The two authors are genealogists and through meticulous detective work they have uncovered new and surprising information about their feisty, strong-minded heroine Grace. The book is a compelling biography that reads like a racy historical novel.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott had a roller-coaster of a life. How did it end? I won’t spoil it by telling!
This is a great read, made all the more fascinating by the inclusion of chapters relating to Grace’s family, to me her brother Henry Hew Dalrymple was particularly interesting. Fully worthy of a 5* rating.
I picked this book up quite by chance, and I’m very glad I did… This book is a labour of real love on the part of the authors, which shines through in the detail and wonderful narrative. I found it a book which was best absorbed by being read in chapters, with time allowed to absorb each section, as the amount of information provided throughout is quite boggling. The authors have clearly researched deeply and widely, and yet there never seems to be a piece of information in the book which feels superfluous. The narrative is the unfolding of the lives of many members of a family, and while Grace may be the most ‘infamous’ member of the family known to us today, all the others written of are completely fascinating to read about. A wonderful book, and one which offers a real ‘life and times’ memorial to a most intriguing and interesting woman, and her family.
I don’t often find biographies on women of this era and when I do, I make it a point to check them out. This one has earned a permanent place in my library and is a great research tool for anyone interested in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It’s a well-researched, thoroughly entertaining book about the life of a woman you won’t find in your history books. The life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott reads like a Georgian era adventure story, but it’s all true. She was a notorious courtesan in her day, a divorced wife, a prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of a child she had with the Prince of Wales. Joanne Major and Sarah Murden provide amazing details to bring her story to life and to give us a rich look at the history of the time. Grace’s story proves that history isn’t boring. I highly recommend An Infamous Mistress for all you history fans out there.
Such that it will appeal to historians as much as those interested in a good scandal tale.I’m a regular reader of authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden’s blog ‘All Things Georgian’, so knew this book would be thoroughly researched and interesting.
In fact, the book is crammed with genealogical detail about Grace and her family, such that it will appeal to historians as much as those interested in a good scandal tale. It has an excellent plate section to illustrate the story well.
Scunthorpe Telegraph, 18th February 2016.
Lincolnshire Echo, 28th February 2016.
Lincolnshire authors uncover the story of an infamous mistress who loved a duke, earl and a prince. Read more by clicking here.
Surrey Essence Magazine March 2016
Featured on page 55 Read more by clicking here
View Hampshire March 2016 and View Wiltshire March 2016.
EB Living May/June/July Edition
EDP Norfolk Magazine – May 2016