An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

In this post, we thought we would play a quick game of ‘six degrees of separation’. For anyone who is unaware of the concept, you will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘it’s a small world’ and it so it is. It’s been quite surprising that throughout our research, we’ve noticed just how relatively small London was in the 18th century. Everyone who was anyone knew each other and this has become quite obvious whilst exploring the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

So, in today’s game we show the close connection between Prince George (later George IV) and Dido Elizabeth Belle. On the face of it, they would appear to be poles apart, George, the then-future monarch and Dido the daughter of a ‘mulatto slave’. But the distance between them is only a few steps.

George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782

We begin the game with Prinny, who, in the early 1780s had a relationship with our lovely courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, who gave birth to a daughter who, Grace claimed was his. Georgina was the only illegitimate child that Prinny made payments to, so perhaps that was his way of acknowledging that she was his.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
The Frick, New York.

Now, Grace counted amongst her closest friends, Lady Seymour Worsley, for those who haven’t come across her before, she’s the one who found herself in court in February 1782, for criminal conversation, a euphemism for sex.

Amongst the men with whom Lady Worsley allegedly had an affair, was George, Viscount Deerhurst, later to become the 7th Earl of Coventry.  Deerhurst was a bit of a ‘player’ and had previously eloped to Gretna Green with Lady Catherine Henley.

George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.
George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.

His father the then, 6th Earl of Coventry, totally disapproved of his son’s behaviour and banished him from the family home, so George took himself off to stay on the Isle of Wight, at Appuldurcombe, the home of Sir Richard Worsley and his wife, Lady Seymour Worsley – big mistake! He apparently ended up having a relationship with Lady Worsley (he was one of many, she was rumoured to have had well in excess of 20 lovers), but it was her infidelity with George Maurice Bisset that was the final nail in her coffin and she found herself in court, but George, Viscount Deerhurst, also found his name on this list of people with whom she had allegedly had ‘criminal conversation’.

Lord Mansfield was the trial judge in the case of Crim. Con. and he was also the guardian of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The trial took place in February 1782, so no doubt Dido, aged 20 would have been fully aware of it.

Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.

To add to the royal connection, Lord Mansfield, counted George III amongst his friends and a regular visitor to Caenwood (Kenwood) House, so it’s perfectly feasible that the royal family would have met or at least seen Dido.  So it really was a small world.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Try this game for yourselves and if you can make connections like this from people in the 18th century we would love to hear from you as there must be plenty more out there.

Berkeley Square, 1813.

Exciting news – our next book, ‘A Right Royal Scandal’

Our blog today is a little different as we have some news that we would like you, our readers, to be the first to hear about. We’re not going back in time as far as we usually do, in fact today we are going back only around a decade to the time when we first met via an online genealogy forum.

From discussing folk we had a common interest in online, we swapped email addresses and then phone numbers and lengthy conversations became the norm during which we delved deeper into the past. As our regular readers will no doubt be well aware, we’ve always been prone to getting a little side-tracked when something piques our interest (you only have to look at the different subjects we’ve covered on here!), and so it was that we became more than a little obsessed not with our own ancestors, but with a particular line of the British royal family’s tree.

These were the people we originally planned to write about. Then we discovered a connection to Grace Dalrymple Elliott and turned our attention briefly, or so we thought, towards her. Grace had other ideas. She barrelled into our lives like a steam-roller and she, and her family, took over, resulting in An Infamous Mistress, but we always planned to return to our original research which now forms a sequel to our first, although it can very much be read as a stand-alone book.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422

And so, we are delighted to announce that our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history, will be available from November in hardback and is now available to pre-order.

Almost two books in one, A Right Royal Scandal recounts the fascinating history of the irregular love matches contracted by two successive generations of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, ancestors of the British Royal Family. The first part of this intriguing book looks at the scandal that erupted in Regency London, just months after the battle of Waterloo, when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s married niece. A messy divorce and a swift marriage followed, complicated by an unseemly tug-of-war over Lord Charles’ infant daughter from his first union.

Over two decades later and while at Oxford University, Lord Charles’ eldest son, known to his family as Charley, fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl, and secretly married her. He kept this union hidden from his family, in particular his uncle, William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland, upon whose patronage he relied. When his alliance was discovered, Charley was cast adrift by his family, with devastating consequences.

The book ends by showing how, if not for a young gypsy and her tragic life, the British monarchy would look very different today.

It’s been a very busy few months with the launch of An Infamous Mistress and finalizing A Right Royal Scandal, so we’re taking a ‘blog break’ now until the beginning of September when we will return with lots more blogs from the Georgian Era for you, so please join us again from the 1st September and have a wonderful summer.

Sarah & Jo

A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Grace Dalrymple Elliott – New book due out January 2016

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.

Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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 a fashion icon and 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 grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.

As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a 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, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too; our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and is available for pre-order from this summer.

If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.