The French Lesson: Henrietta Lightfoot’s exploits in Revolutionary France

“I have often wished to enquire, my dear Mrs Lightfoot, how it was you came to make the acquaintance of Grace Dalrymple Elliot.”

Hallie RubenholdWe’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.

The French Lesson

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

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

Are those really the initials of Grace Dalrymple Elliott on the Rue de Miromesnil?

One of the many incorrect facts about Grace Dalrymple Elliott is that of her monogram above the door of one of the houses on the Rue de Miromesnil in Paris.  It’s widely known and accepted that she lived on this Paris street during the 1790s, and indeed she did.  But at which house?

Rue de Miromesnil, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, is close to Parc Monceau where Grace’s lover Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans resided.  The houses were built from 1778 onwards and building continued until 1826.  The street was named in honour of the French Minister of Justice, Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil (1723-1796).

Carmontelle Giving the Keys of the Parc Monceau to the Duke of Chartres, 1790 (image via Wikimedia Commons)
Carmontelle Giving the Keys of the Parc Monceau to the Duc de Chartres, son of Grace’s lover the Duc d’Orléans, 1790
(image via Wikimedia Commons)

Accepted lore gives her address as no. 31 Rue de Miromesnil largely, we suspect, due to the initials over the door which have been read as G.E.  It seems that this was presented as fact in a book in 1910 and has been repeated ad infinitum since.  On closer inspection though, the initials are not G.E. but E.C.

Rue de Miromesnil 3

 Above is the text from Promenades dans Toutes les Rues de Paris par Arrondissements, VIIIe Arrondissement, 1910.

Rue de Miromesnil 2

We present below both sets of initials in a French Script typeface and a close up image of the monogram above the door.Initials Rue de Miromesnil

Rue de Miromesnil

So, sadly, our belief is that Grace’s initials are not those above that particular doorway.  We do have documentary evidence showing exactly what number Grace’s house on the Rue de Miromesnil actually was (and it wasn’t no. 31), all is revealed in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  We can say though that we believe that Grace had an apartment in the building, rather than the whole house to herself.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you agree with us that the initials read E.C. and not G.E.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious 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 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 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.

If you like nonfiction books about strong and remarkable women from history, why not take a look?

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott

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

This is a little bit different for us today as we have some wonderful news that we wanted to share.  We are delighted to let you know that we have signed a contract with Pen and Sword and in January 2016  they will be publishing our book:

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  

Although we now have a deadline we’re working towards rest assured we still intend to keep up our blog articles about the Georgian era in the meantime. 

We have so much new information about Grace and her family to share in our book and we will keep you updated with our progress.  She’s a truly fascinating woman and we can promise you that it will be a very different biography of her than anything that has gone before.  For those who have never heard of Grace we thought it might be of interest to give you a little background about her. 

Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s name was well known in her lifetime; an ‘infamous mistress’ indeed, she became a fixture in the gossip columns, lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ due to her height.  She was also beautiful and, after a scandalous divorce from the portly little doctor she had married when barely out of childhood, she became the amour of titled and influential men, amongst them Prinny, the Prince of Wales and the future King George IV (reputed father of her child) and the unfortunate Phillipe, Duc d’Orléans who lost his head during the French Revolution.  

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

Grace penned a journal, outlining her own experiences as a prisoner during the French Revolution, living in the shadow of the dreaded guillotine and this, whilst containing many inaccuracies, is one of the few surviving first-hand accounts left of this time by a woman.  After this, and once the years had started to catch up with Grace, her glamorous heyday had passed and she had to survive as best she could, reliant on her wits, family and the charity of friends including  her close friend, who also suffered  the scandal of divorce, Lady Worsley.  But survive she did because one of Grace’s most admirable traits was her strength; at a time when women were expected to be meek and subservient she broke the rules, lived on her own terms and did so with an admirable degree of aplomb. 

If you want to be kept up to date with news on the progress of our book then please do subscribe to our blog.