An Amazing Woman of the Georgian Era: Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs

In the eighteenth-century women were largely viewed as subservient, a commodity, a man’s possession, much like their house or dog; an object for men to do with as they saw fit, including – in extreme cases – beating or raping if they wished. A warning – part of this post doesn’t make for easy reading.

In upper-class households, it was not uncommon for the man to take a mistress if he chose and his expectation of his wife was to produce children, to ‘look the part’, to be talented in the arts and to oversee household management. For working-class women, life would be incredibly tough as they helped to support the family financially, bore and raised numerous children and tried to keep the family from the workhouse door.

So how did our ‘Georgian Heroine’ fit into either scenario? Well, she simply didn’t. Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, known as Charlotte, fell between two worlds, neither upper nor working class, and almost obsessively private.

Charlotte first crossed our path whilst researching Peterborough House, Fulham and Grace Dalrymple Elliott. We came across a story by the author and poet, Marius Kociejowski who had researched part of Charlotte’s life and were hooked; we had to find out what became of this teenager. We began to retrace Kociejowski’s work and piece together her life from a document she had written (Kociejowski refers to it as Charlotte’s Testament, the original of which he still owns; he has also kindly written an introduction to our book).

Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa by Francis Hayman, Southampton City Art Gallery. Robert Lovelace preparing to abduct Clarissa by Francis Hayman, Southampton City Art Gallery.

As a teenager in the 1780’s living in Lambeth, Charlotte lost her first love when he set sail for India, where he found great fame as a military man and who was never to return.

Shortly after he left, she was abducted and raped, held prisoner and even bearing a child to her captor until she found the courage to escape.

My situation was disgraceful – living in a state of constant hostility … Moreover, the ungovernable passions of Mr H___ rendered the house often a scene of nightly disorder, for in these frenzies he would break open the doors, get in at the windows and commit all sorts of outrages, so that I was often obliged to make one the maids sleep in my room.

Although Charlotte’s abduction and rape had parallels with a novel written some thirty years prior to her abduction: Clarissa, by Samuel Richardson. Unlike Clarissa, Charlotte didn’t have a fortune, but her captor undoubtedly wished to possess her, both body and soul.

The difference between the story of Clarissa and that of  Charlotte being that Charlotte’s story was fact not fiction and recounted it in her own words, written in her ‘Testament‘ written to the former love of her life in 1821.

Having made her escape,  she had the option of her day in court to potentially see her abuser hanged, but eventually she declined. A quote taken directly from her ‘Testament

I was in a bad state of health – my mind subject to abstractions of an alarming nature and I protested that giving such evidence in a court of justice would kill me and that moreover, thought I held the person in question in abhorrence. The idea of being the cause of his death by the hand of the executioner was most dreadful to me – still I have ever truly regretted the civil action, it was most repugnant to me and when the Deeds were brought to me to sign more than three years after when I came of age, I told the lawyers that ‘I deemed the whole, a cruel violence on my feelings’ – and bursting into tears I added ‘Gentlemen, I call God and you to witness I was not seduced, that I am an innocent and hapless victim’.

A course of action she may well have regretted, as he abducted her a second time, but again, she managed to escape from the horror she had endured.

After this ordeal, Charlotte travelled to France, becoming trapped and imprisoned during the French Revolution. She showed amazing resilience and subsequently reinvented herself as a peculiar form of female spy, working for the British government while travelling backwards and forwards to France, reporting upon the state of the nation in the years following the revolution, even suggesting plans by which Napoléon Bonaparte might be thwarted. Charlotte spoke fluent French and could pass for a native of the country.

Returning to England, she became an author, a minor playwright and had works published anonymously including, A Residence in France during the Years 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795, the manuscript of which she cleverly manipulated to suit both her own political views and appeal to the public at large.

Charlotte held strong opinions which she wanted to have voiced. Clearly, she couldn’t speak publicly, so had to find other ways of getting her opinions heard. She used the power of letter writing and we unearthed copious numbers of letters, mainly to politicians and peers of the realm. Charlotte was never afraid of offering her opinion as to what they should do about certain matters and seemingly they respected and took note of her, great men including Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer and William Wilberforce who acted as her mouthpiece on at least one occasion in the Houses of Parliament.

Owen, William; Nicholas Vansittart (1766-1851), Baron Bexley; Christ Church, University of Oxford; Owen, William; Nicholas Vansittart (1766-1851), Baron Bexley; Christ Church, University of Oxford

Although her identity was known to the men to whom she wrote, a combination of ‘female modesty’ and a fear of not being taken seriously should her sex be revealed induced Charlotte to an obsessive level of public anonymity. In her later years, she almost single-handedly orchestrated King George III’s golden jubilee celebrations – again with her identity protected – and was in contact with George III’s daughters for whom she acted as a courier.

Princess Charlotte, later Queen of Württemberg, after Edward Miles. Courtesy of the Royal Collection Princess Charlotte, later Queen of Württemberg, after Edward Miles. Courtesy of the Royal Collection

Charlotte’s life took many twists and turns and piecing it together has been no mean feat. We are amazed at how this unfortunate young girl grew into such a determined and articulate woman in a world where this was not the norm for her gender.

There was a Mr Biggs, but it appears to be largely a union of convenience for both he and Charlotte. Unable to track down a marriage, we suspect that Charlotte used the appellation ‘Mrs’ for her own protection within society, giving her a veil of respectability which allowed her to move freely both in England and France without raising suspicion. The final clue as to Charlotte’s marital status appeared in her will, which suggested she was a spinster and not a wife.

Linda Colley, in Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, referred to Charlotte as ‘a middle-class widow from the Welsh borders’. She was in part correct, but Charlotte was much more than that, she was an enigma who until now has remained off the radar of history, a woman in a man’s world. Had she been male we would certainly have heard more of her before today.

Despite her many misfortunes, she continually reinvented herself, manipulating the world and men around her but never publicly having ownership of her voice or her words during her lifetime. We felt it was time to give her back ownership of that voice.

Featured Image

Old Westminster Bridge from Lambeth by R. Paul. City of Westminster Archives centre

St Peter Port, Guernsey

Guest Post by Regan Walker – The Isle of Guernsey During the French Revolution

We are always delighted to welcome back the lovely and very informative author Regan Walker. Today she’s going to tell us about what the island of Guernsey would have been like during the French Revolution. So, without further ado, we will hand you over to Regan.

My newest novel, A Fierce Wind, is set in England, France and the Isle of Guernsey during the French Revolution. It’s an exciting story of love in time of war when loyalties are torn and love is tested and when the boy Zoé Donet knew as a child turns out to be the man of her dreams. Since Guernsey has been of particular interest lately, I thought to give you an idea of what life might have been like there in the late 18th century.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789
Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789

With the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, French émigrés began flowing into England and other parts of Europe in successive waves that became a huge tide of emigration. (The number is believed to be one hundred and sixty thousand.) Some fled to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, then called “the French Isles” even though they were dependencies of the British Crown. A considerable number of royalist and Catholic émigrés took refuge on Guernsey and a portion of those settled on the island, giving up hope of ever returning home.

Lying so close to France (less than twenty miles from Normandy), the islands not only provided sanctuary to the fleeing French, but they were used by the British as a base from which to monitor the movements of ships in and out of the Normandy’s ports. Hence, it was not surprising that Frederick West, the hero in A Fierce Wind, who lives on Guernsey, became a spy for the English while working with his French brother-in-law to ferry émigrés to London.

Freddie’s superior in London was Evan Nepean, Undersecretary of the Home Office and, after 1794, Undersecretary of War. One of his chief interests during the revolution was intelligence and Captain Philippe d’Auvergne on the Isle of Jersey was a primary contact. In addition to his duties as commander of the flotilla of small gunboats that protected the isles and administrator of the French émigrés, d’Auvergne was a British spymaster.

St Peter Port, Guernsey
St Peter Port, Guernsey

 Although the Islands have been loyal to the English crown for eight hundred years, the native people would have been of Norman and Breton stock. In the late eighteenth century the majority of Guernsey’s population conversed in Guernsey-French (derived from the old Norman-French with Breton words tossed in), but in the capital, St Peter Port, they also would have had a working knowledge of both French and English.

Jerbourg Point, Guernsey
Jerbourg Point, Guernsey

During the Revolution, people might have been starving in Paris, but on Guernsey, they generally ate well. Good weather and good soil produced a rich bounty of fruits and vegetables. Figs and oranges grew on Guernsey. Healthy cows provided fine milk, butter and cheese, and most households kept a pig or two. Oysters, fish and lobsters abounded. Guernsey fishermen also brought home cod from Newfoundland. Wine and spirits were plentiful, too, and always had been since the isles were home to many privateers.

Even before the French Revolution, Guernsey was an entrepôt, a place for temporary storage of goods and provisions held free of any duty for exportation to another port or country. Being a free port, the British Parliament had no right to levy taxes in the Isles and the Isles themselves had no desire to levy taxes on goods brought to and then exported. Thus Guernsey and the rest of the Isles could import goods from any country, not an enemy of Britain, free of British taxes.

Berthelot Street, St. Peter Port, Guernsey
Berthelot Street, St. Peter Port, Guernsey

There were no bonded warehouses in England in the 18th Century, so warehouses were built on Guernsey to store and mature wine and spirits until they were needed in England. During the war with France, Guernsey warehouses were filled with brandy, wine, tea, rum and tobacco, all in high demand and taxed in England. In my story, Freddie’s brother-in-law keeps a warehouse on Guernsey to store his goods.

The first newspaper printed on Guernsey appeared in 1789 under the title of Gazette de L’Ile de Guernesey. It was published every Saturday in French and its size was that of a small sheet of letter paper. It contained local news and items from the Paris journals. In 1791, its publication was discontinued for a short time, but it re-appeared in 1792, under the same title.

In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the first mail packet sailed from Weymouth to Jersey. Informed that postal packets would be crossing the English Channel to and from the islands, the Admiralty asked that “His Majesty’s Cruisers be directed to keep as far as may be an eye on the Packet Boats to prevent their being taken by the Enemy.” Indeed, protecting one particular packet leads to a battle on the English Channel in my story.

Guernsey was a hopping place!

A Fierce Wind by Regan Walker (The Donet Trilogy, Book 3)

Love in the time of revolution

France 1794

Zoé Ariane Donet was in love with love until she met the commander of the royalist army fighting the revolutionaries tearing apart France. When the dashing young general is killed, she joins the royalist cause, rescuing émigrés fleeing France.

One man watches over her: Frederick West, the brother of an English earl, who has known Zoé since she was a precocious ten-year-old child. At sixteen, she promised great beauty, the flower of French womanhood about to bloom. Now, four years later, as Robespierre’s Terror seizes France by the throat, Zoé has become a beautiful temptress Freddie vows to protect with his life.

But English spies don’t live long in revolutionary France.

A Fierce Wind on Amazon:

Buy from Amazon US

Buy from Amazon UK

Buy from Amazon Canada

Regan’s links:

Author website


Regan Walker’s Readers on Facebook

Pinterest storyboards

Sources Used

St Peter Port, 1680-1830: The History of an International Entrepôt By Gregory Stevens-Cox

The History of Guernsey with Occasional Notices of Jersey, Alderney and Sark by Jonathan Duncan

The Channel Islands by Joseph E. Morris

Guernsey & The French Revolution – The Guernsey Magazine/A Monthly Illustrated Journal

French Emigration to Great Britain in Response to the French Revolution By Juliette Reboul

Refugees of the French Revolution: Émigrés in London, 1789 1802, by Kirsty Carpenter

La Duthé couchée by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux.

Rosalie Duthé: courtesan, opera dancer and the first ‘dumb blonde’

Courtesan, dancer and – reputedly – the first ‘dumb blonde’, Catherine-Rosalie Duthé was a true eighteenth-century celebrity.

Portrait of a young lady by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Traditionally identified as Rosalie Duthé.
Portrait of a young lady by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Traditionally identified as Rosalie Duthé. © Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on loan at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

She was born on the 23rd November 1748, in Versailles to Jean-François Gérard, an ‘officier’ or gentleman servant to the king at the royal palace, and his wife, Louise-Rosalie Caumont. At the registration of her birth four days later, Catherine-Rosalie’s father was absent – perhaps away in attendance upon Louis XV – and the official document was signed by her grandmother and Christophe Broilleux, her godfather.

A view of the Palace of Versailles towards the garden.
A view of the Palace of Versailles towards the garden. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

After being educated at the convent of Saint Aure in Paris she was sent, aged 15, to live with an aunt, Madame Duval. It is claimed that Catherine-Rosalie’s aunt introduced her to two well-known courtesans and actresses, Marie and Géneviève Rinteau of Verrières, the beautiful daughters of a lemonade merchant who caught the eye of men such as Maurice, Count of Saxony. (In 1748, the same year as Catherine-Rosalie’s birth, Marie had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Marie Aurore by the Count of Saxony.)

Marie Rinteau, called Mademoiselle de Verrières by François Hubert Drouais, 1761.
Marie Rinteau, called Mademoiselle de Verrières by François Hubert Drouais, 1761. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Marie and Géneviève took the young, pink-cheeked and fair-haired Catherine-Rosalie under their wing, and, at their home on the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, taught her the tricks of their trade. Under their tutelage, she learnt signing, comedy and gallantry. Probably very intelligent, the tag of being the ‘first dumb blonde’ was given as Catherine-Rosalie was lampooned in her day due to her habit of leaving long pregnant pauses before speaking. Soon, the young Mademoiselle Gérard was dancing at the Paris Opera and adopted the name by which she is remembered, Rosalie Duthé.

Mademoiselle Duthé dancing by Jean-Frédéric Schall.
Mademoiselle Duthé dancing by Jean-Frédéric Schall. Sothebys

She had watched Marie and Géneviève profit from their various lovers and determined to follow in their path. Arthur Richard Dillon, Archbishop of Narbonne, the French born son of Count Dillon (an Irish Jacobite), was her first protector; Rosalie was just 17, he was 44.

Many men were then seduced by Rosalie’s youthful beauty and she even captivated the young Duke of Chartres (the future Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Philippe Égalité). With this royal approval, even more men hastened to pay court to Rosalie, and the more lovers she collected, the wealthier she became. Even Christian VII of Denmark, on a visit to Paris, fell for her charms.

Portrait of Rosalie Duthé by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, 1775.
Portrait of Rosalie Duthé by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, 1775. Collection privée, Foulon de Vaulx

With her new found money and fame, Rosalie was painted by many of the best artists in France. The Count of Artois, youngest brother to Louis XVI (and the future Charles X) saw her portrait and hastened to Paris to court the beauty (his wife, Marie Thérèse of Savoy, was pregnant with their first child at the time).

Every night he came to follow her in the alleys of the Palais-Royal, publicly displaying a passion that he should have hidden for the sake of his rank.

Showering Rosalie with jewels and money, Artois conquered her affections and the two enjoyed a six month affair, from July 1775 to February 1776. One story relates that during these months, Rosalie was turned out of the Champs Elysées by Queen Marie Antoinette when she appeared with her carriage and equipage more sumptuously decorated with rare and expensive flowers than that of the Queen. Marie Thérèse of Savoy could not compete with Rosalie in terms of beauty. Playing on her surname (thé means tea in French) critics unkindly remarked that:

The prince, having had an indigestion with the cake of Savoy, comes to take tea in Paris.

Marie-Thérèse de Savoie, comtesse d'Artois by François Hubert Drouais, c.1775.
Marie-Thérèse de Savoie, comtesse d’Artois by François Hubert Drouais, c.1775. Via Wikimedia

Artois commissioned Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux to paint Rosalie sitting naked on the end of her bath, a work of art which the count displayed in the bathroom at château de Bagatelle, his pleasure house in the Bois de Boulogne.  Another portrait of Rosalie by Périn-Salbreux, possibly also painted for her royal lover, depicts her laying semi-naked on a bed, her hair loose and falling around her shoulders.

La Duthé couchée by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, 1775.
La Duthé couchée by Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux, 1775. Reims; musée des beaux-arts

Criss-crossing the Channel, Rosalie entertained a succession of wealthy and influential men both in Paris and in London. Paris was her home though, and it was there that she invested her money is a series of fine mansions but, in 1786, she sailed once again for England, imported, as it were, by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont whom she ruined financially.

A view of Margate with the Bathing Place, 1786, J Wells after Thomas Smith of Derby. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
A view of Margate with the Bathing Place, 1786, J Wells after Thomas Smith of Derby. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

During the summer of 1786, the 4th Earl of Cholmondeley and Madame Saint-Albin were to be found in Kingsgate at Margate. The earl had been the former lover of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, until that infamous courtesan left for Paris and the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Marie-Françoise Henriette, Madame Saint-Albin had supplanted Grace in the earl’s affections and they were taking the sea air in the same house he had spent a summer of pleasure in with Grace almost a decade earlier. The couple were joined there by Lord Coleraine, another disreputable rake accompanied by his new courtesan of choice, Marie-Françoise Henriette’s countrywoman and compatriot, Rosalie Duthé. The two Frenchwomen moved in England, as they had in France, in similar circles. Mrs Elliott was also Rosalie’s contemporary; they both shared a lover in the person of the Duke of Orléans so were rivals, if not friends.

Presumed portrait of Rosalie Duthé, attributed to Claude-Jean-Baptiste Hoin.
Presumed portrait of Rosalie Duthé, attributed to Claude-Jean-Baptiste Hoin. MFA Boston

Rosalie escaped the terrors of the French Revolution, remaining in safety in England although she was declared an émigré and her house which she had owned since 1775 on rue du Mont-Blanc (at the corner of rue Saint-Lazare, formerly the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin and where she had lived with Marie and Géneviève Rinteau) was forfeit and declared ‘national goods’ in her absence.

She returned to Paris briefly to try to reclaim her property, aided by her friend and banker Jean-Frédéric Perregaux who commissioned a portrait of Rosalie by Danloux which was painted in London during 1792.

Portrait of Mlle Duthé by Henri-Pierre Danloux, c.1792.
Portrait of Mlle Duthé by Henri-Pierre Danloux, c.1792. © MAD, Paris / photo: Jean Tholance

Perregaux was the banker of choice for foreign travellers to Paris including Rosalie’s friend, Lord Cholmondeley and of known spies, as well as of courtesans like Rosalie. He lived on the same Parisian street, the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. It is said that when Perregaux died, in 1808, he did so while contemplating his portrait of Rosalie Duthé who had remained one of his greatest friends.

Rosalie remained in London until 1816, then returned to Paris. She continued to receive many visitors and lived peacefully although in her later years she was almost blind. She died 24th September 1830 aged 82 years and was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery underneath two cedar trees. Rosalie left no will but two of her cousins, Madame Malacrida, a widow living in the Rue Laffitte, and Marie-Angélique Malacrida profited from the sale of her furniture which made 9,000 francs.

Rosalie Duthé by Antoine Vestier
Rosalie Duthé by Antoine Vestier. Bonhams


Catherine-Rosalie’s father is named as Jean-Baptiste Gérard in many sources, but on the register of her birth, it is Jean-François.

The rue de la Chaussée d’Antin was renamed the rue de Mirabeau in 1793 in honour of the revolutionary leader Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau and then, when Mirabeau was proscribed in 1793, the rue du Mont-Blanc in 1793, but it reverted to its former name in 1815.

Marie Rinteau is the great-grandmother of the writer, George Sand.


Souvenirs de Mlle Duthé de l’Opéra (1748-1830), Louis-Michaud, 1909

Archives nationales, Paris

Registres paroissiaux et d’état civil, St Louis, Versailles

The Morning Post, 15th September, 1786

On Blondes by Joanne Pitman, 2004

Christmas Festivities: Tales, Sketches, and Characters with Beauties of the Modern Drama, in Four Specimens by John Poole, 1845

Singleton, Henry; The Pastor's Fireside: The family of Sir Thomas Acland, 10th Bt, Being Read to by the Vicar of Silverton; National Trust, Killerton

Curl up with our two biographies: 30% off RRP for a limited time when bought together

As the nights start to draw in, it’s a perfect time to curl up in the warmth by your fireside with a book or two and so we’re delighted that our publisher, Pen & Sword, have chosen to offer both our current biographies as a discounted bundle deal. Even more so as they are perfect companion books to each other, together telling the full story of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her extended Scottish family as well as documenting the life of her daughter and granddaughter, continuing into the Regency and Victorian eras and culminating in a marriage into the British royal family.

30% off RRP of An Infamous Mistress and A Right Royal Scandal for a limited time at Pen and Sword when bought together.

And, is it yet too early to mention Christmas and Christmas shopping? These two books would make the perfect festive present for anyone who is interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history, the French Revolution or indeed anyone who has an interest in the royal family or has enjoyed watching period dramas such as Victoria on ITV.

Queen Victoria at the Drury Lane Theatre, November 1837 by Edmund Thomas Parris (1793-1873). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016
Queen Victoria at the Drury Lane Theatre, November 1837 by Edmund Thomas Parris.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

You can buy both An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott and A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, in hardback, with a saving of 30% off RRP when bought together for a limited time by clicking here and selecting the ‘get this product as part of a bundle’ offer at the top of the page.

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

If you have enjoyed An Infamous Mistress and A Right Royal Scandal, watch out for our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, coming soon.

Featured Image

The Pastor’s Fireside: The family of Sir Thomas Acland, 10th Bt, Being Read to by the Vicar of Silverton by Henry Singleton (1766–1839); National Trust, Killerton.

Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs – cover reveal

We’re massively excited to reveal the cover for our next book A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is due to be published later this year, again by Pen & Sword Books. It is now available to pre-order via Pen & Swords Books or Amazon and all other bookshops.

Rachel or Charlotte as she preferred to be known, really has tested our detective skills as she spent her life ‘under the radar’ despite everything she actually achieved in life and remained something of an enigma.

Lambeth Palace and St Mary's Church with St Paul's by William Marlow
Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church with St Paul’s by William Marlow; Government Art Collection

This book really has been a long time in the writing, as every time we thought we had found out all there was to know about her, Charlotte threw us another snippet, as if from nowhere, and off we disappeared again down yet another rabbit hole.

Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London
Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London; Museum of London

We thought we would share with you a little about how we came across Charlotte and what a complete nightmare and joy she has proved to be. We have gone through so many emotions we can’t begin to describe whilst piecing together her life.

Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson; Tate

Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life (for our first book, An Infamous Mistress) we came across Charlotte’s name in connection with the home of one of Grace’s relatives. Our first thought was that it was a vaguely interesting snippet of information and perhaps worth, at the very most, a paragraph in Grace’s book, but absolutely nothing more than that.

An Account of the Celebration of George III's Jubilee in 1809

We then came across Charlotte’s ‘Testament’, her version of events that took place during her teenage years. At this point we knew her full life story needed to be told – she would either be immensely proud or absolutely furious that we haven’t left her to rest in peace (probably the former, if we’re honest).

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

At first, we couldn’t decide whether her Testament was a work of fiction or a factual account of shocking events that took place during her teenage years. We debated for months about her, swaying from completely believing her account, to thinking it was mere fiction as it read so much like a tragic Samuel Richardson novel.

Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

I (Sarah) was less convinced than Jo that she was telling the truth, but the more we uncovered the more persuaded I became that the majority of it was true, too many of the facts checked out for it to be fiction.

House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library
House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library

So, with that one part of her life pieced together, in our usual detective fashion we simply had to find out more, where did she come from and what happened to her after this shocking ordeal? So off we went, desperate to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art
The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art

What we discovered about her was far from anything we could ever have imagined. After a horrendous ordeal, she completely reinvented herself.

The York to London Coach at Bedale, c.1840; The British Postal Museum
The York to London Coach at Bedale by Anson Ambrose Martin; The British Postal Museum & Archive; c1840 (not quite Georgian)

We came across Professor Linda Colley’s book ‘Britons: Forging The Nation 1707-1837’ in which our heroine gets a mention. Colley describes her as:

an obscure, middle-class widow from the Welsh border’

From the Welsh borders – almost true. Obscure – well perhaps, she shunned the limelight, not that limelight was easy to achieve at that time for a woman. Middle class – probably. A widow – well, that’s another mystery which we’ll reveal in our book!

Rather than tell you more about the story itself we have included rather a lot of what appear to be random images, for which we offer no explanation, apart from to say that if you read the book they will make sense to you.

Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Charlotte was in fact, the instigator of our ‘All Things Georgian‘ blog as we needed to find somewhere to store pieces of information we had found about her, so we have been writing about events in Charlotte’s life in a variety of blogs for quite some time now as we’ve pieced together her life, these include:

Reverend William Dodd

‘Clarissa’ and ‘ Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson

Countess Leonor D’Oeynhausen (1750-1839)

Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838)

Helen Maria Williams

Arabella Williams – Le Petit Matelot

Robert Carpenter, Drury Lane actor

Rehab for 18th-century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

The Dunston Pillar: celebrating the 50 year reign of King George III

Finally, to whet your appetite we’ll leave you with the back of the jacket.

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Header image: The three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust.

(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)

John Wilkes and Knighton Gorges Manor House

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's Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight.
John Wilkes’s Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
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.

John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779.
John Wilkes and his daughter Mary (Polly) by Johann Zoffany, c.1779. National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq.
Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Featured image:

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

Guest Post: Grace’s French Counterpart, Juliette Récamier

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 Gestapo Headquarters?). 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 They Burn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of Medieval Paris (click here to find out more). Stew hopes you will visit his blog at 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.

Portrait of Grace Elliott. Oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c.1782). Frick Collection. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Grace Elliott. Oil painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c.1782). Frick Collection. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Portrait of Madame Juliette Récamier. Oil painting by Antoine-Jean Gros (1825). Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Madame Juliette Récamier. Oil painting by Antoine-Jean Gros (1825). Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Bust of Juliette Récamier. Photo by Philippe Alès (2012). Musée des Beaux-arts of Lyon, France. PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.
Bust of Juliette Récamier. Photo by Philippe Alès (2012). Musée des Beaux-arts of Lyon, France. PD-Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Wikimedia Commons.


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).

Portrait of Madame Récamier. Oil painting by François Gérard (1805). Musée Carnavalet. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Madame Récamier. Oil painting by François Gérard (1805). Musée Carnavalet. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

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.


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.

The Original Récamier Recliner used in David’s Portrait of Mme Récamier. Photo by anonymous (date unknown). Original recliner located in the Louvre Museum. Wikimedia.
The Original Récamier Recliner used in David’s Portrait of Mme Récamier. Photo by anonymous (date unknown). Original recliner located in the Louvre Museum. Wikimedia.


Copyright © 2017 Stew Ross

Featured Image

Portrait de Juliette Récamier. Oil painting by Jacques-Louis David (1800). Louvre Museum. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

Prince of Wales, the Duke of Orleans, and Friendship

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.

Her first book, Marie Antoinette’s Confidante: The Rise and Fall of the Princesse de Lamballe, has just been released. It looks at the relationship between Marie Antoinette and the Princess de Lamballe, and among the people mentioned in the book are the Duke of Orleans, the Prince of Wales, and Grace Dalrymple Elliott, of which more later.

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.

Princesse de Lamballe by Antoine-François Callet, ca. 1776. Courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

Louis Philippe d’Orléans, as Duke of Chartres, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, ca.1779, Courtesy of the Château de Chantilly

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.”

George IV when Prince of Wales, miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792.
George IV when Prince of Wales, miniature by Richard Cosway, 1792. National Portrait Gallery

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.”

Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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

The Living Age, Vol. 74, 1862



You can find Geri on Facebook, Twitter (@18thCand19thC), Google PlusInstagram and Pinterest and her book is available from:

Pen and Sword Books

and to pre-order on and other good bookshops


Marie Antoinette with her children and Madame Élisabeth, when the mob broke into the Tuileries Palace on 20 June 1792. Photo: Wikipedia.

Amazing Grace Dalrymple Elliott: courtesan and spy

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.

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


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).

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

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016

The Mistletoe or Christmas Gambols.
The Mistletoe or Christmas Gambols. Lewis Walpole Library

Well,  it’s nearly Christmas again, how time flies when you’re having fun and we certainly have had a busy and fun packed year both rushing around the Georgian era and finalizing our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her family, An Infamous Mistress, which is due out in January (links at the end of this post for pre-order) – we’re so excited and hope that you will enjoy reading it.

We hope that our blog posts so far have been entertaining as well as informative and that you will continue to support us during the next year. We would also like to thank all our wonderful ‘guest writers’ who have written some fascinating blogs for us and we hope to have many more next year, so if you would like us to host a blog post for you please do not hesitate to get in touch.


In case you weren’t aware, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s long time friend Lady Seymour Worsley will be appearing on BBC 2 at 10pm, Christmas Eve as The Scandalous Lady W. The film is based upon Hallie Rubenhold’s book of the same name. Hallie has also just finished writing  the second in a trilogy of historical fiction books, The French Lesson, which includes a fictional but factually based Grace Dalrymple Elliott in revolutionary France and which will be available in March 2016 –  we can’t wait to read it as we thoroughly enjoyed the first in the series, Mistress of My Fate; the Confessions of Henrietta Lightfoot. We’ll be reviewing it here next year as soon as it is released.


So that we too can enjoy the festivities we will be taking a break from blogging until 5th January when we will be back with more tales from the Georgian era. To keep you busy with some light reading over the festive season we have compiled our 12 most popular blogs posts, all in one place for you. We hope you enjoy them and also that you have a very Happy Christmas and wish you all a wonderful New Year.

18th Century Masquerade Balls

© The Trustees of the British Museum

What became of Charlotte Williams, illegitimate daughter of the 5th Duke of Devonshire?

Life below stairs – the duties of a Georgian housemaid

La Récureuse – The Scrubbing Woman, André Bouys. (1737)

A new life in Australia for prisoner Sarah Bird (1763-1842)

Le Costume Historique: fashion through the ages

Tom Jones’: the history of a female soldier

View from the street, looking across the gardens in the square from the north front; elegantly dressed figures on pavement in foreground, separated from square by iron railings; illustration to Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, part 45 volume 8. 1812. Reproduced by permission of the artist. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Hannah Snell: the Amazons and the Press Gang, 1771

The Press Gang by Alexander Johnston (c) Ferens Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The gallant and heroic Madame du Frenoy, 1785

Mme DUFRÉNOY, née BILLET (1765-1825), (private collection) (via

The miser, his daughter and her lover: Elizabeth Cardinall, 1776-1803

Sailors arrival on shore from a cruise, 1808. © Royal Museums Greenwich

Opium Eating: The Lincolnshire Fens in the early nineteenth-century

Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier (c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Kidnap and Attempted Murder in the 18th Century: Viscount Valentia’s ancestry

The Honourable James Annesley Esquire by George Bickham the Younger, after Kings, line engraving, 1744 © The National Portrait Gallery

Ville d’Avray, the last home of Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Château de Thierry à Ville-d’Avray (image via


Norman Cross: French Prisoner of War Camp

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.

Bird's eye view of the Norman Cross Barracks and Prison, East Elevation, 1813
Bird’s eye view of the Norman Cross Barracks and Prison, East Elevation, 1813

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.

A View of the Prisons of War situated at Norman Cross, Huntingdon Shire, 1797
A View of the Prisons of War situated at Norman Cross, Huntingdon Shire, 1797

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 [23] “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.

French Plait Merchants Trading with French Prisoners of War at Norman Cross or Yaxley Camp, Cambridgeshire, 1806–1815 by Arthur Claude Cooke (c) Luton Culture; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
French Plait Merchants Trading with French Prisoners of War at Norman Cross or Yaxley Camp, Cambridgeshire, 1806–1815 by Arthur Claude Cooke
(c) Luton Culture; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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.

Model of Norman Cross prison in the Musée de l'Armée, Paris. Made by M. Foulley who was a prisoner of war at Norman Cross for 5 years and three months. Photograph taken in 1913.
Model of Norman Cross prison in the Musée de l’Armée, Paris. Made by M. Foulley who was a prisoner of war at Norman Cross for 5 years and three months. Photograph taken in 1913.

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]


[i] Cambridge Chronicle and Journal (31st January 1846) and Stamford Mercury (6th February 1846).

[ii] Prisoners of War 1715-1945, Find My Past.


Ville d’Avray, the last home of Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Today we are going to take a look at the French village of Ville d’Avray, where Grace Dalrymple Elliott ended her days. In the eighteenth-century Grace had been known as a notorious courtesan and mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales (when he was young and handsome) and Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans. The Prince was the reputed father of her daughter, Georgiana, although Cholmondeley was the man who brought her up as if she was his own.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.

But, by the time the Regency ended and her former lover took the throne as King George IV, Grace’s heyday had passed.  Elderly and in ill-health she left England and settled instead in Ville d’Avray, a quiet village in between Paris and Versailles, where she died in 1823.

The Heights above Ville d'Avray with peasants working in a field by Camille Corot, 1870 (via
The heights above Ville d’Avray with peasants working in a field by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1870
(WikiArt Gallery)
a view of the rue Brancas near the artist’s home at Ville-d’Avray, southwest of Paris, which is visible in the distance. Camille Corot, c.1860s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
A view of the rue Brancas near the artist’s home at Ville-d’Avray, southwest of Paris, which is visible in the distance.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1860s, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Originally a rural village, with copious vineyards on its exposed hillsides, it was transformed by the nearby Versailles, and the royal palace there. The forest, La forêt de Fausses-Reposes, which surrounded the village was used for hunting and, until the French Revolution, the Fontaine du Roy provided drinking water to the French royal family when they were at Versailles (it was known to provide the best drinking water in the area around Paris).  The large pond on the edge of the village was connected to another royal residence, that of the Château de Saint-Cloud, by an underground aqueduct. The Parc de Saint-Cloud is still connected via that aqueduct, and water from the pond at Ville d’Avray flows to the ponds and waterfalls of Saint-Cloud, and the forest at Ville d’Avray eventually merges into the scenery of the Parc de Saint-Cloud.

The Grand Cascade in the Parc de Saint-Cloud (image via
The Grand Cascade in the Parc de Saint-Cloud
(image via
Ville d'Avray - Le Cavalier à la entrée du bois by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1873 (image via
Ville d’Avray – Le Cavalier à la entrée du bois by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1873
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1789 Marc-Antoine Thierry gained the title of Baron and began to build a château and paid for a new church to be built. The construction began just three days before the fall of the Bastille and, although Thierry fell a victim to the Revolution (he was assassinated in the Abbaye prison during the September massacres in 1792), these buildings have survived.

Portait de Marc-Antoine Thierry, baron de Ville d'Avray, premier valet de chambre de Louis XVI, intendant du garde meuble by Alexander Roslin, 1790 (image via
Portait de Marc-Antoine Thierry, baron de Ville d’Avray, premier valet de chambre de Louis XVI, intendant du garde meuble by Alexander Roslin, 1790, Palace de Versailles
(Wikimedia Commons)
Château de Thierry à Ville-d'Avray (image via
Château de Thierry à Ville-d’Avray
(Wikimedia Commons)

Following the Revolutionary years Ville d’Avray gradually became more residential and people from all disciplines of the arts fell under its charm and spent time living there.  Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), a well-known landscape artist, lived in the village for many years and left behind may fine paintings of the pond and forest on the edge of Ville d’Avray. Although all but one of his paintings shown here date from many years after Grace died, they can’t be that much different from the scenery she would have known and recognised from her last home.

If you would like to know more about Grace, our biography, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, is now available for pre-order at Amazon and elsewhere and due to be published by Pen and Sword in January 2016.

A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d'Avray, Camille Corot, c.1871-1874 (Met Museum).
A Woman Gathering Faggots at Ville-d’Avray, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1871-1874, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
L'étang de Ville d'Avray by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1863, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg (image via
L’étang de Ville d’Avray by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1863, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg
(Wikimedia Commons)
Ville d'Avray, Woodland Path Bordering the Pond by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1872, Indianapolis Museum of Art (image via
Ville d’Avray, Woodland Path Bordering the Pond by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1872, Indianapolis Museum of Art
(Wikimedia Commons)
Banks of the Stream near the Corot Property, Ville d'Avray, Camille Corot c.1823. Corot’s mother and sister are depicted standing by a large Italian poplar that marked the entrance to the family’s property at Ville d’Avray, near Paris. (Met Museum)
Banks of the Stream near the Corot Property, Ville d’Avray, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot c.1823. Corot’s mother and sister are depicted standing by a large Italian poplar that marked the entrance to the family’s property at Ville d’Avray, near Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ville d'Avray the Chemin de Corot by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot c.1840. WikiArt.
Ville d’Avray the Chemin de Corot by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot c.1840.
Ville d'Avray the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840. WikiArt.
Ville d’Avray the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840.

Sources used:


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.

The Last Days of Marie Antoinette

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!Marie 1775 - met museum

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.

Unknown artist - Marie

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.

Red velvet

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.Marie 1791 - lewis walpole

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.

Marie guillotine David

We also came across this highlighted document listing everyone who was sent to the guillotine and is an immensely helpful resource as it includes Marie Antoinette.


Sources Used

* Public Advertiser Friday, November 1, 1793

** The Star  Friday, November 8, 1793


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.

Another Ellen Sharples update

Having continued our research we have just come across quite an insightful little article written in Western Daily Press Wednesday 11th January 1899.

Mrs Sharples was much struck, as she witnessed the dreadful reverse of fortune consequent upon the French Revolution, by the desirability that every woman should have, if possible, the means of earning her livelihood, if necessary, or to use her own words:-

“I had frequently thought that all well-educated females, particularly those who had only small fortunes should at least have the power, if they did not exercise it, by the cultivation of some available talent, of obtaining the conveniences and some of the elegancies of life, and to be enabled always to preserve that respectable position in society to which had been accustomed.

I decided, soon after our arrival in Philadelphia, where Congress then assembled, to make any drawing, which had been learnt and practised as an ornamental art for amusement, available to a useful purpose.  Mr Sharples was usually engaged drawing in crayon the portraits of the most distinguished Americans, foreign Ministers and other distinguished visitants from Europe. Copies were frequently required; these I undertook, and was, so far successful also have as many commissions as I could execute;  they were thought equal to the originals, price the same; we lived in good style associating in the first society.

On our return to Bath Mr Sharples again engaged in mechanical studies, I was particular interested in copying pictures in miniature, and applied with great attention and perseverance, most anxious to attain excellent in the art. I was too nervous to practice drawing original portraits, being always exceedingly agitated when I attempted them, although the few I executed obtained the greatest praise. Rolinda had not this failing, she conversed with a person sitting for a portrait with as much ease as if unemployed, and made her sitters equally at their ease”.

 The article ends by confirming her last addresses in England following her return with her son James and her daughter Rolinda – Sion Spring House, Clifton, Bristol; afterwards No. 2 Lower Harley Place, finally removing as a tenant to No. 3 St Vincent’s Parade, where she died.

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

Women’s Journals During the French Revolution

When you think of prisoners during the Revolution you are inclined to think of possibly the two most famous women who were arrested and sentenced to death – Marie Antoinette and Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat, but there were many other women who wrote journals about their lives during the French Revolution, some written from prison, others were purely about how their lives changed during this period.

In 1803 Napoleon sent out an edict to detain every British citizen living in France at that time; all British persons were to be arrested, imprisoned and interrogated, with some also being sentenced to death.

We know, however, that many lesser-known women were also detained, and from her letters and journal, we have found out that our own ‘A Georgian Heroine‘, Rachel Charlotte William Biggs, spent from the early 1790s to the mid-1820s travelling between England and France, with part of her life being spent in a variety of French prisons.

Her story, true but amazing, is one that has to be read to be believed; it includes her formative years during which time she was abducted and rape – not once but twice; her life as some sort of British spy and a complete reinvention of herself into an unknown political advisor for the British government, advising them on important matters of the day. Arguably, one of her most important and possibly her proudest achievement being that, in her later years, she almost single-handedly organised the golden jubilee celebrations for King George III.

We also know that Helen Maria Williams, whom we have written about before, spent time in The Luxembourg prison, Paris, from where she continued to work on translations.

Apart from Le Bastille, the main prison used to house British detainees was La Conciergerie, a former royal palace in Paris; between 2nd April 1793 and 31st May 1795 over 2,500 prisoners were sent to the guillotine from La Conciergerie.

Marie Antoinette's cell in the Conciergerie.
Marie Antoinette’s cell in the Conciergerie.

During this period in history many women, whether in prison or just trying to continue with their day-to-day lives, wrote letters and journals which have survived, giving us an insight into their lives at this time.

For those interested in reading about life during the Revolution there are quite a few online journals that make fascinating reading, such as the one by the Duchesse De Duras.

A well-known Scottish courtesan Grace Elliott nee Dalrymple was also purported to have been held as a prisoner during the Revolution, however, the jury has always remained out as to whether or not this was, in fact, true, and just how much truth is in her Journal of my Life during the French Revolution? We reveal the true facts about Grace, her life, loves and arguably, more importantly, her family, who shaped her life, in our book about Grace, ‘An Infamous Mistress’

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

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

Another interesting journal was written by Henriette-Lucie Dillon born 25th February 1770 at Saint-Sulpice, Paris. She was the daughter of General Arthur Dillon, who married his second cousin Therese-Lucy de Rothe – Journal of a Woman of Fifty Years. We stumbled across this journal we researching our ‘Georgian Heroine’, who was a friend of one of Arthur Dillon’s relatives.

The Great French Revolution is narrated in the letters of Madame J which were edited by her grandson Edouard Lockroy. Madame J had never anticipated her letter being published as they were not written for the public to read, but none the less they give a fascinating account of her life.

All of these journals give the reader a real insight into life in France before, during and after the French Revolution and we feel they are definitely worth a read!

Armed with snippets of information from these journals we set about trying to research French records in the hope of finding the people we were interested in listed in at least one of the prisons we had read about where many of the English women were held during the revolution.

During our research, we have come across a wonderfully helpful website set up by Anne Morddel which gives links to the various French Departments.

Anne very kindly sent us a list of women that were listed as foreign British prisoners in Napoleonic France. Sadly, our lady was not on the list, but many others were. If you think that one of your relatives might have been on the list it is worth emailing Anne to obtain a copy.

Arabella Williams – Le Petit Matelot

In Elizabeth Sparrow’s book, The Alien Office, 1792-1806, she referred to a widowed lady named Madame Arabella Williams who was aged around fifty who was working for William Wickham ‘The Spymaster’.  Madame Williams was one of many who were living in France during and after the French Revolution but who were spying for England. There was a whole network of spies who were able to ‘blend in’ and not be questioned. The spymasters and organisation leaders were predominantly from the aristocracy and upper classes, but the spies themselves were from all walks of life. The heroine of one of our planned future books was another such spy, although we know that there is no record of her working for Wickham she was in close contact with other ministers instead.

When we first noticed Elizabeth’s account of Madame Williams were convinced that it was the heroine of one of our books, the right sort of age, living in Paris, a widow, so of course this needed to be checked out. We were wrong – they were two completely different people with the same surname… so what to do with the information we had found out about Le Petit Matelot?  Well, for such a courageous lady, risking her life, it seems wrong that there is virtually nothing about her in books or on the internet and we felt duty bound to correct this.

We begin in 1733 with the death of a gentleman by the name of Lewis Elstob former tenant of Wiganthorpe Hall, Old Terrington in North Yorkshire.

Wiganthorpe Hall; Looking across the ground towards Wiganthorpe Hall by Francis Nicholson, 1793.
Wiganthorpe Hall; Looking across the ground towards Wiganthorpe Hall by Francis Nicholson, 1793. Bonhams.

Upon his death he left two daughters, Jane and Lucy. At that time Lucy was only 17, therefore regarded as a minor so Lewis drew up a document making his elder daughter Jane, her legal guardian and responsible for all matters pertaining to her sister until she reached her majority i.e. 21.  Jane was to remain a spinster and died 25th July 1779 aged 69. She was buried at Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.

 Lucy however, went on to marry the poet David Mallet on 2nd October 1742, a widower, at St Andrew’s, Holborn London. David’s first wife Susannah Berney whom he had married at St Gregory by St Paul in London in 1731 had by this time died, leaving him with two young children, a son Charles and a daughter Dorothea. Lucy was described as being the younger daughter of Lewis Elstob, a steward of the Earl of Carlisle, a lady of great merit and beauty lady. Lucy came to the marriage with a dowry of some £10,000 (just short of one million pounds in today’s money).

According to David his family could be traced back to the notorious Scottish Macgregor clan, of which Rob Roy became famous for robbery and violence.  Whether this was true or false, we’re really not sure and it would take far too much time to prove it conclusively. Allegedly David was the son of James Malloch an innkeeper from Crieff in Perthshire, however, correspondence appears to refute this. He was however, educated in Scotland and moved to Edinburgh where he became tutor to the family of Mr Home of Dreghorn. Upon moving to London David made a slight change to his surname from Malloch to a softer sounding Mallet. The move to London allowed David’s career as a poet to flourish.

Although not a well known fact, David was the co-writer with James Thomson of the much loved anthem ‘Rule Britannia’ in 1740. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that David had married into money and was a selfish person that you could not warm to and that he was not the most honourable of men.

After moving to London the couple produced two daughters, first Lucy who was born August 1743, and second Arabella and the heroine of our story on the 3rd of August 1745.  For some strange reason a baptism for Arabella appears in the parish register of St James Church, Westminster dated 12th April 1763, maybe they chose not to have her baptized until they knew there was the possibility of a marriage on the horizon – who knows!

Around this time David was showing a keenness to serve the government although, in spite of this, in December 1753 he rejected an invitation to write an opposition periodical for £400 a year. In September of 1755 whilst visiting Paris where he was busy ‘networking’ he came upon the idea of offering his services as a spy – this offer was not taken up needless to say.

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

When Arabella’s aunt Jane died, Arabella appeared to be the favoured one in her will and was left a large part of her aunt’s estate, making her a wealthy woman and by all accounts this was much to the annoyance of Arabella’s mother! Little is known of Arabella’s upbringing, but it could be assumed that she was affluent and well educated – a good catch for someone.

Her husband came in the shape of Edward Williams, a lieutenant in The Royal Regiment of Artillery. The couple married on the 30th October 1766 at Largo in Fife.

Edward was to progress through the military ranks, ultimately reaching the post of colonel, however, this appears to have been without his wife by his side. The marriage apparently lasted a mere two months and the couple went their separate ways, but presumably it was advantageous for Arabella (known by friends and family as Bell according to the private letters of Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire) to retain her marital status. Gibbon was an old family friend of the Mallets.

A History, Critical and Biographical, Of British Authors, From The Earliest: page 41

When Gibbon the historian was dismissed from his college at Oxford for embracing popery, he took refuge in Mallet’s house, and was rather scandalised, he says, than reclaimed, by the philosophy of his host. Wilkes mentions that the vain and fantastic wife of Mallet one day lamented to a lady that her husband suffered in reputation by his name being so often confounded with that of Smollett; the lady wittily answered, “Madam, there is a short remedy; let your husband keep his own name.”

Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton, 1773. National Portrait Gallery.
Edward Gibbon, by Henry Walton, 1773. National Portrait Gallery.

Gibbons was quite the gossip and mentioned Arabella frequently in his letters and described her as being extremely wealthy, very attractive and having a lively personality. In a letter to his stepmother dated 29th October 1779 Edward Gibbon he described how he had dined at the home of Mrs Williams, alias Bell Mallet, Conduit Street, London and that Bell’s aunt had recently died and had left her the house, furniture, plate etc., plus a fortune of £14,000 (worth around one million in today’s money) out of which she simply had to pay an annuity of £100 per year (£6,000 in today’s money) to her sister.  He described her as being in high spirits and keen to return to France.  Her husband was apparently in New York and much esteemed in his profession, but he gave the impression that she really didn’t care much about him returning. A later letter sheds more light.

Letter from E Gibbon to his stepmother Dec 10 1779.

I have seen very little of Mrs Williams, and sorry, and indeed surprised to hear so bad an account of a little coquette to whom I only imputed the venial faults of vanity and affectation. I understand she is already on the wing.

David Mallet died in 1765, and after his death his widow Lucy moved to France.

David Hume letters from Paris, April and Sept 1764

I saw a few days ago Mrs. Mallet, who seems to be going upon a strange project, of living alone, in a hermitage, in the midst of the forest of Fontainbleau. …

Mrs Mallet has retired into the Forrest of Fontainebleau with a Macgregor. I fancy she is angry with me, and thought herself neglected by me while in Paris. I heard of her thrusting herself everywhere into Companies, who endeavoured to avoid her; and I was afraid she would have laid hold of me to enlarge her Acquaintance among the French.

Vue du Château de Fontainebleau. Pierre-Denis Martin, c.1718-1723.
Vue du Château de Fontainebleau. Pierre-Denis Martin, c.1718-1723.

Many years later, during the French Revolution, she was imprisoned with her daughter Lucy Macgregor during which time much of her wealth was confiscated. Lucy had married a Captain Macgregor of the French Service and died in Paris on 17th September 1795 at the age of seventy nine. Just before her death she was living at No. 9 Rue De Champs Elysee. Lucy left the bulk of her estate to Arabella, with other bequests to close friends and servants.  Lucy makes an interesting remark in her will about Arabella:

In case (which I hope she is wiser than to do) my daughter Arabella Williams should dispute anything in this my will or attempt to give trouble to my above named executors or to Elizabeth Stowers, I authorise the said Executors to file a bill in Chancery for the recovery of the other half of my land near Malton, left her very unjustly by my sister, who had no right to do so, as it devolved to me on the death of my sister as my mother inherited it at the death of her sister in quality of their being co heiresses , but as she left it to my daughter I would not dispute such a trifle at my age.

Arabella’s sister Lucy died of insanity just before her mother. The fate of Lucy senior’s  stepson still remains unknown and his sister Dorothea died in Italy where she had lived for a number of years, having married to escape the tyranny of her stepmother.  Dorothea’s husband was Pietro Paolo Celesia, the Genoese Ambassador to England. Arabella’s husband was to die a few years later according to The Sun newspaper dated Monday, January 29, 1798. Edward’s claim to fame was that he was involved in conducting the ‘Trigonometrical Survey of this Kingdom’. Although well known at this time he was not very highly regarded by his peers.

So, Arabella was now alone and somehow this led her into the secret world of espionage. Her ‘handler’ was William Wickham and she became known as ‘le petit matelot’ – the little sailor – as she had acted as a courier passing papers between France and England for a number of years disguised as a sailor, without being caught. One of her contacts in France was a royalist by the name of Louis Bayard, whose mistress ran a restaurant in Paris which served as a safe meeting place and shelter for the agents; another was Abbé Ratel. Arabella had her own property in France which she also used as a ‘safe house’ for other agents as and when required. Reports confirm that her house was never subjected to searches.  The group she belonged was immensely successful and despite the gendarmeries surveillance they managed to escape detection until sometime after 1804.

However, a Secret Police Bulletin dated 3rd January 1806 shows that they still had an interest in Arabella. The police questioned a man by the man of Monsieur Troche who described Arabella as being a lady from Liverpool that he had known for 5 to 6 years. The description of her was that she was about 42 years old, very petite and extremely pretty, that she had in fact had a son when she was only 14 years old and there was some mention of a colonel.

It would appear most likely that this was in fact her cover story to be used if she were arrested. She was a middle aged woman from Liverpool, the wife of a merchant, with a son born when she was a mere child herself.  She was described as being lively and immensely busy. She was said to have travelled to Dieppe, Treport, Cayeaux, and Boulogne, and once landed at Honfleur.  A Dieppe sailor, who was in Rouen where she usually stayed, confirmed that she was known as ‘The Fat Neighbour’ there. The police appeared extremely keen to track her down for interrogation.


‘in 1807… Arabella Williams, daughter of David Mallet, author of Northern Antiquities, had had more recent troubles. She had spent most of her life in Paris, but visits to London to obtain her share of her mother, Lucy Estob’s, property brought on her the suspicion of the police and she was arrested. The banker Perregaux and others had to exonerate her from the charge of espionage.’

Nothing else appears to be known of Arabella after this last sighting, until her death. She died in Paris at 11.00pm on the 5th April 1816 according to her death certificate. At the time she was living at No. 8 Rue de Luxembourg, Paris. Her death certificate confirms that she was aged 71 and from London, the widow of Edward Williams. Arabella’s will was proven on 3rd august 1816 in which she left most of her clothing including her riding habit to Madame Béens; a ring with rose coloured agate to The Marquis of Gabriac who was the husband of Mary Celesia, the daughter of her step sister Dorothea Mallet. His son was page to Bonaparte so perhaps proving Arabella’s close links with Napoleon. She left the majority of her estate to a Matthias Augusté D’Alençon.

We would like to thank Mick Curry for his help in providing extra information about Arabella and her family.

Header image: Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 1815; John Crome; Norfolk Museums Service

Helen Maria Williams. © British Museum

Helen Maria Williams

There are series of coincidences between the heroine of one of our future books and Helen Maria Williams, but nothing to conclusively prove that they knew each other – they both lived on the same street in Paris at the same time; they both wrote about life in Revolutionary France and travelled around Europe at about the same time; both imprisoned during the French Revolution; they were about the same age and died within months of each other in France; both women were named Williams. We have tried to make a familial connection but so far there appears nothing to connect the women except quite a few coincidences. With this in mind we thought it might be of interest to provide a ‘potted’ history of Helen’s life and also set some of the records straight.

Helen Maria Williams. © British Museum
Helen Maria Williams. © British Museum

The London Marriage Bonds and Allegations for St Mary Le Strand dated 30th May 1758 record Charles Williams (a widower) and Helen Hay (a spinster, aged 24) preparing to solemnize their marriage.

Just over a year later, on 17th June 1759, Helen gave birth to a daughter, Helen Maria Williams. She was one of two girls born to Charles Williams and his wife Helen Hay, although Charles had another daughter, Persis by his first wife. Helen Maria was baptized at St James Church, Westminster on 5th July 1759. The couple returned to the same church a little over a year later to baptize their second daughter, Cecilia.

Many websites have speculated upon Helen’s date of birth, so we have given the date quite clearly to end this misinformation, both Helen and Cecilia are quite clearly shown in the parish record books slightly earlier than many people appear to think.



When Helen was only three years old her father was buried at St John the Evangelist Church in Westminster on 23rd December 1762. Charles’s will specifically named his first daughter, Persis and his wife Helen, but there is no specific reference to the other two girls.

After her father’s death, Helen decided to move the girls up to Berwick upon Tweed where Helen described her education as ‘confined’. Clearly, this confined education did not hinder her in any way, but in 1781 she was to return to London where she met Andrew Kippis (28 March 1725 – 8 October 1795), a non-conformist clergyman and prolific writer who had a profound effect on her life and her future writings.

Helen Maria Williams. © British Museum
Helen Maria Williams. © British Museum

Helen was an independent woman who travelled widely around Europe and wrote of her travels. Part of this time was spent in France during the French Revolution where she favoured the revolutionaries.  Amongst many of Helen’s writings, she has, in places been accredited with writing ‘A Residence in France During the Years 1792, 1793, 1794 and 1795’. This is once again an error as publicly it was attributed to ‘An English Lady’. It was in fact written by the heroine of ones of our books who confirmed this is a letter to a senior British politician.

It became too unsafe for Helen to remain in France, so she went into exile in Switzerland for six months and travelled with John Hurford Stone, with whom it was alleged she had a relationship, however, there is no proof to substantiate this. Helen was adamant that she had behaved correctly. In 1798 Helen’s sister Cecille, married by then died and Helen became the adoptive mother of her two nephews Athanase (1795–1868) and Charles (1797–1851) Coquerel. In later years Helen went to live in Amsterdam with her eldest nephew but returned once more to Paris just prior to her death at the end of 1827.