The earliest known portrait of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott is a miniature painted by Richard Cosway around the time of her marriage to Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. It can be viewed on the cover of our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress.
Incidentally, Cosway lived on Berkeley Row where Grace was seen in a bagnio with the worthless Viscount Valentia, an indiscretion which led to a Criminal Conversation trial and her divorce; Cosway was called to the trial as a witness and testified to the disreputability of Mrs Jane Price’s house.
Then there are the two well-known portraits of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough, both now held in museums in New York. The full-length of Mrs Elliott was commissioned by her lover the 4th Earl (later 1st Marquess) of Cholmondeley and hung in his mansion in Piccadilly, and remained there even after their romance was over and Grace was in Paris, in the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Reputedly, the young Prince of Wales stood in front of this portrait and expressed his wish to meet the original; Cholmondeley was despatched to Paris to bring Grace home and she enjoyed a few short weeks as the Prince’s paramour and gained a permanent reminder and claim to the royal purse in the form of their daughter, born nine months later, Georgiana Seymour. We have examined this portrait, now in the Met Museum, in more detail in a previous blog post.
While her star burned brightly as Prinny’s courtesan (she replaced Perdita aka the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson in the prince’s affections), Gainsborough was commissioned to paint a head and shoulders portrait of Grace. Although by the time it was finished, the prince had long since abandoned its subject, it is a stunning portrait and one that gained an instant fame when it was first exhibited. Grace, it was thought, exuded a much too ‘knowing’ look.
These are all the confirmed portraits of Grace. There is a chalk drawing by Hoppner which is traditionally thought to be of Grace, and the jury is out on this one with us. It could possibly be her (we’ve discussed this drawing before too, here).
But Grace was a noted beauty and, for many years, a fixture in the society gossip columns. We can’t believe that there were no other portraits of her. We know of none painted while she was resident in France, and the Duke of Orléans would surely have commissioned a portrait or at least a miniature of his stunning mistress. It was with some excitement then, that we noticed a pastel portrait supposed to be of Grace had been added on to The Getty site. The provenance for the sitter being Grace comes from a 1906 edition of The Connoisseur, in which the portrait is reproduced as a colour plate; it is this image which is on The Getty website. The publication gives no other evidence for claiming the sitter is Grace. However, we can’t see Grace in this portrait (although we’ll grant the nose is a similar shape). Doing a little digging we found that there are several versions of this portrait. Many have passed through various auction houses over the years, as a portrait of an unknown woman, one is held in Riga Castle and one in the Royal Collection where it is traditionally claimed to be a likeness of one of the daughters of George III. So, we’ll leave this one with you, for your response. Do you think it is Grace, or not?
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 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.
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.
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
In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we mention her uncle by marriage, John Dundas who married Helen Brown, Grace’s determined and strong-minded maternal aunt who was a constant presence in Grace’s formative years. In 1748, some six years before Grace was born, John Dundas was a Captain in the 34th Regiment of Foot and was placed in command of a troop of soldiers hunting two fugitives from Newgate Prison.
William Gray and Thomas Kemp had been arrested for smuggling, both members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the south coast of England from Kent to Dorset during 1735 to 1750. On the 30th March 1748, these two, along with five other smugglers who were all being held in Newgate, managed to escape, all taking different routes through the London streets. Five of them were soon taken, but Gray and Kemp got clean away. They evaded capture for some weeks until, in mid-May, the following report appeared in the newspapers:
By an Express from Hastings we have an Account, that William Gray, who lately broke out of Newgate, was last Tuesday Morning retaken by a party of Lord Cobham’s Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Dundass, of Cholmondeley’s Regiment of Foot and carry’d to that Place; and that Kemp, who broke out at the same Time with Gray, narrowly escaped being taken with him.
William Gray stood trial and was sentenced to be transported for seven years; the Penny London Post reported on 27th July 1748, that Gray had given the Government information regarding smugglers and he was to be pardoned, however, he remained in Newgate and the General Evening Post, 19th November 1748 mentioned that he was so ill his life was despaired of. Thomas Kemp was recaptured along with his brother in 1749, after breaking into a house armed with pistols; both were sentenced to death.
More information on John Dundas and his wife Helen Brown can be found in our book which documents not only Grace’s life but those of her extended family as well.
The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, eighteenth-century courtesan and mother of the Prince of Wales’ reputed daughter.
Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived on her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young granddaughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her. She was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.
Grace left a will, one which caused a little trouble to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, the guardians of her granddaughter. To the Cholmondeleys fell the trouble of sorting out her affairs as they related to England and to her granddaughter. An adopted daughter, formerly known as Miss Staunton, laid claim to Grace’s French assets.
The marquess hired an English attorney, Mr Allen, to sort the matter out. In his accounts he lists a payment for a woman he described as Grace’s sister, to cover the cost of a carriage she took to Sèvres to testify to Grace’s handwriting. A sister? Grace only had one known sister, Jacintha, who had died some years earlier, although a shadowy third sister is mentioned in some sources. In our biography, An Infamous Mistress, we suggest who this lady could be, the one lady left in Grace’s latter years who had both an interest in Grace’s will and a genuine affection for her.
Our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, is now available and published by Pen and Sword Books. It is the most definitive account to date of Grace’s life and also sheds new light on her equally fascinating wider family and ancestors, giving us a better understanding of the real woman behind her notorious persona.
Header image: Ville d’Avray, the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840. WikiArt.
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 GestapoHeadquarters?). 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 TheyBurn the Last Grand Master of the Knights Templar? A Walking Tour of MedievalParis (click here to find out more). Stew hopes you will visit his blog at www.stewross.com 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.
GRACE AND JULIETTE
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.
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.
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).
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.
THE RÉCAMIER SOFA
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.
Hugh Dalrymple, father of the celebrated courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, had two surviving brothers, Cathcart Dalrymple, a Glasgow merchant and Primrose Dalrymple, a naval officer. Primrose’s wonderfully unusual forename is given a possible explanation in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot.
Primrose had a steady naval career, dying in London at the age of only thirty years and, in his will, leaving everything he owned to the woman he had loved and had intended to marry.
Primrose’s intended spouse was his cousin Susan, the daughter of the Reverend Alexander Orr and his aunt Agnes Dalrymple and, from his will written in 1766, he clearly loved her deeply. The marriage never took place though for Primrose died in 1767 and Susan, after a year of mourning for her lost love, married another man, William Murray of Murraythwaite. She was keeping it in the family too! William Murray’s mother was Elizabeth Dalrymple, and William Murray was therefore also related to both Susan Orr and Primrose Dalrymple.
Susan’s brother was Alexander Orr, a man who would become a Writer to the Signet, trusted (perhaps mistakenly) by all the extended Dalrymple and Brown family (Grace’s maternal relatives); he was named as executor on Primrose’s will but left it unadministered until 1773 when it was finally proved. Neither Hugh nor his family were mentioned at all in the will despite Hugh living in London and being the closest geographically to Primrose at his death, hinting at a rift in the family.
Lieutenant Primrose Dalrymple was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Islington on 17th April 1767.
You can find out more details of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s extended family in our biography of her, available now at all good bookshops and via the links above and in the sidebar.
Overmantle painting of Newport c.1740 from a private collection via “Another Pair Not Fellows“; Adventures in Research and Reinterpreting the American Revolution
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we have been recounting to our readers, lived an adventurous life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England and France. However, our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, also documents the fascinating stories of her relatives.
Grace’s elder sister Jacintha showed no less enthusiasm for adventure and travel than her better-known sibling. The wife of Captain Thomas Hesketh of the Royal Fusiliers (the 7th Regiment of Foot), she bravely followed him to Canada and then into America during the American War of Independence. Like Grace, she had her fair share of charm and beauty and she came to the notice of no lesser a person than General Washington when her husband was taken prisoner.
Captain Hesketh was held in Philadelphia where he was treated fairly, and his name entered into the exchange of prisoners (at the personal request of Washington). There were problems however before his exchange, and the lack of Captain Hesketh’s personal possessions in Philadelphia was one of them as his baggage was at Lancaster, some miles away. Some of the letters referring to this ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, rather than in our book, so we give them in full here as a little extra detail for our readers.
In September 1776 the Philadelphian Secretary of War Richard Peters (whose father had been born in Liverpool, England) wrote to Jasper Yeates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania asking for assistance for Thomas Hesketh.
Philadelphia, September 27, 1776
A Captain Hesketh’s baggage is at Lancaster, under the care of his servant and Sergeant Cooper, prisoners of war. He wants it much at Philadelphia and does not know how to get it. Do be so good as to take the pains of inquiring after it and send it down, directed to my care. If it be in the custody of the Committee, this letter will, I fancy, be a justification for their delivery of it. He is a British officer, a prisoner of war and a very good, but a very helpless man, therefore requires assistance in this matter. I will pay any expense attending the baggage. The reason of troubling you is, that the chests are broke open and require either new locks or to be corded and sealed and sent in the care of some trusty person. As the baggage is under these circumstances, I know it is disagreeable to have anything to do with it. But he knows this and though he believes the people who have them honest, he must run the risk.
I am your affectionate, humble servant,
To Jasper Yeates, Esq
Unfortunately Jasper Yeates was at Pittsburg and did not receive the letter. Richard Peters sent a further plea.
War-Office, October 9, 1776.
A Captain Hesketh, a British officer, prisoner of war at this place, is in great want of his baggage. I wrote at his request, to Mr. Yeates to send it to him, but am informed by letter from Mrs. Yeates that he is at Pittsburg. If any of your body will be so obliging as to call on Mrs. Yeates and get from her that letter I wrote him and comply with the request therein made, you will oblige your very obedient servant,
Richard Peters, Secretary at War.
To the Committee of the Town of Lancaster
Captain Hesketh’s baggage consists of one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens.
Luckily for Captain Hesketh, this time the request did receive a response and the Lancaster Committee of Observation, Inspection and Correspondence, on the 12th October 1776, agreed to send on the baggage.
In Committee, Lancaster, Pa., October 14, 1776.
Our last post brought the Committee your letter of the 9th instant, upon receipt of which I applied to Mr. Yeates for your letter respecting Captain Hesketh’s baggage, which is now sent by Christian Schwartz’ s wagoner, being one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens, which Sergeant Cooper says contains all the baggage of Captain Hesketh which was under his care, except the coat and breeches mentioned in the Captain’ s letter to the Sergeant, which are delivered to Allen’ s wife by Cooper. Sergeant Cooper desires me to mention that Captain Hesketh’s late servant, Allen, is dead.
I have made no agreement with the man about the price he is to have for carriage, but leave that to you.
I am, sir, your very humble servant,
William H. Atlee, Chairman.
To Richard Peters, Esq
At a Committee of Treasury meeting held on the 17th October 1776 it was stated that there was due to Captain Thomas Hesketh $26, being his allowance of $2 a week between the periods 20th July to 19th October.
In December, Captain Thomas Hesketh was allowed to leave Philadelphia for New York, upon trust that the British would substitute another prisoner for him, on the express orders of General Washington.
I met Captain Hesketh on the road and as the situation of his family did not admit of delay, I permitted him to go immediately to New-York, not having the least doubt but that General Howe will make a return of any officer of equal rank who shall be required.
Captain Hesketh’s wife, Jacintha, was with him and heavily pregnant; had she personally interceded with the general on behalf of her husband? Washington specifically referred to Jacintha in a letter written at Brunswick on 1st December 1775 to Lieutenant-General Howe.
Besides the persons included on the enclosed list, Captain Hesketh, of the Seventh Regiment, his lady, three children and two servant maids, were permitted to go in a few days ago…
Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh was born in New York in January 1777. He would, in time, become Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh of Rufford Hall in Lancashire.
More information on Jacintha and her husband’s time in America can be found in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-1776
An East Perspective View of the City of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pensylvania, in North America, taken from the Jersey Shore, 1778. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.