In this post, I thought we would play a quick game of ‘sixdegrees of separation’. For anyone who is unaware of the concept, you will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘it’s a small world’ and it so it is. It’s been quite surprising that throughout my research, I’ve noticed just how relatively small London was in the 18th century. Everyone who was anyone knew each other and this has become especially obvious whilst exploring the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.
So, in today’s game I show the close connection between Prince George (later George IV) and Dido Elizabeth Belle. On the face of it, they would appear to be poles apart, George, the then-future monarch and Dido the daughter of a ‘mulatto slave’. But the distance between them is only a few steps.
We begin the game with Prinny, who, in the early 1780s had a relationship with the lovely courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, who gave birth to a daughter who, Grace claimed was his. Georgina was the only illegitimate child that Prinny made payments to, so perhaps that was his way of acknowledging that she was his.
Now, Grace counted amongst her closest friends, Lady Seymour Worsley, for those who haven’t come across her before, she’s the one who found herself in court in February 1782, for criminal conversation, a euphemism for sex.
Amongst the men with whom Lady Worsley allegedly had an affair, was George, Viscount Deerhurst, later to become the 7th Earl of Coventry. Deerhurst was a bit of a ‘player’ and had previously eloped to Gretna Green with Lady Catherine Henley.
His father the then, 6th Earl of Coventry, totally disapproved of his son’s behaviour and banished him from the family home, so George took himself off to stay on the Isle of Wight, at Appuldurcombe, the home of Sir Richard Worsley and his wife, Lady Seymour Worsley – big mistake! He apparently ended up having a relationship with Lady Worsley (he was one of many, she was rumoured to have had well in excess of 20 lovers), but it was her infidelity with George Maurice Bisset that was the final nail in her coffin and she found herself in court, but George, Viscount Deerhurst, also found his name on this list of people with whom she had allegedly had ‘criminal conversation’.
Lord Mansfield was the trial judge in the case of Crim. Con. and he was also the guardian of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The trial took place in February 1782, so no doubt Dido, aged 20, would have been fully aware of the case.
To add to the royal connection, Lord Mansfield, counted George III amongst his friends and a regular visitor to Caenwood (Kenwood) House, so it’s perfectly feasible that the royal family would have met or at least seen Dido. So it really was a small world.
Try this game for yourselves and if you can make connections like this from people in the 18th century I would love to hear from you as there must be plenty more out there.
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
Today’s blog is a little different. Our biography An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott has now been released worldwide, so we thought it might interest our readers if we wrote a little Q&A style piece for anyone who may be thinking about buying our book, to tell you a little more about it.
What made us decide to write about Grace and her family?
Grace simply landed in our lap, we didn’t go out looking for her. The reality was that we were actually researching someone else who turned out to have a familial connection to her and so up she popped. For someone so well known in her day, there still seemed to be huge gaps in what was known of her life and, ever ones to enjoy a challenge, we set out with the intention of merely filling in these gaps and were astounded by how much new information we eventually uncovered.
Being genealogists, we also looked at her wider family and ancestry, particularly her maternal family who had lain undiscovered until now. The only information which was already known was some scant information about her father, and of course her sister Jacintha who married into the Hesketh family, but that was about it.
Her Journal is there in the public domain for all to read, so why write about it again?
The deeper we dug, the more we realized that research into her life has long been muddied by the misinformed biographical information given in the preface to her own Journal of My Life during the French Revolution, which was published posthumously.
Replete with mistakes and half-remembered anecdotes, it was supplied more than two decades after Grace’s death by her granddaughter and a friend. Despite two former biographies on this fascinating woman, the elements which were actually truthful in her Journal were still disputed. For instance, it mentioned a brother, but no brother had ever been identified before (in fact Grace had two brothers which we are able to introduce to her story!).
We have been able to correct this mishmash of information but, more than that, we located previously unconsulted documents, including family ones, which shed new light on the areas of Grace’s life which had formerly lain in the shadows, enabling us to tell her story more completely, and more accurately, than it has ever been told.
Her Journal as it relates to her experiences during the French Revolutionis another area we have attempted to illuminate more fully than it has been before. Glaring errors contained within its pages have discredited what ought to have been a superb first-hand account of that period. Grace is placed in confinement in French prisons awaiting the guillotine with notable personalities, when it can be proved that the people so named were not there at that time. Added to the biographical inaccuracies, it has led to people washing their hands of the whole Journal. We set to with a fine tooth comb, to try to establish fact from fiction (a task not helped by Grace habitually misspelling names, either she had a terrible memory for them or the person who transcribed the pages she had written could not read her handwriting).
Slowly but surely we were able to verify much of it, even down to a plausible account of her acting as a courier for the French queen, Marie Antoinette (rumours have ever swirled that Grace courageously worked as a spy). The errors all come in towards the end of the Journal, put there (we strongly suspect) by the over-enthusiastic publisher who wished to have a more dramatic finale to it. The ending we discovered was perhaps a little more mundane, but it is truthful and perhaps, we hope, gives back some credence to Grace’s Journal as an excellent source for those researching the French Revolution, especially as it is an invaluable first-hand account written by a woman.
Why didn’t we simply write about Grace’s life alone?
That would, of course, have been the easy option and for those who regularly read our blog, we rarely take the easy option! We are both genealogists as well as historians and love nothing more than seeking out new pieces of information about the Georgian period. It may be a slightly contentious decision on our part, but the more we discovered, the more fascinated we became by the people we uncovered, especially her siblings and maternal family, and we hoped that the reader would be too for they each had a story to tell, especially one of her brothers!
Were any of Grace’s relatives famous?
None remain well-known today, although we’d contend that Grace’s eldest brother deserves as much renown as his ‘celebrated’ sister, but some were certainly among the ‘great and the good’ of the day. They made their way around the globe, made the acquaintance of several personalities of the day (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to name but two) and their lives exhibit a snapshot of a strata of Georgian society and offer an invaluable insight into the social history of the period. The fact that they are all but forgotten now does not make their lives any the less interesting and we relished the chance to rescue them from the obscurity they have long languished in.
We also realized that Grace’s actions and decisions became much clearer when viewed in the context of her wider family. For instance, knowing that two of her aunts made their fortunes and gained their social standing by first being mistresses to wealthy and titled men, that one of these aunts was mistress to an earl and ultimately became his countess, what light does this then shed on Grace herself following their path and becoming a courtesan? What counsel did these two worldly-wise women give to their wayward niece? Grace was well-born too, when most courtesans had been plucked from the stage or the London bawdy houses by their ‘keepers’. Only a few, notably Grace, the scandalous Lady Worsley and Gertrude Mahon (aka the Bird of Paradise) were of good birth. But to know that Grace was from a once landed and noble family, you need to understand and be conversant with her ancestry.
Lastly, we believe that charting the lives of her wider family gives a contrast to Grace’s own life. Although she hated her husband, would she have been better, in that day and age, to have survived a few more years of marriage to arrive at a titled and wealthy widowhood whilst still young enough to contemplate a good marriage to a man of her choosing? Grace could have ended her days like her cousin, mistress of both a country pile and a smart London townhouse and entertaining royalty at her dinner table, rather than in her bed.
What have other readers said?
We’re delighted to say that we have received some excellent reviews for our book. You can read more on our Press page.
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.
As we all know the ‘well to do’ women of the Georgian era were regarded as objects of beauty that simply swooned and fainted at the sight of a gallant gentleman. They wore stunningly beautiful clothes and shoes and spent hours on their hair and beauty regime. They paraded around Georgian London, Bath, Brighton etc. in their finery and partied into the early hours, but on the whole, they were regarded as fairly vacuous creatures.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
OK, so we’ve done the whole film thing, now let’s move on and dispense with that image. If we’re being totally honest that is, to a certain extent, the stereotypical image held of women from that period as, let’s face it, they had very few, if any ‘rights’ during that time. Only those in what was regarded as the lower class, worked, the remainder were kept in comfort by their spouses or parents if not married, they had no voting rights, rarely any disposable income of their own unless they had inherited money that was solely for their use and their husband could divorce them with minimal discomfort on their part.
Whilst women were maybe not able to publicly ‘have a voice’ in the world around them and how it worked it, appears from reading the newspapers of the day that actually they took more than a passing interest in the arts, science and politics. Many of the names we have become familiar with over the years did, in fact, take a more active role in politics than we had at first assumed with many of them engaged in gathering support for their chosen politician during elections using whatever methods were at their disposal.
One of the most famous election campaigns that took place was that of the 1784 Westminster election. If you thought politics and political campaigning today was vicious then take a look back to the Georgian era when things were far worse! We came across a book written October 1784 that provides a detailed account of all the events during the campaign – History of the Westminster Election from 1st April to the 17th May.
The Westminster election was of paramount importance as this was one of the key boroughs for two reasons – firstly every male homeowner could vote and secondly due to the number of voters it was equally important to both the Whig and Tory parties. There were two seats to be had and three candidates, so the battle was between Cecil Wray and Lord Hood, both Tory’s, and Charles Fox, Whig, therefore the candidates needed to use every weapon in their armoury to achieve success; none more so than Charles Fox. The battle then commenced.
The Duchess of Devonshire led the female canvassers accompanied by her sister Lady Harriet Duncannon, as she was titled at that point, later to become Lady Bessborough. The list of women involved in the election included Albinia, The Countess of Buckinghamshire, the Duchess of Portland, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth née Linley, Lady Jersey, the Honourable Mrs Bouverie and the Scandalous Lady Worsley.
Others including Perdita aka Mrs Robinson, The White Crow, aka Maria Corbyn, The Bird of Paradise aka Gertrude Mahon, Lady Archer, Lady Carlisle, Mrs Crewe, Mrs Damer and the Miss Waldengraves, Lady Grosvenor and Mrs Armistead, the future Mrs Fox, so quite a little collection.
The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser of 6th April 1784 confirmed that the
‘Duchess of Devonshire along with Lord Derby & Lord Keppel are the firm of Mr Fox’s responsible committee.
This seems to imply that her role was a little more than just to ‘look pretty’; presumably, she was there to help to obtain votes however she could. It is reported that she canvassed every day and that she arranged for a thousand coalition medals to be struck, one of which she gave to every voter who agreed to support Fox.
Just over a week later The Bath Chronicle reported that
‘ It was observed of the Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Duncannon, while they were soliciting votes in favour of Mr Fox, on Saturday last, they were the most lovely portraits that ever appeared upon a canvas’.
Like most people we had heard the story that the Duchess secured votes for Charles Fox by offering kisses in exchange for their vote, but until now we had assumed this was simply a myth that has evolved over time due to the astounding number of caricatures of such a scene, but it does seem from this letter written by a certain Duchess to Fox that there was some truth in it*.
Yesterday I sent you three votes but went through much fatigue to procure them. It cost me ten kisses for every plumper. I’m afraid we are done up – I will see you at the porter shop and we will discuss ways and means’.
NB Clare Market is a filthy place – keep up your spirits. I have a borough – you know where.’
The was much printed in the newspapers about her ‘method’ and many derogatory comments made about morals. The reality, however, was that amongst the public she was a very popular figure, not only because of her looks but also because she did actually engage with the public and by all accounts was able to discuss eloquently and put forward information about what Fox stood for.
As a campaigner for Wray we have the much quieter and more demure Duchess of Rutland, needless to say, we don’t have a plethora of caricatures for her!
‘we can assure the public, that the beautiful and accomplished Duchess of Rutland does not drive about the streets and alleys, or otherwise act in a manner unbecoming of a lady of rank and delicacy’.
Despite the mocking and caricatures of these women, predominantly of the Duchess of Devonshire, and the vile abuse they apparently received from Wray’s supporters and the press, the only person who apparently clearly objected to her participation in the election was her mother who felt that she was being used by Fox, no-one else appeared to have any objection which is quite telling; it appears that even the Queen was a supporter of the Duchess of Devonshire:
‘Her majesty has all the morning prints at breakfast every day and the Princesses are permitted to read them. Her eye caught the indecency of that one which attacked the Duchess of Devonshire. She gave it to an attendant and said let that paper never more enter the palace doors. The story got round and the same orders were given everywhere else.’
There were even comments made that women’s participation in politics could result in them wanting to vote – shock horror, how times have changed!
The Duchess of Devonshire suffered greatly at the hands of the press, but she clearly had a passion for politics and felt that the country would benefit from Fox’s appointment. We are aware from The Cavendish Family by Francis Bickley, that she wrote to her mother advising her of how miserable she was, but that she had begun her involvement and that she would see it through to the end. Given that the odds were stacked against Fox winning the election from the beginning, it could be argued that a win from Fox was highly unlikely that without the help of these women!
15th May of 1784 The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed the following letter purporting to be from Lady Worsley to the Duchess of Devonshire, whether it was genuine or not we have no idea, but it is nevertheless interesting
Before the General Election in the year 1780, the name of Lady W____y stood fair and respectable; the gay world derives no entertainment from her follies. The forms of decency and decorum had not been neglected, and, therefore men of gallantry felt but little encouragement to make approaches. Sir Richard found not Cassio’s kisses on my lips, for neither Cassio nor Roderigo revelled there. But, Madam in the general Election of that day I acted like yourself – like a woman of life – a woman of spirit, but how unlike a politician! As you set your face against Sir Cecil Wray, I opposed my influence to that of Jervoise Clerk Jervoise. I coaxed, I canvassed; I made myself, in the language of Shakespear ‘base, common and popular’. I was charmed with the public attention I received from the men; they talked to me of irresistible graces; the pressed my fingers; they squeezed my hand and my pulse beat quicker; they touched my lips, and my blood ran riot; they pressed me in their arms and turned my brain. O, the joy! The rapture, the enchanting, thrilling, aching sensations, which beset my soul! They banished in an instant, all ideas of a cold, a formal education; they drove from my mind all decent forms which time and observation had copied there. Your Grace is apprized of the sequel. Before the canvas – Was your Grace strict? So was I. Was your Grace modest? So was I. And if after the canvas, your Grace should find a violent metamorphosis in your feelings; I am ready to confess – so did I.
I am, Madam
If you found this article interesting then you might also enjoy our book, A Georgian Heroine, about an 18th century woman who lived life on her own terms and who took far more than a passing interest in the politics of the day!
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.
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.
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