Vauxhall by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785

A likeness of Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Rowlandson

For a woman who was noted as such a beauty, it has always frustrated us that there are not more surviving portraits and drawings of our ‘infamous mistress’, Grace Dalrymple Elliott. There is a miniature by Cosway, painted around the time of her marriage with Dr (later Sir) John Eliot, and the two well-known portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, plus a disputed chalk drawing by John Hoppner which may or may not depict Grace.

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

Imagine our surprise and delight then, to come across the drawing below by the caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson which purports to depict ‘Lady Elliott, otherwise Dally the Tall’. The inscription contains one glaring error; Grace was never Lady Eliot, her husband had divorced her well before he became a baronet but, nevertheless, this could indeed be Grace (her nickname was Dally the Tall, a play upon her surname and height), probably drawn sometime around 1782-1786 and wearing a chemise à la reine. We know that she was famous for bringing the dress into fashion here in the UK.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott (aka Dally the Tall) by Thomas Rowlandson
Lady Elliott, Commonly Called Dally The Tall. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.84

After her divorce, Grace had been the Earl of Cholmondeley’s mistress, before leaving his arms for the protection of Philippe d’Orléans, then the duc de Chartres (later duc d’Orléans and, during the Revoution, Philippe Égalité). Grace then snared British royalty when, for just a few short weeks, she enjoyed a relationship with the young Prince of Wales (later King George IV). During the summer of 1782, Grace gave birth to the prince’s daughter.

The Prince of Wales and Grace Dalrymple Elliott's daughter Georgiana as an infant.
Grace’s daughter Georgiana as an infant. Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

In February 1783, Grace appeared at a masquerade ball held at the Pantheon arm-in-arm with Charles Wyndam, 3rd son of the 2nd Earl of Egremont. Also present were Perdita (Mary Robinson), Grace’s one-time rival for the Prince of Wales, but now with her new lover, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Lady Grosvenor and Mary (Moll) Benwell with Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.

A few of the Cyprian Corps in elevated life were present – Mrs Elliott’s dress, the chemise de la reine, and Miss Sheppard’s were the most elegant of the whole group. The Perdita and the T__le__n paired off very early. Mrs B__nw__ll, and Col. F___tz__ck were in close Teˆte-a`-Teˆte all the evening, also Mr W___nd__m and Mrs Elliot, Lady Gr__v__r likewise perambulated the circle for a considerable time.

The company were very sociable, and the dances continued till past seven in the morning.

The chemise à la reine, was the height of fashion. A diaphanous white muslin gown with a coloured sash ribbon tied high on the waist, the wearer appeared fashionably déshabillé or undressed; the chemise had, until this time, been used as an undergarment but now it was worn as a dress in its own right with no corset underneath. It was popularized in France during the early 1780s by Queen Marie Antoinette who was painted wearing such a dress by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun (to the outrage of her subjects who were scandalized to see their queen dressed in such a simple and romantic way).

Marie Antoinette en chemise, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783
Marie Antoinette en chemise, by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783

Marie Antoinette had sent a few of these chemises to her aristocratic friends in England, in particular to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The duchess and Mary Robinson are usually credited with introducing the fashion to England but Grace was also an early devotee of the style. She had spent time at the French court as the mistress of the duc de Chartres; had she too been sent a chemise à la reine from friends in France?

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

With the Prince of Wales no longer interested in Grace, and the Earl of Cholmondeley having also moved on, Grace found herself in Paris… and with a new rival: the beautiful and ‘celebrated’ Moll Benwell, a courtesan at least a decade younger than Grace. If Grace wanted to renew her relationship with the duc de Chartres she was out of luck, for Moll Benwell stole her thunder. There began a tit-for-tat game between the two women, played out in London and Paris.

If we may credit our intelligence from France, English beauties are not less admired in Paris, than in their native kingdom – the reigning toasts there at present are, the Benwell, and the Elliot; the former is allowed to be by far the most elegant woman that has appeared there these many years, they term her the Kitty Fisher of her time, from her likeness to that beautiful woman. The Duc de Chartres has made himself extremely ridiculous on her account, following her to all public places; to the contempt with which she treats him and his promises (which that nobleman is but too apt to make) she may attribute his constant attendance on her.

The fortunes of the handsome Colonel Richard FitzPatrick (second son of the Earl of Upper Ossory) fluctuated wildly. He was a close and loyal friend of Charles James Fox (the two men had known each other since their schooldays) and one of the intimate group that included the Earl of Cholmondeley, the Prince of Wales and Charles Wyndham. An officer with the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, the dashing colonel was also an inveterate gambler, a solo balloonist, bon viveur and wit.

As befitted such a great friend of Charles James Fox, FitzPatrick had stood as a Member of Parliament, holding the borough of Tavistock from 1774, but gave as little time as he could to matters of business, preferring to devote himself to pleasure instead. He lived on his credit and tradesmen were always denied access to his house when they called to press their bills. Because of her own debts, Moll had left the colonel in the spring of 1783; she couldn’t pay them and neither could he, and so she journeyed to Paris at the same time as Grace.

With an improvement in FitzPatrick’s ability to procure credit, Moll returned to London; Grace must have been pleased to see the back of her and the way to the duc de Chartres left clear once more.

The winter of 1783 found the tables turned and Grace in London with Mary Benwell back in Paris; King George III was on the verge of dismissing the government and so FitzPatrick’s credit would once more be on hold. With her rival once more stealing her thunder in Paris, Grace, in London, exacted her tit-for-tat revenge and found herself a new protector, snaring for herself the Honourable Colonel Richard FitzPatrick.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott (aka Dally the Tall) by Thomas Rowlandson
Cropped view of Thomas Rowlandson’s drawing of Grace Dalrymple Elliott. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.84

During the 1784 election, Grace was by FitzPatrick’s side campaigning for the Whigs and Charles James Fox on the streets of Westminster (as, famously, did Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire). The supporters of Charles James Fox took to wearing ‘true blue’ colours and favours on the streets, denoting their support of American Independents and their hostility to Pitt and his ministers, and Grace was no exception.

Miss Dalrymple is so azurized, that nothing under the blue sky can exceed her; she wears a blue hat; her eyes are blue, her breast-bows and ribbons are the same colour; her carriage is also blue; and she is called by way of distinction the ‘Blue Belle of Scotland, &c. &c’.

Was the Rowlandson caricature drawn around this time?

Vauxhall by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785
Vauxhall by Thomas Rowlandson, 1785; Lewis Walpole Library

In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, you can discover Grace, and her equally fascinating relations. It is available at all good bookshops worldwide, including Amazon, in hardback and as an eBook.

Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines: Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W

At the time of writing, you can download An Infamous Mistress as either a Kindle or ePub from our publisher, Pen & Sword Books, for just £4.99.

18th-century shoes

Richd. Roberts, shoe & boot maker, next door to the oil shop in Ship and Anchor Court, facing the Coach Stand Temple Bar. Makes shoes & boots in the most genteel & neatest manner
Richd. Roberts, shoe & boot maker, next door to the oil shop in Ship and Anchor Court, facing the Coach Stand Temple Bar. Makes shoes & boots in the most genteel & neatest manner. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Everyone loves stylish shoes and needless to say those lovers of fashion, the Georgians, were no exception. As they are today, they were, as well as being obviously practical they were very much about making a statement despite being somewhat hidden below those wonderful long gowns.

Graces shoes
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Gainsborough. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The manufacture of shoes required great skill, no mass production existed in the Georgian Era, and each pair would have been crafted by hand. A shoemaker ‘if he be a good hand, sober and industrious will earn thirty shillings a week’ that equates to about £70 a week today.

26.487a-b 0002
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Charles Blaney, 1926 Accession Number: 2009.300.1406a, b

For many shoemakers, it was a relatively solitary life, working in their own workshop, for others they would have a large shop in which to exhibit their work.

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Silk, silver lace & braid shoes (diamond sapphire buckles) 1750s Courtesy of V&A

The work involved in making a pair of shoes required the shoemaker to cut out a leather upper to a pattern. A small weight would then be placed on the skin to keep it from slipping; a hammer was then used to beat down any rough parts which lay on the inside of the shoe. Then using a pair of pincers the leather was stretched. The upper was then joined to the sole of the shoe. The parts were then sewn together and waxed. He would then use an awl to make holes for laces to fit through if required. The best and strongest thread being that made from hemp.

shoe maker image 4

 

54.61.45a-b 0002
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Herman Delman, 1954 Accession Number: 2009.300.1472a, b

Women were employed to bind shoes of all kinds and sew together those made of silk and satin.  Women’s shoes were highly ornate often with curved heels and a strap to keep them in place. The streets, of course, weren’t clean and paved as they are today so it was common for women to wear a ‘clog’ or ‘patten’ over her shoes in order to keep them clean, quite a good idea, if somewhat uncomfortable to walk in!

54.61.127a-b 0004
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Herman Delman, 1954 Accession Number: 2009.300.1485a, b

By the advent of the Regency Era women’s shoes changed in style from heels to the equivalent of today’s ballet pumps, much lighter in substance and fastened with ribbons. These shoes were unusual in so much as they were straight and therefore there was no right or left shoe – would this have made them easier to wear?

Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum - Silk and leather with linen lining, cream leather sock and insole and brown leather sole, cotton cord and silk ribbon ties. Museum number: 1150&A-1901
Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum – Silk and leather with linen lining, cream leather sock and insole and brown leather sole, cotton cord and silk ribbon ties. Museum number: 1150&A-1901

With the advent of the Napoleonic Wars, huge quantities of boots and shoes were required and this saw the advent of methods of mass production. Handcrafted boots and shoes continued to be manufactured, but obviously, a premium price would have been paid for them, much as is the case today.

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We couldn’t possibly write a blog about shoes and not include a pair worn by the doyenne of fashion, Marie Antoinette, which sold at auction in 2012 for 50,000 euros (£40,600; $65,600) on the anniversary of the French queen’s execution.

Marie Antoinette's silk slippers

Our final offering is one of the usual caricatures courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, this young lady, however, appears to be showing off slightly more than just her new shoes!!

lwlpr11475

Sources:

The Book of English Trades

 

Itching and scratching: 18th Century Flea Traps

A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Women Bathing by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, you are a grandly dressed Georgian lady with a fully powdered head of hair, fashionably coiffed but with a few little inhabitants. Scratch, scratch! How would you rid yourself of fleas?

Back in the eighteenth-century fleas were a common problem for all classes and would happily live in beds, inside wigs, on pets and everyone was prey to them. Bathing of course helped and there was the tried and tested method of painstakingly searching for and picking off the little critters. The Parisian artist Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), in a couple of his genre paintings, depicted some ladies searching themselves for fleas (and offering the viewer a titillating glimpse of flesh while doing so).

One other way that was popular for a short period in the eighteenth-century, was to use a flea-trap which became something of a popular fashion accessory. It consisted of a hollow perforated cylindrical tube, sometimes ornately carved and made of silver or ivory. Inside was a small rod tuft of fur or a piece of cloth. This would be smeared with a few drops of blood to attract the fleas, along with fat and/or honey resin, designed to make the fleas stick fast to it as they crawled inside and which was removed as necessary to get rid of them.

The flea trap was worn on a ribbon as a necklace, hanging down inside a dress – it could also be placed in a bed to attempt to rid that of fleas. A German doctor named Franz Ernst Brückmann (1697-1753) designed the first flea trap in the early 1700s.

Flea - trap Louth museum
Flea trap held at Louth Museum

 

Louth museum in Lincolnshire holds one, although they are unsure of the date of their flea trap. It is made of ivory, with a carved pattern and measures 7cm in length and 1½cm in width.

The French name for the flea was ‘la puce’, which is supposedly how we have the name for the colour today – it is taken from the colour of a squashed flea or one full of blood or from the bloodstains left behind by a flea on the bedsheets.

La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum
La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Reputedly, this brownish purple was one of Marie Antoinette’s favourite colours, and it was Louis XVI who jokingly compared it to the colour of a flea and so named it.

From Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, written in 1800 by Isaac D’Israeli (author and father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli):

In the summer of 1775, the queen being dressed in a brown lutestring, the king good humouredly observed, it was “couleur de puce”, the colour of fleas; and instantly every lady would be drest in a lutestring of a flea colour. The mania was caught by the men; and the dyers in vain exhausted themselves to supply the hourly demand. They distinguished between, an old and a young flea, and they subdivided even the shades of the body of this insect; the belly, the back, the thigh, and the head, were all marked by varying shades of this colour. This prevailing tint promised to be the fashion of the winter. The venders of silk, found that it would he pernicious to their trade; they therefore presented new sattins to her majesty, who having chosen one of a grey ash-colour, Monsieur, exclaimed that it was the colour of her majesty’s hair! Immediately the fleas ceased to be favourites, and all were eager to be drest in the colour of her majesty’s hair. Servants were sent off at the moment from Fontainebleau to Paris, to purchase velvets, rateens and cloths of this colour. The current price in the morning had been forty livres per ell, and it rose towards the evening to the price of eighty to ninety livres.

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library

We’ll end with a couple of satirical prints. We think the people in these could do with a flea trap!

© Lewis Walpole Library
© Lewis Walpole Library
An old maid in search of a flea, 1794. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sources:

Irritating Intimates: The Archaeoentomology of Lice, Fleas, and Bedbugs by Allison Bain

Louth museum and blog

Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, by Isaac D’Israeli

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.

queen-marie-antoinette-of-france-1783

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’.

Marie_Antoinette_Cell

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