Reynards last shift. British Museum

The Theft of the Great Seal, 1784

The Great Seal is attached to the official documents of state that require the authorization of the monarch to implement the advice of the government.

by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1806
Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1806 Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

On the night of 23rd March 1784, thieves had entered Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow’s Great Ormond Street house and stolen some money, but more importantly they stole the Great Seal, a symbol of royal authority.  A new one had to be hastily made to replace it as it was not recovered and popular opinion suggested that Fox or his supporters were behind the theft.


A satirical rhyme, ‘The Consultation’, made fun the finances of Colonel Richard FitzPatrick and Charles James Fox, referencing the recent theft of the Great Seal from the house of the Lord Chancellor, Edward Thurlow.

Says F__t____k to Fox, ‘Oh how can we ate!

By Jasus you know we have both pawn’d our plate?

Black Reynard replies, ‘We can have one good meal,

By filching from Thurlow his boasted Great Seal

A contemporary print, depicting Fox as Falstaff holding the Prince of Wales on his shoulders with Mary Robinson (Perdita) standing alongside, is thought to show FitzPatrick leaning out of the window of Thurlow’s house handing down the Great Seal.

The adventure of Prince pretty man, March 1784, British Museum

Whilst rumours spread, the truth of the theft may in fact have been slightly different, if the Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser (Wed 21 April 1784) was correct:

William Vandeput was on Monday committed to New Gaol, Southwark, where he is now doubled ironed, on a charge of burglary in the house of the Lord Chancellor, and stealing there-out the Great Seal. A Jew in Petticoat Lane was yesterday apprehended, on an information against him for having purchased and melted the Great Seal into an ingot; but while he was conducting to the Rotation Office in Southwark, for examination, he was released from the Peace Officer by eight ruffians. The Jew melted the seal, while the robbers remained in his house.

As to which story was true, we will never know, but certainly William Vandeput was a well known criminal and was sentenced to death eventually in October 1785 and was executed on 1st December 1785.

Just as an aside, in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we unmask Richard FitzPatrick as one of her lovers when he was taking a break from his long term mistress, a celebrity in her day but forgotten now, Mrs Moll Benwell.

Moll Benwell


Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest; An Artist Showing his Work; The Wallace Collection

Does this chalk drawing depict Grace Dalrymple Elliott?

Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.
Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.

A chalk drawing dating to around 1782 by John Hoppner, whilst unproven, is reputed to depict the celebrated courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  If there is a corresponding portrait it has yet to be discovered.  There certainly does look to be a good similarity between the Gainsborough portraits of her and, if it is Grace, it dates from the time of her pregnancy with the reputed child of George, Prince of Wales (and the end of her relationship with her royal lover).  The lady in the portrait is wearing a chemise à la reine, a diaphanous white muslin gown made popular in France by Queen Marie Antionette and in 1782 the latest fashion.  Grace was one of the first women in London to appear dressed in one of these gowns, along with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and the Prince’s former mistress, the actress and courtesan Mary Robinson (Perdita).

Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as 'Perdita' by John Hoppner, c.1782. (c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as ‘Perdita’ by John Hoppner, c.1782.
(c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Hoppner was connected with the Court, having been encouraged to paint by George III and eventually becoming Principal Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1793 after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Is it just possible that this chalk drawing is Grace, sitting for a portrait commissioned by the Prince and that nothing more than a preliminary sketch was produced following the rupture of their union? What do our readers think?

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
The Frick, New York.

You can read more about Grace in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which is the product of many years of research into her life and which is available now in the UK, published by Pen and Sword Books. Containing much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too, our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

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.

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



British Museum


The Illegitimate child of Major General Banastre Tarleton

Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782
Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782 via Wikimedia Commons

In the course of our research, we came across a reference to an illegitimate child of Banastre Tarleton, army officer and politician.  Regular readers will probably be aware by now that we’re both natural ‘nosey parkers’ and as such simply had to find out more about this child.  So, here is some additional gossip on the subject for you.

In 1797 Major General Banastre Tarleton was ending his relationship with the actress and courtesan Mary Robinson (before Banastre she was better known as the Perdita to the Prince of Wales Florizel).  The diarist Joseph Farington recorded on the 2nd May 1797 that Banastre and Mary had separated due to his designs on her daughter ‘who is now 21.’  Maria Elizabeth Robinson, the daughter of Mary and Thomas Robinson, the husband from whom she had separated many years before, had been born in October 1774 so was actually a year older than the diarist thought.

In December 1798 Banastre married Susan Priscilla Bertie, illegitimate daughter and heiress of his former friend Robert Bertie, 4th Duke of Ancaster, who had been brought up by her titled grandmother and her aunt Lady Cholmondeley and who was almost a quarter of a century her husband’s, junior.

And at some point around his split from Mary and before his marriage to Susan Priscilla, Banastre was to father an illegitimate daughter, named in his honour and for his friend the Prince, as Banina Georgiana Tarleton.  Born on the 19th December 1797, the little girl was not baptized until the 26th May 1801, at the Old Church in Saint Pancras, her mother named as Kolina on the baptism register.

This girl had but a short life, almost anonymous until a notice of her death appeared at the age of just twenty years on the 12th April 1818.  If her birth date (which is given in the parish register entry of her baptism) is correct, then she must have been conceived around the middle of March 1797, and Banastre appears to be resident in London at that time.  Interestingly, the only other woman he is linked with by the press in 1797, other than Mary Robinson, was her daughter.  Was Farington merely repeating salacious gossip or was there some truth behind the rumours?

General T_____ is said to fluctuate between the “Perdita” and her fair daughter, like the ass between two bundles of hay.

The Times, 13th October, 1797

Why Banina Georgiana was not baptized sooner is a mystery.  She was three and a half years old when she was taken to the church at St Pancras, but Banastre hadn’t been in London much in the interim; after his marriage to Susan Priscilla Bertie the newly-wed couple left for Portugal where Banastre had been given a command, not returning to England until the October of 1799 and in 1800 they spent some months in Wales.

Mary Robinson, after failing to reclaim Banastre and with the ill-health, she had suffered from since possibly undergoing a miscarriage during the early days of her relationship with him, died on the 26th December 1800 at her daughter’s cottage in Englefield Green near Egham.  After her death, a lock of her hair was reputedly sent to ‘a General and a Prince’, the two great loves of her life.  Is it somehow significant that the baptism of this little girl did not take place until after the great Perdita had died?

Mrs Mary Robinson (Perdita) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781 (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mrs Mary Robinson (Perdita) by Thomas Gainsborough, 1781
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Despite our best efforts, we can still add little to Banina Georgiana’s life but we have found her burial, surprisingly up in Scotland, and as this does not seem to have been mentioned before we thought that we should share this new information with you, our readers.  In the Findo Gask parish burial records is the following document.

 Miss Tarleton, daughter of General Sir Banastre Tarleton, Baronet, died at Gask House, on Sunday the 12th, and was interred within the Old Church on Wednesday the 15th of April, 1818.

Sir Banastre sent five pounds to the poor as the price of a burial place, which sum, the Men and Managers of the Fund, after stating to Sir Banastre their uncertainty whether it was in their power to dispose of the ground, received in lieu of any right which the public may have in it, – and grateful for the bounty and human attention of Sir Banastre and Lady Tarleton to the poor of the place, as well during the whole term of their residence at Gask as on the present occasion, they promised to use their utmost endeavours to preserve entire the ground in which the remains of Miss Tarleton were deposited.

O.P.R. Deaths 352/00/0010 029

Banina Georgiana Tarleton died at Gask House at Findo Gask in Perthshire, the family home of Carolina Nairne nee Oliphant (1766-1845), a Scottish songwriter and poet from a Jacobite family.

Carolina Oliphant, Baroness Nairne, 1766 - 1845. Songwriter & son William Murray Nairne
Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne with her son

In 1806, when Carolina was forty-one years of age, she married her second cousin William Murray Nairne who in 1824 became the Baron Nairne.  The Nairnes lived in Edinburgh after their marriage.  We have to here point out that the name Carolina is very similar to the name of Banina’s mother, Kolina, although in doing so we wish to cast no aspersions on her moral character; it may just be a coincidence that the two names are similar and that Banina died at Gask House.

Died . . . At Gask House, on the 12th current, Miss Tarleton, daughter of General Sir Banastre Tarleton, Bart.

Caledonian Mercury, 18th April 1818

Gask House (rebuilt 1801-1805 by Laurence Oliphant) via
Gask House (rebuilt 1801-1805 by Laurence Oliphant) via

The Tarleton’s seem to have been using Gask House as a Scottish estate although their main residence was at Leintwardine in Herefordshire and their London address was 29 Berkeley Square; the Nairnes seem to mainly reside in Edinburgh.

Was Banina Georgiana there as part of a family unit with her father and her stepmother, or did Sir Banastre (he was made a baronet in 1816) and Lady Tarleton travel to Scotland after her death?  Certainly, they were there during June 1818 and as Susan Priscilla herself was illegitimate and had been brought up as part of the Cholmondeley family due to the kindness of her aunt it would not be surprising if she accepted Banastre’s illegitimate daughter as part of her family as the couple had no children of their own.

Sir Banaster [sic] and Lady Tarleton arrived on Thursday, at their house in Berkeley-square, from their seat in Scotland.

Morning Chronicle, 20th June 1818

Susan Priscilla, after her marriage in 1798, became religious and befriended Mary Robinson’s daughter; in 1804 Wild Wreath, a collection of poems put together by Maria Elizabeth Robinson included engravings from drawings by Mrs B. Tarleton along with poems written by ‘Susan’, which hints at a friendship just a few years after the baptism of Banina Georgiana between the Tarleton’s and the girl who reportedly was the cause of Banastre’s split with Mary Robinson.  Maria Elizabeth Robinson herself just predeceased Banina Georgiana for she was buried in Old Windsor (where her mother lay) on the 26th January 1818.  Her will, written in the August of 1801, left all she owned to Mrs Elizabeth Weale who shared her cottage on Englefield Green.

Is it just possible that the name Kolina is hiding the identity of someone else, someone close to Mary Robinson?

The Thunderer, 1782. Satirical print featuring the Prince of Wales, Colonel Banastre Tarleton and Mary (Perdita) Robinson. Ban Tarleton is boasting of his exploits to the prince, outside a brothel named the Whirligig.
Satirical print featuring the Prince of Wales, Colonel Banastre Tarleton and Mary (Perdita) Robinson, 1782. (Library of Congress prints)

Mary Robinson: Selected Poems, edited by Judith Pascoe