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.
One of the many incorrect facts about Grace Dalrymple Elliott is that of her monogram above the door of one of the houses on the Rue de Miromesnil in Paris. It’s widely known and accepted that she lived on this Paris street during the 1790s, and indeed she did. But at which house?
Rue de Miromesnil, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, is close to Parc Monceau where Grace’s lover Louis Philippe Joseph, Duc d’Orléans resided. The houses were built from 1778 onwards and building continued until 1826. The street was named in honour of the French Minister of Justice, Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil (1723-1796).
Accepted lore gives her address as no. 31 Rue de Miromesnil largely, we suspect, due to the initials over the door which have been read as G.E. It seems that this was presented as fact in a book in 1910 and has been repeated ad infinitum since. On closer inspection though, the initials are not G.E. but E.C.
Above is the text from Promenades dans Toutes les Rues de Paris par Arrondissements, VIIIe Arrondissement, 1910.
We present below both sets of initials in a French Script typeface and a close up image of the monogram above the door.
So, sadly, our belief is that Grace’s initials are not those above that particular doorway. We do have documentary evidence showing exactly what number Grace’s house on the Rue de Miromesnil actually was (and it wasn’t no. 31), all is revealed in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. We can say though that we believe that Grace had an apartment in the building, rather than the whole house to herself.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear if you agree with us that the initials read E.C. and not G.E.
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 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.
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 a fashion icon and the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.
As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a 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, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains 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 maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.
An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and is available for pre-order from this summer.
If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.
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.
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 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.