Friday, September 30, 2011

Grace Dalrymple Elliott: A Very High Flyer Indeed!

by Lauren Gilbert


Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Gainsborough

Grace Dalrymple Elliott was a courtesan, and a very famous (or should I say, notorious?) one. Intelligent, educated, and witty as well as beautiful, Grace was known for making her own choices and living her life on her own terms, or at least as much her own as a woman of her time was able. Documentation about her is spotty: her marriage record, divorce records, daughter's christening record, an obituary, a death certificate and a will all exist. However they tell us little of the woman herself. She is mentioned in a few letters, gossip columns in The Rambler, Town and Country Magazine, Matrimonial Magazine, and similar "tabloid" type journals, but (again) the real woman eludes us. Even her own memoirs, Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, were altered. No letters to or from Grace herself, no account books, no diary have yet surfaced. However, what we do know about Grace is fascinating...

Grace Dalrymple was born about 1754 to Hew (Hugh) Dalrymple and his wife Grizel (Scottish variation of Grace) in Scotland. Her father was of respectable family, possibly connected to Scottish aristocracy. Her parents were separated before she was born. She was sent to a convent boarding school in either France or Flanders at approximately age 11, when her mother died. She remained there for about five years before joining her father in London. His profession and finances at that point are not clear; however, he was working on establishing himself. Grace was tall for her time (possibly as tall as 5'7'), slender with excellent posture, a heart-shaped face and brown hair (worn powdered, per her time). Two portraits by Gainesborough, and a miniature, possibly by Cosway, show a very attractive woman. She attracted Dr. John Eliot, a Scottish-born physician, who was short, unattractive and about 14 years older than she. He was successful, having come under the patronage of Sir William Duncan, who attended King George III. Dr. Eliot attended many members of the ton, including the Prince of Wales, and was constantly working on improving his practice and earning more money. He spent time and made friends with people in high society. He would have been considered an excellent match. They were married in October of 1772 by special license.

The doctor was very busy, working in his practice, becoming known for his bed-side manner (especially with his women patients), leaving Grace to socialize on her own. Apparently, they were quite different persons: she was very young and enjoyed society, while he was much older and preferred to stay home when not occupied with his work or his own pursuits. Grace socialized with Dr. Eliot's friends, who in turn introduced her to other people. A young wife was generally not chaperoned, so you have a very young woman on her own in a very fast crowd. Gossip columns of the day suggest Grace had multiple lovers, but her affair with the married rake Arthur Annesley, eighth Viscount Valentia, made her notorious. It is unclear when the affair began, but Grace and Valentia made the gossip columns in 1774 and 1775. At the same time, her marriage to Dr. Eliot degenerated to the point that they couldn't stand each other. Dr. Eliot had servants and paid informants spy on her. Grace was stubborn, reckless and didn't understand that her middle-class background required a level of discretion that the higher born members of Society didn't have to attain. Grace and her husband stopped sharing a room, and she was apparently sent off to the country for nine months to be sure she was not pregnant with a child of questionable paternity. Dr. Eliot filed divorce papers in 1774. After going through ecclesiastical court for the legal separation, and civil court for the damages for criminal conversation, the final bill for divorce was presented to the House of Lords in Parliament in 1776, and King George III signed off on it. Dr. Eliot got the right to remarry and damages; Grace got an annuity of 200 pounds per year. Interestingly, years later, bequests in his will to his illegitimate children by multiple women indicate that Dr. Eliot was quite the womanizer himself! Dr. Eliot became Sir John Eliot in 1776, but (thanks to the divorce) Grace was never Lady Eliot.

This is the first point at which Grace could have sunk without a trace. Disgraced, homeless (her father was dead, her sister basically disowned her), Grace was in a difficult situation. However, amongst all the gossip, there is no hint that Grace ever walked the street or was associated with a brothel. She acquired "protectors," weighed her options, and generally traded up. Grace was linked with a number of men, and her relationships frequently seemed to overlap. We will consider three of her most advantageous.

In January of 1776, her relationship with George James Cholmondley, Earl of Cholmondeley, Marquess of Cholmondeley, an extremely wealthy and powerful of the Prince of Wales' set, became public. Lord Cholmondeley was tall and good looking. He was nicknamed "Lord Tallboy," while Grace was known as "Dally the Tall." They were apparently a handsome couple, well suited personally as well as physically. There is every indication that they sincerely loved each other, and that Grace hoped to marry him. Rumors about a possible marriage between them surfaced in 1776 and in 1778, but nothing happened. Grace chose to go to France about May of 1779. She and Cholmondeley were reunited as lovers 1781-1784, but their relationship had changed. Ultimately, in 1795, Cholmondley married Charlotte Bertie (an heiress from an old, powerful, distinguished family).

From 1779-1781, Grace was in France, again in high society, and her name was associated with several court figures, including the Comte d'Artois and Philippe, Duc d'Chartres (later Duc d'Orleans). However, in 1781, Cholmondley made a visit to Paris with another woman. Grace returned to England, following Cholmondley in early June, and they reunited briefly.

During the summer of 1781, possible in June, Grace had a brief affair with the Prince of Wales. Over in a short time, possibly a matter of weeks, this affair was important because Grace became pregnant. Her daughter was born March 30, 1782, and Grace stated that the father was the Prince of Wales. The child was christened Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott for the prince, and the christening record (which still exists) shows the prince as her father. Although the Prince of Wales didn't deny the child, he did not acknowledge her either. However the christening record was left intact, and the prince paid Grace an annuity from at least 1800 until her death. (The annuity may have started earlier-the prince's accounts are not complete.)

Multiple candidates for the child's paternity arose. However, Lord Cholmondley was a prime consideration. He was involved with Grace at the right time. Georgiana was placed with him and his family; he raised her and took responsibility for her. While this might have been a matter of tidying up the situation for the Prince of Wales (always a good move), it could have been achieved with much less personal involvement. Georgiana became known as Georgiana Seymour, made a most advantageous marriage, and continued as a member of Cholmondley's family. Grace and Cholmondley maintained contact, and he helped her with money periodically. He also paid for her funeral. One way or another, they remained connected for almost fifty years, until her death.

Grace left England for France in the late summer of 1784 with Philippe, Comte d'Chartre, who became Duc d'Orleans. Philippe was charming, generous, very rich and married; he provided Grace with her house in Paris and a cottage in the country. She was sincerely attached to him, as he was to her, but he was serially unfaithful. She remained in France during the prelude to the revolution and during the Terror. This was the period of her life described in her memoirs, written in 1803. During this horrifying and exciting time, she supposedly carried messages on behalf of Marie Antoinette to various loyalist groups in France and to the Austrian government in Brussels in 1790, saw the royal family returned to Paris after their attempted escape in 1791, saw various atrocities, was questioned, and imprisoned in various prisons under great hardship with other well-known figures, including Josephine de Beauharnais. She was finally released from prison, possibly in 1794. There are indications that, during this time in France, she also provided information to British officials, possibly spying for her country. There are many questions about the accuracy of her Journal, as there is little supporting documentation and there are noticeable discrepancy. However, there is no doubt that she was present and involved.

Available information indicates that Grace went back and forth between France and England from this point until she finally returned to France in 1814. Georgiana, her daughter, married very well, had a daughter Georgina, and died in 1813. The annuity from the Prince of Wales started in 1800 (if not before), and it is possible that her residing outside of England was a condition. After Grace returned to France in 1814, there is no further record of her until the end of her life. The last two years of her life, she was a paying lodger in the home of M. Dupuis, the mayor of Ville d'Avray. There are indications that she suffered debilitating health problems, possibly stemming from her time in prison, that resulted in a slow death. S he received last rights from a Catholic priest. Although she died alone, there is no indication she was poor-she had two annuities, and left a will. She was approximately 69 years old, and living in retirement at the time of her death. However, Grace had lived an exciting life, in the thick of the highest society and stirring world events, determined by her own choices. She showed herself to be a strong and courageous person, who chose her path and stayed with it.

Her granddaughter, Georgina Cavendish-Bentinck (Georgiana's daughter), had Grace's manuscript of Journal of My Life During the French Revolution published by Richard Bentley in 1859. She (or someone) provided him with anecdotal information (sources unknown), which he included. He wrote a prologue and epilogue, containing a number of his own opinions and inaccuracy, divided the work into chapters and made other alterations, resulting in serious errors. Unfortunately, since the original manuscript has disappeared there is no way to sort out his changes and errors from what Grace wrote herself. No one knows how Georgina came by the manuscript.

Sources:
Manning, Jo. MY LADY SCANDALOUS. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.)

Drake, Sylvia. "Grace Dalrymple Elliott's Journal de ma vie: Originally a pro-revolution memoir?" Jan. 29, 2010, Under The Sign of Sylvia Blog. http://misssylviadrake.lifejournal.com/15492.html. (Article includes the Oxford Dictionary of National Biorgraphy article about Grace by Martin Levy in its entirety.)

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Elliott.

Great Scotswomen Blog. "Grace Dalrymple Elliott." http://www.firstfoot.u-net.com/Great%20Scot/graceeliot.htm.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 17 article by John Goldsworth Alger about Grace Dalrymple Elliot (shown in entirety at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Elliott,_Grace_Dalrymple_(DNB00)).


~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Lauren is the author of HEYERWOOD: a Novel.
Lauren's Website
Lauren's Blog

22 comments:

  1. Wow, very in depth post!! Fascinating!

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  2. Interesting. Thanks for the great article ! I must have seen a movie or series about this woman. Any idea what the title of a movie about her was?

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  3. She was a real wonder in her time. Courtesan and spy! Thanks for the fascinating post.

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  4. So amazing!! A real example of how a woman with no means created a life for herself and also provided for her child. Truly interesting! I had heard of this woman before, but I wasn't much acquainted with her story. Thanks for a great read.

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  5. Thanks to Lauren Gilbert for sharing the story of Grace Dalrymple Elliott a middle class woman of the Georgian and Regency eras that managed to rise through the social ranks to mingle with the Aristocracy and even the Royals of two countries.
    Fascinating stuff!

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  6. How interesting! And what a pity that her memoirs were tampered with! Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Loved this. Good research into an interesting woman, indicative of who knows how many 18th century British women...

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  8. In-depth post about a fascinating woman. Bravo!

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  9. What an interesting life she led!

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  10. I am the author of the only fully-researched biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, My Lady Scandalous (published by Simon & Schuster in 2005; paperback edition published last fall, 2010). I also made corrections to the Martin Levy profile of Grace in the Oxford University Press revision of the Dictionary of National Biography -- he had a number of inaccuracies -- and all of my corrections were incorporated into that article. The book is still in print, and, if you want the lady, warts and all, check it out. (Most large public libraries have a copy.) The only thing the publisher of Grace's memoir added to it were the anecdotes told to him by Grace's grand-daughter. The "tampering" done with the manuscript involved the tearing out of an entire signature. The manuscript was always with Grace's family. Whoever excised those pages probably did so because she named names, and, as I believe she acted as a spy for the British in France (I discuss this fully in the book), this would have been problematic for the government. Since completing my book I have continued to research this fascinating woman and I give lectures on her and her times at libraries and museums in the United States and in Britain. To keep up with my lectures/appearances/other writings, please see Kristine Hughes' and Vicky Hinshaw's blog, Number One London (URL below). Thank you!

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  11. A spelling detail: the last rites, not rights...

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