Grace Elliott

Grace Elliott

Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754? – 1823) was a Scottish courtesan who was resident in France at the time of the French Revolution and an eyewitness to events. She was once mistress of the Duke of Orléans, who was cousin to King Louis XVI. She was arrested and held awaiting death by guillotine but was released after the death of Robespierre. She wrote an autobiographical account of her experiences entitled "Ma Vie Sous La Révolution" published posthumously in 1859.

Early life

Grace Dalrymple was the daughter of an Edinburgh lawyer, Hew Dalrymple. Her parents separated when she was an infant and she was placed in a French convent where she grew up. She became active in society circles, taking great lengths to dress and act accordingly, while becoming educated and staying abreast in world events. As recorded in art from the time, she was remarkably attractive, with beautiful facial features and an appealing figure. All of these attributes, along with her intelligence, became her trademark and helped her greatly when she entered into the life of "courtesan" to royalty (see [] , [] ).

Life as a courtesan in Britain

In 1771 she made her debut in Edinburgh society and became renowned for her beauty.

She married the extremely rich and elderly Dr. John Elliott in that year, becoming Mrs. Grace Elliott. However in 1774 she fled Edinburgh with Lord Valentia after a scandal. Her own account would put her at 9 years old, but this is not believed to be true, and it is more likely she was entering her teen years.

She eventually received a divorce settlement and £12,000 in damages. However her brother kidnapped her and had her confined to another French convent. Lord Cholmondeley, one of her many benefactors, rescued her and brought her back to London where she became mistress and courtesan to several prominent and wealthy men.

Thomas Gainsborough painted her portrait in 1778 and this is now on display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1782, she gave birth a daughter, Georgina Seymour. The Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV), Charles Wyndham, George Selwyn, and Lord Cholmondeley all simultaneously claimed paternity.

France, Louis Philip II and imprisonment

George, Prince of Wales, introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans in 1784. The couple started an affair and in 1786 Grace settled in Paris. She remained there throughout the revolution. The duke sided with the revolutionaries, took the name Philippe Égalité, voted for the execution of his cousin, the King and whipped up hatred against Louis's wife, Marie Antoinette. Grace, on the other hand, supported the monarchy and she became a devoted follower of Louis XVI and his family. His execution in 1793 devastated her.

France was plunged into a reign of terror and paranoia gripped the people. Despite his support for the revolution, the duke was executed because of his royal blood (he was descended from Louis XIII). Grace was imprisoned, even though her affair with the duke was long over, due to a suspect letter in her possession from Charles James Fox. She was a known royalist, and British as well. She was also suspected of having helped a fellow royalist, the Marquis de Champcenetz, escape the death sentence in Paris. She shared a cell with Madame du Barry, who had once been the mistress of King Louis XV. The charge against her, of possessing a letter from an Englishman, was dropped on the grounds that it had not been opened (Elliot was merely to relay it to French Admiral Latouche-Treville) and that, when the jury opened it, it commended the French Navy's recent victory at Naples and the glory of the revolution.

Whilst in this prison, they heard the news that Marie Antoinette had been executed on October 16 1793. Grace later wrote that the queen's "greatness and courage" inspired all the prisoners to try and follow her example and meet their deaths with dignity.

Later life

Although many of her friends met their deaths including Madame du Barry, Grace did not. She narrowly avoided death and was released after the Reign of Terror came to an end. In total she had been confined to four different prisons by the republican government.

In later years, rumour had it that she became courtesan to Napoleon Bonaparte, but had rejected his offer of marriage. She died a wealthy woman at Ville d'Avray, in present day Hauts-de-Seine in 1823. True to her past, she died the mistress of the mayor of Ville d'Avray.


A dramatic portrayal of part of her life is contained in the film "The Lady And The Duke" (French title "L'Anglaise et le duc") by director Éric Rohmer, France, 2001. English actress Lucy Russell played Grace and Jean-Claude Dreyfus played the Duke of Orleans.


* Manning,Jo , August 2005, "My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, Royal Courtesan", Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, ISBN 0-7432-6262-X

External links

* [ Grace Elliott's portrait by Thomas Gainsborough at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art]
* [ fulltext of Elliott's autobiography] , 1910 edition ("During the Reign of Terror: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution")

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