Grace Dalrymple Elliott and a Fateful Trip

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Courtesy the Met Museum

Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Courtesy the Met Museum

To mark the publication of An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in the USA, we are delighted to have been invited back by the wonderful Geri Walton for another guest blog on her fascinating website.

Grace is remembered to history chiefly for two things: as an infamous courtesan who counted earls, dukes and princes amongst her lovers, and for her experiences in France during the revolutionary years (she left behind her a journal detailing her adventures which was published posthumously). But there was much more to her than that and we hope our biography of Grace and her family, the most detailed to date, will give a true picture of the spirited woman she was.

However, today we are going to look at the event which set her on the path to becoming that ’infamous courtesan’ which happened 242 years ago.

It was on the 1st of April 1774 that the young and beautiful Mrs Grace Eliot* made her fateful journey to the bagnio in Berkeley Row run by Jane Price. Informing her household that she was visiting a lady who lived in Spring Gardens, Grace alighted in a carriage and took a circuitous route designed to throw off anyone who may be following. It didn’t work! Her husband, Dr John Eliot, had set two of his servants off in hot pursuit of his young wife, and the two tracked her like bloodhounds.

Histories of the Tête-à-Tête annexed; or, Memoirs of L__ V___ and Mrs. E___t from the Town and Country Magazine, August 1774. © Lewis Walpole Library

Histories of the Tête-à-Tête annexed; or, Memoirs of L__ V___ and Mrs. E___t from the Town and Country Magazine, August 1774. © Lewis Walpole Library

At a discreet point Grace got out of her own carriage and walked a short distance to the Strand where her lover Viscount Valentia was waiting for her in a coach. The coach carried on to the bagnio, the two servants still in hot pursuit.

Grace and Valentia entered Mrs Price’s establishment and stayed there for around two and a half hours. Afterwards, Mrs Price and her servant were to declare that the couple had done nothing more than dine together in a private room. Shortly before midnight Lord Valentia conducted Grace into a hackney coach and got in beside her. One of the two servants set by Dr Eliot was still keeping watch – the other had returned home to inform his master of what they had seen.

This time the incautious couple realised they were being followed, and in a panic they doubled back to the bagnio. Grace entered the house declaring that she was ‘much frightened, having been watched’. She later returned to her marital home in a sedan chair.

The finishing of an Alderman’s picture. The lover adding horns to her husband’s portrait watched by the wife lying on a bed. January 1773. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The finishing of an Alderman’s picture. The lover adding horns to her husband’s portrait watched by the wife lying on a bed. January 1773. © The Trustees of the British Museum

There must have been a scene when she returned in the early hours of the morning. She arrived at her house with her clothes ‘much tumbled and her hair loose’ and instead of charging the fee for the hire of the sedan chair to her husband, as she usually did, this time it had already been paid, by Lord Valentia.

Even with his servant’s testimony, and despite his rage, Dr Eliot still had nothing to prove his wife’s infidelity. But that proof was soon provided when both Eliot and one of his servants rifled through Grace’s pockets to find love letters from Valentia.

Before the month of April 1774 was ended, Grace’s short-lived marriage was in pieces and she was facing an uncertain future. It would take all of her wits to survive, but survive she did and in some style! An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott chronicles how, as well as providing information on Grace’s equally fascinating family members.

*In later life, and quite possible purely to annoy her husband or to attempt to distance herself from him, Grace chose to spell her surname differently to his, spelling it Elliott.

If you are on twitter, you can follow Sarah at @sarahmurden and Joanne at @joannemajor3. For more information and to follow the journey of An Infamous Mistress, visit the authors’ blog at, All Things Georgian. To learn more about the book, here is a brief synopsis.

An Infamous Mistress Cover

An Infamous Mistress Cover

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 à-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 that 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.

Links for more information about the book:

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