Grace Dalrymple Elliott was considered a great beauty in her times, but a bad omen accompanied her birth in 1754. She had been educated in France at a convent, returned to Scotland, and met and married Sir John Elliot,* a respected physician. Yet, despite being married, she fell in love with a Lord Valentia, whom she ran away with in 1774. Elliot was bitter over the affair and divorced her. Soon after her divorce, Grace found herself back in France at the convent, but convent life was not for her, and after a short stay, she returned to England.
It was around this time that the Prince of Wales saw a miniature of Grace. The miniature so enamored the Prince that when Grace arrived in England, he met her. He found to his delight a warm-hearted, well-mannered, and fascinating young woman. His interest in her also resulted in them having an affair and a daughter, who was born on 30 March 1782 and baptized at St. Marylebone as Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour.
While under the protection of the Prince of Wales, Grace met Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orleans (the future Citoyen Philippe Égalité). He was a well-known womanizer who had several illegitimate children. He was also interested in pursing a relationship with Grace. In the meantime, Grace’s relationship with the Prince of Wales ended and she found herself supported by pensions: one from the Prince of Wales, one from her ex-husband’s family, and one from her own mother. It was with these pensions that 31-year-old Grace settled in France and became mistress to the Duke of Orleans in 1786.
Grace’s life had been mostly gaiety and pleasure up to this point, but with the French Revolution looming on the horizon, her life was about to change. Moreover, Grace, while not particularly interested in politics, was definitely not a republican. Rather she was “a proud Scotchwomen, who loved nothing but princes and kings.” In addition, her greatest worry at the time was that the Duke of Orleans would not be loyal to his cousin, the French King Louis XVI.
In 1789, the French Revolution broke out when the Bastille was stormed on 14 July, and a few days later, Grace found herself in danger. Joseph Foullon de Doué (an unpopular French politician and a Controller-General of Finances under Louis XVI) had been murdered by revolutionaries on the 22nd of July. It was that day that Grace decided to visit her jeweler. Along the way, she was stopped in the rue St. Honoré and was harassed by revolutionaries carrying Foullon’s head on a pike. Grace might have been murdered if her English female companion had not thought quickly and harangued the mob for daring to insult two English patriots.
A few years later, another dangerous situation unfolded. This situation happened on 10 August 1792 when the Tuileries Palace was stormed. Fearing for her safety, Grace decided to flee Paris for her country home in Meudon. Her maid reminded about a porter who claimed he knew of a breach in a wall made by smugglers and that they might pass through it and reach safety. Later than night, Grace and the maid fled. Everything went well until they reached the porter’s house. He refused to assist them, and it was only through Grace’s subtle art of persuasion that she was able to finally able to get the porter’s help.
Grace later wrote about the ordeal, stating:
[I was] in fear every minute of meeting the patrole or murderers, till I got to the bottom of the steep hill which leads up to the Château of Meudon, my house being on the top of the hill. I had never looked back: my heart beat hard. I thought every moment that I was followed. About the middle of the hill I saw a man coming towards me, and was so much terrified that I dropped down among the vines which border the hill, quite losing my senses. On my recover I neither heard nor saw anybody. Perhaps it was some poor wretch making his escape, who was as much alarmed as I was. I was then not very far from my own house, and with great pain I reached it, but so much fatigued and agitated that they were obliged to undress and put me to bed almost senseless. My feet were covered with blood, having no soles to my shoes or stockings. My shoes were thin white silk, and the road is very stony.
Grace remained in Meudon for about a month, until the 2nd of September. Then she received a summons asking for help from a friend and requesting that she return to Paris to her friend’s house located in the rue l’Encre. Despite the obvious danger, Grace and her maid left immediately. They were shocked when the arrived in Paris. Death had rumbled through Paris like a huge funeral caravan, and everywhere they looked they found mangled, dead bodies. About this same time, they also heard news of the death of Marie Antoinette’s friend and confidante, the Princesse de Lamballe.
Believing she was in Paris to save her friend, Grace reached her friend’s house only to be sorely disappointed. It was not her friend who needed help but rather Louis René Quentin de Richebourg, Marquis of Champcenetz, who was also Governor of the Tuileries and a personal enemy of the Duke of Orleans. Everyone thought he had been killed at the Tuileries during the storming of 10 August. Fortunately, however, he had escaped, taken refuge at Grace’s friend’s house, and concealed himself there until it became no longer practical to remain.
The Marquis by this time was weak and unfit for travel. To avoid detection and because the Marquis was sickly, Grace decided it was best to leave after dark. This was a risky move as domicile checks began at ten o’clock and carriages were forbidden to be on the streets. However, that was when Grace and Marquis set off. Grace and the Marquis, who was acting as Grace’s servant, reached the barrier, presented their passports, and attempted to pass. Unfortunately, permission was denied. Grace used all her powers of persuasion to convince the guards that her home was in Meudon, but it proved futile. In the end, the guards advised her to return home and told her to be in bed and off the streets before ten o’clock.
Grace did not dare return to the house from which she had fled on 10 August, and she knew she could not return to her friend’s house. Grace then decided to try another route out of Paris, but again she was denied passage. In fact, to make matters worse, she and the Marquis were left by the driver in the middle of the road. With nowhere to go, Grace decided to return to the porter’s house, but that decision only encouraged fresh terrors. Patrols and soldiers were everywhere, and it was only through cunning and skill that Grace and the Marquis managed to avoid detection.
The only person Grace could think of that might offer some sort of refuge to her and the Marquis was the Duke of Orleans, now known as Citoyen Philippe Égalité or just Égalité. She headed to his house but by now the Marquis was exhausted. He begged her to leave him saying that he could not continue but she refused. On the way to Égalité’s house Grace realized she had to pass by her old house, and as she approached she saw her cook who was loyal to the revolutionaries and a Jacobin. To avoid the Marquis from being detected, she had him hide and then she alone approached the cook. She told him a story about being in Paris, claimed she was famished, and ordered him off on an errand for food.
Grace then entered her house. Shortly afterwards, the Marquis burst through the door terrified and talking about patrols roaming the area. Grace pretended not to know him and a servant reassured him no harm would come to him. Fortunately, the servant was also kind enough to hide the half-dead Marquis so that the patrols would not find him. He was hidden between two lumpy mattresses of Grace’s bed. Then to make better the hiding place even more secure, Grace climbed into the bed, had the curtains drawn, and lit the room with twenty candles.
It did not take long for the patrols to appear and to claim that the Marquis had been spotted going into Grace’s house. The guards where insistent the Marquis was hidden there, and they were determined not to leave without him. They searched everywhere and asked the servant about the Marquis, but he claimed to know nothing. During their search, the cook reappeared, but he was unaware that the Marquis was concealed between the mattresses, and he also declared there was no such person in the house, which seemed true as the guard’s ransacking produced no one.
When at last forty guards entered Grace’s room, she was prepared for them. One of the guards demanded she get out of bed, but another guard took pity on her and declared that she could not dress in front of so many men. Grace was sweet and told them she was exhausted waiting for them and that she had not slept at all. She also promised to show them through the entire house after they had refreshments. The guards were delighted at the thought of refreshments and to more quickly enjoy them, they did a cursory search of her room. Later, when Grace showed them through the rest of the house, they found their search fruitless and left.
Having been saved from arrest, the Marquis was retrieved from his hiding place. He was half dead and in order to revive him, he was concealed in an adjoining dressing room. But the next day the Marquis did not seem better and, in fact, was delirious. The Marquis’s delirious state only increased Grace’s anxiety and terror, and then to make things worse, Égalité called on her. At first Grace did not dare mention the Marquis, but the longer Égalité stayed the more he noticed Grace’s anxiety. After some coaxing on his part, Grace finally confided in him and told him the events surrounded the Marquis. Then, for her sake, despite Égalité considering the Marquis a personal enemy, he helped the Marquis escape.
Shortly thereafter, in January of 1793, Égalité who had so fervently promised Grace that he would not vote for Louis XVI’s death, voted for the King’s death. His vote caused future bitterness among French monarchists. However, his vote did not stop Égalité from being arrested on 5 April 1793 for treason. Grace was arrested six weeks later and sent to the prison of St. Pélagie. During her imprisonment, a search was made of Égalité’s papers because her enemies hoped there would be proof of her complicity as an English spy. However, no proof was found and she was eventually released.
Grace remained in France, but when word came that a death warrant had been issued against her, she fled to Meudon. In Meudon, to avoid falling into the hands of revolutionaries, she was sent to the prison of Récollets where she suffered severe hardships. It was also while imprisoned at Récollets that she learned of Égalité’s fate: He was executed on 6 November 1793. From Récollets, Grace was sent to the prison of Carmes in Paris, and she came close to death as her hair was at one point cut in readiness for her execution. Fortunately, when the Reign of Terror ended, she was liberated.
In 1801, Grace secretly returned to England. There she met once again the Marquis, the man she had been so instrumental in rescuing, and, moreover, she saw the Marquis reinstated in his old position as Governor of the Tuileries. She remained in England until 1814 and then returned to France. She died on 15 May 1823 at the age of sixty-nine in the home of Monsieur Dupuis, the mayor of Ville d’Avray, and was buried in the French cemetery of Père Lachaise on the outskirts of Paris.
If you are interested in learning more about the exciting life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Joanne Major and Sarah Murden having written the definitive biography of her. It is titled An Infamous Mistress. Click here to learn more or visit their website at All Things Georgian.
*After Grace’s divorce from Elliot she chose to spell her name Elliott.
- Chamber’s Journal, 1859
- Elliott, Grace Dalrymple, During the Reign of Terror, 1910
- Elliott, Grace Dalrymple, Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, 1859
- Major, Joanne and Sarah Murden, An Infamous Mistress, 2016
- Yates, Edmund Hodgson, Tinsley’s Magazine, Volume 30, 1882