Thursday, November 10, 2016

An Infamous Mistress

As we continue to learn about women in the French Revoluntion, the following is a guest post by authors Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. Please let them know in comments how much you enjoy their story. Might I even suggest you buy their book (of course, that is after you have purchased Female Adventurers: the women who helped colonized Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived through a fascinating era in history. She gained her infamy due to her reputation as a high-class eighteenth-century courtesan, and to this day enjoys continued notoriety through her Journal which recounts her adventures and bravery during the French Revolutionary years. But behind this almost larger-than-life persona lay the real woman, a daughter, mother, sister and friend.

Born c.1754, probably in Edinburgh, Grace grew up in a strongly matriarchal family after her parents separated when she was just a child. After her mother’s early death, Grace was sent to a convent school in Lille before returning to live with her father in London. It was here that she met the man she was to marry when only 17-years of age, John Eliot a society doctor who was much older than Grace and reputedly much shorter than her too (Grace was a tall, willowy beauty). One son was born to the couple, who died young, and the marriage crumbled. Eliot accused Grace of adultery; she had been followed to a London bagnio where she had entertained the reprobate – but young and handsome – Viscount Valentia. A Criminal Conversation case and divorce swiftly followed.

Cast adrift, Grace embarked upon her career as a courtesan, hoping to gain her security via this route as two of her aunts had done before her. For many years the athletic Earl of Cholmondeley was Grace’s protector before she left for France and the arms of the duc d’Orléans. But then the young Prince of Wales expressed a wish to meet Mrs Elliott and she returned to England to make her fortune as a royal mistress. The romance between Prinny and Grace only lasted a few short months, but it was long enough for Grace to secure her future by becoming pregnant with the prince’s child. The child proved to be a daughter, named Georgiana Augusta Frederica.
Grace left Georgiana in the care of Cholmondeley and returned to France and the duc d’Orléans. It was in this way that she was trapped in Paris during the Reign of Terror, her connection to the Bourbon dynasty placing her in grave danger. Arrested and questioned, she lived in fear of the guillotine but repeatedly risked her neck by acts of bravery to help her friends. She later committed her experiences to paper and they were published many years after Grace’s death in her Journal of My Life during the French Revolution. Undoubtedly heavily edited by Grace’s prim Victorian granddaughter, and embellished by an over-enthusiastic editor, the core of the Journal is Grace’s own words. It remains one of only a few first-hand accounts written by a woman.
Grace’s later years, when she returned to England at the dawn of the nineteenth-century, were spent on the fringes of high-society; her friends ranged from the equally celebrated and scandalous Lady Worsley to a woman who had once been a scullery maid but who became Grace’s closest confidante. Returning to France for her twilight years, Grace died at Ville d’Avray near Paris in 1823. 

N.B. Grace chose to spell her surname differently from her husband, perhaps to distance herself from him.

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, genealogists and historians, are co-authors of An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Their second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, details the second marriage and family of Grace’s son-in-law, ancestors of the British royal family.
They blog at All Things Georgian and can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Image credits:
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Portrait of George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, c.1780-82. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c.1784. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, November 4, 2016

Women of the French Revolution - Suzanne Churchod Necker

As I continue to connect with my French heritage, I am studying the French Revolution in an effort to verify the participation of ancestors. Of course, as women in history are always of interest to me, I am thrilled to be learning about so many women who made a difference during that time. The following is the first in the series.

 Suzanne Churchod, born in Switzerland in May of 1737, was the daughter of Louis Antoine Curchod and Magdelaine d'Albert de Nasse. She received a classical education (including Latin, mathematics and science). This education enabled her to support herself as a teacher in her native Switzerland.
Portrait by Joseph Duplessis
With the loss of income resulting from the death of her father, Churchod and her mother found them in a desperate situation, which she coped with by giving lessons. After her mother died, Suzanne became a companion to a young French widow, Madame de Vermenoux, who took her to Paris around 1763 or 1764.  

Her employer, Madame de Vermenoux, was being courted by the ambitious Swiss financier Jacques Necker but she didn’t want to marry. Next Necker turned his attention to Suzanne, and in 1764 the two were married. They had one child, a daughter named Anne Louise Germaine, the future writer and philosopher now better known as Madame de Stael.

Suzanne opened a literary salon where all the top literary individuals of the era gathered, including such luminaries as Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, a French naturalist, mathematician, and cosmologist Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, German-born French-language journalist, art critic, and diplomat; as well as many Swiss expatriates like Marie Anne de Vichy-Chamrond, marquise du Deffand (whom I will write about later in this series on women in the French Revolution).

As the revolution approached, the opinions of her daughter, Germaine de Stael (whom I will talk about in my next blog) turned the salon discussions more political.

Suzanne, on the other hand, turned her influence and energies toward hospital and prison reform and in 1778 established a model hospital. In 1790, after her husband’s fall from power and the revolution getting more violent, the Neckers left Paris for Switzerland. Suzanne died at Beaulieu Castle in 1794. In Lausanne, a city on Lake Geneva, in the French-speaking region of Vaud, Switzerland.