A number of years ago, I met two women who share my love of Georgian history, and we became fast friends. Their names are Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, and they’re historians and genealogists. If you’ve been reading this blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know an ideal day for me is one spent at a museum. And one of my favorite museums is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m there every chance I get.
Even though the museum is massive, I have my favorite pieces I visit every time I’m there. So I was really surprised when I asked Sarah who they were writing a biography about, and she texted me a picture of a portrait I’ve stared at countless times. It’s the portrait of Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and I think she’s divine! When you study a portrait long enough, you begin to wonder about the person who sat for it. Now I knew two people who could tell me about Grace, and what I found out from reading their book was even better than I imagined! I asked them to stop by my drawing room and share a fun snippet from their research with you. So snuggle up with a cup of something warm. Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her relations were no wallflowers.
Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
And now, I give you Sarah Murden and Joanna Major…
Thanks, Laurie, for asking us to stop by and tell you an interesting tidbit about what we discovered while researching our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Grace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823), was a celebrated courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child. She was also, for a time, the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley after she had been divorced by her husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. Grace had hoped for a marriage proposal from her Earl but none was forthcoming.
Her maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had been luckier in her career as a mistress, for her own lover, also an earl, had eventually made her his countess. Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough and 2nd Earl of Monmouth, married Robinaiana Brown at St James’s in Piccadilly on the 3rd December 1755, and so Grace grew up with her aunt’s example before her. Although Robinaiana had already borne several of the Earl’s children, it was their youngest surviving child, a son born after her marriage, who inherited the earldom. His elder siblings were left to make their way in the world as best they could.
And so Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, found herself during April of 1777 (a year after Grace’s divorce) one of the persons of ‘present fashion’ who were in attendance at a Ridotto at the Little Theatre on the Haymarket, chaperoning her daughter Harriatt, born illegitimately before her parent’s marriage.
A Masquerade at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ascribed to Grisoni, ca 1724 (The Victoria and Albert Museum)
Also present at the Ridotto was Lady Worsley, who was to court controversy herself some five years later and become an important presence in Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life.
Lady Worsley by Sir. Joshua Reynolds, ca 1776 (Harewood House Trust, via Wikimedia)
Little Theatre, Hay-market
The RIDOTTO on Monday evening served at once to display the taste of the Director of the evening’s entertainment and the insufferable dullness of the polite world, when unmixed with souls of less fined composition. Nothing could be more splendid that the disposition of the lights and the stile [sic] of the theatre, which was wonderfully converted into a large, elegant and commodious room, capable of receiving at least four times the quantity of persons present, whose gross number could not have exceeded two hundred, or two hundred and fifty. It was at the same time hardly possible for the insipidity and want of cordiality observable in the company to be exceeded. The only way of accounting for this latter circumstance, is the recollection, that they were mostly persons of title and ton, there being only half a dozen ladies of known cracked characters and very few of the bourgeois discoverable. One of the latter, in order to mark beyond a doubt his habit of living and seat of residence, caught a well-dressed fille de joie round the neck and smacked her as loud as the sound of a double bass, in the sight of every beholder; and two of the former (Mother M. and Mrs. F) probably actuated by a fear that their shrivelled faces and coarse necks should make it be imagined that they were not votaries to Venus, came in apparently filled with the juice of the grape; indeed if they had but just staggered from the altar of Bacchus, they could not have seemed more ripe for riot and folly.
The Ridotto Pubblico at Palazzo Dandle by Francesco Guardi, ca 1765-68 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Among the persons of present fashion, were the following:
The Duke of Dorset, Lord Carlisle, Lord Egremont, Lord E. Bentinck, Lord Malden, Lord Villars, Lord Palmerston, Lord Grosvenor, Lord Chesterfield, the Countess of Peterborough, Lady Worsley, Lady Harborough, Lady Cork and Company, Mrs Lascelles, Miss Mordaunt, Mrs Middleton and Mrs Phillimore, Lady Fleming, Miss Payne, Lady Sherrard, Sir Thomas Clergys, Mr Damer, Messrs Hares, Mr Smith, Mr Mead, Mr Middleton, Mr Stanhope and many others.
Confectionery, wines and musick [sic] were provided. The first was good, the second but very la, la! and the third not only scanty, but most careless and indifferent.
About four o’clock all the company had retired.
Admission Ticket to a Ridotto at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ca 1787 (British Museum)
Possibly not the best of nights, then! One hopes that ‘Mother M.’ the lady of cracked character was not ‘Mother Mordaunt’, Grace’s Aunt Robinaina, and ‘Mrs F.’, was not Lady Fleming, the mother of Lady Worsley who retained her former title after her remarriage to Edwin Lascelles, Baron Harewood. What is known, however, is that not many years after this Robinaiana’s son, Charles Henry Mordaunt (by that time the 5th Earl of Peterborough and 3rd Earl of Monmouth), was called as a witness in Lady Worsley’s divorce case. The purpose was to testify to her dissolute character. And Lady Worsley’s lover, Maurice George Bisset, after abandoning her eventually married Robinaiana’s daughter Harriat (present at the Haymarket the night ‘Miss Mordaunt’ was listed above).
If Robinaiana was indeed ‘Mother M.’, her husband’s actions that year might certainly have given her cause to turn to the ‘juice of the grape’. For, proving the old adage that ‘there’s no fool like an old fool’ to be all too true, the 4th Earl of Peterborough gave the gossips of the day some scandalous revelations to pass around the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the ton.
And to find out what that gossip was you’ll have to read our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in which we reveal all, not only about Grace but also her hitherto unknown relatives. For Grace’s maternal family has been overlooked in every history of her ever written, until now, and they are central to Grace’s story and fascinating in their own right. An Infamous Mistress is available now in the UK from Pen and Sword Books and all other good bookshops, and in America it will be published in the springtime although it is available for pre-order now.
Ridotto, an entertainment consisting of music, dancing and sometimes gambling. The term was introduced to England ‘in the year 1722, at the Opera-house in the Haymarket.’ Oxford English Dictionary
Morning Chronicle, 16th April, 1777