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Author photo. Portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1788 (The Frick Collection)

Portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough, c. 1788 (The Frick Collection)

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The adventurous life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott reads like fiction. She was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Hugh Dalrymple, a lawyer, and his wife Grissel Craw. Her parents separated around the time of her birth, and she probably spent her childhood in the home of her grandparents. In 1767, when Grace was 13, her mother died, and she was sent to a French convent to be educated. At about 16, she went to live with her father. Her stunning beauty quickly attracted John Elliott, a wealthy physician 20 years her senior, and they married in 1771. The couple had a son who died young, and the marriage fell apart. Grace had an affair with Arthur Annesley, Viscount Valentia, and her husband won a highly-publicized divorce. In the eyes of society, she was ruined. With the severely limited opportunities open to 18th-century women to support themselves, Grace became a courtesan. Among her lovers was the Prince of Wales (later King George IV). In 1782, she had a daughter, Georgiana Seymour, and named the Prince as the father. By 1786, she had taken up residence in Paris, and became the official mistress of Louis Philippe II, duc d'Orléans, aka Philippe Égalité. She stayed in Paris throughout the French Revolution, acting as a spy and courier for correspondence on behalf of the British government, and assisting and hiding aristocrats pursued by the revolutionaries. She was arrested during the Reign of Terror in 1793 and imprisoned, narrowly escaping the guillotine. Her memoirs, arranged by her granddaughter and published in 1859 as Journal of My Life during the French Revolution, is one of the few first-hand accounts of these events written by a woman.
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