Grace Elliott (sometimes spelled Elliot or Eliot) lived from about 1755 to 16 May 1823. She was a famous society beauty and courtesan who witnessed at first hand the French Revolution. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Grace Dalrymple was the daughter of an Edinburgh lawyer, Hew Dalrymple. She was brought up in a French convent after her parents separated, and returned to Edinburgh in 1771, where she rapidly made an impact as a society beauty. Shortly afterwards she married the wealthy, and aged, Dr John Elliott. In 1774 she was forced to flee the city with Arthur Annesley, Viscount Valentia after a scandal, and was divorced by her husband in a highly publicised case. Her brother stepped in and had her confined in a French convent once more. She was then rescued by one of her admirers, the 4th Earl of Cholmondeley, who brought her back to London.
In 1778 Grace Elliott was painted by Gainsborough and her portrait is on display in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. When she gave birth to a daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour, in 1782, paternity was claimed by the Prince of Wales (later to become George IV), but also by three other men, Charles Wyndham, George Selwyn, and the Earl of Cholmondeley.
In 1784 the Prince of Wales introduced Grace to the French Duke of Orleans, who then established her in Paris. She continued to live in Parish after the outbreak of the French Revolution, being imprisoned in 1793 for her known Royalist sympathies and on suspicion of having helped Marquis de Champcenetz escape the clutches of the Revolution. She was eventually released after the death of Robespierre and the end of the Reign of Terror in 1794. Back in England she wrote her account of her time in France: Journal of my life during the French Revolution, which was published in 1859. She later returned to France, where stories that Napoleon had proposed marriage to her seem unlikely. She died, living in considerable comfort, in Ville-d'Avray, a western suburb of Paris where, at the time of her death, she was the mistress of the local mayor.
Grace Elliott's life has been portrayed in film in L'Anglaise et le Duc, directed by Éric Rohmer in 2001. She was also the subject of the Jo Manning's book, My Lady Scandalous published in August 2005.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".