In battle of wits,
Courtesan narrowly bests
Today on Royal Mistress Week, what do we have here? Oh! It’s a bona-fide badass! Like the Scarlet Pimpernel sort of badass, with breasts and terrible taste in men.
Grace Elliott was born in Scotland around 1754, and was brought up by her grandparents and then in a French convent. (This was because her parents had had enough of each other by the time she was born and split.) When she became one fine young lady, she returned to Edinburgh and was promptly courted by her future husband John, a physician 18 years-ish older than her. They married in 1771 and soon had enough of each other, Grace running off with an Irish peer. (It should be noted that John had a mistress at this time.)
John found out, got the proof, and got the divorce. And in that time and place, there was pretty much just one option for a young woman in Grace’s situation: become a courtesan! This included a fling with the future George IV (styled ‘the Worst’, by me) and Grace soon became pregnant and produce a daughter, Georgina. (This was while her ex-husband was serving as George’s physician. Awkward.)
The papers initially said that Georgie acknowledged the girl as his, but if he did, he very quickly took it back. This to me proves nothing. (For a hot minute, he even murmured that his only legitimate child, Princess Charlotte, might not be his – but if you look at her portraits, she’s 100% a Hanover. George IV: loved power, hated responsibility.)
So George foisted Grace off on the Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis XVI. (Also ugh. This was a man who later went full-revolution and voted to chop off his big bro’s head, only to get his head chopped in turn. Do better, Grace.) Off to Paris she went, and there she was when French life got incredibly interesting.
Here’s where the ‘badass’ part comes in. Her exploits include: passing messages for the British government and exiled aristocrats, physically carrying the governor of the Tuileries Palace so she could hide him at her place (which included stuffing him between mattresses, laying on top, and pretending she was sick when the place was searched), hiding a woman and her children, snagging false travel documents for would-be escapees, ferrying packages for Marie Antoinette in preparation for her family’s failed escape attempt, and general spying. She was finally arrested in 1793 and just missed becoming a victim of the Terror herself.
The rest of her life, and there were a few decades of that remaining, were spent much more quietly in comparison. She rejected a proposal from Napoleon, wrote her memoirs (which were published posthumously by her granddaughter), and lived a relaxed life in the Paris suburbs. She died in 1823.