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Grace Under Fire

Definition of Courtesan

Portrait of Grace Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1782). Frick Collection. PD- 100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Grace Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (c. 1782). Frick Collection. PD- 100+ Wikimedia Commons.

From the 2016 edition of Merriam-Webster:  a woman who has sex with rich or important men in exchange for money : a prostitute who has sex with wealthy and powerful men.

Allow me to introduce you to a Scottish woman, Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1754–1823). She was one of the more intriguing personalities of her time (kind of like Kim Kardashian to some of today’s star gazers). While Grace’s exploits were dutifully reported at the time by several of London’s widely read gossip newspapers, she is virtually forgotten today (as I’m sure Kim will be forgotten 200 years from now).

Grace and the French Revolution

I always get excited when I find something new (at least to me) about the French Revolution. This is especially true when it comes from a contemporary source. This time it is courtesy of Grace’s memoirs.

Portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (1778). Metropolitan Museum of Art. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.
Portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Painting by Thomas Gainsborough (1778). Metropolitan Museum of Art. PD-100+ Wikimedia Commons.

What we really know about Grace comes from her book and memoir Ma Vie Sous La Révolution (Journal of My Life During the French Revolution) that was published by her granddaughter after Grace’s passing in 1823. Despite Victorian censuring and I’m sure lapses in Grace’s memory, the book provides an interesting glimpse into the Revolution from the view of a participant. Other than this brief memoir, historians (e.g., Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, co-authors of An Infamous Mistress) have had to piece together her life from various third party sources and historical records. Read More Grace Under Fire

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Marie Antoinette’s Lover?

Was he or wasn’t he? Only Axel von Fersen and Marie Antoinette know the truth. However, historians accept the fact that Count von Fersen was madly in love with Marie Antoinette (1755–1793). He was at the center of several key events during the French Revolution involving the king and queen. Eventually, like Marie Antoinette, von Fersen met a violent death.

THE SWEDISH NOBLE

Axel Fersen. Oil Painting by Carl Frederik von Breda (18th century). Löfstad Castle, Sweden. PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.
Axel Fersen. Oil Painting by Carl Frederik von Breda (18th century). Löfstad Castle, Sweden. PD-100+. Wikimedia Commons.

Hans Axel, Count von Fersen (1755–1810), was a Swedish noble, diplomat, and soldier. As a young officer in the French army, von Fersen met the French Dauphine in 1771—they were both sixteen at the time. She soon invited him to Versailles and von Fersen quickly became one of Marie Antoinette’s favored guests. By 1781, von Fersen was serving with other French officers in the American War of Independence. Marie Antoinette became queen during his years away from France and the two of them frequently exchanged letters. Read More Marie Antoinette’s Lover?