Grace Dalrymple Elliott (1758–1823) was a Scottish socialite and courtesan who was resident in Paris at the time of the French Revolution and an eyewitness to events. She was once mistress of the Duke of Orléans, who was cousin to King Louis XVI. She was arrested and held awaiting death by guillotine but was released after the death of Robespierre. She wrote an autobiographical account of her experiences entitled Ma Vie Sous La Révolution published posthumously in 1859.
Grace Dalrymple was born in her maternal grandparents' house in Edinburgh, the youngest daughter of advocate and poet Hew Dalrymple (died 1774) and Grisel Craw (died 1765). Her parents separated when she was an infant and she was placed in a French convent where she grew up.
On her return to Scotland her father introduced her into Edinburgh society, where she became renowned for her beauty. She took great lengths to dress and act accordingly, while becoming educated and staying abreast in world events. As recorded in art from the time, she was remarkably attractive, with beautiful facial features and an appealing figure. All of these attributes, along with her intelligence, became her trademark and helped her greatly when she entered into the life of courtesan to royalty 
She married the extremely rich physician John Elliott, more than 20 years her senior, in 1771, becoming Mrs Grace Elliott. However in 1774 she fled Edinburgh with Lord Valentia after a scandal. Her own account would put her at 9 years old, but this is not believed to be true, and it is more likely she was entering her teen years.
Her husband John Elliott (later a baronet) received £12,000 in damages, and divorced her. However her brother kidnapped her and had her confined to another French convent.
Life as a courtesan in England
Thomas Gainsborough painted her portrait in 1778 and this is now on display in the Frick Collection in New York. In 1782, she had a quiet and short intrigue with the Prince of Wales (afterwards George IV), and gave birth to a daughter who used the name Georgina Seymour (1782–1813) but was baptised at St Marylebone as 'Georgina Frederica Augusta Elliott Daughter of His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales & Grace Elliott'. Grace was being kept by Lord Cholmondeley but declared that the Prince was the father of her child and the Morning Post said in January 1782 that he admitted responsibility. However, when the child, which was very dark, was first shown to the Prince he is said to have remarked, "To convince me that this is my girl they must first prove that black is white". The Prince and many others regarded Lord Cholmondeley as the father, though the Prince's friends said that Charles William Wyndham (brother of Lord Egremont), whom she was thought to resemble, claimed paternity. Yet others thought she might have been fathered by George Selwyn. Lord Cholmondeley brought up the girl and, after her early death in 1813, looked after her only child.
France, Louis-Philippe d'Orléans and imprisonment
George, Prince of Wales, introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans in 1784. The couple started an affair and in 1786 Grace settled in Paris. She remained there throughout the revolution. The duc sided with the revolutionaries, took the name Philippe Égalité, voted for the execution of his cousin, the King and whipped up hatred against Louis's wife, Marie Antoinette. Grace, on the other hand, supported the monarchy and she became a devoted follower of Louis XVI and his family. His execution in 1793 devastated her.
France was plunged into a reign of terror and paranoia gripped the people. Despite his support for the revolution, the duke was executed because of his royal blood (he was descended from Louis XIII). Grace was imprisoned, even though her affair with the duc was long over, due to a suspect letter in her possession from Charles James Fox. She was a known royalist, and British as well. She was also suspected of having helped a fellow royalist, the Marquis de Champcenetz, escape the death sentence in Paris. She shared a cell with Madame du Barry, who had once been the mistress of King Louis XV. The charge against her, of possessing a letter from an Englishman, was dropped on the grounds that it had not been opened (Elliot was merely to relay it to French Admiral Latouche-Treville) and that, when the jury opened it, it commended the French Navy's recent victory at Naples and the glory of the revolution.
Whilst in this prison, they heard the news that Marie Antoinette had been executed on 16 October 1793. Grace later wrote that the queen's "greatness and courage" inspired all the prisoners to try to follow her example and meet their deaths with dignity.
Unfortunately many of the above stories come from Grace's own highly coloured, exaggerated and partly fictional Journal of my life during the French Revolution (London: Richard Bentley, 1859) and the historian Horace Bleackley has shown that large sections of the journal have no basis in truth. She was never, for instance, in prison with Madame du Barry, and the records only show that she was imprisoned from December 1793 to 4 October 1794. Bleackley considered the beauty of 'Dally the Tall' as by no means superlative.
Although many of her friends met their deaths including Madame du Barry, Grace did not. She narrowly avoided death and was released after the Reign of Terror came to an end. In total she had been confined to four different prisons by the republican government.
In later years, rumour had it that she became courtesan to Napoleon Bonaparte, but had rejected his offer of marriage. She died a wealthy woman at Ville d'Avray, in present day Hauts-de-Seine in 1823, while mistress of the commune's mayor.
A dramatic portrayal of part of her life is contained in the film The Lady and the Duke (French title L'Anglaise et le duc) by director Éric Rohmer, France, 2001. English actress Lucy Russell played Grace and Jean-Claude Dreyfus played the Duke of Orleans.
- Manning,Jo, August 2005, My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, Royal Courtesan, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, ISBN 0-7432-6262-X
- During the Reign of Terror: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, fulltext of Grace Dalrymple Elliott's autobiography, 1859 edition - at Google Books
- Grace Elliott's portrait by Thomas Gainsborough at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art
- During the Reign of Terror: Journal of My Life During the French Revolution, fulltext of Grace Dalrymple Elliott's autobiography, 1910 edition - at The Internet Archive