Thursday 17 March 2016

An Infamous Mistress

It's my pleasure to welcome two firm friends back to the salon today, as Sarah Murden and Joanne Major bring Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her remarkable family vividly back to life!
Book cover
Firstly, we would like thank the charming Madame Gilflurt for inviting us back to her cosy salon. We are the joint authors of An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, published by Pen and Sword Books. Our book reveals Grace’s maternal family for the first time and discloses that her aunt was Robinaiana, the Countess of Peterborough. Robinaiana Brown was, for many years, the mistress of Charles Mordaunt, the 4th Earl of Peterborough (and 2nd Earl of Monmouth) – he could not marry her for he already had a wife. When his first wife died he married Robinaiana with indecent haste, anxious that the child she was carrying should be born legitimate.
The 4th Earl of Peterborough was not alone in his family in his marital misadventures, for three successive generations of the House of Mordaunt made irregular marriages.
Today we’re going to look at the 4th earl’s grandfather, Charles Mordaunt (1658-1735), the ‘celebrated’ 3rd Earl of Peterborough (and 1st Earl of Monmouth), noted for his military exploits although it’s his marital ones we’re concerned with here today. 
Charles eloped with his first wife, Carey Fraser, the daughter of Sir Alexander Fraser (by her mother she was a descendant of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne, as was the 3rd earl’s mother, Elizabeth Carey) – through Carey the Mordaunt’s inherited the Scottish estate of Dores in Kincardineshire. The couple married in 1678 but kept the marriage secret for two years, fearing the displeasure of her family.
Carey died in 1709 after giving the earl three children and the 3rd Earl of Peterborough paid court to another lady in the years following her death – Anastasia Robinson (c.1695-1755), a noted opera singer who first appeared on the stage in 1713. 
Anastasia Robinson, seated at a harpsichord, 1727. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Anastasia Robinson, seated at a harpsichord, 1727. 
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The couple married privately in either 1714 or 1722 depending upon which source you believe, but the earl chose not to publicly recognise Anastasia as his wife, perhaps this time feeling the union beneath his rank. Anastasia’s father was not a peer of the realm but a simple, if talented, portrait painter and Anastasia’s Roman Catholic faith may also have had some bearing. 
Anastasia lived in Parson’s Green, Fulham, close to Peterborough House, the earl’s mansion, presiding over many musical evenings there where she was still regarded, to her dismay, as a mistress rather than a lawful wife. She was denied the right to call herself a countess in public. Charles Burney’s A General History of Music, vol 4, (1789) quoted an anecdote given in 1787 by ‘the late venerable Mrs Delaney, [Anastasia Robinson’s] contemporary and intimate acquaintance’ (Mrs Mary Delany née Granville, bluestocking and correspondent):

’Mrs Anastasia Robinson was of a middling stature, not handsome, but of a pleasing, modest countenance, with large blue eyes. Her deportment was easy, unaffected, and graceful. Her manner and address very engaging; and her behaviour, on all occasions, that of a gentlewoman, with perfect propriety. She was not only liked by all her acquaintance, but loved and caressed by persons of the highest rank, with whom she appeared always equal, without assuming.’

At her father’s house in Golden Square she was visited by the widowed Earl of Peterborough and a General H___, both of whom professed their love to her. Her father could no longer paint for he was blind and the family fortunes dwindled. Anastasia was ‘sincerely attached to’ the earl and so the deal was struck and the secret wedding performed. Mrs Delaney affirmed that the marriage took place and that Lady Oxford, Anastasia’s great friend, attended her on the day. Did Anastasia continue to perform on the stage after her marriage to support her father and was this the reason that she could not be publicly recognised as the Countess of Peterborough? As the marriage has yet to be discovered the date of it is open to debate.
Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth, c.1738-42 from Birch’s Heads. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Charles Mordaunt, 3rd Earl of Peterborough and 1st Earl of Monmouth, c.1738-42 from Birch’s Heads. 
© The Trustees of the British Museum
When Anastasia was insulted by the Italian singer Francesco Bernardi, known as Senesino (a castrato), the Earl of Peterborough compelled him, according to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, to ‘confess upon his knees that Anastasia was a nonpareil of virtue and beauty’
Lord Stanhope, the future Earl of Chesterfield, compounded matters by making a joke about the situation and was challenged to a duel by Anastasia’s enraged earl. Gossip made its way into the newspapers, claiming that the Earl of Peterborough allowed Anastasia 100l. each month as an allowance. ‘Would anyone believe… that Mrs Robinson is at the same time a prude and a kept mistress?’ was the question cuttingly asked by Mrs Wortley Montagu when she wrote from Twickenham to the Countess of Mar. The earl perhaps had good reason to be angered for Mrs Wortley Montague suggested that the contretemps caused Anastasia to miscarry (there were no children born to the couple). Around this time Anastasia stopped performing on the stage although she still appeared at private venues.
The Bad Taste of The Town (Masquerades and Operas) 1724 by William Hogarth. 
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The couple maintained separate establishments until 1734 when the earl was taken ill at Mount Bevis, his Southampton cottage, and finally wanted Anastasia permanently by his side. She specified one condition – he still denied her permission to use his name, but she asked that she might be allowed to wear her wedding ring. Finding that she would not be swayed, the earl finally agreed.
His ill-health continued and he was advised by his doctor to travel abroad and seek a warmer climate and here Anastasia finally put her foot down. She refused to travel with the earl unless he finally, once and for all, declared their marriage. 
It’s often been mooted that a second ceremony was undertaken, to convince the world of the union as the priest who had conducted the first was dead and could not testify to it. Mrs Delaney did not mention this but Alexander Pope did in a letter to Martha Blount dated 25th August 1735 – he said the earl had married Anastasia, in front of witnesses, in a Bristol church. We can finally confirm that a marriage ceremony did indeed take place, as Pope described, on the 10th July 1735 at Clifton in Gloucestershire. After this the earl gathered his family around him.

‘When they were all assembled he began a most eloquent oration, enumerating all the virtues and perfections of Mrs A. Robinson, and the rectitude of her conduct during his long acquaintance with her, for which he acknowledged his great obligations and sincere attachment, declaring he was determined to do her that justice which he ought to have done long ago, which was presenting her to all his family as his wife. He spoke this harangue with so much energy, and in parts so pathetically, that lady P. not being apprised of his intentions, was so affected that she fainted away in the midst of the company.’
The Earl of Peterborough never made his voyage, dying on board his ship on the 25th October 1735 and Anastasia, Dowager Countess of Peterborough, lived out her days in retirement at Mount Bevis. She died in Bath, and was buried in Bath Abbey on the 1st May 1755.
Close up of a detail from The Bad Taste of The Town. The 3rd Earl of Peterborough is shown kneeling on a large banner, handing the singer Cuzzoni a large sum of money to perform. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Close up of a detail from The Bad Taste of The Town. The 3rd Earl of Peterborough is shown kneeling on a large banner, handing the singer Cuzzoni a large sum of money to perform. 
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Sources not mentioned above:
Daily Courant, 3rd June 1713
The Works of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Letters: I. During Mr Wortley's embassy; II. To the Countess of Mar, at Paris. III; To Mr Wortley, 1817
The Life of Alexander Pope: Including Extracts from His Correspondence, 1857

About the Authors
Our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available now from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops.
You can also visit us at where we blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.


Anne said...

Fascinating post! Glad she demanded recognition in the end!

anne stenhouse said...

These stories are full of fascination and leave me wondering whether I can make up anything as good in fiction. Great post, thank you. Anne Stenhouse

Anne said...

That's the thing, what happened is usual way better than anything one can imagine lol