Review: During the reign of terror; journal of my life during the French revolution, by Grace Dalrymple Elliott

During the Reign of Terror - Journal of My Life During the French Revolution - Grace Dalrymple Elliott

This is one of those books I bumped into from a reference in a biography, then found the entire text online. (I do love it when that happens.) First, the links:


My review of the biography: My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan by: Jo Manning

Um, it's long. Really long. I pasted the entire Reading in Progress section in there from Goodreads. Also loads of links. You've now been forewarned. On the plus side there's a quote about lewd waistcoat buttons. And other random links.


Ebook on Internet Archive: During the reign of terror; journal of my life during the French revolution (1910)

It's a short 226 pages. And at that link you can also read the actual scan of the book online. 


Wikipedia: Grace Elliott

For those of you who want a quick version of her life story.


Elliott was definitely a character, and you will miss a lot of that reading just this account and not a full biography. (Whether the bio I link to is the one you'd want is another question.) Another problem is that the facts as Grace remembers them don't all match up with the history. Not that this is unheard of - most people have fuzzy memories like this. So this would be a resource you'd look to for color but not not for factual details. 


The manuscript begins and ends with text by Émile Jules Méras, who gets to frame the journal content for us and explain how Elliott came to write it. (George III heard about what Elliott had been through and requested that she document it for him.)  As well as fill us in on a few of Elliott's inaccuracies. (Haven't been able to dig up any biographical info for Méras, possibly because it's somewhere online in French.)


And as usual, here's a big ol' chunk of quotes to give you a better idea of the writing. 


From the preface information by Méras:


5% in, Elliott and her facts:

“But perhaps she exaggerates the hardships she suffered.

...On her stay in different prisons, she gives precise details, but the text of her journal contains inaccuracies which it is the duty of the historian to notice. Let us quote an example: the Carmes Prison. Miss Elliott reports a conversation which she had with Hoche at the Carmes Prison shortly before the coming of the marquise de Beauharnais; but it is only forty days after the husband of Josephine that General Hoche was imprisoned at the Carmes. It was not in prison [as Elliott tells it], but long before that Josephine and her husband became reconciled...”

7% in, quoting because I love how Méras phrases this:

“...At that time it was not the custom, as in these later days, for young persons to mix in evening festivities; but at one of the suppers given at her father’s house Miss Dalrymple was introduced. On this occasion Sir John Elliott was present, a man older than her father; who was so struck with her beauty that he made her an offer of marriage, which was accepted by her with the same inconsiderate haste with which it was proffered. Such an unsuitable and ill-assorted marriage, as might naturally be supposed, was productive of nothing but unhappiness.

...In an evil hour for her, she unhappily became entangled in an intrigue; and her husband, after some indecent treatment, resorted to a court of law at once to procure a divorce, and to punish the author of their mutual wrongs.”

8% in, about the Prince of Wales, and again Méras is wording things carefully:

“...The young Prince was immediately fascinated with her beauty, and a most intimate connection succeeded. The result was the birth of a female child, who was christened at Marylebone church…”

Now on to Elliott's journal:


15% in, about the Duke of Orleans:

”I have the great comfort of knowing that from the first day of the horrors in Paris I always warned the Duke, and told him how it would all end; and I have most awfully to lament the little influence I possessed over him; for I ever detested the Revolution, and those who caused it.

...Even when I saw him [the Duke] given up and shunned by everybody [in the nobility], I received him, and tried to make him sensible of his errors. He appeared sometimes as if he felt that he was wrong, and I flattered myself that he would leave it all; but he went from me to Madame de Buffon, of whom he was very fond, but whose politics, I am sorry to say, were those of Laclos and Merlin, whom he always found at her house, where he dined with them every day. They persuaded the pliant Duke that all which was going on was for the good of his country; and of course what I had said was forgotten.”


16% in, note she doesn't say she actually saw this - but this sort, use of body parts was something reported by others:

“...In the course of that day the Bastille was taken, Monsieur de Launay and others were murdered, every sort of brutal excess was committed, and scenes of horror were occurring every hour. The mob obliged everybody to wear a green cockade for two days, but afterwards they took red, white, and blue, the Orleans livery. The streets, all evening of the 14th, were in an uproar; the French Guards and all those who were at the taking of the Bastille were mad drunk, dragging dead bodies and heads and limbs about the streets by torch-light. The same day they went to the country-house of M. Berthier, the Intendant of Paris, and forced him into a cabriolet to take him to Paris. When they got near Paris, a fresh mob, with some of the French Guards, met him, and with sabres cut off the top of the cabriolet. They then beat him and pelted him, and cut his legs and face. When they got him to Porte St. Martin, they brought his father-in-law’s (M. Foulon’s) head, and made him kiss it, and then they forced him to get out of the cabriolet, and hung him up to a lantern. They then dragged his body through the streets, and carried his head to the house of his father-in-law, where Madame Berthier, his poor wife, was lying-in. They took the head into her room; and she expired that same evening from the fright. Such were the dreadful scenes of that day!”

21% in, Eliott in the middle of the Brabant Revolution (the alternate party to Vandernott was the Vonckists - or at least that's how Elliott spelled them): 

“...I witnessed many terrible scenes in Brussels, similar to those in France, but here religion was the pretext. I saw poor creatures murdered in the streets because they did not pull their hats off to Capuchins, or for passing a bust of Vandernott without bowing very low. His busts were put all over the town and even in the theatre. Vandernott was a very odd looking man. He was, I fancy, about forty, rather tall and thin. He was full of vivacity, and did not look at all ill-natured, though very ugly. I shall never forget his dress. It was a Quaker-coloured silk coat lined with pink and narrow silver-lace, a white dimity waistcoat, white cotton stockings, net ruffles with fringe round them, and a powdered bob-wig.”

34% in, domiciliary visits were surprise house searches: 

“...Domiciliary visits were made in most parts of Paris.”

Footnote here, written by Peltier (and I can't find out who this is - yet)

“Let the reader fancy to himself a vast metropolis, the streets of which were a few days before alive with the concourse of carriages, and with citizens constantly passing and repassing, suddenly struck with the dead silence of the grave, before sunset, on a fine summer evening. All the shops are shut; everybody retires into the interior of his house, trembling for life and property; all are in fearful expectation of the events of a night… The sole object of the domiciliary visits, it is pretended, is to search for arms, yet the barriers are shut, and guarded with the strictest vigilance, and boats are stationed on the river, at regular distances, filled with armed men. ...Women, on this occasion, display prodigies of tenderness and intrepidity. It was by them that most of the men were concealed. It was one o’clock in the morning when the domiciliary visits began. ...the continual uproar and revelling which took place throughout the night in all the public-houses formed a picture which will never be effaced from my memory."

35% in:

“...On my road to Mrs. Meylers, I met the mob on the Boulevard with the head and body of the unfortunate Princess de Lamballe, which they had just brought from La Force, where they had murdered her; and coming from thence they had had the barbarity to take it to the Temple, to show the poor queen. At that moment, indeed, I wished that I had not come into Paris.”

37% in, part of a long story about Elliott helping and hiding Chansenets, who was an official at one of the King's palaces:

“...Monsieur Chansenets had been very ill ever since his fever; and being unable to support him, from weakness and agitation, arising from the certainty of our dangerous situation, I burst into tears. He, poor man, then entreated me to give him up to the first patrol, and by that means save my own life; as he said he saw with horror the cruel situation into which he had brought me, and that we had now no chance of being saved.


This idea was terrible to me. Had the scaffold been then before me, I could not have abandoned him, or anybody else in a similar situation.”

43% in, Elliott talking to the Duke of Orleans:

“I then entreated him to get out of the hands of the vile people who surrounded him, and not lto let wretches make use of his name to commit such horrid acts.


He replied “All this seems easy to do in your drawing-room: I wish that I could find it as easy, but I am in the torrent, and must rise or fall with it. I am no longer master of myself or of my name, and you can be no judge of my situation, which is, I assure you, not a pleasant one. Don’t plague me any more; don’t talk in this style to your servants, nor indeed to anybody else. We are all surrounded by spies, and if you get yourself into a scrape I cannot save you; so, for God’s sake, keep your politics to yourself, and plague me no more on this subject; it will be of no use.” “


61% in, Elliott's arrested because she has letters from England and the guards assume they’re anti-Revolution:

“...every one whom I saw was ordered for imprisonment, and to be tried by the horrid Tribunal Revolutionnaire. I really felt alarmed at my own situation, as I had no idea what the contents of Sir Godfrey Webster’s letter to Mr. Fox might be, nor had I any idea of his politics.”

This seems to happen a lot to Elliott - she helps people or gives a speech on her beliefs without thinking about where this could leave her politically. Which is a big problem when people are being killed right and left for the slightest of reasons.


65% in, Elliott at St. Pelagic prison (with an unusual spelling of du Berry):

“...Poor Madame Du Barri came there before I left it. She was very unhappy. She used to sit on my bed for hours, telling me anecdotes of Louis XV and the Court. She talked to me much of England and of the Prince of Wales, with whom she was enchanted. She regretted much ever having left England. She dreaded her fate. Indeed, she showed very little courage on the scaffold; yet I believe, had every one made as much resistance as she did, Robespierre would not have dated to put so many to death, for Madame Du Barri’s screams, they told me, frightened and alarmed the mob. She was very good natured, and during the time I lived in the same prison with her I liked her much.”

73% in, Elliott in a different prison:

“...Sometimes we used to get a drop of brandy from the turnkeys, who had always a great leather bottle in their pocket, and used to offer us a drop out of it. However nasty, I found it of great use to me, as I always washed my mouth with it, and was one of the only prisoners who had not tooth-ache, and who indeed did not lose their teeth from the dampness of the rooms, which were very large.


...Once or twice I asked the gaoler for a little warm water to wash myself. This he told me would be nonsense; for nothing could save me from the executioner’s hands, and as they were dirty, it was no use to clean myself.”

 81% in, reference to the September Massacres:

“...We hardly knew anything from out of doors, and were often in fear of the mob breaking into the prison, and renewing the scenes of September - scenes which we could not forget, for the walls of our refectory, and even the wooden chairs, were still stained with the blood and brains of the venerable old priests who had been murdered there on that horrible day!”

From the wikipedia on the September Massacres:

“...By 6 September, half the prison population of Paris had been summarily executed: some 1200 to 1400 prisoners. Of these 233 were nonjuring Catholic priests who refused to support the government. “


82% in where the manuscript of Elliott’s words end, Meras fills in the rest

“After an imprisonment of full eighteen months in various places, Mrs. Elliott was again restored to liberty. She had been fed during her incarceration upon pickled herrings, at the rate of twopence a-day, with one bottle of water for all purposes.


Her captivity was shared, latterly, with Madame Beauharnais, afterwards Madame Bonaparte, and also with a notable person, Madame De Fontenaye, subsequently Madame Tallien. All three, indeed, very narrowly escaped destruction, for they were ordered for execution, and their locks were shorn, on the very day that France was delivered by Providence from the monster Robespierre. On emerging from prison she immediately sent for her broker, and disposed of such an amount of property as enabled her to pay for and discharge her establishment of servants, soler her house in Paris...and took a cottage in Meudon. Here she lived, subsisting on her remaining property, and mixing in higher circles in Paris during the Consulate and Empire.”