Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Great Act of Scottish Female Heroism

It wasn't just Flora McDonald who was a proud daughter of Scotland with a knack for hiding aristocrats, Miss Grace Dalrymple Elliott also risked her life to do the same almost 50 years later.

France 1792, the Terror was in full force and the siege of Tuileries Palace was underway. The governor of the palace was the Marquis of Champcenetz and he escaped the blood-thirsty mob by playing dead and hiding under other dead bodies. When the coast was clear Champcenetz made his getaway, slipping out from under his gruesome hiding place, despite being barely alive himself.

Meanwhile Grace Dalrymple Elliott receives word from a friend that her help is needed. She rushes into the heart of Paris to find the help is helping save Champcenetz, someone Grace knew of but did not know personally. What Grace did know is that her ex whom she was on good terms with, Philippe Egalite (the Duc d'Orleans) despised this man. The friend had been hiding Champcenetz in the attic but frequent army visits to the home was complicating the safety of both parties. Grace's home wasn't much of an improvement. Many of her servants were loyal to the revolution, specifically her cook, and therefore wouldn't hesitate to snitch on their mistress. Champcenetz had to be hidden even from the house's servants, the situation made Grace a virtual prisoner in her own home.

Knowing that her house would probably be searched, Grace quickly came up with a plan. She sent her cook away to get a chicken from the market, and used the time to hide the Marquis between her mattresses. Grace then got into her nightgown and played sick in bed, the same bed Champcenetz was wedged between. She even invited her cook to sit on her bed to talk to her.

In the middle of the night municipal officers entered Grace's home looking specifically for Champcenetz. They turned the place upside down, checking all the servants' bed and sticking bayonets in the mattresses. Ironically it was the cook who tells them to get out of the house because her mistress has nothing and no one to hide. Grace on the other hand, charms the men and they allow her to stay in bed (for decency's sake) while they search every part of it, except between the mattresses. The officers leave, empty handed.

Champcenetz continued to stay, and recover in Grace's home. She again was able to smuggle him out and bring him to her home outside Paris where he would leave to hide in a different person's home. Grace got away with the crime which would have cost her her life if she was caught. Although she would come to narrowly escape the guillotine, it wasn't for saving Champcenetz's life. Grace's heroism helped the marquis live to the ripe old age of 68.


  1. There is actually a pretty good movie which recounts the tale of Mrs Elliot and her heroic act called The Lady and the Duke (released in French as L'Anglaise et le Duc).
    It's well worth the watch, if you haven't already.

  2. she seems amazing, risking her life in order to save someone she did not really know.

  3. How did the story come down to us? Who told the tale, Mrs Elliot or the Duke, both? Great story!

  4. I've always loved the story of Grace. I still have to watch The Lady and the Duke.

  5. Makes one question what they would do should a like situation arise. I don't know that I could have been as brave. Then again, probably like her, none of us really know to what lengths we can go when we need to.

    I'll have to see that movie. :)

  6. @Anon, she wrote her memoirs of the revolutions which is a highly respected eye-witness account. Googledocs has it available online!

    Yes, The Lady and the Duke is quite a good movie (especially the costumes!)

  7. What a wonderful story, Thank you again for always sharing such wonderful tales of history :)