MOST refugees do not get the chance to dine with royalty.

But the Countess de Noailles was not most refugees when she arrived in Brighton.

The countess, her real name Natalie de Laborde, was only 15 when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.

Despite the storming of the Bastille fortress and republican rebels making increasingly revolutionary demands, her life went on as normal for the next two years.

She married 16-year-old Charles de Noailles in 1790 and gave birth to a daughter, Leontine, the next year.

But as the revolution progressed, it became increasingly unsafe for noblemen and women to show their faces, especially in Paris where she lived. Charles, a known opponent of the revolution, had fled France even before Leontine was born.

So in August 1792, two months after King Louis XVI attempted to make a failed escape from the capital, the countess made a secret escape to the port town of Dieppe.

But once she arrived on the coast, her troubles had only just begun. Her maid, being “of the people”, was able to easily catch a boat to Brighton, smuggling Leontine with her.

The Argus: Dieppe was a major escape route for aristocrats fleeing the French RevolutionDieppe was a major escape route for aristocrats fleeing the French Revolution

But the countess was a known target and needed to lie low before she could escape.

“During the whole time, she was obliged to appear in male and mean attire,” a newspaper later reported.

“She once offered herself to a collier to work her passage as a sailor, but was refused.”

After a week of waiting, a sea captain took pity on the now-penniless aristocrat and agreed to take her across the Channel. Not that it was an easy journey.

“Urged by despair and disclosing her real situation to the captain of one of the packets, he, with much humanity, contrived to bring her off by concealing her under a coil of cable upon the deck, where she was obliged to lie for fourteen hours,” a newspaper wrote.

Landing in Brighton on August 29, the 18-year-old aristocrat was “exhausted with the fatigue and terrors she had undergone”.

In fact the resort town became a hotspot for French gentry during the revolution as it was a short hop from Dieppe.

As one newspaper described the scene a month later: “Cargoes of unhappy Frenchmen arrive daily at this port, who get away in the middle of the night in English vessels.

“Upward of 20 genteel people landed on Monday, and nearly as many on Sunday. They are uniform in their deplorable description of their country. History furnishes no instances of similar anarchy and distress.”

The Argus: The Countess was welcomed by Prince George and his unofficial wife Maria FitzherbertThe Countess was welcomed by Prince George and his unofficial wife Maria Fitzherbert

“The boats landed on the beach and were carried up the shore,” said Brighton historian Suzanne Hinton.

“But most French aristocrats went to London because that’s where they knew people.”

The countess, however, made some far more important friends in Brighton: Prince George and his unofficial wife Maria Fitzherbert.

Having been receive with “the most polite and cordial hospitality”, the royal couple invited her to watch cricket at the Prince of Wales’ ground in Park Crescent.

“Mrs Fitzherbert, the Duchess (sic) de Noailles, and many other ladies of distinction, were present at the cricket match,” one newspaper reported.

“The Duchess (sic) de Noailles appears to be 21, or 22 years of age, is very handsome, and her figure and deportment are remarkably interesting.”

Despite her enjoyable time in Brighton, the countess had an important reason to go to London: her husband was in the capital with another woman.

The Argus: The Countess's father Jean-Joseph was executed in April 1794The Countess's father Jean-Joseph was executed in April 1794

But her cross-Channel bid to reconcile with her spouse failed. After six weeks of sanctuary in Brighton, she decided to make her return to France. Perhaps it was not the wisest choice. She was imprisoned upon her return and her father Jean-Joseph was guillotined in April 1794.

Luckily for her, as the revolution subsided, the young countess escaped that fate and lived to 61.

To find out more about Brighton’s French connection visit