Esmé Grey was the first wife of Harold Grey, Duke of Pardloe, Earl of Melton. During their marriage she had an affair with Hal's friend Nathaniel Twelvetrees. Esmé died in childbirth, along with the child.
In 1739, Esmé married Harold Grey at St. James's Church, making her the Countess of Melton. At some point after her marriage to Hal, Esmé began an affair with Nathaniel Twelvetrees. In April 1744, Hal discovered letters Esmé had sent to Nathaniel Twelvetrees. It's possible that Esmé deliberately left the letters for her husband to find, hoping to make him jealous. Hal challenged Twelvetrees to a duel; Twelvetrees chose pistols, and Hal struck the man in the arm. It was not a fatal wound; however, Twelvetrees' wound turned septic and he died. After that, Esmé died in childbirth, along with the child. Her affair and the duel that resulted from it is the cause for the ongoing feud between the Grey and Twelvetrees families.
Esmé dies just before A Fugitive Green begins. Hal is grieving her death and grappling with the knowledge of her affair with Nathaniel Twelvetrees. Ironically, it's her letters to Nathanael that lead to Minnie and Hal's relationship and eventual marriage.
Esmé is mentioned by Arthur Longstreet while he tells Lord John Grey why Hal dueled Nathaniel Twelvetrees. The duel had nothing really to do with the wager placed at White's about Gerard Grey's death; Hal had wanted to challenge Nathaniel then, but Harry Quarry talked him down. The duel had actually been over Nathaniel's affair with Esmé, and resulted in Hal wounding Nathaniel, whose injury festered and ultimately caused his death.
After waking from a dream of fighting Edward Twelvetrees, Lord John Grey's mind turns to his brother Hal's duel with Nathaniel Twelvetrees over his wife Esmé. John asks Hal's second wife, Minnie, if she knew about Esmé, given that Hal seems to confide in Minnie about most things. Minnie tells John that she had, to her knowledge, been told everything in regard to Hal's first wife. Minnie opines that the affair had not been for Esmé's actual interest in Nathaniel, but as a ploy to regain Hal's attention. Minnie speaks of not wanting Hal to duel again, and John is left thinking that perhaps Esmé's letters implied another admirer that Hal hadn't noticed.
From Hal's memories of Esmé and Esmé's private letters, Minnie concludes that Esmé was “self-loving, narcissistic, and anxious," but "not stupid." She also says that Esmé was the sort of person who wasn't "happy unless she was the center of attention," but "very talented at getting said attention."
- Esmé means "esteemed" or "loved" in Old French.
- LeClerc means "clerk" in French.
- Grey has two possible origins: 1) an Anglo-Saxon, Old English nickname for someone with grey hair or a grey beard, derived from the Old English pre 7th Century word "graeg", grey; 2) from the place called "Graye" in Calvados, Normandy, so called from the Old Gallo-Roman personal name "Gratus" meaning "Welcome" or "Pleasing", with the suffix "acum" meaning settlement or village.