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Friday, 28 November 2014

What is an equerry?

Statue of George III on horseback, Cockspur Street, London
Statue of George III on horseback,
Cockspur Street, London
While I was reading Fanny Burney’s diaries, I came across frequent references to the post of equerry. But what exactly was an equerry?

What is an equerry?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, an equerry is: “An officer of the British royal household who attends or assists members of the royal family.” (1)

Members of the royal family still have equerries today who help them fulfil their public duties. The role is equivalent to that of an aide-de-camp and an equerry is seconded to the role from the armed forces for a period of three years.

The role of equerry in the Georgian period

Historically, an equerry was an officer in charge of the stables of a member of the royal family. Today, the Crown Equerry is in charge of the Royal Mews, but the Queen’s Equerry personally assists the Queen with her duties.

Royal Mews, London
Royal Mews, London
Thoms made this connection with the control of the stables in his Book of the Court written at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign:
“The Chief Equerry was formerly always styled Gentleman of the Horse, as the first Gentleman of the Bed-chamber was entitled Groom of the Stole.
He is the next officer to the Master of the Horse, and in his absence presided over all affairs relating to the Royal Stables. His salary is now fixed at 1000l per annum. That of the remaining Equerries, of which there are four, at 750l per annum.” (2)
What did an equerry do?

Fanny Burney was second keeper of the robes for Queen Charlotte from 1786 to 1791. In her diaries, she regularly mentioned George III’s equerries and what they did. Their role entailed personal attendance on the King. It was a tiring and physically demanding role.

Fanny Burney from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1846)
Fanny Burney
from Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay (1842)
Major Price was the equerry in waiting when Fanny Burney first took up her post. On a visit to Oxford University she noted that it was Major Price’s:
“business to attend and guard the king, but he was determined to take almost equal care of some of his majesty's subjects: he was everybody's equerry during the whole expedition, assisting and looking after every creature, seeing us all out of our carriages and into them, and addressing the people, when they pressed too forward, with a steadiness and authority that made them quicker in retreat than all the staves of all the constables, who were attending by dozens at the entrance of every college”. (3)
She also recorded that:
“Major Price, who, as equerry, always brings up the rear, walks at a distance from the group, and keeps off all crowd from the royal family”. (4)
It was the equerry's role to attend the King whenever he required. Normally the King had an equerry with him whenever he walked out, but at Kew the royal family were very informal: “The king has not even an equerry with him.” (5)

Even after George III had escaped an attack on his life, he insisted on walking on the terrace at Windsor “with no other attendant than his single equerry”. (6)

Close up of statue of George III, Weymouth seafront
Close up of statue of George III, Weymouth seafront
Fanny Burney used the term “equerry in waiting” to refer to the equerry currently in attendance.

Periods of service

The equerries worked on a rotation basis. They were in constant attendance for three months of the year and then had nine months off before another period of service. Fanny Burney wrote:
“One evening, when we were all, as usual, assembled, he [Colonel Manners, one of the King’s equerries] began a discourse upon the conclusion of his waiting, which finishes with the end of June: - ‘Now I don't think,’ cried he, ‘that it's well managed: here we're all in waiting for three months at a time, and then for nine months there's nothing!’
‘Cry your mercy!’ cried Colonel Goldsworthy [another equerry], ‘if three months - three whole months - are not enough for you, pray take a few more from mine to make up your market!’
‘No, no, I don't mean that; - but why can't we have our waitings month by month? - would not that be better?’
‘I think not! - we should then have no time unbroken.’
‘Well, but would not that be better than what it is now? Why, we're here so long, that when one goes away nobody knows one! - one has quite to make a new acquaintance! Why, when I first come out of waiting, I never know where to find anybody.’” (7)
A very demanding role

Being an equerry to George III was hard work! He rose early, seemed to have boundless energy and spent much of his time outdoors, whatever the weather.

The White Horse, Osmington, depicting George III on horseback
The White Horse, Osmington, depicting George III on horseback
Wraxall wrote:
“George the Third never enjoyed his existence so much as when in the open air; at times on foot; but generally on horseback; either following the hounds which he did with great ardour; or at a review, where he was always animated; or inspecting his farms, or visiting his various improvements and embellishments round Windsor. It was his delight to mount his horse before the equerry in waiting could possibly be aware of it; often in severe or unpleasant weather, which rarely deterred him; always at an early hour. One of his equerries has assured me, that when thus surprized, he has been compelled to follow the king down Windsor Hill with scarcely time to pull up his stockings under his boots. No place about his majesty's court or person, so long as he retained his intellect, could indeed be less of a sinecure than the office of an equerry. The appointments were very inadequate to the fatigue and exertions of the post: a fact of which the king himself was so well aware, that he used to say he had fewer applications for the employment of equerry than for any other in his donation.” (8)
Forced to smile

Fanny Burney recounted the sufferings of Colonel Goldsworthy. He warned Miss Burney of the draughty corridors she would have to face in the winter, but claimed that his life was worse as she would not:
“have the hunting, to be sure, nor amusing yourself with wading a foot and a-half through the dirt, by way of a little pleasant walk, as we poor equerries do! It's a wonder to me we outlive the first month”. (9)
He went on to complain:
"of the chase, all the riding, the trotting, the galloping, the leaping, the—with your favour, ladies, I beg pardon, I was going to say a strange word, but the—the perspiration—and—and all that—after being wet through over head, and soused through under feet, and popped into ditches, and jerked over gates, what lives we do lead! Well, it's all honour! that's my only comfort! Well, after all this, fagging away like mad from eight in the morning to five or six in the afternoon, home we come, looking like so many drowned rats, with not a dry thread about us, nor a morsel within us—sore to the very bone, and forced to smile all the time!” (9)
George III on horseback - on display in Weymouth Museum
George III on horseback - on display in Weymouth Museum
Standing as furniture

When on duty, the equerries had very little freedom or time to call their own. Fanny Burney remarked that:
 “for them to be absent from the Lodge was contrary to all known rules”. (10)
Fanny Burney wrote that after the royal family had walked on the terrace at Windsor, she went:
“down again to the eating-room. There the equerry, whoever he is, comes to tea constantly, and with him any gentleman that the king or queen may have invited for the evening; and when tea is over, he conducts them, and goes himself, to the concert-room. This is commonly about nine o'clock.” (11)
Fanny Burney recorded a conversation with Colonel Goldsworthy about the equerries required attendance in the concert room in the evening. He remarked that they:
“go no farther than the fiddling-room. As to the queen, we don't see her week after week sometimes. The king, indeed, comes there to us, between whiles, though that's all as it happens, now Price is gone. He used to play at backgammon with Price."
"Then what do you do there?"
"Just what I tell you—nothing at all, but stand as furniture. (12)
George III’s equerries included:

• William Chetwynd, 4th Viscount Chetwynd of Bearhaven
• Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Fulke Greville, brother of Charles Greville
• General Thomas Garth - who was rumoured to have fathered a child by Princess Sophia.
• General Charles Fitzroy, 2nd son of 1st Baron Southampton - who was loved by Princess Amelia.

General Charles Fitzroy,  from The Romance of Princess Amelia  by WS Childe-Pemberton (1911)
General Charles Fitzroy,
from The Romance of Princess Amelia
by WS Childe-Pemberton (1911)
• Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Digby
• Major Price
• Major Goldsworthy
• Colonel Manners

George IV’s equerries included:

• Lieutenant-Colonel Lake
• Lieutenant-Colonel Hulse
• Sir John Dyer, Baronet
• Lieutenant-Colonel Stevens
• Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet of Walton

Notes
(1) From Oxford Dictionaries online.
(2) From The Book of the Court by WJ Thoms (1838).
(3) From an entry dated 13 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(4) From an entry dated 7 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(5) From an entry dated 28 July 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(6) From an entry dated 2 August 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(7) From an entry dated 8 June 1787 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(8) From Wraxall’s Posthumous Memoirs of his own time Volume III p137 (1836).
(9) From an entry dated 6 October 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(10) From an entry dated 10 December 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(11) From an entry dated 24 July 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).
(12) From an entry dated 26 December 1786 in Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay by Fanny Burney (1842).

Sources used include:
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (1842)
Wraxall, Sir Nathaniel William, Posthumous Memoirs of his own time (1836) Volume III
Thoms, William J, The Book of the Court (1838) (2nd edition 1844)

All photographs © Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for your great research. I better understand the role of equery.

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    1. My pleasure - it is always nice to share my research when I have discovered something new. :)

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  2. Great post! Very informative.

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    1. Thanks very much, Anne. Fanny Burney's diaries were very helpful in building up a picture of the role in the Georgian period.

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  3. rather an onerous honour....

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    1. Absolutely! Working for George III and Queen Charlotte was certainly not an easy life. Poor Fanny Burney was suffering from ill health by the time the Queen finally allowed her to retire from service.

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  4. Thanks, that's terrifically useful. I've often wondered about equerries. A salary of £750 a year sounds good (in spite of the work) especially if it the equerry also drew his army pay. Sounds ideal for younger sons. I must find Fanny Burney's diaries.

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    1. I'm glad you found it useful. Fanny Burney's diaries are available in different versions in several places on the net including Project Gutenberg and Google books.

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