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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828)

Lady Caroline Lamb  from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)
Lady Caroline Lamb
from Wives of the Prime Ministers (1844-1906)

Lady Caroline Lamb (13 November 1785 - 26 January 1828) was a prominent member of Regency society and the author of the scandalous novel, Glenarvon. She was the wife of William Lamb, later Viscount Melbourne and British prime minister, and had a very public affair with the poet Lord Byron.

A temperamental child

Caroline Ponsonby was born on 13 November 1785, the only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and Henrietta Spencer, younger sister of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough  from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Henrietta, Countess of Bessborough
from La Belle Assemblée (1810)
Caroline was brought up in the shadow of her parents’ unhappy marriage, influenced by the unrestrained decadence of the Devonshire House set. In person, she was slight and agile; in character, unconventional, intense and highly temperamental. She liked to gallop bareback and dress up in trousers, was frequently lost in day dreams and subject to mood swings. Her austere grandmother, Lady Spencer, into whose care she was frequently placed, found her unmanageable.

'The Fairy Queen'

In 1802, Caroline made her debut and became the most vibrant personality in London. She was a captivating conversationalist with ethereal good looks that led to her being nicknamed 'the Sprite' and 'the Fairy Queen, Ariel'. On the other hand, she was highly volatile and often flew into rages. However, such was the bewitching intensity about Caroline that people were always ready to forgive her exasperating behaviour.

A love match

Amongst the men that Caroline captivated was William Lamb, second son of Lord Melbourne, but he could not propose marriage because, as a younger son, he was not a good enough match. However, in January 1805, his fortunes changed with the death of his elder brother, Peniston, and as soon as the initial period of mourning was over, he proposed and was accepted.

William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William and Caroline were married on the evening of 3 June 1805 in Cavendish Square, London. But the day did not pass without incident. At the end of the service, the increasingly hysterical Caroline flew into a rage and had to be carried from the room. This outburst of emotion caused William to become very protective of his new wife, screening her from anything that might upset her.


Childbearing was not easy for Caroline and she had only one surviving child, a son, Augustus, who was born on 29 August 1807(1). It soon became apparent that he had learning difficulties, a fact that his father never really came to terms with. He remained with a mental age of about seven until his death in 1836.

A craving for attention

At first, the Lambs seemed to be an ideal couple, always flirting with each other, spending their time either at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire or in London. But their idyllic happiness was short-lived. Caroline saw life as a drama in which she was the heroine and when life did not match up to her ideals, she reinvented it, living in a world of unreality. William was naturally lazy and peace-loving and did not believe in Caroline’s idealism. He failed to live up to her romantic notion of what a lover should be like. Their marriage became a sequence of arguments and reconciliations.

By 1810, the couple were living separate lives. William devoted himself to his parliamentary work, whilst Caroline developed friendships which would feed her ego. These included two with women of dubious reputations, Lady Wellesley and Lady Oxford, as well as intellectuals such as Monk Lewis. She also had a violent and very public flirtation with Lady Holland’s son, Sir Godfrey Webster.

Lord Byron

Lord Byron  from The Life of Lord Byron   by Thomas Moore (1844)
Lord Byron
from The Life of Lord Byron
 by Thomas Moore (1844)
In March 1812, the first part of Childe Harold was published, and Lord Byron became famous overnight. After seeing him for the first time, Caroline wrote in her diary that he was “Bad, mad and dangerous to know.” Later she added: “That beautiful pale face will be my fate.”

Caroline pursued Byron, whom she saw as the sinfully romantic hero of Childe Harold and not the sulky man with the face of an angel and a lame leg. Their affair was conducted very publicly, each passionately jealous for the other’s attentions.

But Byron soon tired of Caroline’s obsessive behaviour and turned to less demanding companions: Caroline’s mother-in-law, Lady Melbourne, who became his confidante and Lady Oxford, his mistress. William did nothing, but waited for Caroline’s game to be played out.

The Byron obsession

When Byron wrote to end their relationship, Caroline’s sanity showed signs of collapse. She dressed her menservants in new livery with buttons saying “Ne crede Byron” (do not believe Byron) and ceremonially burnt his gifts to her on a bonfire.

On 5 July 1813, Byron and Caroline met for the first time since the end of their relationship, at a ball given by Lady Heathcote. Caroline broke a glass and started slashing her arms with the pieces, causing a tremendous scandal. She had taken a step too far and society shunned her.

But Caroline could not let Byron go. He had become a fixation with her. She wrote to him and kept turning up at his London rooms, often dressed as a page. On 2 January 1815, Byron married Anne Isabella Milbanke, William’s cousin. Caroline predicted that it would fail. It did.


Caroline’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable and in 1816, she was threatened with being sent away. In desperation, she wrote Glenarvon, a strange Gothic tale of fashionable society whose characters were based on real people. It was published anonymously on 9 May 1816 and met with instant success. But Caroline’s authorship was an open secret and the scandal was enormous. Lady Jersey rescinded Caroline’s voucher for Almack’s and even her cousins eschewed her.

Though William’s initial reaction to the novel was that he would never see her again, perversely, when people began to cut her, he relented and stood by his deranged wife: “We will stand or fall together.”

Opening page of Glenarvon   by Lady Caroline Lamb (1816)
Opening page of Glenarvon
 by Lady Caroline Lamb (1816)

Caroline was desperate for admiration but was now an outcast from polite society. She had a number of literary friends, such as Lady Morgan, and some very unfashionable admirers, the most presentable of whom was Bulwer Lytton. William did not seem to be jealous. He pitied any man who was caught in his wife’s toils and saw them as fellow sufferers.

When Caroline learned that Lord Byron was dead, she fell into a hysterical fever. Later, she accidentally met with his funeral procession, and collapsed on discovering whose wake it was. She frequently had violent moods where she broke things or galloped wildly round the park. Her appearance became unkempt, she ate erratically and she frequently resorted to laudanum and brandy.

William looked after Caroline, soothing her nerves and helping her with her novels - Graham Hamilton (1822), Ada Reis (1823) and Penruddock (1823). But caring for Caroline took its toll on William, and in 1825, it was decided they should separate. However, after just a few months apart, he relented, and Caroline was back living at Brocket. Though William lived in London, he often visited.

Illness and death

Soon Caroline’s health began to fail. She was weary of life, and at last, became calmer. Now, it seemed, her affection was all for her husband. William was away, having been appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, but the letters between them were tender and affectionate.

By October 1827, Caroline was dangerously ill with dropsy. In mid-January, she asked: “Send for William. He is the only person who has never failed me.” A few days after William’s arrival at Melbourne House, on 26 January 1828, Caroline died. She was buried in Hatfield churchyard on 7 February.

(1) Some sources say 11 August.

Sources used include:
Cecil, Lord David, Melbourne (1939, 1954)
Franklin, Caroline, Lamb, Lady Caroline (1785-1828), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005, accessed 28 Nov 2012)
Lee, Elizabeth, Wives of the Prime Ministers 1844-1906 (1918)
Moore, Thomas, The Life of Lord Byron (1844)

Wednesday 21 November 2012

30 Beau Brummell quotes and anecdotes

George Brummell  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
George Brummell from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Beau Brummell was famous not only for his elegance in dress, but also for his wit. He loved to play practical jokes and took great pleasure in confounding his audience by saying something unexpected and making them laugh at his absurdities. Often he used his wit to depress pretension. Many quotes and anecdotes about the Beau exist. I expect that most of them are true though some may simply be stories that grew up or were invented by the Beau to entertain.

1: ‘Who’s your fat friend?’

‘Who’s your fat friend?’ is one of the most often quoted remarks made by Beau Brummell – a comment made of his erstwhile patron, the Prince Regent before Brummell had fallen out of favour. Brummell’s biographer, William Jesse, described the scenario:
The Prince, leaning on Lord Moira’s arm, met Brummell and Lord Alvanley, coming in the opposite direction, and, probably with the intention of making the cut more evident, His Royal Highness stopped and spoke to his Lordship, without noticing the Beau – little thinking that he would resent it; great therefore must have been his surprise and annoyance, as each party turned to continue their promenade, to hear him say in a distinct tone, expressive of complete ignorance of his person, ‘Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?’1
William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
William Arden, 2nd Baron Alvanley
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Another version of the story suggests that the famous interchange happened at a ball held by Brummell and three friends where the Regent openly ignored his host, leading to the rude rejoinder.

2: Brummell sells out

When applying to the Regent for permission to sell out of the army, Brummell replied:
‘Why the fact is, your Royal Highness, I have heard that we are ordered to Manchester. Now you must be aware, how disagreeable this would be to me; I really could not go – think, your Royal Highness, Manchester! Besides,’ and here was an instance of his tact, ‘you would not be there. I have therefore, with your Royal Highness’s permission, determined to sell out.’2
3: ‘I can unmake him’

Brummell is reported to have said of the Prince Regent to Colonel McMahon, the Prince’s private secretary: ‘I made him what he is, and I can unmake him.’3

4: Lack of respect for Mrs Fitzherbert

Jesse wrote:
When desired by the Regent at a ball at Lady Jersey’s to call her [Mrs Fitzherbert’s] carriage, he [Brummell] obeyed, but in doing so, substituted the word mistress for the usual one of Mrs and laid a strong emphasis on the insulting epithet.4

Mrs Fitzherbert  from The Creevey Papers  by Thomas Creevey (1904)
Mrs Fitzherbert from The Creevey
 Papers by Thomas Creevey (1904)
5: Big Ben and Benina

Jesse wrote:
There was at that time a burly porter at Carlton House, nicknamed ‘Big Ben’, who was so tall that he could look over the gates, and as the Regent was then increasing in size, Brummell often designated the master, by the appellation of the servant – and Mrs Fitzherbert, by that of ‘Benina’.5
6: A note on the Prince’s lack of propriety

After Brummell’s flight to France, his possessions were sold in order to pay his debts. Jesse wrote:
Amongst them was a very handsome snuff-box, which, on being opened by the auctioneer before it was put up, was found to contain a piece of paper with the following sentence, in Brummell’s handwriting, upon it: ‘This snuff-box was intended for the Prince Regent, if he had conducted himself with more propriety towards me.’6
George, Prince of Wales, later George IV  from Memoirs of Her Late Majesty  Queen Charlotte  by WC Oulton (1819)
George, Prince of Wales, later George IV
from Memoirs of Her Late Majesty
Queen Charlotte by WC Oulton (1819)
7: On preserving a favourite snuffbox

Whilst George IV was staying in Calais, where Brummell was residing having left England to escape his debts, word was sent to Brummell that the King required some snuff. Jesse wrote:
The Consul came to Brummell late one evening, and intimated that the King was out of snuff, saying, as he took up one of the boxes that were lying on the Beau’s table, ‘Give me one of yours.’‘With all my heart,’ replied Brummell, ‘but not that box, for if the King saw it I should never have it again.’7
8: A snuffbox is not an oyster

When Brummell found that someone had been trying to open a favourite snuffbox of his with a knife, he exclaimed: ‘Confound the fellow, he takes my snuff-box for an oyster.’8

9: Brummell on fashion

In her memoirs, Harriette Wilson wrote:
‘No perfumes,’ Brummell used to say, ‘but very fine linen, plenty of it, and country washing.’9
10: A tailor’s opinion of Brummell
A baronet went to Schweitzer for a coat and asked his tailor what cloth he recommended. ‘Why, Sir,’ said the artiste, ‘the Prince wears superfine, and Mr Brummell the Bath coating; but it is immaterial which you choose, Sir John, you must be right; suppose, Sir, we say Bath coating - I think Mr Brummell has a trifle the preference.’10
11: Shoes or slippers?
Brummell asked Lord ___ what he called those things on his feet. ‘Why shoes,’ he replied. ‘Shoes, are they?’ said Brummell doubtfully, and stooping to look at them, ‘I thought they were slippers.’11
12: The Duke of Bedford’s coat

On another occasion, the Duke of Bedford asked Brummell for an opinion on his new coat.
Brummell examined him from head to foot with as much attention as an adjutant of the Life Guards would the sentries on a drawing-room day. ‘Turn round,’ said the Beau: his Grace did so, and the examination was continued in front. When it was concluded Brummell stepped forward, and feeling the lapel delicately with his thumb and finger, said, in a most earnest and amusing manner, ‘Bedford, do you call this thing a coat?’12
Duke of Bedford from The Life of George Brummell by W Jesse (1886)
Duke of Bedford from The Life of
George Brummell
by W Jesse (1886)
13: Brummell on his brother

When Brummell’s brother William was in town, he was asked if he was not going to see him, Brummell replied:
Yes, in a day or two; but I have recommended him to walk the back streets till his new clothes come home.13
14: On the cost of being fashionable

When asked by a widow lady of fashion how much it would cost for her son to be fashionably dressed, Brummell is credited with replying, in all seriousness:
My dear Madam, with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred a year.14
15: Brummell on mornings

Brummell used to say that ‘whether it was summer or winter, he always liked to have the morning well-aired before he got up.’15

16: Brummell on Brighton

‘Come to Brighton, my dear fellow,’ Brummell once said to Cecil Jenkinson, later Lord Liverpool. ‘Let us be off tomorrow; we’ll eat currant-tart, and live in chintz and salt-water.’16

Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion
17: The Beau depresses pretension

On one occasion, a woman called down to Brummell from her balcony, inviting him up to take tea. ‘Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.’17

18: Brummell on the Lake District 

Jesse wrote:
An acquaintance having, in a morning call, bored him dreadfully about some tour he had made in the North of England, enquired with great pertinacity of his impatient listener which of the lakes he preferred when Brummell, quite tired of the man’s tedious raptures, turned his head imploringly towards his valet, who was arranging something in the room, and said, ‘Robinson.’
‘Which of the lakes do I admire?’
‘Windermere, sir,’ replied that distinguished individual.
‘Ah, yes, - Windermere,’ repeated Brummell, ‘so it is – Windermere.’18
19: Brummell on vegetables

A lady at dinner, observing that he did not take any vegetables, asked him whether such was his general habit, and if he never ate any. He replied, ‘Yes, madam, I once ate a pea.’19

Peas in a pod

20: Brummell’s dislike of cabbage

Brummell was taxed with why a matrimonial prospect had failed. ‘Why what could I do, my good fellow, but cut the connexion? I discovered that Lady Mary actually ate cabbage!’20

21: Brummell’s opinion of himself

In her memoirs, Lady Hester Stanhope recalled Brummell once saying to her, in Bond Street:
My dear Lady Hester, it is my folly that is the making of me. If I did not impertinently stare duchesses out of countenance, and nod over my shoulder to a prince, I should be forgotten in a week: and, if the world is so silly as to admire my absurdities, you and I may know better, but what does that signify?21
22: An absurdity

One day a friend, meeting him limping in Bond Street, asked him what was the matter. He replied, he had hurt his leg, and the worst of it was, ‘it was his favourite leg’.22

23: Another absurdity

Once Brummell had a bad cold, and a friend asked him how he had got it. Brummell replied:
Why, do you know, I left my carriage yesterday evening, on my way to town from the Pavilion, and the infidel of a landlord put me into a room with a damp stranger.23
24: Dealing with unfashionable persons

At an Ascot meeting, early in the day, Brummell walked his horse up a certain lady’s carriage. She expressed her surprise at his throwing away his time on her, or running the risk of being seen talking to such a very quiet and unfashionable person. ‘My dear Lady ___,’ he replied, ‘pray don’t mention it; there is no one near us.’24

25: Brummell’s self-importance

Brummell was once offered a lift to Lady Jersey’s ball in the carriage of a young gentleman.
‘Thank you exceedingly,’ replied the Beau, ‘very kind of you, indeed! But pray how are you to go? You surely would not like to get up behind; no that would not be right, and yet it will scarcely do for me to be seen in the same carriage with you.’25
26: Brummell on the horrors of prison
Imagine a position more wretched than mine - they have put me with all the common people. I am surrounded by the greatest villains, and have nothing but prison fare.26
27: Lord Byron on Brummell

Jesse wrote:
Mr Leigh Hunt in a note, in which he kindly referred me to some anecdotes of Brummell, says, ‘I remember that Lord Byron once described him to me, as having nothing remarkable in his style of dress, except a “certain exquisite propriety”.’27

Lord Byron from   from The Life of Lord Byron  by Thomas Moore (1844)
Lord Byron from 
from The Life of Lord Byron
by Thomas Moore (1844)
28: A fashionable arm

When Brummell was accused by an angry father of leading his son into a disreputable gambling transaction, Brummell replied:
Really, I did all I could for the young man. I once gave him my arm all the way from White’s to Watier’s.28
29: Thompson and Johnson

There were once two ladies in London who both liked to hold great parties, one called Mrs Thompson and the other, Mrs Johnson. Jesse wrote:
Sometime after the Beau’s quarrel with the Prince, the former lady [Mrs Thompson] gave a splendid ball, at which His Royal Highness had signified his intention of being present; it is therefore scarcely necessary to add, that Brummell was not included in the list of invitations. On the evening of the entertainment, however, while Mrs Thompson was waiting in her ante-room, supported by a bevy of intimate friends, in momentary expectation of the arrival of her royal guest, and exulting in the completeness of all her preparations – the Beau, to her ineffable surprise and disgust, made his appearance, and his best bow. Justly indignant at this outrage, she informed him, with as much coolness as she could command, that he was not invited.
‘Not invited, Madam! Not invited!’ said Brummell, in his blandest tones, ‘surely there must be some mistake,’ and leisurely feeling in all his pockets to prolong the chances of the Prince’s arrival, and therefore her misery, he at last drew forth an invitation card, and presented it to the incensed lady.
She took it, and saw at a glance it was not her own card, but that of her rival in the East, and haughtily throwing it from her, in a climax of vexation and anxiety to get rid of him, said,‘That card, sir, is a Mrs Johnson’s; my name is Thompson.’

‘Is it indeed?’ replied Brummell, perfectly cool, and affecting the most innocent surprise, ‘Dear me, how very unfortunate! Really, Mrs Johns – Thompson, I mean, I am very sorry for this mistake; but you know, Johnson and Thompson – and Thompson and Johnson, are really so much the same kind of thing.’29
30: Bad champagne

Once when Brummell was dining at a gentleman’s house in Hampshire, the champagne was far from good. Brummell waited for a pause in the conversation and then raised his glass and said, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, ‘John, give me some more of that cider.’30

Updated 19 August 2019

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Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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1. Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell (1844) Volume I p258
2. Ibid p45
3. Ibid p2573
4. Ibid p256
5. Ibid
6. Ibid p327
7. Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell (1844) Volume II p10
8. Jesse op cit Volume I p330
9. Memoirs of Harriette Wilson (first published 1825, my reference copy 1919) Volume I p47
10. Jesse op cit Volume I p65
11. Ibid p64
12. Ibid
13. Ibid
14. Jesse op cit Volume II p367
15. Macfarlane, Charles, Reminiscences of a literary life (1927) chapter 27
16. Jesse op cit Volume II p393
17. Ibid p50
18. Jesse op cit Volume I p111
19. Ibid
20. Ibid p119
21. Stanhope, Lady Hester, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope (1845) Volume I p281
22. Jesse op cit Volume I p111-2
23. Ibid p112
24. Ibid
25. Ibid p104
26. Jesse op cit Volume II p186-7
27. Jesse op cit Volume I p70
28. Ibid p96
29. Ibid p101
30. Ibid p105

Sources used include:
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell, esq., Commonly called Beau Brummell (First published 1844. This edition 1886)
Kelly, Ian, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005)
Macfarlane, Charles, Reminiscences of a literary life (J. Murray, 1917)
Stanhope, Lady Hester, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope, as related by herself in conversations with her physician (1845) I/III
Wilson, Harriette, The Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, written by herself (First published 1825. This edition 1909)

All photographs ©

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The rise and fall of Beau Brummell (1778-1840)

George Brummell  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
George Brummell
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)

George "Beau" Brummell (7 June 1778 - 30 March 1840) was a Regency dandy and fashion leader, famous for his elegant dress, his witty remarks and his friendship with George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV.

From Downing Street to Eton

George Bryan Brummell, famously nicknamed “Beau”, was born on 7 June 1778, the younger son of Billy Brummell and Mary Richardson. He was born in Downing Street, where his father worked as private secretary to Lord North. In 1783, Billy Brummell retired from politics and bought an estate, Donnington Grove in Berkshire.

In 1786, Brummell was sent to Eton with his elder brother, William. They were Oppidans or fee-paying boys and boarded with Dame Young. Brummell mingled with the aristocracy, becoming known for his gentlemanly manners and ready wit, which kept him out of trouble. He developed an interest in dress and his elegant bearing earned him the nickname Buck Brummell.

A grand inheritance

When Brummell’s father died in 1794, he left his estate to be shared equally between his three children, rather than the whole going to his eldest son. The estate, valued at around £60,000, was to be held in trust until the children came of age. This was a huge fortune, equivalent to more than £5 million today using the retail price index, and more like £70 million when relative earnings are taken into account.(1)

The Hussars

Brummell went up to Oriel College, Oxford, in May 1794, but after just one term, he asked his father’s executors for a commission in the army. He became a cornet in the 10th Light Dragoons – the Prince of Wales’ own regiment. The dragoons wore elaborate uniforms and liked to be known as Hussars. They were disorderly, hard drinking and known for their lack of morality, and included many of the Prince of Wales’ set, of which Brummell soon became an important member.

Brummell obtained promotion to lieutenant in 1795 and then captain in 1796, and with each promotion came a new, and grander, uniform. But life in the army had its costs. A fall, or possibly a kick, from his horse broke his nose, damaging his classic profile.

Brummell and the Prince

George, Prince of Wales  from Memoirs of George IV  by Robert Huish (1830)
George, Prince of Wales
from Memoirs of George IV
by Robert Huish (1830)
It seems incredible that a non-aristocratic boy of sixteen should be accepted into the Prince’s own regiment and then into his circle of intimate friends. How Brummell first came to the Prince’s notice is not known, but it seems likely that it was his wit and dress sense that attracted the Prince, probably while Brummell was still at Eton.

Brummell supported the Prince at his wedding to Princess Caroline in 1795; he was also one of the drunken companions whom she accused of ruining her honeymoon.

When the regiment were ordered to Manchester in 1798, Brummell sold out, anxious not to lose his position of influence with the Prince. The following year, he came into his inheritance. He was now a man of means and meant to make his mark.

Beau Brummell the dandy

Brummell moved into 4 Chesterfield Street in 1799 and determined to become the best dressed gentleman in London. His levées became events of great importance as gentlemen, including the Prince of Wales, came to see how he dressed. It was around 1800, after Brummell’s first season in London, that he acquired the nickname Beau.

His style was understated elegance, with a limited palette of colours, rather than the gaudy finery of the Georgian gentleman. He was famous for the intricate folds of his neck cloth and the Bath coating material of his blue jacket. He patronized a variety of tailors so that no one could say that they made him famous.

Brummell rules the ton

For many years, it was Brummell’s opinion that mattered. It was he who influenced who should be given vouchers for Almack’s. He could bring someone into fashion by showing them favour or put someone out of fashion by cutting them.

He was a member of Whites, Brooks and Watiers. A bow window in his club at White’s became known as the Beau window because that was where Brummell liked to sit. He was the perpetual president of Watiers which was established to provide better suppers to the gentlemen who ate in their clubs.

The bow window at White's  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
The bow window at White's
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Brummell’s lady friends

Though he flirted prolifically, Brummell’s affections were rarely engaged. Brummel’s first love was reputedly Julia Storer, later Julia Johnstone, who became a famous courtesan. 

He was particular friends with Lady Hester Stanhope, the eccentric bluestocking; Lady Elizabeth Howard, Duchess of Rutland, until his rudeness alienated her; and the Duchess of Devonshire who wrote poems for his collection.

But his closest lady friend was Frederica, Duchess of York. He loved her unstructured house parties at Oatlands and shared her love of animals. He gave her a dog, Fidélité; she sent him gifts in exile, including a comfy chair. One of the few items in Brummell’s possession at his death was a miniature of Princess Frederica’s left eye. This suggests a level of intimacy that can only be guessed at. Brummell claimed it was out of respect for promises to the Princess that he refused to publish his memoirs even when he was desperate for money.

Frederica, Duchess of York  from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,   Duke of York and Albany  by John Watkins (1827)
Frederica, Duchess of York
from A Biographical Memoir of Frederick,
 Duke of York and Albany
by John Watkins (1827)
Brummell’s downfall

Brummell was famous for his wit, but infamous for his rudeness. It was this rudeness which eventually cost him the Prince of Wales’ regard. “Alvanley, who’s your fat friend?”(2) he asked, referring to the Prince.

Brummell ran up debts through his extravagance, but also through his heavy gambling losses. He was continually borrowing money, but matters came to a head when a man named Richard Meyler discovered that Brummell was going to renege on his debt to him. He sat in White’s and told all who came of Brummell’s infamous conduct. He was, effectively, asking him out. Meyler became known as Dick the Dandy-killer.

Escape to Calais

On the night of 16 May 1816, after attending the theatre, Brummell fled from London to escape his debts. He travelled through the night to Dover and on to Calais, which was as far as he could go without a passport. He stayed at Dessin’s Hotel and entertained in his apartments whilst learning French and writing his memoirs.

Brummell had escaped his debts, but he could not escape the reality that he was ill. He probably acquired the habit of visiting prostitutes whilst in the army, and at some point, late in his time in London, he was infected with syphilis.

Before he died in 1830, George IV made Brummell the British consul in Caen. The salary enabled him to start paying off the debts he had already accumulated in Calais. He celebrated his freedom in Paris before taking up his post.

Consul in Caen

In Caen, he lodged with Madame de St Ursain and fell in love with her teenage daughter, Aimable. By now, he was suffering from terrible headaches and depression from the progression of his illness.

But his position as consul did not last and when the post was abolished in 1832, his debts became pressing and he had to hide to escape the bailiffs.

That summer, Brummell suffered a temporary paralysis. His letters to Aimable were discovered and her furious mother evicted him from his lodgings. When she was sent to England, Brummell gave her his album – poems that he had collected from his friends.

Brummell as an old man  from The History of White's   by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Brummell as an old man
from The History of White's
 by Hon Algernon Bourke (1892)
Decline and death

On 4 May 1835, Brummell was arrested for the money he owed to Leleux, the owner of Dessin’s Hotel in Calais. George Armstrong, a Caen grocer, agreed to travel to England to seek pecuniary help on Brummell’s behalf. Brummell was awarded compensation for the loss of the consulship and was duly released from prison on 21 July 1835.

Brummell struggled on as the syphilis took its course. He was increasingly in pain, delusional, depressed and subject to seizures and eventually insanity. In January 1839, he was transferred to an asylum where he died on 30 March 1840. His death went virtually unnoticed in England where he had ruled as king of the ton for so long.

Read more about Beau Brummell - 30 quotes and anecdotes.

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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(1) For a closer look at how relative worth is calculated, please see my blog, "How much did a ticket to a Regency ball really cost?"
(2) From Jesse's The Life of George Brummell Volume I p273.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1806, 1810, London)
Bourke, Hon. Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Carter, Philip, Brummell, George Bryan (Beau Brummell) (1778-1840), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn Jan 2011, accessed 5 Oct 2012)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Jesse, William, The Life of George Brummell, esq., Commonly called Beau Brummell (Saunders & Otley, 1844, London)
Kelly, Ian, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton, 2005)
Watkins, John, A Biographical Memoir of Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1827, London)

MeasuringWorth website - for calculators of relative worth

Sunday 4 November 2012

What did Regency visitors think of the Brighton Pavilion?

A fairytale palace

Brighton Pavilion from the gardens
Brighton Pavilion is a fairytale palace – a bizarre mixture of domes and minarets, fitted out internally in luxurious but eccentric style. You cannot help but marvel at the unconventional architecture and the sumptuous decoration, but it is not to everyone’s taste. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Pavilion last week and see the exhibition on Princess Charlotte. The audio commentary reminded me that, when it was built, the Pavilion was far from universally admired.

 A litter of cupolas

Brighton Pavilion from the Steyne

“The Pavilion in Chinese style – beautiful and tasty,” wrote William Wilberforce, “though it looks very much as if St Paul’s had come down to the sea and left behind a litter of cupolas”.

Sydney Smith agreed: “It looks as if St Paul’s Cathedral has come down to Brighton and pupped.” These quotes are so similar that it seems likely that one was derived from the other.

Turnips and bulbs

William Cobbett claimed that the Pavilion, which he nicknamed the Kremlin, had “long been a subject of laughter all over the country”. He described the Pavilion in very unflattering terms, no doubt strongly influenced by his disgust at the Prince Regent’s extravagance in rebuilding it:

Brighton Pavilion- the entrance
“Take a square box, the sides of which are three feet and a half, and the height a foot and a half. Take a large Norfolk turnip, cut off the green of the leaves, leave the stalks nine inches long, tie these round with a string three inches from the top, and put the turnip on the middle of the box. Then take four turnips of half the size, threat them in the same way, and put them on the corners of the box. Then take a considerable number of bulbs of the crown imperial, the narcissus, the hyacinth, the tulip, the crocus, and others; let the leaves of each have sprouted to about an inch, more or less according to the size of the bulb; put all these, pretty promiscuously, but pretty thickly, on the top of the box. Then stand off and look at your architecture. There! That’s ‘a Kremlin’!”

Pumpkins and pepper boxes

William Hazlitt was similarly unimpressed:
“The Pavilion at Brighton is like a collection of stone pumpkins and pepper boxes. It seems as if the genius of architecture had at once the dropsy and the megrims. Anything more fantastical, with a greater dearth of invention, was never seen.”

The skyline at Brighton Pavilion
The Folly at Brighton

Another less than flattering reference to the Pavilion and its owner was in The Joss and His Folly, a poem illustrated by George Cruikshank. The verses were written by William Hone and appeared in an 1820 pamphlet, The Queen’s Matrimonial Ladder, which accompanied a “national toy”. The first four verses refer to “The Folly at Brighton”:

The Joss and His Folly by George Cruikshank
From The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder
by William Hone (1820)
The queerest of all the queer sights
I’ve set sights on;
Is the what d’ye call’t thing, here,
The Folly at Brighton

The outside – huge teapots,
All drill’d round with holes,
Relieved by extinguishers,
Sticking on poles;

The inside – all tea-things,
And dragons, and bells,
The show-rooms – all show,
The sleeping rooms – cells.

But the grand Curiosity’s
Not to be seen –
The owner himself –
An old fat Mandarin.
A Regency icon

I like Brighton Pavilion. To me, it sums up George IV so beautifully. It is a vivid statement of his lifestyle – extravagant, inconsistent and hedonistic. He was continually redecorating and rebuilding, filling his palace with beautiful things and entertaining lavishly. And yet when it was finished, he decided its situation was too public, and soon after, he abandoned it for the privacy of Windsor. Yes, it is over the top and I am not a big fan of all the dragons and snakes, but I am so glad that the palace has been preserved as a lasting symbol of the Regency.

Sources used include:
Cobbett, William, Rural rides in the counties of Surrey, Kent etc during the years 1821 to 1832, ed Pitt Cobbett (1893)
Low, Donald A, That Sunny Dome - a portrait of Regency Britain (Book Club Associates, 1977)
Feltham, John, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places (1815)
Hazlitt, William, Notes of a journey through France and Italy (1826)
Hone, William, The Queen's Matrimonial Ladder (1820)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nash, John, Views of the Royal Pavilion with commentary by Gervase Jackson-Stops (1991)
Wilberforce, Robert Isaac and Samuel, The Life of William Wilberforce (John Murray, 1839)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -