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Caroline of Brunswick: Injured Queen of England

I Suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself “attached & affectionate’ to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
Jane Austen to Martha Lloyd
February 16th, 1813

Princess Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel was born on May 17, 1768 at Brunswick (German:Braunschweig) in Germany, daughter of Karl William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel and Princess Augusta Charlotte of Wales, eldest sister of King George III.

She married the British king’s eldest son, her first cousin, in an arranged marriage on April 8, 1795 at St. James’s Palace in London. Her new husband, the future George IV then Prince of Wales, regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic.

Even as Presumptive Monarch, the Prince of Wales, known as Prinny, had no choice. Despite a previous marriage, he was deeply in debt and only by marrying an approved Royal Princess and furnishing the country with an heir, would parliament agree to settle accounts.

The Prince was introduced to his potential bride only days before their planned wedding. Caroline was short, fat, never changed her undergarments, and rarely washed. According to Court insiders, her body odour was overwhelming.

After embracing her, Prinny retired to the far end of the room and said to the Earl of Malmesbury – “Harris, I am not very well, pray get me a glass of brandy”.

He continued to drink brandy for three days until the morning of the wedding.

Dressed in extremely rich and heavy clothing including a dress of silver tissue and lace and a robe of ermine-lined velvet, the bride found standing and walking difficult. She was attended by Lady Mary Osborne the daughter of the fifth Duke of Leeds, Lady Charlotte Spencer the daughter of the third Duke of Marlborough, Lady Charlotte Legge the daughter of the second Earl of Dartmouth, and Lady Caroline Villiers the daughter of the fourth Earl of Jersey. The Prince of Wales was attended by the unmarried 5th Duke of Bedford and 3rd Duke of Roxburghe. The Prince was also attended by the 17 year old Coronet George Brummell. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Moore. Guests included the Prince of Wales’s parents King George III and Queen Charlotte and his sisters. The Princes Ernest, Adolphus, and William were not in attendance as the King thought it best for them to remain with their military regiments.*

The Prince of Wales arrived for the wedding very drunk and obviously reluctant to proceed with the ceremony. The King actually urged him to finish the ceremony at one point. The Prince looked not at all at his bride but frequently at his favorite the 42-year-old Lady Jersey, the wife of the 60 year old fourth Earl of Jersey, George Bussey Villiers.

After the ceremony, the King and Queen held a drawing-room for the couple in the Queen’s apartments. Caroline seemed pleased and chatty. The Prince was silent and morose until near the end of the evening when he recovered his composure enough to become “very civil and gracious”. The couple honeymooned in the Marine Pavilion at Brighton. The Prince of Wales was so drunk when he came to bed that he passed out on the floor in front of the fireplace and spent the night there. He finally awakened early the next morning. Princess Charlotte Augusta, George’s only legitimate child, was born nine months later, on January 7, 1796.

Prinny found Caroline so disgusting that he refused to live with her. For her part, she found him equally unattractive. A year after their wedding he sent her a note tactfully informing her that she could do as she liked. Caroline took this to mean that she could do as she wished and so she did. The Prince and Princess of Wales never lived together afterwards, and appeared separately in public, both becoming involved in numerous extramarital affairs.

Caroline was prevented from seeing her daughter on a day-to-day basis, and was eventually banished in 1799 to a private residence (‘The Pagoda’) in Blackheath, where she allegedly had affairs with the politician George Canning and the admiral Sir Sidney Smith.

In 1806 rumours began to circulate that a four year-old child in her entourage William Austin was her son. His father was said to be a footman.

A Royal Commission was set-up, called the ‘Delicate Investigation’ but nothing could be proved against her.

Following this investigation into her personal affairs by her husband, she left the country and went to live abroad, running up large debts throughout Europe and taking other lovers. During this period, the couple’s daughter, who had married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son.

Her estranged husband’s accession to the Throne in 1820 brought Caroline back to Britain. The government in England offered Caroline £50,000 if she would stay out of the country, but she refused and came back where she settled in Hammersmith to the intense embarrassment of all concerned.

On the 17th August the House of Lords took the offensive by demanding that Caroline appear before them. The Pains and Penalties Bill 1820 was introduced in Parliament in order to strip Caroline of the title of Queen and dissolve her marriage to the King.

The aim of the House of Lords was to dissolve the marriage on the grounds that Caroline had been involved with a man called Bartolomeo Bergami, (“a foreigner of low station“) in a most degrading intimacy.

Caroline was very popular with the London ‘mob’, King George was not, and each day they surrounded the House of Lords, her coach escorted by the cheering mob whenever she had to appear there. The evidence against her was plentiful. After 52 days the divorce clause was carried but after the brilliant oratory of Lord Brougham in her defense, the Lords decided to drop it.

George IV’s Coronation was to be the 29th of April, 1821. Caroline asked the Prime Minister what dress to wear for the ceremony and was told that she would not be taking part in it.

Nevertheless Caroline arrived at the Abbey door on the day demanding to be admitted. She shouted “The Queen…Open” and the pages opened the door. “I am the Queen of England,” she shouted, when an official roared at the pages “Do your duty…shut the door”, whereupon the door was slammed in her face.

Undaunted, Caroline drove back to her house and sent a note to the King asking for a Coronation ‘next Monday’!

She died 19 days after her frustrated attempt to get into the Abbey. The exact cause of her death has never been ascertained, not least because Caroline herself, knowing she would die, had decreed that no autopsy was to be carried out.

She was buried in Brunswick, and on her coffin was inscribed… ‘CAROLINE THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND’.

Historical information gleaned from: and Wikipedia. A Description of the Royal Wedding courtesy of The Georgian Index.

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The Prince of Wales’ two Charlottes

Son, Brother, Husband, Lover, Father– the Prince of Wales held many titles throughout his life in regards to the women around him. A devoted brother of six sisters, he was especially fond of his mother, Queen Charlotte, who remained his constant cousellor and friend throughout his life, dispite her high disregard for his lifestyle. Of his wives, Maria Anne Fitzherbert and Princess Caroline of Brunswick, he only loved one. These women are discussed in our biography of the Prince. He maintained several mistresses throughout his life, but it is possible that the only other woman to win his true devotion and undying love, was his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales. Despite being the daughter of his hated wife, Princess Caroline, the Prince of Wales was a doting parent and devoted father…in his own way. Her death, in 1817, left him devastated.

Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (May 19, 1744 – November 17, 1818) was the queen consort of King George III.

The youngest daughter of Duke Charles Louis Frederick, and Elizabeth Albertin of Saxe-Hilburghausen, Duchess of Saxony, Charlotte was born in Mirow in her father’s duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Germany. When only seventeen years old, she was selected as the bride of the young king George (who had already flirted with several young women considered unsuitable by his mother, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, and by his political advisors). Charlotte arrived in Britain in 1761 and the couple were married at the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace, London, on September 8 of that year.

Despite not having been his first choice, and having been treated with a general lack of sympathy by his mother, Charlotte’s relationship with her husband soon blossomed, and he was apparently never unfaithful to her.

Charlotte has been described as dim and formidably ugly. While regretting her plainness, George III, a sensual man, but with a high moral sense, did his ‘duty’. In the course of their marriage, they had fifteen children, all but two — Octavius and Alfred —survived into adulthood. Charlotte was interested only in domestic matters and exercised no political influence.

After the onset of his illness, then misunderstood as madness, George III was placed in the care of his wife, who could not bring herself to visit him very often. However, Charlotte remained supportive of her husband as his mental illness, now believed to be porphyria, worsened in old age.

Charlotte had become the fond grandmother of Princess Charlotte of Wales, and it was a great blow to her when this granddaughter died in childbirth. A year after her granddaughter Charlotte’s death, the Queen died seated in a small armchair holding the hand of her eldest son. She died at Kew Palace, their family home in Surrey, and was buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales (January 7, 1796 – November 6, 1817) was the only child of the ill-fated marriage between George IV (at that time the Prince of Wales) and Caroline of Brunswick.

She was born at Carlton House in London, her birth being something of a miracle as George IV later claimed that he and his wife had relations no more than three times in the whole of their marriage. By the time she was a few months old, Charlotte’s parents were effectively separated, and her mother’s time with her was severely restricted by her father.

She grew into a headstrong and difficult teenager, and fell out with her mother when Caroline decided to go into continental exile. She was restricted to Cranbourne Lodge at Windsor, England from July 1814 to January 1816 while Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg lobbied the Prince Regent and the English Parliament for the right to court her.

Charlotte married Prince Leopold on May 2, 1816, at Carlton House. Contemporary accounts describe their marriage as happy and contented, and they lived at Claremont, a wedding gift from the nation. After two miscarriages in the early months of their marriage, she conceived a third time. Although healthy at the beginning of the pregnancy, medical staff took extra precautions; medical practice at the time was bloodletting and a strict diet, which only served to weaken Charlotte. After a 50-hour labour at Claremont, she delivered a stillborn son there on November 5, 1817, dying of post-partum haemorrhage and shock early the next morning.

“Two generations gone—gone in a moment! I have felt for myself, but I have also felt for the prince regent. My Charlotte is gone from the country—it has lost her. She was a good, she was an admirable woman. None could know my Charlotte as I did know her. It was my study, my duty, to know her character, but it was also my delight.”
Prince Leopold to Sir Thomas Lawrence

She was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor with her son at her feet. Her death was mourned nationally, on a scale similar to that which followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, although in An Address to the People on The Death of the Princess Charlotte (1817), Percy Bysshe Shelley made the point that while her death was very sad, the execution the following day of three men incited to lead the Pentrich Rising was the greater tragedy.

Charlotte’s death left the Prince of Wales without any direct heirs, and resulted in a mad dash towards matrimony by most of her bachelor uncles (the marriage of her uncle Prince Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent, produced an heir—Queen Victoria). Her father, even after the death of his wife, made no attempt to remarry or father any more children.

In 1815 the Royal Berkshire Regiment  was titled the Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Regiment when, on their return to England from service in Canada, the 49th (Hertfordshire) Regiment were assigned to guard the royal family in residence. Princess Charlotte, on seeing these polished men in their new uniforms, with scarlet coats and white breeches, pleaded that the regiment be made “hers”, and later the title was officially granted.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

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The Prince of Wales: The Man who gave the Regency its Name

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter. Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband — but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ‘attached & affectionate’ to a Man whom she must detest — & the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford is bad — I do not know what to do about it; but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable, if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first. –”
Jane Austen,
February 16, 1813

George, the eldest son of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was born in St James’s Palace. At his birth, he automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay; he was created Prince of Wales shortly thereafter. He was a talented student, quickly learning to speak not only English but also French, German and Italian.

The Prince of Wales turned twenty-one years old in 1783. He obtained a grant of £60,000 from Parliament, and an annual income of £50,000 from his father. The Prince of Wales established his residence in Carlton House, where he lived a profligate life. Animosity between him and his father, a monarch who desired more frugal behaviour on the part of the heir-apparent, developed. The King, a strong supporter of the Tory party, was also alienated by the Prince of Wales’s adherence to Charles James Fox and other Whigs.

Soon after he reached the age of twenty-one years, the Prince of Wales fell in love with a Roman Catholic, Maria Anne Fitzherbert. Mrs Fitzherbert was a widow; her first husband, Edward Weld died in 1775; her second husband, Thomas Fitzherbert, did the same in 1781. A marriage between the two was impeded by the Act of Settlement 1701, which declared those who married Roman Catholics ineligible to succeed to the Throne. An even more daunting barrier was the Royal Marriages Act 1772, under which the Prince of Wales could not marry without the consent of the King, which, unquestionably, would have never been granted. Nevertheless, the Prince of Wales and Mrs Fitzherbert contracted a “marriage” in 1785. Legally the union was void, for the King’s assent was never requested and received. Yet, Mrs Fitzherbert believed that she was the Prince of Wales’s canonical and true wife, holding the law of the Church to be superior to the law of the State. For political reasons, the union remained secret, and Mrs Fitzherbert promised not to publish any evidence relating to the same.

The Prince of Wales was plunged into debt by his exorbitant lifestyle. His father refused to assist him, forcing him to quit Carlton House and live in Mrs Fitzherbert’s residence. In 1787, the Prince of Wales’s allies in the House of Commons introduced a proposal to relieve his debts with a parliamentary grant. At the time, many suspected the Prince of Wales’s personal relationship with Mrs Fitzherbert. The revalation of the illegal marriage would have scandalised the nation, and would have certainly doomed any parliamentary proposal to aid the Prince of Wales to failure. Acting on the Prince’s authority, the Whig leader Charles James Fox declared that the story was a calumniation. Mrs Fitzherbert was not pleased with the public denial of the marriage in such vehement terms, and contemplated severing her ties to the Prince. The Prince of Wales propitiated his companion by requesting another Whig, Richard Brinsley Sheridan (the famous playwright), to carefully restate Fox’s forceful declaration. Parliament, in the meantime, was sufficiently pleased to grant the Prince of Wales £161,000 for the payment of his debts, in addition to £20,000 for improvements to Carlton House. The King also agreed to increase the Prince of Wales’s annual allowance by £10,000.

Regency Crisis of 1788

George III suffered from an hereditary disease known as porphyria. In the summer of 1788, the King showed severe symptoms of insanity, but was nonetheless able to discharge some of his duties. Thus, he was able to declare Parliament prorogued from 25 September to 20 November 1788. During the prorogation, however, George III became deranged, posing a threat to his own life. Thus, when Parliament reconvened in November, the King could not deliver the customary Speech from the Throne during the State Opening. Parliament found itself in an untenable position: according to long-established law, it could not proceed to any business whatsoever until the delivery of the King’s Speech at a State Opening.

Although theoretically barred from doing so, Parliament began debating a Regency. In the House of Commons, Charles James Fox declared his opinion that the Prince of Wales was automatically entitled to exercise sovereignty during the King’s incapacity. A contrasting opinion was held by the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who argued that, in the absence of a statute to the contrary, the right to choose a Regent belonged to Parliament alone. He even stated that, without parliamentary authority, “the Prince of Wales had no more right … to assume the government, than any other individual subject of the country.” Though disagreeing on the principle underlying a Regency, Pitt agreed with Fox that the Prince of Wales would be the most convenient choice for a Regent.

The Prince of Wales—though offended by Pitt’s boldness—did not lend his full support to Fox’s philosophy. HRH The Prince Frederick, Duke of York declared that his brother, the Prince of Wales, would not attempt to exercise any power without previously obtaining the consent of Parliament. Following the passage of a number of preliminary resolutions, William Pitt outlined a formal plan for the Regency, suggesting that the powers of the Prince of Wales be greatly limited. (Amongst other things, the Prince of Wales could neither sell the King’s property nor grant a peerage dignity to anyone other than a child of the King). The Prince of Wales denounced Pitt’s scheme, declaring it “project for producing weakness, disorder, and insecurity in every branch of the administration of affairs.” Nevertheless, in the interest of the nation, both factions agreed to compromise.

A significant technical impediment to any Regency Bill involved the lack of a Speech from the Throne, which was theoretically necessary before Parliament could proceed to any debates or votes. The Speech, it was noticed, was normally delivered by the King, but could also be delivered by royal representatives known as Lords Commissioners. But no document could empower the Lords Commissioners to act, unless the Great Seal of the Realm was affixed to it; and the said Seal could not be legally affixed without the prior authorisation of the Sovereign. Pitt and his fellow ministers ignored the last requirement, and instructed the Lord Chancellor to affix the Great Seal without the King’s consent. This course of action was denounced as a “phantom,” as a “fiction,” and even as a “forgery.” The Prince of Wales’s brother, the Duke of York, described the plan as “unconstitutional and illegal.” Nevertheless, others in Parliament felt that such a scheme was neccessary in order to preserve an effective government. Consequently, on 3 February 1789, over two months after it had convened, Parliament was formally opened by an “illegal” group of Lords Commissioners. The Regency Bill was introduced, but, before it could be passed, the King recovered. Retroactively, the King declared that the instrument authorising the Lords Commissioners to act was valid.


In the meantime, the Prince of Wales’s debts continued to climb; his father refused to aid him unless he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. In 1795, the Prince of Wales acquiesced. The marriage, however, was disastrous; each party was completely unsuited for the other. The two were formally separated after the birth of their only child—HRH Princess Augusta—in 1796. The Prince and Princess of Wales were separated for the remainder of their lives. The Prince of Wales remained attached to Mrs Fitzherbert for the remainder of his life, despite several periods of estrangement. In the meantime, the problem of the Prince of Wales’s debts (which then amounted to an extraordinary sum, £660,000, in 1796) was solved (at least temporarily) by Parliament. Parliament was unwilling to make an outright grant to relieve them; instead, it provided him an additional sum of £65,000 per annum. In 1803, a further £60,000 was added, and the Prince of Wales’s debts were finally paid.


From 1811, his father was permanently incapacitated, and he achieved a more definite status as Prince Regent. His extravagance continued, despite the involvement of Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, and during this period, much of the city of London was redesigned—hence Regent’s Park and Regent Street. The architect, John Nash, and the dandy, Beau Brummell, were among the Regent’s best-known associates.

As can be seen from the comment above, Jane Austen held no high opinion of the Prince of Wales, though he, on the other hand, kept specially bound editons of her works in all his houses. Imagine her surprise when, in 1815, she was waited upon by his Librarian, Mr. Clarke, and invited to visit Carlton House. This honor she declined, but was unable to refuse the other he offered– that of dedicating her next book (Emma, printed in March, 1816) to His Royal Highness. How it must have rankled to pen the words:



When the king died in 1820, the Prince Regent finally ascended the throne as King George IV. He had acted conservatively as Regent and with major achievements as a collector and patron of the arts not seen in a monarch since Charles I, but by the time of his coronation he was seriously overweight and possibly addicted to laudanum as well as showing some signs of the insanity that had affected his father. The Coronation, July 19, 1821, was mounted with unparalleled magnificence, a fancy-dress occasion with a somewhat Elizabethan theme. His gold-embroidered crimson velvet and ermine coronation robe, with a 27-foot train held by sons of peers, cost 24,000 pounds. The diamonds in the crown were hired for the occasion, but the King wore the Hope Diamond (as it was soon to be called), which he had purchased the previous year. Parliament had agreed on 243,000 pounds to be spent on the Coronation. The Queen found herself unable to gain access to Westminster Abbey or the banquet at Westminmster Hall. The event was extremely popular: Sir Thomas Lawrence’s coronation portrait was multiplied in the painter’s studio and many more modest souvenirs were issued; a panorama recording the event toured the cities of England afterwards. George IV enjoyed many weeks of popularity.

In 1822 the King visited Edinburgh for “one and twenty daft days” as the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland since 1650. The visit was organised by Sir Walter Scott, who seized the opportunity to invent another splendid pageant, wherein ancient Scotland would be reborn, and the King who had been parodied in cartoons as a fat debauché would be seen as “a portly handsome man looking and moving every inch a King”. George would be presented as a new Jacobite King, with the logic that he was by bloodline as much a Stuart as Bonnie Prince Charlie had been, and would win the affections of the Scots away from radical reform. Scott had persuaded George that he was not only a Stuart prince, but also a Jacobite Highlander, and could rightly and properly swathe himself in “the garb of old Gaul”, so in July 1822 the King placed his order with George Hunter & Co., outfitters of Tokenhouse Yard, London and Princes Street, Edinburgh for £1,354 18s worth of highland outfit in bright red Royal Tartan, later known as Royal Stuart, complete with pink tights, gold chains and assorted weaponry including dirk, sword and pistols. Dressed in this “our fat friend” was hoisted onto a horse and rode triumphantly into Edinburgh for an event that made tartans and kilts fashionable and turned them into the national icons they are today.

He spent the majority of his reign in seclusion at Windsor Castle, but continued to interfere unwisely in politics, opposing social reforms such as the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. As a result of Princess Charlotte’s death, his younger brother, Frederick, Duke of York, became heir to the throne; however, Frederick died in 1827.

King George IV died on June 26, 1830 and is buried at Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his younger brother, as William IV.
George’s official style whilst King was, “George the Fourth, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith.” His arms were: Quarterly, I and IV Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland); overall an escutcheon tierced per pale and per chevron (for Hanover), I Gules two lions passant guardant Or (for Brunswick), II Or a semy of hearts Gules a lion rampant Azure (for Lüneburg), III Gules a horse courant Argent (for Westfalen), the whole inescutcheon surmounted by a crown.

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica.

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Beau Brummell: Nothing but a Name Mysteriously Sparkling

The name Beau Brummell is synonymous with Regency England, but what do you know about him? Researching this article I found that people associate him with silks, satins, and snuff, while one thought he was a fictional detective. It seemed the French writer Barbey d’Aurevilly was right: once the most famous man in the kingdom was “nothing but a name mysteriously sparkling in all the memoirs of his time.” So, what happened to Beau Brummell?

George Bryan Brummell was born in 10 Downing Street on 7th June 1778. He was the youngest son of William Brummell – an enterprising man who had risen to the position of Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, with all the influence and trappings that came with the role – a grace and favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace, a country house in Berkshire, and friendship with Charles James Fox, Richard Sheridan, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted the two curly-haired Brummell boys in 1781. The Brummell family had risen a long way in two generations and young George was to take the family name to even greater heights, and depths. He became a legend in his own lifetime and worked as hard at this as his father had done as a junior clerk.

In 1783, William Brummell retired with an income of about £2,500 a year – enough to send his two sons to Eton. There, George was well liked. He was good natured and clever but lazy and already developing his fastidious nature, avoiding the streets in wet weather and careful of his dignity. George went on to Oriel College at Oxford but left in 1794 when his father died, and instead joined the Prince of Wales’ own regiment, the Tenth Dragoons – or ‘The Elegant Extracts’ as they were known. The Dragoons were based in Brighton until civil unrest called them to the north and Brummell resigned immediately, saying that Manchester would be too disagreeable for him. His £40,000 inheritance meant he could afford to concentrate on being a gentleman. Quickly given the soubriquet ‘Beau’, he proved to be a witty and observant figure who made many friends. Charles Stanhope said

“I could understand a good deal of the secret of Brummell’s extraordinary success and influence in the highest society. He was a vast deal more than a mere dandy; he had wit as well as humour and drollery, and the most perfect coolness and self-possession.”

To be part of Brummell’s set was Society’s top cachet, and to be cut by him was social death. In the novel Granby there is a poorly disguised portrait.

“In the art of cutting he shone unrivalled. He could assume that calm but wandering gaze which veers, as if unconsciously, round the proscribed individual, neither fixing not to be fixed, not looking on vacancy nor on any one object, neither occupied nor abstracted, a look which perhaps excuses you to the person cut and, at any rate, prevents him from accosting you.”

Brummell was careful to remain free from obligations or attachments (he is said to have cut his own brother) and there were no signs of any relationships – either with women or men. His first biographer, Captain Jesse, thought that Brummell “had too much self love ever to be really in love.” Beau himself told Lady Hester Stanhope that he had adopted the only course possible to distance himself from ordinary men. As Oscar Wilde said more than a century later “to love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”

His friendship with the Prince of Wales did not last. As Brummell ceased to need the Prince’s patronage, so the Prince became jealous of Brummell’s position, but Brummell did not care. “I made him what he is and I can unmake him.” he quipped in an unguarded moment. By 1813 the end of the friendship was scandalously public when the Prince arrived at a party with Lord Alvanley and coldly ignored Brummell.

“Ah, Alvanley,” Brummell’s voice rang out clearly over the shocked silence, “Who is your fat friend?”

Brummell maintained his image so well that everyone was shocked when debts forced him to Calais in May 1816. In London, his effects were sold at auction, including his fine cellar “10 dozen Capital Old Port, 16 dozen of Burgundy, Claret, and Still Champagne. . .” They were, the publicity assured potential buyers, “the genuine property of a man of fashion, gone to the continent.” The auction raised £1000, but this was not enough to enable Brummell to return.

However, life in Calais was bearable. “No one can lead a more pleasant life than Brummell, for he passes his time between London and Paris” the British ambassador quipped, and Brummell’s friends visited him there, bring presents of money or gifts such as his favourite Façon de Paris snuff. In 1818 rumours abounded that he had been offered £5 thousand to write his memoirs, and that the Prince of Wales had offered £6 thousand for him not to do it.

Brummell became very popular in Calais “We used to call him Le Roi de Calais. He was a truly fine man, very elegant, and really well off – he always paid his bills and was very good to the poor; everyone was very sorry when he left.” said a Calais shopkeeper. Brummell was always careful to settle his debts with tradesmen – instead he owed increasingly vast amounts of money to bankers and his friends but his good nature and wit charmed them all.

When asked to make a contribution towards a Church of England chapel in Calais, he replied “I am very sorry you did not call last week, for it was only yesterday that I became a catholic.”

In 1827 Brummell’s patron the Duke of York died, and Brummell’s creditors began to close in. That summer, Brummell’s letters contained a note of panic. “I am sadly alarmed lest some overwhelming disaster should befall me” he wrote. While George IV was king, there was little hope of rapprochement, but good fortune did come along in June 1830 when Brummell was appointed His Majesty’s Consul for the departments of Calvados, La Manche, and Ille et Vilaine. The post was paid £400 a year and was based in Caen. However, there was a problem; with more than £1000 of debts, Brummell’s creditors were very reluctant to see him leave Calais. It was not until he signed a crippling agreement to assign his salary to his attorneys to deal with his debts that he was allowed to leave.

In Caen, he soon became a popular figure, noted for the way he would tiptoe across the cobbles to avoid getting dirt on his boots. He struck up a friendship with the grocer and wine merchant Charles Armstrong, who also cashed bills and money orders. Money remained a problem and he continued to press for a superior job; he wrote to Lord Palmerston that the post at Caen was not needed and he (Brummell) could do something better. On the 21st March 1832 he received a reply: HM Govt had “come to the conclusion that the post of British Consul at Caen may be abolished without prejudice to the public service . . . your salary will cease on the 31st May.” The news did not stay secret for long and he only escaped from the bailiffs when his landlady hid him in a wardrobe.

Armstrong went to England to collect money from Brummell’s friends and arranged £120 a year for his keep. Although generous, this was a pittance which at one time he would have spent in less than a month – when asked how much it would cost to launch a young man into London society, he once replied “with strict economy, it might be done for eight hundred pounds a year.”

His situation began to tell upon his mind, “I am incompetent to do anything but to ruminate over the broken toys of my past days” he mourned to his landlady’s daughter. That summer, the stress and worry probably contributed to his first stroke, and he moved to smaller lodgings at L’ Hotel d’Angleterre where, in April 1834, he had his second stroke whilst dining. Recovery was slow this time and he became dogged with a sense of his own mortality: “they are weaving a shroud about me; still I trust I shall yet escape” he wrote. A third stroke ended that year and the following May he was arrested for debt and taken to gaol where he shared a stone cell with three others. He had not been allowed to dress properly before his arrest and the degradation bewildered him.

“Image 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!”

Once again, his remarkable friends rallied round and although they could not raise enough to secure his release, they paid for him to share the private room of political prisoner, Charles Godefroy. Armstrong arranged food, laundry, and sent in his washing basin so that he could perform his famous toilette – to Godefroy’s amazement. Armstrong also looked after his property and went to Calais and London to raise a fund for him. This time, Lord Palmerston agreed to £200 in recognition of the severance of the Caen contract, and once again his friends contributed, including £100 from King William IV.

Brummell was released on the 21st July 1835, and Armstrong made it clear that he would not honour any debts run up without his knowledge. The fastidious Beau was reduced to wearing cast-off clothes and a black silk cravat instead of white linen to save on the washing. When his trousers needed mending, he stayed in bed because they were his only pair. Brummell’s tragedy was that he outlived his time. His fairy-tale had ended twenty years before and now the new young Queen was ushering in the Victorian era while his friends were themselves passing into shadows.

As his illness grew, the former dandy neglected his cleanliness and threw fantasy parties for friends who were long dead. In 1839, he was taken to the asylum of the Bon Saveur – shrieking they were putting him into prison but where his last months were peaceful and he died in his bed on 30th March 1840. The legendary Beau Brummell lies in a plain grave in Calais, unnoticed and forgotten, the name more glittering and the man more elusive with each passing year.

Further reading:
Kelly, I (2006) Beau Brummell, the Ultimate Dandy. Free Press.
Barbey d’Aurevilly J (1845) Du Dandysme et de George Brummell.
Cole H (1977) Beau Brummell. Granada: London
Lister T H (1826) Granby. A Novel in three volumes. Colburn: London.
Muers E (1963) The Dandy. Secker & Warburg: London.

This article, by Joanna Brown, was copied by permission of Jane Austen’s Regency World. To learn more about this magazine, the only full color magazine devoted to Jane Austen, or to subscribe, visit their website: