In our Regency Promenade today, Nancy Mayer looks at Beau Brummell.
Beau Brummell (1778 – 1840)
I do not like Beau Brummell and think he has been credited with more than he accomplished.
George Brummell was born in 1778. His father is said to have been a private secretary to Lord North, who was prime Minister of England from 1770- 1782.
It is said that his father had been a tradesman and he was determined that his children should be raised as gentry. Wikipedia says George was sent to Eton and Oxford. These institutions seemed to have turned him against books and learning, or any deep thought.
He was enrolled in the 10th Hussars, the Prince’s Own, also called the Prince’s Dolls, The Prince of Wales liked to design uniforms. A majority of the officers of this regiment were heirs to peerages and or were wealthy. Brummell, like another George, George Leigh couldn’t keep up with them.
He left the regiment when his father died and he had funds on hand. When George’s father died, George and his siblings divided around £65000. If invested in the funds, his share was enough to allow him to live comfortably but not extravagantly. George left the regiment at that time.
The Prince of Wales met Brummell when he was in the 10th. NO one knows exactly what attracted The Prince to Brummell, though some have suggested it was the cut of his coat. Brummell advised the Prince on changes he should make to his wardrobe.
Brummell is written up in the Beaux and Belles of Regency England and in a biography by Ian Kelly. Brummell didn’t really do anything. He lived the life of a young man on the town, except that all of his passions seem to have been expended on his clothes. He said that once a man was dressed he should forget about his clothes.
The drive for perfection in dress started with the choice of materials and cut.
He is credited with encouraging men to wash frequently and to use clean linen.
He is also credited with introducing the outfit that is almost seen as a uniform of the regency – The blue coat, buff pantaloons or doe skin leathers and boots.
One book I read about the period, said that Brummell used the colors of the Whigs and that mostly Whigs wore the new outfit. Those of the King’s party wouldn’t want to wear the colors of the opposition.
Brummell probably did help accelerate a trend towards simplicity in men’s clothing, even if it wasn’t his sole creation. The men were already putting aside the colorful silks and satins.
It wasn’t necessary for Brummell to convince all the men of the tom to follow his example, he had to convince the gentlemen’s gentlemen and the tailors. Most of all men had to be convinced that the new look was fashionable.
The relationship between Brummell and The prince of Wales worsened after he was made Regent. For one thing, Brummell identified himself with the Whigs who became incensed with the Regent for not putting them back in power. Aware of this, The Regent turned towards his new friends the Tories.
Brummell made a mistake that many who are close to some man in a position of power – he thought he had enough social power of his own to help him retain his place in society, even if the Regent dropped him. It is claimed that he mortally insulted the Regent, who had given him the cut direct, but loudly asking another friend, “Who is your fat friend?”
With in days everyone knew that he was no longer in favor and the friendship and the invitations dried up. Not all of his friends dropped him, but quite a few did and the creditors came calling He had thought he was valued for himself and found out he had deceived himself.
Finally, one evening in 1816, Brummell went to the theater with friends and slipped away to France instead of going home. Friends did help Brummell with funds at first and even obtained a position for him as a consul in France.
The man who once reigned supreme in society was soon forgotten by most and ended his days more than half mad imagining he was entertaining people he had known during his heyday. A wasted life.
Brummell appears in some of Heyer’s novels as well as those of other people.
There is a movie about Brummell: That Charming Man. The movie is fine for men and clothes. Just remember that the movie got the shirts all wrong.
Regency Promenade is written every month by Nancy Mayer, Regency researcher extraordinaire.