Courtesy of Mr. George Brummell…

Now, I shall be honest, I don’t talk much about clothes in my novels.

Not because I don’t know or haven’t spent long hours absorbed in the cut of a waistcoat at the Museum of Fashion in Bath or even longer studying the uniforms in the Musee d’Armee in Paris, but because long descriptions of clothes (his or hers) pretty much bore me witless.

(I also don’t write about the various mixtures and flavourings of snuff, for roughly the same reason…it adds nothing.)

But that’s not the same as ignorance.

Gentlemen’s clothing underwent a radical change during the early years of the 19th century.  The long war with France which began in 1792 had isolated Britain from the Parisian aristocratic trend-setters who had dominated the 18th century, along with their preference for brightly coloured silks and satins.

copy-of-beau-bonhamsIn their place, a new, austere, almost monochromatic aesthetic had taken hold, courtesy of one George Brummell.

And for this new vision of male style, based on the finest of British tailoring, Brummell drew his inspiration from the military (he’d served in a cavalry regiment for a while), from the clothes worn by English horsemen and country gentlemen and, above all, from a classical standard of masculinity as seen in the ancient Greek and Roman statuary, most notably the Apollo Belvedere.

And this ideal (as seen in the muted colouring of said statuary) of “unity, simplicity and a continuously flowing movement from one part of the body to the next” was at the core of Regency menswear.

So, gone was the ornate embroidery, gone were the flashy or clashy colours, gone were the baggy cravats and even baggier breeches.

Then too, the body beneath must needs be moulded into a figure worthy of the clothes–hence there’s a new emphasis on daily exercise as taken by gentlemen at the many boxing saloons, such as Gentleman Jackson’s on Bond Street, or Fencing schools about London.  Riding is also known to build strong back and shoulder muscles, as well as those of the thighs and calves.  Carriage driving also requires very strong shoulders…And if you’re thinking it’s all very macho, homo-erotic even, that’s because it is.

blokeAmong the essentials of this new neo-classical look were breeches or pantaloons for the day, made either of doeskin or chamois leather or a soft stocking-like fabric.  (If made of soft leather, often the wearer first wore them dampened, allowing them to dry to his physique so that they more closely resembled a second skin–they weren’t called bum-clingers for nothing.)

Both had corset lacing at the back, a fall front fastened by side buttons over the stomach, and were held up with braces to maintain the severe and fitted line over the thigh.  They were also cut wider on one side at the top of the thigh, and higher on the other, to accommodate the family jewels, in a custom known as dressing to one side.  Beneath the knee, button fastenings kept the fabric taut down the length of the leg.

Evening breeches or pantaloons were made of sheer black silk jersey, knitted cashmere or a stretchy silk-stockinette imported from India, made with only one seam per leg and that along the outside–though this was sometimes embroidered or ‘clocked’ down the length of it–all of which was intended to frame the flexing muscles of the thigh.

During an evening’s dancing, the jersey would cling tighter and tighter as the wearer perspired until they looked more like they’d been painted on than put on.  Also, due to the extreme sheerness of some of these fabrics, for modesty’s sake, the breeches or pantaloons might be lined with either swanskin, as they termed cotton flannel, or a sheer cotton.

For summer, the breeches would be cut the same, but made of stout pale or white linen or nankeen, a heavy twilled cotton.

Just as important was a gentleman’s fitted waistcoat, which would have been made of white or skin-toned fabric–the idea being that if a gentleman were to remove his coat, in his shirtsleeves and from a distance, he would resemble nothing so much as a naked Greek god, muscular, beautiful, carved from marble or stone.

Coats were now made of dark matte fabrics such as wool Bath cloth or ‘superfine’, sculpted through the back and shoulders, with a high collar to provide a contrasting frame to the whiteness of the starched cravats.  With the new emphasis in society on sartorial matters, there were many specialist tailors from whose work to chuse:  Stulz was known to make a large number of the military’s coats.  But there was also John Weston’s at No. 34 Old Bond Street, or even Mr. Brummell’s favourite, Schweitzer & Davidson on Cork Street.

BAL_202477Beneath it all, the shirt of white linen, plain and lightly starched, with collars “so large that, before being folded down, it completely hid [the] head and face…” with tiny buttons at the neck and cuffs.  Cuffs were worn long–a good inch or two longer than the coat sleeve to emphasise the fact that the gentleman did not work.

And of course, the cravat.

Made of fine Irish muslin, a triangle was cut on the diagonal from a square yard of fabric, with its edged plainly stitched.  This triangle was then folded twice and wrapped carefully about the neck, with the ends tied in one of several manners before the wearer lowered his chin to create a neat series of folds which were either rubbed into place by a day-old shirt or pressed with a hot iron.  (I favour the day-old shirt method, myself…less danger of frying the larynx.)

Footwear?  Highly polished Hessian boots with spurs by day and thinly-soled black pumps for evening.

Stockings?  Depending on the season and the hour, he might wear fine knitted wool stockings or silk stockings, plain or clocked–his preference.

Underwear?  Very little was worn and then only rarely–it being pretty much a thing of the 18th century, although it was still in use (in cold weather, for example) and referred to as ‘summer trousers’.  In this look of self-aware but careless, casual, sensual arrogance, there was no room for lumpy knickers or rucked up shirt tails.

1812_greatcoatThere would also have several driving coats and/or greatcoats, caped, and made of a heavier wool worsted or “Norwich stuff” for colder, rainier weather–that’s most days from September to May and most of June).

Anything else?  Gloves.  Which perform a practical service–they kept the hands clean of city dirt, possibly warm, and if the fellow was driving or riding, they protected his hands and fingers from blistering by the reins.

Hats?  High-crowned bevors from Lock’s, the Hatters, on St. James’s Street.

Moreover, a gentleman would have dressed some three or four times during the course of a normal day.

And according to the journal of a visitor to London at the time, he would also have required, per week, in addition to the usual “20 shirts, 24 pocket handkerchiefs, 9 or 10 summer trousers, 30 neck handkerchiefs, a dozen waistcoats, and stockings at discretion”, a chintz dressing gown and Turkish slippers for taking his breakfast.

A few years back I attended a display of Regency menswear as part of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, entitled, Undressing Mr. Darcy.  And during the course of the presentation, the abovementioned list was read out and the audience encouraged to think what vain and shallow creatures were the men of 1812 that they required so many shirts.

Ehem.  Let me just put it this way:  No deodorant.  And no loo roll.  (Thank heavens for those clean shirts…)

In fact, due to the no deodorant situation, one finds that many of the surviving shirts of the era have neat triangular patches inserted under the arm in order to eradicate the yellow perspiration staining.

purefoy as brummellLike Brummell, other gentlemen of his class and station bathed every part of his body every day, and in hot water.  Brummell himself used no perfumes (they were considered very 18th century) but smelled instead of very fine linen and country washing–which he said were the mark of a gentleman.

So that’s a little of what himself is famous for.  I think we owe him a myriad of thanks for the introduction of daily bathing.  I think that often.

However, there’s one small point that I feel I should also mention and that’s that  Brummell loved dogs.  Really doted on the things.  And they are said to have had an instinctive affection for him.  And it’s probably that which tells me–regardless of all that was said about him and there is a lot which is to no one’s credit–he and I should have got along just fine.


What the Regency is and is not…

I know, I know…why am I returning to this old chestnut?  You wish to read something new, entertaining, disgusting and/or engaging… (And where have I been for the last month, anyway, slacker that I am?)

(Off for the holidays, since you ask.  Followed by a vicious bout of manflu.  So much so that I can now say, with absolute conviction than manflu is not a weenie version of influenza but was in fact the secret biological weapon of the Spanish Inquisition or possibly of Dr. John Dee working undercover as a Tudor torturer in the Tower of London…)

But back to this Regency business…

I have, in fact, already attempted to herd the fantasists into some verisimilitude of historical accuracy or other in my previous blog on the subject where I discussed the actual dates of the Regency, in my so aptly titled blog, What exactly is the Regency, anyway?   And you would have thought that would be the end of it. 

Well, if you thought that, you’d be wrong. 

Now I hear–courtesy of the ubiquitous grapevine that is the internet–that one or other or several of our charming colonial cousins are insisting at some length and indeed volume that the Regency actually started in the late 18th century and that history isn’t the only criterion.  Or something. 

(I don’t know–I could have heard that wrong or I may have had a bit of fluff in my ear…)

To which I feel forced to ask, therefore, how are you defining the word Regency?  What does the word, in fact, mean, when you’re using it? 

Are you using it in reference to a period of time during which George III had been found to have lost his senses, irreparably impairing his ability to govern and his son and heir was made acting head of state, aka the Regent? 

Then you would be talking, as I have outlined, of a period beginning 5 February 1811 when the Regency Act became law and the death of the king in 1820. 

Or, you could stretch the point and date it slightly earlier, beginning-ish a year or so earlier, when George III’s mental health began to deteriorate as it had previously and his son and heir stepped in ex officio to keep things ticking over and running smoothly–it was a time of war, with all the matters of state that entails–until such time as his father recovered or his condition stabilised. 

But what if you don’t care a jot about history?  Fair enough.  Are you speaking culturally?  What if you’re talking about architecture?  Or furniture design?  Or when Napoleon was gallivanting about the Continent calling himself Emperor?

blokeWhat if, indeed, when you say Regency you’re actually picturing in your mind a chappie with his hair cropped and unpowdered, wearing a high white cravat constructed of heavily starched linen about his neck, a high crowned bevor on his head (which looks quite similar to our top hats), a tightly fitted tailored wool coat, a plain waistcoat and very tight buckskin breeches?  What if that’s what Regency means to you? 

Well, that definition of Regency would date the beginning of said period with the arrival of Mr. George Brummell in London and his appearance–which shocked his fellow members at White’s, particularly those of an older generation than himself–dressed as above. 

copy-of-beau-bonhamsBrummell bought his house in Chesterfield Street in 1799.  He also became a member of White’s Club in that year.  Though it wasn’t until 1802-3 that Londoners were treated to the first public appearance of the strangulation device known as the starched cravat.  He had also cropped his hair by that point.  And like many of his generation, he was no longer using powder–which was then heavily taxed to pay for the already long war with France. 

1802-3 is also the year that the French Empire waist made a strong showing in ladies wear, here in England.  The Peace of Amiens with France meant that travel was briefly possibly for those of means and what they did was pop over to France for a spot of shopping. 

The fashion for dressing in white muslin was not new–Marie Antoinette had swathed herself in layers of white muslin–but the simpler silhouette we associate with the early 19th century was. 

If you’re talking about furniture design, well, again the dates aren’t what you’d expect.  We associate the designs of Thomas Sheraton with the best of the period, yet his famous book of designs was not published until 1812 and it was published posthumously. 

HoratioNelsonThere’s quite a lot of gilded furniture about at the time too–all those gold leaf porpoises are furniture for the Age of Nelson–who was the great Naval hero.  Was he a Regency gentleman?  He wore his hair in a queue, and powdered, and had he been asked, would have told you and with some passion that he served George III and his country.  He was no “Regency gentleman”.  He died in 1805, well before George III’s descent into blindness, deafness and madness…

If you’re talking about the delicious interiors of Robert Adam, such as at Osterley Park, home of Lady Sally Jersey (absolutely gorgeous–a most lust-worthy residence!) you’d actually be talking about the 1780s when Adam and his rival James Wyatt were at the height of their powers and popularity…

pittWas William Pitt a Regency gentleman?  He was Prime Minister (until his death in 1806) during all the early years of the wars with France and Napoleon, yet while he lived and worked, George III retained a firm grip on the reins of government. 

Viscount Castlereagh, husband to one of Almack’s Lady Patronesses, and a political force of incalculable stature powdered his hair all his life.  And he didn’t drink to excess.  He hardly drank at all and he never drank spirits, though he was one person the Prince Regent considered a close and trusted friend.  Not what one would expect necessarily, is it?

(Almack’s Assembly Rooms themselves had opened in 1764…)

Or perhaps the word Regency indicates to you a certain sexual license and profligacy as exemplified by the Prince of Wales and frequently lampooned in the London newspapers and cartoons of the era.  Hmn.  

I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings and all that, but the previous generation’s morals, particularly those of the Whig aristocracy, were a great deal more…ah…exciting than those of the Prince Regent.  Check out the doings at Chatsworth when Prinny was yet a spotty adolescent living at Kew, if you doubt me–they make the poor man appear positively staid. 

Moreover, yes, I know that the Prince was considered universally unpopular and that is the picture one will arrive at if one relies solely on the London media–which was Radical and libellous by any standard.  

alexander 1814But here’s the thing–I was recently reading about a trip the Tsar and the Prince Regent made to Oxford during the summer of 1814.  Anyway, the Tsar left the dinner and parties early and flounced back to London (yes, it was rude–he was good at that!) because what he particularly liked was fawning adulation and the applause of the crowds–and he loved London for that.  The London crowds adored him and booed the Prince Regent. 

Yet in Oxford, the crowds were wild in their support for…yes, you guessed it…the Prince Regent, and loudly cheered him wherever he went, even as they ignored the Tsar.  And the Tsar didn’t like that. 

Which begs the question–did the London journalists and satirists actually speak for and reflect public opinion at the time or did they just shout the loudest and longest, drowning out all other voices?  And was there such a thing as public opinion in the early 19th century, anyway?

I could, of course, list dozens of more anomalies…and I’m happy to do so…but I think what I’m most trying to say is that for all that the word Regency is today used quite loosely to designate a period of time-ish, historical reality isn’t like that. 

Nothing happens all at once–and certainly not in a neatly contained box with dated end-papers put there for the convenience of later generations’ school essays.  Change occurs gradually and often generationally. 

Beau Brummell may have introduced his version of menswear and its astonishing wonder of the clean world, the cravat, in 1802, but not everybody hopped on the bandwagon and suddenly dressed like that. 

The elder generations thought he looked like a numpty and certainly didn’t ape him–to them, he probably appeared as the first Goth appeared in the 1980s–equal parts shocking, daft, foppish and unBritish or some such thing.  Those who did take up his lead initially were only a handful of young men from a tiny coterie of very rich and very aristocratic families.  (And it’s doubtful their parents approved.) 

Equally, in 1802, the majority hadn’t the means in that time of inflation and war to throw out their serviceable clothing in favour of what was new from London or from Paris.  Nor did they chuck out their serviceable chairs and tables the second the new catalogue came out from Ikea in 1812…

As the old was worn out, it was replaced with the new–the new cut, the new fashion in colours, the new fabrics from wherever.  Just as there came a time when the older generation was comprised of men and women who’d grown up thinking that Brummell dressed as a gentleman should dress, who had no personal memory of the old mad king, and believed that bagwigs belonged in the prop cupboard for family theatricals.  But this all requires the passage of unminuted time…

So, back to the definition?  Is that any clearer?  I don’t know…I hope so. 

Prinny RussellBut I will tell you one more thing.  Regardless of what they may wish had happened, the United States did not have a Regency period.  And do you know why?  Because in order to have a Regency, you require a king or an emperor kind of person who is in need of someone to run things for him while he’s not of age or of mental ability…and a king is one thing America did not have–they’d taken care of that by 1783. 

(Instead, the Americans had Thomas Jefferson and his rabid Anglo-phobia…to be followed by James Madison and his rabid Anglo-phobic policies which culminated in a declaration of war in 1812…And I’m fairly certain that did not stem from any desire to rejoin the Mother Country and share once more in the joys and privileges of having a Prince Regent…Ehem.)

Brummell and the Drury-Lane Ague…

Recently, a thing–as some will know–really got up my nose. 

Which, after I’d come down off the wall, got me to pondering what it was that had so enflamed my ire? 

And I, at last, in the small hours of the morning, came upon it:  it’s the trivialising and minimising of people’s lives and challenges in the early 19th century so that these people become nothing more than a ‘fun’ setting for some novel or other. 

The spark that fired me up was, of course, George Brummell. 

So today, I’m going to talk about him.  Specifically about him and about the thing that killed him–slowly and agonisingly–syphilis–the medical term for one of the several sexually transmitted diseases also known in 1811 as a Drury-Lane Ague. 

(And…I’ve just lost half my audience right there!  Because yes, what this blog isn’t going to be is ‘fun’.) 

You’re right, syphilis isn’t fun.  And it’s not sexy.  It’s not romantic.  It doesn’t have great hair. 

It’s horrible, it’s terrifying and it’s brutally painful.  But it was, in the 18th and 19th centuries, as prevalent and as fatal and widespread in its destructive sweep as Aids in the 1980’s and 90’s.

There are various theories and discussions about how and when it arrived in Britain.  Obviously, there are all those urban legends (which vary depending on which nationality is speaking) about it being the French disease or the Italian disease or the Spanish plague, brought back from the New World by the Conquistadors…

I don’t know which if any of these stories are true, half-true or complete and utter vermin dander.  The point is that even by the late 17th century, it was known as a killer.  And a messy killer.  (Anyone who’s seen the film about the Earl of Rochester as played by Johnny Depp will attest to that.)

They’d also worked out exactly how they believed one got it–the heterosexual exchange of bodily fluids with an infected person. 

So prevalent was it, that by the mid-18th century, veneral diseases had become very much part of the reality of popular culture. 

And we know this, in part, by the runaway success of Hogarth’s works which feature many characters showing the tell-tale signs–The Rake’s Progress and The Harlot’s Progress–and also by the numerous terms associated with it to be found in Captain Grose’s dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue:  fire ship (a girl carrying VD), peppered (infected with VD), Lock’s hospital (a hospital for VD patients), Drury Lane Ague…

(To give you a sense of how prevalent it was Europe-wide during the 18th century, some 25% of the population of Venice was infected…there’s even a Syphilis museum in Venice….it’s not for the squeamish–that’s all I’ll say.)


They’d also learned, by trial and error, that the disease was passed down to one’s children. 

And all of this had led through the latter part of the 18th century to a lessening of overt promiscuity and a tightening up of morality (which plays in with the rising tide of Methodism from the 1780s or so)–at least on the part of the growing middle classes and gentry. 

As for the upper classes–the artistocracy and their friends–those who could afford to pay higher prices for their pleasures–they too became more particular (though, as you will see, not particular enough) about limiting their sexual partners and lovers to those who did not show signs of the infection…

George Brummell had come to London and had made a name for himself as a paragon of good taste, of elegance, an advisor on all things sartorial and taste-related to the rich and famous.  He was a gentleman.  

From 1802 until his departure for Calais in May 1816, he held sway as the arbiter of fashion.  Daily he sat in the bow window of White’s Club on St. James’s Street, cracking jokes with his friends, in an English Regency version of the top football player and friends of an American teen movie.  Or at least that’s how it strikes me.  He was ‘the man’.

But that’s only fourteen years of his life.  And this is what gets me so very cross.  Because like those teenage sporty-boys, these fourteen years offer only a glimpse of the full life of the man.  And the full life of this man, Brummell, was one of debt, depression and disease.  And it wasn’t fun. 

Like many of the other gentlemen of his acquaintance and class and at his club, Brummell frequently was seen at the soirees of Harriette Wilson, the well-known Regency courtesan. 

He generally was known to stop there regularly–late in the evening after the theatre; he was exceedingly fond of the cold chicken she served as part of her suppers…He may have had an affaire with one of Harriette’s fellow demi-mondaines…and there were certainly plenty of willing partners at these parties she threw…That was, in fact, the whole idea. 

So at some point, during the height of his fame and influence (judging by the progress of the disease) Brummell contracted a Drury Lane Ague.  Sometime between 1810-14.  Probably.   His behaviour suggests he definitely had contracted the disease by sometime in 1814.

(Just as a point of reference, having a STD wasn’t that uncommon at this time–Viscount Castlereagh contracted some sort of venereal complaint which laid him low whilst he was at Cambridge, and which caused him to cut short his university education…It wasn’t syphilis though.  That much is fairly certain.)

1814 is a pretty key year in terms of the history of syphilis in Britain too, because that’s the year the victorious soldiers and officers returned from Europe after defeating Napoleon’s troops in Spain.  And in their luggage, as it were, they brought back a more virulent strain of the disease than had previously been recorded here. 

As one contemporary author wrote:  “…there is a splendid pox in town, as pure as at the time of Francis I.  The entire army has been laid up with it, boils are exploding  in groins like shells, and purulent jets of clap vie with the fountains.” 

Nice, eh?  

From the outset, within weeks of contracting the disease, Brummell would have known he had it.  Primary syphilis is recognisable by the chancres and rash…the treatments for which could be obtained quite discreetly during the 19th century.  These were mercury-based pills and/or ointments that would clear up the rash and cause the initial chancre to disappear. 

Less curable was the wildly fluctuating libido which was a tell-tale sign of the disease, and that would range from mad for sex (called syphilitic euphoria) one minute to the next in which the sufferer is repelled by it. 

Reckless behaviour, severe depression, lethargy and frequent bouts of self-loathing also accompany this primary stage, and these characteristics certainly increasingly define Brummell’s behaviour during his final years in London–his wild and ever-wilder schemes for raising money, his depression at his deepening debt, his wild addiction to gambling which consumed all else, his rash and unstable behaviour toward old friends, including the Prince Regent.

How long this stage lasts varies between individuals.  But, at the time of the Regency, they believed that the disappearance of the chancres, the mouth ulcers and rashes signified that a sufferer was cured and could no longer communicate the disease.  They couldn’t have been more wrong. 

And Brummell, although he wasn’t bearing the outward insignia of the disease any longer, was far from well.  He was forced by his mountain of debts to flee England in May 1816, and once established in Calais, he shaved off his hair and bought a wig–another sign of the advancing disease is that the hair grows irregularly in unsightly patches.  

So from 1816, Brummell was hard up for money and living in very reduced circumstances, suffering from bouts of fitful depression, physically he probably felt rough all the time, and by now, he was probably impotent too. 

As the years progressed, the disease advanced into its secondary stage which in Brummell’s case (as in so many others) would have meant he ached all the time and the pain would be so bad at night that he couldn’t sleep. 

The onset of secondary syphilis is also accompanied by a measles-like rash a.k.a. roseolas.  And Brummell would have had terrible recurring headaches too.  He would have been acutely sensitive to cold and to heat, as well as suffering from a full gamut of tummy problems.  The mercury would be causing him to salivate excessively.  His teeth would loosen and fall out, along with all his hair.  His eyesight would begin to fail and he wouldn’t be able to distinguish certain colours either.  Certainly, his depression would deepen even further. 

(And anyone who saw him at this time would have known what it was that had infected him thusly–they might not have talked about it, but they all knew.)

By 1834, he was suffering from neuro-syphilitic strokes caused by his continual use of mercury–which is a poison in case you didn’t know.   They also included arsenic and iodide in their treatments at the time…they were mostly concerned with the outward symptoms of the disease, believing as they did, that if you could treat these, the disease wouldn’t act as quickly on the central nervous system.  (Wrong again.)

Brummell appeared to recover from the two recorded strokes.  But that’s deceptive.  He did a spell in prison for debt where he slept on a straw mattress–and that can’t have helped his condition. 

By 1835-36, he was suffering from tabes dorsalis which is the  physical manifestation of the onset of the final stage of tertiary syphilis and its accompanying dementia.  In other words, it’s the slow attack of the disease on the spinal chord and the spinal nerves, hence by this time, those who saw him would have noticed that his walk was ‘creeping’ and ‘snail-like’ and that he stooped. 

The dementia started to kick in as well and his moods would have ranged from extreme mania (hence the stories about him giving imaginary balls and ordering invisible staff about) to periods of quiet realisation of just what was going on and bitter weeping…

On 17 January 1839–against his will–Brummell was admitted into the asylum of Bon Sauveur near Caen. 

rakesprogress2He was now suffering from the final stages of Meningovascular syphilis and his many symptoms included facial paralysis andquaking, the loss of bladder/bowel control, his teeth would all have fallen out, his tongue would have been swollen and cracked and turning black as would his privates, he would have had tumours in the groin, weeping tumours would have appeared on his legs, and his brain would have been shrinking away from the bone casing of his skull and turning eventually to a kind of granulated powder.  He would have been quivering or raving and in constant agonising pain which would make him violent–and the treatment for that was to be hosed down with icy water…

Towards the very end, he suffered from almost continual seizures and quaked pretty much non-stop.  He died at 9.15 on the evening of 30 March 1840. 

I dare say, you now can see why I have a hard time with the presentation of Brummell as merely a man of witty repartee and a fashion icon.  His story is too terrible for that. 

And regardless of how one feels about his morals or lack thereof–I’m not particularly fussed or interested:  he was a man of his time–no one, not any one (no matter what they have done!) deserves to suffer like that.

It’s like reading about the French soldiers who died on the retreat from Moscow.  Now I’m not a fan of the Napoleonic empire, and I’d be the first to list the atrocities Napoleon’s troops committed all over Europe, but when I read accounts that tell me, “We saw round the fires, the half-consumed bodies of many unfortunate men, who, having advanced too near in order to warm themselves, and being too weak to recede, had become prey to the flames.  Some miserable beings blackened with smoke, and besmeared with the blood of the horses which they had devoured, wandered like ghosts…they gazed on the dead bodies of their companions, and, too feeble to support themselves, fell down, and died like them…”

When I read that, I think “No one deserves what Napoleon did to his men.  No one!” 

Even though I know that these very men were carrying the virulent form of syphilis all over Europe and spreading it far and wide via gang-rape–the exhumations of the mass graves of Napoleon’s soldiers from outside Vilnius and Smolensk have revealed (upon forensic analysis) that 80% of Napoleon’s troops were suffering from secondary syphilis.  (Which kind of gives the lie to all Nappy’s claims that he looked after his men like a father…the fellows he took to Russia were dead-men walking.)

It’s probably down to them too that Vienna was so infected with syphilis that young men like Franz Schubert contracted the disease on a night out.  Years later, Robert Schumann had to be incarcerated for the same reason…

But no one deserves these dreadful sufferings, and equally, no one deserves to be reduced to a caricature.  These were all real people, as real as you and me, and that needs never to be forgot nor lost sight of.  Not ever…

Alle Seelen ruhn in Frieden.

Yes, I’m ranting…

Yes, I am ranting.  Rant, rant, rant

And I’ll tell you why.  Because of the internet. 

Because it makes me crazy and because so many misstatements of fact, so many bare-faced lies, and so much misinformed drivel is trotted out as fact on all the various blogs that clot up the blogosphere that it makes me absobloominglutely crazy. 

So there I was today, reading along in my quaint little Englishey fashion, when I came upon a blog about George Brummell–or Beau Brummell, if you prefer.  Whatever. 

And within two paragraphs, I was swearing.  Expleting.  Using the full-force of my extensive vocabulary in three languages! 

(It’s at times like this that I hate being an expert.  I hate, hate, hate it.  I want to be a nice person, you see.  I want to be supportive and lovely and charming and say things like, “That’s utterly fab!” and “I think you’ve done a smashing job…” 

I do not, not, not want to be known as that wild-eyed, wilder-haired semi-lunatic professor who throws chalk [hard] with unerring accuracy at his students and hits them smack in the forehead when they get their Latin verbs wrong!  [I had a professor like that once.  He was utterly brilliant.  Terrifying.  But brilliant.])

Also, please understand that I don’t really have an interest in Brummell one way or another.  I mean, I know lots about the fellow, because I read and research bloody everything, but knowing about him doesn’t get me firing on all cylinders like say the Russian light cavalry or formation of the Landwehr in 1813 does, or anything.  I mean, I’m sure he was perfectly delightful but…

But, okay, back to this blog…Because the first thing that set my teeth on edge was a bit about Brummell going to Eton where he ‘got to rub shoulders with the aristocracy’ as if it’s some sort of rare privilege accorded to a special few and we should all genuflect or something. 

So let me be perfectly clear here:  I am friends with several members of the aristocracy.  Get over it. 

In fact, until her death, my very dearest friend in all the world had a title–an ancient one.  And do you know what?  She was brilliant.  She was smashing.  She was the very least up-herself, stand-on-ceremony, proud or arrogant person in the entire world.  And I loved her dearly.  And I miss her like stink. 

But I’ll tell you something else.  She had to brush her teeth.  Just like everyone else.  And when she didn’t, she got cavities.  Just like everyone else. 

But back to Brummell. 

The thing about that statement–besides the obvious aristophilia issue which has me splenetically croaking–is that the author had just finished telling us that Brummell was born at 10 Downing Street where his father lived because he was the private secretary to Lord North.  Who was the Prime Minister under George III.  And who had, clearly, a title. 

And in and out of the front door of Downing Street, handing Billy Brummell (young George’s father) the requisite sweeteners to ensure that they could get in to see the Prime Minister were half the aristocratic heads in the kingdom.  Because that’s how politics worked in those days.  

So, young George would have been ‘rubbing shoulders’ with the aristocracy from the day he was born–or any time he wasn’t in the nursery…

Okay.  (Breathing in.  Breathing out.)  So then I skipped a bit, because there wasn’t a wall close enough at hand against which I could bang my head.  Hard…

And then I came across the statement that the thingie that’s called a Bow-window is called that because Beau Brummell used to sit in White’s bow window overlooking St. James’s Street.  What? 

Has no one but me heard of that superlative set of volumes known as the Oxford English Dictionary????  The repository of all the most wonderful information and the definitive authority on how and when words came into use in English?  And there’s no bally excuse for not using it because it’s now ON-LINE!

And had the author of this blog bothered to check any of her facts in that fine and noble work, she would know that it was Samuel Richardson who first used the word ‘bow-window’ in print in the year 1753. 

That’s 25 years before George Brummell made his appearance in Downing Street as a squalling brat. 

Later, Repton uses in in a discourse on gardens and conservatories or something.  And Austen used it in 1816 in Emma.  It had nothing to do with Brummell or his soubriquet.

[I have–since yesterday–refered to the index in my copy of Ian Kelly’s biography, Beau Brummell, The Ultimate Dandy, and have found that Kelly does indeed refer to this thrice between pages 245-46.  He writes:  “The facade of White’s clubhouse…was remodelled during the second half of the eighteenth century, and a little later a bay window was added over a former doorway that became a landmark on St. James’s Street.  Here Brummell held court in the afternoons, in a bow window that became known as the Beau Window…The men of the Dandiacal Body…’mustered in force’ around Brummel’s chair in the Beau Window, watching the world go by and telling jokes.”  I, therefore, stand corrected on this point.]

Pause for more of that breathing manoeuvre…

So then, I skipped along and discovered the startling information that [allegedly] Brummell contracted the syphilis from which he died in 1840 in the last years of the 18th century, when he was stationed in Brighton with the Prince’s own 10th Regiment of Light Dragoons. 


The only problem with that bijou fact-ette is that it’s impossible–which she would have known had the author bothered to read the whole of the Kelly biography that she cited in her footnotes. 

Because syphilis was a fast-working killer in those days and as Brummell was clearly suffering the torments of tertiary syphilis in the 1820s and 30’s, he had to have contracted the disease in London, at the height of his fame and popularity.  So around 1811. 

Because by 1816, he’d shaved off his hair to combat the baldness that was a side-effect of the mercury treatment.

Had he contracted the disease in Brighton before 1797 as she averred, he would have been bald and losing his teeth by 1803–the very time he was introducing the starched cravat of folded linen to the gentlemen of White’s Club! 

And the thing that really vexes me and peeves me in all this is that now this blog with all this rot is out there.  You know?  And some perfectly charming little person, having read a Georgette Heyer novel or something, will think, “Oooh Beau Brummell, I should google him…”  

But instead of coming across a piece that will enlighten her and give her an insight into the early 19th century mindset and provide some useful historical context, instead of all that, this charming little person will get regurgitated sancitmonious Victorian de-sexualising b*ll*cks. 

Because that’s what happened!  By the time Gronow and his mateys were writing this pap about Brummell, Victoria was on the throne, Wellington–another quite the virile man about town–was a staid, elderly statesman, and all that naughty Regency stuff had to be white-washed–and for heaven’s sake, no one mention Harriette Wilson (Brummell’s close confidante and Wellington’s former mistress).  And to say they messed with their facts doesn’t even get warm!

The very worst I ever read of that stuff was one late Victorian biog of Brummell which simpered on about his mincing walk which was like he was tiptoeing around the raindrops. 

Ya, right.  A chappie who was a cavalry officer–think boots, well-built shoulders, hard-drinking, hard-swearing, hard-riding, manly man, a fellow who spent 4-5 hours in the saddle every day–is supposed to have tippy-toed around the raindrops.  I don’t think so.

Oh–and another thing.  Brummell broke his nose when meeting face-to-face with a cobblestone.  On account of his horse having shied and spooked. 


I also have met with the ground, nose to nose, as it were, pretty much in the same way.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a cobblestone, it was a hummock on the South Downs, so my nose does not have an interesting tilt to one side.  However…It’s not Romantic.  It’s just what happens…

And I’d also like to add that that prissy little picture of him isn’t Brummell.  The most likely candidate for an accurate picture of him is this one with the broken nose…

So what was Brummell then, if he wasn’t this prissy sissy clothes-horse? 

He was a man’s man.  A very well educated man who wrote rather spiffing epigrams in Latin (most Eton boys did so–they’d been writing plays in Latin or Greek since they were about 14.)  He loved dogs.  And dogs loved him.  He didn’t wear perfume or scented after-shave–he said a man should smell like clean, country-washed linen and nothing else.

And he most especially loved fabric.  Not in a girlie kind of way–but more in the way I conjecture someone like Karl Lagerfeld or Yves St. Laurent loves fabric.  He loved the weaves.  He was passionate about the depth of colour in a good English wool.  He loved how the cut of a coat could show off the fabric. 

And the early 19th century was a great time for English wool–the new mechanised looms were producing some fantastic weaves and blends…and he loved them all.  They set him alight.  And his enthusiasm for the cut of the fabric and for the design that would emphasise that changed English menswear forever. 

He was a dandy when the word didn’t mean some bloke who wears all different colours at one go and has floppy hair. 

A dandy as he lived it [dandy in those days was defined as the opposite of a bore–work that out…] wore perfect tailoring in subtle and dark colours–dark blue or dark green jackets with buff coloured breeches for daytime and for evening black breeches (later pantaloons) with a well-cut black or navy coat.  All of which sounds very contemporary, very button-down, very elegant.  No? 

Oh, and he had a great sense of humour–and played lots of practical jokes.  A lot like Oscar Wilde from what I can tell…

He was seriously addicted to gambling.  Compulsively.  Obsessively.  And it was this which destroyed him.  He gambled away millions.  And his addiction destroyed all his relationships–just as any addiction if left untreated will do–obliterated all other interests.  It left the friends who lent him money to pay off his debts seriously up against it. 

And in the end, he had no choice but to face the bailiffs or scarper off to Calais.  Which is what he chose to do.  In disgrace and ignominy. 

As for this other stuff, well…I think what I need to say is, People, do your research.  Do it properly.  Check everything.  Don’t present yourself as an expert if you’re not.  And don’t even think about blagging it.  

If only because I’m sick of knocking my head against the wall because you can’t be bothered.  

Otherwise, shut the **** up.

The depth is in the detail…

What with one thing and another, I come across a fair few number of young historians and writers in my daily rounds…and novelists and aspiring novelists and historical authors and all that…and I read a fair number of historical blogs too, some of which are utterly superb. 

(I’m always so grateful when someone has written about something I need to know!  It’s very much a case of my cup runneth over kind of thing for me…)

But one thing I’m noticing a lot is an emphasis or reliance on facts and nothing but the facts approach.  And that, in my estimation, has the effect of de-humanising history and reducing the lives of those who lived before us to something about as deep as onion-skin or parchment. 

This can be most acute with timelines, for example–not that I’m suggesting that one shouldn’t learn the facts, the names and dates and all that.  It’s essential.  Obviously, I think that.  I mean without it, you’ve got no framework upon which to hang the understanding of the events and people! 

But the thing is…the thing is…

How can I put this?

Well, the other day, I was talking with a student of history–focusing on the Tudors at the minute–and she was ranting about how much she can’t stand the blighters.  All well and good, but one of the reasons she gave was that Henry VIII stank so badly.  According to her one could get a whiff of his Majesty from a mile away. 

(Which seems hyperbolic to me, even on a windy day…but I digress.)

So I felt forced to say, “Hang a tick,” (not because I like the Tudors, because I don’t), “but I think you’re leaving out an important element here–you’re forgetting that they were human”.  I’m not saying that the Tudors don’t deserve a degree of mockery–as I said, I don’t much care for them.

“And whatever you do”, I continued, “Never let anyone make you forget that however different they were to us, they were human.   And allow them the dignity of being human–not just a name and a series of dates.” 

Probably, my comment went in one ear and out the other–but I tried.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

But it is a thing, you know…there are so many histories and works of historical fiction or romance where the authors seem to have no clue as to the humanity of those about whom they’re writing.

They’re not human, they’re not people–these figures who people the pages–they’re names or titles with a set of posh clothes.  Which makes them a named clothes’ horse–not a person.   These characters or historical figures are nothing more than cardboard cutouts–you can’t imagine them having a lie-in of a Sunday morning, or preferring sausage to streaky rashers with their cooked breakfast. 

But without some sense of character, of likes and dislikes, of what makes them smile or laugh, well, without that…I don’t know…history is reduced to this dry as late autumn leaves affair, with the life crushed out of it.  (Hence, it’s no wonder that today’s students perhaps think history is boring.) 

You see, we’ve got to go beyond the recitation of names and dates to the details that define the individuals.  And not just because it makes for more informative and more interesting reading, but because otherwise we are in danger of missing out on the great wonder and endless variety and sesquisuperlativeness of the human race.

Take the Viscount Castlereagh, for example. 

I mean, yes, he did all sorts of politically amazing things and he was Foreign Secretary from 1812 until his death and led the fight against Napoleon and was a chief mover and shaker at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and probably one of the greatest Foreign Secretary’s ever…all of which is important, but…

…he also had a thing about renovating kitchens.  No, really, he did.  And every time he bought a new house for himself and Lady Castlereagh, the first thing he did was have the kitchen expanded and remodelled. 

I mean, how is that for quirky?  (Frankly, it sounds just like some friends of ours…) 

I don’t know whether he did it because he was a devoted foodie and an early Hugh Fearnley Whittingsall.  I don’t know if he had the kitchens expanded because he was concerned for the health and safety of his cook and thought cooking in a crabby little badly-vented kitchen was bad for her health.  I don’t know if he did it because he was keen as mustard on the new kitchen ranges that were being manufactured at the time and he couldn’t wait to install the newest version…maybe all of the above. 

But every time he bought a house–both Number 18 St. James’s Square and the farmhouse at North Cray in Kent, he redesigned the kitchen and had the walls pushed out until it was all modern and convenient (in the early 1800’s–how funny is that?) and they didn’t move in until the builders had done their work. 

Beethoven’s another one.  Did you know he had deep dimples in his cheeks, and when he smiled broadly, his cheeks had these great whorls in them?  And that he had a wildly flowered dressing gown which he used to wear in the mornings, and the Viennese used to see him through the open window of his flat in Vienna and laugh at him in it–that’s how garish it was.  And he loved it. 

Or Charles Vane Stewart, Castlereagh’s younger half-brother.  The brothers in that family, in general, seemed to be prone to bouts of depression.  (If they’re sounding quite modern–that’s because I think they are–or maybe they’re just human?)  Anyway, the same month that saw their younger brother killed in action in the Peninsula, also saw Stewart’s wife die after an operation to remove a brain tumour…

Stewart sank into a bout of deep depression–he really did love her…

And it was at that point that their son came to live with Castlereagh and Lady Castlereagh, because young Charles simply couldn’t pull himself together after her loss.  He never returned to the Peninsula, but was attached to the Allies from August 1813 as they pushed Napoleon back and back and back, all the way to the gates of Paris. 

Afterwards, he was a diplomatic envoy in Vienna, for the Congress there, and is notorious for drinking heavily (was he self-medicating?), having an affaire with the Princess Bagratian, spending heaps of money, and wearing yellow boots.  And having large parties and rowing with people.  Sounds remarkably like a lot of folk one could mention…

Or Lady Castlereagh…yes, she was a Patroness of Almack’s.  So?  One of the great loves of her life was wild animals–I mean, she was mad for them in the way people today have a thing about elephants or tigers… 

(I know, you didn’t see that one coming…)

And at their farm at North Cray, she had built a vast aviary and a menagerie, in which she kept ostriches, kangaroos, llamas, a zebra and even a lion.   She was also a seriously switched-on exotic gardener–O’Brian’s Dr. Maturin would have been her kind of guy–so she had this great exotic hothouse constructed so that she could grown the tropical plants which were sent to her from all over the world…And she really knew her botany…I mean, how cool is that?  How real?  How genuine? 

Another one–a person I don’t much talk about–is Lady Caroline Lamb.  Yes, there are all the famous stories about her chasing after Byron and all sorts.  But, she also lost two children.  I don’t know if it was a case of miscarriage or still-birth, but I do know that she suffered terribly with depression after the loss of those babies.  Her husband, William, was equally cast down, bless him. 

And all those stories about her slitting her wrists or swallowing shattered glass–do those not hint at a girl who–however rich and titled–just couldn’t cope and who was self-harming? 

(It sort of changes the way you look at her, doesn’t it?  It brings her closer…and makes her more understandable…even one of us.)

Beau Brummell loved dogs.  Really loved them.  It was one of the things that drew him to Chatsworth, where he was friends with the Duchess of Devonshire–she had lots and lots of dogs.  And, dogs loved him…Which tells you a lot more about his character than that he wore a high cravat–if you see what I mean…

So there you go…look for the detail, the individuality…it will bring history to life in all its glorious Technicolor delight. 

Because, I don’t know about you, but I am definitely more than my date of birth and where I went to school…and it seems to me that since I’d like to be known for more than that, the least I can do for those friends who’ve gone before, is to get to know them as I would wish to be known…

What exactly is the Regency, anyway?

I don’t know why it is, but I seem to be writing a lot about things about which I had vowed never to mention. 

Like recently I broke my promise to myself that I would never ever write about the Prince Regent.  But there I was a few months ago typey-tapping out a post on what a wild sexy young thing he’d been when in his late teens and early twenties. 

(I know!  What came over me?) 

And now this…this term, the Regency. 

You see, the thing is, I loathe the inexact, twee use of this word.  It makes me want to thrash my laptop with a riding crop.  Or beat my head against the desk.  Or both.  Together or separately, I don’t much mind which.  And there is so much misleading, misguided misinformation out there about it that…well, we’re back to the laptop or my head taking a pasting…

So, I shall clear up the whole weebley conundrum for once and for all.  Now.  Today. 

The Regency…Well, to begin with, there are actually two Regencies in English history. Continue reading

A few words about the Prince Regent

I know, I know…I never talk about the Prince Regent.  I make it a point not to.

However, last night I watched the first of a three-part series on the English Regency.  And while there was some good stuff there, as well as a number of elements which deserve criticism–and while I equally feel that the controller of BBC4 deserves a good kicking for the infantilisation of history-documentaries in general–there’s one tendency which was abundantly on display in Elegance and Decadance that I cannot let pass. 

It’s the creation of a wrong impression by failing to tell the whole story or failing to place an event or artefact in context.

From the off, we were into ‘wrong impression’ territory.  The presenter showed the camera a corset that the young Prince George (born 1762) had worn as a child which was meant to help him grow up straight and tall.  This corset was, of course, presented as restrictive and unfeelingly strict.  Which I suppose it was. 

But what the viewer wasn’t told was that the young Prince George wasn’t alone in wearing a corset like this.  In that era, it was normal.  The disease of rickets was every 18th century parent’s nightmare–they didn’t know it was caused by a vitamin deficiency.  So they corseted young children in the belief that they were supporting correct growth.

(And this was the future King of England for heaven’s sake–he had to grow up straight and tall.  He couldn’t be a hunchback–that would have had overtones of Richard III…)  All of a sudden, that corset doesn’t look quite so much like child cruelty, does it?  But without context, the unwary non-historian is led to a false conclusion.

Then of course, there was the fact that the Regency officially began in February 1811 and lasted until 1820, which is strictly true, but not the full story–as anyone who has seen Alan Bennett’s The Madness of King George might tell you.  Because George III didn’t just have one lapse into madness in 1810 which proved permanent–he’d been dodging in and out of lucidity for quite a long time as a result of the disease porphyria. 

So although there hadn’t been an Act of Parliament making Prince George the Regent before 1811, they’d come awfully close to it on a previous occasion; then the king had recovered his wits, so they didn’t.  

There’s another thing.  We hear all the time in the press and elsewhere about the need to look beyond the surface of a situation to discover the root causes–for instance to look beneath the surface of sudden teenage rebellion to find perhaps troubled family relationships or family alcoholism or maybe bullying…something.  But when too many historians look at past lives, the insights into emotional cause and effect or troubled relationships and context just evaporate. 

Poof.  It’s gone. 

And we’re left with the same old “he was hated…he was fat…he was…”

Now I’m not going to insist that Prince George was likeable or even lovable.  I’m sure he had his share of faults and vices, and then some.  But I do know this:  he was young once.  He wasn’t always a grotesque, leering caricature poured into too-tight clothes. 

And when he was young, he was something!  Tall, good-looking, dashing, sexy…the public and press adored him.  He was the Brad Pitt of his day.  He hung out with the fastest crowd–the Devonshire set (as in Amanda Foreman’s biography, Georgiana)–and they were daring, energetic, wild and witty, they rejected the stuffiness of the staid court of his father, they embraced the ideals of the French philosophes and the French Revolution in its early stages.  And he was at the centre of it. 

As a series of acts of filial rebellion, it was superb.  And that’s what it was.  

And it was more than that.  Because Prince George was Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne. 

Now I am a fan of George III.  But on the subject of raising children, he was just a tad on the controlling side.  Okay, I’m lying–he was controlling to the point of unreasonableness.  He simply could not be brought to allow Prince George even a hint of freedom or responsibility.  The Prince’s younger brother had been sent to North America with the navy during the Wars of Independence, ostensibly as a young officer, but actually to spy for his father and conduct secret negotiations. 

But for the Prince of Wales, nothing.  His father wouldn’t allow him a place in the army nor the navy, wouldn’t let him to travel outside of England.  Wouldn’t even give him his own estate or household to manage.  He was the heir to the throne and his person could not be exposed to any danger.  Not any.   

And given that, it’s not perhaps surprising that when finally he did escape from his father’s control, when he finally did get out into the world, young George kicked over the traces–he got himself the most beautiful girlfriends, he stayed up all night gambling and drinking, he rode hard, he swore, he hunted, he wore clothes to wind his father up, he did it all. 

The press loved it!  They revelled in using the spectacle of his wild and pleasure-seeking life as a stick with which to beat his father, the King, who was none too popular at the time, due to the loss of those pesky American colonies.  And it drove the straight-laced King potty.  (Who says James Dean invented teenage rebellion?)

But, he was the Prince of Wales, the heir to the throne.  And as that he had only one job:  waiting.  That’s it.  Waiting to be King.  Nothing else.  And his father kept the reins of government, such as they were, firmly in his own hands.  No sharing. 

And despite the image we have of fat, stupid, lazy…Prince George was not stupid.  He was rather intelligent, in fact, with a lifelong love of Greek and Latin literature.  He was a singer with an impressive bass voice, and a sublime cellist–he possessed a deep musicality.  But with that intelligence, with that musicality, he was allowed to do nothing.  So, (in today’s parlance) he channelled his boredom and frustration into what he could do, what he could control, what would irritate his parent–spending money, living garishly and wildly.  In short, into anything that would define him as the opposite of his father. 

Eventually the excesses and mass executions of the French Revolution made Whiggism privately impossible for him–those aristocrats and crowned heads they guillotined in France, those were his friends and cousins, in some cases, so their loss was personal and he grieved for them. (The Duchess of Devonshire was a close friend and correspondent of Marie Antoinette and her ladies in waiting…) Still, by then, rebellion, wildness, fecklessness had become his default setting.  And an arranged marriage to a young woman with a serious hygiene deficiency (his closest friend, Brummell, was the instigator of the daily bath, remember) did nothing to improve the situation.

Which somehow makes him rather understandable–not lovable perhaps–but definitely human. 

Another small point.  The presenter of the series brought up George’s love of uniforms and the number of these in his wardrobe as well as showing us many portraits of him in different military uniforms.  She also derided his habit in later life of recounting the Battle of Salamanca as if he’d been there; ditto his belief that he’d been at Waterloo.

Now, I’m not saying that fashion was kind to the Prince.  It wasn’t.  Skin-tight trousers do not sit well on a fellow of late middle age with a 50″ waistline. 

However, Prince George had grown up and lived in an era of military heroes.  In the 18th century, the ideal of a true gentleman, a true nobleman, was a fellow who dodged bullets as the bravest soldier during the day and then spent his evenings and nights making passionate and delicious love to the ladies.  (I’m not making this up.)

Admiral Lord Nelson had been loved, adored and idolised by the press and public.  He was the kind of military hero who had his arm shot off, the skin blown off his forehead and down into his face, who went down to the surgeon to be patched up and then came back up for more.  He led his men into battle from the front and he was lionised for it.

He may have been the enemy, but Napoleon Bonaparte was a military leader who had won a crown, a country and an empire through military prowess.   His court was that of a military state and he the premier soldier of the age, the head of the French army.

Tsar Alexander and the Prussian King, Frederick William, were both present at many of the battles in which their armies fought (not always with positive results).  It’s what kings did.

Seen in this contextual light, George is no different from his fellow monarchs…he didn’t get to go to war, his father and Parliament wouldn’t allow it.  But kings wore the uniforms of their armed forces, it was part of the job.  And if George wanted some of the adulation which Nelson received, if he thought the uniform would help…well, I fancy one can see his reasoning.

Anything else?  Well, I dare say there is.  But I can’t think of it right now.  No doubt it’ll come to me…