The Long Lost Story of Prinny's Tailor by Guest Blogger Charles Bazalgette

Charles Bazalgette is at present writing the biography of his great-great-great-great-grandfather Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830), who was tailor to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) for 32 years, but who is quite unknown and has never been mentioned in any books. The only reason why he has been able to piece together his life story is because he researched him from the genealogical angle, a task that has so far taken him 15 years. As Charles told us:

This biography, which is planned to be ready to publish next year, had its origins in my genealogical research into the British branch of the Bazalgette family, of whom Louis (who was born in the Cevennes in southern France) was the patriarch. When researching Louis’ life, apart from the usual vital records, I hit the proverbial brick wall. He was an unknown man. He never got his name in the newspapers, apart from the odd modest donation to charity, and was never mentioned in contemporary accounts, diaries etc., of which I ploughed through a great number. He never advertised, probably because the Prince’s orders for clothes took up all of his manufacturing capacity. The fact that over many years I have been able to piece together his life story is due mainly to the ‘snapping up of unconsidered trifles’ and to painstaking detective work, plus those few measures of luck that lead the researcher up the right path, against the run of the play, which usually consists of Dame Fortune blithely pointing him down the garden variety.

The main point is that it’s very clear that Louis was a self-effacing, discreet and even secretive man. So, having become the Prince’s tailor when the latter was as young as eighteen, he was able to visit him to take and deliver orders almost clandestinely, which of course suited both of them very well, and though the quantity of clothes he supplied was colossal, he passed unobserved. His name did appear in the royal accounts as being owed far more than any other creditor, but otherwise, apart from amassing a large fortune, and then lending money to the Prince and his brothers, as well as to other prominent figures such as Richard Sheridan, unless, like me, you had followed him like a bloodhound, you would never have found this out.

So Louis was (until now) the Unknown Tailor, who made most of Prinny’s clothes from 1780 until at least 1795. By this time, the Prince had met the young Beau Brummell, and under his influence was beginning to look to English tailors for his clothes, and to dress in a more sober style. Another important reason why the Prince’s clothes orders to Louis diminished after 1795 was that he owed so much money to Louis, who had, by the good offices of Thomas Coutts, ensured that these loans were all in the form of debenture bonds, which Prinny (or rather Parliament) could not escape paying, that he needed to spread his debts elsewhere. Nevertheless, Louis continued to supply his fanciful uniforms, and livery for his household, until about 1812.

Louis was therefore the right man at the right time, providing an exclusive service of great quality and efficiency and almost imperceptibly making himself a millionaire, in modern terms, as a result. He was then able, in his unnoticed way, to become a propertied gentleman and to enjoy his dotage as Lord of the Manor of Great Bookham.

A few words about the research I did…I did a great deal of reading around the subject and the period, and fruitless searching for mentions of the tailor Prinny used. All accounts mention the later tailors, such as John Weston, Schweitzer & Davidson etc. I started a chronology of known events in the Louis’ life, which looked rather sparse until I discovered that Louis was a customer of Coutt’s Bank in the Strand. If you are researching a potential customer it is always worth checking with their archivist. I was allowed to examine and photograph the original ledgers, and therefore had all of Louis’ bank statements fron 1792 until 1830. This was before digital cameras so each page was on a 5×7 print. As you can imagine, reading the prints with a magnifiying glass and transcribing all of the entries into the chronology took a great deal of time, but it was worth it because I learned a great deal about his activities, and so was able to research the people mentioned.

Although I used to visit archives personally while we lived in England, we moved to western Canada twelve years ago. Fortunately the growth of the internet the digitization of records, and the arrival of online catalogues etc has done nothing to to harm my research at all. Quite the opposite. I had the first draft almost done, when by mere chance I discovered that all Louis’ accounts with the Prince between 1786 and 1795 were quietly rotting away in a box in the National Archives. I had all 300 pages photographed (digitally this time), and am about half-way through transribing these records. They have added immeasurably to the tailoring content of the book, which previously had been sadly lacking before. I’m quite glad to have discovered these records late in the day, when a lot of the more humdrum work has already been done. It’s like the Devonshire cream on the scone! I have had to learn a great deal about 18th century tailoring in a few months, and am still learning, but it has been quite fascinating.

Some excerpts from the book, and other information on 18th century tailoring, can be found on Charles’ blog.

The Costume Parade and Final Panel at the JASNA AGM

Victoria here with a passle of pictures from the Portland OR meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America on Halloween  weekend. Be sure to scroll down to the end to experience the piece de resistance of the final panel.

As befits the elegance of the members, a Bal Masque brought out the finest of our costumes. Below, the best of my shots (which probably isn’t saying much).

On Sunday morning, we reluctantly had to say good-bye, But we first enjoyed a lovely brunch and the final panel, “Dispute Without Mayhem,” which brought us a variety of views on Northanger Abbey.  But all the panelists agreed on one point: it is often under-rated!!  Panelists were Diana Birchall, William Phillips and Joan Ray, all with several (often hilarious) points to make. The moderator was Kimberly Brangwin, who managed to keep the  miscreants in order.

Finally, William favored us with one of his creations saying that his efforts in the poetry field were, at least in this case, limited to doggerel, which is often defined as verse for comic effect.  I think he succeeded admirably.

Doggerel Abbey, by William Phillips

Posthumously published—though the first written.

By this clever spoof, we’re bound to be smitten.

In early 20s, Jane started this journey—

Hell of a tribute to Radcliffe and Burney.

* * *

No heiress, no beauty, no genius, please meet

Catherine Morland, who at first, seems just – sweet!

Her mind might seem blank except for a head full

Of Gothic romance, which verges on dreadful.

As comp’ny to Bath by the Allens she’s sought,

And there in the web of the Thorpes is she caught.

Cath’s brother’s the goal of sly Isabella.

Miss M’s chased by John, a right unctuous fella.

She meets Henry Tilney – falls head over heels.

His father thinks Cathy is money on wheels.

Though unknown to Henry, her fortune’s no size.

Her letch for him simply puts stars in his eyes.

He’s smart and ‘in charge’, and though never grovels,

Shows sensitive side—knows muslin—reads novels.

Sis’ Eleanor—classiest gal in the book

Builds friendship with Cath’rine that really does cook.

Henry’s pizzazz makes John Thorpe just look shabby,

So C. splits and visits Northanger Abbey.

It’s all misadventure – strange chest and locked room.

C. thinks the Gen’ral’s a purveyor of doom!

Thorpe tells the Gen’ral, C’s fortune is lacking,

So in a great snit, he sends Cathy packing.

Henry learns of this, most vexed, does not tarry,

Follows to Wiltshire and asks her to marry.

Cath’rine’s parents say, “Wait! Permission’s a must!”

It looks like their hopes may be dashed in the dust.

Then E. marries Viscount—pleased Gen’ral lets go.

The kids live quite well on the dead mother’s dough.

* * *

The jury’s been mixed—some onions—some roses.

Quite a few critics have turned up their noses.

“Rather confused,” say some lit’rary sages,

But Cath’rine and we—learn lots in these pages!

© 2010 by William Phillips

Copy of William’s doggerel, courtesy of AustenBlog.

William Phillips in his Bal Masque disguise!!

Thus concludes, with a grin, my coverage of the JASNA AGM of 2011 in lovely Portland, OR.  Next year, Fort Worth, Texas.

Sotheby's to Auction the Duchess of Windsor's Jewels – Again

Twenty-three years after the legendary auction of the “Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor” – still the most valuable single-owner jewelry collection ever sold – Sotheby’s will offer 20 pieces for sale in London on Nov. 30, 2010 that include renowned examples formerly owned by the Duchess of Windsor and King Edward VIII. An unidentified owner is selling the items, which were acquired at the Sotheby’s sale in Geneva in April 1987.

Eleven Cartier pieces are included in the new sale. Among these is an onyx-and-diamond bracelet designed, with the Duke’s encouragement, in the form of a panther by Jeanne Toussaint for Cartier in 1952. This is expected to sell for between $1.5 million and 2.3 million pounds, as is a flamingo-shaped brooch by Toussaint that the Duchess bought in 1940.

David Bennett, chairman of Sotheby’s Jewelry in Europe and the Middle East, said: “The offering comprises not only incomparable examples of the genius of Cartier in collaboration with the Windsors, but also pieces whose inscriptions tell the story of perhaps the greatest love story of the 20th century, the romance that led Edward VIII to abdicate the throne of Great Britain.” A few of the other pieces offered in the upcoming auction include:

A Cartier heart-shaped emerald, ruby and diamond brooch, with the initials W.E. (Wallis, Edward)  done in emeralds and a pair of X’s in blood red rubies -commissioned in 1957 to mark their 20th wedding anniversary.

A diamond bracelet set with nine jewelled crosses is one of the most famous and personal of all the Duchess’s jewels. On the back of each cross is an inscription commemorating a significant event in the lives of the couple. Most of the crosses date from the 1930s, but two, one set with amethyst and one set with yellow sapphires, commemorate Wallis’s appendectomy and her recovery from it in 1944. The sapphire and diamond cross is inscribed “Our marriage cross Wallis 3.VI.37,” while the aquamarine cross refers to an attempt on the King’s life with the inscription “God save the King for Wallis 16.VII.36.” The sapphire cross was given to Wallis to commemorate Edward’s 41st birthday in 1935. The emerald cross is called the X Ray cross and marks the day that the Duchess had an X-ray taken. The ruby cross commemorates a vacation in Austria in 1935. The platinum cross is inscribed “WE are too” and is dated 25 November 1934, a few days before the marriage of Edward’s favourite brother, George Duke of Kent, to Princess Marina of Greece. The diamond cross, inscribed “The Kings Cross God Bless WE” and dated 1 March 1936, commemorates a time when Wallis was visiting France and when, during her absence, Edward VIII and Mr Simpson discussed the future of the King’s relationship with Wallis while Edward agreed to be faithful to her if her husband agreed to a divorce. The Duchess can be seen wearing this bracelet in the photo at the top of this post.

Also going on sale is a gold cigarette case decorated with a map of Europe showing the routes travelled by Edward and Mrs Simpson in the 1930s; the routes are enamelled and the destinations are marked with diamonds and cabochon gems. The inscription shows that this was a Christmas present from Edward to Wallis in 1935.

You can watch video from the 1987 Sotheby’s auction and access the sale catalogue here.