Rooms with a View, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York By Ariella Budick
Published: April 14 2011 Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century’ continues until July 4 2011 A view is a precious commodity in New York. Most of us gaze out of our windows at pigeons roosting in dusty airshafts, at neighbours fixed on flickering screens or, if we’re lucky, at buses and taxis huffing along noisy thoroughfares. So the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s quietly exhilarating Rooms With a View abounds in vicarious pleasure. It is both an airy escape into borrowed vistas and a deep meditation on the solace of walls. The show covers a brief period and a slender subject: the open window, as rendered by German, Danish and French artists in the first half of the 19th century who embraced the theme as a multifaceted symbol of the veil between private and public life, culture and nature, domesticity and wilderness. Marianne, the overwrought younger sister in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, spends much of the novel gazing through window panes: “She sometimes endeavoured for a minute to read; but the book was soon thrown aside, and she returned to the more interesting employment of walking backwards and forwards across the room, pausing for a moment whenever she came to the window.” In painting after painting at the Met, a solitary figure does the same, lingering in a halo of anxiety, contemplation, and desire. That could almost be Marianne in a green room painted by Georg Friedrich Kersting in 1811 (the year of Austen’s novel), sitting at a desk and studying a vista we can’t see. Daylight suffuses the room, glossing her blond plait and the smock draped across her Empire gown. That might be her again in a glorious work by Caspar David Friedrich, leaning out towards the riverscape and a passing mast. Her face is hidden, but we see what she sees. The window took centre stage after 1806 as northern European artists rejected the heroic narratives of the neoclassical era. In the wake of Napoleon, visions of ancient Greece and Rome gave way to humble interiors dappled with sunlight. The moment is always the present, the people – when there are any – do almost nothing but immerse themselves in the spectacle of life at home. Friedrich more or less invented the genre in 1805, when he penned two sepia drawings of the view from his Dresden studio. They are, in effect, portraits of windows filtering the day’s gleam. It is true that Dutch painters had already bathed actions and half-completed thoughts in floods of light but, in those 16th-century scenes, illumination entered the room obliquely. Friedrich turned the window into the painting’s main subject and a ripe metaphor. Windows let us survey the wilds of city and country from the safety of home and to witness transformations – the staining and drifting of leaves, the sprouting of new buds – from an unchanging lookout. They intimate adventure without risk. In Wuthering Heights, the quintessential romantic novel, windows separate life from death. Characters fling them open to die, ghosts pound against them to rejoin the living. The best works here describe the barest chambers. In Wilhelm Bendz’s Copenhagen interior, furniture and occupants cling to the room’s periphery, while wide, rough floorboards roll across the empty centre. The mood is contemplative and companionable. Two brothers keep silent company in the luminous green space. One stands, elbows on a writing desk, gaze fixed on the wall. The other sits across the room, facing the same direction but inhabiting a separate world. Along the edges of the canvas, a smattering of objects offers clues to the men’s identities and inclinations. A hat with a red pom-pom testifies to one brother’s military career; a human skull hints that the other is a doctor. Like so many interiors in the show, this is a portrait of a middle-class home – sober, spare, adorned by fragments of the great tradition. In the Danish brothers’ room, a plaster statuette of Naucides’ “Standing Discobolus” perches atop a bookshelf, a typical piece of household equipment from this period. A fragmentary marble foot dangles from a wall in Kersting’s “Man at His Desk”. A similar stump of a statue balances on the sill that gives on to Martinus Rorbye’s view of Copenhagen harbour. Busts, vases, and other classical tchotchkes disport themselves about sitting rooms and artists’ studios. Yet all this memorabilia gets shoved to the margins, suggesting the degree to which the power of antiquity has waned. Early 19th-century artists, schooled in the Greco-Roman past but drawn to the rough immediacy of nature, used the window as a border zone between convention and experience. In their paintings, they could tame life’s unpredictability by framing it in a series of nested views. The window is a metaphor for the artist’s eye, which mediates and rearranges nature’s raw materials. The arts conspired to make wilderness bearable for audiences who preferred to keep their distance. Imagine one of these northern rooms in 1827, awash with lamplight on a winter evening. A few friends have gathered to play chamber music and the mellow notes of Schubert’s Winterreise reverberate off the planked floors, conjuring baying winds, crackling ice, and the cries of dogs and ravens. The cosy company experiences winter’s trauma through Schubert’s music, which filters and redeems the iciness outdoors. By mid-century, when Adolph Menzel created his small, exquisite pictures of five empty rooms, the window no longer required either viewer or view. In “The Artist’s Sitting Room in Ritterstrasse” (1851), the curtains are drawn, admitting only a thin ration of light. As late romantics shifted their attention to the inner landscapes of the soul, Menzel displayed the imagination’s habitat: a warmly shadowed room that excluded the world’s corrupt distractions. The best thing about an open window, he implies, is that it can be closed.
By ROBERTA SMITH Published: April 7, 2011 in New York Times The first thing that distinguishes “Rooms With a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century,” a compact, quietly splendid exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is simply this: Its galleries have been painted a wonderful shade of oyster-grayish white. In the context of the Met, where the walls of special exhibitions tend toward plum, russet or evergreen, this pale, elegant hue is the visual equivalent of smelling salts. Its head-clearing effect is the perfect start for a show of artworks permeated for the most part by a luminous light and a concomitant clarity of vision that regularly translates life’s daily pleasures — starting with looking out windows — into images of surprising formal rigor and emotional weight. As the title implies, the show has a fairly specific theme. Its 31 modest paintings and 26 works on paper, borrowed from museums all over Europe, depict interiors with windows. Organized by Sabine Rewald, of the Met’s department of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art, the show explores the open window as a favored motif of certain Romantic painters — mostly German, Scandinavian or French. It begins, chronologically, in the early 1800s with the great German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich, and extends almost to 1860 with some presciently Impressionist works by the facile Adolph Menzel, also German. But the majority of its works fall between 1810 and 1830. As seen here, the window often is the focal point for a certain poignant, implicitly Romantic yearning, functioning as an interface between near and far, known and mysterious, private and public, art and nature. This yearning is especially tangible in Friedrich’s 1822 “Woman at the Window,” which shows his wife, her back to us, straining delicately to see out of a window narrowed by shutters. The images in “Rooms With a View” range from cozy Biedermeier sitting rooms to vaulting studios at the Villa Medici in Rome and tend to convey a decidedly cosseted vision of life. You’d never know that parts of Europe were ravaged by the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath for many of the years covered by this show. Yet the works here may qualify as passively subversive. They determinedly say no to established authoritative statements: formal portraiture and large-scale history painting, or depictions of grand structures and even the stark or overwhelming landscapes characteristic of a more outdoorsy Romanticism, including Friedrich’s. Instead the works here stay close to home, concentrating on the places and often the people the artists knew best, and resonating with intimate truths and internal logics of their own. The show sings with the satisfying visual rhyming of the four-square forms of windows, walls and rooms with the rectilinear format of canvas or paper. The geometries of everyday life echo the actual proportions of the works before our eyes, reinforcing and elaborating the act of looking. Many of these images have the sweetness and modesty of photographs, whose rise was still years off when most of these works were made. Certainly they seem closer to photography in their realism and uninflected revelations of detail than to the interiors and genres scenes of the 17th-century Dutch paintings from which they descend, although they have an immediacy of detail and color that photography would not achieve until the early 20th century. Each work presents an unpretentious, eminently habitable space that seems almost continuous with our own. Some rooms are depicted with one or more occupants — a standing couple, seemingly deep in conversation; a man sitting at a desk; a woman similarly situated, embroidering by an open window; another woman sewing at night, with one of the show’s few depictions of a lowered shade. These particular events all transpire in small canvases painted from 1811 to 1827 by Georg Friedrich Kersting (1785-1847), a close friend of Friedrich’s who is not well known to American audiences. He seemed to specialize in images of self-knowing solitude and, represented by seven paintings here, is one of the show’s stars. Other images brim with quiet companionship. In Wilhelm Bendz’s marvelous interior, the artist’s two brothers pursue their studies in a slightly disheveled room distinguished by vivid turquoise walls. You may want to live there, once they pick up a bit. In “The Family Circle” by the Danish artist Emilius Baerentzen from around 1803, we encounter a man, three women and a child in a sitting room whose window, draped in a light-infused translucent red curtain, reveals a view of sunbathed building facades that reads as a separate painting. Other rooms are empty or nearly so, and often become the occasion for richocheting reflections of form and space caught in mirrors. This happens quietly in the grays of Kersting’s watercolor “Interior II” and flamoyantly in an ink-wash rendering by Johann Erdmann Hummel, where one-point perspective is exquisitely amplified by the pulsing geometries of carpet and ceiling beams. Many of the interiors are modest domestic spaces, a sitting room or small study. But a substantial number are artists’ studios, whether they overlook the Elbe in Dresden or St. Peter’s in Rome. One of the show’s subtexts, in fact, is the way artists lived and worked and related to one another during this era, often by painting one another at work. For example, Kersting’s 1812 painting of the painter Friedrich Matthäi in his studio shows a slight, nervous man hunched over a small oil study on his easel; heavier lifting awaits in the form of a wide swath of pristine canvas extending from a roll of the material onto a towering white framelike structure. One of the show’s rare self-portraits is a seductive study in creamy textures from 1817 that shows the young French painter Léon Cogniet, in his high-ceilinged room at the French Academy’s recently acquired Villa Medici in Rome, newly arrived and with his bags barely unpacked. Cogniet leans against his bed reading what Ms. Rewald identifies as a letter from home, while the lush landscape visible through an open window resembles a large oil study that he might soon paint. Seemingly suspended between action and indolence, art and bed, the world back home and the one outside his window, Cogniet perfectly captures his ambivalence. According to Ms. Rewald, all this began with Friedrich, who gave a new emphasis to the window motif in some sepia drawings from 1805-6 that depict one or another of the beautifully proportioned windows, set in generous, round-topped niches, in his studio overlooking the Dresden riverfront. Two of these drawings hang in the show’s third gallery, and their stripped-down severity still startles. They have the kind of unstinting precision that Ingres might lavish on a drawing of an elaborately accoutered Parisian, yet they exalt nothing but the bare-bones form of the windows and the gentle light they admit to a plain room that we barely see. (Friedrich’s studio was frequently compared to a monk’s cell, an observation borne out by Kersting’s 1811 painting of his friend hard at work at his easel. ) These works remained with Friedrich for years, influencing artists who visited him — including some with studios in the same Dresden building and who depicted views through similar windows in works that are also in the show. In one of these the Danish artist Johan Christian Dahl — wanting to avoid copying his friend too closely — has replaced the distant harbor view in Friedrich’s drawings with a glistening Prussian palace that was actually several miles upriver. The room-window-view equation turned out to be a satisfying, self-ordering arrangement that continued to attract painters, reaching an apotheosis of sorts — but hardly exhausting itself — in the art of Matisse. Over the course of this marvelous show, that equation is under constant adjustment. In addition to windows that look like paintings in their own right, some windows are mere blank rectangles; others expand the painting-within-a-painting concept until the room all but disappears. These fluctuations, with illumination as the constant, offer support for the argument that painting may ultimately be about little more than the communication of some quality of light and space, however abstract or indirect. In “Rooms With a View” this communication is marvelously direct.
Brummell was born in London, the son of William Brummell, of Donnington Grove in Berkshire. He was fair complexioned, and had "a high nose, which was broken down by a kick from a horse soon after he went into the Tenth Dragoons...." His father died in 1794, leaving him an inheritance of more than 20,000 pounds. He was educated at Eton and at Oriel College, and later joined the Tenth Light Dragoons. It was during this time he came to the attention of George, Prince of Wales. Through the influence of the Prince, Brummell had been promoted to captain by 1796. When his regiment was sent from London to Manchester he resigned his commission because of Manchester's poor reputation and atmosphere and the lack of culture and civility exercised by the general populace.
Brummell took a house on Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, and, for a time, avoided extravagance and gaming: for example, he kept horses but no carriages. He was included in Prince George's circle, where he made an impression with his elegant, understated manner of dress and clever remarks. His fastidious attention to cleaning his teeth, shaving, and bathing daily became popular. When asked how much it would cost to keep a single man in clothes, he was alleged to have replied: "Why, with tolerable economy, I think it might be done with £800." (The average wage for a craftsman being £1 a week) Such liberal spending rapidly began to take a toll on his capital.
He was influenced by his wealthy friends as well. He began spending and gambling as though his fortune were as great as theirs. This was not a problem while he could still float credit. Brummell, Lord Alvanley, Henry Mildmay and Henry Pierrepoint were considered the prime movers of Watier's, dubbed "the Dandy Club" by Byron. They were also the four hosts of the masquerade ball in July 1813 at which the Prince Regent greeted Alvanley and Pierrepoint, but then "cut" Brummell and Mildmay by snubbing them, staring them in the face but not speaking to them. This provoked Brummell's famous remark, "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?". This finalized the long-developed rift between them, dated by Campbell to 1811, the year the Prince became Regent and began abandoning all his old Whig friends. Normally, the loss of royal favour to a favourite was doom, but Brummell ran as much on the approval and friendship of other rulers of the several fashion circles. He became the anomaly of a favourite flourishing without a patron, still in charge of fashion and courted by large segments of society.
However, his debt spiralled out of control, and he tried to recover by devices that only dug the hole deeper. In 1816, he fled to France to escape debtor's prison - he owed thousands of pounds. Usually, Brummell's gambling debts, as "debts of honour", were always paid immediately. The one exception to this was the final wager recorded for him in White's betting book. Recorded March, 1815, the debt was marked "not paid, 20th January, 1816".
He lived the remainder of his life in France, acquiring an appointment to the consulate at Caen due to the influence of Lord Alvanley and the Marquess of Worcester, only in the reign of William IV. This provided him with a small annuity. He died penniless and insane from strokes in Caen in 1840.
A statue of Brummell by Irena Sedlecka was erected on London's Jermyn Street in 2002
All mouth and trousers
Famed for a wit that was as sharp as the cut of his tail coat, Beau Brummell set the standard for the modern dandy. Simon Mills measures up his successors
The Guardian, Saturday 17 June 2006
Baudelaire once commented that true dandies should have "no profession other than elegance ... no other status but that of cultivating the idea of beauty in their own persons." "The dandy," he wrote, "must aspire to be sublime without interruption; he must live and sleep before a mirror."
George Bryan "Beau" Brummell, then, must qualify as the most committed dandy of them all. Not only was he an enthusiastic, lifelong slave to his mirrors, he also polished them with champagne. His outrageously flamboyant, nascent rock'n'roll lifestyle, decadent splurging, shameless narcissism and meticulous attention to vanity and wardrobe has set the gold standard for dandies ever since.
Today, the dandy is the celebrity who has made shopping into a spectator sport, whose extravagant lifestyle has become the stuff of entertaining tittle-tattle in Heat, Closer and Tatler. The likes of Puff Daddy and Jay-Z, both of whom adopt an obsessively hygienic "fresh to death" approach to toilet and trouser, footballer David Beckham, who is said to throw away his Calvin Klein underpants after a single wearing, even interior designer Nicky Haslam, who Andy Warhol once called "the best dressed man in the world", are dandies in every way.
Despite their blue-blooded affectations, bona fide dandies were never proper toffs and used their rigorously considered outfits and highfalutin' mannerisms as deception. Even though they were frequently living on the poverty line, they audaciously copied the peccadilloes of the aristocracy, and were tireless contrapuntists when it came to clobber. "The dandy," says James Purefoy's Brummell in BBC4's excellent new drama, "is a portrait of studied carelessness but without the appearance of study." Here's how he compares with others down the years.
Beau had three hairdressers to groom him, one for the sideburns, one for the forelock and one for the back of the head. Other aesthetic conceits included having two glovers, one for the thumb and one for the fingers, and sending his laundry to the country, claiming that they were the only ones who knew how to bleach correctly. Brummell was also a profoundly influential trend-setter who rejected powdered wigs, rouge, stiffly-starched cravats and knee breeches made of peacock silks, and dressed, instead, in unfashionably edgy, austere blacks, whites and greys. He preferred smart trousers to pantomimic pantaloons and the natural fragrance of "country air" to poncy, concocted fragrances. Audaciously, he even managed to persuade the Prince Regent to do the same. Brummell died, a malodorous and incontinent sloven, in a mental hospital at the age of 61.
Alfred Guillaume Gabriel d'Orsay was a bisexual, gambler, political fixer and extreme dandy who directly influenced the sartorial style of admirers and groupies including Thackeray, Disraeli and Dickens. D'Orsay would employ two men to carry his dressing case, changed his heavily-perfumed dog-skin gloves six times a day, had his tailor make trousers for his pet pigeons and would pay a boy a guinea a pop to light his cigars. D'Orsay's personal life was not so particular. Like some tawdry denizen of a 19th-century Jeremy Kyle show, he had an affair with Lord Blessington, married Blessington's daughter, and then set up house with Blessington's widow. Always living beyond his means, he once avoided arrest by telling police to wait while he dressed. He then spent so long at his mirror the cops gave up and went home. Eventually, he escaped to the continent armed only with an essential gem-set umbrella. He was buried in a pyramid-shaped tomb of his own design.
His ambition was to render every aspect of his short, starry life preposterously aesthetic. Like all proper dandies Wilde took pride in grandiose displays of public wastefulness and would hail a cab just to cross the street. He had his clothes designed by theatre costumiers who could more easily interpret the dramatic flamboyance he desired. Wilde's mufti included a velvet coat edged with braid, knee breeches, black silk stockings, a soft loose blouse and a large flowing pale green tie. This would be accessorised with huge sunflowers, peacock feathers and dainty lilies as buttonholes. For inspiration, he relied on dreams. In one such sartorial reverie "a ghostly personage appeared in a coat of shape and colour that somehow reminded him of a violoncello. On waking he hastily sketched out what he had seen and brought the drawing to his tailor. The coat was cut to meet the dream specification: in some lights it looked bronze, in others red, and the back of it ... resembled the outline of a cello".
Neil Monroe "Bunny" Roger was probably not the most fearsome soldier the allied army has ever had in its ranks. Fighting for the British Rifle Brigade during the second world war, he went to battle wearing a chiffon scarf and brandishing a copy of Vogue. Once, when his sergeant asked him what should be done about the advancing enemy troops, Roger, who liked to wear rouge even with his khakis, replied, "When in doubt, powder heavily." When he ran into an old friend in the hellish, bombed-out monestary of Monte Cassino in Italy he responded to his pal's incredulous "What on earth are you doing here?" greeting with one word: "Shopping". As dandies go, Roger wasn't a massive spender - he bought a mere 15 suits a year from his London tailor, Watson, Fargerstrom & Hughes, but, boy, was he ever particular. He liked exquisitely cut tartans, Edwardian-style jackets in pale shades of cerulean blue, lilac and shell pink, sharply tapered at the middle to show off his astonishing 29-inch waist. Roger, like all proper dandies, rivalled Wilde in the one-liner department. When a gobby cab driver yelled from his window, "Watch out, you've dropped your diamond necklace, love," Roger replied, in a flash, "Diamonds with tweed? Never!"
For a certain kind of aspirantly louche middle-aged man, Bryan Ferry is the benchmark of rock'n'roll dandy. There are dozens of pivotal images to draw on: the sharp, military dash of the GI look on the cover of Roxy Music's live album Viva, the Billy Fury-does-the-Jetsons glamslam of the first two Roxy album sleeves (courtesy of designer Antony Price), or the waggish ante-upping of the socially incorrect white dinner jacket on the cover of Another Time, Another Place. Even now Ferry continues to be what he calls "a pimpernel" (he's currently wearing Prada, Hedi Slimane and Kilgour) but his tireless dandiness can be summed up by two incidents: the time he put a world tour in jeopardy by destroying his passport because he didn't like the photo and the moment in 2000 when he was on an aircraft almost downed by a deranged passenger who tried to enter the cockpit. Asked later what he recalled of the drama as fellow passengers pinned the would-be hijacker to the floor, Ferry replied: "The crazy man's socks weren't very attractive. They were kind of striped and I didn't really care for them much at all."
Sean "P Diddy" Combs
Brummell would, perhaps, have bridled at some of the hip-hop entrepreneur's more naive attempts at dandiness, but only a tweedy pedant could fail to be entertained by the sight of Mr Combs, in full-length white towelling robe, sunglasses and a cigar, taking a pre-breakfast jet-ski ride in St Tropez harbour a few summers ago. Puffy famously employed a butler called Farnsworth Bentley who, during hot weather, would follow his master around holding a parasol. But butlers can make mistakes. Arriving on the Cote d'Azur for his annual vacation a couple of years ago, the man now called "Diddy" realised he had failed to bring a case of his favourite neckties from the US and promptly had Farnsworth book a first-class seat on a New York flight for the silky foulards. Often called "the black Sinatra" or "the black Donald Trump", Puffy can also claim credit for coining the phrase "ghetto fabulous". He once described this to your reporter as "my style, an organic thing. It's wearing jeans and $10,000-worth of jewellery around your neck."
Beau Brummell: This Charming Man was a 2006 BBC Television drama in based on the biography of Beau Brummell by Ian Kelly.
Brummell shares an intimate moment with Prince George while advising him on his wedding outfit and invites him to dinner along with his friends. He is appointed as royal sartorial advisor by the newly dandified Prince and all debts his are dropped as word of his new position is spread. He and the Prince become close friends drinking and gambling in the clubs of London straining his finances and relations with others.
Brummel’s relationship with the Prince is strained as his fame begins to spread. He becomes enamoured with the dangerous Lord Byron against the warnings of the Prince further straining their relationship. He ignores a summons from the Prince to enjoy the favours of Miss Julia along with Byron. His manservant Robinson is forced to intervene when the Prince and Byron go head-to-head.
Brummell’s loss of royal favour leaves him outcast and indebted as the bailiffs begin to turn violent. He takes out a large loan with some close associates and even steals from Robinson but quickly gambles it all away. A disgraced and equally destitute Byron returns to London but the two fall out. Unable to pay back the loan he is expelled from his club, abandoned by Robinson, and forced to flee to France.
James Purefoy as Beau Brummell
Hugh Bonneville as Prince Regent
Phil Davis as Robinson
Elliot Levey as Tailor
John Telfer as Fop
Tim Hudson as Fop
Zoe Telford as Julia
Justin Salinger as Richard Meyler
Nicholas Rowe as Lord Charles Manners
Ian Kelly as Lord Robert Manners
Jonathan Aris as Marquis of Worcester
Daniel Fine as Cloth Merchant
Nick Richards as Snuff Merchant
Anthony Calf as Duke of York
Matthew Rhys as Lord Byron
Rebecca Johnson as Duchess of York
Max Gell as Palace Footman
Howard Coggins as Edward
By Nick Willard in "Dandyism net"
Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style
By Ian Kelly
I was prepared to thoroughly dislike Ian Kelly’s biography of Beau Brummell. The attendant ballyhoo, here in the US and last year in the UK, has been lascivious and sensational — Brummell as “a Casanova and a playboy;” variously the “Boy Toy” and “Toy Boy” of the Duchess of Devonshire; taking lovers of both sexes; his grandfather a brothel keeper, and his mother a courtesan. It has also affected a vulgar contemporaneity. He was the “first celebrity;” “the first metrosexual,” and “the inventor of the suit” — odd, since he never wore one. In the unkindest cut, the subtitle, in crossing the Atlantic from Britain to America, was switched from “The Ultimate Dandy” (something of an oxymoron, as Brummell originated dandyism) to “The Ultimate Man of Style.”
My worst fears have been disappointed. Mr. Kelly’s account of Brummell’s life is well written, lively, informative, factual, balanced and innovative. It is, simply put, the best biography of Brummell.
The granddaddy of Beau-ography is Capt. Jesse’s “A Life of George Bryan Brummell, Esq.,” published four years after Brummell’s rather ignored death. Jesse had the unique advantage of meeting Brummell during his exile in France. He saw Brummell’s bathing and dressing ritual, and all subsequent biographers have used his eyewitness accounts. He also saw many of Brummell’s early letters, long since destroyed. He interviewed many of Brummell’s acquaintances. But Jesse has many flaws as well. His account is skewered to the Beau’s exile and decline, when most of his sources knew the Brummell. It is long winded. Perhaps most importantly, Jesse is no professional biographer: he uncritically accepts almost every story told to him. Another weakness is that his book came out before the publication of the many Regency memoirs and diaries that mention Brummell (with the exception of Harriette Wilson’s, the leading courtesan in London and a boon companion of Brummell).
Jesse and these memoirs — particularly the recollections of Wilson, Thomas Raikes, poet Tom Moore, Lady Hester Stanhope, and Capt. RH Gronow — are the fount for the bulk of the inimitable anecdotes that constitute Brummells life. The same stories get recycled, with slight variations and an occasional novelty, in the subsequent biographies. They start with Roger Boutet de Monvel’s “Beau Brummell and his Times,” dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. Lewis Melville’s “Beau Brummell; His Life and Letters,” published in the 1920s, significantly appended many of the Beau’s letters from the later days. Willard Connelly’s “The Reign of Beau Brummell” is yeoman-like. Kathleen Campbell’s “Beau Brummell” is one of my favorites because it sympathetically captures his spirit. Both were published in the 1940s. In the 1950s came Carl Maria Franzero’s “Beau Brummell,” which rehashes the same stories to such an extent that he appears to have lifted whole paragraphs from D’Aurevilly’s “Du Dandysme.” Samuel Tennenbaum’s late 1960s book “The Incredible Beau Brummell” adds nothing new, except replenishing the Victorian censoriousness that Campbell had helped to dispel. From the 1970s, Keith B. Poole’s monograph on Brummell in “The Two Beaux” is fact-logged and uninspired. Hubert Cole’s “Beau Brummell” was a breakthrough. He went back to original sources and uncovered many facts, locating, for example the will of William Brummell, Brummell’s father, and a hitherto undiscovered drawing of the Beau in his prime. His biography had been the most factually accurate, though somewhat dry. In addition to the full-length biographies, Brummell has earned a chapter in numerous collections, such as Clare Jerrold’s “The Beaux and the Dandies” (1909) and the Whartons’ reproving “Wits and Beaux of Society,” dating from the mid-19th century. These shorter pieces tend to be unoriginal.
Although not a biography, and not book length, Ellen Moers’ consideration of Brummell is as important as anything else. She devotes a chapter to him and another to the Regency dandies in “The Dandy.” She does a masterly job of fixing Brummell and the Regency dandies in the context of their time. Her analysis informs all subsequent writing about the Brummell. She also legitimizes the use of Regency fiction in assessing the Brummell, greatly enriching our understanding. More about the Beau is scattered throughout the rest of her tome, including the endnotes, so the entire book is an important contribution to Brummell scholarship.
Other staples include Hazlitt’s contemporary, though written from afar, appraisal, “Brummelliana;” an anonymous article from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, D’Aurevilly’s notoriously fanciful “Du Dandysme et de Georges Brummell,” the Incomparable Max’s exposition on Brummell and the nature of dandyism “Dandies and Dandies,” and Virginia Woolf’s appreciation in “The Second Common Reader,” which, because of its author, gave Brummell a certain gravitas.
It is upon this foundation that Mr. Kelly builds or, more accurately, improves. He dutifully includes most of the chestnuts without which a biography of Brummell could not exist: “Who’s your fat friend?” “You call that a coat?” Brummell’s (mistaken) use of a blue-nosed soldier to locate his own troops, among many others. His retelling of these stories tends to be spare. This is both good and bad. Bad because an individual tale about Brummell, like all good tales, gets better (if not more accurate) with more elaboration. Good because there are so many tales that their accumulation would become monotonous. Mr. Kelly imaginatively organizes them (except for those that must have occurred at a specific point in the Brummell’s life) by when they would have occurred during the Beau’s day.
Context is where the book shines. By imaginatively exploiting extensive scholarship from the fields of fashion, history, sociology, art and medicine that prior biographers did not, Mr. Kelly gives us new insights. His description of the clothes Brummell wore is clear and detailed, simply because he took the time to personally investigate surviving examples of Regency men’s clothes. He traces the origin of Brummell’s revolutionary style to one of the Beau’s Eton “school uniforms,” and also to Brummell’s military uniform, neoclassical art, and simple sex appeal.
Mr. Kelly, like Cole, went back to the original documents (such as the betting books at Brummell’s clubs as well as his Eton and Oxford records). In addition to gleaning some new stories, he is more precise in the mundane matters, such as dates, that are the bedrock of any definitive biography. He even gives us a reasonable estimate of Brummell’s height — something no one else has ever done — by extrapolating from the Beau’s entries in the weighing books at Berry Bros. And it is reassuring to discover that the Brummell’s universally admired physique started to balloon at the tender age of 30!
Kelly’s assiduousness has produced at least one major revelation: He uncovered medical records at the asylum where Brummell spent his last year. They show that Brummell suffered and died from syphilis. No prior biography ever hinted at this. Brummell’s disease explains many things: his loss of hair in his late thirties, previously attributed to his use of a heating wand to curl his hair; his large chemist bill, previously attributed to his fondness for cold cream (!); and his drooling, exacerbated by his medicine rather than purely brought about by a stroke. Indeed, Mr. Kelly attributes Brummell’s lasting contribution to hygiene, his famously elaborate bathing regimen, where he thoroughly scrubbed his entire body, as a necessity to erase his syphilitic cankers and rashes, not simply as a cosmetic.
The book also contains two contemporary drawings of the bust of Brummell not seen in prior books. These drawings look nothing like the two other busts of the Beau: his features are much coarser, but consistent with the broken nose that Brummell was known to have suffered. It would have been helpful if Mr. Kelly had elaborated on the origins of all four and evaluated them. Without explanation, the book omits the only full-length contemporary drawing (by Dighton) of Brummell. Mr. Kelly mentions that Brummell as an adult never sat for a full-length portrait. One is left wondering if he is implying that this drawing is not an accurate portrayal, or is of someone else or merely not taken from life.
The prurience suggested by much of the media coverage is in fact quite minimal. There is only one sentence in the book about the Brummell’s grandfather being a pimp. Because his lodging house was located on a disreputable street, it “may have been a bawdy house.” There is no authority cited to support this supposition. In the absence of anything further, I therefore side with the usual version, that he was a servant and/or a confectioner, as well as a renter of lodgings. In the book, the Brummell’s mother is described not as a whore but as only “unconventional” because she lived openly with his father before their marriage. Fair enough.
On the issue of Brummell’s sexuality, Mr. Kelly acquits himself well. His brief is not that Brummell was a Casanova, but that he had normal sexual appetites and engaged in normal sexual activity. The prevailing opinion, first advanced by Jesse and championed by Moers, has been that the Beau was chaste if not celibate. Kelly disagrees, based on the discovery that Brummell had syphilis, his known friendship with two of the leading London courtesans, and the commingling with prostitutes that was typical of the Beau’s set. Mr. Kelly concludes that, far from being her boy toy, Brummell probably did not have an affair with the much older Duchess of Devonshire; he may or may not have had one with the Duchess of York, the woman to whom he was most attached; and he definitely was not exclusively homosexual, although, in the Beau’s pre-Freudian times and social milieu, normally there was a certain homo-erotic (Kelly dubs it “homosocial”) tinge to male companionship and masculine activities. He reasonably speculates that the Beau contracted his disease from one of the prostitutes with whom he consorted socially.
As for those gaffes trying to make Brummell contemporary, Mr. Kelly gets them over with in the introductory chapter. This introduction contains a gracefully written assessment of the Beau’s impact on fashion, society and philosophy. He draws interesting parallels between Brummell and Oscar Wilde, two dandies who are often contrasted. When he goes beyond Brummell and considers dandyism in general, however, Mr. Kelly blithely repeats current commonplaces, such as the Garelick/Walden trope of the dandy as modern media celebrity. He is also indulgent concerning the pseudo-intellectualization of Brummell by my personal bugaboo, those demmed Frenchies, Barbey and Baudelaire. Mr. Kelly ends the lineage of the dandy (except for tossing out names of modern celebrities as possible dandies, à la Garelick and Walden) with the Incomparable Max, thus mimicking Moers’ pioneering work. Indeed, his thoughts on dandyism seem more like those of a schoolboy who parrots his homework, rather than someone who has critically appraised what he has studied.
After that first, somewhat rocky beginning, the book is pure gilt. All in all, if you have but one book to read about Brummell, it should be this one: After almost two centuries, Brummell has finally been rewarded with the biography he has always merited.
The Observer, Sunday 1 January 2006
Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy
Hodder & Stoughton
This immensely entertaining book, as stylish as its subject, tells the story of the man who became king of Regency London society by sheer force of personality and has since fascinated people as diverse as Baudelaire, Barthes and Virginia Woolf. George Brummell is a curiously modern figure; the first English celebrity famous for being famous, though Kelly never loses track of the extent to which he was also a man in and of a particular moment. Byron declared: 'There are three great men of our age: myself, Napoleon and Brummell. But of we three, the greatest of all is Brummell.'
However, unlike Byron or Napoleon, Beau Brummell's extraordinary fame arose entirely from his acting out an idea of himself. Handsome, clever and rich (though of undistinguished origins), he dedicated his life to the embodiment of a precise and austere visual aesthetic; a style rather than a fashion, because once created, he stuck with it.
His vision was so persuasive that, almost singlehandedly, he took rich men out of the brocade and taffeta that had expressed wealth for centuries and put them into the broadcloth and linen they have worn ever since. He was the apostle of the principle that a peculiarly masculine elegance is best expressed by neutrally coloured clothes cut with the precision for which Savile Row became famous.
It was a new, understated, less-is-more stylishness, in which extravagance was no longer to be expressed by perfume or jewellery (he banned both) but by perfection of line and exquisite cleanliness, the latter a sufficiently difficult and expensive enough business in 18th-century London to sort out the rich from the poor by itself.
One of the many pleasures of Kelly's text is a splendid chapter on Brummell's clothes, written with an informed passion for the tailor's art. He brings into focus what a sexy style Brummell's was. He was tall, with an excellent figure, and the pale trousers he popularised, often made of stockinette or even chamois leather, were close-fitting, worn without underpants and framed by a dark cutaway coat to display the wearer's thighs and groin with the candour of a ballet dancer's tights.
The coat was artfully structured and padded to give at least the illusion of wide shoulders and a narrow waist. It all looked wonderful on Brummell, less so on the averagely shapeless man, let alone the obese Prince Regent. Later generations hung on to Brummell's basic idea, but evolved a less taxing version: the three-piece suit.
Sang-froid and stoicism were attributes necessary for surviving the brutality of the 18th century, but Brummell transformed these contemporary virtues into something more like modern 'cool'. It was the essence of his style: he was witty rather than warm; sociable and attractive, without ever committing himself to relationships. Kelly comments shrewdly that he liked the company of courtesans, being seen in dégagé pursuit of noted beauties and engineering situations that put girls at a disadvantage.
The only things he was serious about - his clothes and deportment - were so self-evidently absurd that his whole life looked like an elaborate practical joke. His humour was throwaway, and he won or lost fortunes at the gambling table with equal imperturbability, a posture that made him, for many years, impregnable.
Brummell's charm is apparent even after 200 years. Everyone wanted to know him and, after reading this book, you want to have known him too. He was humorous and reliably witty; he had a very light touch. Above all, he had the complete self-confidence that forced others to take him at his own valuation. Though he was a rigorous snob, he was, paradoxically, the first commoner to rule English society.
His downfall came when he allowed himself to believe his own propaganda. Cut by the Prince Regent, his temper flashed and he returned insult for insult. 'Alvanley,' he demanded, 'who's your fat friend?' But the Prince Regent's power was real, the dandy's fictive. George never forgot or forgave.
Brummell's 23 years of glory as Petronius to Prinny's Nero ended in a moment of hubris. Twenty-four years of eclipse followed, culminating in his death of the man of pleasure's typical disease, syphilis. To live rich and die poor is hardly unusual for a celebrity, but there is a peculiar ugliness about a man of balletically exact deportment and almost unprecedented personal cleanliness ending his days drooling and doubly incontinent.
Kelly argues that syphilis was taking its toll years earlier. Towards the end of his reign, there were signs that Brummell was losing touch with reality. The depression and headaches he was beginning to suffer may also have been caused by syphilis. But, while this is a tragic story, it is a tragedy of fashion, of a butterfly broken upon the wheel. Brummell ruined himself (and others) but probably, if he could have foreseen the end, he would have gone on regardless.
In classical style, he lived for fame and achieved it; he also had the saving grace of not taking himself too seriously. His biographer manages the remarkable feat of taking him just seriously enough, without ever descending into solemnity.
Wednesday, 1 July 1992 in The Independent
Henry Frederick Thynne, landowner and safari-park pioneer, born Longleat Wiltshire 26 January 1905, styled Viscount Weymouth 1916-46, MP (Conservative) Frome 1931-35, succeeded 1946 as sixth Marquess of Bath, chairman Football Pools Panel 1967-87, married 1927 the Hon Daphne Vivian (two sons, one daughter, and two sons deceased; marriage dissolved 1953), 1953 Mrs Virginia Tennant (nee Parsons; one daughter), died Crockerton Wiltshire 30 June 1992.
THE MARQUESS of Bath was, with his rivals the Duke of Bedford and Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, one of the forerunners of the stately home business.
Bedford created a funfair, Montagu a collection of handsome vintage cars, and Bath frequently spoke of their 'gimmicks'. He himself will be remembered for the first safari park and most notably for 'the Lions of Longleat', but as early as 1953, before such things were the norm, the marquess adorned Longleat with a tea-room for trippers, a tennis-court and putting green, and floated pedalos on the lake. He was not averse to being photographed in his Coronation robes and a popular postcard showed the marquess in tweeds, seated on the sofa with a lion cub. He spent thousands of pounds on estate roads and fighting the deathwatch beetle. But he himself lived modestly with one butler, a cook and a part-time cleaner.
In earlier times stately homes were occasionally opened free of charge as a local treat, Lady Diana Cooper recalling the 'look of pleasure and welcome' on the 'delicate old face' of her grandfather, the seventh Duke of Rutland, as the populace poured into Belvoir Castle. This tradition continued into the present century, but the advent of death duties and the rising cost of repairs and maintenance forced owners such as Lord Bath to bite the bullet and become unquestioningly commercial.
When Henry Bath succeeded to Longleat in 1946, that great square Elizabethan house set low in the Wiltshire countryside near Warminster was in a state of terrible disrepair, not improved by its wartime occupation by the Royal School for Officers' Daughters. He was faced with a death-duties bill of pounds 700,000. He and his wife Daphne decided to restore the place and run it as a commercial business. This cost a fortune but at length the house was ready for its opening to the public, at half-a- crown a head, in 1949. The marchioness produced a charming guidebook in three weeks and followed this with a discursive account of past days of Longleat elegance, Before the Sunset Fades, in 1951, adorned with sketches by their Wiltshire friend and neighbour Cecil Beaton. The entire enterprise required drive, imagination and courage. It proved the precursor to many similar openings and now over 600 houses are open to the public, attracting 50 million visitors a year.
In 1966 arrived the famous lions, amid an outburst of retrospectively enjoyable publicity. The idea was to enclose the visitors and have the lions and other animals roaming free, loosely contained by a 12ft fence, 3,200 yards long. Opposition came from local bodies but Bath allayed their fears with his comments: 'I understand lions are the laziest animals in the world. If you feed a lion he will be OK.' They were fed half a bullock's head a day, except on Sundays: 'I suppose that's a throwback to when they ate Christians once a week,' said the marquess.
For some years cars sported stickers in their windows announcing, 'We have seen the Lions of Longleat', and there were amusing incidents of monkeys playing havoc with the windscreen-wipers of hapless trippers. The annual intake of visitors leapt from 135,000 in 1964 to 328,000 in 1966. Even so, by the time the annual repairs on the old house had been completed (about pounds 300,000 in 1978), the marquess faced an annual deficit - pounds 20,000 in 1975, pounds 86,000 in 1978. (He was forced to sell a valuable collection of books, breaking a long-held vow that he would never part with any of Longleat's contents.)
Meanwhile, Bath was inspired to leave his personal mark on the house, and on the top floor he amassed an impressive collection of Churchilliana (from the portrait of Doris Castlerosse to a half-smoked cigar), and items relating to King Edward VIII and Hitler. He caused a stir at Sotheby's in 1960 when he purchased two water-colours by Hitler for pounds 600. A client of the auction house jumped up and shouted: 'I'll give you pounds 50 for the two and tear them up.'
He became heir to the marquessate - and Viscount Weymouth - shortly after his 11th birthday when his elder brother, John, was killed in action in the First World War, serving on the Western Front. On hearing of his brother's death, he looked up at the great facade of Longleat and, the story goes, said to himself: 'How can I look after you? I'll never be able to do it.'
Bath acquired a broken nose playing rugby at school. A shy boy, his best friend was the 70-year-old gamekeeper, who took him touring the countryside by motorbicycle. He attended Harrow and Oxford, distinguishing himself at neither. But he belonged to that eccentric Oxford group which included Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton and Brian Howard, and later was one of the 'Bright Young People'. His contribution was to invite them to Longleat, where they secretly mixed absurd cocktails in an upper room. In 1926 his coming of age was celebrated with a lunch party for 1,000 guests and a firework display.
He met Daphne Vivian at Harrow, got to know her at Oxford and they fell in love. She quoted a friend on him: 'A silent knight he goes and unafraid . . .' There was considerable parental opposition to the match, his father deeming him too young, and saying he needed 'a steady wife', Lord Vivian responding that he deemed the boy unsuitable for his daughter. The then Lord Weymouth entered a secret marriage ceremony at St Paul's, Knightsbridge, with Daphne, before being sent off to work on a cattle ranch in Texas and then sailing through the Panama Canal.
On his return, the last vestiges of parental disapproval were overcome, and the young couple went through a second ceremony at St Martin-in-the-Fields. This double marriage rebounded on them when the 1927 marriage (though not the earlier one) was dissolved in May 1953. It took a further case lasting five days before three judges could untangle them in 1955. There was considerable attendant publicity and Osbert Lancaster depicted Maudie Littlehampton saying: 'Darling, do you remember betting me a fiver that it was going to prove a lot easier to unite the Germans than separate the Baths?'
Old Lord Bath handed over the running of Longleat to his son in 1928, and it was in the decade that followed that he learnt all the problems facing landowners of considerable property. He reduced the staff and expanded the forestry programme. He also attacked the gardens, clearing away the undergrowth of rhododendrons and planting shrubs and trees in their place. In 1929 he went into politics and two years later he was elected to Parliament as Conservative member for Frome. He disliked his years in the House, making but one speech there, to an unreceptive audience, on the subject of tea.
During the Second World War, he rejoined his regiment, the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry, and served at Alamein, where he was wounded. After his convalescence he served as British Liaison Officer to the American 19th Corps, who called him 'Hank the Yank'.
In 1953 there was a fuss when the Baths announced their intention to ride to the Coronation in the family coach - the Duke of Windsor was amused by this, reflecting that there had been an equal fuss when one peer wished to arrive at the abbey by motor in 1911.
Following his divorce from Daphne, the marquess married Virginia Tennant, daughter of Alan Parsons and Viola Tree, and formerly married to David Tennant, founder of the Gargoyle Club. She was a tall and elegant beauty, possessed of the famous Tree smile. They met at the Chelsea Arts Ball in 1948, and fell in love. After their marriage, they had another daughter, Silvy.
In 1958, Bath handed Longleat to his cosily eccentric son, Viscount Weymouth, who adorned some of the private rooms with his heavily coloured oil murals. A particular favourite with the old age pensioners, loving to be shocked, was his Kama Sutra bedroom, bedecked with many copulating couples, placed there by the viscount to spur his house-guests to imaginative nocturnal activity. There were many parties, fetes, teddy-bear picnics and rallies at Longleat and occasionally a glorious family celebration. But there was tragedy too, when his son Lord Valentine Thynne was found dead, hanging from a bedspread attached to an oak beam in the lounge bar of the Bath Arms, following a gala evening at Longleat, attended by Princess Margaret.
The Baths lived on, happy in each other's company, enjoying a gracious old age - two sprightly, dapper figures, untouched by the years. In 1976 the marquess, who often sported velvet smoking- jackets of a deep hue, was selected by the doyenne of New York publicity, Eleanor Lambert, as 'the world's best-dressed man'. He retained his lean figure and handsome mien until the end.
Defining Moment: The first English country estate opens to the public, April 1 1949
By Jonathan Openshaw
Published: June 20 2009 in The Financial Times
In early 1949, Longleat was facing closure. The sixth Marquess of Bath had inherited the estate three years earlier, but was financially crippled by the death duties that came with it.
After selling off swathes of land to meet the £750,000 debt, it became clear that the choice was commercialise or die, and in April 1949 Longleat was thrown open to all who could pay the two shillings and six entrance fee.
The transformation that followed was unprecedented. At the estate’s peak towards the end of the 19th century, the 55,574-hectare estate employed 50 servants, 30 gardeners, 50 farm workers, 50 woodsmen, 20 gamekeepers, 14 grooms and 50 general labourers. Less than 100 years later, Longleat would be overrun by prides of lions, herds of zebra and packs of visitors. This was part of a very quiet, very English, social revolution, which saw about 1,500 country houses close during the 20th century.
The position of these once-powerful institutions had already been eroded by the momentous social change of the 19th century, and the rise of a new and financially powerful middle class. The first world war and economic crisis of the 1930s that followed also undermined blind faith in a preordained aristocratic leadership.
But it was the second world war that really sounded the death knell for many English estates – and of the social system that they epitomised. The unifying hardships of conscription and rationing broke down carefully constructed social barriers, and as the novelist Elizabeth Bowen would later observe, “The wall between the living and the living became less solid as the wall between the living and the dead thinned.” This was evidenced by a 1945 Labour government swept into power with a mandate for radical social reform.
When Longleat opened, the sixth Marquess was reduced to giving guided tours while the Marchioness penned guide books and the future seventh Marquess acted as car park attendant. The move was an immediate commercial success however, attracting 135,000 visitors in its first year alone. Longleat led the way for the expansion of organisations such as the National Trust among ordinary people and rejuvenated the public’s appreciation of England’s aristocratic heritage.
Alexander George Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath (born 6 May 1932), styled Viscount Weymouth between 1946 and 1992, is an English politician, artist and author. He was born with the surname Thynne but adopted the spelling Thynn in 1976.
Although born in London, he grew up at his family's seat, Longleat, a great Elizabethan house set in Wiltshire parkland landscaped in the 18th century by Capability Brown. After attending Ludgrove School and Eton College he was commissioned into the Life Guards as a lieutenant in 1951. He was then educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and travelled across Europe. Realising the strength in diversity amongst people he grew to believe that Wessex would be better off as a devolved region within the United Kingdom and stood in the February 1974 General Election as a Wessex Regionalist. Shortly after the election he was one of the founders of the Wessex Regionalist Party. He stood for the party in the first ever elections to the European Parliament in 1979.
He has written several novels and after inheriting the Marquessate of Bath from his father in 1992 sat in the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat. Amongst other things he spoke on the need for devolution for the regions of England, until he lost his place in the House of Lords after the Labour Government's reforms excluded most of the hereditary peers.
Lord Bath is known for his polyamorous lifestyle with "wifelets". In 1969 he married Hungarian born Anna Gael Gyarmathy, by whom he has two children, Lady Lenka Thynn and Ceawlin Thynn, Viscount Weymouth (pronounced 'Cee aww lin') who were sent to the local comprehensive school. After his father's death, he sacked Christopher, his brother, as estate comptroller and evicted him from his home.
He is known for his colourful style of dress which originated from a period as an art student in Paris during the 1950s, and is a prolific amateur painter who has decorated rooms of his home with erotic scenes from the Kama Sutra among other sources of inspiration. In March 2009, he appeared in 'Heston's Roman Feast'.
He is ranked 359th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2009, with an estimated wealth of £157 million. The peer passed the management of the business to his son Viscount Weymouth early in 2010. By one account, the present Viscount intends to evict the wifelets from their estate cottages, and possibly even remove his Lordship's murals.
A book by Nesta Wyn Ellis on the Marquess, initially written with his co-operation, was published in the autumn of 2010.
Lord Bath's autobiography, collectively called 'Strictly Private to Public Exposure', was published as a series by Artnik Books and has been acquired by Top Spot Publishing
Loveless lord of Longleat Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, has a wife, two children, more than 70 girlfriends, immense personal wealth and his own lions. But has he missed out on something? 'Yes, I have,' he says, 'And it's too late now,' he tells Gyles Brandreth
20 Nov 2002 in The Telegraph
"My first erotic fantasy was inspired by Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies, which my mother read to me. I must have been four or five at the time. Won't you have some more pheasant?"
I am taking lunch with Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath, descendant of Tacitus and Charlemagne, in the palatial penthouse at Longleat in Wiltshire, England's oldest unfortified stately home. He speaks a little hesitantly, in a light, husky, fluting voice.
"There was a girl in the fantasy with me. A real girl. Her name was Susan. She was about six, I think. She had long blonde hair. We met having swimming lessons in Bath. Are you sure you won't have some wine? It's rather good."
The Marquess, who turned 70 in May, is fabulously rich. As well as the 10,000 rolling acres of Longleat (where business is booming: there has been been a record number of visitors this year), he has a handsome flat in Notting Hill Gate and a fine estate in the south of France, which is where he grows the wine he is drinking now.
"Naked, Susan and I swam the high seas together, along with a string of other little girls, all of us trying to evade the nets of the adults who were fishing for us from above in boats.
"The adults, of course, wanted to eat us, but first they packed us into tins like sardines. I was always packed next to Susan. Cheese? Fruit? We haven't got anything sweet because I'm a diabetic." Lord Bath, tall, broad and grizzled, looks well, if a touch ridiculous. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford (he read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and got a Third); he served in the Life Guards; but his distinctive sartorial style he established as an art student in Paris in the 1950s. Today he is wearing a floral waistcoat, mauve velvet trews and tan-coloured shoes, the toe-caps of which have been chewed off overnight by his labrador, Boadicea. "Thanks to my ingenuity, we would always escape from the sardine tin and plunge back into the sea. Being the leader of the band, I swam at the head of the chain and the one immediately behind me was inevitably Susan, who grasped me between the legs by the most convenient handle. And so linked, we swam together, idyllically, for days and nights on end." Lord Bath blinks back a tear and softly smacks his lips. He has pink cheeks and the look of Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas. He is nostalgic, sentimental and romantic, and he likes talking about sex. This is fortunate since, in many ways, it is his sex life that defines him. He is celebrated (or notorious, depending on your viewpoint) as the eccentric muralist whose bedroom walls are covered with scenes from the Kama Sutra ("I painted them in '69," he says, cheerily, "a fortuitous year given the subject matter") and as the campaigning peer who preaches and practises polygyny. "It's catching on, slowly," he tells me, adding by way of explanation: "A polygamist has more than one wife; a polygynist has more than one mate." Lord Bath acknowledges a current total of 73. He used to call them "wifelets". To me he calls them girlfriends. Over the years they have come in all shapes and shades: a black model, a Chinese artist, a 17-year-old from Sri Lanka, a Wessex housewife. He has executed three-dimensional portraits (in sawdust and oils) of every one of them. They are fixed to the walls of a spiral staircase (affectionately known as Bluebeard's Gallery) just off the kitchen, with the date he met each girl to the left of her face, and the date of painting to the right. "You can tell which were my active years." Lord Bath is proud of his sexual prowess and of his painting. He has been busy in both areas, but he hopes his ultimate claim to fame will be as a writer. We are meeting to mark the launch of what he calls his "magnum opus": his memoirs. "I have written six million words so far. That takes the story to 1990." Volume one, A Plateful of Privilege: The Early Years, is published by Artnik at the end of this month; it takes us, however, no further than his prep school. I have read it: it is fascinating, elegantly written and extraordinarily intimate. Pre-pubescent Alexander's close encounters with his nanny, his nurse, his sister Cal, his sister's governess, his cousin Sal, to name but a few, are recounted in gripping detail. The bedside game he played with a young nurse he nicknamed Fuchsia (after a flower fairy in a favourite book) when, aged six, he was a patient awaiting a mastoid operation at Bath general hospital, has to be read to be believed. The book isn't just about sex. It is also (and this is its strength) a beautifully observed evocation of the lives of the English aristocracy in the 1930s and a telling portrait of an unusual upbringing in a now-vanished world. His relationship with his parents was not easy. What were they like? "My father, Henry, the 6th Marquess, was the man who introduced the lions to Longleat and held the teddy bears' picnics here. He was a pioneer of the stately home as a visitor attraction. "That is his legacy. He was considered a charmer by the women of his generation, but to me he was a disciplinarian, unbending and ungiving. "He never once said anything encouraging about my murals. He humiliated me by appointing my younger brother, Christopher, to run the house. The loss of face was intolerable. "When my father died, 10 years ago, aged 87, the first thing I did was tell Christopher to leave. It was an acrimonious parting, but essential. My father condemned us to a life of enmity. Six volumes of my memoirs are devoted to sibling rivalry. "My mother, Daphne, daughter of Lord Vivian, had great warmth when I first knew her. She had vitality. She always made the party go with a swing. It was she who encouraged me towards the arts, though I believe she told her friends later that she regretted it. She died in 1997." Were his parents happy together? "Until the war, yes, but during the war, when my father was away, my mother was unfaithful, repeatedly. I did this terrible thing when he came home on leave. I don't think I meant to be malicious. I was just mischievous. "I said to him, 'Papa, there's an awful lot of new men you've got to meet.' He wasn't amused. And after that he started having girlfriends. "My parents were monogamists and serial adulterers. They cheated on their ideal. Seeing their example, I preferred to have a different ideal, one I wouldn't cheat on. And my childhood fantasy - swimming along with a string of girls - suggests to me that, regardless of my parents, I inclined towards polygyny from a very early age." "But you are married?" I say. "Yes," he nods. "I got married when I was . . ." He hesitates. "The year was . . ." He's lost. "1959," he says, at last, then he pauses and ponders. "Wait a minute . . . it was 10 years later, wasn't it?" It was. He married Hungarian-born Anna Gael, then an actress, now a writer, in 1969. They have a daughter and a son: Lenka, 33, and Lord Bath's heir, Ceawlin, Viscount Weymouth, 28. Does his own marriage work? "Yes," he says, emphatically. "Anna and I quarrel, but I appreciate the stability she has given the children. She watches over them. She lives in France mostly, but she comes to England one week in four." There is clearly some tension in the relationship. Lady Bath has vetoed the publication of the volumes of her husband's memoirs that detail their relationship. "At least during her lifetime," he says, with regret. He accepts, reluctantly, that he may not be easy to live with. "Anna doesn't like it when we are having Sunday lunch and I let the visitors troop through the dining-room. She thinks we should eat in private. I think, if the paying public want to see my murals, they should be allowed to do so." Lord Bath tells me his wife has always tolerated his polygyny. He is anxious that I should know he approaches his romantic life as a gentleman. "It's very rare that I've seduced anybody's wife," he tells me. "And if infidelity does occur, it should always be done tactfully, so that it doesn't offend anybody's pride. I don't want anyone to be hurt or lose face." What about jealousy between girlfriends? I assume he doesn't ever have two of them simultaneously under the same roof. He flushes. He is not embarrassed. He is excited. "Well," he says, softly, "I might." "Doesn't that cause problems?" I ask. "Oh, no," he purrs, warming to the theme. "Hopefully they might even fancy each other." Realising (not without a twinge of envy) that I am way out of my depth here, I bring the conversation back to his children. What do they make of his domestic arrangements? "I regard myself as a pioneer, as an experimenter, but I am afraid my children felt it was an intrusion on their lives having me bring my girlfriends home. Ceawlin has always been better at coping with it than Lenka, but, over the years, they have both shown their disapproval by not being as polite to my girlfriends as I would have liked. "Lenka has always been more critical. She's fiercer. She'd say she's never been overtly rude, but sometimes . . ." He sighs. Ceawlin and Lenka are the only children Lord Bath lists in the latest edition of Debrett's People of Today, but I understand he has a third. "Yes," he says, hesitating, "another daughter." "And what is she called?" I ask. "I can't really say," he says, unhappily, "Her mother wouldn't like it." "Can I ask how old she is?" I persist. "My daughter? She's three." He grins, proudly. "Congratulations," I say, "Are you enjoying being a father all over again?" "No," he says, firmly. "I don't see my daughter and her mother as much as I would wish. Lots more needs to be done so they bring me into their lives. I hope it will happen. This is part of the experiment on which more work is required." It suddenly occurs to me that Lord Bath is rather lonely. He has a kindly couple who look after him, beautiful labradors yapping at his heels, at least two girlfriends in the village, he assures me; but his family is missing. Cal, his favourite sister, is dead; Val, his favourite brother, committed suicide; and he is estranged from his remaining brother, Christopher. "He avoids me at parties," he says. And it's evident that his wife and children are not as close to him as he would like. Alexander Thynn is a gifted and original individual. He acknowledges that his wealth and position have made it possible for him to live his life the way he does. He has had a lot of fun along the way (as well as the occasional visit to the clap clinic); and the girlfriends of his that I have met have all regarded him with affection (he is both a vain old goat and a sweet old darling). But, I wonder, has he had much love? "What happens," I ask, "when one of your girlfriends begins to fall in love with you?" His answer quite shocks me: "I don't let it get that far," he says. "I recognise the symptoms and nudge her carefully in a different direction." Does he think he might have missed out on something in his life? He stares into his goblet of wine, then he looks me straight in the eye. "Have I missed out on the pairing with a soulmate?" He hesitates, then, with a wan smile and poppy, shining eyes, he says: "Yes. Yes I have. And yes, since you ask, which I don't think anyone has before, I do think it would have been nice to have had that experience. But I haven't. And it's too late now." So, there you are: Lord Bath is richer than us, and poorer too.
The Marquess of Bath: the old lion abandons his pride One of England's great hedonists stands accused of being as ruthless a businessman as any other, reveals William Langley.
The Marquess of Bath at Longleat House, Wiltshire Photo: Rex Features By William Langley
27 Nov 2010 in The Telegraph
Earlier this year, with the approach of his 78th birthday, the Marquess of Bath announced that he would be stepping down from the business of running Longleat, his family's 500-year-old stately pile in Wiltshire.
It would be nice to record that the lions, slumbering in the grounds of the attached safari park, arose and howled in beastly tribute, that the erotic murals with which the Marquess has redecorated his classical interiors shrank demurely back into their ancient plaster, and that the bizarre collection of kept women he calls his "wifelets" fell to their knees as one, begging the old boy not to go. In fact, hardly anybody noticed. Gradually handing the dynastic bean-counting on to his son Ceawlin, Viscount Weymouth, has been probably one of the more conventional things Lord Bath has ever done.
It was only last week that events at Longleat began to assume a familiarly troublesome flavour. More than two dozen of the staff, all aged 65 or over, were told that they were losing their jobs. Among those getting the lordly boot were tour guides, ticket sellers, gardeners and cleaners. Several were in their seventies, like the Marquess, and at least two in their eighties.
Many had been employed at Longleat for decades, and the sense of outrage was felt far beyond its velvety expanses. Not least because persuading people to work for as long as possible is one of the prime aims of a government with no money to pay their pension bills, and, within a year, the practice of sacking anyone on the basis of age will become illegal.
Yet the Longleat lay-offs raised the further question of just how much of a national treasure the high-living, hard-wenching, proud-to-be-different 7th Marquess really is. For at least 40 years, Alexander George Thynn – swaddled in velvet kaftans and his own peculiar preoccupations – has been receiving warm notices for his role as a throwback to the merry nobles of yore.
Except that behind the gates at Longleat, he wasn't really merry at all. Or even very different. In her biography, Lord of Love – written with the Marquess's co-operation (although he later rescinded it) and published earlier this year – Nesta Wyn Ellis paints a poignant picture of a confused oddball, torn between his obligations and desires, and burdened with a traumatic upbringing that left him "unsure what love is". Sex has, indeed, played a huge part in his life, with women, as Ellis puts it, "positively swarming to share his bed". And why not? The young Thynn was solid and handsome, Oxford-educated with the dash of a former Guards officer and an eagerness to vault social boundaries. "A woman on either side of him in bed every night was a basic requirement," she writes. Perhaps his mistake was to turn promiscuity into an ideology, in the form of a "sort of commune of happily existing mothers and babies" exclusively beholden to himself. So came about the phenomenon of the "wifelets" – more than 70 of them at peak times – who orbited Longleat, competing for his lordship's favours. To the average bloke, struggling even for a chat-up line, it might sound like an unbeatable deal. But like most such deals, there are catches, and the main catch in this chaotic ménage was that affection appeared to be entirely absent. The women appeared to loathe each other – "jealousy is rampant", reported Ellis – with the atmosphere prone to turn particularly ugly whenever two or more of them were in proximity. At Bath's grand villa in the south of France, the author witnessed "a sense of repressed hatred", with the wifelets stealing each other's clothes and goodies, and, on one occasion, resorting to violence that necessitated a visit from the gendarmerie. Lady Bath, the Hungarian-born actress Anna Gael, whom Alexander married in 1969, isn't too thrilled, either. She lives in Paris for most of the year, visiting Longleat only on condition that the wifelets are absent. For his part, the great roué snores like a dustbin rolling down the road, serves his guests cheap wine from supermarket boxes and, while in France, refuses to dine out on the grounds that the food will be "too French". He calls himself a "pioneer" and "experimenter", but the bulk of his energies have gone into the traditional business of guarding the family silver. Such are the follies of the aristocracy, and while we can only wonder what the founding Thynns – an upstanding breed of soldiers, courtiers and diplomats – would make of the present Marquess's lifestyle, it's hard to argue that it hurts anyone but himself. Except that the hurt was almost certainly done before he came on the scene. His late father "Harry" Bath, the 6th Marquess, was a storybook monster who hero-worshipped Hitler and, while desperate for money, hit upon the idea of turning his grounds into a safari park. Old Harry's favourite expression was "Put them up against the wall", and his no-nonsense approach to discipline was enthusiastically honed on his children. "I was at home once, bathing my dog," Alexander has recalled, "and some water splashed on the floor. My father ordered me to his study where he beat me with a riding crop. It was totally unjust and I was humiliated. So I just withdrew." His mother was the society beauty Daphne Vivian, of whom Evelyn Waugh wrote: "Daphne has written her memoirs. Contrary to what one might have expected, they are marred by discretion and good taste." She was chronically unfaithful, and the inevitable divorce left further scars on their eldest son. It doesn't take a psychologist to deduce that Lord Bath saw, in his mother's infidelity, evidence that all women are easy and, in his father's brutality, proof of the fallacy of love. From such certainties he has fashioned his strange life. It's one full of frailties and doubts – yet one that has given him and his son the confidence to declare that if the master has to give up work at a certain age, so should the serfs.
Marquess of Bath hands Longleat to his son The flamboyant 7th Marquess of Bath is to hand down the firm that owns his Longleat safari park, to his son, Ceawlin, Viscount Weymouth. By Richard Savill
12 Mar 2010 in The Telegraph
Lord Bath has run Longleat Enterprises, which also includes the Cheddar caves tourist attraction, since he inherited the estate from his father, the 6th Marquess, 18 years ago.
He is to continue to live in Longleat House, Wilts, and will remain active in some areas of the business, but he said it was "the right time for me to retire to my chair and slippers and watch as Ceawlin brings new life into this very special place.
“Longleat is very much my home and I'm looking forward to a future where I can sit back and let Ceawlin do the work!"
Lord Bath, 77, is 359th in the Sunday Times Rich List 2009 with an estimated wealth of £157 million.
When his father, the 6th Marquess, opened the safari park more than 40 years ago, local residents were so alarmed that questions were asked in the Houses of Parliament.
07 Nov 2010 There were fears of lions escaping into the countryside and newspapers expressed concern about "a quite gratuitous and unnecessary risk to life". But the 6th Marquess ignored the furore and opened the park, allowing curious visitors to get close to wild animals previously only seen in zoos in Britain. The success of the enterprise under the mural-painting 7th Marquess has been attributed not only to his energy, but also to his bohemian image. His series of mistresses, or "wifelets" as he has called them, and his colourful style of dress, has ensured publicity. His 35-year-old son, Viscount Weymouth, yesterday paid tribute to his parents stewardship of Longleat. He said: "Longleat and Cheddar Caves are among the top tourist attractions in the UK and it is my hope that I may follow on in the footsteps of my remarkable father and take both attractions very firmly forward." Ceawlin Henry Lazlo Thynn, who is named after a Dark Ages king of Wessex, uses his father's subsidiary title, Viscount Weymouth, as his courtesy title. As a teenager he cleaned the lavatories at Oscars Nightclub on the Longleat estate to earn his pocket money and attended a local comprehensive school on the insistence of his father. However, he used his trust fund to pay for his own private sixth form education at Bedales School, Hants, before being expelled after a year for smoking cannabis. The property developer was recently fined £250 and ordered to pay more than £1,000 costs, for annoying neighbours by playing loud music and operating an antique printing press in his flat in Notting Hill, west London, at 4am. He blamed the incident on partial deafness caused after surviving a terrorist bomb blast 14 years ago in a hotel in India, which killed 17 people, including his girlfriend and best friend. His lawyer told the court he normally made a positive contribution to society and he had received praise from police after chasing off a mugger attacking two people in the street. Hugh Cornwell, director of the part of the company which owns the Cheddar caves, praised Lord Bath's stewardship of Longleat. "I know that both at Longleat and Cheddar it is a far stronger business than when he took over," he said. "Visitor numbers grew from about 4,000 to 7,000 a year and that enabled him to do all sorts of renovation on the fabric of Longleat House."
Ceawlin Thynn interview: It was a different normality, says the young lion of Longleat Ceawlin Thynn, heir to the 7th Marquess of Bath, has just taken over running the estate. He tells Jasper Gerard about his radical plans for it and his extraordinary upbringing .in The Telegraph
Those huge, bulging eyes are unmistakable. So, too, the informality (to even the most junior employee he is “Ceawlin”, pronounced See-aw-lin, rather than Lord Weymouth). Oh, and when my invitation to lunch at Longleat turns out to be a sarnie in a cellophane wrapper from the tourist café, there can be little doubt he is fit to inherit the title of Britain’s least stuffy aristocrat.
But there the similarities with papa seem to end. While the marquess, also known as the “Loins of Longleat”, keeps an estimated 75 “wifelets”, the viscount remains unmarried (though perhaps for appearance’s sake he has been accused, wrongly it now transpires, of fathering a daughter out of wedlock).
While the father favours a wardrobe of velvet kaftans and colourful fezzes the son appears in an elegant grey suit. And while the great Lothario spends his declining days painting over Longleat’s 18th century wallpaper with erotica, his heir is busy working with Hollywood designers to turn the house and safari park into one of Europe’s most commercially successful visitor attractions.
Oh, and while Lord B was a Liberal Democrat peer until he was shooed out of the reformed Upper Chamber, Lord W is a Cameron supporter who admits to “political ambitions”.
Childhood, I venture to Ceawlin (an ancient Wessex name) must have been unimaginably bizarre. He smiles nervously, replying: “When you are in that environment it is absolutely normal.”
He attended the village primary school where friends would invite him to homes he found “rather different”, like the “attire” of their fathers. But, he concludes, back at the stately home he would content himself that Longleat possessed a “different normality”; friends would walk a dog on a lead, he a baby tiger. It is, in every sense, an animalistic place. “From my bedroom,” he reflects, “I can hear lions roar and wolves cry.” Surely, as he matured, the abnormality dawned, what with one kind of bull elephant in the boudoir and another in the garden? “I didn’t lie awake at night when I was 13 worrying about it,” he says loyally of his old man. “I rather treasured his eccentricity.” Perhaps this is the forgiving perspective of a man, 36, whose father is gravely ill. Once he was quoted saying that he “blanked” the “wifelets” and that he gave up arguing with his father “long before I reached the age where it would have been remotely cerebral.” “Dad”, a devout believer in equality for others, sent his son to a comprehensive, but aged 16, Ceawlin dipped into his trust fund and, to Lord Bath’s rage, decamped to Bedales. Surrounded by permissiveness, was running away to public school the only defiance left to him? “It wasn’t about rebellion, it was about expanding horizons,” he insists. Still, gaining acceptance at a comp must have been tricky for the future 8th Marquess: “Children love working out how to niggle and the early things were about Longleat, but within a fortnight it was all settled.” He seems almost supernaturally balanced given his upbringing. “I’ve had wilder periods of my life but my main mission is to build solid platforms,” he says, by which I think he means the safe inheritance of Longleat and developing other businesses. Wilder moments included expulsion from Bedales for smoking cannabis, opening a nightclub called Debbie Does Dallas, being prosecuted for playing loud music and moving to the Himalayas. Visiting Delhi in 1996 he suffered a life-changing catastrophe, the one event he declines to discuss, when his girlfriend and his best friend were killed in a terrorist explosion; Lord Weymouth was finally dragged from the rubble and, it seems, the haze of hippydom. He became a successful property mogul and built Wombats, an international chain of hostels. Now he looks every inch the eligible aristocrat, with 10,000 acres, one of Britain’s finest Elizabethan houses and a family piggy bank estimated at £157 million. He drives a zebra-painted Land Rover, proudly pointing out new attractions (elephant sanctuary, monkey enclosure and, fittingly, magnificent new lions). Is he under pressure to produce an heir? “I’m seeing someone but I’m not married. Pressure is too strong a word, but that is a Rubicon that needs to be crossed”: a curious phrase, a reflection perhaps of the five centuries of tradition weighing on his shoulders. He was accused of fathering a girl in 2008 with a mystery Russian woman after a brief romance but says now “it turns out she’s not mine”. Has Lord Bath interfered in his running of Longleat? “He has given me some sage pointers but my father is a big man,” Lord Weymouth answers. “He doesn’t suffer from that old bull/young bull neurosis.” When the son recently opened a new “Jungle Kingdom” he asked the marquess to cut the ribbon: “He stole the show, and long may that continue.” While “Dad very much enjoyed being in public life” his son will only talk to the fourth estate to promote his estate, and then only about once a decade. He is promoting his new enclosures and expanded drive-through safari park, the world’s first outside Africa when opened by his grandfather in 1966. Was it daunting, taking over? “Not really, I was always cognisant it was coming,” he enunciates carefully. “I don’t understand people saying 'it’s such hard work’; it’s an amazing privilege.” He concedes that there is tension between heritage and commerce and says he strives for balance. But his passion appears to be commerce, driving down to Longleat to work then returning to London most nights. There is talk of “leveraging the brand” and even of opening “Longleats” across Europe. At one point he says: “Our core clientele, frankly, are children.” He has hired a “CEO” from Legoland as well as an American builder of Hollywood film sets, including Titanic. Said builder swings by and announces that when creating an attraction Stateside “I just blow and go”, while Longleat will keep him busy for three years. New barns and enclosures are springing up, literally, overnight. “My ancestors would likely be horrified, but only because they wouldn’t understand the realities,” says Lord Weymouth. But arguably he is maintaining the family tradition. When the 6th Marquess, an enthusiast for Nazi memorabilia, opened his gates to the proles to pay crippling death duties, other toffs were shocked – but quickly followed. Lord Weymouth reveals that there is now a group of entrepreneurial aristos who visit each other’s houses and host “return matches” to share tips on exploiting their heritage. Country houses now must offer more than scones and Earl Grey. “I don’t resent tourists at all,” he says. “They’ve always been an integral part of life here. There are private apartments.” Indeed, he hopes to attract more with his Jungle Kingdom and Monkey Temple. Monkeys have been a favourite of his since childhood when they “ripped the wipers off Dad’s car”. The Jungle Kingdom has been well done, and unlike a conventional zoo, strange creatures hop about without cages. “This is the only meerkat walk in the world,” he says, and I don’t doubt him. A male coati, he announces, has been “done” which seems like one law for humans and another for animals. Yet their homes look suitably baronial: a 50-year-old silverback gorilla even enjoys Sky TV. Leaving Longleat I gaze down at the exquisite house across Capability Brown parkland, set off jauntily by giraffes; but also at the coaches and cottages, some occupied by “wifelets”. It’s a monumental inheritance, but not one I envy.
Voracious: The Marquess of Bath with wifelet
The loins of Longleat THE MARQUESS OF BATH: LORD OF LOVE BY NESTA WYN ELLIS (Dynasty Press £13.99)
By Roger Lewis
5th November 2010 in Daily Mail
How splendid to think that in our dour, politically-correct and buttoned-up world there exists still a carousing mad aristocrat, dedicated to wenching and revelling. Alexander, the 7th Marquess of Bath, seems to have stepped out of a drawing by Hogarth. He wears bizarre multi-coloured velvet kaftans and tasselled fezes, leotards and capes. He lives on the 10,000-acre Longleat estate and has a personal fortune of £157 million. But his most splendidly rakish element is his attitude to women. Lord Bath is ‘positively swarming with women who are queuing up to share his bed’, Nesta Wyn Ellis informs us in this brilliant biography, which has the complex richness of an Iris Murdoch novel. ‘A woman on either side of him in bed’ every night is a basic requirement. Lord Bath has 75 official mistresses, known as the wifelets, who live in cottages dotted around Longleat’s safari park. The ‘free-love free-for-all’ sounds like Paradise. Of course, the reverse is the case. Ellis has done her research in the harem, and the reality is that the wifelets are ‘far from happy in each other’s company’. Though Lord Bath had hoped ‘to create a sort of commune of happily existing mothers and babies’, with the latter exclusively fathered by himself, in practice ‘jealousy is rampant’ and there is always a particularly nasty atmosphere when ‘an ex-wifelet encounters a newer model’. Also, Lord Bath ‘has a low sperm count’, though that surely is a blessing. Ellis witnessed outrageous scenes in the South of France, where she went to stay at Lord Bath’s summer villa. The wifelets were stealing each other’s clothes, hiding fresh fruit from each other and the atmosphere was ‘intensely claustrophobic’. Between three wifelets there was ‘a sense of repressed hatred’ which turned violent and the police were called. His Lordship, meanwhile, was out on the terrace, using a hand mirror while painting a self-portrait. It is Ellis’s theory that far from being irritated or embarrassed by the dramas, Lord Bath ‘actively encourages’ the internecine squabbles. It arouses him to think he is being fought over. ‘He lets it go on as if he’s enjoying it. By doing nothing to stop it, he’s encouraging the Rottweilers to attack the others.’ By these means, Lord Bath is a monster of selfish passivity and manipulation. Ellis, her patience snapping, says Lord Bath has never shown true respect for women, and that the very word ‘wifelet’ is demeaning and squalid, with its overtones of concubine or tart.
The Marquess outside Longleat House: but if invited, don't expect a lavish country house weekend
What it all boils down to, in effect, is that women have to be ‘sexual playthings, they should be focused on Alexander in company, and they should flatter him by showing jealousy of other women who may be considered rivals for his attention’. This is pretty antediluvian. What are Germaine Greer’s views? Lord Bath recruits his wifelets, ‘former glamour girls, actresses, singers and aspiring models’, at book launches and PR parties in London. Lord Bath is now 78, deaf and snores, but this didn’t stop him from attempting to chat up Scary Spice, who visited Longleat on a purely platonic basis - so platonic, indeed, that she left during the night, her virtue intact. If you receive an invitation, don’t expect a lavish country house weekend. Lord Bath is so mean he serves his guests boxed plonk that tastes of ‘horse’s urine’. His preference is for tinned food and ‘ancient deep-frozen stuff from his freezer’. In France he refuses to eat out because the place is ‘too French’. Shirley Conran, a former wifelet, thought the problem was that Lord Bath had no sense of smell or taste, but parsimony must play a part. Though an Old Etonian, Lord Bath sent his own children to the local comprehensive. He has never provided for any wifelet, and if they choose to stay on in a Longleat property, rent has to be paid for their ‘white-walled nests’, which anyway are blatantly ‘consolation packages for wifelets who are being sidelined’. Lord Bath is a man of considerable contradictions. Though he pays lip service to socialist and meritocratic ideals about the iniquities of inherited wealth and landed gentry, he made sure he clung on to his own unearned fortune, his titles and rights of primogeniture. He banished his brother, Lord Christopher Thynne, from Longleat because ‘of course I wasn’t going to let my younger brother be lord of the house’. Much family bitterness has ensued. Furthermore, having denounced monogamy as a bourgeois convention, in 1969 Lord Bath married Anna Abigail Gyarmarthy, a Hungarian, ‘for the sake of the legalities’ involving the eventual inheritance of his son and heir, the oddly named Ceawlin, Viscount of Weymouth. The Marchioness of Bath lives in Paris and is rarely seen, though we are told ‘she had the most gorgeous shape’. Lord Bath ‘seemed terrified’ of her, but has been known to slap her face if she starts nagging. As Ellis says, Lord Bath ‘is deeply conservative and a traditionalist, while giving the impression of a Sixties hippy’. That pose was originally adopted to upset his father Henry, the 6th Marquess. Henry was a fan of Hitler and collected Nazi memorabilia. A stickler for discipline, he once beat Alexander for ‘washing the dog in the kitchen’. It was Henry who introduced lions to Longleat in 1965 as a successful tourist attraction. Alexander particularly resented his father for selling off items from the Longleat library, hence diminishing his inheritance. Nevertheless, in 2004, he himself parted with art and antiques worth £24 million - ostensibly to cover revenue lost due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak. Ellis found that when discussing his father, Lord Bath went puce with rage. If anything, his recollections of his mother made him even more volatile. It seems that Lord Bath has never recovered from his parents’ divorce 70-odd years ago. His mother ‘took up with Xan Fielding, a war hero ten years her junior’, and in Alexander’s eyes she had become a common slut. ‘Alexander became used to seeing strange men in dressing gowns in his mother’s bedroom when he came in for his morning kiss . . . He still harbours some anger and even disgust at his mother’s multiplicity of lovers.’ Ellis doesn’t need to be Sigmund Freud to deduce that if Lord Bath never forgave his mother for her infidelity, here was proof that to him, all women are ‘incapable of being faithful’; they are all inherently flighty. The contemptuous misogyny behind the wifelet business would, thus, seem to be based on Lord Bath’s personal feelings of guilt and betrayal. Lord Bath felt unloved as a child, and is still ‘not sure what love feels like’. As we read these words, we can’t help but feel sympathetic towards its subject, particularly when Ellis describes his sad and lonely days spent painting his brightly coloured murals ‘of vaguely erotic scenes’, which now cover up the 18th-century wallpaper at Longleat. Or else he is to be found compiling his memoirs - seven million words at the last count. ‘He has so far failed to find that cosiness for which he yearns,’ Ellis concludes. This is a book of exceptional psychological penetration and forensic subtlety. As it incorporates 40 hours of taped interview material, Lord Bath, too, must be congratulated for his candour and for allowing himself to be turned into a fascinating case study of rampant male ego and hurt pride.
Libidinous Lord Bath is brought to book The Marquess of Bath, who has had at least 73 'wifelets', distances himself from a biography with which he had cooperated. By Richard Eden Aug 2010
After 41 years of marriage in which the Marquess of Bath has enjoyed the company of at least 73 "wifelets", his real wife has finally had enough. The Marchioness of Bath, 66, is, though, not objecting to her husband's latest infidelity, but to his cooperation with a biographer, Nesta Wyn Ellis. The author, whose book about Lord Bath, 78, will be published this autumn, tells Mandrake: "Lady Bath has put her foot down. I think she has decided that it is undignified for her to read about all these different women." The marquess, who lives at Longleat, his family seat in Wiltshire, has now made it clear that he does not wish to be associated with the book. "He gave me 95 per cent of my material, so I am not worried," says Wyn Ellis, who wrote a biography of John Major, the Conservative former prime minister. "I have all the tapes and transcripts of our interviews, but Lord Bath has decided now that he doesn't like the book. I think he got worried when he saw it all in black and white."
Alexander George Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath. Women come to blows as they fight to sleep with Lord Richard Savill June 13, 2011 in The Age British police were called to the Marquess of Bath's estate in Wiltshire after one his "wifelets" was allegedly injured during a late-night fight with a rival. The woman suffered a suspected broken nose during an altercation over who would "sleep with the peer" at Longleat House that evening, a source said. Lord Bath, 79, who has been described as the country's most eccentric aristocrat, had apparently already retired for the evening, saying: "You sort it out, I'm going to bed." Officers went to the stately Elizabethan home following an allegation of a domestic assault. A 45-year-old woman from London was arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm while the 62-year-old alleged victim was taken to hospital suffering from a cut eye and a suspected broken nose. The source said: "The argument had clearly turned nasty but Lord Bath wasn't interested at all. As one of [the women] pleaded her innocence over the bust-up he was overheard to remark, 'You sort it out, I'm going to bed.'" Alexander George Thynn, the 7th Marquess of Bath, is known for his polyamorous lifestyle. His series of mistresses, or wifelets as he has called them, and his colourful style of dress, acquired during his time as an art student in Paris in the 1950s, has ensured publicity. He claims to have had up to 75 "wifelets", some of whom lived at 10,000-acre Longleat. In 1969 Lord Bath married Hungarian-born Anna Gael, by whom he has two children, Lenka, and Ceawlin, Viscount Weymouth. He passed the management of Longleat to the viscount last year. When asked during an interview with The Daily Telegraph in 2002 if marriage worked, he replied: "Anna and I quarrel, but I appreciate the stability she has given the children. She watches over them. She lives in France mostly, but she comes to England one week in four." Interviewed about jealousy between his girlfriends, and whether he ever had two of them simultaneously under the same roof, he replied: "Well, I might." Asked whether that caused problems, he remarked: "Oh no, hopefully they might even fancy each other." Nesta Wyn Ellis, the author of a book on Lord Bath published last year, said "wifelets" were made to feel insecure because he was continually searching for a new woman. "Every time a new female guest appears at Longleat, whatever her reason for being there, a tidal wave of gossip surges through the "wifelet" community on the estate," she wrote. "He [Lord Bath] is often the victim of violence from the 'wifelets', who verbally or physically assault him. Between the 'wifelets' themselves open warfare develops into full-scale cat fights at times, with blood being drawn." Wiltshire police confirmed on Friday that they had been called to Longleat House at 11.15pm on Sunday, June 5, after the report of an assault. "It appears that two female guests of Lord Bath had been in an altercation," a spokesman said. "The injured lady was taken to the Royal United Hospital, Bath, for treatment." The spokesman said the arrested woman had been bailed pending further inquiries but her bail was subsequently cancelled and police said no further action would be taken.