Earl of Bridgewater: Eccentricities of a Dog Lover

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th and last Earl of Bridgewater, (known as Francis Egerton until 1823), was a first-class British eccentric born in 1756. The Belfast Commercial Chronicle noted of him that “no one has higher claims to a distinguished place in … history than Mr. Egerton.”[1] Part of their illustrious opinion of him may have had to do with the fact that an immense fortune enabled “him to gratify the most extravagant caprices that ever passed through the head of a rich Englishman.”[2]

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author's Collection

Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater, Author’s collection.

Examples of his eccentricities varied, but one rather memorable event involved a book he borrowed from a friend:

“He carried his politeness so far as to send it back, or rather have it [conducted] home in a carriage. He [gave] orders that two of his most stately steeds be caparisoned under one of his chariots, and the volume, reclining at ease in milord’s landau, [arrived] attended by four footmen in costly livery, at the door of its astounded owner.”[3]

Dogs, Public Domain

Dogs. Public domain.

Hand delivery with a costly livery was not the only example of the Earl of Bridgewater’s eccentricities. He loved boots. In fact, he ordered boots for his dogs, paying “dearly” for them, and besides supplying boots for “the four feet of each of his dogs,”[4] his own two feet were shod in a new pair of boots each day. After wearing them, he carefully preserved them, arranged them in order, commanded no one touch them, and then took great pleasure “in each day past, by viewing the state of his boots.”[5]

The Earl of Bridgewater was said to be a man of few acquaintances. However, that did not stop him from having nightly dinner parties or having one of the best set tables in the world. His table was “constantly set out with a dozen covers, and served a suitable attendance.”[6] So, who were these guests that the Earl of Bridgewater was always serving? It was none other than a dozen of his favorite dogs “who daily [partook] of … dinner, seated very gravely in armed chairs, each with a napkin round his neck, and servant behind to attend to his wants.”[7]

The canine attendees at these dinners were supposedly well-behaved and “comport[ed] themselves during the time of repast with a decency and decorum which would do more than honour to a party of gentlemen.”[8] However, if by chance one canine should disobey the rules associated with good manners and instead give in to his instinct of a hearty appetite, his punishment was predetermined. The day after the offense, the dog dined, and dined well, but not the Earl’s table. Instead, the offender was banished to the anti-chamber, “and dressed in livery … [ate] in sorrow the bread of shame, and [picked] the bone of mortification, while his place at [the] table remain[ed] vacant till his repentance … merited a generous pardon!”[9]

Rare Queen Anne gilt-brass dog collar hinged in two places, the border pierced with the inscription, “The Earle of Bridgewater’s Dog 1707.” The Earl’s coronet is engraved on the side. Courtesy of National Trust, Belton House, Lincolnshire.

The Earl of Bridgewater loved dogs just like Marie Antoinette, Eliza de Feuillide, and the Princesse de Lamballe. However, the Earl went to the extreme with his animals. Besides nibbling on the most delicate morsels, the Earl’s dogs enjoyed other unique pleasures. They lounged around on “velvet carpets and tapestried sofas and chair, and went out to take the air in his Lordship’s coach, with a plumed, belted, and gold-embroidered chasseur behind.”[10] Besides living in the lap of luxury, the Earl also dressed his dogs like ladies and gentlemen and would take them out for a drive in his carriage.

Later in life, the Earl of Bridgewater suffered from what was described as “a muscular weakness of the lower extremities.”[11] This weakness prevented him from walking unless a person supported him on either side. That, however, did not stop him from “adopting a strange substitute for the sports of the field.”[12] Three hundred rabbits, and as many pigeons and partridges (with their wings cut) were placed in the garden. The Earl was given a gun and with the support of his servants, he would “shoot two or three heads of games, to be afterwards put upon the tables as his sporting trophies.”[13]

The eccentric Earl of Bridgewater passed away in France on 11 February 1829. His will, like his life, was unusual. His residence was almost filled with dogs that had come from a variety of places. He left 8,000 pounds to the Royal Society “as a reward for the best written essay on the Creation, on the Anatomy of Man.”[14] A large portion of his inheritance was also left to the British Museum, along with the valuable Egerton Manuscripts, which consisted of 67 manuscripts dealing with the literature of France and Italy. In addition, he left money for “the formation and conservation of a collection of autographs.”[15] In his will the Earl did not mention his family, and as far as his four-legged friends who were his regular dining companions, they received not even “a franc to keep them in bread and water.”[16]

References:

  • [1] “The Earl of Bridgewater,” Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 21 October 1826, p. 1.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] “The Late Earl of Bridgewater,” in Lancaster Gazette, 28 February 1829, p. 2.
  • [11] “The Earl of Bridgewater,” in Lancaster Gazette, 9 December 1826, p. 4.
  • [12] The Late Earl of Bridgewater, in Morning Post, 24 March 1829, p. 3.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] The Late Earl of Bridgewater,” in Dublin Morning Register, 1 May 1829, p. 1.
  • [15] Lancaster Gazette, 9 December 1826, p. 4.
  • [16] Lancaster Gazette, 28 February 1829, p. 2.

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