Many famous fairy tales exist about giants and two of the most popular tales are “Jack in the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer.” However, in the 1800s there was a real person who was a giant. He was called the French Giant Louis Frenz but he also gained notoriety as Monsieur Louis.
The French Giant was born in 1801, and, at an early age, he decided to seek his fortune in England. His first exhibition in England supposedly occurred there in 1822 when he appeared at New Bond Street. It was there he naively confessed he had arrived in London to make a fortune and planned to return to France once he accomplished it. To earn this fortune, the French Giant usually exhibited himself between 11am and 5pm and between 7pm to 9pm. In addition, in 1825, he charged a shilling to see him, although servants and children got a reduce rate of half price.
The French Giant was about seven feet four (or maybe seven feet five) inches. Yet, for as tall as he was, he claimed to have a brother taller than himself. He also reported that he had two sisters nearly as tall as himself. Those who saw him described the French Giant as finely proportioned with behavior “most gentlemanly.” However, his extraordinary height was enough of an anomaly his picture was engraved and the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London decided to take a cast of his hand.
There were other events that happened to the French Giant while he visited England. For example, in August of 1826, he was exiting the Exeter Change, when a man brushed past and stole his handkerchief. Monsieur Louis did not notice but another pedestrian did. The pedestrian reported the incident to the gentleman walking with the French Giant, and the thief, an urchin with the last name Evans, was quickly apprehended.
Moments later as a Sir Richard Birnie sat alone in his office at Bow-street, he was visited by Monsieur Louis. Birnie had no idea who the giant was or why he was wearing a blue military frock coat. A patrolman accompanied Monsieur Louis and had Evans in custody. Birnie knew Evans as a thief and pickpocket. So, when Evans went before the judge and jury, they quickly found guilty. Monsieur Louis added his view, recommending mercy for Evans.
In 1827, a rather humorous incident occurred with the French Giant. He had business in Portsmouth and decided to travel by coach. This proved tricky as there were three other passengers inside. Apparently, however, Monsieur Louis “screwed himself into the smallest possible compass; so as not, in fact, to occupy more than two-thirds of the entire coach.” Everything seemed fine until the coach reached its first stop. At that time, Monsieur Louis told the passengers, he would like to get out and stretch his legs. It was too much for one old lady who shrieked, “Ah! for Heaven’s sake, Sir spare me that! … Be assured, that your legs are of a length perfectly intolerable already!”
Whenever the French Giant appeared, there was always much excitement and interest. One newspaper noted this excitement in their July 1828 report:
Monsieur Louis, the French giant, is at Chichester. On Wednesday he visited … [Selsey]. He left his carriage at the Crown Inn, and walked to the sea side of the purpose of bathing. The unexpected appearance of this “great personnage” materially attracted the ardent gaze of the islanders, who viewed him with astonishment and admiration.”
In August, shortly after his trip to the seaside community of Selsey, Monsieur Louis traveled to Brighton. There he stayed at Scarnell’s, the Sea House Hotel. While there he also became engaged to exhibit himself at a Masked Festival at the local theatre. People began to gather about eight o’clock for the festival, and they continued to do so until about midnight. Of course, the center of attraction was the French Giant, which caused one newspaper to report that he “looked down with smiles and complaisance upon the comparatively little figures below.”
A few years after Monsieur Louis left England to live off his fortune in France, controversy erupted. Edward Goodacre, who had served as the French Giant’s valet, was indicted for theft in 1834. Allegedly, Goodacre stole a ring from a gentleman named Joseph Burke. Apparently, Joseph Burke let his apartment out for exhibitions, and at least once the French Giant used it. Shortly, thereafter Burke reported his ring missing. Six years later Goodacre was discovered wearing the ring and charged with the theft. However, Goodacre claimed Monsieur Louis had given him the ring, and, so, the jury acquitted him.
- —, in Brighton Gazette, 29 December 1825
- —, in Morning Post, 26 August 1828
- —, in Norwich Mercury, 23 December 1826
- A Literary Interpretation, in Tipperary Free Press – Wednesday 10 January 1827
- “Bow-Street,” in The Times, 25 August 1826
- Brighton, Aug. 26, in Morning Post, 28 August 1828
- “Mons. Louis Recommended Him to mercy,” in London Courier and Evening Gazette, 20 September 1826
- “Old Bailey Sessions, Feb. 20,” in Morning Post, 21 February 1834
- “Sussex, Surrey, & c.,” in Hampshire Chronicle, 28 July 1828
- Wood, Edward J., Giants and Dwarfs, 1868