The Welsh-born Rees Howell Gronow attended Eton with Percy Bysshe Shelley. The young Gronow’s military career began in 1813, when he was sent to Spain with a detachment from his regiment, where his participation in military endeavors was significant. After being posted to London a year later, he became known as one of the primary dandies of his time, being one of the few officers ever admitted to Almack’s, the exclusive assembly rooms on King Street. Neither titled nor wealthy, Gronow was considered one of the most handsome gentlemen of the ton, and that, together with the fact that he was a meticulous dresser, was enough to elevate him into the highest circles of London society. His portrait appeared in shop windows along with other famous gentlemen of the time, such as the Regent, Alvanley, Brummell, etc. He was an excellent shot, second only to the famous Captain Ross, and participated in many duels.
Although not called by the War Office for service on the continent, Gronow used 600 pounds won at the gambling tables to equip himself with a horse and gear and took himself off anyway. He participated in France at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and was soon after made a lieutenant, and later, captain, of his regiment. He continued with his regiment in England until 1821, when he retired.
In 1821 he spent a short time in debtors’ prison. In 1825, he married an opera dancer. He made his home in London, where he mixed with the highest echelons of society, for many years afterward. During that time he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on three occasions. Eventually, he moved to Paris. where, in 1858 when he was 63, he married the daughter of a Breton aristocratic who was young enough to be his granddaughter. They had four children together, for which he failed to provide after his death at age 70, according to the Morning Post.
Today, Gronow is mostly known for his Reminiscences, in which he discusses his military service, his personal experiences with many prominent Regency-era personages, as well as life in Restoration France. He is frequently quoted in The Regency Companion, from which I’ve been gleaning historical tidbits of interest to fans of the Regency period. The Kindle edition of his book is available for free on Amazon. (See below)
Reminiscences of Captain Gronow
Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.
The Regency Gentleman series
The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing
The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell
Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London
Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency
The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses
It’sa jolly useful resource, and vital when – like me – you’re trying to write a serious history of Almack’s, as Gronow is apparently the only eye witness source of the heyday of that exclusive club. I was fascinated to find that he came from Welsh forebears having initially assumed his name to be Polish – but it’s been mangled since the time of Edward III from, I presume, Goronwy
Fascinating post and a great resource, too. Thanks so much for sharing, Susana.