Gambling Legends – Beau Brummell

The 19th century produced a divided society lacking in any middle class on one side we had extreme decadence for the fortunate and on the other abject poverty for the less fortunate.

As well as this 19th century England produced a socialite and notorious womanising gambler Beau Brummell. His sexual and gaming exploits are said to rival even those of Mr lover man himself, Casanova. Brummell was in short a dandy and fashion leader with a voracious appetite for gambling.

The son of a rich peer, Brummell was schooled at Eton and Oxford before joining the army where he became friends with the Prince Regent. His wit, taste for high fashion and the immense wealth he inherited from his father stood Brummell in good stead with his peers and he soon became an important figure in 19th century high society. It was noted that he was one of very few people that was permitted to treat the Prince Regent with rudeness in public, although normally only in jest.

Brummell regularly gambled for high stakes at his club White & Brookes, he cared little whether he won or lost so long as the company was good and he could enjoy the conversation which, for the most part was his own. One evening, when he was playing hazard (a complex table game using dice) at Brooks’s Club, his opponent was a brewer named Alderman Combe, a great gambler who was said to make as much money at gambling as he did making beer. Brummell was throwing the dice and said to Combe:”Come, Mash-tub, what do you set?” “I’ll have a pony,” Combe said. (A “pony” in the gambling slang of the time was 25 guineas-the equivalent of £70.) Nowadays a pony is often referred to as being a £25.00.

“I’ll drive your ponies home twenty-five times running,” Brummell said. And, according to the story, he proceeded to make 25 consecutive winning throws of the dice. When he pocketed his winnings, he bowed to Combe and said, “Thank you, Alderman. For the future I shall never drink any port but yours.”

“I wish,” Combe, replied, “that every blackguard in London would tell me the same.”

One of Brummell’s gambling friends at the club was Bligh, who many thought to be mad, as he would swing between moods of euphoria and deep depression. One evening the two gents were playing a game of baccarat Brummell lost 1000 guineas and pretended to be mortified with grief he called to the waiter; “Waiter, bring me a flat candlestick and a pistol. I’ll light my way to death.” Upon hearting this, Bligh calmly produced two fully loaded pistols from beneath his cloak and placed them on the table. “Mr Brummell” he proclaimed, “if you are really desirous to put a period to your existence, I am happy to offer you the means without troubling the waiter.” An offer, which Brummell promptly declined. After all, there were still games to be played.

Brummell’s popularity as a socialite and gambler ensured he was kept in the public eye. However, his love for gambling would prove to be his downfall. Down on his luck in baccarat Brummell would raze loans at exorbitant interest rates and established a reputation of being a debtor and his friends vanished as quickly as his fortunes. The final straw came when Brummell quarrelled with the Prince Regent (nobody seems to know why but it was likely to be over money or gambling) he was then forced to leave England in disgrace with his debtors hot on his heels.

Brummell settled in France where he was imprisoned briefly in 1935 for debt and then survived as a pauper the following five years dieing in 1940 aged 62 in a madhouse.