British Aristocract & Aristocracy: 10 of Britain's Eccentric Aristocrats
10 of Britain’s Eccentric Aristocrats

10 of Britain’s Eccentric Aristocrats

D.G. Hewitt - July 13, 2018

10 of Britain’s Eccentric Aristocrats
Francis Egerton dressed his dogs up as gentlemen and invited them to dinner. Wikipedia.

Francis Egerton

Many of the most notable British upper-class eccentrics were recluses and hideaways, preferring their own company to that of others. This was certainly the case with Francis Henry Egerton, the 8th – and last – Earl of Bridgewater. The aristocrat was a born entertainer and loved to host lavish dinner parties, with no expense spared. However, no other humans were invited. Rather, Francis preferred to dine with his dogs and would always ensure that his many canine companions were able to enjoy the finer things in life.

Born in November of 1756, Francis enjoyed a privileged upbringing. Like many gentlemen from the upper classes, he entered the Church of England, becoming a man of the cloth. However, he was not really born to serve. Indeed, while he was put in charge of two rural parishes, he performed his church duties by proxy. His real passion lay in the sciences and in the collection of antiquities, plus he also wrote widely on a huge range of subjects, from nature to coal mining and England’s canal system. Indeed, the Egerton Manuscripts, the culmination of his life’s work, can be seen in the British Museum today.

But it is for his more eccentric habits rather than his unparalleled collections and fine mind for which Francis really stands out. In his later years, he moved to Paris, moving into a large home. Here, he would keep numerous dogs and cats, with his pets enjoying the freedom of the property. According to those few visitors who got a glimpse inside the home, Francis liked to dress the animals up as ladies and gentlemen. What’s more, he even had huge dinner parties, with formally-dressed dogs sitting at long tables with Francis as the head. After dinner, the dogs would lounge on luxurious couches or in richly-decorated rooms especially for them.

While he undoubtedly loved dogs and cats, he wasn’t so keen on other animals. Francis loved hunting and, when he grew older, he asked that his garden be stocked with hundreds of rabbits as well as dozens of pigeons and partridges. The birds would have their wings clipped so that Francis could hit them with his shotgun as he sat in his wheelchair. In 1823, Francis finally inherited the family title, becoming the Earl of Bridgewater. It was a title he would only enjoy for six short years. He died in 1829 and, since he had no children, the earldom died out with him. Much to the surprise of those who got to know him, Francis left almost all his money to the arts and to the British Museum – his beloved dogs received nothing.

10 of Britain’s Eccentric Aristocrats
Sir Tatton Sykes is renowned as one of England’s strangest aristocrats. Wikipedia.

Sir Tatton Sykes

As the eldest son of the 4th Baronet of the same name, Sir Tatton Sykes was born into enormous wealth and privilege in 1826. And it was a privilege he enjoyed to the full. His was a life full of earning and spending vast sums of money, of fast horses and young women and of eccentricities. However, far from being a harmless eccentric, history has not looked favourably on Sir Tatton. These days, his actions are seen as those of a spoiled bully who needed to learn some manners.

Upon his father’s death in 1863, he inherited the Sykes baronetcy, complete with title, a generous annual income and a luxurious home called Sledmore. His very first act upon moving into his ancestral home was to order the servants to destroy all the flowers in the garden. Sir Tatton Sykes truly hated flowers. He called them “nasty, untidy things”, and his war against them wasn’t confined to his own back garden. The Sledmore estate was also home to an entire village where servants and other people lived. Sir Tatton ordered that all the flowers here be destroyed too. Indeed, if you lived on land owned by the eccentric aristocrat, the only ‘flower’ he would permit you to grow was a cauliflower.

Despite his vast wealth and comfortable surroundings, Sir Tatton grew increasingly eccentric – and unpleasant. He came to believe that it was important he maintained a constant bodily temperature. To this end, he always dressed in layers, both at home and outside. If he got too warm, he would simply take off a layer, tossing it to the floor for a servant to pick up. He even wore two pairs of trousers and would, to the alarm of everyone else, simply take off a pair if he felt his temperature was getting too high.

Sir Tatton also became increasingly paranoid as he aged. Unsurprisingly, when he married at the age of 48 (to a well-bred lady 30 years his junior!) the union was far from a happy one and soon ended, leaving the eccentric aristocrat all alone. In his later years, he refused to eat anything but rice pudding. However, maybe there was some wisdom in his ways, for Sir Tatton lived to the ripe old age of 87, dying in 1913 and passing his title and wealth onto his son, Mark, who would be far more sensible.

10 of Britain’s Eccentric Aristocrats
Sir John got into partying in his 80s – and just kept going. The Irish Independent.

Sir John ‘Jack’ Leslie

In almost every way, Sir John Norma Ide Leslie, 4th Baronet, was the quintessential aristocratic gentleman. He was tall, charming and handsome in his youth, was well-connected, lived in a huge house and was fabulously wealthy. And, indeed, for almost all his life he did what was expected of gentlemen of his social standing. When he died in 2016, however, he had become known as the “Disco King”, which tells you all you need to know about his crazy final few years on Earth.

The cousin of Sir Winston Churchill, Sir John was born in New York in 1916. He was just a young boy when he was brought back to the family pile, Castle Leslie in Ireland. However, he spent almost all of his young life in London, mixing with the social elite and earning a well-rounded education. As was the way at the time, this was followed by university in Cambridge and then into the British Army. When the Second World War ignited, Sir John was sent to northern France, However, his was to be a brief war. He was captured in May of 1940 and spent the rest of the conflict in a prisoner-of-war camp.

After the war, Sir John lived a largely uneventful, if very comfortable, life. He didn’t have to work, just enjoyed the good life in London and continental Europe. In 1994, he returned to Castle Leslie, and from then on, his more eccentric ways started becoming apparent. He would give visitors ghost tours of the stately home, adding theatrical twists and flourishes. And it looked like he was going to enjoy a quiet final few years – until he hit the age of 80. To the shock of his family and friends, he chose to spend the landmark birthday in Ibiza, partying at a world-famous nightclub. He became hooked to dance music and partying.

From then on, Sir Jack was a regular at Ireland’s finest clubs. He would regularly return to Ibiza and he also partied his way around the world, earning him the title of “Disco King”. Of course, he would always wear his gentlemanly tweeds and trademark hat, even when on the dance floor. Speaking soon before his death, he explained that “the boom-boom music” as he called it “electrifies me. I can leap up and down – it shakes my liver up.” Sir Jack died at the age of 99, having recorded his colorful life in an autobiography entitled, appropriately enough, Never a Dull Moment.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“The life of history’s most eccentric aristocrat who lived fast and died young after frittering away £43million on fancy dress.” Zara Whelan, The Daily Post, December 2017.

“Meet Lord Rokeby, the original hipster with water on the brain.” The Daily Telegraph.

“Welcome to the crazy world of John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton.” The Daily Telegraph.

“The eccentric Duke who adored misanthropy, built 15 miles of tunnels.” Goran Blazeski, The Vintage News, November 2016.

“Sir John Leslie: Obituary.” The Daily Telegraph, April 2016

“The irrepressible Francis Henry Egerton, 8th Earl of Bridgewater”. Richard Young. Great British Life. April 1, 2020

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