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.