Riding the dandy wave of elegance: George Stanhope Chesterfield - Vitale Barberis Canonico
Riding the dandy wave of elegance: George Stanhope Chesterfield

George Stanhope, 6th Earl of Chesterfield, is known for two particular traits, two special characteristics: his love for horses and the sophistication of his clothing. Born in Bretby (Derbyshire) in 1805, George Stanhope is considered to be one of the models of masculine elegance of the Regency era and the following Georgian period, before Queen Victoria came to the throne.

A true icon of dandyism, the Earl of Chesterfield rode the wave of the fashions of his times between good taste and extravagance. The person who remembers him in this way is an authority on the subject, Henry Poole who became one of the “pioneers” of Savile Row and who can boast of having had Lord Stanhope amongst his more celebrated customers (for more information on this, go to the Hall of Fame on the website henrypoole.com). As a young sportsman, Lord Stanhope distinguished himself at Eton and then at Oxford more for his horsemanship than for his inclination to study.

His empathy with horses, together with the extreme sophistication of his style of dressing and his love of gambling led him to squander a large part of his considerable inheritance before he was even 30 years old.

But the races (often victorious) at the stakes of St Ledger (Doncaster) and the Oaks (Epsom), and the Grand National at Liverpool were his passion, the stables were his life, and they helped him to win, if not money, at least the high position of Master of the Buckhounds, meaning that he was responsible for one of the departments of the prestigious royal stables.

Thanks to this nomination in 1834, the 29-year-old could boast of being a representative of His Majesty at Ascot on the occasion of the annual Royal Ascot meeting. All this activity is a clear contrast to what is said about his grandfather, Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773), 4th Earl of Chesterfield who, as tradition would have it, was the “inventor” of the Chesterfield sofa and armchairs (as testified on the website born.furniture).

Samples in the Vitale Barberis Canonico historical archives show that the dandy Lord did not only use the services of Henry Poole, but of other London tailors towards the middle of the 19th century. On 28th May, 1860, 20 years after leaving the family home in Chesterfield Street, Mayfair (the house in Palladian style with baroque interiors which was built by the above-named grandfather – and demolished in 1937 – had become too expensive for the hedonistic grandson who was heavily in debt …) for the more modest mansion in Grosvenor Street, Lord Chesterfield ordered a cut of light grey Fancy Angola at the shop of the unknown tailor who produced the “tomes” of the above-mentioned archives.

2 7/8 yards were bought, equivalent to a little more than 2.6 metres: the perfect length for a suit for a man who was taller and stouter than the average. The fabric, striped in strong colours, came from the award-winning company of Scott & Wright, woollen drapers at No. 6 Glasshouse Street (where nowadays there is the Jewel Bar) at the junction with Regent Street, or Piccadilly Circus. The Fancy Angola was a soft fabric, a fancy sharkskin with wool in the weft and cotton in the warp. Wearing this comfortable suit, the 6th Lord Chesterfield will perhaps have trotted on horseback over the ancestral hills in Derbyshire where he went as often as he could, he will have even given rein to one of his formidable steeds along the two-mile track he had built near his birthplace Bretby Hall.

The historical fabric of the archive.
237.801/7
More details
The fabric of the Vitale Barberis Canonico collection.

Destiny however did not allow him the pleasure of dying in the saddle, or even in the countryside: George Stanhope died on 1st June, 1866 on the steps of his London house. In the Pall Mall Gazette he was commemorated with great respect and the sympathy due to an elegant gentleman of indisputable generosity, a sophisticated cultivator of indulgence in his own passions, a sportsman of great class. This character is represented in the portrait which his friend, Count Alfred d’Orsay (1801-1852), one of the most famous French dandies and also talented artist, made of him in 1840.

A matter of interest: Bretby Hall passed down the generations to finally be inherited by George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon (1866-1923), who was also a customer of the same Henry Poole. It was this Stanhope who sold the property to finance the excavations – both sensational and also accursed – of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.

Other stories