© Cheryl Bolen, 2013
The eighteenth century was the golden age of the requisite Grand Tour wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their education. These weren’t tours as we know them today. They often covered several years and employed a small army of private tutors to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and proficiency in European languages. These young men would also take valets and fencing masters.
Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, 5th creation (1697-1759) took a six-year Grand Tour, returning to England in 1718 at age 21. At a time when a servant earned £6 a year, the 15-year-old Coke left England with a dispersal income of £10,000 for each of the six years he was gone.
His contemporary, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) toured the Lowlands and Italy in 1714 at age 20, returning with 878 caskets of art, clocks, and musical instruments. After the English publication of Andrea Pallidio’s architectural works, Burlington (the Architect Earl) was keen to follow in Pallidio’s footsteps as well as Inigo Jones’ and returned to Italy in 1718 and 1719.
Still another of their contemporaries, Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1730), the bastard only child of the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, spent just under six years on the Continent to acquire the attributes his father deemed necessary for him to take a position in Society and in the diplomatic corp. He left England at age 14, accompanied by another young aristocrat and his own master. In each country he visited, his father demanded his valet be a native speaker so Philip could become more proficient in each language. He spent time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. At age 18, he took up residence in Paris, no longer obligated to study with his various tutors. At this time his father wanted him to learn the manly pursuits in Society: low-stakes gambling, attending salons, and operas. Also at 18, he received his own carriage, footman, a valet de chamber, and a valet de place.
A few decades later, Whig Statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806), a grandson of the Duke of Lennox, was taken from Eton by his father so he could gain some “polish” on the Continent. In Spa at age 14, urged on by his father, he lost his virginity at the same time he embarked on his disastrous association with high-stakes gambling.
The Grand Tour was not just the privilege of the aristocracy. William Beckford (1760-1844), the once-wealthiest commoner in England, embarked on his Grand Tour at age 18. No expense was spared. It was said that because his entourage consisting of three carriages, outriders and relays of spare horses was so large, he was mistakenly taken for the Austrian emperor. Beckford’s Grand Tour journal was published, and a paperback edition edited by Elizabeth Mavor was published by Penguin in 1986. Those looking for an accounting of great excesses will be disappointed. As one whose greatest passions were directed at young boys and nature, Beckford’s observations are not very enlightening to today’s readers.
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars affected Englishmen’s Grand Tours, and the advent of rail travel a few decades later made the progression through the Continent available to the middle classes.—By Cheryl Bolen
Cheryl Bolen’s latest novel, Falling for Frederick, a contemporary romantic suspense set in England, is a Kindle Serial in nine installments. “Aided by lord of the manor, lovely graduate student archivist seeks priceless medieval artifact—just steps ahead of those who’ve already killed to get it.”