We discover a pair of braces with a royal connection…
It’s always exciting for objects to be accessioned with personal mementos of the donor, whether this be a letter, a photograph or a note, as it really brings to the life to the story of an artefact. This month’s object in focus was donated with a beautifully penned letter written by a Mr. Albert Peacock. His sloping handwriting tells a tale featuring the Queen of England, a loyal footman and a pair of braces…
A royal connection
The braces carefully stored in the archive
This object in focus is a pair of braces worn by the 2nd Duke of Cambridge, cousin to Queen Victoria and a prominent leader in the British army. They feature a stylised oriental cross-stitch pattern and probably date from around the 1830s, as they were worn by the Duke when he was a boy. The Duke gifted them to his Second Footman William Peacock who eventually gave them to his youngest brother Albert, who parted with them in 1911, eventually leading to their inclusion in the Beecroft archive.
The Duke and the Servant
Close up detail of embroidery
The Duke would have had a large number of live-in servants to provide for his every need. Yet his gift of braces and as Albert writes ‘several things for keep sake’ to William shows he must have taken a liking to his footman, who in the servant hierarchy was not as high-ranking as a Butler, nor was he even the First Footman. William’s daily duties would have been diverse, he would have waited at the table, served guests, polished boots and also answered the door to visitors. He would probably have worn full livery to distinguish him as Footman and some were selected for their distinguished appearance. Unfortunately William was to die in service to the Duke, as Albert describes it he ‘caught cold and went into rapid consumption.’
William gave these braces to Albert, before he died, probably knowing he was not far from death. However Albert was ‘not allowed to have them until I was 21 years old’ presumably when he was old enough to appreciate their value, and their connection to the Royal Family.
Queen Victoria intervenes
Excerpt from the letter explaining Queen Victoria’s intervention
The Duke took great concern over William’s health and as Albert writes he even enlisted the help of ‘our most gracious Queen Victoria’ (yes really Queen Victoria!) to procure a bed at Brompton Hospital for his dutiful servant. The Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea had only been founded in 1841 and specialised in the treatment of tuberculosis, or as it was more commonly known at this time consumption. The hospital is famous for its ‘Brompton Cocktail’ a toxic mix of morphine, cocaine, alcohol and choloroform. This painkiller was developed in the 1890 but William would not have been administered this as he was sadly to die in 1867.
A treasured hierloom
Albert kept these braces for over 50 years, sadly having to relinquish them in 1911 as he was ‘obliged to part with a few things to keep going’ due to his painful arthritis. It is due to his letter that we can remember these braces fascinating history. I am sure Albert would have been proud to know the museum still preserves these braces and continue to share the unusual story behind them.