Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux
(September 19, 1778 – May 7, 1868)
Henry Brougham was born in Edinburgh, the son of a modest landowner without title but of an influential family in the Cumberland area for centuries. Young Henry was educated by the public school system in Edinburgh before entering the University of Edinburgh, where he studied natural science, mathematics, and law. He published a number of scholarly papers on scientific subjects, but his focus and chosen profession was law.
By 1800 he was a practicing lawyer, and helped found The Edinburgh Review (in 1802), to which he contributed articles regularly on an array of topics. A strong and vocal abolitionist, Brougham joined the Whig party and was elected to the House of Commons in 1810. By this time he had relocated to London, where he had quickly become a fixture in Society despite his financial modesty. His many political connections, including Lord Grey and Charles Fox, aided his rise in the political realm.
There were the rare defeats, such as losing his 1812 bit for Parliament, but Brougham never stayed down for long. He served as a chief advisor and Attorney-General to Queen Caroline of Brunswick (the estranged wife of King George IV), this leading to what is counted amongst his most famous speeches in the House of Lords defending the mistreated queen. His victory in that matter was merely one of many successes. In his legal and political career, Brougham fought tirelessly for the abolition of slavery, advocated parliamentary reform, sponsored a public education bill, and directed the reform of English civil procedure. During the 1820s he helped to found not only the University of London, but also the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, intended to make good books available at low prices to the working class.
On November 22, 1830 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Brougham and Vaux, of Brougham in the County of Westmorland. As such, he held the Cabinet office of Lord Chancellor, a position he kept for four years under two Prime Ministers. Brougham’s passion, as it turned out, was a two-edged sword. His accomplishments were numerous, as noted in the previous paragraph, yet his style and progressive views were seen as too radical and marred by “unprincipled and execrable judgement.” Essentially, as with every politician or leader down through history, he had his advocates and detractors. Per the typical whimsies of political shifts in power, the Whigs were defeated in 1834, Brougham losing his position as Lord Chancellor.
Brougham never held a political office again, however he remained extremely active in the judicial business of Parliament for over thirty years. He debated in the House of Lords many times, continuing his efforts on behalf of various necessary reforms (as he saw it). In between, he was a prolific writer, contributing as he always had to the Edinburgh Review, as well as other publications. His interest in the sciences never waned, earning him an elected post as member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1834, and he co-founded the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science in 1857.
Far from inactive or unpopular, Lord Brougham was granted a second peerage by Queen Victoria in 1860, becoming Baron of Highhead Castle in the County of Cumberland in honor of his great services, specifically in the promotion of the abolition of slavery.
Yet for all of these immense accomplishments in the political arena, Brougham is most well known for his non-political contributions.
In 1835, while on his way to Italy seeking a warm climate for his daughter Eléonore-Louise (who had tuberculosis), he accidentally stumbled across a fishing village along a picturesque coastline in France. Brougham fell in love with the pristine shore, writing, “In this enchanted atmosphere, it is a delight for me who loves dreams, to forget for a few moments the ugliness and miseries of life.” Cancelling his plans for Italy, within a week Brougham bought a tract of land in this sleepy, unknown village. He built a villa named for his daughter (who tragically died in 1839), became a patron and developer of the region, and wrote to friends in England extolling the beauty and climate. Lord Brougham’s fame led to the fame of this rustic area along the French Mediterranean, folks flocking to visit the man as much as the place. Other wealthy visitors from across Europe built fabulous villas along the gorgeous coastline, the sleepy village sleepy no longer. The name of that fishing village is known the world over to this day: Cannes.
The second contribution those of us whom read novels of the late-Regency, Edwardian, and Victorian Eras instantly recognize is the horse-drawn carriage which bears Brougham’s name. As it happens, this lasting contribution is explicitly tied to the first!
The roads in Cannes and the surrounding area were poor, to state it kindly. Reaching the coastal towns was far easier by sea than over land, yet even this presented difficulties due to the frequently harsh southern winds. The heavy four-horse carriages of the day were nearly impossible to use, particularly for tourists wishing to travel to and about the area. In 1838, Brougham designed a light, compact carriage that could be drawn by one horse. He sent his revolutionary design to London coach-builder Robinson & Cook, who built the first prototype (as seen below) to his specifications.
The brougham was the first four-wheeled carriage with a fully enclosed body that could be drawn by a single horse. The carriage was much cheaper and so easy to maneuver along busy streets that it became an instant success all over the continent, not just along the French coast. The changes were so significant that future carriages (such as the Clarence) as well as early automobile designs were influenced by the brougham.
As a final note on the brougham, while an awesome carriage and cool name with a great story that is very tempting to include in a strict Regency Era novel, note that the carriage did not exist until 1838. Oopsie to those who slip it into their novels! LOL!
Henry Brougham did marry, however the union was reportedly an unhappy one. They had two children together, both females, leaving the barony extinct upon his death. For the bulk of the final thirty years of his life, Brougham dwelt at his villa in Cannes. He never stopped working on those issues of vital importance to him, primarily through his prolific writings. His final written work was an autobiography completed in the last year of his long life, which was published posthumously.
Baron Henry Peter Brougham died at the age of 89, on May 7, 1868 at his home in Cannes. He is buried at the Cimetière du Grand Jas in Cannes.