BRETTELS – A MYSTERY SOLVED

Suspenders-early-1800s-robins-egg-blue-embroidered

There are, from 1786, occasional orders for pairs of BRETTELS, sometimes in silk at a guinea a pair, in the Prince’s accounts with his tailor.  I wondered what these were, and until recently thought they were one of those accoutrements that might be seen on a military uniform.

Allowing for Louis’ sometimes eccentric spelling, and the fact that he anglicised many of the words of his native tongue, for instance: ‘applica’ for ‘appliqué’, ‘epaulet’ for ‘epaulette’, it is likely that ‘brettels’ are actually ‘bretelles’, which in French means a strap, but is applied mainly to braces (US: suspenders) or bra or apron straps.

in view of the Prince’s expanding waistline, it is not surprising that he would have sometimes favoured braces rather than other means of support for his breeches or trousers.  Braces as we know them were certainly being sold in 1820 by Albert Thurston from his emporium at 27 Panton Street, Haymarket, London, and it appears they were in use, in a more primitive form, in 18th Century France, which explains why Louis was familiar with them. 

My first clue that the brettels had a suspensory function was when I found an order on the 18th November 1790 for ‘a pair of (Vanbutchel) elastic brettels’ at six guineas.   The mention of Martin Van Butchell opens a whole new can of worms, as any Google search will show the enquiring reader.  He was an extremely eccentric quack dentist, practising in Mount Street, London.  He had his first wife Mary embalmed, and kept her in a glass case in his living room. He was nonetheless very successful, and apart from dentures he designed various elastic devices which were used for trusses, corsets and garters etc.   He is also credited with producing a pamphlet which extolled the virtues of temporary self-strangulation as a means of reviving ‘failing powers’ in men, and recommended his elastic (rubber) ligatures for the purpose.  The only snag about ‘temporary’ strangulation is that it can very easily become permanent.  The occasional discovery of ageing film actors and others, trussed up and hanging in hotel wardrobes, shows us that little has changed over time.

If Prinny was a client of Van Butchell, he perhaps also purchased corsets from him.  A look at the good quack’s advertisements demonstrates his claims to royal patronage.

The print below is of Van Butchell on his horse, which he would paint in garish colours.

Vanbutchell

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4 Responses to BRETTELS – A MYSTERY SOLVED

  1. nicholasstorey says:

    Most entertaining and informative. What more can we ask?

  2. Charles Bazalgette says:

    You can ask for more of them to be entertaining and informative. Most of mine are a bit short on the entertainment aspect!

  3. authordebrabrown says:

    If half of this was written in a novel, it would be panned for unbelieveability.

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