Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gronow, Rees Howell

GRONOW, REES HOWELL (1794–1865), writer of reminiscences, eldest son of William Gronow of Court Herbert, Glamorganshire, who died in 1830, by Anne, only daughter of Rees Howell of Gwrrhyd, was born on 7 May 1794, and educated at Eton, where he was intimate with Shelley (Dowden, Shelley, 1886, i. 25, 300). On 24 Dec. 1812 he received a commission as an ensign in the 1st regiment of foot guards, and after mounting guard at St. James's Palace for a few months was sent with a detachment of his regiment to Spain. In 1813 he took part in the principal military operations in that country, and in the following year returned with his battalion to London. Here he became one of the dandies of the town, and was among the very few officers who were admitted at Almack's, where he remembered the first introduction of quadrilles and waltzes in place of the old reels and country dances. Wanting money to equip himself for his further services abroad, he obtained an advance of 200l. from his agents, Cox & Greenwood, and going with this money to a gambling-house in St. James's Square, he won 600l., with which he purchased horses and other necessaries. Apparently without the permission of the war office he then crossed the Channel, was present at Quatre Bras and Waterloo, entered Paris on 25 June 1815, and on 28 June became lieutenant and captain in his regiment. From this period until 24 Oct. 1821 he continued with his regiment in England, and then retired from the army. On 18 June 1823 he became insolvent, and after some confinement was discharged from prison under the Insolvent Debtors Act. He contested Grimsby 2 May 1831, but in company with H. W. Hobhouse was defeated by G. Harris and J. V. Shelley. After the dissolution of 1832 he came in for Stafford, by means of extensive bribery, on 11 Dec.; but the election was declared void, and a new writ was not issued during the parliament. At the following election, 6 Jan. 1835, he was defeated by the longer purse of F. L. Holyoake Goodricke (afterwards Sir F. Goodricke, bart.).

For many years after this he resided in London, mixing in the best society. In later years he took up his residence in Paris, where he was present during the coup d'état of 1–2 Dec. 1851. His name is chiefly remembered in connection with his four volumes of reminiscences:

  1. Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, formerly of the Grenadier Guards and M.P. for Stafford, being Anecdotes of the Camp, the Court, and the Clubs, at the close of the last War with France, related by himself,’ 1861; 2nd ed., revised, 1862.
  2. ‘Recollections and Anecdotes, being a Second Series of Reminiscences, by Captain R. N. Gronow,’ 1863.
  3. ‘Celebrities of London and Paris, being a Third Series of Reminiscences and Anecdotes,’ 1865.
  4. ‘Captain Gronow's Last Recollections, being the Fourth and Final Series of his Reminiscences and Anecdotes,’ 1866.

In 1888 appeared ‘The Reminiscences and Recollections of Capt. Gronow. With illustrations from contemporary sources … by J. Grego.’ When he relates his personal experiences, as in his account of the state of Paris in 1815, the condition of society in London in his own time, and the doings of the court of Napoleon III, his testimony is to be relied on, but his second-hand stories and anecdotes of persons whom he did not know are of little value.

He was a remarkably handsome man, always faultlessly dressed, and was very popular in society. His portrait appeared in shop windows with those of Brummell, the Regent, Alvanley, Kangaroo Cook, and other worthies. With the exception of Captain Ross he was the best pistol shot of his day, and in early life took part in several duels. He died in Paris 20 Nov. 1865. He married first, in 1825, Antoinine, daughter of Monsieur Didier of Paris. By a second wife, another French lady, he had four children.

[Reminiscences of Captain Gronow (1862), with portrait; Captain Gronow's Last Recollections (1866), with portrait; Harper's New Monthly Mag. November 1862, pp. 745–53, with portrait; Morning Post, 23 Nov. 1865, p. 5; Gent. Mag. January 1866, p. 148.]

G. C. B.