40. The Brigadier in England (1903)

This episode, we return to Brigadier Etienne Gerard of the Hussars of the Conflans shortly after his escape from Dartmoor Prison for more mishaps and misadventures in ‘The Brigadier in England’ (1903).

You can read the story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/The_Brigadier_in_England

An excellent audiobook version read by Rupert Degas for Naxos is well worth seeking out.

Listen to the episode here:

Or at our Youtube channel, www.youtube.com/@doingsofdoyle. Closed captions will be available two days after the video is uploaded.


This story takes place after the events of ‘How the Brigadier Held the King’ and ‘How the King Held the Brigadier’ which we discussed in Episode 15.

Having recovered from his unsuccessful escape attempt across Dartmoor, Brigadier Gerard is living under comfortable house arrest at High Coombe, the Dartmoor home of Lord Rufton. There are many diversions as Gerard whiles away the time, until he can return to his Emperor and his beloved Hussars of Conflans. High Coombe provides shooting and cricket, boxing and drunken evenings with Lord Rufton’s rough-and-ready sporting companions, and there is Rufton’s beautiful sister, Lady Jane Dacre. Of course, Gerard falls in love with her and is convinced that the sentiment is reciprocated. But one day this idyll is shattered by the arrival of Lord George Dacre, Lady Jane’s estranged husband, who wants her back…

Writing and publication history

Lewis Waller
The story was the sixth of the second series of Gerard tales, which were titled ‘Adventures of Etienne Gerard’ in the Strand Magazine. This series began with ‘How the Brigadier Lost His Ear’, a story that occurred to Conan Doyle on a visit to Venice in April/May 1902, when he was recovering from over-work. During this same trip, he visited Gaiola, which began his unfortunate association with an automatic sculpture machine business. See a presentation by Ross Davies and Mark Jones here.

‘The Brigadier in England’ seems to have its origins in August 1902, when Conan Doyle played a cricket tour for the MCC in Devon and Cornwall. Cricket, Devon, and Tavistock, where Conan Doyle once considered setting up in medical practice, all appear in this story.

The story was published in the Strand in March 1903, the same month that Conan Doyle’s play Brigadier Gerard was first performed with Lewis Waller in the title role.

It was later included in Adventures of Gerard (1903) where it was renamed ‘How the Brigadier Triumphed in England.’

The rough and tough Fancy

The story opens with a montage of Gerard’s various sporting mishaps with the Fancy, including entrapping pheasants rather than shooting them, thinking cricket is about hitting the batsman rather than the stumps, and engaging in an ill-mannered boxing match in which he bites, kicks, and claws his way to a victory.

Conan Doyle read widely on the Regency. One especially important source was Captain Gronow’s The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow: Being Anecdotes of the Camp, Court, Clubs & Society, 1810-1860 (ed. 1892) which includes many of these Regency archetypes.

Image from Gronow's Reminiscences

Chief among the Fancy is Lord Rufton, a character who was first mentioned as a backer of the Bristol Bustler in ‘How the King Held the Brigadier.’ Rufton later reappeared in Conan Doyle’s play The House of Temperley (1909) and in ‘The End of Devil Hawker’ (1930), a short story in which Rufton is a member of Watiers with Byron and John Gully.

Lady Frances Carfax, in the Sherlock Holmes ‘The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax’ (1911), is said to be the last of the line of the Earl of Rufton, thus placing Gerard in the Holmes universe…

John Gully was one of the leading boxers of the Regency period, having been taught to box in prison and being spotted by the Fancy. He appears in Royal Flash (1972) by George MacDonald Fraser, a great admirer of Conan Doyle who drew inspiration from the Gerard stories to create the Flashman novels.

Regency novels: Austen and Thackeray

W. M. Thackeray
With the arrival of Lady Dacre, the story pitches into a light-hearted pastiche of Austen, with more of a focus on the manners and etiquette of polite society, in stark contrast to the rough-and-tumble of the boorish men at High Coombe.

Conan Doyle read Pride and Prejudice (1813) in 1893 and wrote admiring of her prim style. Shortly after, he was interviewed by Robert Barr for The Idler in which he suggested Trollope was of the same literary lineage as Austen and that she belonged to a school other than that of Scott, Thackeray and Dickens (with which he more likely associated himself). In Through The Magic Door (1907), ACD contrasted the Bronte’s works with the “Miss Austen-like calm” of their predecessors.

Another debt is owed to W. M. Thackeray whose magnificent Vanity Fair (1848), ACD sited as one of the three greatest novels of the Victorian era (alongside works by Meredith and Reade). The novel begins in 1814. While a social satire and tonally completely different, the Gerard story shares the rich depiction of Regency life.

Conan Doyle’s uncle and father were friends with Thackeray. The author visited Charles Doyle in Edinburgh in 1851 and possibly later too. In Memories and Adventures, Conan Doyle said he “liked to think” he had dangled on the author’s knee, although the evidence for Thackeray visiting Charles Doyle in those years is unclear (Thackeray died when Conan Doyle was four years old).

The fate of Lady Dacre may echo that of Amelia Smedley in Vanity Fair who has her own boorish lover to contend with in the form of George Osborne.

The duel

Duels were outlawed in Regency England but took place anyway, with major political figures such as William Pitt, George Canning and even the Duke of Wellington, who famously disliked duels, fighting them in the years surrounding the end of the eighteen century.

ACD wrote a learned and amusing article entitled ‘The Duello in France’ in the Cornhill (December 1891) in which he argued (somewhat half-heartedly) that duelling was a disreputable part of the French national character. The article concludes that it is a bit rich of the English to claim this, when their own history was equally violent.

Conan Doyle had written an earlier story which centred on a duel. ‘The Tragedians’ (Bow Bells, August 1884) features a duel between two French actors which takes place during Act 5 of Hamlet. As in ‘The Brigadier in England’, the duel is over an abducted woman.

Conan Doyle’s reform campaigns

Conan Doyle was an outspoken advocate of divorce law reform in the years after ‘The Brigadier in England.’ He became the President of the Divorce Law Reform Union in 1906. He also grew to oppose blood sports, writing in favour of their abolition in the Strand in May 1928.

Next time on Doings of Doyle…

Ancient Egypt meets Victorian England in the Mummy-tastic ‘Lot No. 249’ (1892). Read the story here.


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Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.

Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/