Meet Francis Grose, Author of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and My 6th Great Uncle

Meet Francis Grose, Author of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and My 6th Great Uncle

As my novels are set in the early part of the 1800s, attempting to discover appropriate words to express “dismay” or “disgust” often sends me searching out my copy of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. The book is written by one Francis Grose.  

Amazon describes the books as such… 

The Georgian “Profanisaurus”.

From the 1790s to the 1820s, numerous editions of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue were published. Looking at the slang and vernacular language of the time, this dictionary pre-dated Roger Mellie’s best-selling Profanisaurus by a good 200 years. Reprinted here, it covers the rude, the crude and the downright vulgar. Learn how the Georgians and early Victorians would insult each other and find out how some of today’s words and derivations have come about. But most of all, just dip in and see how our ancestors considered and talked about such subjects as sex and the workings of the human body.

[Note the “1811” in the title was the year of publication. The book was originally published in 1785, but as language is fluid, we can be certain many of these words remained in use during the Regency era. In fact, many are still in operation today. Either way, you will enjoy the preciseness Grose uses to define the words.]

Some of my favorites from the book include: 

“Juniper Lecture” means a round scolding bout.

Heels: “To be laid by the heels” is to be confined or to be put in prison.” While, “Out of heels,” is be worn of diminished, as in his estate of his affairs are ‘out of heels.’ “To turn up his heels” is the turn up the knave of trumps at the game of all-fours.

“Dog in a Doublet” is a daring, resolute fellow. In Germany and Flanders the boldest dogs used to hut the boar had a kind of buff doublet buttoned on their bodies.

But who was Francis Grose? Born about 1731, at Greenford, Middlesex, Francis Grose was the eldest son of Francis Grose (Sr.) or (Equire) and his wife Ann Bennett (or Bennet), daughter of one Thomas Bennett [you JAFF fans will know I smiled when I saw this name] of Kingston, Oxfordshire, who happens to be my 6th Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother. Francis Sr. was born in Berne, Switzerland, an immigrant who came to England in the early 18th Century, with a pedigree in the College of Arms. He was a jeweller of some renown living at Richmond in Surrey. He fitted up the coronation crown of George III (some accounts say George II, but either way he was a jeweller to a king). He was also a collector of prints and shells, which were sold around 1770. 

Title:Plate IV, from Rules for Drawing Caricaturas
Author:Francis Grose (British, baptised 1731–1791)
Publisher:Samuel Hooper (British, active London, 1771–88)
Date:February 26, 1788
Dimensions:sheet: 5 1/8 x 8 7/16 in. (13 x 21.4 cm)
Credit Line:The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1962 ~


Frances Jr. (my 6th Great-Uncle) received a classical education, but did not attend university. He studied art at Shipley’s and even exhibited a stained drawing entitled “High Life below Stairs” with the Incorporated Society of Artists in 1768. In 1769, he exhibited tinted drawings of an architectural nature at the Royal Academy. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 23, “Grose illustrated many of his own works, and some of his original drawings are in the British Museum (Fagan, Handbook of Dept. of Prints, p. 193). From 12 June 1755 till 1763 he was Richmond herald. He then became adjutant and paymaster in the Hampshire militia. He said his only account-books were his right and left hand pockets: into one he put what he received, and from the other he paid out. From 1778 (or earlier) till his death, he was captain and adjutant of the Surrey militia. In 1773 he published the first number of his ‘Antiquities of England and Wales,’ &c., and completed the work in 1787 (London, 4 vols. folio; new ed. 8 vols. London [1783-] 1797, 4to.). Many of the drawings were made by himself, but in the letterpress he was helped by other antiquaries.”

As Francis Sr. was quite wealthy, Francis Jr. came into his wealth, which he quickly spent without much care as to when his next full pocket would be.

In 1789, he toured Scotland and enjoyed the patronage of Robert Riddell, another well-known antiquary, staying at Riddle’s estate, Friars Carse. There he made the acquaintance of Robert Burns, who wrote of Grose’s “Peregrinations through Scotland, collecting the Antiquities of that kingdom,” his “Hear, Land o’Cakes, and brither Scots.” 

Burns was quite vocal regarding Grose. He wrote “Ken ye ought o’ Captain Grose?” and what is termed a rather coarse “Epigram of Captain Grose.” 

Epigram On Francis Grose The Antiquary

The Devil got notice that Grose was a-dying
So whip! at the summons, old Satan came flying;
But when he approached where poor Francis lay moaning,
And saw each bed-post with its burthen a-groaning,
Astonish’d, confounded, cries Satan—”By God,
I’ll want him, ere I take such a damnable load!”

The Antiquities of Scotland, published in 1789-1791, 2 vols. 4to. came about from in stay in that land. 

Early in 1791, he traveled to Ireland for another antiquarian tour, but died on 12 May of an apoplectic fit while dining with his friend, Nathaniel Hone, in Dublin. He was buried on 18 May  in Drumcondra Church, near Dublin. 

From Wikipedia, we find this list of his works: 

A list of works ordered by original year of the publication of the first volume:


The Dictionary of National Biography says of Grose, “Grose has been described as a sort of antiquarian Falstaff. He was immensely corpulent, full of humour and good nature, and ‘an inimitable boon companion’ (Noble, Hist. of the College of Arms, pp. 434-438, Gent. Mag., 1791, vol.lxi, pt. ii. p. 660). There is a full-length portrait of him, drawn by N. Dance and engraved by F. Bartolozzi, at the beginning of his ‘Antiquities of England,’ vol. i. 1st ed. (for other portraits, see Noble, pp. 436-7; and Gent. Mag. 1791, vol. lxi. pt. i. pp. 493-494). Grose lived chiefly at Mulberry Cottage, Wandsworth Common (Brayley, Surrey, iii. r99). He married Catherine, daughter of Mr. Jordan of Canterbury, by whom he had two sons and five daughters. The eldest son, Colonel Francis Grose, was deputy-governor of Botany Bay (Notes and Queries, ser. ii. 47, 257, 291).” 

16 Responses to Meet Francis Grose, Author of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and My 6th Great Uncle

  1. Regina, your family history is awesome. I bet you were astounded when you found this guy. He writes a dictionary and you write books! Now how cool is that? LOL

  2. What a fascinating post, Regina. I also have the Dictionary and use it from time to time. Have to laugh at some of the words and their definitions. AND you’re related to the author and even ran across Thomas Bennet (Bennett). I had to laugh. Sometimes it’s a very, very small world. Be careful and stay safe. <3

  3. Six degrees… man, look at all the connections. I love it. This was fascinating. Blessings as you climb around the family tree, Regina. No telling who else you will find hanging on a branch somewhere. Be safe.

  4. Did you know he was a relative before you used his book as a reference, or did you find out later? What an interesting connection, and thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. What a fascinating bit of family history you have given us! Writing is in the genes! Longfellow no less and now your family has grown with Collins’ wife!

  6. Regina, I was already enjoying the story of your great-times-6 uncle and his many works when I saw that you’re a descendant of the Aldens of Plymouth. That makes you a relative of my wife, Wendy Alden Hemingway, as well as of Longfellow. Wendy’s a direct descendant of John and Priscilla.

  7. Interesting post! It’s interesting to learn about past relatives. Since your great Uncle was a writer it must run in the family!lol

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