Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Planché, James Robinson

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PLANCHÉ, JAMES ROBINSON (1796–1880), Somerset herald and dramatist, born in Old Burlington Street, Piccadilly, London, on 27 Feb. 1796, was son of Jacques Planché (1734–1816), a watchmaker, who was descended from a Huguenot refugee. Planché's mother (his father's cousin) was Catherine Emily (d. 1804), only child of Antoine Planché. From the age of eight James was educated by the Rev. Mr. Farrer in Lawrence Street, Chelsea; later on he studied geometry and perspective under Monsieur de Court, and in 1810 was articled to a bookseller. At an early age he developed a taste for the stage, and as an amateur acted at the Berwick Street, Pancras Street, Catherine Street, and Wilton Street private theatres. When twenty-two he wrote a burlesque ‘Amoroso, King of Little Britain,’ which was produced with success at Drury Lane on 21 April 1818. His second piece was a speaking harlequinade, ‘Rodolph the Wolf, or Columbine Red Riding Hood,’ acted at the Olympic Pavilion on 21 Dec. 1818. Having adapted from a French melodrama, ‘Le Vampire,’ a play called ‘The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles,’ he produced it at the English opera-house on 9 Aug. 1820, when the Vampire trap in the flooring of the stage, then first invented, proved a great attraction. During 1820–1 he wrote ten pieces for the Adelphi Theatre, including a very successful drama, ‘Kenilworth Castle, or the Days of Queen Bess,’ which was produced on 8 Feb. 1821. His first opera, ‘Maid Marian,’ taken from Thomas Love Peacock's tale of that name, with music by Bishop, was seen at Covent Garden on 3 Dec. 1822.

In 1823 on the revival of ‘King John’ at Drury Lane by Charles Kemble, Planché, after making historical researches, designed the dresses and superintended the production of the drama gratuitously. This was the first occasion of an historical drama being brought out with dresses of the period of its action. On 29 May 1825 he was present in Paris at the coronation of Charles X with the object of making drawings of dresses and decorations for a spectacle at Covent Garden which was produced there on 10 July. On 12 April 1826 he furnished the libretto to the opera of ‘Oberon, or the Elf King's Oath,’ specially written for Covent Garden Theatre by Carl von Weber; it was Weber's last composition.

During 1826–7 Planché was the manager of the musical arrangements at Vauxhall Gardens, and wrote the songs for the vaudeville ‘Pay to my Order,’ 9 July 1827. In 1828 he commenced to write regularly for Covent Garden, and on 11 Nov. brought out ‘Charles XIIth, or the Siege of Stralsund,’ a drama. An unauthorised production of this piece by William Henry Murray at the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh, led to the appointment of a select parliamentary committee on dramatic literature (before which Planché gave evidence on 10 July 1832), and to the passing, on 10 June 1833, of the Act 3 William IV, c. 15, giving protection to dramatic authors.

During the season of 1830, for his friend Samuel James Arnold, he undertook the active management of the Adelphi Theatre. His version of Scribe and Auber's opera ‘Gustave Trois, or the Masked Ball,’ in which he vindicated the character of Madame Ankarström, who was still living, was produced with much success at Covent Garden on 13 Nov. 1833. In 1838 he undertook the libretto for an opera by Mendelssohn on the siege of Calais by Edward III. A long correspondence ensued with the composer (Planché, Recollections, i. 279–316), but ultimately the work was abandoned.

When Madame Vestris took the Olympic Theatre in 1831, Planché entered into professional relations with her, which lasted, with some intermissions, until she retired from theatrical management. He, in conjunction with Charles Dance [q. v.], wrote for her opening night, at the Olympic, 3 Jan. 1831, the burlesque ‘Olympic Revels, or Prometheus and Pandora.’ The performers were dressed in correct classical costume, and with the popular lessee in the chief rôle the piece was a great success. It was the first of a series of a similar plays by Planché which occupied him at intervals for the next thirty years. At Christmas 1836, again in conjunction with Dance, he wrote for the Olympic Theatre, ‘Riquet with the Tuft,’ taken from the French féerie folie ‘Riquet à la Houppe,’ with Charles Mathews as Riquet and Madame Vestris as the Princess Esmeralda. On the marriage of Charles Mathews to Madame Vestris [see Mathews, Lucia Elizabeth], on 18 July 1838, and their visit to America, Planché was in charge of the Olympic Theatre until their return in December. When Madame Vestris removed to Covent Garden in 1839, Planché was appointed director of costume, reader of the plays sent in for approval, and superintendent of the painting-room. After various other engagements, Planché began writing for Benjamin Webster at the Haymarket, and produced ‘The Fair One with the Golden Locks,’ 26 Dec. 1843, the first of several Christmas and Easter pieces, in which Priscilla Horton, afterwards Mrs. German Reed [q. v.], was the leading actress. He then returned to the service of Madame Vestris, and when, in October 1847, she undertook the management of the Lyceum theatre, he became her superintendent of the decorative department and leading author. On the opening of her season, 18 Oct. 1847, he produced ‘The Pride of the Market’ from the French, and at Christmas ‘The Golden Branch.’ His numerous burlesques and Christmas pieces, which were produced by Madame Vestris at the Lyceum, won him and his employer their chief theatrical reputation. His ‘Island of Jewels,’ acted on 26 Dec. 1849, was perhaps her greatest success there.

Other managers continued to welcome his work. On 28 March 1853 he brought out at the Haymarket ‘Mr. Buckstone's Ascent of Mount Parnassus,’ a travesty of Albert Smith's entertainment ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc.’ For Augustus Harris, at the Princess's Theatre, he prepared ‘Love and Fortune,’ a comedy in verse after the manner of those acted at the fairs of Saint-Germain and Fontainebleau (24 Sept. 1859). This piece was not understood either by the public or the press, and failed. On 12 July 1861 a comedy written by him fourteen years previously, ‘My Lord and My Lady,’ was brought out at the Haymarket with Mr. and Mrs. Charles Mathews, Mrs. Wilkins, and J. B. Buckstone in the cast, and ran fifty nights. In September 1866 he adapted Offenbach's opera-bouffe, ‘Orphée aux Enfers,’ for the same theatre, under the title of ‘Orpheus in the Haymarket;’ the piece ran from Christmas to Easter, and saw the first appearance of Louise Keeley. His last dramatic piece was ‘King Christmas,’ a one-act masque at the Gallery of Illustrations on 26 Dec. 1871, but he subsequently wrote the songs for ‘Babil and Bijou,’ a spectacle, at Covent Garden on 29 Aug. 1872.

Meanwhile Planché was making a reputation as an antiquary and a scholarly student of heraldry and costume. On 24 Dec. 1829 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. There he made the acquaintance of Hallam, Hudson Gurney, Crabb Robinson, and other literary men. He became dissatisfied with the management of the society in 1843, and aided in the formation of the British Archæological Association in December 1843; but when a secession took place in February 1845, he remained a member of the parent society, to the proceedings of which he made many valuable contributions. He resigned his membership in 1852. In 1834, with the advice and encouragement of Francis Douce and Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick [q. v.], he published ‘The History of British Costumes,’ the result of a ten years' diligent study. The work rendered a great service to English historical painters. It went to a second edition in 1847, and to a third in 1874. On 13 Feb. 1854 the Duke of Norfolk appointed him rouge croix pursuivant of arms at the Heralds' College, and in this capacity he went with Sir Charles G. Young, Garter king-of-arms, to Lisbon in May 1858, to invest the king of Portugal with the order of the Garter. In April 1865 he went on a second mission to Lisbon to invest Dom Louis with the Garter. After his promotion to the office of Somerset herald on 7 June 1866, he went on a third mission, this time to Vienna to present the Garter to the emperor of Austria. In 1857 he arranged Colonel Augustus Meyrick's collection of armour for the exhibition of art treasures at Manchester, and again in December 1868 at the South Kensington Museum. Between 1855 and 1869 Planché made several reports on the state of the armoury in the Tower of London; finally in the latter year he, at the request of the war office, rearranged the armour in chronological order and made a final report on the condition and maintenance. He was granted a civil list pension of 100l. on 21 June 1871, and died at 10 St. Leonard's Terrace, Chelsea, on 30 May 1880.

Besides the works already mentioned, Planché's chief publications were: 1. ‘Costumes of Shakespeare's King John, &c., by J. K. Meadows and G. Scharf, with biographical, critical, and explanatory notices,’ 1823–5, 5 parts. 2. ‘Shere Afkun, the first husband of Nourmahal, a legend of Hindoostan,’ 1823. 3. ‘Descent of the Danube from Ratisbon to Vienna,’ 1828. 4. ‘A Catalogue of the Collection of Ancient Arms and Armour, the property of Bernard Brocas, with a prefatory notice,’ 1834. 5. ‘Regal Records, or a Chronicle of the Coronation of the Queens Regnant of England,’ 1838. 6. ‘The Pursuivant of Arms, or Heraldry founded upon Facts,’ 1852; 3rd edit. 1874. 7. ‘A Corner of Kent, or some account of the parish of Ash-next-Sandwich,’ 1864. 8. ‘Pieces of Pleasantry for private performance during the Christmas Holidays,’ 1868. 9. ‘Recollections and Reflections,’ 1872, 2 vols. 10. ‘William with the Ring, a romance in rhyme,’ 1873. 11. ‘The Conqueror and his Companions,’ 1874, 2 vols., well written and often quoted as an authority. 12. ‘A Cyclopædia of Costume, or Dictionary of Dress,’ 1876–9, 2 vols. 13. ‘Suggestions for establishing an English Art Theatre,’ 1879. 14. ‘Extravaganzas,’ 1879, 5 vols. 15. ‘Songs and Poems,’ 1881. He also translated or edited: ‘King Nut Cracker, a fairy tale from the German of A. H. Hoffmann,’ 1853; ‘Fairy Tales by the Countess d'Aulnoy,’ translated 1855, 2nd edit. 1888; ‘Four-and-twenty Fairy Tales selected from those of Perrault and other popular writers,’ 1858; ‘An Introduction to Heraldry by H. Clark,’ 18th edit. 1866. For the stage he wrote in all seventy-two original pieces, ten of them in conjunction with Charles Dance, and one with M. B. Honan, besides ninety-six translations and adaptations from the French, Spanish, Italian, and German, and alterations of old English authors.

On 26 April 1821 he married Elizabeth St. George (1796–1846). She wrote several dramas. ‘The Welsh Girl,’ a vaudeville acted at the Olympic Theatre, 16 Dec. 1833; ‘The Sledge Driver,’ a drama, Haymarket, 19 June 1834; ‘A Handsome Husband,’ a farce, Olympic, 15 Feb. 1836; ‘The Ransom,’ a drama, Haymarket, 9 June 1836; ‘A Pleasant Neighbour,’ a farce, Olympic, 20 Oct. 1836; and ‘A Hasty Conclusion,’ a burletta, Olympic, 19 April 1838 (Literary Gazette, 3 Oct. 1846, p. 859). She left two daughters: Katherine Frances, who married, on 19 Nov. 1851, William Curteis Whelan of Heronden Hall, Tenterden, Kent; and Matilda Anne [see Mackarness].

[Planché's Recollections and Reflections and Extravaganzas, with two portraits; The Critic, 1859, xix. 444, with portrait; Illustrated News of the World, 1861, vii. 273, with portrait; Illustrated Review, 1870, ii. 353–5; Cartoon Portraits, 1873, pp. 102–3, with portrait; Journal of British Archæological Association, 1880, xxxvi. 261–5; Smith's Retrospections, 1883, i. 43, 94, 257–76; Morning Advertiser, 31 May 1880, p. 5; Athenæum, 5 June 1880, pp. 727–8; Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 1880, xiii. 281, 283, with portrait; Illustrated London News, 1880, lxxvi. 577, with portrait; Theatre, 1880, ii. 95–9.]

G. C. B.