Daniel Lambert might not be a name most people recognize today, but in late 18th century England he captured the hearts and imaginations of millions and became a national treasure.
His fame comes from his remarkable weight and size, which, at 739 lbs, made him a literal giant amongst Georgian Era society. But he wasn’t just known for being the largest man alive; he was also known for his vast knowledge of hunting and animal husbandry and his kindness and generosity. In this article, we will explore the life and death of Daniel Lambert, one of the largest men in history.
Early Life and Background
Daniel Lambert was born on March 13, 1770, in Leicester, England. His father was a renowned huntsman that was currently working as a prison guard at Leicester gaol.
His uncle was also a gamekeeper, which sparked his early fascination with animals and animal husbandry. His passion for these subjects continued over the years and by the time he reached his late teens, Lambert was a recognized expert in the field.
In 1784 he was working as an apprentice engraver and die caster in Birmingham, engraving buttons and buckles.
The business soon failed, and Lambert returned home to Leicester to assist his father as a prison guard at the gaol. When his father retired, Lambert took over his job and was known to be very compassionate and friendly to the inmates, going so far as to help them prepare for their trials.
During his childhood and early adolescence, Lambert maintained a healthy body weight that was considered typical for his age. When he entered early adulthood, however, he began to experience significant changes in his weight which led to his obesity. It is not exactly known why Lambert gained so much weight over such a short period of time, but there are some factors that may have contributed to it.
Lack of Exercise: Daniel Lambert’s transition from his active lifestyle and sports-oriented youth to a more sedentary lifestyle as a prison guard may have played a role in his weight gain.
Diet and Eating Habits: Another contributing factor to Lambert’s weight gain could have been overeating and lack of a healthy diet.
Metabolic Factors: Some historians suggest that Lambert may have had a slow metabolism or hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism that could have caused his body to store fat excessively.
Whatever the reason was for the rapid weight gain, by 1801 Lambert’s weight had increased to 560 pounds. Despite his immense weight, he still kept physically active and even once walked the 7 miles from Woolwich to London.
At this time he became somewhat of a celebrity around town because of his size. It is said that six average-sized men could fit inside his waistcoat.
In 1805, the old prison where Lambert worked was closed, leaving him without a job. This sudden change in his life reduced him to a more sedentary lifestyle in which he rarely left his home. His weight continued to increase, eventually hobbling his ability to play sports, hunt, or even ride his horse.
Life as an Exhibition
About a year after the Leicester prison closed his funds began drying up. His annual annuity from the prison was not enough to support his lifestyle so he was faced with the unthinkable; put himself on display as a curiosity. In April 1806, Lambert left Leicester and moved into a new home in Piccadilly outside of London.
Lambert opened his home to curious onlookers for five hours each day for the price of one shilling. During these visits, Lambert would share his expertise and knowledge of sports and animal husbandry with London’s middle and upper classes.
It is important to note that during this time in England, being obese was not seen in a negative way as it is today. He was seen as an oddity, someone to be marveled at. As a result, it became exceedingly fashionable to visit him or befriend him. Some visitors returned multiple times, with one banker making a staggering 20 visits.
Final Years and Death
By September 1806, Lambert had saved up enough money to end his exhibition and return to his hometown of Leicester. He was visibly a more happy man and continued to pursue his old pastimes of breeding dogs and fighting cocks.
Over the next couple of years Lambert spread his knowledge of animals and sports while he continued to intermittently exhibit himself. In 1809 he embarked on what would be his last exhibition tour. During this time Lambert was weighing in at a staggering 739 pounds. He no longer could use stairs and had to be transported in a specially designed wagon. On the 20th of June he booked a room on the ground floor of the Waggon & Horses Inn in Stamford.
On the morning of June 21st, Lambert complained of breathing difficulties. Ten minutes later he was dead. No autopsy was performed so the actual cause of death remains unknown. Experts at the time said he died of fatty degeneration of the heart. Modern medical experts speculate that his symptoms leading up to his death are consistent with a sudden pulmonary embolism.
His body was placed inside a custom-built coffin, measuring an impressive 6 feet 4 inches in length, 4 feet 4 inches in width, and 2 feet 4 inches in depth.
To facilitate the transportation of this colossal coffin, it was equipped with wheels, allowing a team of six men to push it. Both the window and the wall of Lambert’s hotel room had to be removed in order to get him out.
A well-proportioned grave had been excavated at St Martin’s Church to accommodate the coffin, complete with a ramp. This allowed a team of twenty men to roll Lambert into his final resting place—a task that took thirty minutes to complete.
Impact and Legacy
Although Daniel Lambert is gone, his memory lives on in his hometown of Leicester where he is still a local legend. Over the centuries since his death many pubs and inns changed their names to honor the larger than life figure.
The most recognizable tribute to the life of Daniel Lambert in Leicester is the Daniel Lambert statue.
Unveiled in 1866, the statue stands in front of the Guildhall, an iconic location in the heart of Leicester. Lambert’s memory is also celebrated during various local events and festivals, often incorporating themes related to his life and achievements.
His gravestone reads:
“In Remembrance of that Prodigy in Nature. DANIEL LAMBERT. a Native of Leicester: who was possessed of an exalted and convivial Mind and in personal Greatness had no Competitor He measured three Feet one Inch round the Leg nine Feet four Inches round the Body and weighed Fifty two Stone eleven Pounds! He departed this Life on the 21st of June 1809 Aged 39 years As a Testimony of Respect this Stone is erected by his Friends in Leicester”
“250 years on: Britain’s ‘biggest’ celebrity Daniel Lambert”