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Libertines, Lotharios or Bastards?

“It’s The Devil’s club…I just manage it for him”

“It’s The Devil’s club…I just manage it for him”
Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton 1698 –1731

More Tea Vicar ?

London 1723

I like a good orgy as well as the next fellow, but having a drop of blasphemy would really spice it up.

“Prigging a Convenient” is much more exciting when she’s dressed as a nun.

It’s such a shame the king outlawed our little “Hell-Fire Club.”

It only lasted a year but they were great days, much more fun than clubs like The Kit Kat or The Beef Steak,  with all that political posturing.

When I stopped calling myself a “Mohock” I really thought my youthful days of wild abandon would be over. Thanks to our former club president, Phillip Duke of Wharton, I discovered a whole new world of offense.

There were about forty of us who met every Sunday, sometimes at The Greyhound Tavern , sometimes elsewhere.

Because women and men were admitted to our society as equals we often gathered at members homes to avoid public censure.

We dressed as saints and characters from the bible and held humorous religious ceremonies. Our real president was The Devil – although Wharton was his appointed representative on earth.

” I hope nobody invited the clergy!!”

We drank “Hell-Fire Punch” and dined heartily on “Holy Ghost Pie”, “Breast of Venus”, and “Devil’s Loin”. The more we flouted the conventions of Christian society, the more enjoyment we had.

We were written of in a pamphlet entitled “The hellfire club, kept by a society of blasphemers “

Among the worst, the very worst of men,

Those men who of the hell fire club will be,

infernal Members, where in jollity,

Each man strives who in Sin shall most abound,

And fill his mouth with oaths of dreadful sound.

" If you're going to actually eat "Satan's Face Stew" of course you'll puke out of the window" ” If you’re going to actually eat “Satan’s Face Stew” of course you’ll puke out of the window”

It was simply wealthy young aristocrats of a wild disposition having some fun at God’s expense.

Now we simply drink and fuck it’s not nearly as shocking.

Perhaps Phillip can be persuaded to light the “Hell-Fire” once again.

The Duke of Wharton himself has been described as “…a drunkard, a rioter, an infidel and a rake” which I think about sums him up.

He’s also well schooled in Maths, Metaphysics ,Languages and Classical Literature as well as being  a charismatic and eloquent speaker.

He could be a pillar of respectable society and the toast of the Whigs, but he loves being outrageous and perverse too much.

It’s probably the fault of his father who tried too hard to mould the young Phillip into a mirror image of himself.

" I want you to be upstanding and sensible, Phillip. No drinking or blasphemous secret societies" ” I want you to be upstanding and sensible, Phillip. No drinking or blasphemous secret societies”

He was Thomas “Honest John” Wharton, a staunch supporter of the Glorious revolution back in 88 and an upstanding founder of the Whig party.  He had lesson after lesson drummed into the boy who was obliged to recite famous speeches in front of dinner guests.

When he was 16, Phillip showed just how much he valued his father’s firm hand by getting married without his knowledge or consent.

His bride was Martha Holmes, a pretty young thing who happened to be a close friend of the Wharton family. In fact, the dress in which she became his wife had been bought for her by the Wharton’s as a present to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

If that wasn’t enough, Phillip had the couple married by A Fleet Parson, who as you know are infamous for loitering around The Fleet Prison offering to marry people for a fraction of the cost of a conventional wedding.  Many are not even ordained men of the church – not that that bothered Phillip, even then.

“Honest Tom” was furious and gathered together a  group of men  – including the Attorney General -to hunt the pair down. When he found them, he ordered Phillip to travel to Europe on The Grand Tour.

And then he dropped dead – which goes to show that a more relaxed attitude to affairs of the heart can only be good for one’s health.

Philip dutifully did as his late father bade him and left for Europe – without his new wife.

He did however pack seven footmen, a valet and a French Calvinist tutor (whose pious ways irritated him greatly)

They roamed through France and Switzerland until Phillip finally managed to part with his irksome tutor in Geneva. As a farewell gift he gave the puzzled academic a bear cub which he had bought on a whim and had no idea how to care for.

He also made the acquaintance of “The Old Pretender”  the exiled son of James II and – to those of a Jacobite persuasion – the rightful king of England.

“This is quite an attic you have here, but I prefer the basement”

Intrigued by the whiff of treason which surrounded them, Phillip spent much of his time among Jacobite supporters.

One such fellow, an Irishman named Gwynne invited him to take a drink in his attic rooms. Phillip accepted but asked if the stairs he was about to climb went upwards to heaven because if they did, he would have to turn around and walk back down.

Gwynne, a devout man despite being a Jacobite was somewhat offended by this sacrilegious turn of phrase. Phillip added to his discomfort by inviting him to hell where he said he was employed as “The Devils Lord of the Bedchamber.”

Despite his behaviour, the “Old Pretender” had a fondness for the witty young rake and awarded him a totally meaningless knighthood.

Phillip repaid his faith by convincing his “Royal Mother” to part with £2000 of her own money, he said to enable him to further her cause. He did not specify how he was to do this and the only people who saw the results of her generous donation were the madams and tavern keepers of Paris.

Before he returned home, he interceded on behalf of a drunk medical student who had been arrested for throwing stones at the British Embassy and breaking some of its windows. His “assistance”  involved trying to organise a rowdy mob to fill their pockets with pebbles, march on the embassy and break some more.

"Hey mes amis, I've got two grand in my pocket, lets smash some windows and break shit up." “Hey mes amis, I’ve got two grand in my pocket, lets smash some windows and break shit up.”

Paris breathed a sigh of relief when he took his seat in the Irish Parliament

Such was his wise council, conscientiousness and support of the British Government (he kept quiet about “The Old Pretender”) King George made him a duke.

The thing about Phillip however  is despite his admirable qualities he loves to spend money and have fun, Which inevitably  led to him becoming hopelessly in debt.

In desperation he sold his Irish estates, moved to London  and invested heavily in the South Sea Trading Company.

When The South Sea Bubble burst, the stock market collapse which followed robbed many honest men of their fortunes – and Phillip Duke of Wharton.

Furious but still full of mischief he hired some musicians and a staged a funeral procession outside the company’s offices.

" The rich and powerful have gambled the entire country's money away and they want to arrest ME for wanking in a cassock!!" ” The rich and powerful have gambled the entire country’s money away and they want to arrest ME for wanking in a cassock!!”

He then took to admonishing those in the House of Lords who he felt had dishonestly benefited from the financial calamity. One such gentleman was Lord Stanhope who was so viciously lambasted by Wharton during a debate in the House that he dropped dead from a brain haemorrhage before he could utter a reply in his own defence.

Wharton also vented his spleen in his own newspaper, True Britain. Within its pages he invented stories which supposedly came from the world of European politics but which obviously were about events in England. His Spanish nom de plume of “Don Ferdinando” didn’t fool anyone either.

When not criticising the government Philip liked to brawl in public and frequent brothels, often in the company of one of the vilest men in London, the odious Colonel Francis Charteris.

"I'm Francis Charteris, I'm scum and "yes", I'm playing with my balls" “I’m Francis Charteris, I’m scum and “yes”, I’m playing with my balls”

“The Rape Master General” as Charteris is not affectionately known is actually Wharton’s cousin, a relationship which benefits him far more than it does Phillip. It is said that the famous bawd Mother Needham will bequeath her estate to Wharton because he is such a generous patron.  Doubtless he will squander her legacy as he has with all the other coin which has come into his grasp.

His generosity is expressed in some unusual ways. He recently presented the writer Edmund Young with a human skull he had had made into a candle holder so his friend could “Write Tragedies” late into the evening.

In 1721 King George outlawed our blasphemous society, Wharton had simply made himself too unpopular.

But was he downhearted?

No !

He has formed another club called the “Schemers”. We meet three times a week “ to consult on gallant schemes for the advancement of that branch of happiness” .

The “branch of happiness” we are talking about of course, is essentially drunkenness and sex.

It’s a fun society with plenty of drinking, orgies and the like but as I said, I do miss the blasphemy.

One of Wharton’s neighbours is Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and she is very fond of our company.

“Their renown ought to be spread wherever men can sigh or women can wish …tis true they have the envy and the curses of the old and ugly of both sexes: and a general persecution from old women ; but this is no more than all reformers must expect in their beginning”

" Let's hear it for The Schemers" ” Let’s hear it for The Schemers”

There is a young writer called Alexander Pope who is smitten with Lady Mary but has neither the wit nor the physical attributes to pursue his suit. He is dreadfully envious of Wharton and I’m sure would never miss an opportunity to do his reputation (such as it is) whatever harm he can.

Two things however are certain. Wharton will die drunk and in debt and we will never see the like of the “Hell-Fire Club” again.

Wharton, the scorn and wonder of our days,

Whose ruling passion was the lust of praise:

Born with whate’er could win it from the wise,

Women and fools must like him or he dies;

Tho’ wond’ring senates hung on all he spoke,

The club must hail him master of the joke.

Shall parts so various aim at nothing new?

He’ll shine a Tully and a Wilmot too.*

Then turns repentant, and his God adores

With the same spirit that he drinks and whores;

Enough if all around him but admire,

And now the punk applaud, and now the fryer.

Thus with each gift of nature and of art,

And wanting nothing but an honest heart;

Grown all to all, from no one vice exempt;

And most contemptible, to shun contempt;


His passion still, to covet gen’ral praise,

His life, to forfeit it a thousand ways;

A constant bounty which no friend has made;

An angel tongue, which no man can persuade;

A fool with more of wit than half mankind,

Too rash for thought, for action too refin’d:

A tyrant to the wife her heart approves;

A rebel to the very king he loves;

He dies, sad out-cast of each church and state,

And, harder still! flagitious, yet not great.


Ask you why Wharton broke thro’ ev’ry rule?

‘Twas all for fear the knaves should call him fool.

Nature well known, no prodigies remain, 

Comets are regular, and Wharton plain.

Alexander Pope:  Moral essays: in four epistles  1734

" I wasn't out blaspheming again dearest, I just met a few friends and we popped to the tavern"  ” I wasn’t out blaspheming again dearest, I just met a few friends and we popped to the tavern”

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