Sunday, October 31, 2004

Princess Alice and the Earl of Sandwich

Princess Alice, the aunt of Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 102. As one blogger says, the event occasions "utter indifference." Read news articles here, here, and here.

When she was 99, the Guardian called her the "forgotton princess." In an article published in July 2000 it said:

[T]he Dowager Duchess of Gloucester will spend the next month - as she has spent the past five years - hidden in Kensington Palace, the west London residence monickered the 'Aunt Heap' by Edward VII... When Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott married Prince Henry of Gloucester in 1935, he was fourth in line to the throne. If the Luftwaffe had killed George VI and his immediate family when it bombed Buckingham Palace, Alice, not Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, would have become Britain's Queen and last Empress of India... What is as sad as the Princess's decline is the wall of silence that surrounds it.

It interests me that she was part of the Montagu family. The Montagu's are a fascinating bunch. The family originates in England with the Norman conquest in 1066 and boasts many military and naval commanders during succeeding centuries -- dukes of Montagu and of Manchester and earls of Sandwich and (maybe) Salisbury.

It also boasts the "wit and beauty" Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, said to have been "the toast of the Kit Kat Club" in 1697 (she was eight at the time and the remark was made by her father). Unlike most women, she received an excellent education, was devoted to literature, and learned Latin, Italian, French, and Turkish. While still young, she formed a close friendship with Mary Astell, champion of womans rights, and, at age 23 eloped with a son of the duke of Montagu. She is credited with bringing innoculation for small pox to England from Turkey and became first a friend then enemy of Alexander Pope. She was an accomplished author, but generally did not publish under her own name during her lifetime. There are e-text collections of her writings at the University of Oregon and the University of Virginia. The Oregon collection has a biography as well. Her daughter married Lord Bute who became George III's right hand man.

This last fact leads to my main subject, John Montagu, who was the 4th Earl of Sandwhich, and cousin to Bute's wife. He led a fascinating long life in the heart of the 18th century (1718-1792) and I've been meaning to blog about him for some time. So here goes.

Sandwich was the John Kerry of his time. His enemies said that he befriended John Wilkes, the radical politician, and subsequently betrayed him. A pamphlet, "The Life, adventures, intrigues, and amours of the celebrated Jemmy Twitcher," attacked him mercilously and the name "Jemmy Twitcher" stuck to him as the flip-flopper of his day. The caricature shows him as Jemmy with a cricket bat on his shoulder. More on the cricket connection below.

His friends point out that Wilkes was totally unscrupulous. As Secretary of State it was Sandwich's duty to undercut his power and he did it in a marvelous way.

The negative view of Sandwich is summarized in the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Edition and here (which seems to quote the Britannica without attribution. The positive view in N A M Rodger's excellent biography: The insatiable earl : a life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich, 1718-1792. Here's the Amazon page for the book.

This earl of Sandwich did invent the sandwich, apparently because his administrative duties sometimes gave him too little time for supper, although the more popular explanation is that he couldn't tear himself away from gambling to sit down and eat.

He was both an able administrator and persistent gambler. He was also champion of George Frederick Handel at a time when Handel (having alienated the king) badly needed support. He gave impetus to the voyages of Capatain James Cook and the original name for Hawaii -- the Sandwich Islands -- attests to this influence. He was a hard-working peer when most were negligent of official duties. He was a diplomat, strategist, and politician.

Almost a Horatio Alger figure of his time, he overcame many difficulties in making his way in the world. His father died when he was four and his mother abandoned him the the care of an aunt. He became earl at 23 on his grandfather's death, but had too little income to support the rank properly. He married for love rather than take the usual course to marry into a wealthy family. He fought prejudice against impecunious peers in seeking to make a career in politics (as a follower of Lord Bute). In later life, his wife went mad and the woman he subsequently lived with as wife (though unmarried) was murdered. That he succeeded becoming a leading figure in mid-century politics is much to his personal credit and very little to his title and rank in society.

Here's the connection to cricket. He took an interest in the sport when it was considered to be of no consequence. An excellent athlete, he played in as well as sponsoring matches, Being a betting man, he also placed large wagers games. Here's a depiction of Cricket in his time. For more cricket pictures from the second half of the eighteenth century, see here.

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