British Politician, Author and Rake
Born 1698 Died 1731
Wharton the scorn and wonder of our days
Whose ruling passion was the lust of praise
There has been one, and only one Duke of Wharton (some would say that one was more than enough), being Philip Wharton the son of Thomas Wharton, 1st Marquess of Wharton and Lucy Loftus, and was born probably on the 21st December 1698. His father was known as 'Honest Tom' and was one of the great heroes of the Glorious Revolution and a leading Whig politician thereafter, and young Philip had the honour of having as godparents king William III, the Duke of Shrewsbury and the princess (later queen) Anne.
Thomas Wharton clearly intended his son to follow his personal example and ensured that he was educated at home under his own supervision. Joseph Addison, who visited the family home at Winchenden House in Buckinghamshire was astonished at "the little lad's knowledge and intelligence", whilst Edward Young referred to him as "a truly prodigious genius". However whilst Philip might have been a childhood prodigy, he went off the rails pretty quickly. At the age of sixteen he eloped with Martha, the rather impoverished daughter of a Major-General Richard Holmes on the 2nd March 1715, whom his mother had been trying to "get in for Maid of Honour". His father did not approve of his marriage and sought to have it annulled, but failed despite the support of the Attorney-General, and died soon after on the 12th April. Philip thereby became the 2nd Marquess of Wharton and inherited an estate worth some £14,000 a year.
In 1716 the young Marquess went off on his Grand Tour, partly to satisfy the stipulation in his father's will that he visit Geneva in order to improve his Protestant faith. On his way there he visited Hanover where he met Peter the Great, but as soon as he was in Switzerland, Philip ditched his Hugenout bear-leader a M. Dusoul, and went off in search of more amenable ways of passing the time. In Paris on the 21st August 1717 he wrote to James Francis Edward Stuart, or James III as he liked to call himself, and promised him "all imaginable submission". He then paid James a visit at Avignon in October, where he presented the Old Pretender with a horse, receiving in return the grant of the title of Duke of Northumberland on the 22nd December. Philip also also managed to extract £2,000 which he spent on gambling and getting drunk with the aides-to-camp of the British ambassador whom he persuaded to drink a toast of "confusion to the Whigs".
His Jacobite flirtations apparently did him no harm, as on his return to Britain in 1717 he was permitted to sit in the Irish House of Peers on the 27th August (under his Irish title of the Marquess of Catherlough) despite being under age, where he spoke in favour of the government, and on the 28th January 1718 he was created the Duke of Wharton by George I. The letters patent bestowing this title proclaimed that the reason for this elevation was that; "As it is to the honour of subjects who are descended from an illustrious family to imitate the great example of their ancestors, we esteem it no less a glory as a King, after the example of our ancestors, to dignify eminent virtues by similar rewards." Despite the impressive words and the suggestion that the king was duly honouring Philip's father, the more prosaic truth was that the Whig grandees who ran the country believed that a dukedom was all the encouragement that Philip needed to sober him up and return him to the true path of Whiggery.
Although it seems that Philip was initially "extremely zealous and violent" in support of the Whigs it didn't last very long, as Edward Harley wrote on the 2nd August 1720 that "Duke Wharton is again turned Tory", due to his apparent disappointment at not being made the Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire. Philip was soon to be found attacking the South Sea Bill and condemning the South Sea Company as "a dangerous bait which might decoy unwary people to their ruin". During a parliamentary debate on the subject on the 4th February 1721 he so insulted the Earl Stanhope that the latter suffered a burst blood vessel and died the next day. Unfortunately Philip failed to take his own advice, invested £120,000 in the South Sea Company and lost the lot.
When he wasn't in Parliament inducing apoplexy amongst his fellow peers he spent his time drinking and brawling in public and in the year 1720 (or thereabouts) founded the first and original Hell-Fire Club, which was rapidly proscribed in 1721 at the instigation of the Lord Chancellor for "blasphemy and profaneness". Wharton denied blasphemy and wrote a verse satirising the Lord Chancellor as a corrupt rogue. (Which wasn't far wrong as Thomas Parker, 1st Earl of Macclesfield was later convicted of corruption in 1725 and fined the sum of £30,000.) Denied the pleasures of the Hell-Fire Club, he joined the opposition group led by William Cowper, 1st Earl Cowper (when he wasn't in receipt of a bribe to support the government) and established his oratorical reputation in Parliament with a persuasive and remarkable speech on the 15th May 1723 in defence of the Jacobite conspirator Francis Atterbury the Bishop of Rochester. Not that this made much difference as Atterbury was exiled nonetheless, but
Philip then established The True Briton, an anti-Walpole political journal which proudly declared its support for 'Liberty' (and is considered by some as percusor of the later North Briton). He also dabbled with Freemasonary and founded The Antient Noble Order of the Gormogons, which appears to have been some attempt at establishing somekind of Jacobite Club, and certainly came to be regarded as a leader of the London Jacobites.
However by 1724 he was directing his energies towards a new society named The Schemers. Its membership consisted of "twenty very pretty fellows" who formed themselves into a "committee of gallantry" and met three times a week at the home of the Viscount Hillsborough "for the advancement of that branch of happiness which the vulgar call whoring". No doubt the meetings of The Schemers served to entertain the young Duke but eventually the consequences of his previous investment policy hit home. He had earlier been forced to sell his Rathfarnham estates for £62,000 in 1723, but sadly this proved to be insufficient to satisfy his creditors and in 1725 he was forced to compound for his debts at the Court of Chancery and dispose of his assets. His Winchendon estate in Buckinghamshire went to the trustees of the Duke of Marlborough, his Westmoreland properties ended up in the hands of Robert Lowther in 1730 for £26,000, and the family pictures were bought by Robert Walpole. The Court of Chancery allowed him an income of £1,200 a year, which was clearly insufficient to sustain him in England in the manner to which he had become accustomed and so he left for the Continent in June 1725 where the cost of living was lower.
He only made it abroad courtesy of a £500 loan from Charles Boyle, 4th Earl of Orrery and de facto leader of the English Jacobites, and once there he rediscovered his enthusiasm for the Jacobite cause and accepted an appointment as Stuart ambassador to the imperial court at Vienna in August 1725. There he attempted to secure the support of the Austrians for a landing of troops in England to support a Jacobite counter-revolution but they eventually rejected his proposals outright in February 1726. He then left Austria for Rome where James Stuart bestowed on him the Order of the Garter (Jacobite version) and despatched him as his envoy to Madrid. There he was supposed to liaise with the Duke of Ormonde concerning another planned invasion of Britain. Philip arrived there on the 10th April 1726 only to discover that Ormonde had lost his enthusiasm for military action and so Philip, by know styling himself as the Duke of Northumberland and the Prime Minister to king James, spent his time challenging the British ambassador to a duel. In his free time he then wrote his Project of the Duke of Wharton to Re-Establish the Pretender which set his ideas for placing James back on the throne, which involved obtaining the support of Spain in return for the surrender of Menorca and Gibraltar, and that of the Holy Roman Empire in return for certain trading privileges. This document soon fell into the hands of the British government who did not appear to be too perturbed by the threat.
By now his first wife had died at her house in Gerrard Street, Soho on the 14th April 1726 and so Philip then married Maria Theresa O'Byrne, a maid of honour to the Spanish Queen, on the 23rd July 1726 and announced his conversion to Catholicism, which appears to have been a prerequisite of obtaining the permission of the Spanish crown. The British government formally ordered him to return to Britain on the 2nd May 1726, and although he received the document whilst he was in Madrid, he simply tossed it into the gutter. Later in Rome, he then resigned his title of Duke of Wharton on the 12th October as a final act of defiance. In the following year he was back in Spain, where he volunteered for military service and was appointed as a lieutenant-colonel in the Hainault Regiment (which was largely composed of Irish exiles). As such he joined the Spanish army which was laying siege to Gibraltar at the time, and was wounded in the foot on the 14th May 1727 whilst engaged in one of his regular drunken harangues of the defenders. By September 1727 he was in Cadiz recovering from his injuries where he was reported to be "in bad health, and rarely sober".
With the accession of George II in 1728 made an attempt to make his peace with the government back home, and travelled to Paris to meet with Horatio Walpole, the British Ambassador at Paris, where he offered to provide detailed intelligence on Jacobite activities. He was however rebuffed by the government largely because they already had ample reports of said Jacobite activities. On the contrary thanks to his earlier conduct at Gibraltar, he was now charged with high treason and outlawed by a resolution of Parliament on the 3rd April 1729 for failing to appear at court to answer the charge, at which point all his honours and remaining property was declared forfeit.
The 3rd Duke of Bedford came across him at the English Coffee House in Paris in 1729 and wrote that "no theatre-discarded poet was ever so shabby and that none of Shakespeare's strolling Knights of the Garter had ever so dirty a Star and Ribbon." Now largely destitute he was forced back to Spain where he rejoined the Hainault Regiment at Lerida since his regimental salary now provided his only income. There he believed that he had been insulted by the valet of the Governor of Barcelona during a formal ball, and so administered a severe caning to the valet, for which he was briefly imprisoned and then banished from Barcelona. With his health rapidly failing after years of drunkenness and debauchery he was forced to seek refuge at the Franciscan monastery near Poblet in Catalonia, which is where he died after suffering a fit on the 31st May 1731 at the age of only thirty-two, and was buried the very next day.
His death rendered his various titles extinct as he left no surviving issue. He did have one child, a son named Thomas, borne by his first wife Martha Holmes. Having warned her to stay away from London whilst there was a smallpox epidemic in the town, he was therefore understandably annoyed, to say the least, when she ignored his advice and Thomas succumbed to the disease on the 1st March 1720.
To this day no one is quite sure to what extent Philip Wharton was serious about his Jacobitism, and many an academic treatise has been devoted to the minutiae of his various activities without necessarily coming to that much of a conclusion. In his essay Reasons for Leaving his Native Country, published in 1728, Wharton himself claimed that everything changed when he met the Old Pretender; "I was struck with a becoming awe when I beheld Hereditary Right shining in every feature of his countenance and the politeness of education illustrating the majesty of his person." One has however the impression that this, like much else in his life, was said purely for effect, and that in truth he was devoted to nothing more than being the centre of attention. The genuineness of his conversion to Catholicism must also be doubted given that he once claimed that his ambition was to serve as one of Satan's courtiers, and in the end even the most steadfast of Jacobites doubted his commitment to the cause and concluded that his politics were as "unsettl'd as his Principles of Religion".
He nevertheless made an impression on his contemporaries. His former tutor Edward Young
is believed to have based the character of Lorenzo in Night Thoughts
on Wharton, as is the character of Lovelace in Clarissa
by Samuel Richardson
(who had printed the True Briton
), whilst Alexander Pope
attacked him in his Moral Essays
and satirised him in his Epistle to Sir Richard Temple
. (Although it has to be said that Pope was rather upset about losing out to Wharton in the matter of the affections of Mary Wortley Montagu
, and may have therefore had an axe to grind.)
Wharton himself attracted a reputation for his own writing and the True Briton in its brief life was full of biting, satiric and often effective if slanderous assaults on the government, many of which were later collected together in the Select and Authentick Pieces which appeared after his death in 1731, with The Life and Writings of Philip, Late Duke of Wharton, following in 1732. Both brilliant and erratic Philip came into the world armed with an undoubted talent and an enormous fortune but lacked the necessary self discipline to make much of either.
He dies, sad outcast, of each Church and State,
And harder still! flagitous and not great.
Ask you why Wharton broke through ev'ry rule?
Twas all for fear the knaves should call him fool.
- George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
- Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
- E.S. Turner Amazing Grace: The Great Days of Dukes (Sutton Publishing, 2003)
- Lawrence B. Smith, ‘Wharton, Philip James, duke of Wharton and Jacobite duke of Northumberland (1698–1731)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Philip, Duke of Wharton Date: 1698 - 1731
- Philip Duke of Wharton