Appendix XX: Rakes, cuckolds and sexual deviants

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Rakes, cuckolds, and sexual deviants

Dissipation and sexual incontinence is a rather more common feature of the biographies than those aspects of moral delinquency which involved material gain by nefarious means. Despite the pious and even prudish atmosphere of the post-Revolution court, under Queen Mary and Queen Anne, the early appearance of evangelicalism, and the emergence of a movement for ‘moral reformation’ in public life, the rakehell did not die out as a social type, but indeed continued to flourish. The evidence used in the biographies to categorize Members in this way is of course mostly hearsay. Moreover, the vitriolic political propaganda of the period not only focused on sexual peccadilloes but was perfectly capable of elaborating its accusations with invention. However, there is a level of consistency, and a popular assumption of truth, in the notoriety attracted by some Members which invests these stories with a degree of credibility.

There can of course be no definitive list of rakes, given the variable quality of biographical information available. Some of the more colourful figures of previous reigns appear to have carried on into a disgraceful old age, among them Sir Henry Dutton Colt, 1st Bt., ‘Jack’ (John Grobham) Howe, Richard Savage, Lord Colchester, Richard Jones, Lord Ranelagh, and the Wharton brothers, Thomas and Goodwin, the former combining a predatory sexuality with a breathtaking disregard for the proprieties of orthodox religion, the latter redeemed from a routine of drink and debauchery by his discovery of the kingdom of the fairies. On the other hand, Sir Charles Sedley, 5th Bt., a former drinking-companion of the 1st Lord Rochester, repented of his sins and underwent a religious conversion. Thomas Wharton’s vices were very publicly catalogued by his political enemies, including Swift. His fellow Junto Lord Somers (Sir John) suffered a similar campaign of vilification, which concentrated on his alleged sexual promiscuity (he never married). Other prominent political figures with bad reputations included the Whig lord keeper (later lord chancellor), William Cowper, who was popularly supposed to be a bigamist; Hon. Henry Boyle, who cuckolded his own cousin; and the Tories Thomas Coke, Thomas Mansell (II), and the ‘man of mercury’ Henry St. John II, all of whom boasted of their amorous escapades in their own correspondence. Cowper’s family, like the Whartons, was multiply dysfunctional: his brother Spencer stood trial for rape and murder. Interestingly both sets of brothers were brought up in strongly Presbyterian households by domineering fathers, the same circumstances which produced the Williams brothers of Llangibby in Monmouthshire, Sir John and Sir Hopton, 2nd and 3rd baronets respectively. The younger generation of rakes also included the theatrical manager Henry Brett, Richard ‘Black Dick’ Cresswell, Sir Thomas Reade, 4th Bt., General Richard Sutton, Hon. John Sydney, and the younger James Craggs, who once attempted to rape a household servant while a guest of the Marlboroughs. Sir Alexander Cumming, 1st Bt., was cited for adulter