Wagers at White’s

White’s is the oldest gentleman’s club in London. It was founded in 1693 when it was a chocolate house where people visited to drink hot chocolate and have a chat. Towards the end of the 1700s White’s took rooms on St. James’s at which time they limited membership to a certain number of male subscribers and remains exclusive today.

In the second half of the Eighteenth Century, the passion for making wagers reached its height, in those days many members of White’s were almost addicted to chance. Men would stake their guineas lavishly on any chance that might occur to them, bets ranged from a few shillings to hundreds of pounds.

White's Club Coat of Arms by Grignion, Charles, 1721-1810, printmaker. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
White’s Club Coat of Arms by Grignion, Charles, 1721-1810, printmaker. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Never failing subjects for wagers were the duration of a person’s life, the increase of a lady’s family right through to which raindrop on a window pane would reach the bottom first, but curiously enough the Betting Book contained very few wagers on legitimate matters such as sport and athletics. We thought we would share with you some of the bets placed.

William, the 5th Lord Bryon’s love affairs always proved a popular topic for discussion and therefore an obvious choice to place a wager on. Who would he marry?

September 12th, 1746 – Mr James Jeffreys bets Mr John Jeffreys one hundred guineas that Lord Byron is married to Miss Shaw before Michaelmas 1748. If Lord Byron or Miss Shaw die or either of them marries any other person Mr James Jeffreys loses his hundred guineas.

A kick-up at a hazard table! Rowlandson. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
A kick-up at a hazard table! Rowlandson. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

October 20th, 1746 – Mr James Jeffreys bets Mr Fanshaw fifty guineas that Lord Byron is married to Miss Shaw on or before Lady-day next.  A Captain Draper also went five guineas with Mr Jeffreys in this bet.

It appears that Mr James Jeffreys won his bet as Lord Byron did, in fact, marry Miss Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter and heiress of Besthorpe, Norfolk on March 28th, 1747.

A Worn Out Debauchée. Duke of Queensbury. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
A Worn Out Debauchée. Duke of Queensbury. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

March 3rd, 1784 – The Duke of Queensbury bets Mr Grenville ten guineas that Mr Fox does not stand a poll for Westminster if the parliament should be dissolved within a month from today. If a coalition takes place between Mr Pitt and Mr Fox this bet is to be off.

A more curious bet Mr Talbot bets Mr Beau Brummell five guineas that one of the editors of the three papers, the Examiner, the British Press and the Chronicle, is committed to prison for libellous matter contained in one of the said three papers before March 29th, 1812.

November 18th, 1817 Mr Bouverie bets Ld. Yarmouth a hundred and fifty that H.R.H the Duke of Clarence has not a legitimate child within 2 years of this day.

Mr Bouverie must have won, as the Duke of Clarence, who became King William IV had no legitimate children.

William IV, when Duke of Clarence (1765-1837). Signed and dated 1791 by Richard Cosway. Courtesy of Royal Collection
William IV, when Duke of Clarence (1765-1837). Signed and dated 1791 by Richard Cosway. Courtesy of Royal Collection

On November 4th, 1754, is entered the following wager, Lord Montfort wagers Sir John Bland one hundred guineas that Mr Nash outlives Mr Cibber. This refers to two very old men, Colley Cibber the actor, and Beau Nash. Below this entry is written in a different hand ‘Both Lord M. and Sir John Bland put an end to their own lives before the bet was decided’.

The first of these tragedies took place on New Year’s Day, 1755. Lord Montfort’s death and the circumstances of it attracted great attention.  He had come to the end of his fortune and had spent vast sums of money on his house, lived in extravagance and no doubt lost heavily at White’s.

The final blow seems to have been the loss of sixteen hundred a year by the deaths on the same day of the Earl of Albemarle and Lord Gage, who presumably paid him annuities during their lives. After this, he became reckless and even staked his life on receiving a government appointment. He hoped to be appointed as the governor of Virginia or to be granted Mastership of the Royal Hounds – he received neither. Immediately after this, he enquired of his friends as to the easiest mode of self-destruction. He allayed these suspicions by asking the same friends to dine with him at White’s that evening. He and his friends saw in the new year together. The following morning Lord Montfort sent for his lawyers and witnesses and having made a will, asked if it would hold good even though a man should shoot himself. He was informed that it would. On receiving this, he asked the lawyer to wait for a minute, stepped into an adjoining room and shot himself.

In September of the same year, the second party to this wager, Sir John Bland of Kippax Park, found himself in financial difficulties reputed to be due entirely to gambling. Walpole said that he had flirted away his whole fortune and that during a single sitting had lost about thirty-two thousand pounds. Sir John shot himself on the road from Calais to Paris.

It could be argued that given members ability to bet on virtually anything that possibly they found it difficult to amuse themselves!

Sources Used

London Evening Standard 22 September 1892

Bourke, Algernon Henry, 1854-1922. The history of Whites [with the Betting Book from 1743 to 1878 and a list of members from 1736 to 1892]

Featured Image

A Club of Gentlemen. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV), Dorothea Jordan and some of their brood of children.

The Duke of Clarence’s Views on Marriage

For those familiar with this period of history, you will no doubt be well aware of the relationship the Duke of Clarence had with the actress Dorothea Jordan and that she had 10 illegitimate children with him.

Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), 'Mrs Jordan', as 'Peggy' in 'The Country Girl'; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), ‘Mrs Jordan’, as ‘Peggy’ in ‘The Country Girl’; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

To ensure the continuity of the family line though, William, Duke of Clarence was persuaded/coerced/cajoled/bullied into marrying, take it as you will.

Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217
Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217

We came across this extract from a letter in The Georgian Papers written by his mother Queen Charlotte to Prinny (George, Prince Regent) in 1817 which we thought would be of interest and quite clearly shows Queen Charlotte’s view of the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate offspring.

I doubt he will think it advisable to marry by that I mean his pecuniary affairs which lay heavy at his heart as to what relates to his children I should think that is a point which if he marries must be settled amongst themselves, for as they are not to live under the same roof I cannot see why if the princess is reasonable she should object to see those children. I enclose the copy and make no further comments upon it as it will explain the whole.

Next, we have Williams extremely heartfelt view about any possible marriage. The underlined words are of his doing, not ours.

Bath December 18th, 1817

Dear Madam

Your Majesty having requested me to put my thoughts in writing on the subject of the letter from the Prince Regent I take up my pen to state as clearly as I can my sentiments and real situation.

I acknowledge a private and public duty and only wish to reconcile the two together: if the cabinet consider the measure of my marrying one of consequence they ought to state to me what they can and will propose for my establishment for without previously being acquainted with their intentions as to money matters I cannot and will not make any positive offer to any Princess: I have ten children totally and entirely dependent on myself. I owe forty thousand pounds of funded debt for which of course I pay interest, and I have a floating debt of sixteen thousand pounds: in addition to all which if I marry I must have a town house and my house at Bushy completely repaired and entirely new furnished: thus situated and turned fifty it would be madness in me to marry without previously knowing what my income would be: If that settlement is made which I can consider adequate I shall only have to explain my real situation as the fond and attached father of ten children to the Princess whom I am to marry: for without a complete understanding of my full determination to see when and where I please my daughters I cannot and will not marry. As for the Princess, I think under all consideration the Princess of Dannemark (sic) is probably the most proper provided her character is that which I should trust will bear investigation.

I hope I have expressed myself to your Majesty’s satisfaction: one comfort at least I have that I have opened my heart most fully and entirely and shall therefore leave in your Majesty’s hands these lines as the complete sentiment that must ever dictate my line of conduct on a measure in which both my public and private duty is concerned.

I remain

Dearest Madam

Your Majesty’s most affectionate and dutiful son

William

Clearly, the suggestion of him marrying the Princess of Dannemark fell on deaf ears, but marry he did, for in July 1818 a suitable match was found for him – Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen who was half his age.

Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection
Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection
Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide
Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide

The couple married only a week or so after having met. Was it a happy marriage? Well, apparently so as it lasted until his death in 1837.

Featured Image

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life by James Gillray. The Duke of Clarence, Mrs Jordan and some of their children.