The Blog

For Father's Day: The Merry Monarch's Fruitful Loins

With Father's Day imminent, it seems a fitting moment to pay tribute to a sovereign with staggeringly fruitful loins. King Charles II was 'The Daddy' of all adulterers, and fathered at least fourteen bastards, the descendants of whom went on to demonstrate that where Stuart debauchery was concerned, the acorns never fell very far from the royal oak. Two infamously licentious descendants of the Merry Monarch were the Whig politician Charles James Fox (above), and the friend of Dr. Samuel Johnson, Topham Beauclerk, who are also two of my more notable Gin Lane Gazette celebrities.

Charles James Fox (1749- 1806) was a spoiled child. His mother, Caroline, was the great granddaughter of the Duke of Richmond, a son of the Merry Monarch by his mistress, Louise de Kéroualle. His father, Henry Fox, 1st Baron Holland, was the son of the page-boy who stood on the scaffold with King Charles I, and who later managed Charles II's financial affairs.

At his birth, Henry remarked of the swarthy and hirsute Charles that he resembled nothing less than a monkey, but this initial discomfiture soon turned to adoration, and his subsequent indulgence of the boy knew no bounds. On one occasion, he merely observed while Charles smashed his gold watch before his eyes. On another, Henry forgot his promise to Charles that he could witness the demolition of a wall, and had it built up again before knocking it down in Charles's presence. Later in life, he sent Charles to France, where he could exercise his burgeoning libido, and the lad took up with a silversmith's wife at Nice.

In 1768, Henry bought his son the constituency of Midhurst in Sussex, in spite of the fact that Charles was only nineteen, and technically ineligible for parliament. However, Charles James Fox demonstrated a remarkable talent for politics, although he never let public duty prevent him from living life very much on his own terms. He was a man of sensibility, who wept openly in parliament when friends felt compelled to speak against him, who fought a duel with another MP, who shared mistresses with the Prince of Wales, who wrote an essay about flatulence to win a wager (categorising the five different kinds of fart), and who secretly married the courtesan, Elizabeth Armistead, to whom he was utterly devoted.

Fox was also a heroic drinker and a compulsive gambler. He was once embroiled in a house-fire, and after escaping the blaze with his friends, stood around outside laying bets with them on which roof-beam would be the first to collapse. On one notorious occasion in 1772, he played the card-game Hazard non-stop from Tuesday through to Wednesday night, during which time he won, lost, and recovered £12,000, and finally lost £11,000. He paused briefly on Thursday to debate in the House of Commons, then returned to his club, drank until Friday morning, walked to Almack's Assembly Rooms to gamble until 4pm, winning £6,000, and then rode to Newmarket and blew £10,000 on the horses. His brother Stephen lost £11,000 two nights later, and in three nights the pair kissed goodbye to £32,000 between them. The Miliband brothers probably have many fine qualities, but it's hard to imagine them matching the Fox boys for charisma and sheer physical stamina.

Topham Beauclerk (1739-1780) was the great grandson of Charles II and Nell Gwynne, and he was said to resemble the monarch markedly. His affair with the wife of Viscount Bolingbroke was an infamous scandal. Lady Bolingbroke was an accomplished artist, tutored by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and was the daughter of the Duke of Marlborough. She was born Lady Diana Spencer, and was known to all as the original 'Lady Di'. Her affair with Beauclerk resulted in the birth of two children, and a divorce passed by royal assent. Depositions at readings of the divorce bill, by a footman of Lady Bolingbroke's Mayfair residence, attested to incontrovertible proofs of the pair's frolics on a sofa, and to the clandestine attendance of two physicians on her ladyship during the birth of Beauclerk's bastard child. Dr. Johnson's well-known slight, 'The woman's a whore, and there's an end on't', was directed at Lady Di, and while the lexicographer and Beauclerk were good friends, there was a tacit agreement between them that they should never discuss Topham's numerous and infamous indiscretions.

Beauclerk was equally notorious for the laxity of his habits, the filthiness of his person, and for the prodigious quantity of vermin thriving in his wig. Many noted that he frequently left behind him infestations of lice that plagued the households he visited, and Lady Di was obliged to change the linen of the marital bed on a daily basis.