Love and the Real Regency Rake

Miniature of John Mytton by Samuel John Stump

Miniature of John Mytton by Samuel John Stump

The rake is supposed to be an object of desire, a hero of modern Regency romance. There is nothing desirable nor heroic about John Mytton. Something is missing in his story.

The character of the rake first appeared in seventeenth century. He was a libertine, a prodigal bent on rebellion and frequently addicted to excessive appetites. During Charles II’s reign, Restoration comedies modeled this new kind of hero after certain aristocrats who indulged in such antics. They could be anything from Sir Charles Sedley, a man who simulated sex in public while drunkenly naked, to the more notorious (!) George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham who killed the Earl of Shrewsbury in a duel over the latter’s wife.

After a while, however, the tiresome rake began to weary the play-going public.

Enter the feisty heroine, employed to restore the libertine to his senses and thus allow the rake to remain a popular device in literature. She, too, was modeled after redeeming females. Even though Sedley couldn’t marry her, being unable to obtain a divorce from his insane wife, Ann Ayscough remained with him until the end of his life. Villiers’ wife took him back after the affair with the widowed Countess of Shrewsbury:

“The Duchess of Buckingham has merit and virtue; she is brown and lean, but had she been the most beautiful and charming of her sex, the being his wife would have been sufficient alone to have inspired him with a dislike. Notwithstanding she knew he was always intriguing, yet she never spoke of it, and had complaisance enough to entertain his mistresses, and even to lodge them in her house; all which she suffered because she loved him.” — Memoirs of the English Court by Madame Dunois (1699)

She loved him.

Without such love, poor John Mytton was doomed. Recall in an earlier post the warning that Mytton was not fit for marriage. Did that make him insensible to love?

After his second wife left him, John tried in vain to get her to return to him. He even went so far as to seek her out at Chillington Hall, her family’s home to which she had fled. Constables were summoned to handcuff him, for in his great strength he had knocked down eight strong manservants in the foyer, desperate to see the one he loved.

His friend Nimrod laments the self-destruction that not only robbed Mytton of his happiness, but the love of his life as well:

“He loved this woman to distraction; he would have given the apple of his eye for her at any time; he would have risked twenty lives to have gotten her back again, and obtained her forgiveness; he raved about her in his madness, and sent her his dying benediction!”

Chillington Hall, now a wedding venue. Photograph licensed by John M. per Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

Chillington Hall, now a wedding venue. Photograph licensed by John M. per Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0