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

The Real Regency Rake: Rich or Poor

They generally start out rich and then, generally, become poor.

By the time widow Lady Mornington met Lord Edmond Waite, a rake well-known for womanizing and drink, he had not quite run through his fortune.  At first, things didn’t seem very promising:

“You make me sick” she said. “Physically sick. Nauseated.”

Mary Balogh’s The Notorious Rake has finally been re-released (in conjunction with The Counterfeit Bride) as of April 30th.

Alas, the real Regency rake, John Mytton, did not “suffer” Lord Waite’s happy fate.

He succeeded to his father’s estate at Halston, entailed like the other he inherited, Habberly. What was not entailed included three other properties in Shropshire along with a fine shooting estate in northern Wales. The income generated from these ranged from ten to sixty thousand pounds a year.

It was never enough.

He had an agent, Longueville, out of Oswestry. The man despaired of his master’s spendthrift ways and begged Mytton’s friend, Nimrod, to urge him to practice some economy:

‘I have reason to believe you can say as much to Mytton as any man can; will you have the goodness to tell him you heard me say, that if he will be content to live on six thousand pounds per annum, for the next six years, he need not sell the fine old (Wales) estate..’

Nimrod relates how this news was received. Mytton was in his carriage at the time, lolling with that indolence peculiar to many a rake, and told his friend that Longueville may keep his counsel to himself.

To generate more revenue, he was eventually obliged to part with those properties that were unentailed, including the one in Shrewsbury. A relative begged him not to sell it, that it had been in the family for five centuries.

“The devil it has!” came the reply. “Then it is high time it should go out of it.”

Money had to be spent on dogs, horses and even the heronry at Halston. But by and large, a good part of it was just simply lost.

Light come, light go

Light come, light go

Mytton had a habit of carrying large sums of cash about him. It was not unknown for visitors to Halston to find rolled up bank bills that he had dropped in the fields. Even more remarkable was the manner in which he secured his cash on the road. On one occasion, after breaking the banks of two well-known gambling houses in London (a rake is also a damn fine gamester), he stuffed the rolls of bank bills into a travelling writing desk that sat on his carriage seat. He was off to the Doncaster races and liked to keep the windows down so that wind may blow through the conveyance. Mytton told Nimrod he was counting the bills on the seat when a gale came up, blowing the lot out of the carriage.

And so, by this means and others, he lost over a half million pounds sterling in less than fifteen years.

Light come, light go.

The Real Regency Rake: Shooting

A gentleman knows how to shoot.

A rake is a damn fine shot.

According to one eyewitness account, John Mytton was known to take a cork (“not above an inch and a half in diameter”) used in pike fishing and afix a white piece of paper to it. This he placed on top of  a kennel he kept for tame foxes and their cubs. From fifty-five yards or more, he would shoot the cork for the amusement of his guests:

“..this he would do over and over to the amazement of all who witnessed it, and with his rifle to his shoulder, and not on a rest, as might be imagined by some. Talk of Americans, for their precision in shooting, after this! It cannot be surpassed, if equalled.” — Memoirs, Nimrod

Mytton stalking and shooting wild duck on a frozen lake

Mytton stalking and shooting wild duck on a frozen lake

To be compared to the Americans was something rather distinctive, indeed.

To such feats may be added the spectacular exhibit of Mytton shooting rats from atop the roof at Halston.

Halston, his country estate, afforded every kind of game to suit a hunter’s fancy. Twelve hundred brace of pheasants could be harvested there in a year. A brace equals a male and a female.

Multiply Halston’s yield in a year and that would be 2400 birds!

The Real Regency Rake: A Good Husband?

“It was not in the power of woman, no–nor in the power of himself–to have made John Mytton a good husband; indeed, he ought not to have entered into the marriage state at all.” — Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton, by Nimrod

The real Regency rake poses a problem not only to himself but to the woman who thinks to conquer him.

Regency scholars were amazed at the reports brought back to them of Egyptian antiquities, particularly fascinated with the way women were depicted in mythology. Hathor, queen of heaven and perhaps a bastardization of the imported cult of Aphrodite/Diana, was discovered on many a priestess tombstone standing upon a lion. Gentlemen who studied the classics surmised that this motif was love was conquering the beast.

Love conquering the beast

Love conquering the beast

Whether such a miracle can be wrought (on a permanent basis) has yet to be proved.

John Mytton had been married before–to Harriet Emma–but she died in 1820 after two years of marriage.

Nimrod (Charles James Apperly) remembers counselling the mother of Mytton’s second wife. Her daughter Caroline was the issue of the late Earl Courtney of Powderham Castle in Devon. When her daughter was seventeen years of age, she approached Mytton’s close friend for advice and received this ambivalent response:

“In my opinion, Lady Charlotte, Mr. Mytton has no business with a wife at all; but should he marry your daughter, Caroline, there is a greater prospect of his making a good husband to her, than to any other woman in the world.”

Isn’t that always the case? You alone have the best chance, but beware–the man has no business with a wife at all.

Caroline bore Mytton five children after marrying him in 1821. She saw him throw their babies up in the air and pelt them with oranges. That was more than enough. She ran away from him in 1830.

"Darling, must you get your knickers wet?"

“Darling, must you get your knickers wet?”