Duke of Wharton

Who was Philip, Duke of Wharton and was he Freemasonry’s Loose Cannon Ball ?

Our story is set at the turn of the 18th century in Britain.  We start our opening chapter with underage sex, our young rake, who then inherits his father’s fortune and title, lives a high society life to the full. 

Extravagant European travel to top destinations, encounters with princes and kings, Irish Lords and British Politicians.

Fortunes lost in a stock market crash.  Membership of exclusive London clubs for high-society rakes.  A Freemason Grand Master, and membership of the Gormagons, an anti-masonic organisation. 

A Lieutenant Colonel, in the Spanish Military at the besiege of Gibraltar.   Charges of Treason by British Government. 

Then ending with the untimely death of a broken alcoholic, aged 33, in a Spanish Monastery. 

[Editor]

Philip Wharton was born at Christmas time 1698, the son of Lord Thomas Wharton, a strong supporter of the Whig Party.

He doted on Philip insisting that he should be educated at home by well-informed tutors. Philip was also exposed to the influences of the literary and political elite surrounding his father.

Portrait of Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton between circa 1718 and circa 1720
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Philip Wharton’s guardians decided that his education would be completed in Geneva, so he was sent off with a generous allowance, and an Huguenot tutor called Dusoul.

He was well received on his transit through the little kingdoms of Germany, where he was awarded a knighthood. He befriended Peter the Great whom he met in Hanover.

Wharton decided that life in Geneva with the uninspiring Dusoul was not for him, so he set his sights in the direction of Paris. Conveniently, the Huguenot Dusoul was persona non grata in France, giving Philip a ready excuse to abandon him at the Swiss border.

Philip entered France through Lorraine and Champagne and headed for Paris.

John Erskine, Earl of Mar, Scottish Jacobit From a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller
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Paris was full of Jacobite exiles from the Glorious Revolution, the Georgian succession and the abortive rising of 1715. Until this time Philip had continued the Whig allegiance of his father, but his discussions with various Jacobites persuaded him to switch his support to the Pretender, James Stuart.

Wharton’s request to be made a Knight of the Garter was politely deferred until such time as James should recapture the English throne.

However, Lord Mar gave him a commission of Colonel of Horse in the army which was being assembled to restore James to the English throne. A secret meeting with the Duke of Ormonde and the Earl of Mar in the Palais des Papes in Avignon took place.

Philip’s acceptance of the Jacobite cause was confirmed by his meeting with the Old Pretender himself. James was impressed with the charming young man and promised that he would make him the Duke of Northumberland.

He needed somebody of high rank to represent him at Cassel in order to obtain permission from the Landgrave of Hesse for a marriage with his daughter.

Philip accepted the offer of this important duty with alacrity. A French Catholic, M. Panton, was appointed as Philip’s secretary. He retraced his steps to Paris to prepare for his visit to Cassel.

Unfortunately, rumours of Philip’s conversion to the Jacobite cause were circulating in Paris. Matters were made worse by Philip’s truculent behaviour towards Lord Stair, the British ambassador to France.

On the Pretender’s birthday Philip smashed all the lanterns outside the British Embassy because they were unlit.

Typically, Philip ran out of money, resulting in the postponement of the visit to Cassel, and preparations for his return to England.

Before embarking at Calais, Philip gave all his incriminating Jacobite papers to Panton. In London he went out of his way to develop friendships with notable Jacobites, while proclaiming his loyalty to the Crown.

He blamed Lord Stair for blackening his character. He survived a bout of smallpox, then immersed himself in the pleasures of the day, giving the impression that he had abandoned his Jacobite sympathies.

Following the death of his mother, Lady Wharton, he inherited her Irish estates. He was well received in Ireland when he went to inspect his estates, the Dublin City Establishment remembered Philip’s father with respect and affection.

They paid him the unusual honour of making him a member of the Irish House of Lords, notwithstanding Philip being just nineteen years of age.

He pleased his political masters, back at Whitehall, by making speeches supporting the Whigs, requiting himself so brilliantly in the Irish House of Lords that he was made a Privy Councillor.

More distinguished appointments were to follow; he was elected as Chairman of the committee drawing up a congratulatory address to King George I, on the occasion of the birth of his grandson.

King George I – 1714-1725, copy of an original from 1714
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It is possible that Philip Wharton’s actions were part of a strategy to ingratiate himself with the British Government. If so, it worked.

They recognised that he was clever, and a fine orator, but he could also be politically dangerous. They decided to reward him by making him the Duke of Wharton on 28 January 1718. It was almost unprecedented for someone, not of Royal blood, to be elevated to the peerage in this way.

Even more so because he was not yet of the majority age of 21 years old. They hoped to win Philip’s loyalty without giving him political office. 

Returning from Ireland to London, Philip immersed himself in the wider aspects of the social life of the capital.

He was clever, confident, sometimes over so, inclined to vanity with a liking for satire. Thus, it was no surprise that around 1719 Philip became one of the founder members of a club which made a mockery of religion.

The Hell Fire Club positively thrived on blasphemy. Its high society members considered their activities as a satirical swipe directed at the stuffy elements of the Establishment. Ladies could be members but were not allowed to attend when meetings were held in taverns such as The Greyhound.

These were usually held on a Sunday, but the ladies were sometimes accommodated by holding meetings in a riding academy or a member’s house.

Meetings in The Greyhound were given a diabolical atmosphere by burning brandy and sulphur in the meeting room. The Devil was appointed the President of the club, with an empty chair placed symbolically for him at the head of the table.

Members were said to attend dressed as religious figures, and three members designated themselves Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

They gambled at Dice and Faro*, and were served with Holy Ghost Pie, Devils Loins and Breast of Venus, all washed down with Hell Fire Punch.

Although their activities were certainly sacrilegious, Mark Blackett-Ord claims that there was no contemporary evidence of sexual orgies or satanic rituals having taken place.

The fun came to an end in 1721, when George I was persuaded by Philip’s political enemies, such as Robert Walpole, to submit a Bill against horrid impieties.

The Bill was clearly aimed at The Hell Fire Club, and Wharton’s membership was used to discredit him with his erstwhile Tory allies.

john Montagu, 2nd Duke of Montagu, by Sir Godfrey Kneller
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Wharton’s attack on the government over the South Sea Bubble debacle was probably sharpened by his own losses which were reputed to amount to £120,000.

The Hell Fire Club having been disbanded, he looked to other areas where he might wield his influence. He was drawn to the recently reconstructed brotherhood of Freemasons, whose Deist leanings attracted him.

He was initiated into The Kings Arms St Paul’s Lodge, but, though not yet a Master of the Lodge, he set his sights on displacing the Duke of Montagu as Grand Master.

At a Grand Lodge meeting on 25 March 1722, James Anderson’s Manuscripts of the History, Charges, Regulations and Master’s Song were approved after some amendments.

Grand Master Montagu’s good government inclined the better Sort to continue him in the Chair another year; and therefore they delay’d to prepare the Feast (Anderson’s Book of Constitutions, 1733).

Wharton did not hesitate to make known his desire to succeed Montagu. Many senior Freemasons feared that Wharton’s admission into Freemasonry would raise suspicions in government circles that Jacobite influences would, thereby, be brought to bear on the Order.

Accordingly, on 25 May 1722, a group of senior Freemasons met at the Fountain Tavern to consider the Feast of St John.It is likely that Wharton’s ambitions for the Grand Mastership were discussed, but nevertheless, it was agreed that the Annual Assembly must be held, whatever the outcome.

As a precaution, a delegation of senior Masons approached the Secretary of State, Lord Viscount Townshend to inform him that their Constitution obliged them to hold an Assembly on St John’s Day.

However, they wished to make it quite clear that they were loyal to the King and his government.

Lord Townshend assured them that the government would not be concerned so long as they went on doing nothing more dangerous than acting out The Ancient Secrets of The Society.

This qualification was probably a clear hint to Wharton, and his associates, to stick to the Ancient Landmarks, and leave politics well alone.

Wharton wasted no time to rally his supporters. He was probably the author of an unauthorised advert in the Daily Journal of 20 June, urging Brethren to purchase tickets for the Assembly at Stationers’ Hall on 25 June.

The advert threatened those who obtained tickets, but did not turn up, as being branded as false Brothers.

Accordingly, Wharton and his supporters gathered at Stationers’ Hall, but no Grand Officers were present.

They probably stayed away to avoid giving credence to Wharton’s bid for the Grand Master’s Chair.

The oldest Mason present was placed in the Chair, and, without any due ceremonial procedure, proclaimed Philip Duke of Wharton, Grand Master of Masons.

No Deputy Grand Master was appointed, neither was the Lodge opened and closed in Due Form.

Jean-Théophile Desaguliers. Line engraving by J. Tookey after H. Hysing
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More of Wharton’s tactless behaviour was to come at the Festive Board. He encouraged the band to play the Jacobite song Let the King enjoy his own again and, according to Wharton’s entry in the ODNB, he sang the song.

Wharton and the band were admonished for this reckless, disloyal, and probably, treasonable behaviour by a Brother described as a man of Gravity and Science – almost certainly John Theophilus Desaguliers.

Many of the noble Brethren refused to recognise Philip’s authority. However, the breach in fraternal harmony was repaired by the Duke of Montagu, who attended a Grand Lodge held on 17 January 1723.

Wharton was persuaded to give pledges of proper Masonic behaviour, and adherence to the regulations and procedures of The Order. Thus assured, his Grand Mastership was ratified, with Desaguliers appointed as his Deputy, probably to keep an eye on him, and act as a moderating influence.

Some good did come out of Wharton’s tenure of office: Anderson’s Book of Constitutions was published on 1 February 1723, and Freemasonry flourished. Many Noblemen and Gentlemen of the first Rank desir’d to be admitted into the Fraternity, besides other Learned Men, Merchants, Clergymen and Tradesmen (Book of Constitutions, 1738).

The Grand Master was kept very busy constituting new Lodges with the assistance of his Deputy and Wardens.

Anderson’s Book of Constitutions 1723 frontispiece.  It shows Montagu on the left presenting the Constitutional scroll and a set of compasses to Wharton on the right.   A fictional illusion of an amicable transfer of leadership.

At a Grand Lodge held at the White Lion, Cornhill on 25 April 1723, Wharton proposed the Earl of Dalkeith as his successor.

The latter was unanimously approved and saluted as Grand Master Elect. The annual Grand Lodge was held at Merchant Taylor’s Hall on Monday 24 June 1723.

The Duke of Wharton was in the Grand Master’s Chair, Desaguliers officiated as Deputy Grand Master, and Joshua Timson and the Reverend James Anderson were Grand Wardens.

Wharton was invited to name his successor but declined to do so referring the nomination to the Lodge. The Earl of Dalkeith was proposed as Grand Master for the following year even though he was absent.

However, two members of his Lodge reported that he was willing to accept the nomination, and that he wished for Desaguliers to be appointed as his Deputy.

The proposition was put to the Lodge, passing with the very narrow majority of 43 for and 42 against. After dinner, the Earl of Dalkeith was declared Grand Master, but Wharton declared that he had doubts about the veracity of the vote for appointing Desaguliers.

He suggested that the tellers had reported the result inaccurately, and proposed that the question be put to the Lodge again. He then withdrew from the Lodge with a number of his supporters.

Then, a Brother Robinson produced a written authority from the Earl of Dalkeith, confirming that he desired to appoint Desaguliers as his deputy and Brothers Sorrel and Sennex as Grand Wardens.

Robinson went on to protest, in the name of the Earl, about Wharton’s unprecedented attempt to deprive Desaguliers of the Deputy Grand Mastership.

He called it unwarrantable and Irregular, and tending to introduce into the Society a Breach of Harmony, with the utmost disorder and Confusion (Grand Lodge Minutes, 24 June 1723).

On Wharton’s return to the Lodge he was made aware of Brother Robinson’s protestations. Without bothering to continue managing the proceedings from the Chair, Wharton and his supporters marched out of the Hall.

It is probable that Desaguliers then occupied the Chair. In any case, he signed the minutes with a flourish, indicative of his satisfaction in thwarting Wharton’s attempt to displace him and usurp some of the powers of Grand Lodge.

Francis Atterbury (1663-1732), Bishop of Rochester
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Wharton had previously defended the Jacobite conspirator Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester.

Wharton had made a most eloquent speech defending Atterbury in the House of Lords. It was widely acclaimed, even by some of his opponents, and was published as part of Wharton’s public relations offensive.

Unfortunately, the game was clearly up for the Bishop. Despite the activities of Walpole’s agents, including the Huguenot spymaster Charles Delafaye, insufficient evidence could be marshalled to assure a conviction for treason.

Instead, Parliament resorted to a device known as a Bill of Pains and Penalties which effectively removed him from office and sent him off into exile.

Wharton attended Atterbury’s embarkation on a ship moored by the Tower of London, where he had been a prisoner. Philip presented him with a sword inscribed on one side with the words Draw me not without reason and on the other Put me not up without honour.

The True Briton Vol II (1723), Wharton’s periodical opposing Robert Walpole
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Wharton’s differences with Grand Lodge led him to seek other fields of influence. He founded the True Briton newspaper, which became a mouthpiece for anti-Whig propaganda in general, and opposition to Robert Walpole’s policies in particular.

The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light by the Gormagons
by William Hogarth (1724)
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Wharton also joined The Ancient Noble Order of the Gormogans, a bizarre society supposedly founded by the first Emperor of China, Chin Quan-Kypo.

Its purpose was to ridicule Freemasonry. It claimed that there would be no drawn sword at the meeting room door, like the Masonic Tyler, nor a ladder in a darkened room.

Any Freemason applying for membership was required to renounce the Order, and be properly degraded, normally including the burning of the applicant’s Masonic gloves and apron.

A letter in The Plain Dealer for 14 September 1724, reported that a noted peer, probably Wharton, had allowed himself to be degraded, but his actions some years later indicated that he had not abandoned Freemasonry altogether.

Hogarth, himself a Freemason, lampooned Freemasonry and the Gormogans in a scurrilous cartoon, The Mystery of Masonry Brought to Light. It depicted a Masonic procession with the characters shown as bizarre individuals.

A possible interpretation might be:

the supplicating women on the donkey represents Freemasonry;

the man with his head through the ladder is Dr James Anderson, and the closeness of his face to the woman’s posterior suggests his obeisance to the Order;

Wharton is probably the Don Quixote figure directing proceedings;

Desaguliers is the Sancho Panza figure at the right of the cartoon, looking somewhat aghast at the procession, and the monkey represents the Gormagon’s aping of Freemasonry.

 

The Oriental figures at the head of the procession are the Emperor Chin Qua–Kypo, Confucius, In Chin the then Master , or Decumenical Volgi of the Society, and the Mandarin Hang who is reputed to have brought the practice of the Gormagons to our shores.

The inclusion of mop, bucket, gavel, and ladder indicate Hogarth’s familiarity with the trappings of Freemasonry.

Eventually Wharton chose to leave England in 1725, when he was appointed Jacobite ambassador to Vienna, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

His attempts to win Austrian support for an invasion of England were rejected in February 1726, partly through doubts about the level of Jacobite support in England, and Wharton’s dissolute behaviour.

He returned to Rome where he received the Order of the Garter from James.

From there he progressed to Madrid but received the sad news that his wife had died on 14 April 1726, in London.

He was summoned by Privy Seal Order to return to England but ignored it.

Wharton sprung another surprise by announcing his intention to convert to Roman Catholicism so that he could marry Maria Theresa O’Neil, daughter of a colonel in Spanish service, and a Maid of Honour in the Spanish royal household.

His conversion diminished his stock amongst the Jacobites. If Wharton could change his religion in order to marry his amorata, might he change his loyalty to the Jacobite cause for some self-interested reason?

His attempts to return to Rome were frustrated, so he joined the Spanish army as a lieutenant-colonel.

In 1727 he was drawn into a treasonable act by participating in an expedition to besiege Gibraltar. During the encounter, a shell shattered Wharton’s foot.  

Wharton continued to snipe at Walpole and the Whig establishment. On 24 August 1728 he published a biting satire, called The Persian Letter, in Mist’s Weekly Journal.

Nathaniel Mist was a British printer and journalist, as well as a committed Jacobite. He constantly attacked the Whig establishment, and was convicted for libelling George I.

A particularly severe fine forced him to flee to France, where he joined Philip Wharton’s household while still managing to direct his English publishing interests.

Writing as Amos Drudge, Wharton depicted George I as an oriental usurper, and exposed the corruption and loss of liberties in Persia.

Walpole acted swiftly, ordering the arrest of more than twenty people connected with the publication, and the destruction of the printing press.

The Persian Letter was described in court as an infamous, scandalous and treasonable libel, calculated to poison the Minds of His Majesty’s Subjects.

For whatever reason, Wharton returned to his interest in Freemasonry.

At a Quarterly Communication held at The Crown Tavern on 17 April 1728, the Grand Master, Lord Coleraine, was informed that a petition had been received from a group of Masons in Madrid.

They wished to receive acknowledgement as a Lodge under the jurisdiction of Premier Grand Lodge. Surprisingly, although the petition had been submitted under Philip, Duke of Wharton’s authority, Grand Lodge drank the prosperity of the Brethren of the Madrid Lodge, which is now called La Matritense, recorded as Lodge No.1 on the register of The Grand Orient of Spain.

Perhaps the warm reception given to the Madrilenian Masons was due to the fact that one of the petitioners was Charles De Labelaye, former protégé and friend of Desaguliers.

This may have tipped the Masonic scales in Madrid’s favour.

Unfortunately, Wharton’s apparent return to Masonic respectability could not shelter him from the wrath of the British Government.

They were unlikely to overlook Wharton’s treachery in taking up arms against them at the siege of Gibraltar.

On 3 April 1729, Parliament passed a resolution to outlaw Wharton, who had to forfeit his estates and titles.

He travelled to Paris hoping to persuade Walpole’s brother Horatio, British Ambassador to France, to intercede on his behalf.

He asked for clemency, claiming that he had left the Pretender’s service, and, furthermore, he was willing to reveal secrets of Jacobite intelligence.

Unfortunately for him, Walpole’s spies had provided ample evidence of Wharton’s continuing contacts with the Jacobites.

Thus, it was no surprise when Wharton’s plea was turned down flat by George II, and Secretary of State, the Duke of Newcastle.

King George II . Engraving by G. Vertue after G. Kneller, 1724.
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By now Wharton was thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the Jacobites, and he was instructed not to return to Rome.

Despite difficulties with money, Philip moved to Rouen where he set up a household with various associates such as Captain Brierly, Sir Harry Goring, his faithful black servant Scipio, and the redoubtable Nathaniel Mist.

Unexpectedly, a deputation arrived in the form of his old friend Phil Lloyd, and a companion called Room. Lloyd had been Philip’s MP at Saltash but lost his seat after Wharton’s flight to the Continent.

Bereft of his patron, Lloyd had turned to support from Walpole whose mistress, Molly Skerret, lived in Lloyd’s London house.

In return for supporting Walpole, Lloyd was made an MP for Aylesbury. In a quite extraordinary turn of events, Lloyd had been deputed by Walpole to offer pardons to Wharton, Mist, and Bingley provided they submitted to the British Government, and desisted from attacking the Government and Parliament in the Press.

What had brought about this change of heart? The Government was not popular, and Walpole was only too well aware of the power of Wharton’s polemics, which he could continue to spawn from the safety of Rouen.

Walpole had not fully appreciated the complexities of Wharton’s character.

Whatever else his shortcomings, Philip was not a man to be bribed. He flatly refused the offer and would only consider an unconditional pardon.

With this last ray of hope extinguished, Philip’s life drifted onwards and downwards.

He took to sponging off people, his clothes were worn and out of date, and by 1729 he was being regarded as a bit of a buffoon by French society.

Faced with destitution, Philip turned to the Church for help. He temporarily went into a religious retreat, but it was not long before he was back on the streets of Paris, though the emaciated marks of destitution could not be disguised in his pitiful appearance.

He decided to move out of Paris to stay in a village where his title still carried a lingering cachet. Maria Theresa joined him, but they eventually had to face up to the fact that they could not sustain themselves in their present situation.

He sent Bingley to Paris to borrow as much money as he could. Then they decamped to Orleans, travelling under assumed names to avoid their creditors.

With money, probably borrowed from Maria Theresa’s uncle, a passage was booked for her on a coastal ship crossing the Bay of Biscay to Bilbao.

Unfortunately, there was not enough money left to pay for Wharton and his companions to sail to Bilbao. But, by now, Wharton was quite accustomed to living on his wits.

He persuaded the ship’s captain that his companions were, in fact, part of his regiment, and the Spanish authorities would pay the cost of their passage.

Wharton headed off for Lerida to join the Hainault Regiment where, at least, board and lodgings would be free.

Meanwhile Maria Theresa, unable to pay her bills, was a virtual prisoner in her lodgings in Bilbao.

Wharton was unable to help, but the Duke of Ormonde came to her rescue, sending one hundred pistols, enough to settle her bills and join her family in Madrid. Philip, with his friend Brierly, settled down to life in the regiment.

He wrote fairly regularly to James and took up literature again with his tragedy of Mary Queen of Scots, and his translation of Fénélon’s Telemaque.

Unfortunately, Maria Theresa’s mother died, and with her the court pension that had supported the family.

James sent sympathy, but precious few pistoles, whereas the Duke of Ormonde was more helpful by arranging for Maria Teresa’s sisters to be appointed Maids of Honour to the Spanish Queen. Their income helped sustain the Duchess Maria.

The Duke of Wharton’s Tomb – Cistercian monastery at Poblet
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They gently carried him back to their hospital. Despite the care and attention of the monks, Philip lingered on, edging closer to his end.

By 31 May it was clear that he was dying. The Abbot, and a few monks gathered around him to deliver the last rites.

After his death Philip was carried to a place of rest in the corner of the Chapel of The Holy Sepulchre.

Philip always wanted to leave his mark in the pages of history. Despite his unpredictable, extravagant, and often reckless behaviour, there was a certain honesty in the verse that Philip used to quote to strangers:

 

When you shall my unhappy deeds relate,

Speak of me as I am-Nothing extenuate,

Nor set down aught in malice.

Maria Theresa was given help from James and Lord Orrery, who was delegated to prove Wharton’s will.

She settled in London, living a modest but comfortable life until her death in Golden Square, Westminster on 13 February 1777. She was buried at St Pancras Church.

Opinions are divided on Philip Wharton’s life. He was undoubtedly an intelligent man, a gifted orator, a writer, and poet.

He put principle before self-interest when he refused to accept Walpole’s terms for a pardon. These qualities were overshadowed by his waywardness, unreliability, and his frequently dissolute lifestyle.

As one Jacobite commented: There were few examples of a man who had so fair a game in his hands and that play’d it so ill.

Footnotes
Resources

M. Blackett-Ord, Hell-Fire Duke-The Life of the Duke of Wharton, The Kensal Press (1982).

W.J. Songhurst, Minutes of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons: 1723-1739, QC Antigrapha, London (1913).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Wharton,_1st_Duke_of_Wharton

J. Anderson, The Constitutions of the Freemasons, London (1723).

Article by: Nigel Wade

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