Kit-Cat Club

Kit-Cat Club

The Kit-Cat Club (sometimes Kit-Kat Club) was an early 18th century English club in London with strong political and literary associations, committed to the furtherance of Whig objectives, meeting at the Trumpet tavern in London, and at Water Oakley in the Berkshire countryside.

The club later moved to the Fountain Tavern on The Strand (now the site of Simpson's-in-the-Strand), and latterly into a room specially built for the purpose at Barn Elms, the home of the secretary Jacob Tonson. [Greater London. A Narrative of Its History, Its People, and Its Places. Volume 2 - Edward Walford ISBN 0543967875] In summer the club met at the Upper Flask, Hampstead Heath.


The name "Kit-Cat Club" is obscure in origin. In 1705 Thomas Hearne wrote:"The Kit Cat Club got its Name from Christopher Catling. [Note, a Pudding Pye man.] "
*(Kit (= Christopher) Cat (= Catling), the keeper of the pie-house in Shire Lane, by Temple Bar, where the club originally met).

On the other hand, one of his mutton pies known as a "Kit-Kat", always formed a standing dish at meetings of the club and the pie is thus itself sometimes regarded (e.g. by Addison in the Spectator) as the origin of the club's name.

It is possible that the Club began at the end of the 17th century as the so-called "Order of the Toast". Indeed, a famous characteristic of the Kit-Kat was its toasting-glasses, used for drinking the healths of the reigning beauties of the day, on which were engraved verses in their praise. If so, one can place the date before 1699, when Elkanah Settle wrote a poem "To the most renowned the President and the rest of the Knights of the most Noble Order of the Toast." It was this very habit of 'toasting' that led Dr. Arbuthnot to produce the following epigram, which hints at yet another possible origin of the Club's name: "Whence deathless Kit-Kat took his name / Few critics can unriddle / Some say from pastrycook it came / And some from Cat and Fiddle. / From no trim beaus its name it boasts / Grey statesmen or green wits / But from the pell-mell pack of toasts / Of old Cats and young Kits."

Possible earlier objectives

However, John Vanbrugh's modern biographer Kerry Downes suggests that the club's origins go back to before the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and that its political importance for the promotion of Whig objectives was much greater before it became known. Those objectives were a strong Parliament, a limited monarchy, resistance to France, and the Protestant succession to the throne. On the possible role of an early Kit-Cat grouping in furthering these goals through armed invasion by William of Orange and through the Glorious Revolution itself, Downes cites Whig historian John Oldmixon, who knew many of those involved, and who wrote in 1735 of how some club members "before the Revolution [of 1689] met frequently in the Evening at a Tavern, near Temple Bar, to unbend themselves after Business, and have a little free and cheerful Conversation in those dangerous Times". Horace Walpole, son of Kit-Cat Robert Walpole, refers to the respectable middle-aged 18th century Kit-Cat club as "generally mentioned as a set of wits, in reality the patriots that saved Britain", implying that the nexus was nothing less than the force behind the Glorious Revolution. Secret political groups with dangerous agendas tend to be poorly documented, and this sketch of the prehistory of the Kit-Cat Club can hardly be regarded as proven.

Prominent members

Amongst the Club's membership were writers such as William Congreve, John Vanbrugh, Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison, and politicians including the Duke of Marlborough, Charles Seymour, the Earl of Burlington, Thomas Pelham-Holles, and Sir Robert Walpole.

Other notables included Garth, Steele, and the Dukes of Grafton, Devonshire, Kingston, Richmond, and Newcastle, and Lords Dorset, Sunderland, Manchester, and Wharton. Of some notoriety were Lord Mohun and the Earl of Berkeley. The artist Sir Godfrey Kneller was also a member, his 48 portraits in a standard 'kit-cat' format of 36 by 28 inches, painted over more than twenty years, form the most complete known members list of the club. Many of these portraits currently hang in galleries created in a partnership between the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.


The toasts of the Kit-Kat Club were famous at the time, and drunk to the honour of a reigning beauty, or lady to whom the Club wished to do particular honour. We know by name some of those who were toasted: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu; Lady Godolphin, Lady Sunderland, Lady Bridgewater, and Lady Monthermer, all daughters of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough; the Duchess of Bolton, the Duchess of Beaufort, the Duchess of St. Albans; Anne Long, a daughter of Sir James Long, 2nd Baronet and friend of Jonathan Swift; Catherine Barton, Newton's niece and Charles Montagu's mistress; Mrs. Brudenell and Lady Wharton, Lady Carlisle and Mrs. Kirk and Mademoiselle Spanheim, among them.



*Downes, Kerry (1987). "Sir John Vanbrugh: A Biography". London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
*Hearne, Thomas (1705) Ductor historicus; or a short system of universal history 1698—ed. 2, augmented and improv'd 1704–05 (1714)

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  • Kit-Cat Club — /kit kat / a club of Whig wits, painters, politicians, and men of letters, including Robert Walpole, John Vanbrugh, William Congreve, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Godfrey Kneller, that flourished in London between 1703 and 1720. Also, Kit… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Kit-Cat Club — /kit kat / a club of Whig wits, painters, politicians, and men of letters, including Robert Walpole, John Vanbrugh, William Congreve, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Godfrey Kneller, that flourished in London between 1703 and 1720. Also, Kit… …   Universalium

  • Kit-Cat, club — Asociación de líderes whig de principios del s. XVIII que se reunían en Londres. Entre sus miembros se contaban los escritores Richard Steele, Joseph Addison y William Congreve y figuras políticas como Robert Walpole y el duque de Marlborough. Al …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kit-Kat Club — /kit kat /. See Kit Cat Club. * * * …   Universalium

  • Kit-Kat Club — /kit kat /. See Kit Cat Club …   Useful english dictionary

  • kit-cat — club founded by Whig politicians in London, 1703; so called from Christopher ( Kit ) Catling, keeper of the tavern on Shire Lane, near Temple Bar, in which the club first met. Meaning a size of portrait less than half length (1754), supposedly is …   Etymology dictionary

  • kit-cat — /kit kat /, n. any of a series of half length portraits of members of the Kit Cat Club that were painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller between 1702 and 1717, measure almost uniformly 28 × 36 in. (71 × 91 cm), characteristically portray the head, upper… …   Universalium

  • kit-cat — n. (in full kit cat portrait) a portrait of less than half length, but including one hand; usu. 36 x 28 in. Etymology: named after a series of portraits of the members of the Kit Cat Club, an early 18th c. Whig society …   Useful english dictionary

  • kit-cat — noun a canvas of a standard size (typically 36 × 28 in., 91.5 × 71 cm), especially as used for a portrait showing the sitter s head, shoulders, and hands. Origin C18: named after portraits of members of the Kit Cat Club, an association of Whigs… …   English new terms dictionary

  • Kit Kat Club — KitKatClub Berlin Der KitKatClub in Berlin ist ein Techno Club, der für ungewöhnliche sexuelle Freizügigkeit bekannt ist. Die Türpolitik des Clubs gilt als sehr streng. Der Dresscode ist laut Eigenaussage „geschlechtsbewusst“; Fetisch Kostüme und …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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