Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton

Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton
The Duke of Wharton.

Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton (21 December 1698 – Poblet, Spain, 31 May 1731, aged 32), powerful Jacobite politician, notorious libertine and rake, profligate, and alcoholic, was one of the few people in English history, and the first since the 15th century, to have been raised to a Dukedom whilst still a minor and not closely related to the monarch. He was the son of Thomas "Honest Tom" Wharton, the Whig partisan. When Thomas died in 1715, Philip, then 16 years old, succeeded him as 2nd Marquess of Wharton and 2nd Marquess of Malmesbury in the Peerage of Great Britain and 2nd Marquess of Catherlough in the Peerage of Ireland. Just a month after he achieved his titles, he eloped with Martha Holmes, the daughter of Major-General Richard Holmes. Wharton did not get control of his father's extensive estate, for it was put in the care of Philip's mother and Thomas's Whig party friends.

Thereafter, young Wharton began to travel. He had been raised with an excellent education and prepared for a life as a public speaker, and Wharton was eloquent and witty. He traveled to France and Switzerland with a severe Calvinist tutor whom he resented. He met with James Francis Edward Stuart, the "Old Pretender" and son of James II, sometimes known in Europe as the would-be King James III, or Prince James, the Prince of Wales (James Francis Edward Stuart; "The Old Pretender" or "The Old Chevalier"; 10 June 1688 – an orphan in 1701, aged 13–1 January 1766) who created him Jacobite Duke of Northumberland in 1716.

Wharton then went to Ireland where, at the age of 18, he entered the Irish House of Lords as Marquess Catherlough. When he was 19 years old he was created Duke of Wharton in 1718 by George I in the King's effort to solidify his support. In 1719, Wharton's wife gave birth to a son named Thomas, but the baby died in a smallpox epidemic the next year. From that point on, Wharton had little to do with his wife.


Political life

The Duke of Wharton.

Wharton turned Jacobite when traveling in 1716, or at least nominally Jacobite. He began signing his name "Philip James Wharton" to indicate his allegiance. Because he was a powerful speaker, an elegant writer, a wealthy (initially) peer, and a man with a title, the new Hanoverians always sought to gain him as an ally, while the old Jacobites were, at least initially, zealous to keep him on their side.

Even before his losses in the South Sea Bubble stock market crash of 1720, Wharton collected debts. He was so indebted that he sold his Irish estates and used that money to invest in South Sea Company stock. When the Bubble burst, he lost the staggering sum of £120,000 (in an era when a middle class salary in London might be £200 a year). In response, he hired musicians and a hearse and held a public funeral for the South Sea Company.

Wharton began to borrow money from Jacobite bankers and accumulate more debts. In 1719 Wharton is credited with founding the original hellfire club.[1] (not related to Dashwood's Hell-fire Club), which primarily performed parodies of religious rites. He became a Master in the Freemasons in 1722, and he was active in the House of Lords in opposition to Robert Walpole. In 1723, he wrote and spoke in favor of the exoneration of Francis Atterbury, the accused Jacobite bishop, although Atterbury's Jacobitism was superficial. He published The True Briton as a periodical to oppose the rise of Walpole. He was in favor of the Pretender not for religious or nationalist reasons but, he explained, because he was a true Old Whig like his father, whose principles had been betrayed by Walpole and the new non-native royals.

His substantive change to Jacobitism occurred in 1725, when Wharton joined Earl Orrery in attacking the Court. He made allies among City politicians, which was valuable to the Jacobites as Jacobitism had previously been associated with Scotland and disaffected country squires. The City had been a Whig stronghold and any erosion in their support would have powerful consequences. Indeed, although Wharton did not benefit from it, much of this would bear fruit in the emergence of the Patriot Whigs a few years later. At the same time, Wharton was £70,000 in debt.

Debt and decline

Tomb of Duke in Poblet

Wharton's debts were impossible for him to overcome. He accepted or sought the position as Jacobite ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna in 1725, but the Austrians did not like Wharton, whom they did not consider a satisfactory diplomat. His dissipate lifestyle also offended the more severe Austrians. He then went to Rome, where James gave him the Order of the Garter, which Wharton wore publicly. He moved on to Madrid. Wharton's wife died in 1726, and he married Maria Theresa O'Neill O'Beirne only three months later. Walpole's spies were informed of Wharton's activities and other Jacobites considered him a dangerous person to be near. Additionally, his behavior was growing more offensive, mainly with drunkenness, but also with inappropriate actions. At the reception for his wedding, he exposed himself to the wedding party (and bride) to show her "what she was to have that night in her Gutts" (cited in Smith). Even Francis Atterbury condemned him.

In 1728, Wharton began to help Nathaniel Mist with Mist's Weekly Journal. He wrote the infamous "Persian Letter" that caused the Walpole ministry to respond violently with arrests and the destruction of the presses. The power of Wharton's name and eloquence was such that Walpole offered Wharton a pardon and forgiveness of his debts if he were to agree to leave off writing. He also wrote, that year, a powerful piece against the "corruption" of Whig causes under Walpole entitled, "Reasons for Leaving his Native Country." Edward Young modeled "Lorenzo" in Night Thoughts on Wharton. Alexander Pope referred to Wharton as "the scorn and wonder of our days" -- a man "Too rash for thought, for action too refined" (Epistle to Sir Richard Temple).

Wharton was soon stealing food from acquaintances and seeking money anywhere he could get it. He sold his title back to George I and took a position as a lieutenant colonel in the Jacobite forces in the Spanish army fighting England. He took up arms, therefore, against his native country, and this warranted a charge of treason in 1729. In the fight at Gibraltar in 1727, Wharton sought to prove that he was not a coward, and so he charged at the head of his men and was severely wounded.

Before the treason charge, Wharton fitfully attempted a reconciliation with George. He offered to give Walpole's spies intelligence, but they rejected him as of little value, and he returned to Madrid to live on his army pay alone. When he was insulted by a valet, he caned him and was imprisoned briefly before being banished.

In 1730, he renounced James and the Jacobite cause. In advanced stages of alcoholism, he and his wife moved to the Royal Cistercian Abbey of Poblet, where he died June 1, 1731. His widow returned to London, with the aid of James. When Wharton's will was proved in court in 1736, she was able to live comfortably in society in London. Wharton's titles were made extinct after his death.

Further reading


  1. ^ Blackett-Ord p. 44
Masonic offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Montagu
Grand Master of the Premier
Grand Lodge of England

Succeeded by
The Duke of Buccleuch
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by
New Creation
Duke of Wharton
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Thomas Wharton
Marquess of Wharton
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Thomas Wharton
Baron Wharton
Succeeded by

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