John Montagu: The fourth Earl of Sandwich
History lovers will know the name of John Montagu, and many other people might know him better as the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. His name is famous for being the eponymous inventor of the sandwich. Yes, it is THAT John Montagu! And yet, John Montagu was also something of a gambler in his day. This little known side of the English nobleman is certainly worth a brief look, even if his gambling career is shrouded in mystery.
John Montagu’s Inheritance
John Montagu was born on November 13, 1718. In 1729, he succeeded his grandfather, Edward Montagu as the Earl of Sandwich, becoming the fourth such statesmen in this Earldom of England. He would later go on to hold many other military and political posts. Educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge; Montagu spent quite a bit of time learning and travelling the globe. In 1748, he was invited to become the First Lord of the Admiralty.
Lord of the Admiralty
After initially landing the post in 1748, Montagu found himself untrusted by the Duke of Newcastle, and was quickly sacked. He would return in 1763, during a major rebuilding on the Royal Navy. He would also meet his long-term mistress, Martha Ray at this time. Once again, he would be dismissed and instead accept an occupation as the Ambassador to Madrid. Sandwich would finally replace Admiral Sir Edward Hawke in 1771 until 1782, and he retained the post during the American War of Independence. He retired from public life in 1782, and lived for another ten years in Hinchingbrooke House. During his time in power, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich was known to be willing to accept bribes.
Montagu the Gambler
The many triumphs and disasters of John Montagu’s political career are lengthy and best kept for another day. His gambling career, though little known, is colourful, with some aspects of it more famous than others. One could argue that when a nobleman takes as many bribes as he did in the political arena, it was certainly likely that this corrupt official would have been interested in the gambling arena, too.
John Montagu’s particular poison was cards, as was the case with most British gamblers in the eighteenth century. Nobody really knows exactly what game he was playing, although most contemporary research does seem to point to some variant of poker. He would often sit at his gaming table after working hours had ceased, and could remain there for an extraordinary length of time, sometimes foregoing the next day’s work due to his gaming. It is also highly likely that many of the people at his card game table were the same people who bribed him into political positions of honour.
In his political career he was sometimes loved for being the best man for a job, and at other times, he wasn’t considered good enough to fulfil specific roles. Although his political gambles may not have paid off, nobody really knows if Montagu was any good at gambling. Similarly, nobody really knows if the Earl of Sandwich found himself in financial predicaments due to his love for gambling.
The Sandwich Stuff
No biography – no matter how short – on John Montagu, would be complete without the titbit on the sandwich affair. It is widely known that Lord Sandwich (as he was known at the time), did not take breaks from his gambling. Not even to eat.
During the course of a long (possibly 24-hour) gambling session, the Earl of Sandwich asked his servants to bring him a slice of meat between two slices of bread. This curious meal soon took off, and become well-known amongst his gambling friends. His friends also started calling for “the same as Sandwich”, and thus the sandwich become well-known. Although it is silly to think that nobody had come up with this idea for food before, it is from this event that we get the name “sandwich”, today. Either way, it was a definite way of ensuring that the Fourth Earl of Sandwich would not miss any of the action at his cards table.
John Montagu retired in 1782 and died at Hinchingbrooke House on April 30, 1792. His title of Earl of Sandwich was a hereditary one and it passed to his son, also called John Montagu. At 48, he became the Fifth Earl of Montagu. That wasn’t the only thing the Fourth Earl of Sandwich had passed on, though.
Aside from the obvious fact that our modern sandwiches are named after the Earl, several other things have also taken his name. For instance, the Sandwich Islands were named after him by Captain James Cook (of whom Montagu was a great supporter). Today, these islands are known as Hawaii. Montague Island off the south-east coast of Australia is also named after him, as are the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and Montague Island in the Gulf of Alaska.
The Fourth Earl of Sandwich is always going to be remembered for his “contribution” to the food industry. However, let us not forget that if it wasn’t for his love of card games and gambling, that John Montagu may never have “invented the sandwich” at all!