Sunday, November 29, 2009

Men Behaving Badly: Sir Charles Sedley

Sunday, November 29, 2009
Susan reports:

Welcome back from the holiday!

My most recent books have been set in Restoration England, during the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685.) This was a very good time for very bad gentlemen, when just about any excess could be explained away if one had a title, or at least was friends with the King.

Sir Charles Sedley (1639-1701) was a wealthy, well-connected baronet who wrote witty plays and poetry, played tennis with the King, dabbled in diplomacy, and eventually became a respectable politician in the House of Commons. He looks innocuous enough, left, but in 1663, he was best known for often being "rhetorically drunk", and also for one particularly bad example of bad-boy-dom, so scandalous that Samuel Johnson was still sputtering over it a century later:

Sir Charles Sedley, [Lord Buckhurst], and Sir Thomas Ogle, got drunk at the Cock [a notorious tavern] in Bow Street, by Covent Garden, and going into the balcony exposed themselves to the populace below in very indecent postures. At last, as they grew warmer, Sedley stood forth naked, and harangued the populace in such profane language, that the publick indignation was awakened; the crowd attempted to force the door, and being repulsed, drove at the performers with stones, and broke the windows of the house.  For this misdemeanour, [the three gentlemen] were indicted, and Sedley was fined five hundred pounds....Sedley employed [his friend Harry] Killigrew to procure a remission from the King, but (mark the friendship of the dissolute!) they begged the fine for themselves, and exacted it to the last groat.

For a far more frank telling of these frat-house-style shenanigans, see Samuel Pepys's diary entry – scroll down to the first annotation, and hold on to your coffee cup.


Margaret Porter said...

Accounts of these exploits prove there's nothing new under the sun about Men Behaving Badly.
By the era about which I've been writing Lord Buckhurst (Lord Dorset) was rather a reformed character, happily wed and far more sedate.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Nope, Margaret, nothing new at all. *g* Especially when gentlemen are "all inflam'd with strong liquors."

Also in the "nothing new" category: while Sir Charles was charged with "misdemeanors against the King's Peace", fined, and briefly imprisoned for this foolishness, Lord Buckhurst received only a stern talking-to by the judge -- even though this was his second offense. But then, Sir Charles was only a lowly baronet, while Lord Buckhurst was heir to a couple of earldoms, plus a sizable fortune.

Or, as Lord Rochester complained afterwards, "I know not how it is, but Lord Buckhurst may do what he will yet is never in the wrong. Poor Sedley, on the other hand, was never in the right."

Vanessa Kelly said...

Just goes to show that modern manners are really no more debauched than they ever were. We just hear about it more, thanks to YouTube and the 24 hour news cycle.

This sounds a bit like a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

I agree, Vanessa. EXACTLY like a Vegas bachelor party, esp. since these are all still young men, the oldest being about 25. It's easy to forget that, given how publicly they lived their lives, and how young they married and were given other responsibilities. When this particular "adventure" took place, Sir Charles was only 24, but he had already been married for five years, with a large house in town and a sizable estate in the country, plus a young daughter (who, incidentally, is the heroine of my next book. With this guy as a father, you can only imagine how little Catherine Sedley turns out--!)

Ladyrose said...

I think we want to believe that the gentlemen of the past were so much more 'gentlemanly' than modern men. This proves that is NOT the case. Love how even Dr. Johnson is flaming out about it years later.

Welcome back Nerdy History Girls! I missed starting my day with your blogs.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Goodness! I thought everyone knew that once something became as common anywhere "as in Italy," -- quoting Pepys -- all the naughtiness soon would be leeched right out and it would be in danger of becoming, horrors, respectable. Well, that might be pushing it a bit in this case. I'm rather put in mind of New Orleans. Sedley and Ogle would have needed to toss some trashy beads from the balcony, however. Would they have been made of jet in Restoration England, Susan? Welcome back!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

It's always seemed to me like the entire Restoration period was a license for Men to Behave Badly, especially the aristocracy. Just look at Rochester! Of course, with a father like Charles Sedley, it's no wonder his daughter grew up to be such a character.

Loretta Chase said...

I always thought they had a lot of steam to blow off, and it was an extreme reaction to Life Under Cromwell and families going from riches to rags and their fathers' heads getting cut off--and then back to riches again, sort of. Men behave badly in all times, but there seem to be times in history when a combination of factors really sends them off the deep end en masse. That said, I definitely see the Mardi Gras aspect--a great analogy, Michelle. And what's up with these English casting asparagus on Italians? Jealousy, I suspect. Not only do they speak the most beautiful language in the world, but they can even play golf divinely.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Ladyrose -- thank you! We're glad to be back, too.

Michelle, I'm not sure what they were tossing off the balcony were, um, Mardi Gras beads, jet or otherwise. As for things going downhill if they're branded "Italian": I like how every country blames another for the pox. The Italians call it the French Pox, the French call it the Spanish Pox, the Spanish call it the Roman Pox....and on and on. Tag, you're it! *g*

Elizabeth Kerri, I know what you mean about the Restoration. It has to be one of the most generally irresponsible eras in English history -- yet so much fun to read and write about.

As for Sir Charles and his daughter Katherine: given
what awful parenting (for lack of a 17th c. word) she received, it's really a wonder that she survived to have any adulthood at all, let alone such an entertaining one. But you have to love a woman who had brains, money, and connections who refuses to marry a suitable man, choosing instead to be a mistress. :)

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