Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wharton, Philip (1698-1731)
WHARTON, PHILIP, Duke of Wharton (1698–1731), only son and heir, by his second wife, of Thomas Wharton, marquis of Wharton [q. v.], was born in the third week of December 1698, either at Ditchley or Adderbury in Oxfordshire. He was christened on 5 Jan. 1698–9, when William III, Shrewsbury, and the Princess Anne were his sponsors (Luttrell, iv. 469). From 1706 to 1715 he adopted the style of Viscount Winchendon. Showing great quickness of parts, he was educated at home under the superintendence of his father, whose ambition was to make him a great orator and a great ‘patriot,’ by which the marquis meant a pure whig. But ‘honest Tom’ found it less easy to transmit his political principles than his mendacity and his contempt for the bonds of marriage. When but sixteen Philip shattered his father's hopes of further aggrandisement through the medium of a prudent alliance by marrying, on 2 March 1714–15, Martha, daughter of Major-general Richard Holmes, the ceremony being performed by one of the Fleet parsons. The young wife, described as ‘a person of extraordinary education,’ preserved a blameless character throughout the troubles which only ended with her death in Gerrard Street, Soho, on 14 April 1726. Philip Wharton deserted her soon after marriage. Within a year of that event both his parents died, and he succeeded to the marquisate and an estate of about 14,000l. a year, including his mother's jointure of 6,000l.
Early in 1716 Wharton, in obedience to injunctions left by his father, went abroad with a Huguenot governor to be educated and confirmed in strict protestant principles at Geneva. They set out by way of Holland and the Rhine, and the young marquis's vanity was flattered by the attentions he received at the smaller German courts. He began promptly to exceed the allowance made him by his father's trustees and to run into debt. Meanwhile his tutor disgusted him by his ‘dry, moral precepts and the restraints he endeavoured to lay upon him.’ The Geneva discipline proved no less intolerable, and after a brief space, ‘cutting all entanglements,’ Wharton abandoned the Huguenot to the society of a young Pyrenean bear, which he had partially tamed, and, ‘as if he had been flying from an infection, set out post for Lyons,’ where he arrived on 13 Oct. 1716. His next proceeding was to write a letter to the Pretender, then residing at Avignon, which he forwarded with the present of ‘a very fine Stone-horse.’ The chevalier, in return, sent for him to his court, where he spent a day, and where he is said to have received an offer of the title of the Duke of Northumberland, a title which was actually conferred upon him by the Pretender in 1726. He arrived in Paris by the end of October and called upon the English ambassador, Lord Stair. Stair gave him some good advice, which he is said to have requited by drinking the Pretender's health at the ambassador's own table. In November 1716 he visited the widow of James II (Marie Beatrix) at St. Germains and borrowed 2,000l. of her, upon the pretext that the money should be used in promoting the Jacobite cause in England. In December he returned to England and acted in direct opposition to the Jacobite sentiments he had so recently expressed. Early in 1717 he crossed over to Ireland in company with the poet Edward Young, to whom he was a liberal patron as long as he had any money. Young dedicated to him his ‘Revenge: a Tragedy,’ in 1721, and Wharton acknowledged the compliment by a gift of 2,000l. In August 1717, though he was not yet nineteen years old, Wharton was allowed to take his seat in the Irish House of Peers, being introduced as the Marquis of Catherlough by the Earls of Kildare and Mount Alexander. He soon distinguished himself in debate by his zeal for the government, and became member of several committees. As chairman of one of these, in November 1717, he drew up a congratulatory address to George I upon ‘a happy increase in the royal family.’ Early next year the ministry thought it desirable to secure his talents to the whig party by raising him to the highest rank in the English peerage, and on 28 Jan. 1717–18 he was created Duke of Wharton, Westmorland. Charles II had bestowed dukedoms upon some of his bastards when they were, in the legal sense, infants; otherwise this ‘was certainly the most extraordinary creation of an English dukedom on record.’ After mentioning the recipient's ‘personal merit,’ the preamble to the patent recounts how much the ‘invincible king, Will. III,’ owed to the grantee's father, ‘that constant and courageous asserter of the public liberty and protestant religion,’ and how the same ‘extraordinary person deserved so well of us in having supported our interests by the weight of his counsels, the force of his wit, and the firmness of his mind at a time when our title to the succession of this realm was endangered.’
During 1718 Wharton appears to have returned to his wife ‘in the seclusion of the country,’ and in March 1719 his only son, Thomas (who died of smallpox when barely a year old), was born at Winchendon. Here also he kept up his father's stud, and won several matches at Newmarket. These two years were the most reputable in his career. On 21 Dec. 1719 he was introduced to the House of Lords, his sponsors being the Dukes of Kingston and Bolton. He at once threw himself into opposition to the government bill for the extension of the South Sea Company's charter, and in the debate of 4 Feb. 1720 delivered a violent philippic against the general conduct of the Stanhope ministry. ‘My lords,’ he vociferated, ‘there was in the reign of Tiberius a favourite minister, by name Sejanus; the first step he took was to wean the emperor's affection from his son; the next to carry the emperor abroad; and so Rome was ruined.’ Stanhope, in a transport of anger, replied by instancing from the same history a Roman father, a great patriot, who had a son so profligate that he had him whipped to death. Wharton's attack proved the immediate cause of Stanhope's death; for in his fit of passion he broke a blood-vessel, and he died the next day.
About the same time that he was denouncing vice in high places, and invoking examples from Roman history for the benefit of the lords, Wharton was becoming notorious as president of the ‘Hell-fire Club,’ for the suppression of which body a proclamation was issued by the king on 28 April 1721. In connection with this action against ‘profligate clubs’ Wharton, says Lord Mahon, ‘played a strange farce. He went down to the House of Lords, declared that he was not, as was thought, a patron of blasphemy, and, pulling out an old family bible, proceeded with a sanctified air to quote several texts.’ His next prominence was as an opponent of the bill of pains and penalties against Atterbury, in the great debate about which, on 15 May 1723, he delivered a long and able speech. This oration, which affords the best criterion we have of Wharton's undoubted talents, was published in 1723, and was afterwards printed as a supplement to his ‘Works.’ This is the last speech by Wharton reported in the ‘Parliamentary History,’ but he remained in England three years longer, dissipating the last fragments of his estate.
A bi-weekly opposition paper entitled ‘The True Briton,’ which he started on 3 June 1723, came to an end on 17 Feb. 1724 (No. 74). Shortly after this his property was placed in the hands of trustees for the benefit of his creditors, and he was allowed no more than 1,200l. a year. According to his own account he had lost over 120,000l. in the South Sea scheme. In 1723 he had sold his Rathfarnham estates for 62,000l.; those in Buckinghamshire were sold in 1725 to the trustees of the Duke of Marlborough. Yet early in 1726 he computed his debts at over 70,000l. Two years later his collection of pictures (including several Van Dycks and Lelys) was sold to Sir Robert Walpole, and in 1730 his Westmorland estates went for 26,000l. to Sir Robert Lowther.
In the meantime, during the winter 1725–1726, Wharton had left England for Vienna. There he openly adopted the cause of ‘James III,’ from whom he now received the Garter and his patent as Duke of Northumberland. From Vienna he was sent to Madrid to assist Ormonde in pressing for an expedition, and to vindicate the late separation in the Pretender's family. (Sir) Benjamin Keene, the English minister, gives a vivacious account of his doings at the Spanish court. The Spaniards had some excuse for the reluctance they showed to treat with an ambassador who was perpetually drunk, and ‘scarcely ever had a pipe out of his mouth.’ He staggered into Keene's rooms one day in his Star and Garter, and the minister did not feel himself obliged to have him ejected; for ‘as he is an everlasting talker and tippler, he might lavish out something that might be of use to know.’ He declared upon this occasion that the chevalier's affairs had hitherto been managed by the Duchess of Perth and three or four other old women at St. Germains, but that he was now ‘prime minister,’ and would put things in ‘a right train,’ as Keene would soon perceive by the fall in English stocks.
In May 1726 Wharton heard of the death of his first wife, and two months later, at Madrid, he married Maria Theresa O'Neill, daughter of Henry O'Beirne, an Irish colonel in the Spanish service, by Henrietta O'Neill. The lady was maid of honour to the Queen of Spain, who was with difficulty persuaded to give her consent to the match. Previous to the wedding ceremony Wharton announced his conversion to catholicism. An order which he received under the privy seal to return to England was treated with ostentatious contempt by Wharton, who was occupied during this summer with an elaborate project for the restoration of the Pretender by means of an alliance between the emperor, the czar, and the court of Spain. The plan, in cipher, eventually fell into the hands of the Duke of Newcastle. Towards the close of 1726 he went to Rome with his wife, in order to be nearer his master; but ‘he could not keep himself within the bounds of the Italian gravity,’ and to avoid scandal he was ordered back to Spain. In the spring of 1727 he asked permission of Philip IV to serve as a volunteer at the siege of Gibraltar, and was appointed aide-de-camp to the Conde de los Torres. For this act, having been indicted for high treason, he was (informally) outlawed by a resolution of the House of Lords on 3 April 1729. He was wounded in the foot during the siege operations by the bursting of a grenade, and was rewarded by a commission as ‘colonel aggregate’ in the Irish regiment ‘Hibernia’ in the Spanish service.
His presence being tabooed at Rome, Wharton seems to have made some overtures of reconciliation to the British government (see his letter in Coxe, Walpole, ii. 633). At Paris, in May 1728, he was received with cold politeness by Lord Walpole, and proceeded straight from the ambassador's house to dine with the attainted bishop of Rochester. The idea of his submission was now given up, and the trustees in England were ordered to send him no more money. His last three years were spent in rambling about western Europe in a state of beggary, drunkenness, and almost complete destitution. Such doles as he received from the Pretender were at once absorbed either in new acts of dissipation or by a clamorous rabble of creditors. In the autumn of 1729 he returned to his regiment in Catalonia, with the idea of living upon his pay of eighteen pistoles a month. He was much depressed by humiliations inflicted upon him by the military governor of Catalonia, and in the winter of 1730 his health completely broke down. He died, aged 32, in the monastery of the Franciscans at Poblet on 31 May 1731, and was buried next day in the church there (for the epitaph see Notes and Queries, 9th ser. i. 91). His widow left Madrid for England, and survived until 13 Feb. 1777, subsisting upon a small Spanish pension (cf. Gent. Mag. 1766, p. 309). She died in Golden Square, and was buried in Old St. Pancras churchyard. With Wharton's death all his titles became extinct.
Wharton was occupied at various periods of his life by literary projects. His aim, according to Pope, was to emulate Rochester as a wit and Cicero as a senator. The fragments of his writing that remain do little to justify either pretension. In 1731 appeared in octavo, at Boulogne, ‘Select and Authentick Pieces written by the late Duke of Wharton, viz. His speech on the passing the Bill to inflict Pains and Penalties on Francis, Lord Bishop of Rochester. His single Protest on that occasion. His Letter to the Bishop in the Tower. His Letter in “Mist's Journal,” Aug. 24, 1728 [an attack on Walpole in the form of an allegory]. His Reasons for leaving his native country and espousing the cause of his royal Master, King James III.’ Next year appeared in two volumes the ‘Life and Writings of Philip, Duke of Wharton’ (London, 8vo), comprising the ‘True Briton’ and the speech on behalf of Atterbury. These volumes contain practically all that Wharton wrote, with the exception of a few parodies and satires, notably a humorous epistle in verse from Jack Sheppard to the Earl of Macclesfield, and ‘On the Banishment of Cicero’ (i.e. Atterbury), which appear in the first volume of the ‘New Foundling Hospital for Wit’ (1784, pp. 221–30), and a ballad called ‘The Drinking Match at Eden Hall,’ in imitation of ‘Chevy Chase.’ This last appeared in ‘Whartoniana’ (London, 1727, 2 vols. 12mo), reprinted in 1732 as ‘The Poetical Works of Philip, late Duke of Wharton,’ the catchpenny title of a worthless miscellany containing three or four short pieces at most from the duke's pen (cf. Nichols, Misc. Poems, v. 25; Ralph, Misc. Poems, pp. 55, 131).
The career of Wharton seems specially adapted to point a moral, and it is stated, though not very conclusively, that Dr. Young and Samuel Richardson had him in view when they elaborated the portraits respectively of Lorenzo (in ‘Night Thoughts’) and Lovelace (in ‘Clarissa’). He is said by Pope to have been intimate with Colonel Francis Charteris [q. v.], the greatest scoundrel of his age, but he lacked Charteris's consistency, and was subject to ague fits of superstition in the intervals of blasphemy and libertinage. He appears also to have been an arrant coward, a trait which, according to Swift, he inherited from his grandfather. His dominant characteristic, perhaps, was a kind of puerile malice, such as that which prompted him to smash the windows of the English ambassador at Paris in 1716, or to place a libellous caricature of Pope in the hands of Lady Wortley (or, as he called her, ‘Worldly’) Montagu. Horace Walpole relates that he promised his loyal support to his father, Sir Robert, in the Atterbury case, and on the day previous to the debate called upon the minister to ask for a few hints; when the debate came on he utilised these hints for his great speech against the government. Pope's portrait of ‘Wharton, the scorn and wonder of our days,’ in his ‘Epistle [i] to Sir Richard Temple’ is a masterpiece of delineation, in which little exaggeration is apparent:
Thus with each gift of nature and of art,
And wanting nothing but an honest heart;
Grown all to all; from no one vice exempt;
And most contemptible to shun contempt;
His passion still, to covet gen'ral praise,
His life, to forfeit it a thousand ways;
A constant bounty which no friend has made;
An angel tongue, which no man can persuade;
A fool with more of wit than half mankind;
Too rash for thought, for action too refined;
A tyrant to the wife his heart approves;
A rebel to the very king he loves;
He dies, sad outcast of each church and state,
And, harder still, flagitious, yet not great.
Ask you why Wharton broke through ev'ry rule?
'Twas all for fear the knaves should call him fool.
In the portrait by Charles Jervas, in which he appears in his ducal robes and ermine, Wharton is depicted as resembling his father, but decidedly more handsome. Of the admirable mezzotint engraved by J. Simon but three copies were known to Chaloner Smith. One of these is in the British Museum print-room (Mezzotinto Portraits, p. 1124). The same portrait was engraved by G. Vertue as a frontispiece to the ‘Life and Works’ (1732), and by Geremia for Walpole's ‘Royal and Noble Authors.’[A Memoir of Philip, Duke of Wharton, was issued separately in 1731 (London, 8vo), and was subsequently prefixed to the Life and Works. This forms the basis of the long notices in Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary, in the English Cyclopædia, and similar works. Joseph Ritson and Dr. Langhorne are both said to have formed a project of writing the duke's life, and to have collected materials; but the Memoir of 1731 was not superseded until 1896, when was published ‘Philip, Duke of Wharton,’ by Mr. John R. Robinson. See also Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Parliamentary History, vol. viii.; Gent. Mag. 1830, i. 16; Hist. Reg. Chron. Diary, 1729 p. 23, 1731 p. 29; Spence's Anecdotes, ed. Singer, p. 237; Seward's Anecdotes; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 62 sq.; Young's Works, ed. Doran, 1854; Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors, ed. Park, iv. 121–32; Armstrong's Elizabeth Farnese, 1892, pp. 189, 208; Russell's Eccentric Personages, ii. 180–202; Jesse's Court of England under the House of Hanover; E. R. Wharton's Whartons of Wharton Hall, 1898; Wharton's Wits and Beaux of Society; Chambers's Book of Days; Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire, ii. 195; Macaulay's Life of Atterbury; Zedler's Universal Lexikon, 1748, lv. 1483–7; Wharton Collections in the Bodleian Library; Brit. Mus. Cat.]