Sandwiches, duels and the Hellfire Club

This day in London’s history: on the 16th of November 1763 the radical English journalist John Wilkes was wounded in the stomach during a duel in Hyde Park. Wilkes was a vocal critic of King George III and eventually fled to France where he was declared an exile.

Wilkes was a member of the notorious Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Hellfire Club or the Medmenham Monks. The club’s many distinguished members included John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, popularly believed to have created the sandwich because he did not want to move from his gaming table and ordered some meat between two slices of bread so that it would be easier to eat. Other people then began ordering “the same as Sandwich” and so the name was born. (Another version is that he came up with the concept when he was working at a desk rather than gambling at a a table.)

Wilkes, quick-witted and acerbic, is one of the people to whom the following is attributed: when Sandwich said to him, “Sir, I do not know if you will die on the gallows or of the pox,” Wilkes replied, “That, my lord, depends on whether I embrace your lordship’s principles or your mistress.”

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