A Lydiard House story
Sometimes the apple can fall very far from the tree. In the case of Anne St. John, it probably fell so far, the tree couldn’t see it any more. Anne was the daughter of the 1st Baronet St. John, and when her husband died, she then married the first Earl of Rochester. Anne was a profoundly religious and strict Puritan, so I’m sure she would have been shocked to see what became of her son, John, the 2nd Earl of Rochester.
When the Monarchy was restored, and Charles II came back to England in 1660, most of the Puritan commonwealth laws were lifted. Pubs reopened, betting resumed, and Christmas was again an official holiday (Yes, Puritans cancelled Christmas). It seemed like the party was restarted, but in the court of Charles II, things went a bit too far.
The King loved to party, and so a group of young, good-time aristocrats were gathered around him and were named the “Merry Gang”. One of the leaders was John Wilmoth, the 2nd Earl of Rochester. The gang were a bunch of libertines, they were always drunk and were busy with self-indulgence.
From time to time the gang was involved in causing havoc in London. One of the most notorious acts of Wilmoth and one of his “Merry Gang” friends, the Duke of Buckingham, was to lease a pub in London under a false name. They would then invite men to have a drink until they passed out and then they would “make a move” on their wives. In one case they invited an old merchant who had a new young wife to drink for free. When he passed out, Wilmouth dressed up as a woman and managed to sneak into the house where he seduced the wife. After he was done, he forced the wife to help him rob her husband so they could “elope” together. He then took her back to the pub when the Duke of Buckingham had his way with her, and after that, they kicked the poor girl out. She was too afraid to go back home, so she left London. When the merchant woke up the next day and discovered that his wife left him and his belongings had been stolen, he hanged himself.
When he wasn’t drunk or in the middle of one of his mischiefs, John wrote poems and plays. One of these poems that he read in court said:
We have a pretty witty king,
And whose word no man relies on,
He never said a foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.
In most courts, this song would end in imprisonment and even execution, but according to eyewitnesses, Charles II just said, “That’s true, for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers”.
Charles II loved Wilmoth. Some people thought he was some sort of surrogate son (Charles II did not have legitimate children, but he had a considerable amount of illegitimate ones). From time to time, even Charles II could not bear Wilmoth’s behaviour and banned him from the court (but always called him back). One of these events took place after Wilmoth was extremely drunk and picked a fight with one of the guards at the palace and killed him…
Wilmoth had to leave court (apparently he wasn’t tried for this, as the guard was not a gentleman), but he did have to find something else with which to pass his time, so he changed his clothes and appearance and adopted the role of a “new and famous” German doctor named “Doctor Bendo”. And he specialised in “…relief to unfortunate young women in all manner of diseases”. Apparently, the doctor’s speciality was to help young women of London to conceive. But to make their husbands feel safe about leaving their wives with the Doctor, Wilmoth also dressed up like a woman who was supposed to be the sister of the Doctor.
According to the Bishop of London, the doctor acted “not without success…”. Unfortunately, some of the poor girls may have received more than just his “help” because in 1680, by the age of 33, the young Earl died from what was considered a combination of venereal diseases.
Not much is left from Wilmoth’s literary endeavours, but what was left was enough to rank him at 6th place in the Timeout list of London’s top erotic writers. A movie about his short life, “The Libertine”, was produced in 2004, with Johnny Depp playing Wilmoth.
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