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The Earl of Sandwich

In office
1748 – 1751
Prime Minister Henry Pelham
Preceded by John Russell, 4th Duke of Bedford)
Succeeded by George Anson, 1st Baron Anson

In office
1763 – 1763
Prime Minister George Grenville
Preceded by George Grenville)
Succeeded by John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont

In office
1763 – 1765
Prime Minister George Grenville
Preceded by Earl of Halifax
Succeeded by Duke of Grafton

Born November 3, 1718(1718-11-03)
Died April 30, 1792 (aged 73)
Chiswick, England
Spouse(s) Dorothy Montagu, Countess of Sandwich
Martha Ray
Profession Statesman
Religion Anglican

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, PC, FRS (3 November 1718 – 30 April 1792)[1] succeeded his grandfather, the 3rd Earl, in 1729, at the age of ten. During his life he held various military and political offices (such as Postmaster General and First Lord of the Admiralty), but is perhaps most renowned for the claim to have originated the modern concept of the sandwich.




Early years

Educated at Eton and at Trinity College, Cambridge,[2] Montagu spent some time in travelling, and on his return to England in 1739 he took his seat in the House of Lords as a follower of the Duke of Bedford. He became a Patriot Whig and one of the sharpest critics of the Walpole government.

Political career

He was soon appointed one of the Commissioners of the Admiralty under Bedford and a Colonel in the Army.

Congress of Breda

In 1746 he was sent as a plenipotentiary to the congress at Breda, and he continued to take part in the negotiations for peace until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was concluded in 1748. Sandwich was also made British Ambassador to the Dutch Republic during the talks. Using the resources of the British Secret Service, Sandwich was able to outmanouvre his French opposite number, by intercepting his secret correspondence.[3] His service at Breda drew him to the attention of the influential Duke of Newcastle, who lobbied for him to be given high office when he returned home.

First Lord of the Admiralty (first and second spells)

In February 1748 he became First Lord of the Admiralty, retaining this post until June 1751. By 1751 Newcastle, who had previously admired Sandwich for his forthright and hardline views, had increasingly begun to distrust him and his relationship with Bedford. Newcastle engineered the dismissal of both of them, by sacking Sandwich. Bedford resigned in protest, as Newcastle had calculated, allowing him to replace them with men he considered more loyal personally to him.

The Duke of Bedford was a long-standing patron of Sandwich, and his support helped him further his career.

For the next few years Sandwich spent time at his country estate, largely avoiding politics, though he kept in close contact with both Bedford and Anson and Britain's participation in the Seven Years War. In 1763 he returned to the Admiralty in the government of John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and encouraged a major rebuilding programme for the Royal Navy. It was during this time that he first met Martha Ray who became his long-standing mistress. He was soon dismissed from the office, but was offered the influential Ambassador to Madrid.

Secretary of State

In August 1763 Sandwich became one of the principal Secretaries of State, and while filling this office he took a leading part in the prosecution of John Wilkes for obscene libel although he had been allegedly associated with Wilkes in the notorious Hellfire Club (also known as the Monks of Medmenham). Recent scholarship has suggested that the two had a more distant but cordial relationship than the friendship which was popularly portrayed at the time. [4]

John Gay's The Beggar's Opera was played in Covent Garden shortly thereafter, and the similarity of Sandwich's conduct to that of Jemmy Twitcher, betrayer of Macheath in that play, permanently attached to him that appellation.

In The State Tinkers (1780), James Gillray caricatured Sandwich (on left) and his political allies as incompetent tinkers.

Lord Sandwich was Postmaster General in 1768, Secretary of State again in 1770.

First Lord of the Admiralty (third spell)

Sandwich served again as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord North's administration from 1771 to March 1783. He replaced the distinguished Admiral Edward Hawke in the post.[5] Despite the number of important posts that he held during his career, Sandwich's incompetence and corruptness inspired the suggestion that his epitaph should read: "Seldom has any man held so many offices and accomplished so little."

His incompetence in the Admiralty was said to have undermined the seaworthy efforts in the American War of Independence.[6] Recently some historians have begun to suggest that Lord Sandwich was not perhaps as incompetent as suggested, but that previous historians have placed too much emphasis on sources from his political enemies. [7]

Personal life

Sandwich married Dorothy Fane, daughter of the 1st Viscount Fane, by whom he had a son, John, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (1743 – 1814), who later succeeded as 5th Earl. Sandwich's first personal tragedy was his wife's deteriorating health and eventual insanity. Later Sandwich found 16 years of happiness with the talented opera singer Martha Ray, who bore him about nine children of whom Basil Montagu (1770 – 1851), writer, jurist and philanthropist, was one.[8] Tragedy was to strike again in April 1779 when Ray was murdered in the foyer of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden by a jealous suitor, James Hackman, Rector of Wiveton. Sandwich never recovered from his grief.

In a famous exchange with Samuel Foote, Sandwich declared, "Foote, I have often wondered what catastrophe would bring you to your end; but I think, that you must either die of the p-x, or the halter." "My lord", replied Foote instantaneously, "that will depend upon one of two contingencies; -- whether I embrace your lordship's mistress, or your lordship's principles."[9] This retort is often misattributed to John Wilkes.

Sandwich retired from public duty in 1782, and lived another ten years, dying on 30 April 1792. His title of Earl of Sandwich passed to his eldest son, John Montagu, 5th Earl of Sandwich, who was 48 at the time.

A mezzotint print of the noble earl engraved by Valentine Green, after Johann Zoffany, published 30 August 1774

The Sandwich

The modern sandwich is possibly named after Lord Sandwich but not invented by him. It is said that he ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. Because Montagu also happened to be the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, others began to order "the same as Sandwich!" [10] However, the exact circumstances of the invention are still the subject of debate. A rumour in a contemporary travel book called Tour to London (although not confirmed) by Pierre Jean Grosley formed the popular myth that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling table[11]. The sober alternative is provided by Sandwich's biographer, N. A. M. Rodger, who suggests Sandwich's commitments to the navy, to politics and the arts mean the first sandwich was more likely to have been consumed at his desk.

It is also possible that Sandwich's Grisons Republic born brother-in-law, Jerome de Salis, taught him about sandwiches. The Grisons is known for its dried meat, Bündnerfleisch, while its then subject territory the Valtelline, where De Salis also grew up, is known for Bresaola.

Sandwich Islands

Sandwich was a great supporter of Cook’s Pacific exploration, and supplied Admiralty funds for the purchase and fit-out of the Resolution, Adventure and Discovery. Captain James Cook named the Sandwich Islands, (now Hawaii), which were discovered in 1778, after him, as well as the South Sandwich Islands, and also Montague Island in Alaska.[12]


After his Naval career, Sandwich turned his energy toward music. He became a great proponent of "Ancient music" (defined by him as music more than two decades old). He was the patron of the Italian violinist Felice Giardini, and created a "Catch Club", where professional singers would sing "ancient" and modern catches, glees, and madrigals. He also put on performances of George Frideric Handel's oratorios, masques, and odes at his estate. Sandwich was instrumental in putting together the Concert of Ancient Music, the first public concert to showcase a canonic repertory of old works.[1]


  • 1718 The 4th Earl of Sandwich is born on November 14, 1718
  • 1729 Succeeds his grandfather, Edward the 3rd Earl, in the earldom
  • 1729 Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge
  • 1740/41 (old style/new style), March 14, marries The Hon. Dorothy Fane at St. James's, Westminster
  • 1746 Sent as plenipotentiary to the congress at Breda, and continues to take part in the negotiations for peace until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle is signed in 1748
  • 1748 Becomes First Lord of the Admiralty
  • 1763 Becomes one of the principal secretaries of state
  • 1768 Appointed Postmaster General
  • 1770 Becomes Secretary of State
  • 1771–1782 Becomes First Lord of the Admiralty again during the American War of Independence
  • 1779 His mistress Martha Ray, mother of five of his children, murdered by her admirer James Hackman in Covent Garden
  • 1782 Retires in March
  • 1792 Dies on April 30


  1. ^ a b William Weber. "4th Earl of Sandwich", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed December 2 2006), (subscription access).
  2. ^ Montagu, John in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  3. ^ Baker-Smith p.144
  4. ^ Rodger p.99-100
  5. ^ Whiteley p.85
  6. ^ National Register of Historic Places Application for HMS Culloden
  7. ^ [C., Wilkinson, The British Navy and the state in the eighteenth century (Woodbridge 2004)
  8. ^ 'Covent Garden : Part 2 of 3', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 255-269. "Miss Ray had borne to Lord Sandwich no less than nine children, five of whom were then living. One of these afterwards attained distinction, Mr. Basil Montague, Q.C., eminent both as a lawyer and as a man of letters, who died in 1851.." According to several sources, Sandwich was unable to provide adequately and permanently for his mistress and their children; she therefore encouraged the suit of Captain James Hackman, who later exchanged the army for the clergy. Date accessed: 14 October 2008
  9. ^ Yale University Press: Yale Book of Quotations (2007)
  10. ^ Sandwiches, History of Sandwiches
  11. ^ Hexmaster's Factoids: Sandwich
  12. ^


  • N. A. M. Rodger, The Insatiable Earl: A Life of John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich (London: Harper Collins, 1993)
  • Baker-Smith Royal Discord: The Family of George III. Athena Press, 2008.
  • Whiteley, Peter. Lord North: The Prime Minister Who Lost America. Hambledon Press, 1996.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Bedford
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Lord Anson
Preceded by
George Grenville
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Earl of Egmont
Preceded by
The Earl of Halifax
Northern Secretary
Succeeded by
The Duke of Grafton
Preceded by
The Earl of Rochford
Northern Secretary
Succeeded by
The Earl of Halifax
Preceded by
Sir Edward Hawke
First Lord of the Admiralty
Succeeded by
The Viscount Keppel
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Edward Montagu
Earl of Sandwich
Succeeded by
John Montagu


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