A brief history of: John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, was born on November 13th, 1718 and he died April 30th, 1792. He was a British Statesman who held various different military and political offices throughout his life, such as being British first lord of the Admiralty, however he is arguably most recognisable as being the man after whom the sandwich was named.
The Early Years
As a child, Sandwich studied at both Eton and Cambridge while inheriting his title from his grandfather at the young age of 11. Upon leaving education, he travelled around Europe (taking the ‘Grand Tour’ as it was known in the upper classes).
On his return to England in 1739, he took up his seat in the House of Lords. Like many of his other Parliamentarians, Lord Sandwich was strongly opposed the deployment of British troops on the European Continent to protect it. He gained attention for his speeches in parliament which earned him a reputation for clearly setting out his argument.
The Politician, the Administrator and the Military Man
It was in 1774 that Sandwich was to gain his first military experience and received a place in the administration of the Navy under the Duke of Bedford (whom Sandwich supported in the House of Lords). Despite having a somewhat successful spell in the Admiralty, Sandwich was moved not long later into a position in the Army (which was small by most other European standards); it was in this position that he would catch a fever, become seriously ill and almost die.
Sandwich also spent time in diplomatic circles, and he represented Britain in the Congress of Breda 1746-48 (where he would utilise the British Secret Service to get one over on the French) and he would also be made British Ambassador to The Dutch Republic at the same time.
In 1748 Sandwich was granted the position as First Lord of The Admiralty, however by 1451 the leading politician of the time, The Duke of Newcastle, had become distrustful of Sandwich and had him dismissed from duty. This provoked the Duke of Bedford (a close political ally of Sandwich and rival for Newcastle’s power) into resigning in protest. Despite spending the next few years in solitude on his estate far from politics, upon the new Government forming in 1763, Sandwich was reinstated as Lord of the Admiralty by John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.
From 1763 to 1765 and 1770 to 1771, he also served as Secretary of State for the Northern Department. In this capacity he took a leading part in the prosecution of John Wilkes (1763), the radical British politician and agitator.
Sandwich then served for a third time as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord North’s administration from 1771 to 1782. During this period, his critics accused him of using the office to obtain bribes and to distribute political jobs, however although he was frequently attacked for corruption, his administrative ability was been recognized by his earlier successes. Despite the early administrative success in the role however, during the American Revolutionary War (1775 to 1781) Sandwich insisted upon keeping much of the British fleet in European waters because of the possibility of French attack, and he was subjected to considerable criticism for insufficient naval preparedness. Sandwich was accused of not only having too few ships prepared for an ‘inevitable’ war with France (which began in 1778 when France declared war), but his tactics were also criticised, as well as his ability to counteract both French and Spanish attacks when Spain entered the war on the side of France. Despite criticism however, a planned French-Spanish invasion of Cornwall in 1779 was foiled, perhaps as a result of the primary British ships being in Europe.
The Later Days
Sandwich retired from public duty in 1782, and lived another ten years in retirement; he married Dorothy Fane, daughter of the 1st Viscount Fane, by whom he had one son, John, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (1743 – 1814), who succeeded him as the 5th Earl.
Lord Sandwich was also great supporter of Captain James Cook. As First Lord of the Admiralty, Sandwich approved Admiralty funds for the purchase and fit-out of the Resolution, Adventure and Discovery for Cook’s second and third expeditions of exploration in the Pacific Ocean. As a result of his interest in naval affairs and his promotion of exploration and in honour of Sandwich, Captain Cook named the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) after him, as well as Montague Island off the south east coast of Australia, the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean and Montague Island in the Gulf of Alaska.
The origin of the Sandwich
The modern sandwich is named after Lord Sandwich, but the exact reasons and causes of its invention and original use are still uncertain. One rumour that formed was the popular myth that bread and meat sustained Lord Sandwich at the gambling table. A very dedicated gambler, Lord Sandwich did not take the time to have a meal during his long hours playing at the card table. As such, he would ask his servants to bring him slices of meat between two slices of bread; a habit well known among his gambling friends. Because John Montague was the Earl of Sandwich others began to order “the same as Sandwich!” and hence the ‘sandwich’ was born.
Another 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 work desk.
Either way, while these do show that the sandwich does indeed get its name from The 4th Earl, the fact remains that Arabs had already started stuffing meat inside pita bread centuries before the Earl was even born!