Over the course of his career, John Montagu accomplished many great things as
the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He negotiated treaties, served as a captain of a
regiment, and sponsored a voyage through the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to his
efforts, battles have been won, wars have been ended, and new countries have
As a way to deal with the everyday stress that came with being a nobleman,
Montagu turned to gambling for comfort. His love of gambling would cause him to
spend endless hours around the card table, winning and losing thousands of
pounds on a regular basis. Continue reading this detailed biography to learn
more about John Montagu and the impact gambling has had on his life. Early Life
John Montagu was born on a sunny afternoon in November 1718 in Chiswick,
England. When Montagu was just 4 years old, his father passed away after
suffering for many years from a heart condition. His mother got remarried soon
after his father’s death, leaving him to be raised by his grandfather (the 3rd
Earl of Sandwich). She would occasionally stop by for a visit, but she was not
very involved in his life.
When his grandfather passed away in 1729, he officially took over as the 4th
Earl of Sandwich at just 10 years of age. In order to truly take on this new
position, he had to get a proper education. He had 2 different tutors who would
meet with him 6 days a week. One tutor focused on mathematics, reading, and
writing, while the other tutor focused on history and science. Occasionally,
other tutors would pay him a visit to make sure he was exposed to various kinds
of art and music.
When he was still a teenager, he spent several years studying at Eton College
and Cambridge University. While he never earned a degree at either school, he
was able to learn a lot through the many classes he took there. After he had
finished his studies, he spent some time traveling, visiting the countries of
Egypt, Greece, and Turkey before returning home.
Finally, in 1739, he was ready to take his seat at the House of Lords; this
would be the true start to his political career. He worked directly under the
Duke of Bedford, who was a very wealthy and powerful politician at the time.
Throughout his first 6 years in office, Montagu was only given simple tasks to
Then, in 1745, the Duke of Bedford recognized his growth and started to give
him more advanced assignments. Montagu was sent to Holland to be the captain in
the Duke of Bedford’s regiment of foot, quickly getting promoted to 2nd Colonel
of the Duke of Montagu’s regiment of foot for his ability to perform well under
pressure. He led his regiment to several different victories while serving as
One of his most difficult assignments involved traveling to Breda in 1746 to
meet with their congressmen. The leaders of Breda had been approached by several
other noblemen, who were unable to convince them of a peace agreement. Montagu,
who was known for being very persuasive, was able to negotiate the Treaty of
Aix-la-Chapelle, which helped end the War of the Australian Succession.
Montagu held a number of different positions throughout his career, including
the British Ambassador to the Dutch Republic, the Postmaster General, and the
Secretary of State for the Northern Department. He was known for giving long
speeches that lacked eloquence but still got his point across. Through one of
his famous speeches, he was able to convince his country that they needed to
expand their Navy instead of deploying British troops. Another speech led to the
prosecution of John Wilkes, a British politician that admittedly allowed people
to bribe their way into office.
As you can imagine, the life of a nobleman in the 1700s was very stressful.
Montagu was able to deal with the pressure he was under by using gambling as a
way to take his mind off things.
A Love of Gambling
Montagu first started gambling during his college years. His friends
encouraged him to join them at the horse races, which is where Montagu placed
his first bet. He bet on various horses from time to time but was always
hesitant to spend too much money. When it came to betting on horses, Montagu was
known for being very cautious.
When he was older, he stopped betting on horses and dedicated his time to
playing card games instead. He spent many evenings gathered around his card
table, playing Euchre with his friends until the wee hours of the morning. His
longest recorded playing session was over 24 hours long. While playing for
extended hours, he would often ask his servants to bring him pieces of meat in
between 2 slices of bread. It was a snack that he could eat with one hand while
holding cards with his other hand. Those who competed against him started asking
for, “the same as Sandwich,” hence how the food item earned its name.
Once Montagu started playing cards, he didn’t know how to stop. He would
often lose thousands of pounds in a single night as he tried hard to chase his
losses. Those who were lucky enough to get invited to Montagu’s house to play
knew they would probably be stuck there all night, but they didn’t mind, seeing
as how they would probably be able to make a decent amount of money from him.
Of course, Montagu didn’t always lose. He once had such a long winning streak
that he was able to pay for Captain Cook’s voyage through the Pacific Ocean.
While on this trip, Captain Cook discovered Australia and a group of small
islands, which he went on to name “The Sandwich Islands” as a thank you for
Montagu’s financial support. Those islands are better known today as the islands
When Montagu wasn’t involved in political affairs or out gambling, he could
probably be found playing cricket. He was the captain of the Huntingdonshire
County cricket team and was able to lead his team to victory on several
different occasions. He was a very skilled wicket-keeper.
Along with cricket, Montagu was very passionate about ancient music. He
organized and funded the “Catch Club,” where professional musicians would gather
on a weekly basis to perform ancient and modern songs. Among those musicians was
the well-known Italian violinist Felice Giardini, who Montagu personally
sponsored throughout his career.
Montagu had a very interesting love life. The first woman he fell in love
with was Fanny Murray, an English courtesan. She was known as a fashion leader,
often setting the trends for other wealthy English women. He stopped all contact
with her once he married Dorothy Fane, the daughter of the 1st Viscount Fane.
After they had been married for about 5 years, Fane gave birth to their first
child, a son named John. He would eventually become the 5th Earl of Sandwich.
Shortly after he was born, Fane developed some very serious mental problems. She
was slowly becoming insane to the point where Montagu wasn’t equipped to take
care of her anymore. As divorce was not an option for that time period, Montagu
sent her away to live at the Windsor Castle, where she would be looked after by
a nurse for the rest of her life.
Montagu’s next love affair was with Martha Ray, a famous opera singer.
Although they would never be able to get married, they did have several children
together. One of their sons, Basil, grew up to be a lawyer who would be known
for modernizing England’s bankruptcy laws. James Hackman, who was jealous of
Montagu’s accomplishments, murdered Ray at the Royal Opera House in 1779.
Montagu was devastated and neglected to pursue any other women after her death.
Nearing the End
Once Montagu retired in 1782, he moved into a small villa in Huntingdonshire
County. He would spend almost every waking hour playing cards with anyone who
would compete against him. His gambling addiction caused him to deplete his
savings, and when he passed away on April 30, 1792, he was completely bankrupt.
After Montagu passed away, he was described in this way by his close friend
Lady Mary Fitzgerald: “Montagu needed ambition and vanity in order to succeed.
He had a penetrating intelligence, a good understanding of character, and the
ability to work with those around him. He had excellent judgment and the ability
to foresee difficulties.” Unfortunately for him, his good judgment was not
something he used when it came to gambling.
Montagu’s gambling habits kept him up late at night and caused him to die
without a penny to his name. They also led to the invention of the sandwich and
the discovery of the Hawaian Islands. There’s no doubt that his gambling habits
had a huge impact on his life; whether that influence was positive or negative
is really a matter of opinion.
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