It is a semi-well known fact that what we today call a “sandwich” was actually named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, sometime before 1770. And while the story surrounding the actual naming is somewhat shrouded in myth, details generally include the Earl being too busy gambling with cards to eat a normal meal and requesting that his normal meal of salt beef be served between two pieces of bread. And, even in non-bar trivia settings, the story is usually left at that. The general consensus is that the Earl only earned his place in history because he got hungry in a very particular way.
The Earl's actual life story is little more complicated.
There was a lot more going on with young John Montagu than a little gambling binge, particularly a story that involves porn and having a public mistress, in a time when that was highly frowned upon. The Earl, who was also Postmaster General and First Lord of the Admiralty at various points in his career, was a social inveterate; the term “Libertine” was pretty much invented for him. One contemporary critic described Hinchingbrooke, the Earl’s country home, as “the scene of our youthful debaucheries, the retreat of your hoary licentiousness.” In A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century John Brewer describes the Earl as “the very personification of aristocratic libertinage”.
Montagu was not just the blameless target of attacks by name callers, either. As an incredibly rich aristocrat with no parental supervision, he entered into the life of a London “rake” at an early age and stayed there for a while. While he was perhaps no more or less depraved then some of his contemporaries, our dear Earl was the only one to have a book written about his most famous affair and get a food item named after himself.
Montagu, during his lifetime, was best known not for the sandwich-naming but for having a years-long public affair with Martha Ray with whom he had five, possibly nine, children. He also carried on an affair with his sister-in-law at the same time as his then wife was suffering a mental breakdown. He was one of the most famous people in London during his time there, a powerful member of government and one of the first tabloid celebrities.
But perhaps the most insane part of Montagu’s story is that we most likely would not know about this at all if he hadn’t decided it would be a good idea to read some porn out loud in the House of Lords.
The Earl had recently come to the attention of John Wilkes, England’s preeminent satirist. Wilkes had begun to publicly make fun of Montagu’s politics, as well as his social life, and Montagu did not like it. So, in a misguided attempt at revenge, he, along with some friends concocted a plan to steal Wilke’s newest “vulgar” work, and read it in front of the House of Lords. As the Earl himself said about Wilkes’ The Essay on Women, “it was so full of filthy langue as well as the most horrid blasphemies.”
And indeed it was. To quote a small passage of the work that Sandwich read. “Awake, my Fanny, leave all meaner things, / this morn shall prove what rapture swiving brings. / Let us (since life can little more supply / Than just a few good Fucks, and then we die) / Expatiate free o’er that lov’ scene of Man; / A mighty Maze! For mighty Pricks to scan.”
Needless to say, while the Earl won a few political points from this show, they were quickly lost. First, his display in the House of Lords was quickly deemed a breach of political procedural. Secondly, and more importantly, Wilkes responded with such a vengeance that after this event “Tales of Sandwich’s debauchery, miserliness and lack of good faith were endlessly repeated, inexorably corroding his reputation. . . . a biography published in the late 1760s [even] depicted Sandwich as an arsonist and thief.” The ironic part is that Wilkes and the Earl moved in the same circles and the book that Sandwich read in the House of Lords was most likely printed for a group that both Wilkes and Sandwich belonged too.
So, next time you’re eating a sandwich, just remember that it was named after a dude who got in trouble for saying “Prick” out loud.
 A Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the Eighteenth Century, John Brewer. 91
 Ibid., 104
 Ibid., 109
 Wilkes also said he had an “eternal dangler” and a “short little rapier.”