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John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton – The epic story of an English eccentric

madjackYou know those outrageous stories of rich British aristocrats behaving in a very odd manner? Well John “Mad Jack” Mytton is the very pinnacle. What you are about to read will sound made up, but Mytton’s biographer, Charles James Apperley, assures us the modern reader that he told Mytton’s exploits without exaggeration.

In general mental heathcare was rudimentary in the 19th century, for the poor, it was either begging or being put into some horrific facility like Bedlam. These asylums were where a person would in essence be incarcerated to be kept out of the way of “decent people”. If however you were wealthy, wildly inappropriate behaviour was shrugged off as “quirks”. Mytton was the very pinnacle of this type of insane, I mean eccentric, aristocrat. The signs were there pretty early on. He went to the exclusive Westminster School, but was expelled after one year for fighting a master- that’s a teacher, on school grounds. He was then sent to the equally prestigious Harrow School, but lasted only 3 terms before expulsion. It was then decided it was safest to have him schooled by tutors, but he tormented them with practical jokes that included leaving a horse in one tutor’s bedroom.

He managed to get through his early years unscathed and then joined the army just after the Napoleonic Wars. This was a shame because we exactly the kind of impulsive fearless, headstrong young officer who would have happily led a cavalry charge into the teeth of the enemy. He never really worried about consequences, as you’ll see later.

In 1819 he wanted to stand for Parliament. He secured his seat by “encouraging” the constituents of Shrewsbury to vote for him by offering them £10 notes (thousands in modern money). Unsurprisingly he was elected and became MP. Unfortunately he found politics boring and attended parliament once, and even then he only lasted for 30 minutes.

Mytton was unlucky in love he married a baronet’s daughter in 1818, but she died in 1820 of natural causes. He did marry a second time to a Caroline Giffard, who was clearly a patient woman but even she grew tired of Mytton’s antics and ran away in 1830.

Out of the army and out of political game, he now had money and time on his hands. This was not a good idea and his annual income from his estates would have been around £750,000 a year in modern money. That gave him scope to do pretty much whatever he wanted, and while he was never a malicious man, John with spare time on his hands invariably led to something scandalous. For example, in 1826, for a bet, he rode his horse into the Bedford Hotel, opposite the Town Hall in Leamington Spa. He then took it up the grand staircase and onto the balcony. So far so bizarre, but it gets worse, he then jumped, still seated on his horse, over the diners in the restaurant, and out through the window onto the Parade. Nobody (including the horse) was hurt.

Clearly he loved hunting as when he got hot, he stripped naked and carried on, he was even seen naked in the snow, gun in hand. He also had numerous pets in his manor which was Halston Hall in Shropshire. The pets included some 2,000 dogs, his favourites were fed on steak and champagne. Some dogs wore livery, others were costumed. He also enjoyed dog fights and bred dogs for this, he was even seen having fights with bulldogs and mastiffs and even bit them to train them up. Of course this is animal cruelty, but the fact he was willing to get into the thick of it with his own animals somehow makes it not as bad. A favourite horse Baronet had full and free range inside Halston Hall, and would lie in front of the fire with Jack.

He would drive his gig at high speed at an obstacle like a rabbit hole only to see if the carriage would turn over. It did. Once he tested if a horse pulling a carriage could jump over a tollgate. It could not. He managed to survive these incidents without serious injuries.

Once he picked a fight with a tough Shropshire miner who disturbed his hunt and the bare knuckle fight lasted 20 rounds before the miner gave up exhausted. Another time he decided to make an impression and arrived at a dinner party at Halston Hall riding a bear, it was all going well until he jammed his stirrups into the bear as he tried to make it go faster. The bear understandably didn’t like this and bit him in his calf.

Another time he decided the best way to get rid of hiccups was to set fire to his shirt, unbelievably, it worked- DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

With all this insanity it is unsurprising that he was never very good with money and spent all of his inheritance, he ended up in debt and escaped to Calais (with a new woman in tow) in 1831. Eventually he returned to England and was put in a debtors prison. He died in the prison in 1834.

A lot of this may have to do with the fact that Mytton was a prodigious drinker. He could drink eight bottles of port a day (and topped that up with brandy). He even killed one of his horses, Sportsman, by making it drink a bottle of port.

He so should have been in Pride and Prejudice…


About Jem Duducu

Jem Duducu is an historian and the founder of the hugely popular @HistoryGems . He is soon to publish his next history book.

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