History’s Nutcases: John Mytton
Last time on History’s Nutcases, we covered boy-emperor of Rome, Elagabalus, whose hot temper, sexual preferences, and ridiculous spending habits alienated his own personal guard to the point of assassination. This week, we have another mad monarch for you, a man by the name of John Mytton, a famous English eccentric who had a habit of drinking too much port and riding bears in his living room.
Called “Mad Jack” by contemporaries, John Mytton was born into a 500-year-old family of Shropshire squires. His father died at the early age of thirty, leaving Jack to inherit the family seat, Halston Hall, Whittington, at just two years old. The toddler promptly became lord of his own manor and had an inherited income all to himself of over $925,000 in today’s money.
The young Lord Mytton was sent to Westminster School and promptly expelled one year later for fighting a schoolmaster. After that, they tried Harrow School, who expelled him three times for different reasons. So, after that, he was taught by a series of private tutors. These, he played numerous practical jokes on, including, one day, leaving a horse in one tutor’s bedroom.
After so many schools and so many tutors, Jack achieved nothing. Despite that, because of his nobility, he was accepted into Cambridge. Anticipating a dull existence at school, he made sure to bring 2,000 bottles of port to keep himself sustained while studying, and eventually, when university life did prove to be too boring for him, he dropped out and traveled the world.
Military Life and Eccentricities
Well, if he wasn’t in to academia, perhaps he’d be able to be in the military. Mytton was recruited as a captain in a local yeomanry regiment when he was just sixteen, in the year of 1812. He was later transferred to the regular army and spent some time occupying France after the defeat of Napoleon. It turned out that he found military life just as boring as school, and wiled away his hours gambling and drinking before finally deciding he couldn’t take it anymore, quitting, and going home.
When he went home, he squired in preparation for inheriting his estates, and thought– goodness, if he wasn’t any good at academics, and if the army was boring too, maybe he ought to go into politics as per family tradition! Well, he bought all of his votes and ended up being elected MP for Shrewsbury. It turned out that he found Parliament just as boring as everything else, worked himself into debt, and then went into exile to escape all of the people asking him for money.
Since Jack was, apparently, allergic to boredom, he found several ways to keep himself occupied. He enjoyed horseracing and gambling. One time, his horse even won the gold cup at Lichfield in 1825. One story goes that, in 1826, in order to win a bet, John rode a horse right into the Bedford Hotel and up its grand staircase and onto the balcony overlooking the dining hall, and jumped the horse over the railing, over the diners, and out through the window!
Beyond horses and horseracing, Jack Mytton had a great love of hunting foxes. He spent his winters hunting, interchangeably, with his some 2,000 dogs. When the chase got particularly exciting, he’d strip of his clothes and continue naked, no matter how cold it was. Every once in a while, when regular hunting got boring, he made his stable boys strap on ice skates and go on wild goose chases for rats.
If you thought your closet was getting too big, don’t worry. It can’t be as big as John Mytton’s was. He indulged himself with over 3,000 shirts, 1,000 hats, 700 hunting boots, and 150 hunting breeches.
The Bear Incident and Other Stories of Note
Our eccentric English lord was known to be a bit of a thrill-seeker, and it was said of him that “not only did he not mind accidents, he positively liked them”. We couldn’t talk about Jack Mytton without talking about some of the famous stories of his thrill-seeking adventures and strange habits.
One time, the young man wondered if it was possible to jump a carriage over a tollgate (it wasn’t), and another time he asked a passenger if he’d ever been tipped over in a carriage (he hadn’t). Upon hearing this, Mytton exclaimed: “What? What a damn slow fellow you must have been all your life!” To the passenger’s dismay, he spurred the horses on, drove the carriage up a bank at breakneck speed, and purposely crashed them both.
On another occasion, Mytton once decided it would be a brilliant idea to ride a trained bear into his own drawing-room, dressed in all of his hunting gear. The bear actually behaved for a while, but then Jack got the bright idea of nicking it with a spur. He was promptly bitten in the leg, the bear attacked a servant, and had to be put down.
It was said by his biographer that he drank eight bottles of port every day, with brandy on the side in case that wasn’t enough alcohol for him, and he never ate a full meal. Instead, he either snacked on filberts all day or ate bacon with his farmers. Once, his love of alcohol went too far. He actually forced his horse to drink a bottle of port. This, of course, resulted in the animal’s death. Not to worry, though, he had hundreds of horses to spare!
Decline and Death
John Mytton was originally married to a baronet’s daughter in 1818, but she died two years later. Unsurprisingly, his second wife ran away from him in 1830. This didn’t prove to be much of a problem for him. He met a pretty young woman and decided he would pay her over $500 a year to be his companion.
The English nobleman, despite his staff’s best efforts, could not curb his debt. His agent even calculated that if he could reduce his spending to $6,000 a year, he could keep his estate and be fine, but Mytton had no interest in that. In 1831, he ran away to France. His companion went with him.
While there, he began to get quite sick. In 1833, he returned back to England, and, since he still had mountains of debt he couldn’t pay, he was immediately interred in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark. He died there in 1834, still in debt, suffering from liver disease, proving that too much of anything, including dare-devilry and alcohol, results in a bad time for just about everyone.