Sunday, 28 September 2008

Two earls and their legacies

It has long been recognised that if the 4th Earl of Sandwich and the 7th Earl of Cardigan had exchanged ideas then we would now be munching ham cardigans while wearing our woollen sandwiches.

Lord Cardigan had a full and colourful life, beginning with his expulsion from Harrow for fighting. He was involved in some marital scandals, dismissed from the army, prosecuted for murder but acquitted on a technicality, may or may not have behaved badly when in command of the Light Brigade, and died after falling off his horse. A collarless knitted jacket that buttons down the front was named after him but there is nothing interesting to say about cardigans.

Lord Sandwich was by contrast a bit of a dull stick, an incompetent and corrupt First Lord of the Admiralty whose wife went mad. However, a touch of colour in his life was provided by Martha Raye, a talented opera singer who gave him several children before being murdered in the foyer of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, by the Rector of Wiveton, a jealous suitor.

It is not even certain that the fourth earl actually thought of the idea of putting meat between two slices of bread to sustain him at the gaming table. His biographer suggests he was more likely to have eaten it at his desk; anyway, it was possible that he got the idea from his brother-in-law Jerome de Salis, but such a name would have made a clumsy eponym, so sandwiches they became.

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