BEGGARS BENISON CLUB AND GEORGE IV
Lot 402
BEGGARS BENISON CLUB AND GEORGE IV
Sold for £2,040 (US$ 3,274) inc. premium

Lot Details
BEGGARS BENISON CLUB AND GEORGE IV
THE ORIGINAL 'DIPLOMA [OF THE] BEGGARS BENISON IN HONOUR OF HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE PRINCE OF WALES', written in a handsome copperplate calligraphic hand and signed as witness by the Recorder, P. Plenderleath, on vellum, c.10 x 16 inches, some light spotting and browning on the recto [mostly at the edges and subject to professional treatment could almost certainly be largely removed], more heavily browned on the verso, contemporary calligraphic endorsement, original red silk seal tie, original metal skippet containing a fine impression of the Club seal - an erect penis bearing a suspended leather bag set across the vertical member of an anchor - small cracks and one chip, 2 August 5783 [the Club dated its artefacts from the beginning of the word i.e. 4,000 BC] i.e. 1783

Footnotes

  • The Diploma, which in general is thought to be a double entendre travesty of a Ship's Licence, was presented to the Prince Regent just ten days before attaining his twenty-first birthday, and reads:

    'By the supereminently Beneficient and superlatively Benevolent Sir James Lumsdaine of Innergellie Sovereign of the most Ancient and most Puisant Order of the Beggars Benison and Merryland, in the Twelfth Year of His Guardianship [gap for insertion] and in that of the Order 5783

    Having nothing more sincerely at Heart than the Happiness and prosperity of our Well beloved Subjects the Inhabitants of our celebrated Territories of Merryland and the encouraging of Trade, Manufactures and Agriculture in that delightful Colony and Whereas We are fully satisfied that His Royal Highness George Prince of Wales has all manner of Inclination as well as sufficient Abilities and other necessary Qualifications for promoting these Noble and Laudable purposes and Willing that such bold Adventures should have all suitable Encouragement We Do hereby create, admit and receive His Royal Highness a Knight Companion of the most Ancient and most puisant Order of the Beggars Bennison and Merryland, with our full powers and priviledges of Ingress, Egress, and Regress from and to, and to and from all the Harbours, Creeks, Havens and Commodious Inlets upon the Coasts of Our said extensive Territories at His Royal Highness's pleasure and that without payment of Toll Customes or any other Taxes or Impositions whatever

    Done at the Beggars Bennison Chambers of Anstruther upon this Second day of the Month known to the Vulgar by the Name of August. Witness I the Recorder P. Plenderleath Recorder'

    This Diploma, lost to historians beyond a mention of its existence in 1922, admitting George Prince of Wales to the Order, must rank as one of the most significant surviving relics of the Order, as he ranked as its most splendid Knight. It is mentioned in a corrected page-proof copy of Records of the Most Ancient and Puissant Order of the Beggar's Benison [sold with the Diploma] which has an internal date of 1877 [i.e. it cannot predate 1877]: 'The Diploma of His Majesty, King George the IVth is still in existence, and is in the possession of a well-known antiquarian. By 1911, when the Diploma was exhibited in the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art and Industry in Glasgow [related letter present] the Diploma was in the possession of a Dr Purves. It is known that most of the records and arcana of the Club 'were stolen, pilfered, or burnt. Several Ms. books were pilfered and destroyed by the various Officials from time to time, viz. Minutes, Songs, Toasts, Bon Mots, Pictures, and one renowned Wig worn by the Sovereign composed of the Privy-hairs of Royal courtesans.' In 1822 George IV presented the then sovereign of the Order, the ninth Earl of Kellie, with a sample of pubic hair from one of his mistresses.

    Nominally 'a society for the collection of "good" songs, stories, jokes, and facetiae of all kinds, the Club supplied a want, evidently felt, of an outlet for the most exuberant and outrageous fun, and jocularity of the roughest description.' The resuscitation in the eighteenth century of the brotherhood as an Order of Knighthood and good-fellowship is attributed to Sir John Macnaughton, Collector of Customs at Anstruther. It has been said that almost every nobleman in Scotland had at one time been balloted to be a member and many were amused to be enrolled in the Order of 'the jolly beggars'. There was an annual meeting and dinner at Anstruther where all members had to dine in their green silk sashes and wear their 'gold' medals, the badge of the Order, which cost five guineas at the time. As the popularity of the Club increased, the headquarters was transferred to Edinburgh. In his recent thesis on 'Literary Clubs and Societies', Mr McElroy stated (with nineteenth-century reserve): 'The two examples of the Club's publications which I have seen were of such a downright pornographic nature as to make my soul shrink, and though I have never considered myself as being oversensitive in such matters, my opinion on that score is now under revision.' David Hume referred to the members as 'Belzebubians'. The Club was 're-discovered' by the Sunday Telegraph on 29 August 1999, with emphasis on the ceremony of penile measurement.

    David Stevenson, Beggar's Benison, 2001; McElroy, 'Literary Clubs and Societies'; The Scotsman, 13 September 1883; Grant, Old and New Edinburgh; Alexander Ferguson, The Dawn of Scottish Welfare and Life of Henry Erskine, 1882; Scots Magazine, November 1748.
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