“A most infamous, vile scoundrel.”

I’ve written about some pretty dreadful people in this blog before, but I think the subject of today’s entry might well beat all. You see, most of the notorious figures I’ve written about have had some redeeming feature – usually in terms of the comedy value of their actions, or because to some extent they acted the way we all secretly wish we could. Colonel Charteris, however, seems to have been utterly irredeemable.

Francis Charteris was born in Edinburgh in 1675, inheriting much of his wealth from his family. This he augmented with his considerable skill at gambling, both honest and dishonest, as well as lending money at ruinous interest, bribery, blackmail, fraud and shares in the South Sea Company (being one of the few investors not to lose his shirt in that most unwise venture). To give some idea of his methods, he once managed to con £5,000 out of Child’s Bank simply by informing them that he was going to withdraw that amount, sending down a servant to collect it, subsequently denying all knowledge and kicking up a stink over the bank’s security until the poor chap in charge was forced to “reimburse” him. He bought his way up through the army to the rank of Colonel before his dodgy dealings were uncovered and he was kicked out, then he was allowed to re-enlist for reasons that are not entirely clear. 

He is perhaps best known for seduction. “Seduction” here being a very loose term, as many of the 300 women he claimed to have seduced were not as willing as he might have pretended. He was a great enthusiast for the ladies, claiming a fondness for those with “B-tt-cks as hard as Cheshire Cheeses, that could make a dint in a wooden chair” and would go to any lengths to get them

For instance, while staying at an inn in Lancaster, he took a fancy to one of the servant girls, promising her a shiny guinea in exchange for her favours (cough). The girl was initially reluctant, but gave in. The following morning, Charteris indignantly spoke to the landlord, claiming to have given the girl a guinea to change into silver and not had the money back. A search revealed that the girl did indeed have Charteris’ guinea, which was returned to him and the girl dismissed. This story did not work in Charteris’ favour when he was later standing for election to MP for Lancaster.

He found himself in a similar pickle in Scotland after raping a married woman at gunpoint. For this, he was charged, but able to avoid arrest by virtue of running away. This meant he was unable to visit his extensive estates north of the border, to which you or I might sarcastically remark, “Boo hoo.” However, Charteris was able to get around this by… asking the King for a pardon in 1721. It really was that easy.

The classy thing to do under the circumstances would surely be to lie low. However, “classy” was not exactly an adjective one could apply to Charteris, and as Fog’s Weekly Journal put it,

We hear a certain Scotch Colonel is charged with a Rape, a misfortune he has been very liable to, but for which he has obtained a Nolle Prosequi. It is reported now that he brags that he will obtain a Patent for ravishing whomever he pleases.

Note that it’s clear from this that Charteris’ reputation for rape was already well-established. It may have been at around this time that he began referring to himself as “the Rape-Master General of England.”

This was not the first time his tendency to let his Old Chap Downstairs rule over him would get him into trouble, nor would it be the last. On several occasions he found himself having to fork out considerable sums of money to avoid prosecution. Most of these stories are far too depressing to recount, so I’ll instead recount the tale of the one who got away. It seems that there was a young lady looking for employment as a servant near Charteris’ Leicestershire residence, Hornby Lodge. Charteris took a fancy to her, hired her and at once set about having his way with her at gunpoint. The young lady pretended to acquiesce to his demands, and the horny bastard dropped trou and prepared himself for the act. So excited was he at the prospect of getting in there that he made the mistake of putting the gun down. The young lady seized the firearm and forced him to let her out unmolested. I hope she didn’t give him time to put his pants back on.

Less amusing was the case of Anne Bond. Such was Charteris’ reputation in 1729, when Bond was hired to work at his Hanover Square residence, that she wasn’t actually told who her employer was – it was claimed that he was a Mr Harvey. However, she soon figured out his true identity, not least because of his persistence in offering her money for sex. She requested to leave, whereupon Charteris had her up. A month later, he called for the “Lancashire bitch” and raped her. He then had her horsewhipped, stripped and robbed to silence her. Nevertheless, when she was allowed out, she told a friend and Charteris again found himself under arrest. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.

Charteris being Charteris, however, this was not the end of the story. By means of some £15,000 worth of bribery, a campaign was set up for his release. The most surprising voice among the pro-Charteris campaigners was Bond herself, almost certainly thanks to an £800 payment. Rumour at the time had it that she was planning to use the money to finance a pub called ‘The Colonel Charteris’ Head.’ In 1730, the ageing rake was released from Newgate.

Thereafter, Charteris fell ill and died in February 1732 in Edinburgh. One theory has it that this was the result of sickness contracted in prison. His funeral was not exactly one of pomp and ceremony, as an angry mob tried to seize the coffin and threw dead animals and offal into the grave.

Charteris was perhaps the most hated man of his era. The poor hated him for his crimes and ability to avoid punishment, and the rich hated him for being a crass upstart with no honour or conscience. The title of this entry was given to Charteris by Jonathan Swift. The playwright John Gay sarcastically wrote to Swift during the Bond trial, “Does not Charteris’ misfortune grieve you? For this great man is liable to save his life and lose some of his money. A very hard case!” William Hogarth portrayed him (right) in ‘The Harlot’s Progress,’ leering out of a doorway, having a covert wank. While he was far from the worst figure in history, it’s hard to think of one less personally likeable.

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2 Comments

Filed under 18th century, Crime, History, London, Notable Londoners

2 responses to ““A most infamous, vile scoundrel.”

  1. If you haven’t already read it may I recommend Wedlock by Wendy Moore, a thoroughly readable account of the traumas suffered by the Countess of Strathmore, a true tale of deception, money and sex in C18 England that Thackeray used as inspiration for “Barry Lyndon” (love the film, too).

  2. Whan an interesting read! I had never heard of Charteris before. There’s enough material there for a new BBC drama!

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