By Cheryl Devaney
John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton was born on 30 September, 1796, at Halston Hall, Whittington, Shropshire. His family had been Shropshire squires for over five hundred years, and when his father died at the age of thirty, John, aged two, inherited the estate. It was worth well over five million pounds in today’s money and he had a huge annual income from rental and agricultural assets.
Sent to London’s prestigious Westminster School, he was expelled for fighting with one of the masters. Harrow also threw him out after he put a horse in his tutor’s bedroom. He was awarded no degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, despite taking two thousand bottles of port into his rooms in order to sustain himself during his studies.
Mytton entered the military as a cornet in the 7th Hussars, which was the lowest grade of commissioned officer in the British cavalry. He spent a year with the regiment in France as part of the army of occupation after the defeat of Napoleon. While there, he spent most of his time gambling and drinking. On his return to England, Mytton joined the North Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry, becoming its Major in 1822. He tried to purchase a higher rank but failed.
Returning to his country seat, Mytton prepared for his duties as squire so that he would be ready to receive his full inheritance at the age of twenty-one. He got married in 1818 at the age of twenty-two but his wife, a baronet’s daughter, died two years later. His second marriage to Caroline Mallet Giffard was in 1821. Caroline ran away in 1830. Between the two wives he had six children but only four managed to outlive him.
Mytton stood for parliament as a Tory in 1819, having offered voters ten pounds each if they voted for him. He became MP for Shrewsbury but only spent thirty minutes in the House of Commons, after which time he found the debates boring and left.
Meanwhile, he indulged in his passion for gambling, drinking and owning animals. He kept over two thousand dogs, feeding his favourites steak and champagne. From the age of ten he had hunted foxes with his own pack of hounds in all kinds of weather. Despite owning 150 pairs of hunting breeches, 700 hunting boots and 1000 hats, during winter he wore light jackets, linen trousers and silk stockings. As the thrill of the chase rose, he would strip off, hunting naked through snowdrifts.
Mytton had some success with gambling. He bought a horse named Euphrates, which won the Gold Cup at Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1825.
His favourite horse, Baronet, would lie with him in front of the fire at Halston Hall. To win a wager, he rode a horse, ‘Mad Tom’, into the Bedford Hotel in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He took it up the grand staircase and into the first floor dining room where he jumped over the assembled diners, went through an open window and landed in the street below. He also drove a horse and trap at high speed to see if it could jump over a tollgate. Inevitably, the horse was unable to complete the task!
Later, Mytton terrified a gathering of neighbours by riding a trained bear into his drawing room. He was wearing full hunting costume and everything went well until he stuck his spurs into its flank. The irate bear bit Mytton’s leg and then attacked one of his servants. As a result the bear had to be put down.
Mytton’s stunts were probably fuelled by his consumption of alcohol. He would drink eight bottles of port a day together with a fair amount of brandy. All of his exploits, which resembled a series of suicide attempts, were well documented by Charles James Apperley, who used the pseudonym Nimrod; his book ‘Memoirs of the Life of the Late John Mytton’ was published in 1837.
Over the course of fifteen years, Mytton managed to spend his vast inheritance and fell into debt. To avoid his creditors, he fled to Calais. Whilst there, he tried to cure a sudden fit of hiccups by frightening it away. Setting fire to the tail of his cotton nightshirt, he was soon enveloped in flames, which his servant managed to extinguish. Mytton was delighted that the hiccups had gone and retired naked to bed.
In 1833, Mytton returned to England. Unable to pay his debts, he ended up incarcerated in the King’s Bench Prison, Southwark, London, where he died from liver disease a year later at the age of thirty-seven. No doubt, ‘too much wretchedness and too much brandy’ wore him out.