A New York Times article
from 2015 suggested that large-scale social gatherings have been rendered a comparative thing of the past thanks to technology and social media. Identifying some of history’s biggest merrymakers certainly suggests this to be true. Though it might be hard to find anything other than the iPhone 6 which so singularly represents luxury to members of the living generations, these very famous personages might tempt us to do it like they do it on the history channel.
1.) John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (British satirist 1647-1680)
As the 2004 British film The Libertine demonstrates, Rochester (aptly portrayed therein by Johnny Depp) was as well known for his profligacy as his poetry. His informal gang of revelers were known as the Merry Gang for their raucous behavior in the Restoration-era court. When he was banished from court, he found a new avocation (of questionable methods) in treating the barrenness of infertile couples, using the moniker, “Doctor Bendo.” According to a contemporary account (the Diary of Samuel Pepys), Rochester, equipped with retainers, tried to abduct an English heiress by ambushing her stagecoach. Amid a steady stream of other mistresses, he ultimately succeeded in marrying her two years later. Ever forthcoming of his dalliances, he requests in his poem, “Against Constancy,”: “bring my bath, and strew my bed/ As each kind night returns;/I’ll change a mistress till I’m dead—/And fate change me to worms.”
2.) Mobutu Sese Seko, African dictator (1930-1997)
Sese Seko became dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo by staging a coup amid the post-independence political conflict between the country’s president and its Parliament. Thereafter, he reportedly spent £100m building a stately pleasure-dome that probably would have been the envy of Kublai Khan, equipped with gold fences, swimming pools, and even an international airport for the Concorde—the famous supersonic jet that he occasionally chartered for personal shopping trips to Paris. Not the least entertaining coincidence of history is that Sese Seko’s wife was named Marie Antoinette.
3.) Gottfried von Bismark (1962-2007)
Great-great-grandson of first German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, this Oxford-educated rake left a sobering mark on his alma mater when a woman was found dead from a heroin overdose in his room at a party hosted by Bismarck, at which he served his guests severed pigs’ heads. Customarily clad in fishnet stockings and lipstick, Bismarck was among the more flamboyant (and androgynous) members of Oxford’s exclusive Bullingdon Club—an unofficial dining club comprising all males.
4.) Alcibiades (450-404 B.C.E.)
This Athenian statesman, famous in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War for his urging of the ill-fated Sicilian Expedition, arguably caused nothing less than the downfall of the Athenian empire. If we trust another ancient historian, Alcibiades can perhaps be exonerated from these charges of malfeasance owing to his remarkable good looks, which, according to Plutarch, “flowered out with each successive season of his bodily growth, and made him, alike in boyhood, youth and manhood, lovely and pleasant.” As befits such good-looks, Plutarch elsewhere explains how Alcibiades kept unconventionally long hair and walked through the marketplace drunk, wearing long purple robes—well tressed and well-dressed to an extent that outdid the Persians in pomp and ceremony.
5.) Georgiana Cavendish (1757-1806)
First “Lady, Georgiana Spencer,” then “Her Grace, The Duchess of Devonshire,” this royal debutante became the subject of a biography that led to her famous portrayal by Kiera Knightley as The Duchess, in the 2004 British film. Being portrayed in mainstream cinema is not the only thing that Georgiana shares with John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester; she was also a published writer (of The Sylph, a quasi-autobiographical epistolary movel). Also like Rochester, she was as famous for her penchant for extravagance. Clad in muslin dresses and ostrich feathers, she allegedly amassed today’s equivalent of £3,720,000 in debts owing to her habit of drinking and gambling in the company of the so-called “Devonshire Circle.” She was also intimate with his husband’s openly chosen mistress, Bess.
6.) Pablo Escobar (1949-1993)
This leader of the lucrative Medellin drug cartel, after negotiations with the Colombian government, was allowed to design his own prison, a privilege that few convicts enjoy, but one which he certainly exploited. “La Catedral,” as it is popularly known, was outfitted with a jacuzzi, discotheque, bar, and telescope, specially installed on the roof to afford a view of his family’s home on the outside. While not “behind bars” as it were, he enjoyed private gardens and swimming pools at his mansion on the Rosario Islands. Nevertheless it was the more lavish still Hacienda Nápoles that Escobar called home at the acme of his business career (at which point his net worth is estimated at $30 billion). He entertained himself there with 7.7 square miles of exotic fauna, which included giraffes, rhinos, and (the since escaped) hippos.
7.)Bhupinder Singh, Maharaja of Patiala (1891-1938)
Ruler of India since age 9, Singh owned (and in fact gave the name to) the $3.16 million necklace manufactured specifically for him by Cartier in 1928. In his spare time, he famously enjoyed playing cricket competitively in England. Four princesses ranked among his ten wives, and he was the first man in India to own aircraft. Whether or not he in fact fathered all of 80 children that some sources suggest, given his proclivity for surrounding himself with a collection of Rolls-Royce cars and a retinue of 40 servants clad in pink turbans, he probably didn’t find himself with too much inactivity as a family man.
Whether they inherited their fame like Rochester or were of the rags-to-riches variety like Escobar, these famous personages of history certainly knew how to entertain themselves in between times, and we can only imagine how they would have availed themselves of Facebook and Tinder.