Georgian Whist Players Who Loved the Card Game

In the Georgian era when supper parties were all the rage and numerous Georgian whist players choice the card game for after dinner entertainment. It was a social activity that involved cards and though tactical and strategic, had simple rules, and everyone played it, including royalty. Whist, sometimes referred to as rubber (which meant winning three games), was loved by many Georgians and that resulted in the famous Victorian philosopher, historian, and satirical writer, Thomas Carlyle, reminiscing about their love for the game. He remarked that for them “there could not be a more rational way of passing the evening.”[1]

Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray c. 1795, Georgian Whist

“Two-Penny Whist” by James Gillray c. 1795. Courtesy Lewis Walpole Library.

Among the Georgian whist players who would pass their evenings playing the game was Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll. He was a Scottish nobleman and known for throwing particularly pleasant whist parties both in London and at Inverary Castle in western Scotland. When at Inverary, he served dinner at precisely at two o’clock, and after his bottle of claret and a short nap, “he played ‘two rubbers at sixpenny whist, and in a the true spirit of gallantry, always insisted upon some of the ladies sitting down at the table.”[2] At seven o’clock everyone reassembled and after coffee and tea, more games of six-penny whist were played with everyone parting about eleven o’clock.

Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Whist was also played by female rivals, which lead to some interesting games. One such game involved two of King George II’s mistresses — Lady Yarmouth (Amalie von Wallmoden) who had replaced his other mistress, Lady Suffolk. At the time Horace Walpole, the English art historian, man of letters, and Whig politician, was watching and interjected himself into a game. This occurred despite the fact “he affected to despise the game, and called it and the novels of Richardson ‘the two dullest things we have.'”[3] As the two women were playing, there came a point where Lady Suffolk was nearly “ready to sink.” Walpole seeing the inevitable and wanting to spare her feelings took her cards from her and kindly remarked, “I know your ladyship hates whist, and I will play instead of you.”[4]

Horace Walpole, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Horace Walpole. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There were also Georgian whist players who were politicians, such as the handsome Whig parliamentarian Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Lord Granville. “Like most of those surrounding him, he was a victim to the love of play, and lost very large sums at whist and picquet, for though he was reputed the best whist-player of the day, he was never a fortunate one,” [5] reportedly losing large sums regularly. One loss occurred after he arranged to leave London for Paris. His carriage arrived at four in the afternoon but as he was playing whist, he could not break himself away and kept it waiting until ten o’clock. At ten o’clock, he gave orders his departure would be delayed one or two more hours longer. When the whist “party reluctantly broke up he was nearly £10,000 poorer than when he began.”[6] However, his £10,000 loss seemed small when you realize he was better known for being one of four nobleman who lost £100,000 in a single evening at the London’s gentleman’s club called Crockford’s.

Whist players: Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Lord Granville, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Lord Granville. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although Granville might have been addicted to whist, there were others just as addicted. For instance, one fashionable woman, Lady Elizabeth (Betty) Hamilton, the daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamilton, had such a weakness for the game, it was reported she “played at whist ‘from one at noon till one in the morning, without ever rising but for a few minutes to answer the calls of hunger.'”[6] Of the English King George II, it was said he “disliked poets and painters, ‘but at whist he never tired.'”[7]

Whist players: Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Lady Elizabeth Hamilton. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Englishmen were not the only people interested in the game as there were many whist players outside of the UK. The Prime Minister of France, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, whose career spanned the regimes of Louis XVI, the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XVIII, and Louis-Philippe I, was also known to be a faithful whist player. Before he worked on his memoirs each night, it was reported that he played whist until midnight, which caused the French historian Amédée Pichot to note, he “spent more hours of his life in playing at whist than he … passed in diplomacy.”[8]

Whist players - Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Several U.S. Presidents were whist players. For instance, George Washington won money at it and James Madison, when he was colonel, liked to play for half-bits until bedtime. John Adams also enjoyed the game and in fact his wife, Abigail Adams, wrote to her granddaughter, Caroline A. Smith, on 19 November 1812 and stated:

“At five, went to Mr. T.G.—’s, with your grandfather; the third visit he has made with us in the week; and let me whisper to you he played at whist with Mr. J.G.—, who was a ready and accurate as though he had both eyes to see with.”[9]

Whist players - John Adams

John Adams’ wife, Abigail Adams. Courtesy of Wikipedia.


  • [1] Courtney, William Prideaux, English Whist and English Whist Players, 1894, p. 114.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 117.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 118.
  • [5] “Lord Granville Leveson Gower (first earl Granville): private correspondence, 1781 to 1821,” p. xvii.
  • [5] Courtney, William Prideaux, p. 191.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 237.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 81-82.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 246.
  • [9] Adams, Abigail and John Adams, Letters of Mrs. Adams: the wife of John Adams, Volume 2, 1841, p. 274.

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