The Earl of Sandwich wasn’t the real genius behind the name of your favorite lunch
John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, is usually given credit for inventing the meat and bread combination that bears his name. But was this eighteenth-century English nobleman really the brains behind this modern dish?
Of course, many people ate proto-sandwiches for millennia before this, but contemporary accounts attribute the sandwich to the Earl’s gambling issues. In the 1760s, Frenchman Pierre-Jean Grosley visited London and described his culinary findings thus:
A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play, that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a piece of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.
Lord Sandwich. Image via Johann Zoffany/Dcoetzee/National Portrait Gallery.
That 24/7 gambler who needed food he could stuff in his mouth in between hands was, of course, the Earl of Sandwich. But it was Edward Gibbon, one of the most famous ancient historians of all time, who actually coined the term (although Sandy’s personal chef probably actually made the sandwich). It was in his journal that Gibbon, a prolific author, mentioned the word “sandwich” for the first time; he jotted down that he’d eaten the dish at a gentleman’s club (not the kind you’d visit today) in November 1762. Only ten years later, sandwich recipes appeared in English cookbooks, and the rest, they say, is tasty.
Sandwich passion aside, who was Edward Gibbon? He was a British historian best known for the clumsily named The History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. The multi-volume work is still one of the most seminal works on the subject ever written and a pretty epic (if majorly flawed) examination of Rome’s imperialist system. More than two hundreds years after it was written, historians today still regard this as one of the most comprehensive studies of ancient Rome from the fifth century to the end of the Byzantine Empire…ever.
Oh, and Christians probably weren’t (and still aren’t) a fan of Gibbon. He wasn’t big into organized religion, going on and on about how it helped undermine the Roman Empire (which, as you can probably tell by the title of his magnum opus, was already headed downwards). But one can imagine a scholar today enjoying a sandwich while perusing Gibbon’s grandiose phrases and highfalutin, yet engaging, prose.