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The Beggar’s Benison:
Sex Clubs and their Rituals in Enlightenment Scotland

David Stevenson

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Subject: Scottish History
Royal Octavo
Illus: b/w plate section
Hardback £18.99
ISBN: 1 86232 134 5

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Two clubs, dedicated to proclaiming the joys of libertine sex, thrived in mid and late eighteenth-century Scotland. The Beggar’s Benison (1732), starting from local roots in Fife, became large and sprawling, with branches in Edinburgh, Glasgow – and St Petersburg. As a toast ‘The Beggar’s Benison’ was drunk at aristocratic dinners in London as a coded reference to sex, and the Prince of Wales (later George IV) became a member.

In Edinburgh, also, the Wig Club (1775) gave the elite of the Scottish Tory establishment a forum in which to dine, gamble, and venerate a wig supposedly made of the pubic hairs of the mistresses of Charles II.

Both clubs flourished in a great age of raucous clubs in which bawdy often played a prominent part, and both died as changes in sensibility made such behaviour seem gross and unacceptable. As the Victorian age approached, the clubs withered away under its disapproving glare.

In The Beggar’s Benison David Stevenson tells the story of these clubs, analyses the obscene relics of their rituals which survive, and places the clubs in their social, cultural and political contexts. It is an extensively researched study, but at the same time recognises the entertainment value of the many anecdotes concerning the clubs, the absurdities inherent in the antics of club rituals, and the appeal of the bawdy.

Author: David Stevenson is Professor Emeritus of Scottish History at the University of St Andrews.