Skip to main content Accessibility help

“Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men”: How Port Became the “Englishman's Wine,” 1750s to 1800

  • Charles Ludington



Hide All

1 Wine cellar accounts of the royal household, 1761–66, The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO), Lord Steward's Papers (LS) 13/271; and wine cellar accounts of the royal household, 1767–70, TNA: PRO, LS 13/272.

2 An account of wines delivered to the Duke of Marlborough's homes, 1763–67, British Library (BL) Add. MSS 61672, fol. 130.

3 The origins of this term are unclear. It has been attributed to George Saintsbury; however, in his Notes on a Cellar-Book (1920; repr., London, 1963), Saintsbury implies that the term had long been in use. What Saintsbury does say is that “port is the Englishman's wine, for it strengthens while it gladdens as no other wine can do, and there is something about it which must have been created in pre-established harmony with the best English character” (45).

4 Veblen, Thorstein, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899; repr., New York, 2001).

5 The literature on this subject is extensive. However, for general discussions of the complexity of consumer trends, see Weatherill, Lorna, Consumer Behavior and Material Culture in Britain, 1660–1760 (New York, 1988); Lemire, Beverly, The Business of Everyday Life (Manchester, 2005).

6 For coffee, see Smith, S. D., “Accounting for Taste: British Coffee Consumption in Historical Perspective,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 27, no. 2 (Autumn 1996): 183214; Cowen, Brian, The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffee House (New Haven, CT, 2005). For tea and coffee, see Burnet, John, Liquid Pleasures: A Social History of Drinks in Modern Britain (London, 1999), chaps. 3 and 4. For tea, see Scott, James M., The Tea Story (London, 1964); Forrest, Denys, Tea for the British (London, 1973). For cocoa, see Othick, J., “The Cocoa and Chocolate Industry in the Nineteenth Century,” in The Making of the Modern British Diet, ed. Oddy, Derek and Miller, Derek (London, 1976), 7790. For tobacco, see Goodman, Jordan, Tobacco in History: The Cultures of Dependence (London, 1993), chap. 4.

7 Kuchta, David, The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity: England, 1550–1850 (Berkeley, 2002), and “The Making of the Self-Made Man: Class, Clothing, and English Masculinity, 1688–1832,” in The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Comparative Perspective, ed. De Grazia, Victoria and Furlough, Ellen (Berkeley, 1996), 5477.

8 Bourdieu, Pierre, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA, 1984).

9 The literature here is extensive, but see Bonnell, Victoria E. and Hunt, Lynn, eds., Beyond the Cultural Turn: New Directions in the Study of Society and Culture (Berkeley, 1999); Sewell, William H., Logics of History: Social Theory and Transformation (Chicago, 2005), 318–72.

10 Davenant, Charles, A report to the Honourable Commissioners for Putting in Execution the Act, Intitled, An Act for the taking, examining, and stating the publick accounts of the Kingdom, 2 vols. (London, 1712), 2:58.

11 See, for example, Slingsby Bethell, Esq., to Thomas Gordon, for wine delivered to the Old Bailey, 21 October 1751, BL Add. MSS 38854, fol. 147; petty ledger of James Pardoe, wine sales, 1741–46, Worcestershire Record Office, County Hall, Worcester, Bulk Accession, 9504/1, 899:832; Woodforde, James, The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758–1802, ed. Beresford, John, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1981), 1:12–13; Simon, André L., Bottlescrew Days: Wine Drinking in England during the Eighteenth Century (London, 1926), 7375.

12 See, for example: expense book of John Hervey, first Earl of Bristol, West Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmonds, 941/46/13/14; wine books for London and Cannons, James Brydges, first Duke of Chandos, 1689–1742, Huntington Library, Stowe vol. 60 (1–3); an exact account of the late Earl of Sunderland's cellars, 13 June 1722, BL Add. MSS 61664, fol. 13; vouchers, 1657–1745, Cambridge University Library, Cholmondeley (Ch) (Houghton [H]).

13 Simon, Bottlescrew Days, 73; expense book of John Hervey, West Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmonds, 941/46/13/14.

14 Vouchers, 1657–1745, Cambridge University Library, Ch (H). See also Plumb, J. H., Men and Places (London, 1953), 147–52.

15 Customs tariffs of the United Kingdom from 1800 to 1896, with some notes upon the history of the more important branches of receipt from the year 1660 (London, 1897); Parliamentary Report, BL, C.8706, 139.

16 Vouchers, 1657–1745, Cambridge University Library, Ch (H).

17 See, for example, de Saussure, César, A Foreign View of England in the Reign of George I and George II, ed. Van Muyden, Madame (London, 1902), 99100.

18 In Vino Veritas; Or, a conference betwixt Chip the Cooper, and Dash the Drawer, (Being both Boozy), Discovering some secrets of the wine-brewing trade. Useful for all sorts of people to save their money and preserve their health (London, 1698), 11.

19 [Daniel Defoe], A Brief Case of the Distillers, and of the distilling trade in England, shewing how far it is in the interest of England to encourage the said Trade, as it is so considerable an advantage to the landed interest, to the trade and navigation, to the publick revenue, and to the employment of the poor. Humbly recommended to the Lords and Commons of Great Britain, in the present Parliament assembled (London, 1726), 46.

20 Burnett, Liquid Pleasures, 160–78.

21 von Archenholz, Johann Wilhelm, A Picture of England, 2 vols. (London, 1789), 2:110–11.

22 Simon, Bottlescrew Days, 52.

23 Generally speaking, the higher the alcohol content, the more stable the wine. This is one reason for the longevity of fortified wines such as port and madeira. For an extensive discussion of port production in the early eighteenth century, see Charles Ludington, “Politics, Power and the Taste for Wine in England and Scotland, 1660–1860” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2003), 221–30.

24 The company archives of Taylor, Fladgate, and Yeatman, Vila Nova de Gaia (Portugal), reveal an astonishing array of port styles in the eighteenth century. Very often ports were blended for the specific demands of English merchants.

25 Schumpeter, Elizabeth Boody, English Overseas Trade Statistics, 1697–1808 (Oxford, 1967), table 16.

26 Johnson, Hugh, Vintage: The Story of Wine (New York, 1989), 304.

27 The Cellar-Book: or, the Butler's Assistant, in keeping a Regular Account of his Liquors (printed for J. Dodsley in Pall Mall, 1766). The copy of this rare book that I consulted is at the National Archives of Scotland, papers of the earls of Airlie, Gifts and Deposits 16/57/42.

28 Johnson, Vintage, 304.

29 Centlivre, Susannah, A Gotham Election, in The Works of the Celebrated Mrs. Centlivre, ed. Pearson, J., 3 vols. (London, 1872), 3:158.

30 Schumpeter, Trade Statistics, table 16.

31 Croft, John, A Treatise on the Wines of Portugal; and What can be Gathered on the Subject of the Wines, etc. Since the Establishment of the Factory at Oporto, Anno 1727: also, a Dissertation on the Nature and use of Wines in General, Imported into Great Britain, as Pertaining to Luxury and Diet (York, 1787), 7.

32 For a general discussion of the various methods used to rectify and adulterate wines in the medieval and early modern periods, see Phillips, Rod, A Short History of Wine (London, 2000), and “Wine and Adulteration,” History Today 50, no. 7 (July 2000): 31–37. Particularly good examples of English rectifying manuals are The art and mystery of vintner's and wine coopers: containing approved directions for the conserving and curing all manner and sorts of wines, whether Spanish, Greek, Italian or French, very necessary for all sorts of people (London, 1682>); and Walter Charlton, The Vintner's Mystery Display’d: or the whole art of the wine trade laid open (London, 1726–29).

33 See, for example, D. S., , Vinetum Angliae, or a new and easy way to make wine of English grapes and other fruit (London, 1672); Tryon, Thomas, The way to get wealth; or an easie way to make wine of gooseberries, equal to that of France (London, 1702).

34 Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 7. Croft may have been familiar with this recipe because such wines were still being made in Britain during his lifetime.

35 [Walpole?, Robert], A letter from a Member of Parliament to his Friend in the Country, concerning the Duties on Wine and Tobacco (London, 1733).

36 A Vindication of the Conduct of the Ministry, in the Scheme of the Excise on Wine and Tobacco, proposed last sessions of Parliament: with a General Examination of the Reasons which determined the said Ministry to it: the Consequences and Events it would have had (London, 1734), 11–12.

37 For a detailed discussion of why Walpole's 1733 excise bill failed, see Langford, Paul, The Excise Crisis (Oxford, 1975).

38 Schumpeter, Trade Statistics, table 16. For port export figures, see Joseph James Forrester, A short treatise on the unequal and disproportionate imposts levied on port-wine, shipped from Oporto to Great Britain (London, 1850), table B, 19–20.

39 Fisher, H. E. S., The Portugal Trade: A Study of Anglo-Portuguese Commerce, 1700–1770 (London, 1971), 78.

40 Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 7.

41 ibid., 11–16. Croft's work is the first history of port and the port trade to discuss the controversial Company.

42 Circular letter from the English factors at Oporto, called by them “New Instructions,” September 1754, reprinted in [A Portuguese], The Wine Question Considered; or, Observations on the Pamphlets of Mr. James Warre and Mr. Fleetwood Williams, respecting the General Company for the Agriculture of the Vineyards on the Upper Douro, Known in England under the name of the Royal Oporto Wine Company (London, 1824), app. 2.

44 ibid., 3.

46 ibid., 5.

47 “Response of the Douro wine brokers,” September 1754, reprinted in ibid., app. 6.

48 ibid., 8.

49 ibid., 11–12, 15.

50 Francis, A. D., The Wine Trade (London, 1972), 207–24; Bradford, Sarah, The Englishman's Wine: The Story of Port (London, 1969), 49–54; Simon, Bottlescrew Days, 121–43; Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 11–14.

51 Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 10–11.

52 Translation: the General Company for the Agriculture of the Vineyards of the Upper Douro.

53 Section X of the laws establishing the Company, quoted in Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 16.

54 For examples of English complaints, see Original Documents Respecting the Injurious Effects and the Impolicy of a Further Continuance of the Portuguese Royal Wine Company of Oporto (London, 1813); Warre, James, The Past, Present and Probably the Future State of the Wine Trade; proving that an increase of duty caused a decrease of revenue; and a decrease of duty, an increase of revenue. Founded on parliamentary and other documents. Most respectfully submitted to the right honourable the President and Members of the Board of Trade (London, 1823); Williams, Fleetwood, Observations on the State of the Wine Trade. Occasioned by the Perusal of a Pamphlet on the same subject, by Mr. Warre. Most respectfully submitted to his Majesty's Ministers (London, 1824); [A Portuguese], The Wine Question Considered. On the salubrious effects of Company interventions on wine quality, see Henri Enjalbert, “Comment naissent les grands crus: Bordeaux, Porto, Cognac,” Annales: Economies, Societés, Civilisations 8, no. 3 (1953): 466–69; Simon, Bottlescrew Days, 123, 142; Bradford, The Englishman's Wine, 53; Younger, William, Gods, Men and Wine (Cleveland, 1966), 382; Johnson, Vintage, 229. A. D. Francis demurs on this point, saying “there is no evidence that the Pombaline legislation had much effect on the quality of the wine sold in England one way or another” (Wine Trade, 214). Among historians of wine and wine writers, however, he stands alone in his assessment.

55 Forrester, A short treatise, table C, 21.

56 Schumpeter, Trade Statistics, table 16. One also notices an increase in the percentage of port within overall English imports of Portuguese wine. This was partially due to the decline in production of Lisbon wines after the 1755 earthquake destroyed the city and its surrounding countryside, a decline that was perpetuated by Portuguese laws that forbade the replanting of vines in areas around the capital where wheat could grow.

57 Francis, Wine Trade, 226.

58 Warner, Jessica, Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason (New York, 2002); Clark, Peter, “The Mother Gin Controversy in the Early Eighteenth Century,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser., no. 38 (1988): 6384; George, Dorothy, London Life in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1925).

59 Wilson, Kathleen, “Empire of Virtue: The Imperial Project and Hanoverian Culture, c. 1720–1785,” in An Imperial State at War: Britain from 1689 to 1815, ed. Lawrence Stone (London, 1994), 146.

60 ibid., 144; Harvey, Karen, “The History of Masculinity, c. 1650–1800,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 2 (April 2005): 296–311, 308.

61 Haywood, Eliza, “Effeminacy in the Army Censured,” in The Female Spectator: Being Selections from Mrs. Eliza Haywood's Periodical, First Published in Monthly Parts, 1744–1746, ed. Firmager, Gabrielle (London, 1993), 30.

62 Newman, Gerald, The Rise of English Nationalism (New York, 1987), 6884.

63 Wilson, “Empire of Virtue,” 145.

64 Wilson, Kathleen, The Sense of the People: Politics, Culture and Imperialism in England, 1715–1785 (Cambridge, 1995), 189.

65 Newcastle Journal, 11 September 1756; quoted in Wilson, Sense of the People, 189.

66 Newman, English Nationalism, 68–84; Carter, Philip, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, Britain 1660–1800> (Harlow, 2001), 124–38; Wilson, “Empire of Virtue,” 143–50, and Sense of the People, 185–205. See also Wilson, Kathleen, “The Good, the Bad, and the Impotent: Imperialism and the Politics of Identity in Georgian England,” in The Consumption of Culture, 1600–1800: Image, Object, Text, ed. Bermingham, Ann and Brewer, John (London, 1995), 237–62.

67 Brown, John, An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times, 2 vols. (London, 1757), 1:66–67; 2:176, 40.

68 The Imports of Great Britain from France: Humbly Address’d to the Laudable Associations of Anti-Gallicans, and the Generous Promoters of the British Arts and Manufactories (n.p., 1757).

69 Cohen, Michèle, “‘Manners’ Make the Man: Politeness, Chivalry, and the Construction of Masculinity,” Journal of British Studies 44, no. 2 (April 2005): 314–17, and see also Fashioning Masculinity: National Identity and Language in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1996), 99–101.

70 Boswell, James, The Life of Samuel Johnson, ed. Chapman, R. W. (Oxford, 1980), 1016.

71 Catalogs for auctions held on 28 March 1768, 18 May 1772, 2 April 1778, Christie's company archives, St. James, London.

72 Barry, Edward, Observations Historical, Critical, and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients. And an Anology between Them and Modern Wines. With General Observations on the Principles and Qualities of Water, and in Particular those of Bath (London, 1775), 439.

73 Frontignac (i.e., Muscat de Frontignan) is a sweet wine from southern France. Isabella Widdrington to Mrs. Mills, 8 July 1777, Northumberland Record Office, Melton Park, North Gosforth, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, D/X 101/3.

74 Tavern bills from Luke Reilly to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, March–June, 1777, BL Add. MSS 44401, fols. 30–32.

75 William Pitt's wine expenses, July 1784–June 1785, TNA: PRO 30/8/219, pt. 6, fol. 45.

76 Bill and receipt for wine order from Christie and Barrow to the Hon. Spencer Perceval, 3 September 1790, BL Add. MSS 49186, fols. 1–2.

77 East Sussex Record Office, Lewes, A 741, S. A. S., 1792–1804.

78 Common room accounts, Christ Church College, Oxford, MS C.R.2.

79 “Theatre” (Drury Lane), The Times, 19 February 1798, 1.

80 Flugel, John Carl, The Psychology of Clothes (London, 1930).

81 ibid.; Kuchta, The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity, and “The Making of the Self-Made Man,” 54–77.

82 Snodin, Michael, “Style in Georgian Britain, 1714–1837,” in Design and the Decorative Arts, Britain 1500–1900, ed. Snodin, Michael and Styles, John (London, 2001), 198203.

83 Simon, Bottlescrew Days, 52.

84 Fisher, Portugal Trade, 83. My own research in Vila Nova de Gaia shows that little had changed in the opening years of the nineteenth century. Most of the wine shipped to England was from the previous vintage, with older wines blended in. Letter book of Joseph Camo, 1808–12, Taylor, Fladgate, and Yeatman company archives, Vila Nova de Gaia, T/Z 1808–12/C5.P5.

85 Bradford, The Englishman's Wine, 54; Younger dates the emergence of the cylindrical bottle from “some time around 1760,” in Gods, Men and Wine, 352. For more detailed evidence, see Butler, Robin and Walkling, Gillian, The Book of Wine Antiques (Woodbridge, 1986); Davis, Derek C., English Bottles and Decanters, 1650–1900 (New York, 1972); and Robinson, Jancis, ed., The Oxford Companion to Wine, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1999), 9698.

86 Johnson, Vintage, 195, 196–98.

87 Catalog for auction held on 1 April 1773, Christie's company archives.

88 Barry, Observations Historical, Critical, and Medical, 439.

89 Grosley, Pierre-Jean, A Tour to London; or New Observations on England and its Inhabitants, trans. Thomas Nugent, 2 vols. (London, 1774), 1:81–82.

91 Byng, John, The Torrington Diaries: Containing the Tour Through England and Wales of the Hon. John Byng (later Viscount Torrington) between the Years 1781 and 1794, ed. Andrews, C. Bruyn, 4 vols. (New York, 1935), 2:49, 3:192.

92 For details on the amounts of aristocratic consumption, see Ludington, “Politics, Power and the Taste for Wine,” chap. 6.

93 Henderson, Alexander, The History of Ancient and Modern Wines (London, 1824), 12.

94 Croft, Treatise on the Wines of Portugal, 5.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed