Charles Fox was a prominent, and fiercely radical, Whig politician of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was, in fact, the first British Foreign Secretary but, while he was a famous champion of civil liberty, he was an equally infamous drunkard, gambling addict and libertine. Indeed, Fox was said to have debts ‘like Caesar’s’ but, thanks in large part to his irresitable charisma, his political ambitions were hindered more by his hostility towards King George III than his financial situation.
By 1772, while still in his early twenties, Fox had already accrued £20,000 in gambling debts, which he asked his father, Henry Fox, First Baron Holland, to pay off. Baron Holland died in July, 1774, but the previous November had agreed, once again, to pay off debts ‘not exceeding the sum of one hundred thousand pounds’ on behalf of his son. Simultanenously, Frederick Howard, Fifth Earl of Carlisle, stood Charles Fox security for an additional sum, somewhere between £14,000 and £16,000, including interest payments of up to £2,000 a year.
By 1775, Carlisle was no longer able to service the debt, which was the equivalent of approximately one-sixth of his personal annual income at the time, and was forced to mortgage his home in St. James’s Place, London, and retire to Yorkshire. That November, James Harris, First Earl of Malmesbury, wrote that Charles Fox, who was a personal friend, ‘was not worth a farthing’ and, a year later, ‘had spent £175,000’. Fox continued his lifestyle, unrestrained and unrepetant; he was declared bankrupt between 1781 and 1784. It was not until late in his life, after his friends and family freed him from debt and provided him with a comfortable income, that he finally abandoned gambling.