The Georgian Mile High Club, or Love in a Balloon

Who started the Mile High Club? Maybe you think that this is a twentieth century idea. Until recently, so did I. Aeroplanes were invented in the early twentieth century and quite soon after they were invented somebody came up with the idea of the Mile High Club. Sex in the stratosphere sounded like an original idea for adventurous people and so much more exciting than just a hotel bedroom. Of course that was before seat belts were made compulsory.

But it seems the Mile High Club was invented in Georgian times by the Earl of Cholmondeley (pronounced Chum-ley) one of the most notorious rakes and libertines of Elizabeth Craven's time. She undoubtedly knew him - she mentioned him in her Memoirs - and he mixed in the circles of the supreme rake, Georgie-Porgie the Prince of Wales.

Good-looking, clever and immensely wealthy, the young Lord Cholmondeley was notorious for womanizing and at one time was the lover of one of the most remarkable - and talked-about -  women of the era, Grace Dalrymple Eliot, courtesan, secret agent and author of Memoirs of her own. She figured largely in the gossip columns of the 1780s along with Mary Robinson, mistress of the Prince of Wales.

Grace Dalrymple Eliot by Gainsborough.

In the 1780s, the invention of the hot-air balloon was the latest craze, and pioneers such as the English James Sadler and the French Montgolfier brothers were causing a sensation with their public demonstrations of the amazing flying machine. In her Memoirs, Elizabeth Craven describes watching a hot-air balloon flight by the French pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. She was very eager to meet the daring aeronaut and women found the new heroes rather glamorous, a fact that satirists seized on.

The idea that balloon flights were sexy is reflected in many contemporary cartoons, some of them extremely ribald.

In this cartoon from The Rambler's Magazine 1784, the aeronaut is saying to his lady passenger, "Madam, it rises majestically," and she is replying, "I feel it does, Signor!"

The same periodical reports earlier in the year, "Last week at Brookes Club, Lord Ch------y offered to bet five thousand guineas that he would ascend with Mrs E---t in an Air Balloon, to the height of six thousand feet, and perform in the aerial regions, the usual Ceremonial rites paid at the shrine of the laughter-loving queen [ i.e. Venus].  The Earl of D---- and several others accepted of the wager, thinking the experiment impracticable." It was an enormous amount to bet, and we don't know who won  - we don't even know what Grace Eliot thought about it - but Lord Cholmondeley certainly deserves credit as the founder of the Mile High Club.

To find out more about Elizabeth Craven and her circle, read
Elizabeth Craven: Writer, Feminist and European

Now available in paperback.


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