'The Rape-Master General of Britain'
Born 1672 d 1732

The name of Charteris, during life, was a terror to female innocence; may, therefore, his fate, and the exposure of his villainy, act as their shield against the destructive machinations of profligate men, especially such as those upon whom the blind and fickle goddess, Fortune, may have unworthily heaped riches.

Francis Charteris was baptised on the 12th January 1672, at Amisfield in Dumfriesshire being the latest member of a family of minor but distinguished Scottish gentry. Francis later joined the army and served on the continent under the Duke of Marlborough where he advanced to the rank of cornet of a troop of dragoons.

It seems however, that Francis was less interested in practicing the arts of war than he was finding the opportunity to practice his undoubted skills at cards and dice. Gambling was of course one of the main social diversions of the time, but unlike most of his contemporaries Francis pursued the art with a certain professional zeal, selecting his victims with care and stripping them of every penny they possessed. And having rendered his victims penniless he was not averse to taking advantage of their condition by lending them money at rates of a hundred per cent or more, taking as security their army commissions. (Which, at the time were a tradeable commodity.)

This was not of course, the way that officers in the British army were supposed to behave and John Campbell, later the 2nd Duke of Argyll led a group of officers who laid charges against Frances. He was duly court-martialed before the Duke of Marlborough in Brussels, convicted, deprived of his commission, and drummed out of the regiment. Francis therefore returned to Scotland in disgrace, but a show of contrition enabled him to purchase another commission on the army and he soon advanced to the rank of colonel.

Whilst back home in Scotland, he took the opportunity to marry Helen Swinton (daughter of the perfectly respectable Alexander Swinton, Lord Mersington) in 1702, a marriage that produced but one daughter named Janet who later married James Wemyss, 5th Earl of Wemyss.

In the meantime Colonel Charteris returned to his old habits and was soon busy making himself rich at the expense of the great and the good of Scotland. The Duchess of Queensbury was one of his many victims, who lost three thousand pounds to him at cards, much to the disgust of her husband, who promptly got the law changed to prohibit such high stakes. Nevertheless Francis Charteris continued to accumulate cash and invested his winnings in land, acquiring several large estates in Scotland and also set himself up in business as a money-lender therefore further augmenting his ever growing fortune. Soon it seemed that he had exhausted the ready supply of victims in Scotland, and so he moved south to London "the seat of greater dissipation" and "a place better adapted to the exertion of his abilities".

By this time Francis appears to have become estranged from his wife but he was not to be denied female company. He hired some women of "abandoned character" to act as procurers, who trawled the taverns and boarding houses of the capital in search of women suitable to be employed as servants at his London home. Once the women were safely ensconced at his house Francis would persuade them to share his bed through a combination of threats and promises. And once he'd got bored with them, they would find themselves cast out to make room for the next innocent victim.

The Colonel soon attracted a notoriety that surpassed all others in the capital. No women was regarded as safe in his company; "his house was no better than a brothel, and no woman of modesty would live within his walls". This made it somewhat of a challenge to entice any new victims, as the entire community was now forewarned of the true nature of employment at the house of Colonel Charteris. Of necessity therefore discretion was required of his agents who kept his identity secret until the victim was well and truly secured within his home.

Francis's activities thus continued unabated until the 1729 when a young woman by the name of Ann Bond became the latest fly to be caught by his web. The Colonel promised her "a purse of gold, an annuity for life, and a house, if she would lie with him". (Which is very probably the same promise he made to all his victims without, one would imagine, the slightest intention of making good the bargain.) Ann Bond was however adamant that she would not consent to Francis' demands and thus on the 10th November 1729, he decided to take by force what she would not willingly allow; "he threw her on a couch, and she crying out, he pull'd off his cap and stopp'd her mouth, and then did the crime". Afterwards he beat her with a horsewhip for good measure and threw her out of the house.

Miss Boyd was suitably distressed by her experience but unlike the Colonel's previous victims became determined to bring him to justice and complained to the local magistrates of her treatment. As a result Francis Charteris was arrested and briefly placed in Newgate gaol before his wealth and family connection enabled him to be released on bail. On the 25th February 1730 he came before the Lord Chief Justice Raymond, and the Lord Chief Justice Eyre, facing "an indictment for committing a rape on the body of one Anne Bond". He denied the charge and made every effort to undermine the credibilty and character of his accusor, but in the end Francis' own reputation had preceeded him and the jury was only too willing to believe Ann Boyd's testimony and declared him guilty of the offence. A week later he came before the court once more on Monday, 2nd March when he was sentenced to death for his crime.

This was not however the end of the story as his son-in-law the Earl of Wemyss organised a petition in his favour requesting a pardon, and a month later the The Grub-street Journal was reporting that on the 10th April "his Majesty having heard severally the Opinions of the said Judges upon the said Case, who all agreed in their Report, was pleased, by the unanimous advice of his Privy-Council, to order the said Francis Charteris should be pardoned, and forthwith admitted to bail."

The explanation for this remarkable volta face by the British judical system was quite simple; Francis Charteris used his money to buy his way out of trouble. Even his victim Ann Boyd was persuaded to sign the petition for his pardon in return for the payment of £800, the Prime Minister Robert Walpole later received a substantial gift from the Colonel, and it is likely that most of the Privy Council and both judges were similarly bribed. He even managed to get back his property, which of course he had forfeited as a convicted felon, although he had to pay for this privilege.

Charteris was therefore able to return to Edinburgh, where apparently he was reconciled with his wife. However he soon fell ill and died on the 24th February 1732 very probably from some venereal disease. He was buried in the family vault at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, although not without some dificulty, as a mob attacked the funeral procession and attempted to destroy his coffin enroute to the grave. They appear to have failed in this objective but did succeed in committing "a variety of irregularities, in honest contempt of such an abandoned character."

His contemporary fame was such that Alexander Pope included him as an example of depravity in his Moral Essays and William Hogarth was to include him as figure lurking in the background of his 1732 work A Harlot's Progress. One London entrepeneur even sold a mezzontint of the Colonel featuring the following satirical verse;

Blood!--must a colonel, with a lord's estate,
Be thus obnoxious to a scoundrel's fate?
Brought to the bar, and sentenc'd from the bench,
Only for ravishing a country wench?

Not everybody however, thought badly of Francis Charteris. The Earls of Wemyss eventually inherited all of Francis Charteris' ill-gotten gains and cheerfully adopted the Charteris surname, which they continue to use to this day. And the author Leslie Charles Bower-Yin apparently changed his name to Leslie Charteris in honour of the old rogue, and so it is under the latter name that the creator of The Saint is known. Such are the tangible reminders of Francis Charteris, gambler and rapist.


A number of accounts credit Francis Charteris with membership of the Hellfire Club although this cannot have been that particular institution founded by Francis Dashwood, as that did not appear until some years after Francis' death. Charteris may however have conceivably been a member of the Duke of Wharton's original Hell-Fire club which was active in the 1720s.


SOURCES

  • The Newgate Calendar at http://www.exclassics.com/newgate/ng417.htm
  • The Rape-Master General at www.infopt.demon.co.uk/grub/charteri.htm Extracts from contemporary newspaper reports
  • Colonel Francis Charteris at http://www.geo.ed.ac.uk/scotgaz/people/famousfirst1180.html
  • William Donaldson Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics (Phoenix, 2004)

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