Marriott the great eater


AN363040001, © The Trustees of the British Museum

Here is a satirical print of the lawyer William Marriott, the ‘great eater’ of Gray’s Inn. By the 1650s he was one of the Inn’s oldest members.

In 1652, for unknown reasons he came under fire from the pamphleteer George Fidge, in a pamphlet called The great eater of Graye’s Inn, or, The life of Mr. Marriot the cormorant, wherein is set forth all the exploits and actions by him performed, with many pleasant stories of his travells into Kent and other places [EEBO]. The introduction to the reader set the scene:

He loves Cook and Kitchin, not so much for their Law as for their Names sakes, and at Bacon his mouth waters; he knowes better how to handle a Chyne of Beefe than a Cause, for he has more gutts than braines, and doubtlesse there was a stout Thrasher spoyled when he was made a Lawyer: Hee is rather of the body Corporate than Politique.

The pamphlet then takes a leisurely tour through the history of Marriott’s gluttony. It starts with a tale of Marriott taking a client from the country out to breakfast, and competitively ordering greater and greater quantities of beef. He goes to dinner with a friend and devours a bowl of cold cream in the kitchen, a dozen pigeons and a leaze of rabbits. He then falls ill and voids a worm three yards long, ‘that had a long time bred in his body’. He gets tricked into being poisoned, and into eating ‘an old spaid bitch’ baked in a pasty, and a monkey baked into a pie. He devours eight pounds of currants that have been cut with a pound of tobacco.

The pamphlet ends with some mock recipes invented by Marriott. Here is a good example:

A Purgation.

Mr Marriott would often follow the Farriar’s Rule for Drenches, which Receit best agreed with his Body: for he would take Milk and Oyle with Aquavitae, Pepper and Brimstone all mingled together, a Pottle at one time is nothing with him, to scoure his Maw.

Friends rushed to Marriott’s defence and published A letter to Mr. Marriot from a friend of his, wherein his name is redeemed from that detraction G. F., gent., hath endeavoured to fasten upon him by a scandalous and defamatory libel. Marriott subsequently died in November 1653, reportedly penniless. However, his reputation lived on as a glutton. In 1660, Samuel Pepys mentioned Marriott in his diary:

So to Will’s, and sat there till three o’clock and then to Mr. Swan’s, where I found his wife in very genteel mourning for her father, and took him out by water to the Counsellor at the Temple, Mr. Stephens, and from thence to Gray’s Inn, thinking to speak with Sotherton Ellis, but found him not, so we met with an acquaintance of his in the walks, and went and drank, where I ate some bread and butter, having ate nothing all day, while they were by chance discoursing of Marriot, the great eater, so that I was, I remember, ashamed to eat what I would have done. (4 February 1660).