During the middle ages, sexual act was mostly treated as an entertaining means for procreation, especially for the lower classes. However, the nobility, though had to marry and reproduce, often looked for sexual pleasure away from the marital bed and had been sleeping around for centuries. Actually, sexual promiscuity really depended on wealth, class and whether you can get away with it. However, during1700s, there was a change in attitude about sex and it found a society ready to throw away the shackles of puritan attitude towards sex. Gradually, there was a considerable growth of men’s club, which provided a place for men to openly act and talk about sex and sexuality. At the same time, prostitutes and brothel madams got the opportunity to hold a celebrity-like status.
Known for its scenic coastal walking and a thriving local art scene inspired by light and sea, East Neuk is a coastal area of Fife in Scotland and Anstruther is one of the villages in the area, which has a secret history of hosting an extraordinary gentlemen’s sex and drinking club, called the Beggar’s Benison. Founded in 1732 and formally established in 1739, the full name of the club was, ‘The Most Ancient and Most Puissant Order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland, Anstruther’. It may be mentioned here that, Merryland is a country, a pun on Maryland, which had trade links with Anstruther and a way of describing the ups and downs of a female body in metaphors, coined by a sub-genre of the 18th century erotic literature inspired by the language of the Song of Songs of Solomon and tales in Gulliver’s Travels of giant women.
The club has its reference to a story related to King James V, when he was journeying to the East Neuk of Fife in the disguise of a bagpiper. As he failed to cross the Dreel Burn, a buxom girl tucked up her petticoats and carried the king to the opposite bank and in return, his Majesty gave the damsel her fairin’ for which she blessed him that his purse will never be empty and his horn will be always in bloom. Thus the motto of the club became, ‘May Prick and Purse Never Fail You.’
Nevertheless, the members of the Beggar’s Benison used to dine and drink together, sing obscene songs, write and recite erotic poems. They also discussed sex, looked at pornography. Sometimes the night session of the club included the parading of local women, usually teenagers, who were hired to pose naked and gyrate on the tables to the delight of the assembled members. They also typically enjoyed the rituals of collective masturbation, especially for the initiation ceremony where a new member was ‘prepared’ by the Recorder and two helpers, causing him to propel his penis until full erection.
The most legendary relic of the club was a wig. It is said that, once King Charles II visited the club and he enjoyed the parties so much that he sent them a wig made from the pubic hairs of his mistresses, as a secret token to his hosts. However, a small group of members absconded with the wig, setting up the Wig Club in Edinburgh and contributed a public hair from their mistress to replace the fading hairs.
Some forty years later, George IV made amends for the stolen wig, as an honorary member of the Benison, when he presented the Benison an oval shaped locket that looks like a typical silver snuff box containing a packed clump of his own mistress’s ginger pubic hairs.
The club was dissolved in 1836, but some of its papers and relics were retained by one of the last members, which included seals depicting the club symbol with a phallus and a small bag suspended from it, sashes, plates and bowls with genital decorations, glass and metal phalluses, medals engraved with lewd images, along with some records, minutes, correspondence and drawings. The prized remaining relics are the platter used for the masturbation rituals, inscribed with ‘The way of a man with a maid’ and the silver locket donated by George IV, which contained a parchment declaring that its accompanying clump of hair is from the mount of Venus of a Royal Courtesan of King George IV. Today, it is impossible to know from whom the curls truly originated, but his consort at the time was Lady Elizabeth, the Marchioness of Conyngham, a beautiful, shrewd, greedy and voluptuous noblewoman, the last mistress of George IV.
Most of the relics are now held in the Beggar's Benison and Wig Club collection of the University of St Andrews. However, the naughty relics are not publicly displayed, as they may offend a family museum audience, though they are available to the serious scholars.