Wadham’s Libertine

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Wadham College had already been informally renamed ‘Sodom College’ by its undergraduates even before the arrival of the randy figure of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), infamous libertine and friend of Charles II. Born in Ditchley, Wilmot matriculated, aged 12, at Wadham where it is said he ‘soon grew debauched’. At 14 he was conferred with a degree (for no good reason) and proceeded to drink himself to death by the age of 33. In the meantime, Rochester established himself as the epitome of the bisexual libertine for whom pleasure and excess were the only arbiters of sexual activity, the gender of the participants being mere detail. At once reviled and celebrated, his work runs the gauntlet from the most moving poetry to pornographic satire.

The 2004 biopic The Libertine portrayed the tragedy of Wilmot (portrayed by Johnny Depp) but, regrettably, underplayed his homoeroticism.

Image: John Wilmot: National Portrait Gallery, London / artist unknown c.1665-1670

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