Raising a glass in a toast has long been an important social ritual. For Jacobites, gathering in secrecy to honour the exiled Stuarts, the toast possessed a special significance. The most famous Jacobite toasts are those to ‘the king over the water’, during which glasses would be passed over a vessel containing water such as a finger bowl. Another popular toast was to ‘the gentleman in the velvet waistcoat’, a reference to the mole which supposedly caused the death of William III by tripping up his horse. Such was the perceived potency of such forms of words that the authorities made some toasts and the possession of Jacobite glasses treasonable, and even delayed the provision of finger bowls at official functions until after loyal Hanoverian toasts had been drunk to prevent Jacobites from secretly honouring their cause.
Toasts were particularly significant for the male-only Jacobite clubs which sprang up across the country after the 1715 rebellion. One such club, in Wrexham, did not have a single meeting place but followed a ‘cycle’ of gathering in different members’ houses – hence the name ‘Cycle Club of Wrexham’. Each club had its own rituals: Cycle Club members stood on chairs with one foot on the table during toasts, while Scottish clubs commonly emphasised inclusivity by using a single glass passed around the table from person to person.
The painting Benn’s Club of Aldermen (1752) depicts William Benn, Lord Mayor of London 1746-7, with five City of London aldermen. All six were regarded as Jacobite sympathisers, but they certainly also enjoyed drinking and talking in a socially exclusive club. Some Jacobite clubs continued well into the nineteenth century, long after any hope of a Stuart restoration had gone. Although some members were diehard Jacobites, others were captivated by the mystery and romance of the rebellions, enjoying toasting a cause for which they would never actually be asked to fight.