One very striking indicator of the way the 18th-century sexual revolution petered out was embodied in the Royal Family. It used to be said that George III had 58 grandchildren, only one of whom was legitimate.
This turns out to be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is nonetheless true that the sexual antics of Queen Victoria’s dissolute uncles — the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) with his ten illegitimate children by the actress Mrs Jordan, the innumerable mistresses of the Prince Regent and so on — do make our Prince Harry’s occasional indiscretions in nightclubs seem pretty tame.
Prince Edward, Victoria’s father, lived with his mistress, Madame St Laurent, for 27 years until the only heir to the English throne — Princess Charlotte — died in 1817. He duly did his duty, chucked his mistress and married a German princess in order to produce the future Queen Victoria.
His brother, the Duke of Clarence, was trying the same in a race to produce an heir. He dumped Mrs Jordan and had a baby by the future Queen Adelaide — sadly, they lost the child.
The Victorian era, noted for its middle-class values of homely monogamous prudery, introduced quite a different tradition at court.