I would think many people know of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, and his marathon gaming session which inadvertently appears to have given the name to the tasty treat we still enjoy today.
Writing in the late 1700s, a Frenchman called Pierre-Jean Grosley produced a book telling of his encounters with English life called Londres, published translated in English as A Tour of London. This famous section is probably the best remembered:
“A minister of state passed four and twenty hours at a public gaming-table, so absorpt in play, that, during the whole time, he had no subsistence but a piece of beef, between two slices of toasted bread, which he eat without ever quitting the game. This new dish grew highly in vogue, during my residence in London; it was called by the name of the minister who invented it.”
That minister was, of course, the Earl of Sandwich.
Now it may be that the story is anecdotal but the gist of it was soon adopted across the country. If you were eating something between two slices of bread you were eating a sandwich.
Whilst it certainly seems the Earl gave his name to the concept, the eating of something between slices of bread was by no means exclusive to him. French farm labourers had been eating meat between bread slices for many years, for example. The pita pockets of the Middle East and Mediterranean countries have also been around for a long time.
Nevertheless, it is the Earl of Sandwich we remember and his legacy lives on to this day. Incidentally, his great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, Orlando Montagu, founded a chain of sandwich restaurants in 1999. The name of the chain? Earl of Sandwich.