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The Hell-fire Club

The Hell Fire Club, Daniel P. Mannix, Ballantine Books, 1959, third printing 1969, pbk, 186 pp.


The Hell-fire Club, founded by Sir Francis Dashwood was a, ah, social club devoted to drinking, pornography in Latin verse, whoring, black masses, and satanic rituals. Most of the members, I dare say, were more interested in the drinking and the whoring but they went along with the rituals.

The club existed during the late 18th century in England; quite a few notables including the King's friends, the Earl of Sandwich, and John Wilkes were members. The exchange between the latter two during Wilkes' trial for treason is quite famous:

Sandwich (speaking to Wilkes): Sir, you shall either be hung or shall die of a loathsome disease.

Wilkes (replying): That depends, Sir, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

Wilkes was very witty and perpretrated many of the mots that were later attributed to notables such as Churchill. Although he was found guilty nobody dared arrest and confine him because he was immensely popular with the London mob.

Dashwood had constructed on his grounds an underground grotto where meetings of the Hell-fire Club were held. The grounds were distinguished by two mounds surmounted by fountains of milk. The entrance to the grotto lay in a triangular copse of woods. The grand pattern of the layout of the grounds were quite visible from a high point in Dashwood's dwelling and, by report, were quite upsetting to such clerical gentry as were invited up for the view.

Benjamin Franklin was an honored guest of the Club during his visits to England. His explanation was that attending meetings was an excellent occasion for meeting the luminaries of the British government. Since Franklin is one of our founding fathers I would not for the world doubt his explanation; however it is little things like this that have led to his having acquired, no doubt unjustly, a reputation as a dirty old man.

Mannix, BTW, was a delightful author who, during the midcentury, wrote popular works on the elephant man, freaks, and his stint in a carnival freak show as a sword swallower and fire eater.


This page was last updated July 1, 2001.

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