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Southern Magic - History Tidbits

The Hell-Fire Club

By Carla Swafford

The founder of the club was Sir Francis Dashwood. He enjoyed ridiculing religion, especially Catholic rituals and any moral principles of the 18th century, thus the beginning of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, also known as the Hell-Fire Club.

The Hellfire Club began 1752 in a Medieval abbey, then later moved to chalk caves near Dashwood's estates. The Club ended in 1768.

There were two different levels of membership, Superior and Inferior. The Superior consisted of the "Twelve Apostles" and Sir Francis. There were forty or fifty Inferior members at any given time, everyone was allowed to bring a guest, male or female.

The "monks" often arrived by a bright red gondola with several girls. They would put on white robes with hoods lined in scarlet and enter the abbey with lighted candles. Each monk took turns being the "Abbot of the Day." The Abbot picked the first girl.

The Abbot of the Day would stand behind the black marble altar with a naked girl spread across it and perform the Black Mass. The other monks drank the sacrificial wine from her navel.

After the Black Mass, the monks would pick their girl for the evening. Most were prostitutes dressed as nuns, but some were wives, sisters and even mothers of the "monks." Country virgins were often supplied by the local brothels. The girls wore masks, and before the end of the evening, little else.

Several prominent members of the Club were The Earl of Sandwich who delighted in corrupting very young girls and, while gambling incessantly, he invented the quick meal that bears his name; the Earl of Bute who was so hated in England, he had several bodyguards around him at all times; George Selwyn who would attend public executions disguised as an old woman, and Thomas Potter who was accused of having sexual relations with a corpse. Their banquets were huge affairs. Many dishes had very provocative names, such as Breasts of Venus (two squabs served side by side with a single red cherry on top of each), and Devil's Loins (roast beef cut in the shape of buttocks). They sipped on drinks with names as Gin and Sin, Lay Me Down Softly, and Strip Me Naked.

Benjamin Franklin was possibly a member of the Club and with Dashwood's input wrote the Franklin Prayer Book.

Taken from Magic Moments - June 2001 Volume 4/Issue 6