Sir Francis Dashwood (1708- 1781)
Written and compiled by George Knowles.
Sir Francis Dashwood is one of those colourful characters from our past whose life was shrouded in controversy, half-truths and gossip. During his day it was widely rumoured that he and his group were evil Devil worshippers, Satanist’s up to all sorts of diabolical doings, rituals and orgies, many of which in today’s more enlightened times, few if any people would even raise an eye brow. He was an aristocrat and a man of influence but also the rogue of his day, he reveled in his indulgences living his life to the full and not giving a damn for the consequences. As such his name and that of his order was just the stuff on which legend was founded. This is the life story of Sir Francis Dashwood and the “Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe”.
In 1708 during the reign of Queen Anne,
Francis Dashwood was born in London to a wealthy family of landed gentry.
He was the only son of Sir Francis Dashwood and his second wife of four,
Lady Mary Fane the eldest daughter of Baron Le Despencer.
Sir Francis was a wealthy businessman who had built the family fortune
from his dealings with the Ottoman Empire trading in Turkey and China.
When Francis was two years old his mother Lady Mary died and his father
Not much is known of Francis during his formative years except that he was educated at Eton. There he became associated with William Pitt the Elder (later the Great Commoner) and being of the same age the two became good friends retaining a deep mutual respect for each other. In 1724 his father died and Francis having just turned 16 inherited his baronetcy, the family estate at West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire and a vast family fortune.
In 1726 Sir Francis started out on his first “Grand Tour” of Europe. It was customary during those times for the sons of nobles and those of wealth Englishmen to finish their early education visiting the royal courts of Europe. Normally this was acomplished with the guidence of a personal tutor (his was said to have been a Catholic Jacobite their family having mild Jacobite leanings). While traveling around Europe they could sample the intellectual arts and other such treasures that the continent had to offer. Sir Francis being a young man of high spirits and lascivious inclinations roistered his way from royal court to royal court creating a stir wherever he went. He duly visited the art galleries and museums but spent just as much time in bawdy alehouses and risqué bordellos generally indulging in delights that would shape and characterize his life thereafter. One of his favorite phrases at the time was: “To taste the sweets of all things”. This first trip to Europe lasted eight months and took him to France and Switzerland then back through Germany.
During 1729 Sir Francis took another
tour this time starting in Italy, and it was here that the future Dashwood of
legend was formed. Italy at that
time was a hotbed of occultism and Sir Francis reveled in his study of the
forbidden arts and was particularly drawn to the Eleusinian mysteries.
He was also greatly influenced by the work of
and his fictional Abbey of Thélème.
One story that became legend tells of his rakish sense
of humour particularly in relation to his mockery of religion.
His tutor the Catholic Jacobite ever disdainful of his promiscuous
behavior, insisted on taking Sir Francis to the Sistine Chapel hoping to instill
some form of respect for Christianity. Sir
Horace Walpole (the 4th Earl of Orford) witnessed the event and
"It was on
Good-Friday when each person who attends the service in the Sistine Chapel, as
he enters takes a small scourge from an attendant at the door.
The chapel is dimly lighted and there are three candles which are
extinguished by the priest one by one: at the putting out of the first, the
penitents take off one part of their dress; at the next, still more; and in the
darkness which follows the extinguishing of the third candle, lay on their
shoulders with groans and lamentations. Sir
Francis Dashwood thinking this mere stage effect, entered with others dressed in
a large watchman’s coat, demurely he took his scourge from the priest and
advanced to the end of the chapel, where, on the darkness ensuing, he drew from
beneath his coat an English horsewhip and flogged right and left quite down the
chapel and made his escape, the congregation exclaiming "Il Diavolo! Il
Diavolo!" thinking the evil one was upon them with a vengeance.
The consequences of this frolic might have been serious to him, had he
not immediately left the Papal dominions."
The title "Il Diavolo! Il Diavolo!" remained with Sir Francis for the rest of his life.
Another story further explains his
growing distain for Christianity. One
night after the event in the Sistine Chapel his tutor was awakened by terrible
screams coming from his masters chamber. Investigating
he found Sir Francis staring outside at four gleaming green eyes accompanied by a terrible screeching and wailing.
Sir Francis was convinced that this was a four-eyed devil that had come
to haunt him because of his actions. The
more worldly-wise tutor recognized instantly that it was simply two cats
fighting outside his quarters, but decided not to explain this to Sir
Francis and instead went along with his misconceptions in an attempt to get him
to see the error of his ways. The
tutor's ploy worked for a time and against his genuine inclinations Sir Francis
became a convert to Catholicism. Eventually
the tutor's plan backfired for when Sir Francis found out about his deception,
it served only to fuel an intense dislike of organized religion.
From Italy Sir Francis moved on
visiting: Turkey, Denmark, Greece,
Asia Minor and Russia. During his
travels he picked up a deep love for the cultural arts as well as a penchant
for costume and dressing up. In
Russia his mischievous sense of humour showed itself again when he turned up at
the royal court in St Petersburg dressed as the king of Sweden, one of Russia's
great enemies. While it caused
something of a stir amongst the other courtiers it doesn’t seem to have
hindered his time in Russia, in fact it was even rumoured that he bedded the
Returning from Russia Sir Francis
started his near life long task of restoring and developing the family estate at
West Wycombe. There the myths of
Bacchus and Ariadne proved to be of particular significance to him.
He brought in a Milanese painter “Giuseppi Borgnis” to work on the
house (which he did for the rest of his life, his son Giovanni taking over and
continuing on with the work after him). On
the ceiling of the Great Salon he had painted a vast picture of the 'Admission of
Psyche into the realms of the Gods', based on a painting by Raphael.
The dining-room ceiling had the theme of the 'Triumph of Bacchus and
Ariadne', based on a Caracci painting in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, while the
central section of the ceiling of the lower colonnade had a painted fresco
depicting 'Bacchus crowning Ariadne'.
Shortly after the restoration began Sir
Francis formed “The Society of Dilettanti".
This brought together a group of serious art connoisseurs who soon
gained a fine reputation in the world of art.
When the society had acquired enough money and status, Sir Francis became
very active in promoting expeditions and sent out architects and draughtsman to
survey and draw reconstructions of many 'almost-lost' classical ruins.
There was another side to the society
however and some interesting parallels can be made between this group and the
later more infamous one that Sir Francis founded. The use of costume was a feature during the Dilettanti
meetings and they often performed mock religious rituals, similar in spirit to
those he would create later. From a
Satanic viewpoint it is interesting to note that the secretary always dressed as
Machiavelli. After their meetings
and rituals the society celebrated with a feast devoted to the old gods, eating
and drinking while discussing the arts. The
box containing the “Minute Book and Dinner-Money” was called “Bacchus’
Tomb” and resembled a miniature Roman sarcophagus.
The artist “George Knapton” also a member designed its lid.
An entry in the Minute Book of the
Dilettante Society states: “That
every member of the Society do make a present of his picture in Oil Colours,
drawn by George Knapton, a member, to be hung up in the room where the said
society meets." Sir Francis was depicted as a Monk his attention fixed on
a statue of Venus with a Halo around his head. Later William Hogarth would
paint a version of this with the inscription
“San Francesco Di Wycombe”).
In 1739, Sir Francis paid a second visit
to Italy where he met Prince Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender) in
Rome. Stuart was the grandson of
King James II who was forced to abandon the English throne half a century
earlier. Francis later wrote of
this meeting to his friend Sir John Montagu the 4th Earl of Sandwich stating:
"I am at one with this gallant Prince he has all the gifts of a true leader and above all he is honest. But I detest most heartily the fripperies of Rome which emanate from his entourage. Should the Prince truly come into his own, it is difficult to see how he could keep away from their influence".
After a brief flirtation with the Jacobites, Sir Francis was given a minor ceremonial post in the Court of Prince Frederick the Prince of Wales, son and heir of King George II. Relations between the Prince of Wales and his father were remarkably bad. The king would usually refer to his son as “Poor Fred” and felt no compunction about describing him in public as a half-witted liar and a beast. The Prince retaliating would denounce his father as an obstinate, self-indulgent martinet with an insatiable sexual appetite. It was natural therefore that the political opposition to the king’s government, to which Sir Francis was bent, should coalesce around the Prince of Wales. So it was in this circle of the aristocracy that Sir Francis made the acquaintance of the leading men of his day, and turned his mind to politics as a suitable career for someone of his wealth and standing.
1741, Sir Francis was elected to Parliament as the independent MP for New Romney
and took his seat in the House of Commons.
He began to busy himself with worthy schemes mainly to do with the repair
of roads, the building of bridges and the general improvement of London and
other principle cities. He also
founded another though short-lived Society called “The Divan Club”, started
in 1744 it was never very popular and was terminated in 1746.
Qualification for membership to the Divan club was having been to some
part of the Sultan’s Empire. He
is depicted wearing a Turban at its meetings and “The Harem” was a regular
toast at its dinners. One can only
imagine the nature of its meetings.
In 1745 Sir Francis much to the surprise of his friends and colleagues married Sarah Ellis the rich widow of Sir Richard Ellis. It seemed a mystery why someone of his tastes should marry her, she being described as a "pious prude” by those in the know. Sir Francis on the other hand was sexually promiscuous and his sexual appetites had become almost legendary. Sir Horace Walpole’s son once said of him, “he has the staying power of a stallion and the impetuosity of a bull." He regularly amused himself with married and unmarried women from aristocratic ladies to whores from the streets of London. Perhaps he married her hoping for an heir to his title and estates? But this she failed to do. Whatever his reason and despite his wayward ways, he did seem to have had a genuine affection for her.
As part of his schemes to improve roadways, in 1748 he began to organize the construction of a new road at West Wycombe. This was a two-mile stretch of the London to Oxford road connecting High Wycombe and West Wycombe. Caves were produced as a result of excavations for road-material. Sir Francis had the caves extended and instructed his builders to construct an intricate system of passages and chambers. Today on the walls of the caves can be seen carved head like figures, one with a mitre and one with horns, an old and molding female statue stands forlornly in a niche. The tunnel sloping downwards crosses an underground stream and ends at a circular chamber a quarter of a mile from the entrance. This is the main underground feature and was the so-called Banqueting Hall, it measures 40ft across and 60ft high. A Gothic front and sidewalls were built to enhance the appearance of the entrance. None of the tunneling beyond the main cave was necessary for the road building, but Sir Francis had other plans for it. The road was completed in 1752.
Sir Francis made friends easily and had a charming manner when it suited him. He began to collect about himself a core of like-minded friends of power, influence and distinction. They listened with interest to what he told them about his religious beliefs. It was from these elite friends that in 1751, he founded a brother-hood of men, an Order he named after himself called – “The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe” also known variously as: “The Knights of St Francis”, "The Monks of Medmenham" or “The Hell-fire Club”. The group shared in all his loves and appetites for the cultural arts, as well as those for - Sex, drink, food, dressing up, politics, blasphemy and the occult.
The wall carvings and the female statue in the caves.
The order originally met at Sir Francis’ lavish home, West Wycombe House. But this was his family home and not really suitable for the revelry and festivities he envisioned for the new group. He began to cast about for a more secluded and private place to hold its meetings. He found the perfect site through his friendship with a local painter Francis Duffield. The Duffield family had inherited an old and disused 12th century Cistercian monastery called “Medmenham Abbey”. It was situated in a secluded grove by a stretch of the river Thames near Marlow, about six miles away from West Wycombe and twenty miles west of London. It seemed perfect for what he wanted and he took over the lease from Duffield.
To preserve secrecy, instead of using local labour Sir
Francis sent in his own builders and gardeners from his estate in West Wycombe
and transformed the abbey into a Clubhouse.
A square tower was added to the southeast corner of the building with a
cloister of three arches along the side facing the river.
Stained-glass windows of an ecclesiastical nature replaced the existing
plain ones and frescos painted by “Giuseppi Borgnis” decorated the inside.
At one end of the dining room stood a figure of Harpocrates the Egyptian
god of silence with a finger to his lips, and at the other end the figure of the
obscure goddess Angerona in the same pose.
Over the main entrance to the abbey, inscribed in Latin was the motto of
the order “Fay Ce Que Voudras”, meaning "Do As You Will" (a
quotation from Francois Rabelais fictional abbey of Thélème).
Maurice-Louis Jolivet then re-planed and designed all the gardens.
The initiates of the inner order were limited to thirteen men, Sir Francis known as the “Abbot” and his 12 “Apostles”, all other members of the order were known simply as “Monks” hence the “Monks of Medmenham”. They are thought to have worshipped the Goddess in her orgiastic mood. Only men of importance were admitted for initiation into the inner order, and these included some of the most powerful men of the day: the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Queensberry, Sir John Stuart the Earl of Bute (later Prime Minister), Sir John Montagu the Earl of Sandwich, George Bubb Dodington (later Lord Melcombe), John Wilkes (the Reformer), Sir Henry Vansittart, Robert Lloyd (Poet), George Selwyn, Charles Churchill (Poet), William Hogarth (Painter), John Tucker (M.P.) and Thomas Potter (M.P. and son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury). The administrator of the order was the poet Paul Whitehead who kept the records, and who at the very end of his life destroyed them with his own hands, ensuring that the rituals of the order should never be known.
Francis / Duke of Queensberry
/ John Wilkes / Paul
Their ceremonial outfits were said to be
white jackets and trousers with matching cloaks and a round white cap.
The abbot's hat was red and trimmed with rabbit's fur.
Meetings of the order took place twice a month, with a large AGM meeting
that would last for a week or sometime even longer. One
of the monks acquired a baboon, which became the abbey’s mascot and was
dressed up as a chaplain during rituals. The
abbey had a plush drawing room for entertaining and a library stocked with books
ranging from the Bible to pornographic and occult literature.
There were also private rooms for the monks complete with a bed.
The abbey was open to guests of the monks but two places were strictly
for members only. One was a chapel
where only monks had access and beyond that was the chapter room into which only the
inner circle of 13 were allowed.
The rituals conducted in the chapel by the
monks seem in
general to have been good-natured spoofs of Christian services with much sexual
innuendo and symbolism. The monks
were said to be worshipers of Bacchus and Venus.
It seems possible even probable that the inner circle performed some
rites in the secret chapter room that today might be classified as
"pagan". These secret
rites were allegedly based on a Sir Francis’ version of the Eleusinian
mysteries. These were a series of rites performed in ancient Greece over
a period of nine days, and honoured the goddess of grain Demeter and her
One can only guess whether these rituals had a serious edge
to them, or as seems more likely, were conducted in the style of mockery and
charade that typified the general mood of the abbey.
From the little information that has survived, it is believed that
Demeter and her daughter Persephone were represented by naked young women made
to lie across the alter with their legs spread open.
One can only speculate as to what would happen next, but it was even
rumoured that aristocratic women sometimes volunteered to represent the
goddesses, though no names are known for sure.
It was widely believed that they worshipped the devil “Satan”
himself, which earned them the name of the “Hell-fire Club”.
However there is no evidence to support these claims, and most probably
worshiped the old gods in their own way as they envisioned them.
After the rituals had been performed good-class whores were hired in
London by Paul Whitehead and conveyed to Medmenham by coach.
There the leading politicians and aristocrats of the day were invited to
take part in the feasting and heavy drinking that followed.
At his estate in West Wycombe, Sir
Francis had amassed a considerable library of books, many of them of a
pornographic nature. Amongst them
was one of the earliest copies in English of the “Karma-Sutra”, presented to
him and inscribed by Sir Henry Vansittart who had been Governor of Bengal.
It is thought that its teachings might have inspired some of the more
sexual parts of his rites. Worship of the goddess would continued at Medmenham for
nearly two decades and over the years rumours about the “Mad Monks of
Medmenham” spread stories of their exploits, and so the goings on in the
abbey were passed down into legend.
As with any order or organization
rivalry among it members causes friction and such was the case within Medmenham
story passed down into legend serves to demonstrate this, for there seems to
have been little love lost between Lord Sandwich and John Wilkes.
Wilkes allegedly played a trick on Sandwich during one of their meetings.
Wilkes had contrived the night before to bring into his cell the
abbey’s mascot baboon. When the
brotherhood retired to their cells after dinner to prepare for the ceremony, he
dressed up the baboon in phantasmic garb and conveyed him to the chapel.
There he shut him up in a large chest used to hold the ornaments and
utensils of the table when the order was away.
To the spring of the lock of the chest he fastened a cord, which he then
drew under the carpet on the floor to his own seat and there brought the end of
it through a hole made for the purpose and in such a manner that he could
readily find it. By giving it a
pull he could open the chest and let the Baboon loose whenever he pleased
without being perceived by the rest of the company.
Later that night during the proceedings Wilkes jerked the cord and out popped the baboon, which jumped on to the shoulders of Lord Sandwich who cried out: “Spare me gracious Devil, spare a wretch who never was sincerely your servant. I sinned only from vanity of being in the fashion, thou knowest I never have been half so wicked as I pretended, never have been able to commit the thousandth part of the vices which I have boasted of, leave me therefore and go to those who are more truly devoted to your service. I am but half a sinner.” Lord Sandwich would never forgive Wilkes for the humiliation he suffered and would later seek revenge.
Meanwhile by 1752 much work had been
done on Sir Francis’ estate, the grounds of which had been transformed into a
park. A survey map of West Wycombe
Park drawn by Maurice-Louis Jolivet shows how a little stream was dammed to make
a lake with islands and a cascade, and how trees were planted to create a broad
walk. Sir Francis then turned his
attention to the church of St Lawrence and work began on its restoration.
In 1757 a new regiment was formed called the “Buckingham Militia”,
and Sir Francis being the most important person in the county, was commissioned
by the Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, Sir Richard Grenville the 1st
Earl Temple”. As “Colonel of
the Regiment” he in turn made his friend John Wilkes his second in command
with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Sir
Francis held the post for five years but with more pressing demands on the
political front, handed full command over to John Wilkes.
Through the order at Medmenham there can be little doubt that Sir Francis and other members of the inner circle gained tremendous power and influence. Many of the people entertained there held high office in Government or the Opposition and favours were readily swapped and exchanged. In the elections of 1762, Sir John Stuart the Earl of Bute was elected Prime Minister, he in turn invited Sir Francis to the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, a flagrant show of favouritism. John Wilkes (feeling he had been snubbed by Bute) commented that he had been given the job because Sir John had been impressed with his ability to add up drinks bills (a jape that would later lead to his expulsion from the order). Sir Francis had absolutely no head for figures and freely admitted that he could not do sums over five figures. To make matters worst and to raise money, he put a tax on cider at four shillings a barrel. This led to such an outcry from producers and drinkers alike, that he was forced to resign his office the following year. Bute as Prime Minister lurched from one disaster to another and he too resigned in 1763.
Work on his estate had continued and renovations to the church of St Lawrence completed. On the inside Sir Francis had rebuilt the nave and stripped out the chancel, then redesigned the whole interior as a reconstruction of the interior of the “Temple of the Sun at Palmyra” near Damascus. On the ceiling of the chancel, Giovanni Borgnis (his father having died) painted an original Last Supper, where the eyes of Judas Iscariot followed everyone around the whole chancel. Outside the tower of the church had been raised and capped with a Golden Ball. This was 80 feet above ground, seven feet across and had a trap door for access; wooden seats were placed inside it to accommodate three or four people. John Wilkes along with the Rev Charles Churchill was invited for "divine milk punch" in the Golden Ball after it was re-opened on 3 July 1763. John Wilkes later wrote:
"…The magnificent gilt ball on the top of the steeple, which is hollowed and made so very convenient in the inside for the celebrations not of devotional, but of convivial rites…the best Globe Tavern I was ever in…I must own that I was afraid my descent from it would have been as precipitate as his Lordship’s was from a high station, which turned his head, too. I admire likewise the silence and secrecy which reigns in that great globe, undisturbed, by his jolly songs very unfit for the profane ears of the world below".
The Church of St Lawrence showing the Golden
Other comments on the church came from:
“The Gentleman’s Magazine” (A publication of the day.) who
commented: "It is reckoned the
most beautiful country church in England".
Mrs. Libbe-Powys - "…it gives one not the least idea of a place
sacred to religious worship. ‘Tis
a very superb Egyptian Hall, no pews, pulpit or desk accept two ornamental
seats, which answer the two latter purposes.
The font is shown as an elegant toy; in fine, it has only the appearance
of a neat ballroom with rows of forms on each side".
John Wilkes - "Some churches have been built for devotion, others
from parade of vanity. I believe
this is the first church which has ever been built for a prospect…built on the
top of a hill for the convenience and devotion of the town at the bottom of
it", and the Rev Charles Churchill stated:
"A temple built aloft in air, that serves for show and not for
The church of St Lawrence completed Sir Francis turned his
attention to building a huge Mausoleum Monument next to it.
Later that year he was also appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire,
and on the death of his uncle inherited the tile of Baron Le Despencer with a
castle near Dover. This
automatically gave him a permanent seat in the House of Lords.
Although the Monks of Medmenham would
still exist for some years to come, schisms were threatening to break up the
order brought on by attacks from one of it's former brethren, John Wilkes.
Wilkes felt he had been overlooked when Sir John
Stuart the Earl
of Bute was repaying
his favours. His anger at the snub
would effectively seal the fate of the order as it had been.
He began to publish a forthright and cutting satirical newspaper called
“ The North Briton”, in which he vigorously attacked Bute and his policies.
The paper caused serious damage to the government and although he had
originally refrained from slandering the order, he began to attack the monks in
a series of writings and cartoons. When
the order decided to silence their former brother, Wilkes himself provided the
means to do it. During his time as
a devoted monk he had collaborated with another Thomas Potter, on a pornographic
spoof of Alexander Pope's “An Essay of Man” entitled “An Essay on
Sandwich used this to damaged Wilkes’ moral standing by reading it out to the
House of Lords, they condemned
it as a scurrilous piece of libelous obscenity.
Wilkes was forced to flee to France and for the time being his political
career was finished. Lord
Sandwich had had his revenge.
In 1765 the construction of the Mausoleum Monument beside the church of St Lawrence was completed. This was a hexagonal structure with 12 Tuscan columns based on the Emperor Constantine’s “Triumphal Arch” in Rome and Rabelais’ fictional “Abbey of Thélème” (Sir Francis had two copies of Rabelais’ works, one in French and one in English). The six-sided shape could also be a reference to the Cabala, its sixth emanation being the “Sephiroth”, representing the divine force that impels life to continue symbolized by the Sun. The catalogue of Sir Francis’ library included a copy of “Conjectura Cabalistica”, published by Henry More in 1653.
The Mausoleum Monument
The Mausoleum was originally built with a £500 legacy left to him by George Bubb Dodington who had died in 1762, for the "building of an arch, temple, column or additional room" as a memorial to their long friendship. Inside the Mausoleum the name of George Bubb Dodington - Baron Melcombe Regis, was carved in great letters and in a niche was placed a portrait-bust of him. It would also be the final resting place for other of his dearest and closest friends, such like Dr. Thomas Thompson and later his second in command of the order, Paul Whitehead.
In 1766 Sir Francis was appointed as
Postmaster-General by William Pitt an office he would hold for the rest of his
life. During which time he
established the penny post in Dublin and experimented with fast mail deliveries
between towns. After the
Wilkes incident the order at Medmenham began to decline for it could not survive
the public scrutiny to which it had been subjected.
It is interesting to note however, that none of its members refuted
allegations raised against it. But
still the rumours about the order would not die.
So he moved the order out of the abbey to the series of underground caves
located underneath West Wycombe Hill. There
in less luxurious surroundings the order gradually faded and finally ceased to
Sarah Ellis his wife for 24 years died
in 1769 and was buried in the family vault in St Lawrence’s church.
A memorial was built to her in the very center of the Mausoleum beside
the church, which has a stone canopy on four columns beneath which was an urn on
a tall plinth with the words “May this Cenotaph sacred to the virtues and
graces that constitute female excellence, perpetuate the memory of Sarah -
Baroness Le Despenser who finished a most exemplary life January the 19th
After the death of his wife, Sir Francis continued with the work of developing his estate and in 1770 built an addition to the west-wing of West Wycombe House. This being a replica of the “Temple of Bacchus at Telos”, near Smyrna taken from drawings made by Nicholas Revett for the Dilettante Society. It had three pictures by William Hannan above a statue of Bacchus. In the center was the Chariot of the Night, on one side a Bacchanalian procession and on the other side Bacchus crowning Ariadne (copied from a work by Guido Reni). The west-wing then became the new main entrance to the house and the drive through the Park was re-laid to take visitors there. It was opened in 1771 and Sir Francis, who invited many of his friends, staged a grand celebration. An eyewitness account of the celebration is contained in Thomas Langley’s “The History of Antiquities of the Hundred of Desborough (1797)”:
delightful gardens of West Wycombe were opened to the public and a novel
exhibition took place in one of the rural walks. A fine portico at the west end
of the house has been lately erected (in imitation of that of the Temple of
Bacchus) for the dedication of which a Bacchanalian procession was formed of
Bacchanals, Priests, Pans, Fauns, Satyrs, Silenus, etc., all in proper habits
and skins wreathed with vine leaves, ivy, oak, etc. On the arrival of the
procession in the portico the High Priest addressed the Statue in an Invocation
which was succeeded by several hymns, and other pieces of music vocal and
instrumental suitable to the occasion, and having finished the sacrifice
proceeded through the grove to a Tent pitched among several others at the head
of the lake where the Paeans and libations were repeated – then ferrying to a
vessel adorned with colours and streamers, again performed various ceremonies
with discharges of cannon and bursts of acclamations from the populace. The
ceremony was finished by a congratulatory address or ode to the Deity of the
place. Several of the company wore masques on this occasion."
In 1773 Benjamin Franklin the American
Deputy Postmaster-General was a guest at West Wycombe House and wrote:
"I am in this house as much at my ease as if it was my own and the gardens are a paradise. But a pleasanter thing is the kind countenance, the facetious and very intelligent conversation of Mine Host, who having been for many years engaged in public affairs, seen all parts of Europe and kept the best company in the world, is himself the best existing. The exquisite sense of classical design charmingly reproduced by the Lord Le Despenser at West Wycombe, whimsical and puzzling as it may sometimes be in its imagery, is as evident below the earth as above it."
Sir Francis now in retirement and quite surprisingly given his background, collaborated with Benjamin Franklin to produce a revised edition of the “Book of Common Prayer” for the Church of England. Entitled “The Franklin Prayer Book” it omitted all readings from the Old Testament and became popular in America but was rejected in England by the British Bishops.
Paul Whitehead the former Steward and Keeper of the Minute Book of the order at Medmenham abbey died in 1774. Wishing his body to be left to science but his heart preserved, he wrote:
"…that my heart be taken out…the purchase of a marble
urn… in which I desire it may be deposited and placed…in some corner of his
Mausoleum, as a Memorial of its Owner’s warm attachment to the Noble
His wish was granted, and his heart was
placed on a black-draped bier carried by six soldiers of the Bucks Militia, the
choir of St Lawrence’s church singing an especially composed piece for the
occasion as the procession entered the Mausoleum monument were it was placed.
"From Earth to Heaven, Whitehead’s soul is fled.
Immortal glories beam around his head." reads the inscription
Sir Francis now aged 66, was far from
giving up his favorite pastimes. That
same year in 1774, his mistress an ex-actress called Mrs. Frances Barry gave
birth to a daughter, Rachael Frances Antonia.
Then in 1776 he acquired the lease of Round Tar Island from Sir Thomas
Stapleton as a base for boating and fishing.
This is situated on the River Thames between Cookham and Marlow.
In 1778 having retained the lease of Medmenham Abbey (perhaps out of
sentiment) he finally gave it up and the property was sold to Robert Sawyer of
In November of 1781 several members of
Sir Francis’ household reported seeing the ghost of Paul Whitehead, his right
hand man from the order, beckoning and calling his mortal friend.
On the 11th of December having been in ill health for some
time but still preparing for another tour to Italy, Sir Francis died.
Just before his death he altered his will leaving almost everything to
his illegitimate daughter Rachael Frances Antonia by the actress Frances Barry. He was buried beside his wife and parents in the family vault
in St Lawrence’s church.
The life of Sir Francis Dashwood has down through the ages been shrouded in controversy, half-truths and legend. So much so that in modern times it is now difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. He was an unashamed libertine, a gallant who reveled in his indulgences. He dedicated his life, as did those of his order, to the worship of the old gods personified in Bacchus and Ariadne. As in the old tradition they met at night in the abbey, and later underground, secretly, and practiced something like orgies, but they did so in jesting parody. As they mocked the Christian church, so too did they mock the Devil and Hell, enjoying their reputations as rakehells. Their meetings were a celebration of life and all its indulgences, which they lived as the motto of the abbey dictated “Do What You Will”. Sir Francis maintained this dictum right up to the end and never lost sight of his zest for life.
Sources yet to be posted.
First published on the 16th February 2002, 16:56:26 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
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Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
Mythology) / Esbats &
Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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