» Francis Dashwood’s Boys Club.
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Francis Dashwood’s Boys Club.

Francis Dashwood’s Boys Club.
Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer 1708 - 1781

"No,THIS is a whip!"

1760

Francis Dashwood has always been a firm believer that if you can’t find a club or society which caters to your own personal interests you should form your own.

Dashwood’s interests are convivial sex, convivial drunkenness, general conviviality and savagely mocking the Catholic Church.

So it doesn’t take a Voltaire to appreciate that it was, to say the least “an error of judgment” when at the age of 21 he embraced Catholicism.

To be fair, he was tricked into converting, until then he’d been a typical well heeled young gentleman.

Educated at Eton and friends with future Prime Minister William Pitt (no one called him “The Elder” at school) by the age of 19 he had already been on his first Grand Tour of France and Germany. It was an educational experience. Pondering the classics in museums and galleries by day while drinking and humping himself insensible at night, he was ever true to his earliest maxim “To taste the sweets of all things”.

"All this culture's giving me a raging thirst and the galloping horn" “All this culture’s giving me a raging thirst and the galloping horn”

When he came home, he spent as much time as he could in the company of expensive whores and morally bankrupt company. He was likened to arch rake Charles II while his rampant libido was said to give him the “Staying power of a stallion and the impetuosity of a bull”.

The one thing he had no time for, was religion.

In 1729 he set off on his second Grand Tour, this time to Italy in the company of a Catholic Jacobite who had taken it upon himself to teach Dashwood the virtues of a pious Christian life. By now Francis had developed an interest in licentiously heretical paganism and the bawdy, satirical writings of François Rabelais.

Rabelais was famous for inventing a fictitious Abbey which was inhabited by monks who ignored the Word of God, made up their own rules and did whatever they wanted.

The trip could only end in unpleasantness.

Taken to the holiest places in Italy, Dashwood convulsed with laughter at the antics of the faithful. On Good Friday at the Sistine Chapel he saw worshipers take a small symbolic scourge from the priest and in the dim candlelight pretend to beat themselves while loudly mimicking the pain of Jesus.

He had an amusing idea.

Dashwood returned to the chapel later that day, hiding a stout horsewhip under his coat. When the congregation began their pretence, he viciously laid about him, left and right, inflicting real pain on the shocked penitents who scattered, shouting “Il Diavolo, Il Diavolo” as they ran for cover.

"I'll give you something to moan about , Che partita!" “I’ll give you something to moan about , Che partita!”

Needless to say after that, Dashwood was no longer welcome in Italy.

Packing up his whips, he fled the country, with hilarious consequences.

One night, as he looked out of his lodgings window he heard an unearthly shrieking and saw four glowing green eyes staring at him from the darkness. Convinced it was the Devil come to punish him for his blasphemy he had a nervous breakdown and fell to the floor sobbing. When his Jacobite companion (who had all but given up on him) entered, he quickly realised it was nothing more than two cats fighting outside.

“Yes Francis, it is the devil” he (probably) lied piously “Your soul is dammed unless you repent”

Dashwood became a Catholic faster than you could say “Sancta Maria,Ora pro nobis”.

"You'll never get to heaven now Dashwood!" “You’ll never get to heaven now Dashwood!”

When he found out he’d been gulled, Dashwood spectacularly failed to see the funny side and vehemently renounced his new found faith.

On his way home again and looking to knock up a lark he stopped off in Russia. Upon learning that one of his new hosts most loathed enemies was Frederick of Sweden, he humorously attended a royal ball in St Petersburg dressed exactly like him.

There are rumours that Tsarina Anna Ioannovna was so taken with the joke she made vigorous peace with “Freddie” in her private chambers.

The Tsarina certainly had a “Dashwoodesque” sense of humour in that she thought erroneously ringing fire bells throughout the city to panic the commoners was side-splitting. Her generous face however was said to sport cheeks the size of “A Westphalian Ham” so she may not have been his type.

“Francis your impressions are hilarious don’t leave before I’ve rung the fire bells” “Francis your impressions are hilarious don’t leave before I’ve rung the fire bells”

Back in London and inspired by the cultural wonderland of Europe, Dashwood founded The English Society of Dilettanti, so fellow well travelled intellectuals could meet in cultured discourse and then get totally mauled.

It’s the upstanding members of the Society of Dilettanti, debating some classical conundrum no doubt.  But hold! While the seated fellow is immersed in the subject of Etruscan vases his wine guzzling friends are more interested in the gentleman in the white coat who is proudly holding a lady’s garter in his right hand and no doubt regaling them with a filthy story.  The Blaggards! It’s the upstanding members of the Society of Dilettanti, debating some classical conundrum no doubt. But hold! While the seated fellow is immersed in the subject of Etruscan vases his wine guzzling friends are more interested in the filthy story of the gentleman in the white coat who is proudly holding a lady’s garter in his left hand. The Blaggards!

On the first Sunday of every month, forty or so gentleman of quality met with Dashwood at The Bedford Head Tavern in Covent Garden.

It’s the upstanding members of the Society of Dilettanti again, discussing Seneca over supper. But Hold! Those who aren’t guzzling wine appear to be studying imaginary gem stones between their thumb and forefingers. This is well known to be an obscene gesture meaning “Vagina”. The Dastards! It’s the upstanding members of the Society of Dilettanti again, discussing Seneca over supper. But Hold! Those who aren’t guzzling wine appear to be studying imaginary gem stones between their thumb and forefingers. This is well known to be an obscene gesture meaning “Vagina”. The Dastards!

There they debated the distinction between classical Greek and Roman antiquities, ruminated on the cultural mores of the ancient world and financed archaeological expeditions to the Mediterranean and beyond.

They also raised numerous Bacchanalian toasts of “Seria Ludo” (serious matters in a playful spirit) and Res est Severa Voluptas” (pleasure is a serious business) whilst chuckling at an impressive collection of “Erotic Curiosities” which they kept in a special cabinet.

But one cultural drinking society was not enough for Francis Dashwood so he formed another. The Divan Club was for gentleman fascinated with the Ottoman Empire and all things Turkish. Dashwood and fellow profligate John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich had both been to Constantinople on their travels and found any excuse for dressing up in a turban and Aladdin slippers irresistible. “To the Harem” they cried as they raised yet another glass.

In truth, Dashwood was an intelligent and sophisticated man, a dedicated patron of the arts; he just liked a laugh that’s all.

“Welcome to the Harem, beneath these loose fitting pyjama trousers I’ve a lob on the size of a Cherubs arm” “Welcome to the Harem. Beneath these loose fitting silk trousers I’ve a lob on the size of a cherubs arm”.

The one thing amiss with both of his cultural gatherings was that although each meeting descended into wine sodden Tomfoolery, they simply weren’t debauched enough.

At the end of a long day what true Englishman doesn’t like to visit a cave, slip on some ecclesiastical robes and take part in mock satanic rituals while rummaging drunkenly beneath the flimsy habits of whores and horny housewives who are all wearing masks and dressed up as nuns?

I know I do.

Strangely there wasn’t a club which catered for this particular pastime so Dashwood formed one, The Brotherhood of the Friars of St Francis of Wycombe.

Years later it would become a byword for wickedness under a more colourful title “The Hell Fire Club”.

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