About Sir Francis Dashwood, MP, 2nd Bt, 15th Baron le Despencer
Family and Education b. Dec. 1708, 1st s. of Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Bt., M.P., of West Wycombe by his 2nd w. Lady Mary Fane, da. of Vere, 4th Earl of Westmorland and 7th Lord le Despenser; gd.-s. of Francis Dashwood, Turkey merchant and alderman of London; half-bro. of John Dashwood King. educ. Eton 1725; Grand Tour (France and Italy) 1729-31. m. 19 Dec. 1745, Sarah, da. and h. of George Gould of Iver, Bucks., wid. of Sir Richard Ellis, 3rd Bt., of Wyham, Lincs., s.p. suc. fa. 4 Nov. 1724; abeyance of barony of le Despenser terminated in his favour 19 Apr. 1763.
P.C. 20 Mar. 1761; treasurer of the chamber 1761-2; chancellor of the Exchequer 1762-3; ld. lt. Bucks. 1763-d.; keeper of the great wardrobe 1763-5; jt. postmaster gen. 1766-d.
Biography In 1741 Dashwood succeeded his brother-in-law, Sir Robert Austen, at New Romney, on the interest of Henry Furnese. His resentment of the treatment of his uncle, John Fane, made him one of the most violent and inveterate of the young opposition Whig Members who baited Walpole.
They list under Sandys [wrote Horace Walpole], a parcel of them, with no more brains than their general; but being malicious they pass for ingenious. He is said to have gone to the length of supplying accounts of the last scenes of Walpole’s Administration to an abbé in Rome, who sent them to the Pretender.1 After Walpole’s fall, he spoke against a loyal address to the King on the threatened French invasion in Feb. 1744, comparing the situation with that which had led to the Revolution:
a weak, avaricious, narrow-minded Prince on the throne, a great part of the nation proscribed and forced into disaffection, the daily encroachments made upon the constitution — no wonder there was an unwillingness in the people to support the Government. ‘The general turn of this laboured oration’, Philip Yorke wrote,
gave deserved offence and was briskly taken up by Sir William Yonge, who observed that the honourable gentleman had stated his premises so strongly that it was impossible for the House not to draw the conclusion. It had the most of a Jacobite tendency of any speech that was ever pronounced in Parliament.2 On 7 Apr. 1747 he attacked the bill abolishing hereditary jurisdictions in Scotland, calling it
a breach of the Union, but not being able to maintain a close argument upon that subject he left it and spoke, as he called it, for liberty and against the prerogative, maintaining ... that the people of England lost their liberty when the barons of England lost their power to disobey the King and oppress the subject with impunity.3 About this time he set out his political aims in a document calling for ‘national bills’ to institute annual or triennial Parliaments, to establish ‘a numerous and effectual militia’, and to increase the number of offices disqualifying their holders from sitting in the House of Commons. The last two of these aims are included in the terms on which Frederick, Prince of Wales, commissioned Dashwood and Lord Talbot, as Whigs who had contacts with the Tory party, to invite the Tories to join with him on the eve of the general election of 1747.4
In the next Parliament Dashwood, Talbot, and Furnese became closely connected with Bubb Dodington, and through him with the Prince of Wales, from whom they all obtained promises of offices on his accession, when Dashwood was to become either treasurer of the navy or cofferer. Shortly before Frederick’s death, in a debate on a document charging the Duke of Cumberland, inter alia, with dismissing old army officers, Dashwood, ‘after much disclaiming of Jacobitism’, maintained that this particular charge was justified, quoting the case of his uncle, though this had occurred long before Cumberland’s time.5 After Frederick’s death he parted company with Dodington, who made his peace with the Government, while Dashwood continued in opposition.
He died 11 Dec. 1781.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754 Author: Romney R. Sedgwick Notes 1. Walpole to Mann, 17 and 24 Dec. 1741, 22 Jan. and 3 Mar. 1742; Mann to Newcastle, 7 May 1742, SP For. 98/45. 2. Yorke's parl. jnl. Parl. Hist. xiii. 647. 3. HMC Polwarth, v. 235. 4. Dashwood mss; Owen, Pelhams, 312-13. 5. Dodington Diary, 6; Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, i. 10.
Founder of the Hellfire Club
Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer (December 1708 – 11 December 1781) was an English rake and politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1762–1763) and founder of the Hellfire Club.
He was born in London, and educated at Eton College where he became associated with William Pitt the Elder. He was orphaned in 1724 at the age of 16. In 1726 he went on a Grand Tour of Europe, becoming one of the first Britons to include Russia on his itinerary.
He was too young to have been a member of the very first Hellfire Club founded by the Duke of Wharton in 1719 and disbanded in 1721, but he and the Earl of Sandwich are alleged to have been members of a Hellfire Club that met at the George and Vulture Inn throughout the 1730s.
In 1732 he formed a dining club called the Society of Dilettanti with around 40 charter members (some of whom may have been members of Wharton's original club) who had returned from the Grand Tour with a greater appreciation of classical art. William Hogarth drew Sir Francis Dashwood at his Devotions for dilettante Viscount Boyne.
On 19 December 1745, he married Lady Sarah Ellys (née Gould) (d. 19 January 1769), the widow of Sir Richard Ellys, 2nd Baronet.
Early political career
In 1741 he was elected Member of Parliament for New Romney and subsequently abandoning his earlier Jacobite sympathies he joined the court of Frederick, Prince of Wales and sponsored alleged spy-master Lord Melcombe’s membership of the Dilettanti.
In 1744 he and fellow Dilettante the Earl of Sandwich founded the short-lived Divan Club for those who had visited the Ottoman Empire to share their experiences, but this club was disbanded two years later.
In 1747 he introduced a poor-relief bill that recommended commissioning public works, such as the caves he later had excavated at West Wycombe Park, to combat unemployment, but it failed to pass.
The Hellfire Club
Dashwood leased Medmenham Abbey on the Thames from his friend, Francis Duffield in 1751 and had it rebuilt by the architect Nicholas Revett in the style of the 18th century Gothic revival, at this time, the motto Fait ce que voudras was placed above a doorway in stained glass, and it is thought that Hogarth may have executed murals for this building; none, however, survive.
The first meeting of the group known facetiously as Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe, Order of Knights of West Wycombe was held at Sir Francis' family home in West Wycombe on Walpurgis Night in 1752.
According to the 1779 book Nocturnal Revels, on the Grand Tour he had visited various religious seminaries, "founded, as it were, in direct contradiction to Nature and Reason; on his return to England, [he] thought that a burlesque Institution in the name of St Francis, would mark the absurdity of such Societies; and in lieu of the austerities and abstemiousness there practised, substitute convivial gaiety, unrestrained hilarity, and social felicity."
The initial meeting was something of a failure and the club subsequently moved their meetings to Medmenham Abbey (about 6 miles from West Wycombe) where they called themselves the Monks of Medmenham.
For his activities in the Hellfire Club, he was in his day widely regarded as being involved in devil worship.
Later political career
He was appointed Treasurer of the Chamber in 1761 and Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1762 but was forced to resign the following year after announcing an unpopular budget and subsequently served as Master of the Great Wardrobe After leaving that post, the Barony of le Despencer was called out of abeyance for him (in right of his mother Mary, eldest daughter of 4th Earl of Westmorland).
From 1765 until his death he served as joint Postmaster General. During this time he met and befriended Benjamin Franklin, his opposite number in the North American colonies, and agreeing that church services were too long, the two produced an anonymous Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer in 1773.
He also served as an honorary vice president of London's charitable Foundling Hospital from 1777 until his death.
Francis Dashwood's father, Sir Francis Dashwood, 1st Baronet, married four times; his second wife was Mary, the eldest daughter of Vere Fane, 4th Earl of Westmorland, Baron Le Despencer and Burghersh. Francis and Mary had two children: a son Francis and a daughter Rachael. Sir Francis also had two surviving daughters from his first marriage, and two daughters and two sons from his third. So Francis Dashwood had a sister Rachael, and six half siblings.
When the 7th Earl of Westmorland died childless, the Earldom of Westmorland passed to Thomas Fane a direct male descendent of the 1st Earl. The title of Baron le Despencer, passed through Mary to Francis.
Portrayal in popular culture
Francis Dashwood has appeared in literary works by the following authors:
Charles Brockden Brown in his 1798 novel Wieland describes the character Carwin as "specious seducer Dashwood."
Robert Anton Wilson in his 1975 The Illuminatus! Trilogy and 1980–81 Schrödinger's Cat Trilogy.
James Herbert in the 1994 novel The Ghosts of Sleath.
Eddie Campbell in the 1994 four-issue story arc Warped Notions for the comic book Hellblazer.
Kathy Reichs in the 2001 Novel Fatal Voyage.
Carrie Bebris in her 2005 Regency novel Suspense and Sensibility.
Mike Carey in the 2006 four-issue story arc Reasons to Be Cheerful for the comic book Hellblazer.
Kage Baker in her 2007 short story "Hellfire at Twilight".
Tom Knox in the 2009 novel The Genesis Secret.
Diana Gabaldon in her 1998 short story Lord John and the Hellfire Club. The story was originally published in Past Poisons: An Ellis Peters Memorial Anthology of Historic Crime, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Because of the character Lord John's popularity, Gabaldon reworked the story to be included with a set of Lord John novellas, in total being published as Lord John and the Hand of Devils.
Received a name check from Vivian Stanshall at the end of side two of the original recording of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells, as found in the Mike Oldfield Boxed collection (Virgin Records – CDBOX1).
The Inkubus Sukkubus song 'Hell-Fire' from the album Vampyre Erotica mentions him, the motto Do What Thou Will, and Breast of Venus.
Film and TV
Appears in the anime Le Chevalier D'Eon as the leader of a powerful cult – the Revolutionary Order – based in Medmenham Abbey, Medmenham, England, that seeks to manipulate Europeon powers using magical powers latent in the biblical Book of Psalms.