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Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer (December 1708 – 11 December 1781) was an Englishmarker rake and politician, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1762–1763) and founder of the Hellfire Club.


Early life

He was born in Londonmarker, and educated at Eton Collegemarker 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 Russiamarker 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 Jacobean 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 Parkmarker, to combat unemployment, but it failed to pass.

The Hellfire Club

He leased Medmenham Abbeymarker 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 vatiously as Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe, Order of Knights of West Wycombe was held at Sir Francis' family home in West Wycombemarker 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).

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.

Portrayal in popular culture


Francis Dashwood has appeared in literary works by the following authors:


Film and TV

See also


External links


The Hellfire Club


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