Throughout history, secret societies have captured the public's attention. They have been the basis for many conspiracy theories mainly based on their tight secrecy. The question still remains today if they really were secret societies set to overtake the world or if they were just bored people who wanted to give the world something to talk about. One of those secret societies was the Hell Fire Club in England.
The Hell Fire Club was established in the early 1700s by Sir Francis Dashwood. It began as a mockery of religion but became something much more. Dashwood was always at odds with religion and was not quiet about his feelings in that regard. He took many opportunities to mock religion, especially Catholicism. This included the establishment of The Friars of St. Francis of Weycomb (some called it Medmenham which was the name of the abbey the group made its home in) as the Hell Fire Club was originally known as. According to Daniel Pratt Mannix, "The original Hell-Fire Club had been abolished by special order of the Lord High Chancellor, because even in that broadminded time the members had carried things a little too far when they celebrated Mass on the body of a naked girl stretched out on one of the barroom tables." Dashwood recreated the group under the new name but the public kept calling the group The Hell Fire Club.
Dashwood and his friends became the "monks" of the abbey. They brought in prostitutes and even ladies of society who were not too prudish to play the role of "nuns". The "nuns" provided pleasure of any kind to the "monks" with details written by some participates that would make for rated XXX movies today.
Many of the contemporary writings on the Hell Fire Club were written by enemies of Dashwood which makes an historian take some of their comments as exaggerated events to attack Dashwood and those that associated with him. Political attacks accusing one of immoral or even satanic acts were not uncommon and many times found to be baseless. What has been agreed upon by all is that the abbey became an erotic garden for many powerful men.
There was an even uglier side in the murder of innocent people. One of the members of the club kidnapped a pedestrian and placed them in a barrel that they subsequently sunk in a lake all because of a bet. Rumors abounded of the fixation the group had with death and even the involvement in strange and unexplained deaths.
Who were these men of power? Obviously, there was Sir Francis Dashwood. In addition to him, there was the Marquis of Granby, the Earl of Bute, John Wilkes, Thomas Potter who was the Archbishop of Canterbury's son, the Earl of Sandwich (yes, that is where we get the sandwiches we have for lunch), and the Prince of Wales. Rumor has it that even Benjamin Franklin was a member of the society, but this has never been confirmed though he publically associated with many of the members of the club and was known for his "extra-curricular" activities with the ladies. Even the mother-in-law of the Earl of Bute, Lady Mary Wortley, was known for her participation as a "nun".
Knowing that these people and others were involved in such scandalous activity is enough to make us gasp, but how could this secret society be any more dangerous than spreading disease? Think about who made up the top level of the club. The Prince of Wales along with other members of nobility and even the church were involved. This meant that the power of England met regularly at the abbey. Was it just physical pleasure being exchanged? Or did they also discuss political and economical topics of the day?
Putting this number of powerful men and women together consistently would inevitably lead to power being harnessed at the abbey. Thus, the awe of such a secret society that not only was for personal pleasure but also for personal power gains. Who wouldn't want to be part of such a group if their desire was for power? The fact that the Prince of Wales who would later become the king the colonies revolted under makes one think of the power that emanated and grew from the debauched abbey.
Eventually, Dashwood's group was disbanded and the noble gentlemen moved up the ladder in the Freemasons and in government. Yet, many have said that the group was carried secretly to America where it still functions today in complete secrecy with the desire to control the world and have their cake of pleasure, too.
Does the Hell Fire Club still exist today? Do they control many of the countries around the world? Or are they in it only for the fun? This is what makes secret societies so enticing to the world. They are secret for a reason.
The Hell Fire Club by Daniel Pratt Mannix