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Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Sir Francis Dashwood



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 deeds, rituals and orgies, many of which in today’s more enlightened times, few if any people would even raise an eyebrow.  He was an aristocrat and a man of influence but also the rogue of his day, who 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 “The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe”.   

In 1708 during the reign of Queen Anne, Sir Francis Dashwood was born on the 11th December at Great Marlborough Street in London into a wealthy family of landed gentry.  He was the only son of Sir Francis John Bateman Dashwood and his second wife of four, Lady Mary Fane the eldest daughter of the “Baron Le Despencer”.  Sir Francis John Bateman Dashwood was a wealthy businessman who had been created the “1st Baronet Dashwood of West Wycombe” (1658-1724) and built the family fortune from his dealings with the Ottoman Empire trading in Turkey and China.  When young Sir Francis was two years old his mother Lady Mary died, and his father promptly remarried. 

Not much is known of Sir 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 and retained a deep mutual respect for each other.  In 1724 his father died and Sir Francis 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 education visiting the Royal courts of Europe, normally accompanied by 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 brothels and bordellos generally indulging in the 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 particularly the “Eleusinian mysteries.  He was also greatly influenced by the work of “Francois Rabelais” 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 wrote: 

It was on Good-Friday when each person who attends the service in the Sistine Chapel, as they enter they  take 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! And 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!”  Would remain with Sir Francis for most 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 master chamber.  Investigating he found Sir Francis staring outside at four gleaming green eyes, they were 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 master’s 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 for 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 Tsarina Anna. 

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 status and money, Sir Francis became very active in promoting expeditions, sending out architects and draughtsman to survey and draw reconstructions of 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” who was 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, a glass of wine in his hands and his attention fixed on a statue of Venus with the inscription “San Francesco Di Wycombe” in the form of a Halo around his head.  William Hogarth later painted a version of this).

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. 

In 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.

The Divan Club

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.  On the walls of the caves they carved head like figures, one with a mitre and one with horns, and an old and molding female statue stood 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, which measured 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.



The wall carvings and the female statue in the caves.



Gothic front and entrance to the tunnels.

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 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 their 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 Marquis 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, so the rituals of the Order should never be known.



Sir Francis    /    Duke of Queensberry    /    John Wilkes    /    Paul Whitehead

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 sometimes 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 beds.  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, where 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 daughter “Persephone”. 

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 an 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 seems to be no evidence to support these claims, they merely worshiped the old gods in their own way as they envisioned it.  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 being 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, and stories of their exploits and 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 Abbey.  One 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 his gardener “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” Sir Francis 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, and 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 drink 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” were invited for “divine milk punch” in the Golden Ball after it was re-opened on 03rd 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 Ball

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”.  A Mrs. Libbe-Powys adds “…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 stated:  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 called it “A temple built aloft in air, that serves for show and not for prayer”. 

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 member “Thomas Potter” on a pornographic spoof of Alexander Pope’s “An Essay of Man” entitled “An Essay on Woman”.  Lord 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 Dashwood Mausoleum Monument

The Mausoleum was originally built with a £500 legacy left to him by “George Bubb Dodington” who had died in 1762, to be used 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 dear and close 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 exist. 

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 1769. 

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)”: 

The 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.  One has to wonder why? 

Paul Whitehead the former Steward and Keeper of the Minute Book of the Order at Medmenham abbey, died in 1774 and wishing his body to be left to science but his heart preserved 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 Founder.”  

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 beneath it. 

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 Heywood, Berkshire. 

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 his zest for life. 





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


Home Page


A Universal Message:


Let there be peace in the world  -   Where have all the flowers gone?


About me:

My Personal PageMy Place in England / My Family Tree (Ancestry)


Wicca & Witchcraft


Wicca/Witchcraft /  What is Wicca What is Magick


Traditional Writings:


The 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 GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality


Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




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 An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /  Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /    


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




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


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered 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:

(Our Ancestors)


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagorasParacelsus /  Abramelin the Mage Archimedes AgrippaSocrates  /  AristotleAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” /  



A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Aidan A KellyAleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Praetorius /  Anton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen DuncanHermann Löher /  Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich Kramer and the Malleus MaleficarumIdries ShahIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  James Sprenger and the Malleus Maleficarum” /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /  Lambert Daneau /  Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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