When it comes to hell-raisers, Francis Dashwood was the Daddy. The unequalled, hard-drinkin’, maiden-defilin’, damn-your-eyes Daddy. Others may have been equally debauched, but none were quite so darned stylish about it.
Dashwood first entered public attention when he started his first "Grand Tour" of Europe. Being a charming and handsome man, with no discernable moral compass whatsoever, he rogered his merry way from royal court to royal court, leaving scandal, broken marriages and the occasional duel in his wake. His alarmed tutor took him to a Good Friday scourging ceremony at the Sistine Chapel, in the hope of instilling some decent Christian values in his pupil. Dashwood reacted by getting a bit carried away, wrestling a whip out of the hands of a priest and merrily thrashing the living daylights out of the panicking congregation, which fled screaming "Il diavalo!".
Impressed by that? Well he moved to Russia and entered the Russian Court pretending to be the King of Sweden. If you think that's impressive, bear in mind that Sweden was a long-time enemy of Russia at the time. If you that that's even more impressive, bear in mind that he managed to seduce the Tsarina Anna in the process. Now that's beyond impressive, isn't it? This is a man who makes James Bond look like a shy and retiring minor civil servant, bordering on asexuality.
Returning to England, he founded the Hellfire Club in the caverns at Medmenham Abbey, enabling the great and good to spend pleasant evenings doing odd things to the rude bits of ladies while attempting to summon the occasional god or demon. While blind drunk, of course. This wasn't any serious attempt at occultism- satire was very much the order of the day in the 18th century, and the purpose of the club was to satirise religion through drinking very heavily while attempting to shag anything that wasn't too drunk to stagger away. Among the members were John Wilkes (Politician and Pornographer. 18th-century politics was a riot, let me assure you), Lord Sandwich (yes- inventor of the bread-based convenience food), the painter William Hogarth, the Prince of Wales and (occasionally) Benjamin Franklin. In founding the Hellfire Club, Dashwood is often hailed as the creator of what became modern Satanism, by marrying primitive heresies with the libertarian doctrines found in the works of Rabelais. "Do what thou will" was the motto of the order.
Dashwood had a formidable collection of porn, including the first ever English translation of the Kama Sutra (beating Sir Richard Burton by a century). His library was greatly appreciated by Lord Bute (who went on to become the Prime Minister), who repaid the favour in 1762 by appointing Dashwood as Chancellor of the Exchequer. This was a curious appointment as Dashwood was notoriously for being useless with figures. By his own admission he was totally unable to even contemplate any sum over five figures, so placing him in charge of the nation's economy was never the brightest move Bute made.
His career in high office was brief- in 1763 he was forced to resign after he imposed a tax on cider that caused riots from enraged scrumpy drinkers. The Hellfire Club was also breaking up at this point, largely due to feuding sparked off by the antics of John Wilkes (we'll cover Wilkes in a forthcoming article, because he's another glorious nutter). Dashwood switched to the quieter life, and (somewhat astonishingly) produced a revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer with his lifelong friend, Benjamin Franklin. He died in 1781, leaving the bulk of his estate to one of his illegitimate daughters.
The experts are still divided as to whether Dashwood was a "real" Satanist or not. Personally, I get the impression he was just doing it for a laugh, and he was far more interested in drunkenly tumbling into a pile of sexy nuns than coming up with any coherent philosophy of life or religion. I heartily recommend the same approach be taken to every faith- the world would be a happier place for sure.