Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet
Although more widely known as a prominent member of the Hellfire Club, my ancestor is depicted here as a member of the Divan Club, which he founded. To qualify, you needed to have visited Constantinople—considered pretty adventurous in those days—and then have had yourself painted in Ottoman dress. Inscribed on the reverse “El Faquir Dashwood Pasha” and set in a fabulous carved and gilded frame, this portrait conjures up all his love of dressing up and great hospitality. I see it virtually every day and it never ceases to bring a smile to my face
In his 1974 history of the 18thcentury phenomenon The Hellfire Clubs, Geoffrey Ashe drew a parallel with the 1960s hippie protest against convention, both traceable to Rabelais’s 16th-century Gargantua and the utopian Abbey of Thélème, its sole rule: ‘Do what thou wilt.’
Certainly, Sir Francis Dashwood, who didn’t found but symbolises the Hellfire Clubs, was at maverick and rakish odds with what he considered the smug, philistine and corrupt Whig establishment, but liberty, for him, meant more than ‘nymphs and hogsheads’ and blasphemous japes
In a long parliamentary career, he was a famed orator, defended Admiral John Byng and supported American independence. His political career reached its apogee as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Bute’s shortlived administration.
Dashwood inherited his country seat, West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, his baronetcy and a fortune at 15. After Eton, he embarked on two Grand Tours, during which he flirted with Jacobitism and Catholicism, before travelling more adventurously. It was said he seduced the wife of Peter the Great, disguised as the Tsar’s arch-enemy Charles XII of Sweden, despite Charles’s death 15 years earlier.
The Divan Club, which Dashwood co-founded, met at the Thatched Tavern in St James’s Street, London SW1. Members wore turbans and robes and carried daggers; Dashwood’s title was El Faquir Dashwood Pasha and the standing toast was ‘the Harem’. Each member had to donate his painted portrait and the Flemish portraitist Adrien Carpentiers, active in England from 1739, obliged.
The Society of Dilettanti, which also was co-founded by Dashwood and still extant, is a similar club for enthusiasts of Greek and Roman art. Carpentiers painted Dashwood as ‘Pope Innocent’.
Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet (1708–81) by Adrien Carpentiers (1739–78), 29¼in by 24¼in, Collection Sir Edward Dashwood, 12th Baronet