The Hellfire Clubs

Sex, Satanism and Secret Societies

Evelyn Lord

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The first authoritative account of the Hell-Fire Clubs, who joined them, and which notorious legends about them are true

The Hell-Fire Clubs scandalized eighteenth-century English society. Rumors of their orgies, recruitment of prostitutes, extensive libraries of erotica, extreme rituals, and initiation ceremonies circulated widely at the time, only to become more sensational as generations passed. This thoroughly researched book sets aside the exaggerated gossip about the secret Hell-Fire Clubs and brings to light the first accurate portrait of their membership (including John Wilkes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Prince of Wales), beliefs, activities, and the reasons for their proliferation, first in the British Isles and later in America, possibly under the auspices of Benjamin Franklin.

Hell-Fire Clubs operated under a variety of titles, but all attracted similar members—mainly upper-class men with abundant leisure and the desire to shock society. The book explores the social and economic context in which the clubs emerged and flourished; their various phases, which first involved violence as an assertion of masculinity, then religious blasphemy, and later sexual indulgence; and the countermovement that eventually suppressed them. Uncovering the facts behind the Hell-Fire legends, this book also opens a window on the rich contradictions of the Enlightenment period.

Evelyn Lord has published widely on local history and is the author of The Knights Templar in Britain and The Stuart Secret Army. She lives in Cambridge, UK.

'This is a lively survey of a topic that has attracted much attention, and some sensational exaggerations; Lord adopts a sensible and straight-forward approach to stripping away some of the mythology of these clubs, and examining the evidence, which is often fascinating enough; her work will be accessible to general readers as well as to those studying the social history of the period.' - Dr David Money, Cambridge University

"This looks like the last word on the mystery of the Hellfire Clubs, those manifestations of irrational alcoholic and sexual exuberance which reached their peak in the eighteenth century. By a careful sifting of all the evidence Lord has cracked the code." - Fergus Linnane, author of The Lives of the English Rakes

"This sparkling account of the seamy side of the British aristocracy in the eighteenth century both entertains and informs." - Tim Blanning, author of The Pursuit of Glory

"A fine excursion into one of the more unlikely contributions to culture. . . . Lord runs through the influences, varieties, and members of various Hell-Fire Clubs and their increasingly louche predecessors."—Katherine A. Powers, Boston Sunday Globe

"Brilliantly readable."—La Petite Blog

"A superb book with exemplary scholarship... I doubt very much once you've opened it that you will be able to put it down." - Birmingham Post

"Neatly structured and scrupulously written." - Frances Wilson, Sunday Times

‘Evelyn Lord supplies a proper context for 18th-century aristo shenanigans.’ — Vera Rule, The Guardian, 27th March 2010

"[The Hell-Fire Clubs] was difficult to put down!  Lord's research was extensive and her writing compelling. . . . The book is packed with great facts and stories of the nefarious men and their social gatherings." —Heather Carroll, Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century

"In fitting the clubs into more general eighteenth-century concerns, Lord has done historians of the period a service."--Jeremy Gregory, The Journal of Ecclesiastical History
ISBN: 9780300164022
Publication Date: April 6, 2010
250 pages, 5 3/4 x 9
b/w plate section
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