Category Archives: Bawdy Georgians

Characters of Nations: Stereotypes in 1794

As Halloween is a day for mastering stereotypes and flaunting them before the world, I thought it appropriate to share some from the late 18th century.  These come from a letter to The Lady’s Magazine from Volume XXV 1794, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, appropriated solely to their use and amusement.  Do take them as such.

Stereotypes of the French, German, Italian, Spanish and English Characters

In Their Manners

  • The Frenchman is more than civil; he is courtly
  • The German benevolent
  • The Italian civil
  • The Spaniard disdainful and thinks too little of others
  • The Englishman haughty and thinks too much of himself

With Respect to Stature

  • The Frenchman is of a good size
  • The German tall
  • The Italian middling
  • The Spaniard short
  • The Englishman portly

In Apparel

  • The Frenchman is an innovator
  • The German an imitator
  • The Italian stingy
  • The Spaniard thrifty
  • The Englishman sumptuous

In Their Feasts

  • The Frenchman is delicate
  • The German a drunkard
  • The Italian sober
  • The Spaniard penurious
  • The Englishman prodigal
Germans Eating Sour Krout – James Gillray (1803)

In Their Tempers

  • The Frenchman is a sneerer
  • The German affable
  • The Italian complaisant
  • The Spaniard grave
  • The Englishman changeable

With Regard to Beauty

  • The Frenchman is handsome
  • The German not inferior to him
  • The Italian neither handsome nor ugly
  • The Spaniard rather ugly than handsome
  • The Englishman resembling angels

In Council

  • The Frenchman is not slow
  • The German more slow
  • The Italian subtle
  • The Spaniard cautious
  • The Englishman resolute
French Liberty, British Slavery – James Gillray (1792)

In Their Writings

  • The Frenchman speaks well, writes better
  • The German writes much
  • The Italian with solidity
  • The Spaniard little and well
  • The Englishman learnedly

In Their Knowledge

  • The Frenchman knows something of every thing
  • The German is a pedant
  • The Italian is learned
  • The Spaniard is profound
  • The Englishman is a philosopher

In Religion

  • The Frenchman is zealous
  • The German religious
  • The Italian fond of ceremonies
  • The Spaniard tainted with superstition
  • The Englishman with bigotry

In Their Undertakings

  • The Frenchman is like an eagle
  • The German like a bear
  • The Italian like a fox
  • The Spaniard like an elephant
  • The Englishman like a lion
The Times – James Gillray (1783)
Dutch: “Der Donder, take you monsieur.  I think I have paid the Piper.”                                           Spanish:  “See Gibralter!  See Don Langara! by St. Anthony you have made me the Laughing Stock of Europe.”

In the Office of Friendship

  • The Frenchman is faithful
  • The German good company
  • The Italian respectful
  • The Spaniard submissive
  • The Englishman a slave

In Marriage

  • The Frenchman is free
  • The German a patron
  • The Italian a gaoler
  • The Spaniard a tyrant
  • The Englishman a servant and a drudge

Their Women

  • In France they are full of quality and pride
  • In Germany economists and cold
  • In Italy prisoners and wicked
  • In Spain slaves and amorous
  • In England queens and libertines

Their Languages

  • Charles V said that he would speak French to his friend
  • High Dutch to his horse
  • Italian to his mistress
  • Spanish to God
  • English to birds
An Italian Family – Samuel Alken after Thomas Rowlandson (1785) 

A Seriously Naughty Portrait: Countess of Lichtenau

At first there’s so much pink you almost don’t see it.  But then, yep, nipple.  The nubble detail on her collar is throwing–a cheeky addition.  Save for the aforementioned exposure and her bared hand, the countess is entirely clothed. She’s out hunting with her very eager dog but the chase is over.  The bird has been bagged, and love is on the mind.  Peppered throughout are elements of an inevitably amorous scene: the kissing doves, the gushing water pipe, the splayed gun case.  Very naughty indeed.

Countess of Lichtenau, Wilhelmine Encke by Anna Dorothea Therbusch (1776)

If you’re inclined to read about the life of our nipple bearer, she wrote The Confessions of the Celebrated Countess of Lichtenau, late Mrs. Reitz, now confined in the fortress of Glogau as a state prisoner.  I’ll be adding it to my TBR list.  Fair warning: if you’re allergic to f-type characters masquerading as s’s (It confifts chiefly of the confeffions of a woman), it’s riddled with these.  Also, as editors relished doing in the 18th and 19th centuries, many good bits have been deleted: “The language, however, was so gross and indelicate, that, out of respect to religion and morality, it was necessary to omit them.”  Too bad.

6 Reasons Dashwood’s Monks Sucked at Satanism

The moralist may want to decry the Monks of Medmenham as holy terrors, devil-begotten and dancing down the moon, but in reality they were Rabelasians. Were they bawdy?  Of course.  Hedonistic?  Definitely.  But Satanists?  I think not.

THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS (Hortus Deliciarum) c. 1180
by German Miniaturist, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

 6 Reasons the Monks of Medmenham Sucked at Satanism

1.  The monks took “wives” 

Bawds Charlotte Hayes and Elizabeth Dennison may have routinely supplied the monks with hanks of fresh meat but the monks appear carnivorous of one flesh at a time.  It was forbidden for, say, Sandwich to take a bite out of Dashwood’s supper.  This would have caused the monks to go all un-monkly on each other which leads to . . .

2.  The monks had private chambers

This is by far their greatest breach in practicing Satanism.  Do naked witches dancing around a bonfire mean nothing to them?  Were the monks not lurking in the dark forest, their little demons in wait for the ritual orgy?  Nope.  Conjure for yourself an image of spare chambers with beds, two bodies writhing together, and in the next chamber, the same damned thing.  I cannot say the devil would approve.  Even the earliest pagans succeeded in open-field intercourse and what the hell is a vagina shaped into the lawn for if not to roll in it?

National Gallery, London

3.  Gatherings were limited to two weeks a year 

When the monks had to keep the debauchery fresh and exciting by limiting it to 14 days out of 365, how immoral could they possibly be?  We can suppose they sinned the whole year through (and in Lord Sandwich’s case, he likely did) but English has a word for these types: rakes.  Lots of gentlemen were rakes.  Maybe they mocked religion with sexuality, but satanist seems a facile label.  Moreover, for the Georgians it was a lazy justification for the actions many of their contemporaries disdained and/or misunderstood.

4.  A goodly number of the inner circle had pious wives at home

Saying nothing of the education gap between men and women during Georgian England or the standards of female conduct, a zealous wife and a randy husband do not make for good bedroom sport.  Add to this the fact that men were expected to look outside their wives for sexual pleasure and the diversions of home pall even further.   Boredom nags and man, in a state of psychological expenditure, inverts the woes of his existence.  Pious wife becomes whore, restraint becomes revelry, and atheism and/or contempt of the church becomes mock-satanism.

Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

5.  High-born women visited Medmenham under conditions of anonymity ONLY AFTER they were assured no male relative was present

With the exception of Dashwood’s half-sister Mary Walcot (and it is speculated whether or not she actually participated at Medmenham) the intermingling of monks with blood and familial relatives was taboo.  The revelers had limitations.  But why limit indulgence?  I’m not suggesting a mésalliance á la the Lannisters in Game of Thrones, though maybe that should be on the table as well, but surely a satanist relative would forgive the women under his legislation if they possessed the same fleshly desires as he?  Surely he would not expect her to follow God’s rules and be chaste?

6.   Lord Sandwich and the baboon 

John Wilkes was a trickster who shared a mutual loathing for Lord Sandwich.  He viewed the monks’ fascination with the dark arts as flummery, and so, to amuse himself, he rigged a ceremonial chest used during the Black Mass.  He tied a cord to a spring loaded door and ran said cord beneath the rug to where he could pull it at his leisure.  One night after the Black Mass had commenced and the monks were kneeling before the chest, imploring the Dark Prince to appear and receive their adoration, Wilkes grinned and pulled his cord.  A baboon, dressed as the devil and shrieking with fear and glee, launched onto a startled Sandwich.  And what did this wicked fellow do?  Collapsed in a babbling fit, foreswearing his alliance to Satan.

Satanism, one might surmise, is not for the faint of heart.

Monks Behaving Badly

They were devils who played near the banks of the Thames at Medmenham Abbey as monks with their nuns.

Prayer of the Penitent Monks – Alessandro Magnasco

They were blasphemers whose amusements occasioned mock sermons to cats and arcane rituals in the names of Bacchus and Venus.

Bacchanalian Scene – Alessandro Magnasco (1710s)

They were known as the Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, Mad Monks of Medmenham, the Brotherhood, and lastly, simply, a hell-fire club helmed by Sir Francis Dashwood and his 12 disciples.

Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer – William Hogarth (late 1750s)
Painted for Sociey of Dilettanti to parody Renaissance images of Francis of Assisi.

The Club’s Origins

The genesis of Sir Francis Dashwood’s club may be lost to the bowels of history, but the intermingling of Satanism and sex, of profane intellectualism and creaturely delight was hardly a new idea.  The Duke of Wharton’s hell-fire club of 1719 satirized religion, encouraged equality of the sexes, and expressed an intent to rankle the zealous.  Active until 1721, the club was a hiccup, driven out of existence by George I’s Order of Council stating that establishments of the sort were “disruptive”.   By 1722 the dissolute Wharton was bankrupt and removed from parliament by force.  That very year he became a Freemason and assumed the role of Grand Master of the English Grand Lodge.

“Sir Francis and Lady Dashwood at West Wycombe Park”
Painted in 1776, the lady portrayed is not thought to be Lady Dashwood, who died in 1769, but Frances Barry, Dashwood’s mistress with whom he lived after the death of his wife.

Having 11 years of age when Wharton’s Club was founded, the future rake of England would take another twenty years to gather a like-minded assembly.  The members of Medmenham’s inner sanctum—Dashwood’s so-called 12 Apostles—represented a core of powerful politicos.  Dashwood himself was Chancellor of the Exchequer; Lord Sandwich, one of the most prominent monks, held the position of First Lord of the Admiralty for twenty years.

Among those granted exclusive access to the brotherhood’s most secret rites were MPs, an Oxford Don, Dashwood’s brother-in-law, and a smattering of gentlemen and professionals.  John Wilkes, he of scathing wit and enemy of Sandwich, did not rank among the 12 but attended the twice yearly week-long revelries.  He also betrayed the brotherhood by writing a detailed account of the club’s activities.


The first meeting at Medmenham occurred around 1752-1753, either shortly before or after the restoration and new building was finished. By the early 1750s Dashwood had rented the grounds from Francis Duffield and quickly set about converting the three-story house into an Gothic Neoclassical adult playground replete with a cloister, a mock ruined tower, and excavated caves beneath his home of West Weycombe Hall.

Strict standards for privacy ensured that titillation over the project remained at its peak.  Dashwood arranged for workmen’s daily transport to and from London, and the 12 apostles, binding their rituals in a code of gentleman’s honor, pledged to conceal the exact nature of the saturnalia.  In correspondence, they practiced equivogue and cloaked their identities behind the monastic names used at Medmenham.  But not all who passed through Medmenham kept silent.  Horace Walpole, a dinner guest, and John Wilkes, a regular participant, both wrote of the devotions taking place therein and of the Bacchanalian-Venusian grounds.

Bacchus with Nymphs and Cupid – Caesar van Everdingen (1660)

Welcome, Revelers and Debauchers All

What might celebrants see upon their arrival via the Thames?  In short, the puerile delight of fraternities, polished with piles of spare coins.  Phallic reminders, a favorite of the friars, were never far from one’s gaze.  Lengthy statues bore an inscription in Greek, “Savior of the World” which puts to mind Gustave Corbet’s 1866 “Origin of the World.”  On the lawn there was a hobby-horse cock and erotic frescoes within the Old Chapel.  At the entrance, above the heads of the sacrilegious, read “Fay Ce Que Voudras” — Rabbelais’s “Do What Thou Wilt” in Renaissance French.

Lascivious flourishes continued inside the building as well as without.  Occult and carnal literature lined the library shelves, many bound in the religious titles.  Statues, possibly of the gods of silence, provided stern reminders to the monks and their guests.  The walls were adorned portraits of Francis and his 12 apostles, a choice selection of ladies, and a series of english monarchs, Henry VIII given particular deference.  A corridor led to the inner circle’s chapter room where latin mottoes circled the walls.  Behind the mock ruined tower, individual cells for the monks and their chosen lady ensured privacy.  So much for flagrant orgies.

Despite allusions to Satanism and libidinous free-for-alls, the monks followed an agreed-upon set of rules and respected one another’s boundaries.  Compared to the open doors of society, they may have behaved badly, but their pleasures were nothing like that of  Lord Rochester or Colonel Charteris, and their secrecy, more than anything, cemented their unholy reputation.