Dashwood, Francis (DNB01)

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DASHWOOD, FRANCIS, Baron le Despencer (1708–1781), chancellor of the exchequer, born in December 1708, was only son of Sir Francis Dashwood, first baronet (d. 1724), and his second wife Mary, eldest daughter of Vere Fane, baron Le Despencer and fourth earl of Westmorland. His father, third son of Francis Dashwood, a Turkey merchant and alderman of London, and brother of Sir Samuel Dashwood, lord mayor of London in 1702, was elected M.P. for Winchilsea on 4 May 1708, and again on 9 Oct. 1710; he was created a baronet on 28 June 1707, died on 19 Nov. 1724 (not on 4 Nov. as Burke says: see Hist. Reg. 1724, Chron. Diary, p. 49), and was buried at Wycombe.

He was four times married, and by his third wife, Mary, daughter of Major King, was father of Sir John Dashwood-King (1716–1793), who succeeded his half-brother Lord Le Despencer as third baronet, an honour which his descendants, having dropped the name King, still hold.

Dashwood appears to have been educated privately. On 19 Nov. 1724, when still under sixteen, he succeeded to his father's title and estates, and he spent his youth and early manhood in riotous living abroad, gaining 'a European reputation for his pranks and adventures. … He roamed from court to court in search of notoriety. In Russia he masqueraded as Charles XII, and in that unsuitable character aspired to be the lover of the Tsarina Anne. In Italy his outrages on religion and morality led to his expulsion from the dominions of the Church' (Horace Wapole, Memoirs of George III, ed. Barker, i. 237 ; Cust, Dilettanti Soc. pp. 9-10). On his return to England he obtained a minor post in the household of Frederick Lewis, prince of Wales, and this connection, coupled with the dismissal of his uncle the earl of Westmorland from his colonelcy of the first troop of horse guards, made Dashwood a violent opponent of Walpole's administration (Horace Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, i. 136).

Meanwhile, 'if not the actual projector and founder of the [Dilettanti] Society, he was certainly its leading member in 1736' (Cust, p. 9). He took a prominent part in its proceedings, and on 2 March 1745-6, when the earl of Sandwich was suspended from his office of archmaster for 'his misbehaviour to and contempt of the Society,' Dashwood was elected in his place, and he presented to the king various petitions from the society when it was seeking to acquire a permanent home (ib. pp. 30, 61 sqq.) In 1740 Dashwood was at Florence with Horace Walpole, Gray, and others, and shortly afterwards he got into trouble with Sir Horace Mann ; there he also made the acquaintance of Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu. In 1743 Horace Walpole described the 'Dilettanti' as 'a club for which the nominal qualification is having been to Italy, and the real one, being drunk ; the two chiefs are Lord Middlesex and Sir Francis Dashwood, who were seldom sober the whole time they were in Italy' (Letters, i. 240). In 1742 George Knapton [q. v.] painted Dashwood's portrait for the society.

During the general election of 1741 Dashwood fought vigorously against Walpole's supporters, and secured a seat for himself at New Romney on 5 May. In parliament he followed Samuel Sandys, first baron Sandys [q. v.], and vehemently attacked Sir Robert Walpole, declaring that abroad he was looked upon with contempt. Walpole's fall made no difference to Dash woods position, and as a courtier of Frederick Lewis he was in chronic opposition to all George II's governments. He was re-elected for New Romney on 26 June 1747, and in January 1751 made a rather ostentatious disavowal of jacobitism, of which Andrew Stone [q. v.] and others of the prince of Wales's (George Ill's) household were suspected. At Leicester House Dashwood abetted the influence of George Bubb Dodington (lord Melcombe) [q. v.], and opposed the regency bill of 15 May 175 (cf. Bubb Dodington, Diary, ed. 1809, pp. 6, 7, 59, 72). On 13 April 1749 he was created D.C.L. of Oxford University, and on 19 June 1746 he was elected F.R.S. (Thomson, Royal Soc. App. p. xliv).

On 29 May 1744 Horace Walpole wrote: 'Dashwood (Lady Carteret's quondam lover) has stolen a great fortune, a Miss Bateman' (Letters, i. 303) ; but this match was not effected, and on 19 Dec. 1745 Dashwood married at St. George's, Hanover Square, Sarah, daughter of George Gould of Iver, Buckinghamshire, and widow of Sir Richard Ellis, third baronet of Wyham, co. Lincoln, who died on 14 Jan. 1742 (Reg. of Marr., St. George's, Hanover Square, Harl. Soc. i. 35). Horace Walpole described her as 'a poor forlorn Presbyterian prude' (Letters, ii. 11). His marriage had no effect upon Dashwood's profligacy ; according to Wraxall he 'far exceeded in licentiousness of conduct any model exhibited since Charles II' (Memoirs, ed. Wheatley, ii. 18-19). About 1755 he founded the famous 'Hell-fire Club,' or monks of Medmenham abbey. The abbey, formerly belonging to the Cistercian order, was beautifully situated on the banks of the Thames near Marlow. It was rented by Dashwood, his half-brother Sir John Dashwood-King, his cousin Sir Thomas Stapleton, Paul Whitehead, John Wilkes, and others to the number of twelve, who frequently resorted thither during the summer (Almon, Mem. and Corr. of John Wilkes, iii. 60-3). Over the grand entrance was placed the famous inscription on Rabelais' abbey of Theleme, 'Fay ce que voudras,' the 'monks' were called Franciscans, from Dashwood's Christian name, and they amused themselves with obscene parodies of Franciscan rites, and with orgies of drunkenness and debauchery which even Almon, himself no prude, shrank from describing. Dashwood, the most profane of that blasphemous crew, acted as a sort of high priest, and used a communion cup to pour out libations to heathen deities. He had not even the excuse of comparative youth to palliate his conduct ; he was approaching fifty, and thus ten years older than Thomas Potter [q. v.], whom Almon describes as the worst of the set and the corruptor of Wilkes; he was nearly twenty years older than Wilkes, and two years older than 'the aged Paul' Whitehead [q. v.], who acted as secretary and steward of the order of ill-fame, and was branded by Churchill as 'a disgrace to manhood' (see Charles Johnston, Chrysal, 1768, iii. 231-280, for a full account of the proceedings of the ' monks '). As a contrast to Medmenham abbey, Dashwood erected a church on a neighbouring hill, which, as Churchill put it in 'The Ghost,' might 'serve for show, if not for prayer,' and Wilkes was equally caustic in his references to Dashwood's church 'built on the top of a hill for the convenience and devotion of the town at the bottom of it' (Memoirs, ed. Almon, iii. 57-9).

On 15 April 1754 Dash wood was re-elected to parliament for New Romney, and when the Buckinghamshire militia was raised on the outbreak of the seven years' war in 1757, Dashwood became its first colonel with Wilkes as his lieutenant-colonel. In the same year he made a praiseworthy effort to save the life of Admiral Byng (Walpole, Mem. of George II, ii. 318, 323 sqq., 336). On 28 March 1761 he found a new seat in parliament for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis ; he was re-elected on 9 June 1762 on his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer, which he owed to his dependence upon Bute. 'Of financial knowledge he did not possess the rudiments, and his ignorance was all the more conspicuous from the great financial ability of his predecessor Legge. His budget speech was so confused and incapable that it was received with shouts of laughter. An excise of four shillings in the hogshead, to be paid by the grower, which he imposed on cider and perry, raised a resistance through the cider counties hardly less furious than that which had been directed against the excise scheme of Walpole' (Lecky, History, ed. 1892, iii. 224). Dashwood accordingly retired with Bute from the ministry on 8 April 1763, receiving the sinecure keepership of the wardrobe. On the 19th he was summoned to parliament as fifteenth baron Le Despencer, the abeyance into which that barony had fallen on 26 Aug. 1762, on the death of his uncle, John Fane, seventh earl of Westmorland and fourteenth baron Le Despencer, being thus terminated in Dashwood's favour. He was now premier baron of England, and in the same year he was made lord-lieutenant of Buckinghamshire, being succeeded in the colonelcy of the militia by John Wilkes.

As Baron Le Despencer he now sank into comparative respectability and insignificance. He took a disgraceful part with John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich [q. v.], in raking up charges against their common friend Wilkes in connection with the 'Essay on Woman,' and during Lord North's long administration from 1770 to 1781 he was joint postmaster-general. When, however, Chatham fell down in a swoon during his last speech in the House of Lords, Despencer was almost the only peer who came to his assistance. He died at West Wycombe after a long illness on 11 Dec. 1781 (Gent. Mag. 1781, p. 594), and was buried in; the mausoleum he had built there. His wife died on 19 Jan. 1769, and was also buried at Wycombe. He left no legitimate issue, and the barony of Le Despencer again fell into abeyance ; his sister Rachel, widow of Sir Robert Austen, third baronet of Bexley, Kent, illegally assumed the title Baroness Le Despencer, but on her death the abeyance was once more terminated in favour of her cousin, Thomas Stapleton, sixteenth baron. His granddaughter, Mary Frances Elizabeth, succeeded in 1848 as seventeenth baroness, and her son, Evelyn Edward Thomas Boscawen, seventh viscount Falmouth, succeeded as eighteenth baron Le Despencer on 25 Nov. 1891. Dashwood's baronetcy passed, on his death, to his half brother, Sir John Dashwood-King (1716-1793).

Dashwood's portrait, painted by George Knapton, belongs to the Dilettanti Society ; he is represented as one of the monks of Medmenham, holding a goblet inscribed 'Matri Sanctorum,' and in an attitude of devotion before a figure of the Venus de' Medici ; the motive of the picture is 'both indecorous and profane' (Cust, Dilettanti Soc. p. 217 ; Almon, Mem. of Wilkes, iii. 59). Another portrait of Dashwood, painted by Hogarth, has been engraved, and a third, anonymous, and now belonging to Viscount Dillon at Ditchley, is reproduced in Barker's edition of Walpole's 'Memoirs of George III' (1894, i. 204).

[A volume of Dashwood's correspondence extending from 1747 to 1781 is in Egerton MS. 2136, and letters from him to Wilkes are in Addit. MS. 30867. See also Journals of the Lords and Commons; Official Return of Members of Parl. ; Old Parliamentary History ; Lists of Sheriffs, P.R.O. ; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886 ; Horace Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, vols. i-v. and vii., Memoirs of George II, ed. Lord Holland, and of George III, ed. Barker; Wraxall's Hist, and Posthumous Mem., ed. Wheatley ; Almon's Mem. and Corresp. of John Wilkes, ed. 1805; Bubb Dodington's Diary, ed. 1809, passim; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Letters ; Chesterfield'*! Letters; Boswell's Johnson, ed. Hill ; Charles Johnston's Chrysal, 1768; Churchill's Poems, The Ghost and the Candidate ; Bedford Correspondence ; Thomson's Hist, of the Royal Soc.; Nichols's Lit. Anecdotes, viii. 236, ix. 454 (where he is confused with Thomas Stapleton, his successor in the barony) ; Mahon's Hist, of England ; Leeky's Hist, of England ; Lipscomb's Buckinghamshire; Collinson's Somerset; Doran's 'Mann' and Manners at the Court of Florence ; Cust's

History of the Dilettanti Society, 1898, passim; Courthope's, Burke's, and G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerages.]

A. F. P.