Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been

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Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.

 

But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.

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Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.

 

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The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

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