Since its existence first became public knowledge in the 1760s, politicians, critics, and historians alike have represented the so-called Monks of Medmenham Abbey, or Hellfire Club, in a variety of ways. The 4th Earl of Sandwich, Francis Dashwood, and John Wilkes, all early members of the group, publicized their libertine behaviors — drunkenness and hyper-masculine sexuality in particular. They suggested that the grounds of West Wycombe manor, the parish church, and even the local chalk mines had been locations of the monks’ debauchery. Over generations, the grounds became associated with ghost lore, satanism, and more. This talks shows how secrets, gossip, and rumors were central to elite identity formation in the eighteenth century and why they have remained important for locals, tourists, filmmakers, and descendants in the centuries since then.
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