Monty Python meets the Marquis de Sade

The word satanism might evoke visions of stringy-haired teenagers scratching pentagrams into their arms, desks, and skateboards, but at the dawning of the modern age, 18th-century British noblemen retreated into clubs devoted to violence, blasphemy, and sex. Evelyn Lord’s wry history, The Hellfire Clubs, is a visitor’s pass.

With catchy names like the Demoniacs and Beggar’s Benison, these underground societies boasted notables such as the Prince of Wales and the Chancellor of the Exchequer as members. (They also spread their debauchery across the pond, beating the Rolling Stones by two centuries.) Despite powerful connections — and the fact that these servants of Satan often did little more than sit around trading dirty jokes — the clubs prompted a backlash from the era’s equivalent of red-staters, who founded decency groups to rein in the upstart gentry. Part G. M. Trevelyan and part M. Python, The Hellfire Clubs will remind you that before Prada, the Devil wore breeches.

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Monty Python meets the Marquis de Sade