In the Marvel Comics universe, a centuries old organization made up of the wealthy, the powerful, and some of the most evil people on the planet. Founded in the 1760’s as a social organization for London’s elite, the club is now one of the most venomous enemies of the X-Men.

Shortly after its inception, the club’s most important members immigrated to America. A former Member of Parliament, Sir Patrick Clemens, and his mistress, the renowned actress Diane Knight became the first leaders in the American Hellfire Club, and assumed the leadership titles Black King and Black Queen. The organization within the inner circle of the Hellfire Club is that of chess pieces (king, queen, bishop, knight, rook, and pawn).

Sebastian Shaw (a black bishop) and Emma Frost (a white queen), both being mutants, slew the leaders of the club after discovering a plot to use the Sentinels to attack and destroy mutants. The plan failed, and when the smoke cleared Shaw was the new Black King. Emma Frost remained the White Queen, while also at this time headmistress of the Massachusetts Academy, a private school where she influenced young mutants and children of the social elite to follow Hellfire Club beliefs. These children became known as the Hellions.

The Hellfire Club gained interest with X-Men readers during a plot to control the Phoenix by newly joined member Jason Wyngarde. Ultimately Professor Charles Xavier and the X-Men foiled the plot, and Wyngarde was kicked out of the Club. Wyngarde’s mind control over Jean Grey backfired, leading to the creation of the Dark Phoenix.

The heroes of the Marvel universe and the Hellfire club have clashed many times throughout the years. They have always proven themselves to be worthy of the screen time they get, as the X-Files has it’s “Illuminati” the X-Men have their Hellfire Club. The Club has existed in many different forms, the oddest of which was when Magneto was White King of the Hellfire Club while being the headmaster of the Xavier school and head of the X-Men.

I always found the Hellfire Club to be intriguing villains, and never doubted the evil tendencies that Marvel writers bestowed upon them.
The Hellfire Club from the X-Men comics was actually 'inspired' by "A Touch of Brimstone", an episode of the ultra-stylish 1960s super-spy series The Avengers (no relation to the Marvel comic of the same name). The episode (the seventeenth of the The Avengers' fourth season) has British secret service agents John Steed and Mrs. Peel going undercover in The Hellfire Club, whose members are threatening the British economy. As a result, Mrs. Peel gets herself elected The Queen of Sin, and is dressed up in a black basque with matching boots and spiked collar, whilst wielding a whip and snake. This outfit is strikingly similar to the one worn by Jean Grey after she becomes the Black Queen.

The injection of S&M into a Saturday tea-time show proved troublesome for the television producers of the time, and the episode was slightly trimmed in the UK (the whipping scenes especially) and banned outright in the US. There are persistant rumours, however, that television executives on both sides of the pond enjoyed the full, uncut version of the episode at their Christmas bashes.

But what of the connection with the X-Men?

  • The creator of the X-Men's Hellfire Club was Chris Claremont, a former Briton and fan of The Avengers.
  • Chess was a recurring theme in The Avengers, as was the idea of a dangrous underground society whose members plotted world domination.
  • Hellfire member Jason Wyngarde is named after actor Peter Wyngarde who appeared in "A Touch of Brimstone". Wyngarde's most famous role, however, was as ultra-dandy Jason King in the television show Department S, and later his own spin-off series Jason King*.
  • The leader of the American Hellfire Club was Sir Patrick Clemens. Patrick Macnee played Avenger John Steed, whilst Brian Clemens was a recurring writer on the series and eventually became its producer. Clemens wrote "A Touch of Brimstone".
  • Patrick Clemens' mistress in the comic is the actress Diana Knight. Diana Rigg played Mrs. Emma Peel; Emma's maiden name was Knight.
  • Emma Frost's name is presumably inspired by Emma Peel.
  • The Black Queen of the London Hellfire Club is Ms. Steed, a blunt reference to John Steed.
*Department S inspired comic book author Grant Morrison to create Division X, a group of supernatural investigators based around old 70s crime shows. Their leader was Jon Six, who took his identity and appearance from Peter Wyngarde's Jason King. Though originally created to star in their own comic, Division X were eventually subsumed into The Invisibles, whose name is obviously inspired by TV shows such as The Avengers. Morrison himself actually wrote "The Golden Game", an Avengers story that spanned three issues of the "Steed and Mrs. Peel" comic (so called because Marvel Comics had taken the rights to The Avengers for one of their own superhero books). He would later write - wait for it - The New X-Men.

Everything is connected.

The Real Hellfire Club The roots of Clemens and Claremont's respective Hellfire Clubs actually lie with the real Hellfire Clubs, the most famous of which was run by Sir Francis Dashwood between 1746 and 1763. Though created in celebration of Charles Edward's 1720 Hellfire Club, the members themselves never referred to the society as The Hellfire Club, instead giving it various mock religious names including "Order of the Knights of St. Francis of Wycombe", "Order of Knights of West Wycombe" and "The Monks of Medmenham". The male members were "monks", the female members "nuns" and Dashwood himself the "Abbot"; all wore masks to aid them in their debauchery.

Their first meeting took place in The George & Vulture public house (later to be made famous in Dickens' Pickwick Papers) in Lombard Street, London. Despite accusations of Satanism, all documentation suggests that their worship was actually focused on Bacchus and Venus as an excuse for general hedonism; heretical roleplay was performed for kicks rather than genuine worship.

The George & Vulture burned down in 1749 for reasons unknown, and the Club was relocated, first to members' homes and then, in 1751, to Medmenham Abbey which had been leased to Dashwood by the Duffield family. To this day, the Club's motto, fay ce que voudras - "do as you will" - is inscribed above the Abbey's main door. The grounds contained various lewd statues including a Venus, bent over, and an exceptionally well endowed fertility god, Priapus. According to MP and then Mayor of London John Wilkes, the dining room contained statues of Angerona and Harpocrates, the Roman and Egyptian gods of silence, respectively. These may have been reminders to remain silent about the Club's activities.

The Club moved again, this time to the West Wycombe caves owned by Dashwood. A series of failed harvests has left locals empoverished so Dashwood employed them as builders and masons, cutting into the chalk and extending the tunnels to his own design. The Club's Inner Sanctum - supposedly the location of their Black Masses and orgies - was found down a tunnel that led under an underground stream known by the monks as Styx after the Greek river that separated the worlds of the living and the dead.

This version of the Hellfire Club finally disbanded in 1763, when personal and political rivalries exploded into public life, necessitating the destruction of the society. Its members and associates included John Wilkes, The Earl of Sandwich, The Prince of Wales and possibly Benjamin Franklin.

The Hellfire Club has entered into British mythology, and has surfaced in various different fictional works, including a novel of the same name by horror author Peter Straub and in the comic book Hellblazer, where occult conman John Constantine found himself invited to The Caligula Club, a variation on The Hellfire Club whose members' perversions went as far as murder and torture (the story was written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by William Simpson). Sir Francis Dashwood later made a ghostly appearance in the Hellblazer story Warped Notions by Eddie Campbell and Sean Philips.

The original Hell Fire Club was founded in 1741 by the Duke of Wharton, a Knight of the Garter, the Earl of Lichfield and Lord Hillsborough. It was one of the numerous decadent societies of 18th Century England (another being the Knucklebone Club of Blackheath a private 'golf club' of ill repute). But the Hell Fire Club was unique for two reasons, one was the fact it combined this decadence with elements of the pagan revival of the period, and more importantly its members were key figures in the aristocracy and ruling elite.

The pagan revival of this age was in part due to the healthy sexual libertinage of the time, and was one that had recieved 'spiritual sanction' through the discovery of a crypto-pagan cult of Priapus in the Catholic Church of northern Italy. Priapism became all the rage following this and Priapic cults of pagan sexual abandon (unlike the more symbolic phallus worship in some Italian churches) arose in England amongst the affluent who had contact with Italian decadence from their trips abroad. The Hell Fire Club was one such cult for the ruling class.

This society also had close links to English and Italian Freemasonry, particularly the ancient aristocratic masonry of those irregular lodges not aligned to the Grand Lodge of England. A faction that played a leading role in the Jacobite conspiracies of the period, and would later reemerge as Templar Masonry and similar higher degree systems. A key figure in this world was Sir Francis Dashwood a colleague of Hillsborough and member of the Florence Lodge (a lodge, founded by Charles Sackville, a companion of Wharton's and fellow Knight of the Garter, that worked closely with the British secret service in spying on exiled Jacobites). The precise alliances in these political games is difficult to assess. Dashwood was a staunch anti-Catholic Protestant, loyal statesman and British patriot, but a close friend and oe time ally of the the aristocratic Jacobites.

Dashwood quickly rose to fame in the British establishment and fostered a network of masonic friends through his Dilettanti Society, a group organising decadent orgies for the rich in a London club (one that survives today as an elite drinking club). But his main claim to fame came with the decline of the original Hell Fire Club and his creation of its replacement, the Friars of St Francis, sometimes refered to as the masonic Hell Fire Club (1746-1780). It was this that is now popularly refered to as THE Hell Fire Club

Dashwood's Hell Fire Club differed from its predecessor in two respects, firstly its paganism was more elaborate and secondly it was more political. Dashwood's paganism was goddess centred and seems to have combined a continuation of Priapic decadence with a genuine attempt to recreate the Eleusinian mysteries . He was also a neo-Druid (until expelled from the order in 1743). Politically he was a libertarian elitist like his decadent forebears, affirming rights of aristocratic privilege, but where as Wharton had fostered hereditary rights and the values of the old aristocracy, Dashwood, the son of a middle class businessman who married into the nobility, replaced these with the values of an upwardly mobile bourgeois new aristocracy.

This Hellfire Club was originally based at Dashwood's home in West Wycombe, first in a special room decorated as a Masonic temple, then in caves under his vast garden, a garden landscaped with erotic imagery, whose cave entrance took the form of a huge vagina! Later in 1751 he purchased Medmenham Abbey near Marlow on the Thames and converted the former Cistercian house (a monastic order allied to the Knights Templar)into a gothic folly. Its gardens filled with statues of classical deities, most notably Venus and Priapus. Here the Hell Fire Club allegedly held the 'black mass', and hired prostitutes dressed as nuns for its ever more exteme decadence.

Members of this club, his 'mad monks' at one time included the Prince of Wales, the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prime Minister the Earl of Bute, the Earl of Sandwich, Benjamin Franklin and John Wilkes (a radical left MP and Mayor of London, who was the British representice of the American Revolutionary group the Son's of Liberty). The latter, being the most anarchic of the group and a notorious prankster, was responsible for many escapades and scandals at the club. Though following a major scandal (in which he was publically condemned by his hypocritical associates) he left declaring the club hid an inner political core that aimed to 'deprive the American people of its democratic rights.'

It seems that the group was actively involved with events around the American Revolution, but their precise role remains a mystery. Some speculate they supported the American Independence movement (along with irregular Masonic groups), but wanted to create a parallel elite in American society that would maintain it as a conservative ally and prevent 'dangerous' radical ideas spreading. It is also likely that they wanted to create in America the kind of society that was meeting stiff resistance in Britain. This would have been just a continuation of the British elites involvement in the evolution of America.

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