The Royal Black Institution, Chivalry and the Jesuits
No one could argue with authority that the degrees which appeared at the end of the 18th century under the title of the Black were brand new innovations that owed their origin to the founding fathers of the Royal Black Institution. Such a proposal is easily refuted by the most basic study of the history and procedures of the older Masonic Lodge. A large amount of indisputable evidence exists showing that the beliefs, ceremonies and imagery owned and cherished by the Black Knights today were alive and in use before the formation of the Black Institution. There is much verifiable proof confirming that the inspiration and direct parentage of Black dogma and ceremonies are found deep within higher degree Freemasonry. Our research substantiates this.
No knowledgeable historian familiar with the character and development of the various secret fraternities over the years could possibly believe that the legends, teaching, practices, paraphernalia and symbolism that make up the Black degrees all originated in 1797. This supposed formation year of the Royal Black was certainly not the beginning of what we know today as the Black degrees. At best it could only have been a time when the founders introduced several of the central legends and accompanying rituals of the higher Masonic degrees into the new Order. The fact that the same rituals containing the exact same esoteric teaching and imagery were being widely practiced within Freemasonry throughout Europe and North America long before the formation of the Black is evidence enough to prove an earlier origin.
History therefore proves that the theology and ceremonies that became known as the Black degrees are much older than the date that some Black historians attribute to these things. The Black Institution was only one of many secret societies that arose at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century all of which carried the characteristics of earlier Masonry. There seems little doubt the Black associations that arose at the end of the 1700s and the beginning of the 1800s were simply by-products of an already well-established secret tradition centred on Freemasonry. Another religious organization that arose at the same time was interestingly Mormonism. It too acquired much of its teaching and rituals from the domain of lower and higher degree Masonry.
The broad Masonic movement birthed many weird and wonderful offspring at this time, all of which bore the same distinct traits and resemblances of the mother-order. Whilst there were geographical peculiarities and institutional idiosyncrasies, most secret societies shared the same underlying characteristics, beliefs and activities. Even though these later brotherhoods cut, summarised or added to the general esoteric theme, they all kept the same core ethos, theology and secret rites.
All the evidence we have collated in our enquiry seems to point to the fact that Freemasonry is the birthplace of the Royal Black Institution, particularly the higher degrees of the Lodge. Whilst the Black borrowed some of its legends and practices from Craft Masonry (the first 3 degrees), most of its procedures are derived from the higher grades of Masonry (paradoxically known in former times as Black Masonry). The beginning of Craft Masonry (which is also known as the Blue Lodge) is universally accepted to have been instituted in 1717, although the origin of the later higher chivalry degrees is shrouded in great mystery. Most historians accept there is no reference to the Crusades or chivalry orders in the early Masonic records.
Higher degree Masonry was not accepted by the Blue Masonic Lodge until 1813. Up until then it only officially accepted the first three degrees. The higher degrees were worked clandestinely for many years. Advocates of the higher grades were known as the Ancients (referring to their claims of an ancient heritage) and the Craft Masons were known as the Moderns (because of their belief in a 1717 beginning). The two were rivals for many years in propagating the various Masonic ‘sciences’. After much conflict between the Ancient and Moderns a Union was secured on 27th December 1813 (Saint John the Evangelist Day) and a United Grand Masonic Lodge of England was formed. That is not to say the higher degrees were not popular or influential prior to 1813 – they were. It was rather that the leadership of the Craft was suspicious of these unwarranted Masons and therefore refused to give them credibility.
Going back further
We only have to look back one year before the alleged formation date of the Black to see evidence of an older working of the rituals and teaching employed by the Royal Black Institution. Ironically these ceremonies were being operated and advanced by the United Irishmen (the arch-enemies of Orangeism) in 1796. The United Irishmen conducted these rites under the auspices of the Masonic Knights Templar – a body which at this stage was still not officially sanctioned by the Masonic Lodge.
Testimony of the detail of these practices comes from no less a source than the Masonic Grand Lodge of Scotland in material presented by probably its most respected historian David Murray Lyon (Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of Scotland) in his History of the Lodge of Edinburgh (1873). In revealing the content of the Masonic Knights Templar ceremonialism at this early date we see the source and inspiration of the Royal Black Institution rites.
Lyon records the time when the Masonic Knights Templar degree arrived in Scotland, in a small Ayrshire town called Maybole, and describes what the ritual involved. Those behind it were unwarranted Irish Masons consumed with a political agenda – namely the United Irishmen’s cause. Lyon tells us: “In the course of the year 1796, a few members of this Lodge [Maybole], together with one or two Irish brethren (members of the society of ‘United Irishmen’) who were in possession of the higher degrees, constituted themselves into an Assembly of Knight Templars, and surreptitiously began to practise Royal Arch Masonry and Knight Templary. The leading members of the Lodge of Maybole discouraged the spread of theses novel Orders, on the ground of their being mediums through which, under a pretended connection with Freemasonry, it was sought to propagate the infidelity and political principles of the French Revolutionists, and to evoke sympathy for the democrats of Ireland in their endeavours to effect their national independence.”
The links between the Revolutionists of France and those in Ireland was well known at the time. The Masonic Grand Lodge of Scotland immediately censured these dissenters and stamped upon this new development. Determined that it would not raise its head again, they set up a Grand Lodge tribunal to investigate the matter. What is more, when the civil authorities learnt of the underground clandestine activities of these United Irishmen in the Lodge in Maybole they charged them with sedition. This was due to their subversive political agenda and to the gravity of the oaths of loyalty involved in the Knights Templar rites. We find some interesting detail in regard to the new initiation through the testimonies of the court witnesses who took the degree. The thrust of their deposition is summed up by Lyon is his book.
When speaking of one of the prosecution witnesses, Lyon records, “Hamilton said … a pistol was fired and some person called out, ‘put him to death’. He was blindfolded at first when brought into the room, and the covering being afterwards taken from his eyes, he was shown a stone jug in the corner of the room, and a candle burning in it. He was told by … Andrew that it was the representation of God Almighty in the midst of the burning bush. Andrew was Master of the Lodge, and was reading the third chapter of Exodus. The witness was desired to put off his shoes, as it was holy ground he stood on; the covering was put down again on the witness’s face, and he was led under an arch, and, passing under the arch, he was desired to find the Book of the Law’ ”
He adds, “The witness Hamilton ‘Recollects that part of the chapter where the children of Israel are said to be in bondage. The passport for a Royal Arch Mason was, ‘I Am that I Am.’ After the above ceremonies, the witness being taken out of the room had his coat taken off and tied on his shoulders in a bundle, and was then brought in; a carpet with a rent in it was called the veil of the temple. He was led through it, and round the room. A sword was put into his hand, and he was ordered to use it against all who opposed him as Knight Templar. John Andrew read the fourth chapter of Exodus; the witness was desired to throw down the sword, and was told it was become a serpent—after which he was desired to take it up again, and was told it was become a rod. Andrew poured ale and porter on the floor, and called it blood.”
Lyons continues, “Witness was shown thirteen burning candles. One in the middle he was told represented Jesus Christ; the others the Twelve Apostles. Andrew blew out one of the candles, which he called Judas, who betrayed his Master; one of them was dim, and was called Peter, who denied his Master. Something on a table under a white cloth being uncovered, was perceived to be a human skull, which the witness was desired to take up, and view it, and was told it was a real skull of a brother called Simon Magus. Porter was poured into the skull, which the witness was desired to drink; he did so, and it was handed round the whole Knights.”
Lyon further records, “The witness’s impression was that the ceremonies used were a scoffing at religion, and, though he cannot say positively, he thought they had a tendency to overturn the Government. Stewart gave similar evidence. Thirteen witnesses, for the greater part Freemasons, were adduced in exculpation. Those of them who had taken the Templars’ oath swore that it bound them to secrecy, ‘murder and treason excepted’” (p. 298, 303-305).
Whilst this work by Lyon’s is only a summary of the evidence presented, there is enough here to give us a reasonably detailed picture of the degree in question. The testimonies certainly cover some of the central procedures and beliefs of the Black ceremonial we have looked at. It is not merely that there are some passing likenesses between the two. We are looking at several of the key components of the Royal Black initiations. It is interesting that in less than a year this Templar ritualism had infiltrated Ulster Protestantism through the Black Orangemen.
Moreover, the oath – which was of particular concern to the authorities at the time – has evidently been acquired by the Royal Arch Purple and is still used to this day by them as an obligation. The Royal Arch Purple candidate vows: “I will obey the five points of fellowship, and keep and conceal the secrets of my Royal Arch Purple brethren within my breast, as well as my own, murder and treason excepted.”
In an article published in Ulster Folklife (1986) entitled Hanging Ropes and Secrets, Philip Robinson confirms, “Defenders [speaking of the Catholic Defenders of the late 1700’s] and United Irishmen shared many of the esoteric trappings common to fraternal societies in late eighteenth-century Ireland and it is clear that there were also complex inter-relationship between the traditions of these groups and those of early Freemasonry, whether official (accepting the constraints of the Grand Lodge) or unwarranted, i.e. ‘clandestine’ or ‘hedge’ Masonry” (p. 5).
Robinson adds: “Many Defenders and United Irishmen are also known to have been Freemasons, so that the transmission of ‘secrets’ between societies was virtually inevitable … A paper circulated in Dublin in 1791 outlined the ‘original design’ for the Society of United Irishmen. Its opening sentence stated ‘It is proposed that at this Conjecture a Society shall be instituted in this City, having much of the Secrecy, and somewhat of the Ceremonial attached to Free-Masonry’” (p. 5).
Here we can see that the United Irishmen established its Masonic foundations a few years before the Orange Order did. It used the Masonic Lodge as the proto-type for developing its structure. Robinson concludes, “The customs, structures and trappings of fraternal societies in eighteenth-century Ireland were similar, but so too were their ‘secrets’ … there were secrets enabling mutual recognition and communication of members involving given words, gestures, question and known-response dialogues, handshakes, signs, codes and visual symbols. The specific themes and legends behind almost all these early rituals and lectures were chivalry (based on folk perceptions of the medieval crusades), or biblical … one common element is the apparent close identification of the fraternities with the destiny of the Chosen People of Israel. Understandably, deliverance and victory were the dominant themes and elitism the dominant ethos of most groups” (p. 9).
It is amazing to think that Freemasonry was the source that produced and influenced the beliefs and activities of both the Orange and the Green camps at this pivotal time in Irish history. The architects of this, on both sides of the political divide, were devoted unwarranted Masons. Both sides found the Masonic Lodge a suitable structure to build their organisations upon. This may surprise some Orange, Arch Purple and Blackmen who are of the opinion that the rituals they cherish, the symbols they parade and the teaching they own are peculiar to the Loyal Orders. Little do they realise that these emanated from the home of Scottish Rite Masonry and were common to all the more esoteric fraternities, whether Nationalist or Unionist, of former days.
In his scholarly research into the origins and development of Freemasonry, Scottish historian David Stevenson addresses the undoubted irony of the mutual admiration of Masonry by both the Catholic Jacobites and the Protestant Hanoverians and their consequential utilization of it as a model to develop their respective causes. He states: “It is as if the lodge system, combined with secrecy, ideals of loyalty and secret modes of recognition, had created an ideal organisational framework, into which members could put their own values and which they could adapt for their own uses. Many of these variants arising from masonry which survive today are not recognised by British Masonic organisations, being regarded as having abandoned the original ideals of the movement, but it is nonetheless true that masonry has provided the classic structure for secret organisations in the modern world” (The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland’s Century 1590 -1710 p. 7).
One of the founding members of the United Irishmen, Dr William Drennan, wrote to his friend Rev. William Bruce in August 1785 when the Irish Republican uprising was in an embryo stage, describing what he thought would be the best way to achieve “constitutional conspiracy.” He proposed “the segregation of the sincere and sanguine reformers from the rest into a holy and as it were religious brotherhood, knit together by some awful formality, by the solemnity of abjuration, by something mysterious in its manner, like the Freemason society, which would serve to stimulate the curiosity of others and gratify our own pride.”
The timing of this underground United Irish revolt and the corresponding penetration of Protestantism with higher degree Freemasonry cannot surely be a coincidence. There are strong grounds for assuming that there was a direct conspiracy from within higher-Masonry to influence the two communities in Ireland for the purpose of executing their malevolent aims. The sad thing is, countless Irish Protestants over the years have been drawn into this deceptive web, thinking they are somehow part of a Protestant structure.
The famous Masonic Templar ode The Royal Robe, adds further evidence to the belief of a linkage between the Templars and the Black. Rhymes, poems and songs have been used by secret societies down the years as a cryptic reminder of the various experiences the member had undergone during his journey through the different rites. They are written in such a veiled way that only the initiated will recognise them. Those who have ascended the Black ladder will identify with the mysterious lyrics of this higher grade poem – ‘higher’ only in a ritualistic sense, for it is no more than a piece of dreadful doggerel.
“Come all ye Knight Templars that’s blest round the globe,
That wear the badge of honour, I mean the royal robe;
For Noah he wore it in the ark where he stood,
When the world was destroyed by a deluge flood.
Noah he was righteous in the sight of the Lord,
He loved a Freemason that knew the secret word;
He tilled the earth, and he planted the first vine,
His glories in heaven like angels he does shine.
Once I was blind, and I could not see the light,
It was straight to Jerusalem I then took my flight,
They led me through a wilderness with a multitude of care,
You may know me by the system of the badge that I wear.
O when I think on Moses I cannot but blush,
And likewise on Mount Horeb and on the burning bush;
My shoes I will throw off, my staff I will cast away,
Like a pilgrim I will wander until my dying day.
Twelve dazzling lights I saw that put me in surprise
And looking all around me I heard a dreadful noise;
A serpent passed by me, I fell upon the ground,
Then with peace, joy, and comfort, the grand secret I found.
The secret was lost and afterwards was found
So was our blessed Saviour, it is very well known,
In the garden of Gethsemane he sweat a bloody sweat,
So repent my loving brethren, before it is too late.”
In this Templar song we get an obscure glimpse into the rites and philosophy of the Royal Black Preceptory which we have just analysed. Ironically, however, this is a summary of the ceremonialism of the earlier Knights Templar order. It gives us some insight into the unorthodox, and at times profane, theology and procedures held by Masonic Templarism. A Freemason of a by-gone day, Henry O’Brien, was known to carry a common copy of this song in his pocket. Upon meeting with any of his antiquarian friends, who were not Masons, he had the habit of thrusting it into their hands, and telling them ‘if they understood the mystic allusions it contained, they would be in possession of a key which would unlock the pyramids of Egypt’.
The likeness between the Royal Black and the Templars can be seen in the words of A Blackman’s Dream. It is a close parallel of the Knights Templars ballad, but written by a (slightly) better poet:
“One night I thought a vision brought
Me to a spacious plain,
Where in its centre stood a mount,
Whose top I wished to gain;
Orange, Blue, and Purple too;
Were given me to wear,
And for to see the mystery,
They did me thus prepare.
My guide a pack on my back –
With pillars of an arch –
A staff and script placed in my hand,
And thus I on did march,
Through desert lands I traveled o’er,
And the narrow road I trod,
Til something did obstruct my path,
In the form of a toad.
So then I saw what did me awe,
Though wandering in a dream –
A flaming bush, though unconsumed,
Before me did remain;
And as I stood out of the wood
I heard a heavenly sound,
Which bade me cast my shoes away,
For it was holy ground.
Two men I saw, with weapons keen,
Which did me sore annoy –
Unto a pyramid I ran
That standing was hard by;
And as I climbed the narrow way,
A hand I there did see,
Which laid the lofty mountains
In the scale of equity.
Blue, Gold, and Black about my neck,
This apparition placed –
Into a chariot I was put,
Where we drove off in haste;
Twelve dazzling lights of beauty bright
Were brought to guide my way,
And as we drove thro’ cypress shades
One of them did decay.
Near to a mount I saw a fount
Of living water flow;
I being dry, they did reply,
To drink you there may go.
The mystic cup I then took up
And drank a health to all,
That were born free and kept their knee
From bowing unto Baal.”
Whilst there is no doubt as to the similarity between these two poems, this leaves us with a few pertinent questions. Where did the Masonic Templarism originate? Where did the other related higher degrees of Masonry come from? Why were they created? Who were the architects of the strange theology and style of working embodied within them? Why did the Masonic need to add to its three degree system? Who first brought the concept of chivalry into the Masonic Lodge? If we can get to the bottom of these queries and discover the roots of this system we should be better placed to understand the very similar thrust and purpose behind the formation of the Black Institution.
Masonic historians are in general agreement that the higher degrees originated in France and particularly with the Scottish Jacobites who settled there after King James II was deposed by William Prince of Orange (in 1689). In actual fact, the higher grades were formally known as Jacobite Freemasonry, Stuart Freemasonry or Scottish Masonry. These designations arose from the fact the degrees were invented by the staunchly Roman Catholic Jacobites living in exile during the 1700s. The word Jacobite comes from the name Jacob or James of the Royal House of Stuart. They received this description from their loyalty to the overthrown king and the Stuart cause. France became their head-quarters and the place where many of their plans to get the Stuarts back on the British throne were hatched.
John Robison, who was a highly respected professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, published his classic work Proofs of a Conspiracy in 1798, which many modern day historians allude to in their writings. He gives some insight into the exiled Jacobites in France at this time. He says, “The revolution had taken place, and King James, with many of his most zealous adherents, had taken refuge in France. But they took Freemasonry with them to the Continent, where it was immediately received by the French, and cultivated with great zeal in a manner suited to the taste and habits of that highly polished people.”
He adds, “The Lodges in France naturally became the rendezvous of the adherents of the exiled king, and the means of carrying on a correspondence with their friends in England. At this time also the Jesuits took a more active hand in Free Masonry than ever. They insinuated themselves into the English Lodges, where they were caressed by the Catholics, who panted after the re-establishment of their faith, and tolerated by the Protestant royalists, who thought no concession too great a compensation for their services. At this time changes were made in some of the Masonic symbols, particularly in the tracing of the Lodge, which bear evident marks of Jesuitical interference.”
The Jacobites quickly came to see the Masonic Lodge as a fitting vehicle by which to accomplish their political aims. They saw Masonry as a perfect channel to promote the Stuart cause and bring about the restoration of the Stuarts to the British throne. Behind the convenient wall of Masonic secrecy they pursued their revolutionary goals. Due to the strong controlling influence they had over French Masonry they began to invent many additional degrees which they added to the Craft Lodge. Through these numerous new mystical innovations they felt they could infiltrate the established quasi-Protestant Masonic system and advance their cause. In their efforts they seem to have been heavily influenced by the wily Jesuit Order, a fact that is not surprising in the light of our earlier findings in regard to the likeness between the Black and Jesuit initiations.
Masonic Lodge authority Albert Mackey asserts that, “The house of Stuart were not unwilling to accept the influence of the Masonic Institution, as one of the most powerful instruments whereby to effect their purpose … it was in the fabrication of the high degrees that the partisans of the Stuarts made the most use of Freemasonry as a political instrument” (The History of Freemasonry, Ch. XXX)
The Jacobite cause was not popular in British society during the 18th century. James’ militant brand of Roman Catholicism had been widely rejected and was considered a danger to the national interest. This ultimately led to his removal from the British throne. Even Masonry within the United Kingdom (which consisted of only three degrees) was avowedly Hanoverian (meaning they were loyal to the Protestant monarch). This stifled the Jacobite cause.
Masonic historian Robert J. Currie explains in Templar Influence of the Eighteenth Century: “Jacobite Freemasonry or Stuart Freemasonry as it was sometimes known, was the system or orders of Freemasonry which were supposedly invented or adapted by the Scottish Jacobites living in exile in France and Italy during the 1700s. Most of the early Masonic historians have come to the conclusion that the Jacobites may have been the originators or the instigators of what is commonly now known in some constitutions as the higher degrees of Freemasonry. The most common being the Knights Templars and the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.”
It is amongst the Jacobites that we see the origin and development of the higher degrees known as the hauts grades, which eventually evolved into the Scottish Rite. In fact, through these political activists an incredible proliferation of esoteric degrees occurred during this time, all of which had a decidedly esoteric character. The whole thrust of the degrees were extremely mystical.
Eric Wynants writes in his comprehensive work The True History of Scottish Esoteric Masonry: “The Hermetic-Cabalistic masques of the Stuart court, which were often designed and constructed by Masons, disappeared from Britain after the ‘Glorious Revolution’, but they eventually reappeared in the elaborately theatrical ceremonies developed by Jacobite exiles and their local supporters in Ecossaises lodges.”
There is significant agreement on where and when Chivalry first became identified with the Masonic Lodge. Most historians are of the view that the Scottish Jacobite Andrew Michael Ramsay, who moved to France during the 1700s, was a central figure in popularising what we now know as the higher degrees of Freemasonry. In fact, most ascribe the actual creation of the higher Masonic grades to Ramsay, a prominent Jacobite, although some argue that he merely inspired their fabrication.
The exile of the Scottish royal house – the Stuarts – to France and their key involvement in the formulation of the higher degrees is undoubtedly the reason these new Masonic degrees were called ecossais (meaning Scottish) degrees. Albert Mackey in his History of Freemasonry explains: “These High Degrees had also a Scottish character, which is to be attributed partly to the nationality of Ramsay and partly to a desire to effect a political influence among the Masons of Scotland, in which country the first attempts for the restoration of the Stuarts were to be made. Hence we have to this day in Masonry such terms as ‘Ecossaim’, ‘Scottish Knights of St. Andrew’, ‘Scottish Master’, ‘Scottish Architect’, and the ‘Scottish Rite’, the use of which words is calculated to produce upon readers not thoroughly versed in Masonic history the impression that the High Degrees of Freemasonry originated in Scotland – an impression which it was the object of Ramsay to make.”
Ramsay, born in 1686, was a Scotsman from Ayr of humble stock who was raised a Protestant but ended up aligning himself with the Jacobite cause and converting to a mystical form of Roman Catholicism. He was educated at Edinburgh, and then at Leyden, where he met Pierre Poiret, a prominent “Christian” mystic of the day. Poiret had great influence upon Ramsay, as can be seen in his later writings. Poiret rejected the formal creeds of the various churches and encouraged Christians to abandon external affiliations and seek rather a mystical experience with God. This was essentially a modern re-packaging of Gnosticism – one of the earliest heresies that infiltrated the early Church. The reader will recall that this is something we dealt with in more detail in our introductory Background Information. It is believed Poiret introduced Ramsay in 1710 to the liberal mystic philosopher and theologian François Fénelon, Bishop of Cambrai (in France). It was Fénelon who influenced his conversion to an unusual brand of Roman Catholicism. Ramsay became a zealous pupil of Fénelon, until the cleric died in 1715. Ramsay later published his biography.
These two leading philosophers of that day were to have a powerful and lasting impact upon the thinking and beliefs of Ramsay. This would later be witnessed in the detail and form of the higher degrees. The marks of “Christian” Mysticism can be found woven throughout the Scottish Rite system, and are clearly a pivotal aspect of secret society ideology. Ramsay became a well known mystic writer and his allegorical novel The Travels of Cyrus (1727), was immersed in Jacobite and Masonic themes.
As a leading Jacobite, Ramsay was quickly introduced to the idea of chivalry. Through his friendship with the Regent Phillipe d’Orleans he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. Owing to this he became popularly known as the Chevalier de Ramsay. In 1723, he was granted a certificate of nobility in French from James Stuart, the Old Pretender (the son of King James II). The Chevalier was popular among the Jacobites and highly-respected in the exiled Stuart household. This is seen in the fact that Ramsay was invited by the Old Pretender in 1724 to tutor his two sons – Charles Edward and Henry, the first of which later became the Young Pretender. This illustrates how trusted he was amongst the deposed Royal family.
Ramsay is believed to have joined Freemasonry in 1730. He is said to have been initiated into it while visiting England, joining the Horn Lodge in London. Upon Ramsay’s return to France, he became greatly involved in French Masonry. Whilst Masonry had been active in France for some years, it was still relatively small and lacked any real influence or direction. As we have seen it had been introduced to France by the Jacobites who had fled the British Isles. Understandably, Ramsay was warmly welcomed to the Craft and quickly brought to the fore of the Order. He soon rose to the rank of Grand Orator.
In June 1735 he married Marie Nairne, the daughter of Sir David Nairne, undersecretary to James III. Through this Chevalier Ramsay was created a Scottish Knight and Baronet. It was not surprising that the higher degrees were to take on a chivalrous appearance. Through his own experience, Ramsay saw the great attraction of it and the appeal it would have to all men, no matter what their status in society.
Ramsay’s strong mystical views and his several experiences with chivalrous awards and titles would have a great bearing upon the direction of the higher degrees. He felt Craft Masonry lacked depth and status – being merely associated with working class stonemasons. Chevalier Ramsay was determined to give Masonry a more distinguished ethos and persona; he believed Chivalry was an ideal model for his ceremonies. He would infuse a romance into the Order with his artistic mythology. And this would prove appealing to the more sophisticated French.
Masonic writer Ralph W Omholt tells us, “The French enthusiastically responded to the elitist idea that Masonry originated from kings, knights, dukes, and barons. Consequently, new Masonic degrees and rites exploded all through France” (The Enigma of Freemasonry). Masonic writer Jacques Huyghebaert concurs in his Introduction to the Higher Degrees of Freemasonry, saying: “By coupling the Crusades and Masonry in Scotland in his Grand Lodge Oration, Chevalier Ramsay gave authority and honourability to the nascent Higher Degrees.”
Ramsay was also of the belief that there were higher mysteries that the candidate could experience on his ritualistic Masonic travels. Along with others, he had his part in formulating many sophisticated religious rites that would ultimately leave a lasting impression upon the initiate. The internal rituals would be immersed in “Christian” Mysticism. They would involve a wealth of esoteric rites, teaching and symbolism. This can be seen today in what was actually produced.
John Robison remarks: “The Lodges of Free Masons had become the places for making proselytes to every strange and obnoxious doctrine. Theurgy, Cosmogony, Cabala, and many whimsical and mythical doctrines which have been grafted on the distinguishing tenets and the pure morality of the Jews and Christians, were subjects of frequent discussion in the Lodges. The celebrated Chevalier Ramsay was a zealous apostle in this mission. Affectionately attached to the family of Stuart, and to his native country, he had co-operated heartily with those who endeavoured to employ Masonry in the service of the Pretender, and, availing himself of the pre-eminence given (at first perhaps as a courtly compliment) to Scotch Masonry, he laboured to show that it existed, and indeed arose, during the Crusades.”
Robison concludes: “It is chiefly to him that we are indebted for that rage for Masonic chivalry which distinguishes the French Free Masonry. Ramsay’s singular religious opinions are well known, and his no less singular enthusiasm. His eminent learning, his elegant talents, his amiable character, and particularly his estimation at court, gave great influence to every thing he said on a subject” (Proofs of a Conspiracy Chap. I).
In his position as Grand Orator, Ramsay wrote a speech in December 1736, which would become infamous in Masonic circles linking Freemasonry with the Crusades. This lecture became public during 1737 and is widely recognised to have changed the face of Masonry forever. It was certainly the catalyst that caused the proliferation of the higher degrees within the Lodge and changed the course and development of Freemasonry. In actual fact, most Masonic commentators on the subject seem to be of the opinion that this speech marked the beginning of the whole higher grade cause. After Ramsay’s oration chivalrous Scottish Masonry took off.
The Masonic Scottish Rite Research Society representative Heredom states: “Ramsay is remembered primarily for an Oration he wrote for presentation to the Masonic Grand Lodge of France in 1737. With this Oration, he inadvertently changed the course of Masonic history by inspiring the creation of the hauts grades or high degrees which eventually evolved into the Scottish Rite.”
Leading Masonic writer Arthur Edward Waite says in his thesis The Templar Orders in Freemasonry, which contains a historical consideration of the origin and development of the Masonic Templar degree: “There is no historical evidence for the existence of any Templar perpetuation story prior to the Oration of Ramsay … There is further – as we have observed – no evidence of any Rite or Degree of Masonic Chivalry prior to 1737, to which date is referred in the discourse of Ramsay. That this was the original impetus which led to their production may be regarded as beyond dispute, and it was the case especially with Masonic Templar revivals.”
Peter Partner explains in his comprehensive study into the subject, called The Murdered Magicians: “There was no reference to the knightly Orders in early English Masonic constitutions: the author of this important innovation was a Catholic Jacobite resident in France, the Chevalier Ramsay. He was a Scotsman of humble origins who had become the secretary and literary executor of the great French writer and churchman, Fenelon, and who had been created a knight in an Order with historical connections with the Crusade, the Order of St. Lazare. In 1736 he delivered a speech to the French Masons which conveyed the aims and principles of the young movement, and which was strongly influential on its subsequent development in continental Europe.”
Historians differ on when the famous speech of Ramsay was made. This may have been because it was written in December 1736 and made public in 1737. Masonic historian Robert J. Currie writes in Templar Influence of the Eighteenth Century: “The most commonly accepted source of the Templar idea was believed to be initiated by Chevalier Andrew Ramsay … in 1737 he delivered a speech to a gathering of Freemasons in Paris, with the main content being the symbolic ceremonies of the crusading knights in the Holy Land … the ‘Oration’ given that day by Ramsay led to what could be only described as a kick-start for Masonic Templar degrees to be formed throughout the next few years … Ramsay himself was believed to have instigated a system of 3 Chivalric Degrees, namely (1) Ecossais, (2) Novice, (3) Knight Templar.”
Lodge historians (old and modern), in the majority, tend to attribute the formulation of the higher degrees to Ramsay. Leading Masonic authority Albert G. Mackey writes in The History of Freemasonry: “The Chevalier Ramsay was the real author of the doctrine of the Templar origin of Freemasonry … The inventive, genius of Ramsay, as exhibited in the fabrications of high degrees and Masonic legends, is well known … The history of the High Degrees of Masonry begins with the inventions of the Chevalier [Andrew] Michael Ramsay, who about the year 1728 fabricated three which he called Ecossais, Novice, and Knight Templar.”
In A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry Waite contends: “Had there never been a Chevalier Ramsay … the developments of Ritual beyond the Craft Masonry must have assumed other forms. As it is, we have a Scottish Rite, now regnant everywhere … We have also Grades by the score, even to fourscore and a hundred … In a few sentences of a speech, the illustrious son of a baker, who became – under the auspices of the Catholic religion – a Knight of the Order of St. Lazarus, created as by magic, and knowing nothing of his power as a wizard, all High Grade Masonry, all its Ecossais systems and all the Masonic glory of Mother Kilwinning … we should not have had the shining panoplies of chivalrous Grades; he is progenitor of all the cohorts … there would have been no Ecossais Masonry – a thing of beauty and of wonder in some of its developments.”
Because these degrees were surreptitiously constructed and were carefully worked underground, it is difficult to identify the exact dates that each degree was invented. We will probably never know. Those who could have given such information were sworn under blood-oath to conceal such facts – thus adding to the mystery surrounding the rites in question. We can only identify the era when they came to the fore and mention such dates which history provides.
The well-respected Scottish Masonic historian David Murray Lyon, in his popular History of the Lodge of Edinburgh, speaking of the Royal Order of Scotland, says, “The paternity of the Royal Order, is now pretty generally attributed to a Jacobite Knight named Andrew Ramsay, a devoted follower of the Pretender, and famous as the fabricator of certain rites, inaugurated in France about 1735-40, and through the propagation of which it was hoped the fallen fortunes of the Stuarts would be retrieved” (p. 307).
Whilst the Scottish Rite settled at a manageable thirty-three degrees, there were many additional grades which arose at this time that were heavily influenced by the new Masonic enlargement. These elaborate innovations were mainly contained within Jacobite circles in France and Germany. Most shared the same general esoteric doctrine as the existing higher degrees although they added various digressions to the original legends.
John Hamill, Librarian and Curator of the Masonic United Grand Lodge of England, asserts in his work The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry: “French Masons in that century had very fertile Masonic imaginations and invented literally hundreds of additional rites, degrees, and Orders” (p.117). Masonic author Omholt tells us: “The new rites were quickly exported to countries all over Europe. Each country added their local embellishments. At one point, one Masonic historian claimed the existence of eleven hundred different degrees. The degrees, ceremonies, rituals, and names, nearly exhausted the content of the Old Testament and the names of existing orders of chivalry” (The Enigma of Freemasonry).
Many historians are of the view that the construction of the modern-day Masonic Templars was heavily influenced by the Jesuits, who, according to a considerable number of them, had a hand in formulating its rites. History seems to show that the Roman Catholic Jacobites who fled to France at the end of the 17th century aligned themselves with the Jesuit movement, and combined their resources in a desperate effort to rid Europe of what they mutually believed was the ‘scourge of Protestantism’. A comparison of the rites, symbols and customs of the Jesuit secret ceremonies and that of modern Templarism would seem to indicate a definite linkage.
Masonic authority Albert G. Mackey explains, “When James II made his flight from England he repaired to France, where he was hospitably received by Louis XIV. He took up his residence while in Paris at the Jesuitical College of Clermont. There, it is said, he first sought, with the assistance of the Jesuits, to establish a system of Masonry which should be employed by his partisans in their schemes for his restoration to the throne” (Chap. XXX).
We find that the older Masonic historians tend to attribute a Jesuit influence on the Templar initiations. A German Mason living in Paris and working under the assumed name of C. Lenning connects the formulation of the higher degrees to the Jesuit College of Clermont. He stated that “whilst in exile, James II residing at the Jesuit College of Clermont in France, allowed his closest associates to fabricate certain degrees in order to extend their political views” (Encyclopedia of Freemasonry written in the 1820s). Whilst it is unlikely that the higher degrees were fashioned by James II, he may have laid the foundation for the creation of a secret system by forging close links between himself and the Jesuits opportunists. Other writers of the era were in agreement with Lenning. French author on the subject, Jean-Baptiste Ragon (1771–1862), identifies a link between the two groupings in his writings. Subsequent historians like Dr. George Oliver (1782–1867) have also described the joint efforts of the two in the inception of the various higher degrees.
James II died at St. Germain in 1701. His son James III (Old Pretender) succeeded him. History shows that the warm relationship between the Jesuits and the Stuarts did not diminish with the death of James, but actually flourished through his progeny. Both groups were passionately committed to subjugate the Hanoverian/Protestant cause by whatever means they could.
German Masonic historian J. G. Findel tells us in History of Freemasonry (1861): “Ever since the banishment of the Stuarts from England in 1688, secret alliances had been kept up between Rome and Scotland; for to the former place the Pretender James Stuart had retired in 1719 and his son Charles Edward born there in 1720; and these communications became the more intimate the higher the hopes of the Pretender rose. The Jesuits played a very important part in these conferences. Regarding the reinstatement of the Stuarts and the extension of the power of the Roman Church as identical, they sought at that time to make the Society of Free-masons subservient to their ends.” Like today, it is sometimes difficult to divorce the political agenda from the religious.
He continues: “The soil that was best adapted for this innovation was France, where the low ebb to which Masonry had sunk had paved the way for all kinds of new-fangled notions, and where the Lodges were composed of Scotch conspirators and accomplices of the Jesuits. When the path had thus been smoothed by the agency of these secret propagandists, Ramsay, at that time Grand Orator (an office unknown in England), by his speech completed the preliminaries necessary for the introduction of the High Degrees; their further development was left to the instrumentality of others, whose influence produced a result somewhat different from that originally intended.”
Whilst some historians may differ on exact dates and personalities, most commentators attribute the birth of the chivalry degrees to the Jesuit/Jacobite coalition. Both had a forceful motive and desire to use Freemasonry for their respective ends. They certainly could not commence their conspiracy in Britain due to the prevailing Hanoverian thinking and the general loyalty of the British Masons to the Protestant monarch. France was the ideal setting as society there was more open and liberal, and the monarch both sympathetic and a Roman Catholic.
Whilst Masonic historians acknowledge the power of the Jesuits behind many of the higher degrees, they are not all complimentary of their infiltration of the Lodge. Many Masonic writers condemn their actions and distance themselves from their mystical innovations. Some are of the view they actually distorted the original character and intent of the Masonic Lodge for their own selfish purposes.
Like some earlier Masonic writers, French physician and top Mason in the Masonic Grand Orient of France, Dr. Emmanuel Rebold lamented the baleful influence of the Jesuits in the development of 18th century Freemasonry. In 1867 he wrote: “notwithstanding the confusion they had created (1736-72), the Jesuits had accomplished but one of their designs, viz.: denaturalyzing and bringing into disrepute the Masonic Institution. Having succeeded, as they believed, in destroying it in one form, they were determined to use it in another. With this determination, they arranged the systems styled ‘Clerkship of the Templars’, an amalgamation of the different histories, events, and characteristics of the crusades mixed with the reveries of the alchemists. In this combination Catholicism governed all, and the whole fabrication moved upon wheels, representing the great object for which the Society of Jesus was organized” (General History of Freemasonry p. 218
Masonic writer J. G. Findel also complains, “Besides the modern Knights Templar, we see the Jesuits … disfiguring the fair face of Freemasonry. Many Masonic authors, who were fully cognizant of the period, and knew exactly all the incidents occurring, positively assert that then and still later the Jesuits exercised a pernicious influence, or at least endeavored to do so, upon the fraternity” (History of Freemasonry, p. 253)
Many experts on the Masonic higher grades (within and without Freemasonry) detect a strong Jesuit influence in many of the higher rites. This is reinforced when they note the close relationship that history seems to show between the Jesuits and the Jacobites at this time. Jesuit teaching was embroidered into most of the fabric of the higher degrees. Whilst it is difficult at times to detect, because it is advanced in unintelligible style, it nonetheless exists. Speaking of the fabrication of the high degrees at this time Robison concludes: “In all this progressive mummery we see much of the hand of the Jesuits.”
Nesta Webster in her comprehensive historic work entitled Secret Societies and Subversive Movements contends: “The version of the Rose-Croix degree first adopted by the Freemasons of France in about 1741 was not only so Christian but so Catholic in character as to have given rise to the belief that it was devised by the Jesuits in order to counteract the attacks of which Catholicism was the object.”
J.S. Tackett brings some helpful evidence to our research, in a paper on the Additional Degrees: “There is undeniable evidence that in their earlier forms the Ecossais or Scots Degrees were Roman Catholic; I have a MS. Ritual in French of what I believe to be the original Chev. de l’Aigle or S.P.D.R.C. (Souverain Prince de Rose-Croix), and in it the New Law is declared to be ‘la foy Catholique’, and the Baron Tschoudy in his L’Etoile Flamboyante of 1766 describes the same Degree as ‘le Catholicisme mis en grade’ (Vol. in. p. 114). I suggest that Ecossais or Scots Masonry was intended to be a Roman Catholic as well as a Stuart form of Freemasonry, into which none but those devoted to both Restorations were to be admitted” (Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, XXXII. Part 1. p. 17).
Masonic authority Albert Mackey says of 18th century Masonic historian Nicolas De Bonneville: “His Masonic theory was that the Jesuits had introduced into the symbolic Degrees the history of the life and death of the Templars, and the doctrine of vengeance for the political and religious crime of their destruction; and that they had imposed upon four of the higher Degrees the four vows of their congregation.”
Wilhelm Ferdinand Wilcke, in Geschichte des Tempelherrenordens, II. 302-12 (1827), says, “The present Knight Templars of Paris will have it, that they are direct descendants from the ancient Knights, and endeavor to prove this by documents, interior regulations, and secret doctrines. Foraisse says the Fraternity of Freemasons was founded in Egypt, Moses communicating the secret teaching to the Israelites, Jesus to the Apostles, and thence it found its way to the Knight Templars. Such inventions are necessary … to the assertion that the Parisian Templars are the offspring of the ancient order. All these asseverations, unsupported by history, were fabricated in the High Chapter of Clermont (Jesuits), and preserved by the Parisian Templars as a legacy left them by those political revolutionists, the Stuarts and the Jesuits.”
Whatever angle you look at it, the evidence seems to point to the conclusion that the higher Masonic degrees were birthed in France during the 18th century under the twin influences of the Jacobites and the Jesuits. Both shared a common goal and felt Masonry served as a perfect vehicle to accomplish their designs. Through it they felt they could infiltrate Hanoverian Protestantism and bring about its ultimate demise. To secure their clever design they created numerous higher degrees and added them to the existing three-degree Craft Masonry. They packaged them as an advance in ‘Masonic truth’ and were able through time to establish them as an integral part of Freemasonry.
Pushed on by the subtle tactics of the Jesuit Society and the political zeal of the Jacobites, the higher grades grew powerfully throughout the 1700s to such an extent that they prospered wherever Masonry was found. Protestant nations embraced them as quick as Roman Catholic ones, and were fascinated by their form and mysteries.
In fact, Freemasonry was the Trojan horse which breached nominal Protestantism worldwide. It was the cancer that began to eat out the vitals of Protestant communities internationally. It has been exported to towns, cities and villages throughout the globe and has gained an influence in the most unexpected of places, none more so than in evangelical Protestantism in Ulster. Under the deceptive garb of the neo-Masonic Black Institution many evangelicals have been lured into higher degree Templarism. By the creation of this secretive system in France the Jesuits were able to extend their influence into territory that hitherto would have been impossible. This is how Ulster Protestantism was eventually breached.
Scottish Masonry and all its many fraternal offspring were suitable vehicles designed to achieve the demise of the Reformed political and religious power.
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