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Freemasonry and Knights' New Dawn

As HUMAN HISTORY entered the eighteenth century, changes were occurring. The Inquisition was almost dead and the Bubonic Plague was dying with it.

Students of Masonic history know that the early 1700’s were an important period for Freemasonry. Masonic lodges in England had attracted many members who were not masons or builders by trade. This happened because Freemasonry was evolving into something other than a trade guild. It was becoming a fraternal society with a secret mystical tradition. Many lodges were quietly opening their doors to non-masons, especially to local aristocrats and men of influence. By the year 1700, an estimated70% of all Freemasons were people from other occupations. They were called “Accepted Masons” because they were accepted into the lodges even though they were not masons by trade.

On June 24, 1717, representatives from four British lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in London and created a new Grand Lodge. The new Grand Lodge, which was called by some “The Mother Grand Lodge of the World,” officially dropped the guild aspect of Freemasonry (“operative Freemasonry”) and replaced it with a type of Freemasonry that was strictly mystical and fraternal (“speculative Freemasonry”). The titles, tools and products of the mason’s trade were no longer addressed as objects that members would use in their livelihoods. Instead, the items were transformed entirely into mystical and fraternal symbols. These changes were not made suddenly, but were the result of a trend which had already begun well before 1717.

A number of histories incorrectly state that the Mother Grand Lodge of 1717 was the beginning of Freemasonry itself. As we have seen, Freemasonry’s roots were firmly established long before then, even in England. For example, one Masonic legend relates that Prince Edwin of England had invited guilds of Freemasons into his country as early as 926 A.D. to assist the construction of several cathedrals and stone buildings. Masonic manuscripts dating from 1390 and 1410 have been reported. Handwritten minutes from a Masonic meeting from the year 1599 are reproduced in Albert Mackey’s History of Freemasonry. Freemasonry was so well-established in England by the 16th century that a well-documented schism in 1567 is on record. The schism divided English Freemasons into two major factions: the “York” and “London” Masons.

The new Grand Lodge system established at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse in 1717 consisted at first of only one level (degree) of initiation. Within five years of the Lodge’s founding, two additional degrees were added so that the system consisted of three steps: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. These steps are commonly called the “Blue Degrees” because the color blue is symbolically important in them. The three Blue Degrees have remained the first three steps of nearly all Masonic systems ever since.

The Mother Grand Lodge issued charters to men in England, Europe and the British Empire authorizing them to establish lodges practicing the Blue Degrees. The colorful fraternal activities of the lodges provided a popular way for men to spend their time and Freemasonry soon became quite the rage. Many lodge meetings were held in taverns where robust drinking was a featured attraction. Of course, many members were also drawn into the lodges by promises of fraternity and spiritual enlightenment.

The new Mother Grand Lodge was reportedly very strict in its rule forbidding political controversy within the lodges. Ideally, Freemasonry was to be independent of political issues and problems. In practice, however, the Mother Grand Lodge, which was established only three years after the coronation of the first Hanoverian king, supported the new German monarchy at a time when many Englishmen were strongly opposed to it. One of the earliest and most influential Grand Masters of the Mother Lodge system was the Rev. John T. Desaguliers, who was elected Grand Master in 1719.
Desaguliers had earlier written a tract stating that the Hanoverians were the only legitimate sovereigns of England under the “laws of nature.” On November 5, 1737, he conferred the first two Masonic degrees on Frederic, Prince of Wales—a Hanoverian. During the ensuing generations, members of the Hanoverian royal family even became Grand Masters.*
* Augustus Frederick (1773-1843), the ninth son of George III, was Grand Master for the thirty years before his death. Prior to that, his older brother, who became King George IV, had held the Grand Master position. A later royal Grand Master was King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria; Edward served as Grand Master for 27 years while he was the Prince of Wales. The most recent royal Grand Master to become a king was the Duke of York, who afterwards became King George VI (r. 1936-1952).
The English Grand Lodge was decidedly pro-Hanoverian and its proscription against political controversy really amounted to a support of the Hanoverian status quo.

In light of the Machiavellian nature of Brotherhood activity, if we were to view the Mother Grand Lodge as a Brotherhood faction designed to keep alive a controversial political cause (i.e., Hanoverian rule in Britain), we would expect the Brotherhood network to be the source of a faction supporting the opposition. That is precisely what happened. Shortly after the founding of the Mother Grand Lodge, another system of Freemasonry was launched that directly opposed the Hanoverians!

When James II was unseated by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he fled England. His followers promptly formed organizations to help him recover the British throne. The most effective and militant group was the Jacobite organization. Headquartered in Scotland and Catholic Ireland, the Jacobites were able to rally widespread support for the Stuarts. They staged many uprisings and military campaigns against the Hanoverians, although they were ultimately unsuccessful in recrowning the Stuarts. When the unsuccessful James II died in 1701, his son, the self-proclaimed James III, continued the family struggle to regain the British throne. A new branch of Freemasonry was created to assist him. That branch was patterned after the old Knights Templar.

The man who reportedly founded Knights Templar Freemasonry was one of James Ill’s loyal supporters, Michael Ramsey. Ramsey was a Scottish mystic who had been hired by James III to tutor James’ two sons in France.

Ramsey’s goal was to re-establish the disgraced Templar Knights in Europe. To accomplish this, Ramsey adopted the same approach used by the Mother Grand Lodge system of London: the resurrected Knights Templar were to be a secret mystical/fraternal society open to men of varied occupations. The old knightly titles, uniforms, and “tools of the trade” were to be used for symbolic, fraternal and ritual purposes within a Masonic context. In keeping with these aims, Ramsey dubbed himself the Chevalier [Knight] Ramsey.

Ramsey did not work alone. He was assisted by other Stuart supporters. Among them was the English aristocrat, Charles Radcliffe. Radcliffe was a zealous Jacobite who had been arrested with his brother, the Earl of Derwentwater, for their actions in connection with the failed rebellion of 1715 to place James III on the British throne. Both brothers were sentenced to death. The Earl was beheaded, but Radcliffe escaped to France.

In France, Radcliffe assumed the title of Earl of Derwentwater. He presided over a meeting in 1725 to organize a new Masonic lodge based on the Templar format being revealed by Ramsey. The Derwentwater lodge was instrumental in getting the new Templar system of Freemasonry going in Europe. Derwentwater claimed that the authority to establish his Lodge came from the Kilwinning Lodge of Scotland—Scotland’s oldest and most famous lodge.*
* There is some debate as to whether Lord Derwentwater had also received a charter from the Mother Grand Lodge of England to start his new French lodge. Many histories state that he did, but some Masonic scholars aver that no record of such a charter exists and that Lord Derwentwater’s lodge was an unofficial (“clandestine”) lodge.
It has been argued that the Mother Grand Lodge of England would not have granted Derwentwater a charter because his pro-Stuart political leanings were well known.
As a footnote, Lord Derwentwater “continued to remain politically active and he tried to join Charles Edward during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. The ship on which Derwentwater sailed was captured by an English cruiser. The Earl was taken to London where he was beheaded in December 1746.
Templar Freemasonry is therefore often called Scottish Freemasonry because of its reputed Scottish origin. Ramsey’s Scottish Masonry attracted many members by claiming that the Templar Knights had actually secretly created the Mother Grand Lodge system. According to Ramsey, the Knights Templar had rediscovered the “lost” teachings of Freemasonry centuries earlier in the Holy Land during the Crusades. They brought the teachings back to Europe and, after their disgrace and banishment, secretly kept the teachings alive for hundreds of years in France, England, and Scotland. After centuries of living in the shadows, the Templars cautiously re-emerged by releasing only the Blue Degrees through the vehicle of the Mother Grand Lodge.
Ramsey claimed that the three Blue Degrees were issued only to test the loyalty of Freemasons. Once a Freemason proved his loyalty by reaching the third degree, he was entitled to advance to the “true” degrees: the fourth, fifth, and higher degrees released by Ramsey. Ramsey stated that he was authorized to release the higher degrees by a secret Templar headquarters in Scotland.
According to his story, the Scottish Templars were secretly working through the lodge at Kilwinning.

To effect their pro-Stuart political aims, the Scottish lodges changed the Biblical symbolism of the third Blue Degree into political symbolism to represent the House of Stuart. Ramsey’s “higher” degrees contained additional symbolism “revealing” why Freemasons had a duty to help the Stuarts regain the throne of England. Because of this, many people viewed Scottish Freemasonry as a clever attempt to lure Freemasons away from the Mother Grand Lodge system which supported the Hanoverian monarchy and turn the new converts into pro-Stuart Masons.

The Stuarts themselves joined Ramsey’s organization. James III adopted the Templar title “Chevalier St. George.” His son, Charles Edward, was initiated into the Order of Knights Templar on September 24, 1745, the same year in which he led a major Jacobite invasion of Scotland. Two years later, on April 15, 1747, Charles Edward established a masonic “Scottish Jacobite Chapter” in the French city of Arras.
Charles Edward later denied ever having been a Freemason in order to squelch damaging rumors that Scottish Masonry was nothing more than a front for the Stuart cause (which it largely was), even though he had been a Grand Master in the Scottish system. Proof of his Grand Mastership was discovered in 1853 when someone found the charter issued by Charles Edward to establish the above-mentioned lodge at Arras. The charter states in part:
We, Charles Edward, King of England, France, Scotland, and Ireland, and as such Substitute Grand Master of the Chapter of H., known by the title of Knight of the Eagle and Pelican .. .*
• “Chapter of H” is believed to have been the Scottish lodge at Heredon. Charles Edward is denoted as the “Substitute” Grand Master because his father, as King of Scotland, was considered the “hereditary” Grand Master.
We have just discussed the founding of two systems of Freemasonry. Each one supported the opposite side of an important political conflict going on in England—a conflict which affected other European nations, as well. Both systems of Freemasonry were launched within less than five years of one another. Ramsey’s story of how the two systems came into existence therefore contains some rather stunning implications. His story implies that a small hidden group of people belonging to the Brotherhood network in Scotland deliberately created two opposing types of Freemasonry to encourage and support both sides of a violent political controversy. This would be a startlingly clear example of Machiavellianism.
How true is Ramsey’s story? To answer this question, we must first take a brief look at the history of Freemasonry in Scotland.

Scotland has long been an important center of Masonic activity. The earliest of the old Masonic guilds in Scotland had been founded at Kilwinning in 1120 A.D. By 1670, the Kilwinning Lodge was already practicing speculative Freemasonry (although, in name, it was still an operative lodge).

The Scottish lodges were unique in that they were independent of, and were never chartered by, the English Grand Lodge even after they began to practice the Blue Degrees of the English Grand Lodge system. The Kilwinning Lodge itself had been granting charters since the early 15th century. It ceased doing so only in 1736 when it joined other Scottish lodges in elevating the Edinburgh Lodge to the position of Grand Lodge of Scotland. The new Grand Lodge of Scotland at Edinburgh adopted the speculative system of the English Grand Lodge, yet it still remained independent of the English Grand Lodge and issued its own charters.
About seven years later, in 1743, the Kilwinning Lodge broke away from the Grand Lodge of Scotland over a seemingly trivial dispute. Kilwinning set itself up as an independent Masonic body (“Mother Lodge of Kilwinning”) and once again issued its own charters. In 1807, the Kilwinning Lodge renounced all right of granting charters and rejoined the Grand Lodge of Scotland. We therefore see substantial periods of time in which the Kilwinning Lodge was independent of all other Lodges and when it could very well have granted charters to Templar Freemasons. It was independent at the time Ramsey and Derwentwater claimed to have received authorization from Kilwinning to establish Templar degrees in Europe.

Some masonic historians argue that the Kilwinning Lodge and other Scottish lodges still had nothing to do with creating the so-called “Scottish” degrees. They state that the Scottish degrees were all created in France by Ramsey and his Jacobite cohorts. Some Masonic writers contend that Templarism did not even reach Scotland until the year 1798—decades after it had already caught on in Europe. Those writers further claim that the Kilwinning Lodge had never practiced anything but the Blue Degrees of the English system. Others believe that Ramsey, who was born in the vicinity of Kilwinning, claimed a Scottish origin to his degrees out of nationalistic pride and to help build a base of political support for the Stuarts in Scotland. These arguments sound persuasive, but historical documentation proves that they are all false.

First of all, we have already seen that Scotland was providing this era with important historical figures contributing to some of the changes being wrought by Brotherhood revolutionaries. Michael Ramsey is the third mysterious Scotsman of obscure origin we have seen help bring important changes to Europe. The other two were discussed earlier: William Paterson, who helped German rulers set up a central bank in England, and John Law, who was the architect of the central bank of France.
Secondly, the Scottish masonic lodges were a natural place for pro-Stuart Templar degrees to arise. Scotland was strongly pro-Stuart and the Jacobites were headquartered there.
Decades before the English Grand Lodge was created, many Masons in Scotland were already known to be helping the Stuarts. These Scottish loyalists used their lodges as secret meeting places in which to hatch political intrigues. Pro-Stuart Masonic activity may go as far back as 1660—the year of the Stuart Restoration (when the Stuarts took the throne back from the Puritans). According to some early Masons, the Restoration was largely a Masonic feat. General Monk, who played such a pivotal role in the Restoration, was reported to be a Freemason.

Finally, there is incontroverted evidence that the Scottish lodges, including the one at Kilwinning, were involved with Templarism decades before 1798. Masonic historian Albert Mackey reports in his History of Freemasonry that in 1779, the Kilwinning Lodge had issued a charter to some Irish Masons who called themselves the “Lodge of High Knights Templars.” More than a decade earlier, in 1762, St. Andrew’s Lodge of Boston had applied to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a warrant (which it later received) by which the Boston lodge could confer the “Royal Arch” and Knight Templar degrees at its August 28, 1769 meeting. It is significant that St. Andrew’s Lodge had applied to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for the right to confer the Templar degree, not to any French lodge.

We have thus confirmed two elements of Ramsey’s story:
1) that Scottish lodges practiced Templar Freemasonry, and
2) that a Scottish Grand Lodge was granting Templar charter sat least as early as 1762.
We can safely assume that the Scottish Grand Lodge was involved with Templarism before that year because the Lodge would have had to establish the Templar degree before another lodge could apply for it. Unfortunately, there are no apparent records surviving to indicate just when Templarism began in the Scottish lodges. Ramsey and Derwentwater, of course, claim that the Templar degrees already existed in the early 1720’s.
The Scottish lodges may well have been involved with some form of Templarism at that time.

Understandably, the Scottish lodges were highly secretive about their Templar activities. We only know about the 1762 Templar charter to St. Andrew’s Lodge from records found in Boston. One need only consider the fates of the two Earls of Derwentwater to appreciate the dangers awaiting those people, including Freemasons, who engaged in pro-Stuart political activity.

Not every element of Ramsey’s Templar story was backed by evidence. For example, Freemasonry itself was not started by the Templar Knights as Ramsey implied. The masonic guilds which gave birth to Freemasonry existed long before the Templar Knights were founded. On the other hand, there is circumstantial evidence that Templar Knights may indeed have been the ones who brought the Blue Degrees to England.

As mentioned in Chapter 15, it is thought that the three Blue Degrees were already being practiced centuries earlier by the Assassin sect of Persia. The Templar Knights had frequent contact with the Assassins during the Crusades. During those periods when they were not fighting against one another, the Assassins and Templars established treaties and engaged in other amicable relations. One treaty even allowed the Templars to build several fortresses on Assassin territory. It is believed by some historians that during those peaceful interludes, the Templars learned about the Assassins’ extensive mystical teachings and incorporated some of those teachings into the Templar system. It is therefore quite possible that the Templars did indeed have the Blue Degrees long before they were established by the English Mother Grand Lodge.

Further circumstantial evidence is that during the Crusade era, the Templars were at the height of their power in Europe. They owned properties throughout the Continent. Their holdings and preceptories in Scotland were especially numerous. When the Templars abandoned the Holy Land after the Crusades, they eventually returned to their preceptories around the world, including Scotland. After the Templar Order was suppressed throughout Europe, many Templars refused to abandon their Templar traditions and so they conducted their activities in secrecy. Some secretly-active Templar joined Masonic lodges, including lodges in Scotland and England. It is therefore conceivable that Templars were the conduit through which the three Blue Degrees traveled from the Assassin sect, through Scotland, to the Mother Grand Lodge of 1717.

Some Freemasons may view any attempt to connect the Blue Degrees with the Assassins sect as an effort to discredit Freemasonry, even though the connection was suggested by one of Masonry’s most esteemed historians. In discussing such a link, it is important to keep in mind that the assassination techniques employed by the Assassins were never taught in the Blue Degrees. The Assassins possessed an extensive mystical tradition that extended well beyond their controversial political methods. Furthermore, the Assassins had borrowed many of their mystical teachings from earlier Brotherhood systems. The Blue Degrees may have therefore begun even earlier than the founding of the Assassin organization.

Whatever the ultimate truth of the origins of the Blue Degrees and Scottish Degrees may have been, both systems gained great popularity. The Scottish Degrees eventually came to dominate nearly all of Freemasonry. On continental Europe, the center of Scottish Freemasonry proved to be Germany, where the same small clique of German petty princes we have been observing soon emerged as leaders in the new Templar Freemasonry. 


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