A startling claim has been made that ‘Freemasons do Revolutions,’ which has intrigued me to investigate why anyone should believe such a claim. Clandestine Freemasonry is a group of non masons that set up lodges outside the rule of a regular or irregular Grand Lodge, and this statement probably originates from a member of very scary clandestine lodge. The biggest problem we face as Freemasons is that some people actually believe in such ideas. Unfortunately, once a ‘prejudice has taken possession of the mind, however fallacious or unfounded it may be, the difficulty in removing it is almost insurmountable.’ [a thought of W Bro Rev George Oliver’s in 1867.] This article shall address the many inaccurate conspiracy theories regarding Freemasonry’s involvement in the French Revolution.
It cannot be denied that Freemasons have been involved in revolutions, but as individuals, not as Freemasons’ Lodges. It is a matter of record that the French Revolution came about for many reasons. The bourgeoisie – merchants, manufacturers, professionals – had gained financial power but were excluded from political power. Those who were socially beneath them had very few rights, and most were also increasingly impoverished. The monarchy was no longer viewed as divinely ordained. When King Louis XVI sought to increase the tax burden on the poor and expand it to classes that had previously been exempt, revolution became all but inevitable.1 Add to this the coffers were empty due the France’s involvement in the American Revolution and the fact that there had been a crop failure.
As stated above, there is no doubt that Freemasons have been involved in revolutions and civil wars. In England, Elias Ashmole was made a Freemason, along with his wife’s cousin, Colonel Henry Mainwaring in 1646. The English civil war was in full swing at this time and it is interesting to point out that these gentlemen were on opposing sides, but were made Freemasons (brothers) in the same Lodge at the same time. George Washington was an instrumental figure in the American War of Independence (as was the Frenchman Lafayette) and Albert Pike was a Southern General in the American Civil War. But none of these Freemasons, nor any others, conspired to start any of these revolutions not one has ever bee plotted from inside a Masonic Lodge. Likewise neither did any French Freemasons’ Lodge plot the French Revolution, even though, once again, it cannot be denied that French Freemasons were involved.
For example, Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet, who was classed as a ‘Philosophes’), a Freemason, was involved, as was the Marquess de Lafayette (A ‘Revolutionary Constitutional Monarchist’) and Philippe, Duc d’Orleans (a ‘Revolutionary Republican,’ member of the Jacobin Club and Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France). Note, however, they did not all share the same point of view. I have found no examples of Freemasons on the side of the King, the ‘Ancien Regime.’ (But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any.)
However, as with many conspiracy theories, books have been written that suggest French Freemasonry was behind the French Revolution, and, once it’s been published as a book, people start to believe it. One book, written by a Scottish Freemason named John Robison, a Scientist, was published in 1798 and has been a major source of these conspiracy theories. In this book it is suggested that the Bavarian Illuminati, headed by Adam Weishaupt, had infiltrated the French Masonic Lodges and influenced them in objectives of the illuminati 2 of replacing Christianity with a religion of reason and plotted the overthrow of King Louis XVI. However, the Bavarian Illuminati died out in 1785, a few years before the start of the French Revolution, and although it is believed that this group did infiltrate Freemasonry, I can only find reference to Freemasonry in Germany but not France. Gould states the following in his opening paragraph on the illuminati: ‘The secret society of the Illuminati of Bavaria is connected with the Masonic Brotherhood by the feeblest thread imaginable.’
John Robison’s book is entitled ‘Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe: carried on in the secret meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and reading societies’ and has been used many times by anti Freemasons. It has been quoted in another book by Nester Webster.5 In this book she writes: ‘Robison, who was himself a genuine Freemason, made a tour of the Continental lodges, where he found that a new and spurious form of masonry had sprung into existence. Both in France and Germany the lodges had become the haunts of many projectors and fanatics, both in science, in religion, and in politics, who had availed themselves of the secrecy and freedom of speech maintained in these meetings. … In their hands Freemasonry became a thing totally unlike, and almost in direct opposition to, the system imported from England, where the rule was observed that nothing touching religion or government shall ever be spoken of in the lodges.’
Research into French (and German) Freemasonry has shown that during the 18th century there were many new Rites and Rituals invented, some even with the un-masonic view of making a profit from lodge members dues. One, possibly the most widely spread across France and Germany, was called the Rite of Strict Observance. This Rite was based on the fiction that at the time of the destruction of the Templars a certain number of Knights took refuge in Scotland, and there preserved the existence of the Order.3 Many other Rites and Rituals were conceived in France, including Rite of Perfection, later brought to America by Etienne Moran and formed part of the Ancient and Acceptable Scottish Rite.
Of the Illuminati Gould writes quite a lot, but the last entries are thus: ‘The first mutterings of the ominous thunder cloud of Revolution were already making themselves heard across the French frontier, and statesmen were fully justified in dispersing the society of the Illuminati, although all its enemies’ accusations of revolutionary tendencies may be confidently and absolutely disbelieved.’ Later he writes: ‘On June 22, 1784, an Electoral edict suppressed not only the Illuminati, but likewise all Freemasonry throughout Bavaria.’ Finally this sentence: ‘The Illuminati ceased to exist, and with them Freemasonry in the South of Germany.’
Apparently, the conspiracy theory from Robison’s book is still being used today. There is an article on a web page by Jim Mars entitled ‘Masonic Traitors, Treason, and Treachery: The French Revolution, Jacobins and Jacobites’4 that has a line that includes these word ‘the record is quite clear that the revolution was instigated by cells of French Masonry and the German Illuminati.’ ‘Revolution’ being in this article the French Revolution. This article contains many inaccuracies, its aim is apparently designed to cause people to mistrust Freemasonry.
I have already referred to Nester Webster’s book ‘The French Revolution.’ This article (above) also refers to a book supposedly by Nester Webster with these lines, ‘Secret society researcher and author Nesta H. Webster was even more pointed, writing in 1924, [The Masonic book A Ritual and Illustrations of Freemasonry] contains the following passage, ‘The Masons… originated the Revolution with the infamous Duke of Orleans at their head.’ The book has no date, but there is a stamped date of 1883. The full title of the book he sites is: ‘ A Ritual and Illustrations of Freemasonry: accompanied by numerous engravings, and a key to the Phi Beta Kappa’6 and, according to archive.org, it was written by Allyn Avery and not Nester Webster. It is, apparently, a series of Masonic Rituals, 30 in all, beginning with the Entered Apprentice Degree and ending with a ‘new’ degree called Phi Beta Kappa. It does, however, contain the above words in a footnote referring to part of the first degree, that of a response that says, in part, “to keep off all Cowans and eavesdroppers,,,” and it connects the word Cowan to a French word Chouan, hence making a false link to the French Revolution. Chouan, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, refers to a member of any band of peasants, chiefly smugglers and dealers in contraband salt who rose in revolt and joined the Vendian Royalist in 1793, the motive for revolt was less devotion to the monarchy than resentment at interference by the new republican government with the Chouans’ old habits. The Breton word Chouan means ‘screech owl.’7 The word Cowan, believed to be of Scottish origin, refers to an untrained mason who builds walls; he was not a company or guild member.
In the part referring to Jacobins and Jacobites, the writer strangely connects these two groups together. However, there is absolutely no connection between the Jacobins 8 with the supporters of James II (Jacobites 9), there is around 100 years between their origins.
Finally Jim Mars also inaccurately and confidently states that Napoleon Bonaparte was initiated in an army lodge in 1789, there is no historic evidence that Napoleon was ever a Freemason, although his four brothers were.
I think there is enough in the above article to sow ample seeds of doubt that there was no plotting by Freemasons’ Lodges with regard to the French Revolution and most of the writings referred to contain many inaccuracies and twisted ‘facts,’ mainly to convince their readers that Freemasonry is bad. It is also obvious, as Freemasonry had many members of ‘rank and opulence’ (as it does today), and many world leaders have been Freemasons (Including Winston Churchill and George Washington), that many Freemasons, as people in their own right, have been involved in world wars, civil wars and revolutions. However, there is no evidence that Freemasonry as a fraternity has ever plotted revolutions in Lodges, even in France. By this time, late 1780’s, French Freemasonry had begun to re-establish itself under the Grand Orient de France more in line with English Freemasonry, but French Freemasonry died out around 1793, fortunately to be resurrected in France a few years later. I have to admit that today some French Freemasons do involve themselves in the humanity and the way the French people are governed. This is why French Freemasonry in general is regarded as irregular in today’s world (as they no longer follow the full principles and tenets of pure Freemasonry), but then, as now, Freemasons most definitely never have nor ever did ‘do revolutions.’
1 Encyclopedia Britannica
2 ‘Illuminati—the plural of the Latin word illuminatus, meaning “enlightened”—is a name that has been in use since the late 15th century and has been applied to various groups since then. Members of these groups claim to be unusually enlightened, with the “light” attributed to a higher source or to an exalted condition of the human intelligence. (Enclypedia Britannica).
3 The History of Freemasonry by Robert Freke Gould
5 The French Revolution by Nesta Webster 1919
6 Phi Beta Kappa (https://www.pbk.org) is America’s most prestigious academic honour society. This society was founded in 1776
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, current Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
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