Geo-Politics, Espionage and the Heroics of Empire

An Introduction

From the smoke-filled taverns of central London’s most notorious red-light districts in 1716 to the glamour and excitement of a gala dinner in July, 1886 where reporters jostled to catch a glimpse of ‘the glittering assemblage’ attending the Prince of Wales, is quite a leap. This is the rags to riches story long claimed by English Freemasons [EFs] for their Order.

Their ‘creation myth’ has been that members of four fraternal lodges, mainly working men, met over bread, cheese and ale to assess options for their struggling benefit society. With London awash with clubs and societies, competition for members was fierce, but, neither the clatter of tankards on rough wooden tables, nor the whistling, singing and jostling patrons all around deterred them from their purpose. These men were special, unique – or so it has been claimed.

Perhaps there were heated exchanges over ‘the Constitution’, perhaps there were surly losers and grinning winners – we have no records, nor first-hand accounts. We only have assertions written years later that this gathering of stonemasons, carpenters and like-minded drinking buddies agreed to begin meeting quarterly and to organise a year-ending feast at which they would elect their first-ever ‘Grand Master’.

What were they thinking? Or more to the point, what were they drinking ???

Yet more remarkable is the allegation that their idea was quickly taken up by scientists and gentry as a vehicle for religious tolerance and new, ‘enlightened’ philosophies. This allegedly led to transformation of the original, into a global phenomenon which matched the drive of the British Empire in vigour and ruthlessness. The reasons given for the influx of transformative, non-artisans into the original group – that they saw it as a suitable vehicle for their private meetings wherein they could indulge in obscure ceremonial and light, sociable exchanges – have never been convincing. The further argument that these ‘speculative’ Masons were, to a man, seekers of lost wisdom and the embodiment of values specific to ‘The Age of Enlightenment’, has been particularly troubling, and not just because of the contradictory nature of these two ideas. Only with difficulty can a search for ‘the ancient’ be aligned with the levelling, pro-reason and change-oriented dynamic of ‘the Enlightenment’. Nevertheless, brethren keep making the claim that this is what ‘Freemasonry’ does. Indeed, there seems to have been a recent resurgence of brethren doing so. For example: Batley in 2000 – ‘As an enlightened society, they [Freemasons] spearheaded the age of Enlightenment’ [i]; Curl in 1991: ‘There is no doubt whatsoever that Freemasonry played a central role in the Enlightenment’, [ii] and Weisberger’s 2001 adulatory insistence in QC’s annual ‘Transactions’ that a certain Reverend John Desagulier epitomised both EF’s moral stance and everything positive that the Enlightenment could be said to represent.[iii]

Over three centuries, the projected image of ‘Freemasonry’ has undoubtedly shaped assumptions among all its observers, and the dynamic of that inter-action is deserving of far more inquiry than it has yet received. The earliest attempts by outsiders to get at the apparent mystery of EF by claiming to ‘know’ its secret rituals appeared in the 1720’s. These exposes were supposedly snapped up by casual readers excited by the prospect of joining in the latest craze. Taking the unverified material at face value, hopefuls apparently memorised ‘the work’ they were told they would be expected to recite inside the lodge room. The then street buzz, apparently, was positive, but it was nowhere near what it was to become, especially among its supporters. In 1859, for example, a series of claims was made by WA Laurie, a Scot: ‘(Freemasonry) has existed from the remotest antiquity…(It) has extended to every corner of the globe, and embraced men of every rank, of every religion, and of every form of government…(It was) formed for the purpose of scientific improvement and (for) the exercise of mutual benevolence;…(It has patronised) and executed those magnificent structures which…have contributed to the utility and ornament of Nations.(etc)…’ [iv] Each of these is a remarkable claim, collectively, they are astonishing. ‘Grand Lodge’ [UGLE] did not contradict them, as far as I know. Equally astounding is the way in which claims of this sort have persisted even when their author has seemed to be aware of the need for supporting evidence. Back in 1859, Laurie specifically spurned all works previous to his, insisting that his contribution would ‘divest the history of Free Masonry of that jargon and mystery in which it has hitherto been enveloped, and substitute a historical and therefore reliable account…’ His claims were soon dismissed. J Murray Lyon in 1873, just fourteen years later, quoted from him and then wrote: ‘The time was when statements of this kind would have been accepted without challenge…but it is nowadays pretty generally believed that by such applications of the rose-tint of fiction the real features of the ancient fraternity are concealed.’ [v]

In 1884, just another decade later, unhappy with all that had gone before, English brethren set up their first lodge of research Quatuor Coronati [understood to refer to ‘Four Crowned Martyrs’, hereafter QC, and discussed below at length]. But the astounding claims for EF, and for ‘Freemasonry’ in general, continued into the new century. They changed, and in important ways, but they remained astounding – in 1909: ‘… (Defined)…as a union of all unions, an association of men, bound together in their struggles to attain all that is noble, who desire only what is true and beautiful, who love and practise virtue for its own sake, – this is Freemasonry, the most comprehensive of all human confederacies.’ [vi] In 1948, NSW’s Grand Master McDowell asserted: ‘(Guided) by our Masonic principles, with continuing faith in (God), united in the spirit of brotherhood, we can face the future with every confidence, firmly believing that truth and justice will always prevail, and that Freemasonry is truth and justice in all things.’ [vii]

The earliest inclination among insiders was to dismiss as untenable everything bearing the name of the rejected pioneer, or as in the Laurie case, everything on the subject that had gone before. This suggests an anxiety about how ‘Freemasonry’ was being perceived in the hands of the preceding scholar, and a hope that with each new claim, ‘the truth’ would finally be clear. The persistence of the cycle among insiders suggests anxiety remains and that the ‘historical and therefore reliable account’ has not yet been achieved. The variety of meanings for the term ‘enlighten/ment’, which will not be canvassed here, has assisted ‘insiders’ to make a case, but has not assisted clarity. It is sufficient here to say that the idea of a transition from darkness to light has been variously interpreted, the nature of ‘the light’ being always dependent upon the nature of ‘the darkness’ posed. Judgements of who was or are ‘enlightened’, therefore, have resided in the eye of the observer. Because of the nature of the planet’s last three or four centuries these terms are woven into two other sets of terms: one looking forward – ‘civilisation’, ‘industrialisation’, ‘modernity’, among others, the other looking backwards: ‘ancient’, ‘faith’, ‘tradition’, among others. Their slippery nature should not stymie examination of them, but rather should indicate a way forward, at least for students of their history. ‘The [capitalised] Enlightenment’, for example, has been a contested term and an account of that contest overlaps with the history of ‘Freemasonry’ and each is therefore a useful tool in an examination of the other.

I have to assume that EF, the organisation, has been no different from other vested interests with regard to self-perception, since I can think of no reason why it would be different. I have to assume that its image has been important to it, that it has assessed and modified its image over time, and that its credibility – the alignment of aspiration with reality – can and should be questioned as can that of any other organisation. It would seem reasonable to expect that a complete history of EF, written from the inside or not, would include actions it has taken to alter the way it has been perceived, and assessments of its motives for doing so. Professional historians were not so ignorant in 1859 that brethren’s claims could have survived serious scrutiny even then, but as relevant knowledges developed subsequently, a curious thing has occurred – most non-Masonic scholars have preferred to let the claims be, rather than undertake the necessary examination. The insiders claimed to be the keepers of a ‘truth’ which the non-initiated researchers, perhaps, wanted to be true. The insiders were therefore to be soothed with praise and platitudes, not confronted and possibly overturned. Of course, some of these apparently objective observers have proven to have been initiated brethren.

EF has not assisted in that enlightenment which is the non-partisan gaining and distributing of knowledge with the purpose of improving human welfare. UGLE has even refrained from assisting its ‘front-line defenders’ against well-resourced detractors, and it has made no effort to interpret for its members the numerous economic and social upheavals which have been test-beds for the ideals EF claimed to champion. And yet this organisation projecting an image of political neutrality, universal benevolence and unqualified truth has chosen sides in certain important struggles for wealth and power within the English/British polity. It’s notable that the thirteen decades of study carried out by QC have happened in spite of the decision-makers in Grand Lodge [UGLE] maintaining their silence about what was being said in its name. In fact, that august body gave QC the least possible help it could at its launch and none at all when it faced closure, even though Lodge QC had been widely welcomed by its initiated supporters and consistently feted as a global success.

Over the three centuries of EF’s existence, parts of the outside world have continued pursuit of ways to engage with, and therefore to better understand ‘the past’. Australia’s pre-eminent 20th century historian, Manning Clark, used to say that each generation re-writes the past to suit its ambitions. EH Carr shared this view. But for many in this sector there is much more involved than generational ambition. One person’s understanding of something she has just seen is unlikely to be universally accepted by other observers – this is the nature of things. But with HISTORY, ‘the record’ of the big events, events that have affected millions of people, there is keener competition, there is blood in the air. The history of how ‘history’ – studying and representing the past – has been understood is another useful and necessary tool. The fear and loathing of the Islamic State towards ancient ruins and monuments is only one sign of the importance we all invest in the struggle to control ‘the past’. We buy one newspaper over another because of its interpretation of past events, aka ‘the news’. We watch one commentator not another because it’s viscerally important to us to see and to hear our views being validated. We are outraged when some memorable building, reputation or ‘thing’ is damaged. The most stoic of us can be provoked into public protest by just the verbal desecration of a symbol, like a flag, or a memory, like someone’s attempt to argue an alternative view of the Gallipoli landing, the Battle of Britain or Custer’s Last Stand. There are, of course, power and influence and lots of money at stake. Supposed custodians of the past – journalists or historians – are as likely to be paid agents as objective referees of ‘the truth.’

As part of the Cold War after 1945, Western scholars insisted that, in contrast to the falsification and manipulation of the record by Nazi and Soviet historians, they practised historical accuracy, objectivity and truthfulness. EH Carr’s What is History? of 1961, and Elton’s The Practice of History, 1967, advocated rigorous examination of primary sources, in effect, re-asserted a need for a ‘scientific history’ because it was not yet in place anywhere. The lack of unanimity about what was involved in writing accurate history continued among non-Masons, if not within EF. Carr’s was a sociological view of history as the product of individuals, with each one necessarily different, while Elton’s response was that documents were everything, the motivations of particular historians nothing. During the Vietnam War, Noam Chomsky pointed out the crucial role being played by partisan intellectuals in the creation and maintenance of ‘the Western truth’. Styled ‘the new mandarins’, the West’s partisan ‘liberal and objective experts’ included Arthur Schlesinger who thought the bombing of North Vietnam and the massive escalation of US military commitment in early 1965 was “perfectly rational”.[viii] Linking those recent events with an earlier conflict involving US oil interests, the 1930’s Spanish Civil War, Chomsky showed the combination of forces driving the allegedly ‘scientific, value-free language’ in schools, universities, parliaments and think-tanks: ‘I have concentrated on one theme – the interpretation of the social revolution in Spain … (and) on (a) work that is an excellent example of liberal scholarship…to show that a deep bias against social revolution and a commitment to the values and social order of liberal bourgeois democracy has led the author to misrepresent crucial events…to overlook major historical currents…and to a striking failure of objectivity.’ [ix] At the time, his insights were highly controversial. Today, they are much closer to being commonly-held, at least by professionals committed to allowing evidence to lead. New fads, however, have continued to undermine their efforts, to a point in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, where the ‘dissolution of history’ as a suitable subject for serious study was contemplated: ‘In place of the optimistic belief in the progress of the discipline…historians at the end of the twentieth century are haunted by a sense of gloom.’ [x] None of these currents have surfaced in the EF insider literature.

The task I’ve set myself would already be complex enough if there were only two groups of Masonic historians to reconsider, insiders and outsiders. Attracted by the air of mystery and division, a third group, mainly conspiracy theorists, has conjured up a mix that reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, or Macbeth’s witches’ brew – a mix of known fact and egregious speculation, the whole obscured by clouds of verbal smoke and mirrors. I wonder sometimes if I’m engaged in unravelling the longest-running and most effective show of legedermain in all music-hall history. Yet, magicians, tricksters and con-men, and women, have featured, particularly in 18th and 19th century accounts which have argued links between the original Templars, the Illuminati and other Bavarian brotherhoods, and any number of global conspiracies. For more than one reason, this third group requires incorporation into the context along with the others.

Excited authors in all three groups, guilty of the very worst kinds of evidence-free assertions, have helped to obscure what useful data there is. Some, by aligning ‘Freemasonry’ only with the politics of sedition, have made it easy for ‘insiders’ to claim moral high-ground where it cannot exist – at the supposed point where non-politics equates with support of the status-quo. The extension of this, the idea that brethren act always and exactly in line with formula laid down by Grand Lodge, matches in silliness the idea that Masons have only ever been interested in undermining governments.

I am especially concerned that because the past literature contains so many unexamined assumptions that even the latest, non-initiated, non-partisan researchers are constructing new houses of cards, as flimsy as those erected earlier. This is a danger whether the scholars are sympathetic to ‘Freemasonry’ or not, the variety of conclusions reflecting the unsatisfactory nature of the previous scholarship.

A number of sociology-trained English academics have explored town and regional EF membership lists for occupational clusters and have drawn conclusions about social identity and networks of benevolence. They have rarely, if ever, done so in the light of local, detailed, political dynamics, with the result that conclusions have been trite: ‘The order provided contact, sociability and the exchange of information and support…in a manner which recognised social hierarchy.’ [xi] At this level of generalisation, it seems, ‘Freemasonry’ is a scientific aberration – a single entity that is never affected by its circumstances, but yet is not entirely inert. Among the few, politically-aware, delvers into the material, there has appeared a crucial division as to significance. There is blanket dismissal – Jonathon Israel asserted in 2006: ‘If our aim is to get to the heart of the Enlightenment as a decisively-important, world-historical phenomenon, arguably the least said about Freemasonry the better.’ [xii] And there are claims of an overwhelming importance – for example, Harland-Jacob’s, that the British Empire was a Masonic enterprise, (see below).

Margaret Jacob, pioneering US scholar who has suffered hostility from some EFs for questioning ‘English primacy in world Masonic affairs’, has accepted at face value what French ‘Freemasons’ have said about themselves and the Order, to the extent that she has constructed a theory of ‘civil society’ on the strength of their published statements.[xiii] Kenneth Loiselle’s 2014 interpretation of male friendship in 18th century France is similarly doubtful. In an age of florid, expansive gestures, motivation is the first question, surely, when faced with one man’s statement to another, as for example: ‘…(I hope) to see and embrace you, to swear to you that I love you, that I adore you, to swear to you an eternal steadfastness…what I feel for you is what a passionate lover feels for his mistress in her absence.’ [xiv] Juan Cole has quoted from the same period a like-sounding sentiment of a French soldier about a comrade just deceased, which includes: ‘…Barbarous assassins have ripped away his life. Valiant, in the flower of his youth, good, sensible of glory and friendship, surrounded by esteem, covered with laurels, he fell to the weapons of cruel Bedouins.’ [xv] The difference is that Cole has noted that the eulogy is fraudulent – the ‘friend’ had committed suicide.

Loiselle’s naivete (ignorance?) is doubly relevant here for he has attached his theory of male-friendship directly to the culture in which EF formed: ‘The philosophes were particularly attracted to Hanoverian England’s freedoms of religion, opinion, and association, and Freemasonry, of course, embodied the latter…’ (Loiselle, 2014, p.22) He has referenced Voltaire and Montesquieu here and rightly so since their ‘anglo-mania’ was well-known, but the linking conclusion, ‘and Freemasonry, of course, embodied the latter…’ is entirely his, Voltaire, for example, not entering a lodge until just before his death.    Loiselle has in his introduction: ‘It was the masonic preoccupation with friendship that in fact distinguished the order from other modes of association.’ (Loiselle, p.29) In his conclusion he has the contradictory claim: ‘(It) is unlikely that Freemasonry was unique within the associational landscape of eighteenth century France. Other voluntary associations… resembled Freemasonry and also no doubt provided space to develop robust friendships that drew on similar moral themes and shared values.’ (Loiselle, p.251) In 2015, a Dutch scholar, Dorothe Sommer, has exported unexamined assumptions all the way to the Middle East. At the turn of the 19th century, she has asserted, social turmoil and political uncertainty ‘left Syria’s population longing for a new way to create a sense of common identity and solidarity.’ Her major conclusion is: ‘For many men, freemasonry in the form of a widespread network of various lodges throughout the area was perceived as a means of facilitating this bond. Thus, the phrase, ‘Unity is strength’, perfectly describes the efforts of Syrian Freemasons.’ [xvi]

A perusal of JJ Rousseau’s memoirs, as just one example, would have disabused these scholars of the assumptions they’ve made. This well-known 18th century cipher-clerk and philosophe made effusive remarks about his love for his relatives and intimates without ever entering a lodge. He also wrote of how his growth to maturity was marked by learning the reality of ‘Sweet and holy illusion of friendship.’  (JJ Rousseau, ‘Confessions’, Modern Library edn, NY, nd, p.403)

Masonic membership does not automatically render a person the embodiment of the organisation’s stated principles and values. Personal involvements are rarely static or one-dimensional, and motivations vary from one ‘brother’ to another. Patterns in membership – age, geography, occupation, family – can be traced to time-specific circumstances. Leadership positions in Masonry and simultaneously in a variety of other fields – courts, markets, parliaments, military – indicate the existence of real-time relations which, in turn, normally denote politics and political influence. The ‘coincidence’ of EF’s first surge and decline happening during the years of Robert Walpole’s rise and fall (1717-1741) is too stark to be anything other than politics-based, even before a detailed context is available. I propose herein to ask how it came about that magistrates, party-hacks and what used to be called ‘place-men’, predominated in the first wave of initiates, but, then, for a long-time thereafter, and especially outside of England, how was it that military personnel were over-represented? It is politics, not the level of enlightenment in their policies which have been used to separate EF from other ‘Freemasonries’, in particular that of France, as will be discussed herein.

‘Freemasonry’ is not and has never been a single entity, even in a theoretical or conceptual sense, and real-time accounts of its various versions are far from being settled. Debates about the definition of the word flicker spasmodically, and whether ‘it’ began in 1716-23.[xvii] In general debate, there has been a mixing together of EF the organisation, which did not exist before 1717, and another entity, vague and in my view mis-named, written as ‘freemasonry’, but which should be the broader notion of ‘fraternalism.’ I accept that for most EF brethren, today, there is only one ‘Freemasonry’. For a few others, there is ‘regular Freemasonry’, to which they belong, and ‘irregular’, which they are prohibited from joining. They have little interest in ‘irregular Freemasonry’ and have even less understanding of it. Since ‘their Freemasonry’ prohibits discussion of religion and politics within lodge, they suppose that ‘irregular’ Masons probably discuss these matters. A few would know that ‘French Freemasonry’ has been a particular bugbear of EF and may know that French brethren have been actively involved in politics at times in the past. The distance between ‘regular’ and ‘irregular Freemasonries’ appears vast but since they can’t discuss the reasons, they are effectively excused from enquiring further. It is doubtful if they appreciate that the existence of competing ‘Freemasonries’ implies that someone, somewhere made a choice with which someone else disagreed.

The original choice made by EF was not straightforward, though it may have been made in a hurry. The total context began before 1716, and well before ‘the Antients’ contended with ‘the Moderns’, on which many authors have concentrated. Ironically, the choice EF made was not the obvious one, which an impartial observer might have thought would have been of greatest interest to it. This was the so-called Jacobite form of ‘Freemasonry’ which connected artisanal secrecy and pictorial/architectural symbolic meanings with a raft of speculative philosophies. This apart, to claim that EF is cut-and-dried, perfect and un-changing, is to strip it of its purpose as a motivator for curiosity, experimentation and learning. My curiosity began when I perceived EF’s dismissive approach to learning in general, and to its ‘recent’ past in particular: why would an organisation claiming to be concerned with enlightenment have such an un-enlightened view, and how had it come about? I have adopted Kant’s definition, viz that ‘enlightenment’ = ‘Man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.’ In EF’s hands, the term has been boiled down to the meanest, narrowest type of ‘self-development’, to any activity which might be labelled ‘self-actuated’. Kant was far more honest, his definition continuing: ‘Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.’ There is contained within this, not only a definition of a potential learner, but definition of any organisation to which the learner belongs and in which ‘learning’ is presupposed. He went on: ‘This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another.’ To be within the ambit of his term, the organisation EF would need to respect the given do’s and don’ts in its practise. It would be required to not restrict the learner in any way, and to do everything possible to take the learner from a state of irresolution to one of sturdy independence with all that that implies. Kant was no idle romantic. He was well-aware of the negative, political, religious, and economic pressures on someone seeking to understand: ‘The motto of enlightenment is therefore Sapere aude [Dare to be Wise!] Have courage to use your own understanding!’ [xviii]

It is doubtful whether any of the globe’s many varieties of Masonry can be considered to be, or to have been, enlightened in the Kantian sense. Jonathon Israel considered that: ‘…Although it did sometimes employ a rhetoric of equality, eighteenth-century French and German Freemasonry in reality hardly ever tried to erase distinctions between aristocracy and commoners, or between high bourgeoisie and the common man, rather such modes of sociability mostly sought to preserve and emphasise hierarchy in the context of their own rules and activities…’ [xix]

So, a higher truth, mere froth and bubble, sleight-of-hand or revolutionary humanism by another name – the question with ‘Freemasonry’ always has been what is real and what is not? It’s not necessary that English Grand Lodge Masons be seen as behind-the-scenes puppeteers engaged in social engineering for searching policy questions to be posed. Personally, I don’t suspect long-term, ‘New World Order’ type schemes – rather, a kind of movable feast, with EF being created and re-created on the run to serve the needs of altering circumstances.

We can be sure of one thing – that over three centuries, there have been deliberate attempts to deceive, to contrive, and to cover-up ‘Freemasonry’, alongside genuine, if mis-guided, attempts at explication. Some ‘plots’ have come from people fearful of the power of the reality, some have come from those benefitting from its operation. At different times, both have added to the fog of rumour, lies and innuendo about one very odd phenomenon.

The Hypothesis

I hypothesise that EF was a deliberate response to the political contest of the period 1716-1723 and that it came about through London’s Hughenot community seeking a quid pro quo with the administration. The principles espoused by EF, which should logically have prevented it from forming an alignment with either group, formed a cover story behind which a modus operandi evolved whereby EF, the Hughenot leaders and ‘the government’ worked together. I hypothesise that EF’s alignment with Whig/Hanoverian politics in the 1720’s and 1730’s set it on a path which could not thereafter be changed, a path which meant not only continued public support for governmental triumphs but support for and involvement in its military and secret activities, as well. The argument to be advanced here is that the strategy, if that’s what it is, no longer has any point. Up until the late 19th century, the close involvement of EF with the English/British state gave its discretion a strategic value. Since that time, when EF lost its practical importance to the administration, nothing UGLE might say was likely to damage or weaken those who once relied on its silence.

This essay can only be speculative. It will notice influential individuals along the way but it does not rest upon ‘famous Masons’ or on statistics. It rests upon two facts – EF’s alignment with specific governmental regimes, at its inception and at its second most significant moment, the Union of 1812-13. I surmise that no GL decision-makers have been able to remain at arms-length from ‘their government’. Scholarly insiders have insisted that Masons by definition are loyal subjects of whatever ‘government’ is in power. They have assumed that the Order’s prohibition on discussing religion and/or politics was directed at oppositional politics and therefore was introduced to prevent internal division. I surmise the prohibition was the reverse, that it was directed at preventing discussion of EF efforts supportive of government. But, in any event, where is the line to be drawn? Does it depend on the situation, the degree of the crisis, perhaps? And who is to decide what actions are OK, and which not? Evidence shows EFs sharing in celebrations of the State’s triumphs and assisting ‘government’ in numerous, public ways, eg by laying foundation stones. Is the prohibition set aside when these co-operations are being arranged? Expressing loyalty to the ruling regime publically, and not just participating in a staged event, is a political activity. How could loyal subjects, having stated their loyalty, not also participate in supportive activities behind the scenes or on the street – by making donations, by assisting with campaigns, by being part of the armed forces? Where does the line fall with regard to neutral activities? and who is to decide? how far would loyalists go in the name of ‘loyalty’? How far should they go?

There are no authoritative founding documents for EF before 1723 and few thereafter. The critical statement most quoted by curators of the status-quo to justify not talking about the social dynamics which birthed EF is taken from the Reverend Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions. He wrote that the religious injunction supposedly sworn to by operative, ie stone, masons: ‘the direct injunction of loyalty to God and Holy Church’, was replaced by decision-makers with the words: ‘’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige (brethren) to that Religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.’ [xx] This phrasing has been used to argue that tolerance was central to EF and that it was the reason behind the later prohibition on all religious discussion in lodge. It has been further supposed that the wording used at the 1813 union of two competing strands of EF, the ‘Antients’ and the ‘Moderns’, was in the same vein, viz: ‘Let a man’s religion or mode of worship be what it may, he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe in the glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality.’ [xxi] The 1813 wording allegedly strengthened the intentions of the 1723 words to introduce a totally de-christianised lodge practice.[xxii]

In isolation, the statements are logically doubtful. When they are given context, more likely interpretations emerge. Before going to the detail, I use the work of some recent scholars to lay down that context.