PART ONE: The Purpose of English Freemasonry
The Scholars’ Breakthrough
When arguing the existence of a pre-1717 ‘freemasonry’, EF ‘insiders’ have meant either mediaeval stonemasons or some sort of proto-EF which is not the well-known, gild ‘fraternalism’. It remains unexplained how their version differs from the better-known form, but that is among the more minor problems faced by EF historians three centuries on. The mason ‘operatives’ supposedly had no spiritual relationship to their work and consequently their personal views have been dismissed as unimportant. The status of the gentry, the non-operatives who became ‘Freemasons’, especially the Grand Masters [GMs] have, on the other hand, been ruthlessly mined to support the official story.
In that tavern in 1716 London, the excitement aroused by those men and their astoundingly innovative thinking must have been immense. Whispers, shouts, alarm around the room, government spies hovering – what do we tell the boss ??? – cheap-jack printers scurrying to be the first on the street with the news –
ARTISANS REVOLUTIONARY THINKING — GRAND MASTERS AND ANNUAL BOOZE-UP – ALL THE LATEST
But wait – no reports appeared, no announcements were made, no anonymous, ‘insider’ accounts – no information of any kind has appeared in the 300 years since to prove that that meeting even occurred. Those fraternal brothers must have bribed, intimidated and fought tooth-and-nail to ensure that not a single line of that club meeting appeared in any broadsheet or pamphlet, and that not a single informer managed to apprise his or her boss of this latest threat to harmonious labour relations. Talk about a SECRET SOCIETY !!!!
No such effort at press manipulation was needed when the ranks of aproned and bejewelled dignitaries paraded a century and a half later to consolidate the public image of the ‘Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Freemasons’ in the minds of gawking onlookers.
No cover-up, either, another century and a half on, in 2015. The cheering and applause have now been replaced with Pythonesque nudge-nudge, wink-wink ribbings as the hacks of the media chortle knowingly over the hilarious photos of a ‘fake Masonic police force’ and the arrests of a mottled collection of fraudsters and wanna-bes in California.
The rise from nothing to a pinnacle of power and influence certainly deserves publicity. To then decline to the status of a prop for a publicity scam might be just the sad but predictable story of any organisation which grew up with the Empire and declined when that enterprise went into reverse. The British East India Company and the British & Foreign Bible Society come to mind as other examples. But EF’s rise was not straightforward and its fall is not without significance.
Although initially surprised and bemused at what hard evidence was showing them, three recent authors in particular, Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Ric Berman and Marsha Keith Schuchard, have been engaged in up-dating David Stevenson’s breakthrough effort to overcome long-standing Masonic mind-sets. It’s noticeable that to even dent the entrenched narrative, a series of texts has been needed. Stevenson wrote in his first title in 1988: ‘At times it may seem that I am unduly concerned to explain and prove points in a detailed way which some readers would be happy to be spared.’ In extenuation, he explained: ‘(In) a minefield as dangerous as masonic history has often proved to be, it is necessary to plot every step with the utmost care.’ [xxiii] The need for detail to counteract years of speculation remains, so beware if you are easily bored or are looking for an easy answer.
Stevenson was principally concerned to document the Scottish lodges which pre-dated the first English Grand Lodge, which event in 1717, as he says, caused many ‘insiders’ subsequently to assume that that was when all ‘Freemasonry’ began. He wrote as an outside observer but he was careful not to disturb the ‘usual’ London-based, EF narrative once he had established that it only began after the northern version. In 2007, Harland-Jacobs, also an outsider, was equally respectful of the post-1716 narrative while aiming her revisionist thesis in a different direction – that in growing from nothing to ubiquity, EF closely paralleled the British Empire, that the British Empire was, in fact, a Masonic enterprise. Her argument culminates, in a sense, with Lord Carnarvon, a high-ranking 19th century EF and Secretary of State for the colonies, whom she quotes saying that ‘Masonry…has reflected…and consolidated the British Empire’.[xxiv] She has researched his extraordinary scheme of what amounted to a World Parliament, and concluded that he saw his Masonic and his imperial duties as interdependent: ‘English Freemasonry might be viewed as a kingdom, and its policy, like that of a kingdom, had three great relations, foreign, colonial and domestic.’ The grandiose aim could have resulted in representatives from all parts of ‘our federation‘ coming together to deliberate on policy, and while a logical, Masonic counter-point to what the Empire had become by the last quarter of the century, it was, realistically, no more than wishful thinking.
For his part, Berman’s renovation of the ‘usual’ insider approach began with the argument that the new organisation, EF, ‘became a vehicle for the expression and transmission of (the originators’) political and religious views, and for the scientific Enlightenment concepts that they championed, and hence naturally attracted an aspirational membership.’ [xxv] As re-invention, his EF is thus both new and old. This is important to him though not in the same way it was to his initiated predecessors. By denying the context of EF, the earlier brethren hoped to convey the idea that ‘Freemasonry’ was timeless. Berman [xxvi] located the 1716-23 genesis of EF within London’s network of magistrates, gentry, parliamentarians and members of learned societies. His view, like that of Harland-Jacobs, is EF-centred but has more local real-politik. He has dared to treat EF’s originators as human beings, and to acknowledge that some have mud on their hands.
Stevenson’s and Schuchard’s arguments insist that any references to ‘free/masonry’ before 1717-23 can no longer be viewed simply as being about a ‘proto-type’ of EF. Though their reasonings are complementary their conclusions are very different. Schuchard[xxvii] has considerably extended the possibilities by engaging with a ‘school’ of scholars not used by the other three. She sees EF from its inception as the work of Whig, Hanoverian power-brokers campaigning by all means possible to surround and destroy an earlier Jewish-Scottish-Jacobite form of ‘Freemasonry’. Her Masonic ‘reality’ ties in with Stevenson’s but counsels reconsideration of the ‘fabulous fables’. For example, she believes that: ‘the conventional wisdom that Jacobitism was predominately a Catholic cause led to the omission and even suppression (by historians) of Protestant Sweden’s support of Stuart claims and contribution to Ecossais [aka Scottish] Masonry. (Schuchard, 2012, p.4.) Her work begins with Stuart kings still on the throne of England and locates EF inside the struggle to maintain and then to re-install that House.
Taken separately, these are exciting breakthroughs. Together, they point to an intriguing future. Each has hugely expanded the potential landscape for Masonic scholars to explore, but within their combined ambit, it is clear that the bulk of the geo-political world where the spread of ‘Freemasonry’ has been acclaimed is yet to be adequately examined and re-interpreted. Harland-Jacobs’ use of public ceremonial and her references to identity concerns are striking but no more so than Stevenson’s upsetting of EF assumptions or Schuchard’s and Berman’s reconstruction of families and communities to make their arguments. Making better sense of previously ill-fitting pieces of EF ‘evidence’, these authors have pointed to an even broader range of sources, Schuchard, for example, has waded into numerous non-English language areas where it is difficult to recall any English ‘insiders’ having preceded her. Already it seems clear, EF’s growth and transmission were never accidental, nor the results just of surface attractions for the sociable or the ambitious. Family alliances, military campaigns, corruption, espionage and counter-intelligence have all featured in the spectacular arc of EF to dizzying heights of power and influence, and in its decline.
Whatever came before it, EF the organisation, was created in the 18th century, not in the 17th and not in the 19th century. It was the creation of men living particular lives and having available to them life-choices consistent with their time and place. At the time, the society in which EF was created was in transition, as all societies are, but from a specific past to a specific future. London in 1717 was not a feudal society and was not an industrialised one, but had elements of both, elements recognisable as hangovers from an earlier time, and elements pointing to what might be the future.
Within ‘the interplay between Freemasonry, politics, philosophy and the cultural and economic inflexion point that was the scientific Enlightenment’, [xxviii] Berman asserts that EF was a deliberate creation of the Reverend Desaguliers, a small number of other brethren from London’s Horn Tavern lodge, and their supporters: ‘In short, together with a core group of like-minded colleagues within Grand Lodge and its circle, Desaguliers created a structure that combined latitudinarian religious tolerance with support for the parliamentary establishment, sociability and entertainment, and the quest for and disbursement of knowledge. These were ideas and concepts that can be considered rightly to be at the core of the English Enlightenment.’ (RB, 2013, p.58)
Into the ‘usual’ story, Berman has introduced geo-political dimensions, in particular, the Huguenot interest in the establishment of the Order: ‘The same if not greater sense of insecurity and drive for self-preservation was present in London’s Huguenot community…The majority (of the refugees from France) had settled in London and it was not coincidental that they were represented disproportionately within London Freemasonry and that its leadership…was a bulwark against the naked absolutism of France, Spain and much of continental Europe.’ (RB, 2013, p.3) This ‘community’ remains an undifferentiated mass in his hands, and in introducing today’s ‘believers’ to the idea of personal gain through the use of Masonic patronage, Berman has applied his insight selectively.
Berman acknowledges that EF’s ‘re-inventors’ needed to be, and were, unflinching supporters of the Hanoverian State. His magistrates, for example, were the ‘bulwark against the mob and any potential upsurge of treason’. It was ‘no coincidence that the more politically-sensitive cases were handled by trusted loyalists such as Charles Delafaye and Thomas de Veil, both ardently pro-Hanoverian and each a prominent Freemason.’ (RB, 2012, p.192) But, in spite of detailing some of the close connections linking the initiates, and concluding that the evidence shows that ‘Freemasonry became associated with the apparatus of state’, he has not developed the thought. In his version, the EF package was attractive in its own right and leading Whig politicians, from ‘Prime Minister’ Robert Walpole on down, and a flock of aristocrats, clamoured to be initiated. Berman has allowed that Desaguliers’s self-interest meant that he happily accepted ‘sinecures’ offered to him by such prominent figures as the Duke of Chandos but he does not relate this to the claimed ideals of Masonry. He agrees that Chandos was not much interested in being a Freemason and that for him Desaguliers’s value ‘lay chiefly in the utilitarian aspects of his scientific knowledge’, in other words, in the money that could be made. In Berman’s words, favours were ‘distributed to favoured members of the aristocracy, those within the inner circle of the London magistracy, and to close colleagues of Desaguliers, Payne and Folkes‘, but it is Desaguliers, alone, to whom he attaches descriptors such as ‘largely motivated by self-interest’. (RB, 2012, p.192) This selective application of opprobrium – others are merely ‘aspirants’ for patronage or are simply exercising their prerogatives – allows him to maintain a cordon sanitaire around EF as a whole. The Order benefitted from Desaguliers’s dynamism, Folkes’ networking and the social magnetism of noble Grand Masters, but it remained completely untouched by negative traits such as envy, greed or lust for power. EF, in Berman’s view, was a passive recipient of favourable circumstances, never an active participant with a capacity to choose or to negotiate. In one concluding paragraph, he attaches ‘enlightened’ to EF three times in eleven lines – in effect, arguing that EF was ‘enlightened’ because it embodied an alignment of personal and State agendas which, not only left no stain, but provided an overwhelmingly positive glow. This is the paragraph:
Desaguliers’s approach to Freemasonry was bound up with personal philosophical and political objectives, and Grand Lodge provided a means by which these could be advanced. Largely motivated by self-interest, his pro-Hanoverian political views were shared by the Hughenot community as a whole and, more importantly, by many senior Whigs and entwined with Enlightenment theories and the natural rights of John Locke. The reinvention of Freemasonry as a bulwark of the Hanoverian status-quo and enlightened thought led to its embrace by the Whig establishment and many of those at its political core. And the forum it provided for education and entertainment resonated with its aspirant members to the extent that it could be regarded as an outpost of the scientific Enlightenment.(RB, 2012, p.192)
‘Noble Grand Masters’ were, in Berman’s view, always passive figure-heads. The work to which they were giving their support was carried out by ‘the back-room boys’, so he does not enquire into the processes whereby GMs were created or any links they might have had to the lower reaches of the administrative hierarchy. EF became ‘a fashionable club of consequence’, a popular ‘mass movement’ and ‘a social and political centre’ simply by a process of osmosis which ‘spurred its expansion into the gentry, the military, the professional classes and other aspirational groups.‘ (RB, 2012, p.193)
This is all significant context but it is clearly incomplete. There is not even a whiff of drama from within his lodges or his Grand Lodge, no sense of moral hazards or physical dangers, none of London’s delights and excitements, in short only tenuous attachment of EF to the City’s dynamics. The nature of the society in which Desaguliers was working, and the political choices which he made in order to prosper in that society, are crucial to any understanding. An explanation of EF’s genesis needs to at least integrate Berman’s magistrates with such events as the South Sea Bubble, the two Bishop Atterbury Trials, and the Jacobite ‘plots’ of 1714-15 and 1721. Most of all, it must delve more deeply into the rampant corruption and swirling intrigues which were the period’s clearest political features. Dubious money, ruthless ambition and international politics are more useful explanatory elements for EF than enlightenment ideals.
Stevenson and Schuchard
Stevenson has explained that the Reformation in Scotland resulted in operative lodges conforming to the newly-established, Protestant church from the beginning of the 17th century. Hermeticism and Rosicrucianism influenced stonemason practices, and, by extension, what subsequently became EF. In order that both transitions, from Scottish to English, and from operative to speculative ‘freemasonry’, would appear seamless and conflict-free, he referred only to individuals he believed fitted his narrative, such as Robert Moray. He emphasised how pre-1600 theories of the search for enlightenment/salvation became personal and individual, and how the search methods, eg, Masonic ceremonial, were denied religious significance as the price of State-acceptance. His insistence on a smooth historical passage diminished the value of his work which, at times, resembles ‘fabulous fable’ supported not by evidence but by ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, and ‘surely’, as in: ‘Surely masons, and their lodges…would immediately see the supposed Rosicrucian Brotherhood as being in many ways similar to their own.’ (DS, 1988, p.102) and: ‘Placed in this context, the idea that masons could have seen themselves as part of the Rosicrucian quest becomes not just plausible but quite a likely development.’ (DS, 1988, p.103)
To rely as he did on Francis Yates for the substance of ‘the masonic idea’ – ‘religious toleration, emotional linkage with the medieval past, emphasis on good works for others, and imaginative attachment to the religion and symbolism of the Egyptians’ – was not a good idea. (DS, 1988, p.85) This essence is one articulation of what insiders have claimed for organised ‘Freemasonry’, and she, an earlier researcher of the esoteric enlightenment, knew no better than to accept what she was told by ‘insiders’, but it is still to be proven that it was their practice. Stevenson acknowledged: ‘Of course masons themselves must surely have been delighted and flattered by the links that could be made associating their craft with the Hermetic quest, for such connections could, if exploited, give their craft a unique status’ (DS, 1988, p.85), but this is as close as he gets to treating his characters as human.
In Schuchard’s more realistic view, the 1717-23 EF was entirely political, determinedly Protestant, and an explicitly Hanoverian conception, a reaction against Jacobite/Jewish/Esoteric domination of ‘Freemasonry’ before 1717. Her treatment, whatever further research will show, has less of the fabulous, and less of the pre-conception about it. Her ‘characters’ are more human, that is, more flawed, more prone to being tempted, robbed, humiliated, ambitious and/or venal. She has merged reasonable belief in the divine with understandably profane actions. Stevenson and others have treated these two worlds as separate but as though they are historically equivalent.
Drawing on previously unpublished archives, she has established that espionage was crucial to both sides of the conflict. Centring her study of the post-Stuart period on Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) she argues that this man ‘(who) won fame and infamy as a natural scientist and visionary theosopher’ was also a master intelligencer, that is, a secret agent, for Stuart restoration, for the French king, Louis XV, and for the pro-French, pro-Jacobite party of “Hats” in Sweden.’ [xxix] Her work is most contentious when she parallels esoteric with exoteric politics to illustrate the ‘political coding’ Swedenborg used to communicate with fellow pro-Jacobite activists. Jewish traditions and the experiments of Kabalistic, Hermetic and Rosicrucian explorers were the sources of their identity and of their codes: ‘(Robert) Hooke [of the RS] argued that [John] Dee (1527-1608) [adviser to Elizabeth I on all science/magical work] had learned from Trithemius’ Steganographia about the value of such a ‘celestial’ code for dangerous diplomatic and intelligence work.‘ (Emphasis in original – Schuchard, 2012, p.89) These linkages contextualise the mystic chivalry of warrior knights engaged in searches for God’s truth through trances, dreams, visions and righteous action, and they provide multiple, relevant cryptographic sources, such as religious/esoteric texts from across Europe and the Middle East, even China. Schuchard has: ‘After giving a learned history of cryptography and cipher-writing (drawing on the works of Hermes Trismegistus, Francis Bacon, and Trithemius), (Dr John) Wilkins [1614-1672 – Anglican clergyman and founding member of the RS]described techniques for making disappearing inks and special papers to conceal messages. The real masters of secret communication were the Jews, whose “parabolical” techniques even influenced Jesus.’ (Schuchard, 2012, pp.70-71)
The linkages also locate alchemists, believers in the paranormal and ‘natural philosophers’ alongside the political hard-heads on either side of the Masonic struggle, such as cryptographers, secret couriers and field agents. Her interpretation of Moray’s friendship with Wilkins is most interesting. A belief in the righteousness of the cause rationalised the use of military and diplomatic expertise in all their public and private aspects. Stevenson made a number of these connections but did not follow them up.
The Schuchard thesis for the post-1717 evolution of EF, which is returned to below, has thrown up a host of evidentiary issues some of which have already been seized upon by critics, and to some of whom she has responded.[xxx] Probably the hardest implication to accept is the idea that the establishment of EF in 1717-23 was a declaration of a war for which there has not yet been a peace treaty. EF’s administrative existence, away from its symbolic and charitable existences, can be ‘read’ as a campaign because that was the nature of the world in which it was born. The total context necessarily includes the English/British military machine and its programmed espionage. EF took up its position knowing that its world was one of plot and counter-plot with people’s lives in the balance. In Schuchard’s demonstration of Jewish artisanal beliefs and Solomonic mysticism in Scotland but on their way to ‘the New World’, spying is almost a side-issue. Showing that the espionage at the heart of the evolution of EF was entirely taken-for-granted by participants on all sides is perhaps her most important contribution.
Sir Robert Moray, initiated in 1641, is an example of how scholars’ views of the nature and function of EF change when espionage is added to the mix. He has been claimed by post-1723 EF administrations and ‘their’ scholars as a pioneering initiate of their form of ‘Freemasonry’. Schuchard locates him on the other side: ‘With Moray’s entrance on the political stage, a major actor in the Stuart Masonic drama began to play his provocative role…(His) talents were noticed by [the politically-astute French Cardinal] Richelieu, a learned patron of military and domestic architecture, who developed confidential relationships with master masons and their craftsmen.’ [xxxi] Moray’s military background, his Scottish nationalism and his known involvement with a number of conspiracies enable certain logical conclusions to be drawn which assist understanding of later evidence, such as military lodges and the training of Royal Engineers.[xxxii] His position in the army as Quarter-Master fitted his talents in ‘surveying and other mathematical and technical subjects’, (Stevenson, 1988, p.167; Schuchard, 2002, p.442) which in practice meant he was responsible for his commander’s front line espionage. Elias Ashmole, another of the pre-1717 ‘Freemasons’ claimed by the post-1717 literature, also mixed military involvement, interests in ‘mathematical and technical subjects’ with an esoteric approach to learning. Swedenborg had a similar mix of interests and Schuchard integrates his prosaic views with the esoteric. His ‘visionary’ skills relating to codes, cyphers and dreams, are, after all, no different to those claimed by Irish/Gaelic poets as practical means to conceal political activities from Hanoverian surveillance and repression.
These scholars have provided important context but more is needed. There is still the city of London, its citizenry and their day-to-day exchanges to consider. I return to these matters after looking at espionage in general.
What is Espionage?
Espionage begins and ends with intelligence gathering. We all do it in our daily lives, and it’s inevitable that governments do it, have always done it, and that it’s nearly always secret. States do it as a matter of course – the more expansionist or the more under threat the State (read the dominant, politically-active group) – the more likely it is to have paid spies. In an early case relevant to the present review, that of ‘the Holy Lands’ and the Hebrew Bible, even ‘ finding spies in the Hebrew scriptures is not difficult.’ (RM Sheldon, ‘Spies in the Bible’, Greenhill, 2007, p.117.) As with EF, personal agendas have affected scholarly interpretations. Spy history, for example, has been organised into ‘modern’ and ‘pre-modern’ espionage as though there are essentially different types. The 1994 work, The Secret War Against the Jews,[xxxiii] set the origins of the ‘modern intelligence network’ at around 1920. Others have argued that espionage is a mark of a modern State, for example, in Germany in the second-half of the 19th century: ‘(Bismarck) was endeavoring to create a modern nation state complete with media manipulation and mass armies, secret intelligence systems and devious diplomacy…’ [xxxiv] Writing in 2009, literary historian, Hampton asserted that ‘the cliche’ of diplomat as spy was a 15th-16th century innovation marking the arrival of a new, modern state-craft wherein words, their presentation and conventions surrounding them replaced a dynamic centred on the threat or use of physical force. (T. Hampton, Fictions of Embassy, Cornell UP, 2009, p.150.)
The ‘usual’ story provided by 20th century, patriotic English/British scholars has been that Germany and other European countries, being aggressively jealous of England/Britain, developed extensive networks and nurtured brilliantly innovative spy-masters, but despite having the resources and the motivation, ‘Britain’ was constantly being forced to catch up, since the English people, and therefore English governments, frowned on espionage:
In England…the Intelligence Department largely relied, in collecting military information on foreign countries and their armies, on a type of young officer neither unique nor unusual, who for the first time – and with considerable irresponsibility – was given active encouragement and payment for expenses to pursue interests with which the army refused to be associated…Since they were untrained amateurs, and few were ever properly briefed to obtain the answers to specific questions, they frequently got into trouble…[xxxv]
Revolutionary France, the ‘usual’ story goes, had an extensive surveillance network to hunt down refugee gentry, low-life informers, or politically ambitious conspirators, but it was only because a sense of outraged virtue developed in 19th century England, first in response to the terrors, and then to French methods generally that England had any spies to defend herself. Supposedly, it was not until the struggles with Napoleon prompted the formation of a Department of Military Knowledge [DMK] in Whitehall that ‘our’ military intelligence began. Two of DMK’s ‘agents’ were Colquhoun Grant, the first ‘Head of Intelligence’ and Sir George Murray, both of whom had been in Wellington’s group of ‘exploring officers’ and, so, were therefore Britain’s first spies. Haswell has insisted the DMK ‘lost its motivation’ when Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815, and made ‘no significant contribution to military knowledge’ for the next forty years. (JH, 1977, p.72) He has argued that a department to gather intelligence useful to the British Army had to be re-built after the Crimean War since ‘there was no intelligence link between the Foreign Office, the Admiralty and the War Office’ (p.83) and ‘nothing was known of central and south Asia.’ Porter was of similar mind but named government institutions which he believed pioneered ‘modern’ British intelligence-gathering in the 19th century. It is a revealing list: ‘(The) Foreign Office and the Diplomatic Service, the Colonial Office, the India Office, the Post Office, the Treasury, the Board of Trade, the East India Company and the Bank of England.’ (TF, 1984, p.6)
Porter has written that ‘blanket interception of certain categories of mail’ at the Post Office only began in the 1909-11 period and that the Special Branch was only then brought close ‘to being a proper domestic counter-subversive agency on modern lines.’ He ought to have known that from the time it was first established in 1657, the Post Office was empowered to detain, open, read and copy all and any mail items: ‘In 1657, upon the establishment of a regular post-office, it was stated in the ordnance to be the best means to discover and prevent many dangerous and wicked designs against the Commonwealth.[xxxvi]‘ Stamping postal articles at receiving sites was later introduced so that authorities could better track the sender of an item which had later proved to be dangerous.
For Ferguson, ‘proper’ espionage systems are centralised and administered within a single government department, and that it was only: ‘(at) the start of the twentieth century,(that) British intelligence agents first began seriously to venture into the region they knew as ‘Arabia.’ [xxxvii] He had to acknowledge contrary evidence but qualified what it pointed to as an accidental ‘capability’: ‘Without really trying, nineteenth-century Britain possessed a superb and constantly improving capability for the collection of political, economic, military, naval, geographic, and scientific-technical information throughout the world.’ [xxxviii] When earlier efforts have been noted, a different ‘excuse’ with the same refrain has been employed: ‘Although England’s first prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole – in office from 1721 to 1742 – shared Defoe’s views on intelligence, and said it should be developed to the stage where no gun could be fired in Europe without England knowing why, his immediate successors did little to pursue his ideal….There was still something despicable about espionage…(JH, 1977, p.70) Before that again, ‘Espionage was at a low ebb’ before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, ‘since James (II) had inherited an intelligence system in which mistresses mattered more to the king than his ministers’[xxxix]
In fact, the Tudors were paranoid therefore they spied, everyone on everyone else. ‘Tudor society, if it was sure of nothing else, was certain that it lived on the brink of disaster.’ [xl] Only some of the fears were real but both the fantastic and the actual ‘demons’ were generated by unique circumstances – the centring of power in the hands of a single person, the lack of mechanisms for opposition voices to be heard, the existence of more supplicants than could possibly be accommodated, and characterisation of all struggles in Manichaean terms: ‘It was an age of profound foreboding born of vast but ill-understood demographic, economic and spiritual upheaval that found only partial and inadequate expression in institutional change….’ Protestantism was a peculiarly demanding and immoderate creed. ‘In the name of ecclesiastical purity and theological logic it reached back into the attic of time and historic authority and selected for disproportionate and special emphasis man’s depraved and fallen condition.’ The special enemy was ‘the Anti-Christ’, the whore of Babylon in Rome, but anxiety filled all corners. The more wealth a citizen had, the more insecure and the more suspicious she or he was. Conspiracies were conjured up by fevered imaginations or by malcontents eager to undermine those higher up the ladder. At the centre of the spiral of fear was ‘the ruler’, a single, divinely-ordained individual who could make or break lives on a whim, or a whisper. The path to security was a byzantine maze in which patronage was the only currency. Sycophancy and pretence were taught to children with their Latin lessons and in conversation. Since even those closest to the royal bed-chamber were likely to be paying out more than they were getting in, the likelihood of bankruptcy or debtor’s prison was a constant. When they felt threatened, Tudor responses were mostly hysterical and often brutal.
It is important to keep in mind that espionage has two, interlocked ‘faces’, one involved in collecting information not previously held, and the second involved in countering the collection of ‘our’ information by ‘the other side.’ Whether foreign or domestic, hostile or friendly, propaganda, aka ‘counter-intelligence’, is a kind of emotional blackmail, designed to keep citizens, ‘ours’ or ‘theirs’, from seeing the truth. After 1688, to counteract Jacobite intelligence activities in France ‘and the extensive French espionage system that supported them’, William of Orange had one of his own set up in Paris, ‘using his ambassadors to control it.’ These men were financed to employ whomever they thought was appropriate, including persons willing and able to broadcast, in prose or cartoons, what they were told: ‘(Both) Jacobites and government were so acutely aware of the worth of propaganda that the art was developed into a weapon of value to both sides. Poems, songs, broadsheets, plays and novels proved far more effective than siege guns or broadswords.’ (HD, 1999, p.161)
Publishers and printers have been integral parts of a program of counter-intelligence. The ‘Green Ribbon Club’ example is reasonably well known.[xli] Weil has noted: ‘William’s invasion of England in 1688 had been accompanied by a well-run public relations campaign, with justificatory pamphlets and declarations distributed at the moment of his landing, and so it would be reasonable to expect that the Jacobites would likewise time the appearance of their pamphlets…with an attempt to recapture the throne… (and the appearance of which caused such consternation…)(PoI, p.193) In the early 1700’s, Daniel Defoe was regarded as ‘a good pen’, today he would be called a ‘gun for hire’ – specifically employed to collect information on the temper of the citizenry, to disseminate the government view in tavern conversation, or to prepare pamphlets-on-demand which could be sold cheaply in the street. He needed training only in a spy’s accessories – cyphers and invisible inks. ‘The enemy’ to be exposed, embarrassed or physically defeated, might be anyone, anywhere.
Government agents operated within a recognisable but simple structure and if successful or could argue plausibly, were paid or otherwise rewarded. A ‘civil list’, including provision for ‘secret service funds’ was contained in annual budgets from Elizabethan times, while other terms have changed only slightly. ‘Scouragers’ were sent out by ‘Scoutmaster-Generals’ in war-time for reconnaissance, and ‘intelligencers’ for almost any purpose before the end of Tudor reign. Under James II, the ‘Scoutmaster-General’ became the ‘Quarter-Master General’ [QMG], while the governments of George III employed ‘messengers’ to get specific information, and Wellington sent ‘explorers’ against Napoleon. The term ‘secret service’ became common late in the 18th century, but had already appeared in 1699 as the title of a memoir by a State-employed ‘informer.’ The stirring events of 1688 when William and Mary replaced James II and chased him into exile would today be called ‘regime change’. The Duke of Marlborough’s QMG travelled ahead of his commander during the Wars of Spanish Succession, 1702-1713, recruiting ‘guides’ who were expected to supply any and all information on ‘the enemy.’
Rachel Weil’s study of the ‘state officials’ involved in securing the regime of William and Mary ‘from invasion or subversion’ after the 1688 ‘glorious revolution’ included: ‘members of central bureaucracies, like the Customs and the Post Office, (and) local officeholders, such as mayors, lord lieutenants of the county militia, constables and justices of the peace…Mayors, customs officers, or especially appointed ‘riding officers’ were called upon to check the passes of travellers.[xlii] Against today’s methods, this spying seems rudimentary – milk or lemon juice for ‘invisible writing’, for example – but as far as the purposes and the basic concepts are concerned, there is no ‘modern’ or ‘pre-modern’, sophisticated or rudimentary.
While the assertions often heard in the 19th and 20th centuries – that ‘English society has no need of surveillance networks‘, that ‘we pride ourselves on being free and having no need for underhand proceedings’ and ‘an Englishman is honest and open at all times‘ – remained constant, ‘the enemy’, the created monster, changed with the circumstances. Before 1688, English politicians plotted against their religious opponents, and used the fear of plots to advance their ‘party’ and their personal agendas, and they continued to do so afterwards. In the 19th century the enemy was firstly French, then Russian, then German, and later still Russian again. Amazingly, all possessed the precise characteristics which qualified them for the role of ‘monster’. If caught by their employer’s opponents, agents might be ‘turned’, disappeared, or arrested and, like as not, executed for treason. Should he or she survive, a ‘field operative’s’ shelf-life was soon exhausted and he or she moved on, perhaps to become a ‘spy-master’ or a more publically-identifiable official such as an attache, consul or diplomat. After retirement, the temptation to write one’s memoirs was often seductive and sometimes lucrative.
Whether at the level of Baden-Powell’s ‘drunken’ antics (below) to turn away a perimeter guard, the creation of disorder, or the blanketing of news outlets with counter-factual information, the intention of counter-intelligence is the same, to make something appear to be what it is not. The reverse of this, unmasking someone or something by realising that it is not what it purports to be, is what exposes ‘enemy agents’ to capture. Useful ‘intelligence’ can be gathered from public documents but government espionage is necessarily clandestine, as its operators take for granted that it is unwelcome, dangerous, and, in many cases, illegal and punishable by law. It often involves spying on potential or actual enemies, and thus has often been part of a military set-up, and used for military purposes, but can be used domestically. Before the 19th century there was little need to distinguish ‘military’ spies from ‘homeland security operatives’ or from any other kind. The earliest English magistrates, for example, wrote copious notes on persons coming and going in their immediate area, especially foreigners, and compiled reports on meetings for their various superiors. As government evolved to be centered on a city-based, office administration, rather than on a monarch, party-politics increased in importance, official denials became necessary and domestic surveillance, in particular, was rendered increasingly invisible.
During the 19th century, government spies, already inside the growing public service, became ’regular’ State employees. However, it was not changed conditions of employment which determined that ‘secret police’ and overseas-oriented military intelligence operations both disappeared from public sight at the same time, or that it became the norm for peace-time editorials to insist that English society did not condone and never had condoned surveillance of its citizens. Rather a literate readership and the proliferation of ‘investigative journalists’ made secrets harder to keep therefore they were buried more deeply and in different ways. Baden-Powell’s 1915 classification system of ‘agents’ was unusual only insofar as it was made public. From inside knowledge he was able to show that agents ranged ‘from ambassadors and their attaches downwards’ and that each had specific tasks:
Class One: Strategical and diplomatic agents, who study the political and military conditions in peace time of all other countries which might eventually be in opposition to their own in war.
Class Two: Tactical, military or naval agents, who look into minor details of armament and terrain in peace time.
Class Three: Field Spies – those who act as scouts in disguise to reconnoitre positions and to report moves of the enemy in the field of war.
A military spy himself, he knew all the tricks for evading capture such as feigning drunkenness if spotted ‘reconnoitering’ outside an off-limits facility. He believed from a young age that many of the necessary skills could be taught to children and adolescents. It was this which led him to the Boy Scouts. He also knew that some skills could not be taught at school. His list of clandestine activities engaged in by a 19th and 20th century ‘diplomat’, his ‘Class One’ spy included: ‘(The creation of) political disaffection and…outbreaks, such, for instance, as spreading sedition amongst Egyptians or in India amongst the inhabitants, or in South Africa amongst the Boer population to bring about an outbreak [a riot or demonstration], if possible, in order to create confusion and draw off troops in time of war…’ [xliii] Something hidden in plain sight, like the agent beneath the distracting persona of a flighty public official, is most easily rendered invisible if people are disinterested or careless, or, as Baden-Powell argued, if they can be convinced that it really is something else. Richard Kingston is regarded by some historians as ‘the best agent the (English) government ever had.’ Employed by various Secretaries of State after 1688, to assist William III consolidate his control, he was to his Jacobite critics, ‘a signifier of duplicity’. His brief included propaganda paid for and distributed by activists close to government if not in government, and was targeted at home audiences. He forged priestly qualifications, engaged in polygamy and went about the country ‘sometimes in the habit of a parson…at another time in lay garb’, ‘personating in one place a physician, and in another a discarded Jacobite officer.’ [xliv] Robert Harris has pointed out, in his recent, masterful re-telling of the Dreyfus affair, that after Napoleon’s time the French War Office was divided into four sections or departments, the second, concerned with ‘Intelligence’, was named the ‘Statistical Section’ and located away by itself in an ancient, grimy building that looked from the outside as though it was abandoned.[xlv] The CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia for years had a fingerboard from the main road indicating that it was the ‘Department of Roads.’[xlvi] The more expertly done in its creation and application, the greater is the effectiveness of the counter. The best examples of mis-information, of course, are those that go un-noticed at the time and for a period thereafter.
The purposes of intelligence-gathering and of counter-intelligence flow directly from circumstances, while methodologies change with advances in knowledge. The Vatican has had sophisticated spy networks locating ‘heretics’ for centuries, as many other spiritually-inclined ‘rulers’ had before it. The Kings and Queens of England were not alone among European monarchies in having their spy-masters manipulate religious themes [xlvii] for political gain. The explosive mix of a need to believe in some power larger than oneself and a need to be personally dominant was not a gift from the English to the world. Neither was that other mix of opposites – a lust for public displays of power and the use of secret means to obtain them. While espionage and propaganda, aka ‘manipulation of public opinion’, are not recent inventions, neither are they universals, and they have been subject to the frictions of time and of fashion just like everything else. In King Henry VIII’s reign, Catholicism was said to be tainted with superstition and trickery, as foreign and unpatriotic. When Jesuit ‘agents’ came to England to attempt recovery of the nation for Roman Catholicism, they were quickly rounded up by Walsingham’s counter-intelligence operatives. [xlviii]
It was 16th century alchemist and astrologer John Dee who first used the term ‘the British Empire’ and argued for its expansion. In support of the evolving narrative, it was necessary that God change sides: ‘Protestant scholars such as John Leland and John Bale searched the historical record for proof of England’s special place within Christendom. In Queen Elizabeth’s reign this nascent sense of nationhood would peak in the belief that the English were an elect people, a new Israel en route for the promised land.’ [xlix] Englishness was defined as Protestant, as brutally and militantly anti-Catholic. In the era of the new Gloriana, ‘the religious figleaf and anthropomorphic trappings placed upon the naked realities of power’ could be directed at other ‘foreigners’. In 1845, a Scottish journalist wrote about a spy who had survived field operations to become Governor of Hong Kong at the time of the First Opium War: ‘For years it has been the custom of the Anglo-Indian Government to employ enterprising young officers as semi-political agents in the different Oriental States. Unprotected by the sacred character of ambassadors, yet raised far above the odious character of spies, they have to trust to the weight of the English name, and their own bravery, self-possession, and address for their protection against the treachery and cruelty of the people of Northern and Eastern Asia and their rulers.[l] ‘Treachery and cruelty’ were what the societies of ‘northern and eastern Asia’ did as a matter of course, but that English ‘people (and) their rulers’ did not. ‘English’ ambassadors were ‘sacred’, all spies were ‘odious’ so, of course, ‘we’ didn’t have any of those, and ‘our’ ‘semi-political agents’ were, by definition, brave and confident and had as their protection ‘the English name.’ The language eventually over-reached. After ‘the hero industry’, it generated entertainment bonanzas for Hollywood and the parodies of Monty Python.
The scientific backing necessary for all State-run espionage operations has all but disappeared from accounts by English academic historians, along with the espionage itself. So-called ‘progress’ from at least the time of Roman road-building for the better movement of troops has been driven by military/security concerns. The more rational scientists are always among the first recruits by security for clandestine activities and by the military for bigger and better weapons. On the other hand, ‘science’ in general has been selectively and routinely manipulated by Masonic historians, among others, for propaganda purposes. Emphasising Desagulier’s apparent interest in hydraulics, for example, to claim that his primary interest in propagating ‘Freemasonry’ was to advance human welfare through understanding and tolerance, leaves out a great deal, either from ignorance or from an intention to muddy the waters.
Today, as in the 17th century, espionage begins with the collection of verbal or written ‘evidence’ about crimes committed or about to be committed that can be sufficient for a conviction, or removal from the scene. Otherwise, espionage was, and is, mostly about tracking people’s movements and connecting someone’s presence at a particular place with known events. In the 17th century, the better-organised ‘spymasters’ mapped a region and the people in it to explain past occurrences and sometimes to predict possible future ones, something which happens today, electronically. Data might be held in abeyance waiting for an opportune moment, or it might be widely and immediately distributed to other ‘spy masters’ but the information gained was power then and is power now.
Espionage is a shape-shifter, capable of altering at a personal or organisational level, as circumstances change. Historians need to assume it has happened and look for its disguises and its foot prints, rather than assume non-existence on the basis of it not being immediately visible. England/Britain has not been alone in sanitising the image of its military, in hiding its spooks, or in re-casting past defeats as inspirational matter for future recruiting campaigns. But though often still denied, the English ‘State’ has been at the forefront of secret intelligence gathering and its necessary corollary of ‘counter-intelligence’ for a very long time. It is doubtful if the Empire would have happened at all if espionage had not been utilised.
Scholars can apply a kind of cost-benefit analysis: who benefitted by the intelligence gathering operation? who lost? was the trail covered over at the scene, or re-cast for public consumption? Historians’ interpretations have often been based on what was said or written by participants when a healthy scepticism might discover much more in their actions. Placement of slanted ‘intell’ in newspapers, for example, requires only sympathetic, desperate or corrupt journalists or proprietors, and bribes of, often, very small amounts. The forerunners of CID, MI5 and the rest have been subject to budgetary constraints, re-organisations and administrative false starts as any other arm of ‘government’. Treasury budgets for English ‘Secret Service’ activities have been drawn up since at least the time of Charles I for application both ‘at home’ and abroad. But it does not follow that the tax-payer was always the source of the funds and historians need to be alert to the possibilities.
Following ‘the money trail’ can bring an investigator to non-government beneficiaries, including some who saw an opportunity for commercial gain. Others with a vested, but disguised interest in the success of the exercise, say, the creation of an heroic view of Empire, were at times in a position to contribute directly to the intelligence-gathering. English Freemasonry was one such group. Overt intelligence gathering institutions such as the Royal Society [RS] and the Royal Geographic Society [RGS] were among other entities having strong, mutually-beneficial relationships with the branches of government directly concerned with both the hero-industry and espionage. Inevitably, the official historiographies of such organisations are flawed, that of EF being just one example.
Systematic influencing of the media today requires at least a team of people, eg those collected together in ministerial offices. Their task can be the deflection of public attention, or its manipulation with spun or false information. It implies a deliberate, long-term, considered operation of the sort that only large organisations can conduct. Apart from the quantities of resources applied and the methods used in gathering and transmitting the ‘data’, there is nothing new here, either. This is not to say that there is nothing to ‘see’ in the process. The data collection, its distribution and the uses to which it is put shows a particular community in action. Snapshots of the process as it is happening are unique to times and places. In Royal courts, where factions were engaged equally in gathering and seeking out information to further personal, political and religious ends, there was fodder for mischievous gossips as there was for geo-political intrigues. [li] The 19th century was different only in that trustworthiness of governments became a major, if elusive issue, and the enhanced power of journalists to dismantle careers and alter the direction of history meant added numbers of players and increasingly complex webs. ‘War correspondent’ was an official title only from the 19th century but the idea was not new. It was just another ‘overseas’ or foreign ‘agent’.
One well-researched account of English espionage begins with: ‘In (Walsingham’s) day, [ie during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign] ambassadors were virtually diplomatic spies.’ [lii] Numerous accounts of the Tudor espionage network show its global reach and its meshing of military with diplomatic eyes and ears to achieve London’s requirements.[liii] That the English network was just one of many and that linkages were fluid is often hidden. A case in point, Robert Shirley is sometime described as an ‘English diplomat’ but more often ‘traveler and adventurer’. His Wikipedia profile includes: ‘…Shirley travelled to Persia in 1598, accompanying his brother, Anthony, who had been sent …with 5000 horses to train the Persian army according to the rules and customs of the English militia and to reform and retrain the Persian artillery…In 1608 Shah Abbas sent Robert on a diplomatic mission to James I of England and to other European princes for the purpose of uniting them in a confederacy against the Ottoman Empire…Shirley’s third journey to Persia was undertaken in 1627 when he accompanied Sir Dodmore Cotton the first British ambassador to the Kingdom of Persia…’[liv]
Oliver Cromwell had ‘secret agents’ as far afield as the West Indies as part of his ‘Great Western Design’. John Thurloe is known to have been his spy-master.[lv] Charles II sent spies abroad, in addition to a raft of the better-paid ‘envoys’ or ‘ambassadors’ to Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe. ‘By the early 1620’s’, one recent scholar of Venetian intrigues has found, ‘a Europe-wide system of permanent embassies was already well established…Resident ambassadors represented the authority and interests of their masters…(They were expected) to gather information, in other words, to engage in extra-diplomatic activities…In pursuit of such information, ambassadors frequently ran networks of informants…hence, the famous, contradictory description of ambassadors as honorable Spies.’ [lvi] [Emphasis in original] Among many other examples is that of the Spanish Hapsburgs. At the end of the 16th century, during what was called the Twelve Years Truce, this regime was seen as the European benchmark for ‘the craft’ of espionage. Carter has assessed English efforts in 1600 as ‘generally quite poor’ in comparison with ‘the far-flung, well-organised, extremely effective network for gathering information’ of the Hapsburgs:
(The) government of the Spanish Netherlands received secret intelligence constantly…from reports of rowdiness in the taverns of Brussels (which was considered incompatible with orderly government), to reports of the perennial plots to suborn one or other of the Spanish garrisons, to detailed accounts, often complete with diagrams, of newly invented siege engines the Dutch reportedly planned to use against Antwerp.[lvii] Whether and by how much England had to catch up, Sir Charles Wotton (1568-1638), English ambassador to Venice for extensive periods, is best-known perhaps for his description of a diplomat as ‘a good man sent abroad to lie for his country.’ He was a known supporter of the Stuarts and reported back ostensibly to James I, but fled England when his main employer the Duke of Essex was scooped up by rival operatives.
London was a major focus of many of the powers ‘large and small’ ‘whose representatives flocked to the court of James I seeking alliances or arbitration or on some other business. Knowledge of their activities and of a wide range of other matters were indispensable to the conduct of Spanish affairs.’ In addition, there was ‘a constant stream of English envoys going forth to deal with Denmark, Sweden and Poland, Venice, Savoy and the Turk; the secrets of these missions Spain needed to know.’ (Carter, 1964, p.5) Diplomatic spies were rarely arrested, but were often ‘recalled’ at times of crisis. Carter refers to numbers of ‘free-lance spies…independent of resident envoys, and their effectiveness, including the volume of intelligence they sent, (which) was greatly enhanced by peacetime conditions, not least of which was the operation of a regular mail service.’
The importance of mailed intelligence made control of any postal system, or even one branch ‘node’, a valuable commodity. During the period of European conflict now known as the Thirty Years Wars, 1618-48, Alexandrine, Countess of Taxis ran the post office in Brussels which, researchers have assessed as possibly ‘the first Black Chamber in Europe’: ‘Black Chambers were the hidden offices of secret intelligence units, staffed by an elite group of polymaths and scribes allotted their own compartmentalised task, whether translation, short-hand, cryptanalysis, or forging seals, signatures and other marks that authenticated a document.[lviii] If all went well, a letter could be opened, copied, resealed and inserted back into the mail flow within hours, without addressee or sender ever noticing any tampering had occurred. A Dutch version has been detected by assiduous examination of the relevant archives for the period of the War of Spanish Succession and afterwards, 1707-15. Russian systems of surveillance of its citizens, and of its visitors, were long-standing, Sweden’s position between treacherous, ambitious neighbours meant its government established secret communications with potential friends and foes, and no doubt there were others.[lix]
The label, ‘Black Chamber’ has not as far as I know been attached to the English equivalent but that’s what it was by the mid-part of the 17th century – ‘(an) intelligence team, concealed in a separate quarter of the daily post office, (which) extracted information from the mail of foreign diplomats in a bold and systematic manner.’ In 1657, regulations formalised the ‘rigorous inspection’ of English mail in line with Continental systems, and a man familiar with conspiracies, cyphers and the methods of counter-intelligence was chosen as ‘Post Master General’. Of a level with the army rank of ‘Quarter Master General’, John Wildman’s duties were specifically domestic clandestine intelligence gathering and the forwarding of regular reports. [lx] Oliver Cromwell had had his own ‘agents in streets, markets, homes of known Royalists, and the Court in exile’. A collection of the papers of his Secretary of State, John Thurloe, published in 1742 and pre-dating Cromwell’s accession to power, demonstrated a vast network of ‘intelligencers’ throughout the Kingdom and Europe from 1638. Reports, at times in cypher, reached him by all manner of means, on all manner of subjects, including assassination attempts and their agent’s penetration of the other side’s circles of acquaintances. A Lord Broghill in Edinburgh wrote to Thurloe in 1656:
…I told you in my last, how I had engaged one Captain Maitland, an intelligencer of the Lord Lorne’s and MacNaughton’s, to be my intelligencer, and sent you a copy of a fresh letter from the Lord Napier to some intimate friend here, etc. Likewise that he was gone to the Lord Lorne, to receive his despatch to C.S. [Charles Stuart] which Maitland had engaged to bring me…
…My intelligencer I last sent for Flanders arrived at Amsterdam, the 25th of April, from whence I had a letter from him in cypher, to this effect, that Middleton is there in the town; that he has struck in with him, and learned from him, that he holds a strict intelligence with his friends in Scotland; that his intelligencers are Sir Archibald Primrose, and Mr John Fletcher, both of this town, and notorious malignants; that though they are very wary, yet I may now light upon their letters in the post-office especially in ships which puts to and fro between Holland and Scotland. He bids me also look in the letter-office of London for any packets directed for Mr William Davidson…[lxi]
Internal references indicate that at least a thousand persons were registered as either friendly or hostile and therefore able to be identified by numbers only. Lists must have been in circulation among trusted persons. In 1656, ‘A Letter of Intelligence from col Bampsylde’ to Thurloe included: ‘…For the question you ask in one of your letters, what advantage 869 can receive by intelligence from 1037, I can only answer that the secret affairs of all the catholic states in Christendom are conveyed thither, and weighed in the balance of the Church’s interests…(etc)…’ (T Birch, 1742, Vol 5, pp.513-14) A Captain Goodson, at sea, wrote requesting the services of ‘an ingenious man…perfect in the Spanish tongue, so far as to read all written hands, and to write it himself; for want whereof we cannot make use of those papers and letters which we take or intercept…‘ (T Birch, 1742, Vol 5, p.153)
Setting up a ‘Trade’ or ‘Cultural’ Office was a perfect cover for espionage efforts in a foreign country and remains a popular disguise today, six centuries after the Swedish, Dutch and British East India Companies first planted national flags and around which they claimed diplomatic immunity. Catherine II of Russia, ‘Catherine the Great’, was reportedly more sanguine about lodges or activist individuals with a Rosicrucian bent to their ‘Freemasonry’ than those endorsing ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’.[lxii] During what Douglas has called the ‘Jacobite Spy Wars’, William of Orange was so bothered by assassination possibilities that he set a close friend, William Bentinck, the task of upgrading ‘his secret service’. Bentinck’s quickly organised, ‘efficient espionage network’ sent John Macky off to Paris to see what James II and his supporters were doing following their defeat in Ireland. The early warning that this agent was able to provide resulted in defeat of the French invasion fleet at La Hogue and in his appointment as ‘inspector of the coast from Harwich to Dover to prevent treasonable correspondence from passing between England and France.’ While Macky was a ‘State-employee’ in all but name, and although there was no HO bunker at Whitehall, he was free to sub-contract out tasks as he saw fit. For instance, he had two women travel regularly to Paris as trinket sellers to the Stuart Court where they collected gossip and observed comings and goings. (HD, 1999, p.4)
It was not accidental that English Freemasonry [EF] came into existence as an organisation at the time that it did, but the ‘usual’ story, that London stonemasons met and determined to revive some old, ‘operative’ customs and to establish a Grand Lodge which would oversight their subsequent gatherings, is charming hokum. That, approximately six years later, those lodges had been seamlessly transformed by Westminster’s elite and related professionals into an organisation capable of administering a burgeoning network of enlightened agents of tolerance and good will is beyond ridiculous. What, then, do I suggest was the catalyst, the motivator, the ‘magic ingredient’?
Back then, all protagonists with their born-to-rule noses above the hard-scrabble street were engaged in high-stakes gambles, and in real-time ‘cloak-and-dagger’ exchanges. Some died in back alleys, others suffered public executions, others again, not necessarily the most honourable, achieved power and wealth. Any story of the Masonic 1700’s in London without that reality as starting point must be a cover-up – but of what?