Freemasonry, a fraternity whose past is lost in the fogs of time. The earliest Lodge records are dated to July 31, 1599, in Edinburgh. There are other, older documents such as the Regius Poem (or Halliwell Manuscript) which dates Freemasonry back to 926 AD in York, England, and retells the story of King Athelstan forming a General Assembly of the Craft.
There are also the Cooke Manuscript, Landsdowne Manuscript, Roberts Manuscript, Briscoe Manuscript, and Sloane Manuscript; each one gives its own theory as to the creation of Freemasonry and each of these manuscripts is worthy of its own paper. There are also theories involving the Roman Collegium of Artificers, the Comacine Masters, King Alfred, King Athelstan, and the Carolingian Dynasty.
This article centers on one of my favorite romanticized theories: that our venerable institution was born out of a group of exiled knights, martyred by a greedy tyrant, and betrayed by their pontiff. I’m talking, of course, about the Knights Templar.
While the exact date is debated to this day, it is believed that sometime in 1119 (most likely toward the end), Hugh de Payens and a contingent of knights established the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, also known as the Knights Templar; according to William, Archbishop of Tyre, it was nine knights while Michael the Syrian, Patriarch of Antioch, spoke of thirty knights. The Templar first received recognition from Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, and Warmund, Patriarch of Jerusalem, which would occur in January of 1120 at the Council of Nablus. At the Council of Nablus in 1120, Warmund donated some land to the Knights Templar and the King gave the knights the Stables of Solomon as their residence as well as some villages.
The Templar order wouldn't receive papal recognition for a decade, first by Pope Honorius II, and then, in 1139, by Pope Innocent II who issued Omne Datum Optimum, Latin for "Every Good Gift." This papal bull allowed the Templars to keep their spoils of war, placing donations directly under papal protection, and exempting them from paying tithe to the Roman Catholic Church. This proclamation also added a priest class to the hierarchy answerable only to the Grand Master.
The Order was governed by what is known as "The Rule" which was originally written by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, nephew of Andre de Montbard, who was one of the founding knights and future Grand Masters. The Rule covered all aspects of the life of the Knights Templar. The Rule included topics such as knight renouncing his former life and property, dress, eating, prayers, the hierarchy of the order, penalties, conventional life, penitence, and the manner of his reception into the order.
The Order became very popular among the European nobility and would exponentially grow in numbers and wealth with a presence across Europe and the Levant. The Templars would become known for their protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land while also being known for their impact during military operations. They would be mythologized by their financial acumen as well as their downfall in the 14th century culminating in the martyrdom of Jacques DeMolay. Even today there are many theories and myths about the order before and after their suppression by the French king, Philip. The Templars became associated with the rise of Freemasonry, the Holy Grail, alternative theories on Christ, and occultism.
If you’re not familiar with the arrest, suppression, and dissolution of the medieval Templars, let me recall the story. By the 14th century, the Templars were headquartered on the island of Cyprus and although they had lost the Holy Land, they were still a financial and military powerhouse. Many historians declare that they had become haughty and arrogant, and earned the disdain of monarchal and ecclesiastical authorities.
On Friday, October 13, 1307, throughout the Kingdom of France, agents of King Philip IV or Philip the Fair, simultaneously placed the Templars in France under arrest. The French King had the Templars charged with heresy and many other charges, most of which were identical to the charges which had previously been leveled against Pope Boniface VIII. The initial charges held against the Templars numbered in five:
1. They renounced Christ and spit upon the cross during initiation into the Order.2. Men were stripped to be initiated and the thrice kissing of that man by the preceptor on the navel, posteriors and the mouth.3. The neophyte (novice) was told that unnatural lust was lawful and indulged in commonly.4. The neophyte wore a cord day and night was consecrated by wrapping it around an idol in the form of a human head with a great beard, and that this idol was adored in all chapters.5. Priests of the order did not consecrate the host in celebrating Mass.
These charges would later increase, somewhere between 86 and 127.
Following the arrests in France, Popes would issue 10 Papal Bulls condemning and dismantling the Templar Order. The first bull, Pastoralis Praeeminentiae, Latin for "Pastoral Preeminence," was issued by Pope Clement V on November 22, 1307, and ordered the arrest of all Templars throughout Christendom and the seizure of all their properties.
Despite this request, not all monarchs complied immediately; some did not believe the accusations and required more force by the Church for the arrests, confiscation, and investigation to occur in places outside of France.
Pope Clement V in 1308 created an Ecumenical Council that was in charge of investigating the charges leveled against the Templar order. The Council wouldn’t meet until 1311 and its principal purpose was to formally withdraw the papal support given to Knights Templar as well as dealing with the massive properties that they had accumulated over the centuries.
Vox in Excelso, Latin for "A Voice from on High," was issued by Pope Clement V in 1312. This bull formally dissolved and removed all Papal support from the Templar Order, but did not wholly condemn the Templars which goes along with his actions of secretly absolving the Templar Order with the Chinon Parchment. Several more bulls had to be issued as clergy and monarchs alike were attempting to take over the former Templar lands, particularly since the Templars owned most of Southern France.
Now since October 13, 1307, Jacques DeMolay had been imprisoned in France. During his interrogation in late October 1307, De Molay confessed that the Templar initiatory rites included denying Christ and stepping on the cross. It is said he was forced to write a letter, and after all of this occurred, King Phillip forced his new Papal puppet (Clement V) to order the arrest of all Templars throughout Christendom (which we saw in the form of Pastoralis Praeeminentiae.
In December 1307, DeMolay recanted his confession to two Cardinals. DeMolay was further tortured and coerced into confessing to the charges of Philip. In 1309, DeMolay would recant again and would again face torture by the French king.
The most common method of torture was known as "strappado" where the victim's hands, at the wrist, are bound behind the back. Their bound wrists would be connected to a rope that was hung over a high beam whereby they would be lifted up, dropped, and stopped suddenly which would cause damage to the arms and shoulders. Other torture methods include strapping victims to the rack, which could cause major bone and ligament damage, and lathering the feet with lard which would be held over a fire until the feet would be roasted or burned away. Under this kind of cruelty, it is not unreasonable to see that most would confess to any crime at the promise of stopping the torture.
On the 18th of March 1314, De Molay and some other Templar leaders were dragged before the public. It had been seven (7) long years and finally, they were to receive the sentence agreed upon by the Cardinals, which was supposed to be lifelong imprisonment. To the surprise and dismay of both the crowd and Cardinals, Jacques De Molay and Geoffrey de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, stood up and stated they were only guilty of betraying their Order by giving into torture and confessing to these false charges. While the Cardinals were meeting to deal with this, the incensed King Phillip pronounced that De Molay and De Charney were relapsed heretics to be burnt at the stake. A pyre was set up on a small island on the Seine near Notre Dame Cathedral. Contrary to the belief of the conventional "burning stake/pyre", it could not have been a stake with wood and accelerant at the base as the victim would die within minutes from asphyxiation. The fire and heat would rise and the flames would be swallowed, burning the lungs, and soon filling with fluid thereby causing asphyxiation. For De Molay to have lasted for a while and slowly burn, it would have required a pyre built by a stake in the center with a ring of fire, most likely hot coals, around it (think of the point within a circle as a diagram), which would cause an oven effect cooking him slowly and burning him from the feet up. Eyewitness testimony said that De Molay showed no sign of fear and it said during the slow death of burning at the stake, he cursed the Pope and King, saying that their deaths would be avenged and that those would join him in the Afterlife. Whether he really cursed them or not, both the Pope and French King died within a year. The death of Jacques DeMolay is the end of the written and accepted history of the Templar Order. The fall of the Templars and the death of De Molay though started many myths that endure to this day.
Templar Suppression Outside of France
The suppression of the Templars was particularly strong in France as King Philip had a great influence over the Pope, a childhood friend, that the Papacy moved relocated to Avignon for nearly 67-years. However, as previously mentioned, this order of suppression was resisted or completely ignored in other European countries.
In Portugal, the order continued to exist and simply changed their name to “the Order of Christ.” In Germany, trials were held and which didn’t result in convictions; this may have been due to the fact that the German Master of the Temple and 20 handpicked knights showed up in full battle array. It is generally believed that the German Templars joined either the Knights Hospitallers or Teutonic Knights. In England, King Edward II who had ascended the throne in 1307 was unwilling to suppress the order which had served him, his father, and the Throne of England faithfully. It wasn’t he was reminded (“threatened”) by the King of France and the Pope himself that he took any action to suppress the Templars, but by then they had plenty of time to flee.
With this slow start in other countries, it is easy to see how the Templars were capable of getting away and how easy it is for so many continuation myths to appear. Going back to France, we have to know that only a small percentage of the 3,000 knights had been arrested, and across Europe, there were roughly 15,000 Templar properties and the Templar fleet in the port of La Rochelle disappeared overnight.
One theory surrounded Switzerland where Duke Leopold of Hapsburg (Leopold I of Austria) invaded the then poor farming nation expecting little resistance from the poor farming communities. What he faced was a military capable force that cost him 2,000 knights in a single day and forced him to retreat. Many believe it was the Templars who taught the Swiss military tactics. Others claim that during an ambush at St. Gotthard Pass was led by “armed white knights.” It is interesting to note that the Swiss flag (a white cross on a red field) is the inverse of the Templar uniform (a red cross on a white field), and now it is from the Swiss that the Vatican gets soldiers who guard the Pope. Switzerland is also known for its large banking and financial institutions just as the Templars were in the Middle Ages.
There are many popular myths about the continuation of the Knights in Scotland. One such theory is that the exiled Knights played a significant role in the Scottish victory at the Battle of Bannockburn which occurred on St. John’s Day, 1314. For their assistance, Robert the Bruce is said to have instituted the Knights of the Rosy Cross and awarded it to those knights who served the Bruce faithfully. The Knights of the Rosy Cross is now the second degree conferred by the Royal Order of Scotland.
The most famous of Templar legends in Scotland is known as the D’Aumont Legend. This legend states that Pierre d’Aumont, the Preceptor of Auvergne, with several knights, fled from France to Scotland disguised as operative Masons.
Now, you might be skeptical as to this theory, but it is not as insane as one might think. Stepping back a bit, the Templars were a financial powerhouse. Part of this was from the donations of land and money from knights entering into service or from grateful monarchs for the protection and order they gave the land. The knights didn’t just sit on the land or even just put in fortresses. No, they put the land to use. They built farms, leased the land, and, more importantly, built mills. These mills were a large revenue for the Templars, and it took stone Masons to build these mills and all of their other edifices. The Templars were a large employer of our operative Masonic Brothers, particularly in France. So, it is not outside the realm of possibilities that a group of knights would be able to disguise themselves and flee from the persecution.
Now according to this legend, D’Aumont is said to have adopted the name “Franc Macons” in homage of their disguise which turned into “Free Masons” as they traveled to England. Having said all of this, this legend is highly disputed as records show that Imbert Blanke was the Preceptor of Auvergne, not D’Aumont.
All of that said, “The fact remains that there is no trace of chivalric degrees in Freemasonry prior to Ramsay's Oration." These are the words of Stephen Dafoe in his book, Compasses and the Cross.
Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay is credited with giving a speech that would give birth to the various theories Masonic Knighthood. He was born on 9 January circa 1681 in Ayr (pronounced “air”), Scotland. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh he was employed (through much of his life) as a tutor to the children of the aristocracy. Ramsay became a Freemason on March 26, 1729, at Horn Lodge in the Palace Yard in Westminster. In 1730, Ramsay was employed in France and here it is said he was a member Louis l'Argent Lodge where he held the office of Orator. He is said to have been a Grand Orator, but it seems to be more of an honorary title held between Lodges as at the time there was no Grand Lodge formed in France prior to 1733. And as Bro. Dafoe puts it in his book, "It was in his capacity as Orator that Ramsay prepared and delivered an address that would form the building blocks upon which chivalric Masonry would rise." This address is said to have been given on March 21, 1737.
One question I had is what motivated him to give such a speech. It is noted by many that in England, Freemasonry was a gentleman's club for those in the upper echelons of society so a legend stemming from workman did not dissuade them from joining. It is possible that Ramsay was trying to market Freemasonry to the French aristocracy who would not have had any interest in joining an organization that descended from working-class men. This is supported by the Oration itself wherein he talks about not taking the name of 'Freemason' literal and looking to see there were "religious warriors and princes". There is very little doubt about the fact that Ramsay invented this chivalric history of Freemasonry, but nonetheless, he sparked the fire that would be the creation of Chivalric Masonic orders. He may not have invented these "high degrees", as they were once called, but he played a very important role. It is important to note that Ramsay did not claim that Freemasonry stemmed from the Knights Templar, but rather from the “Knights of St John of Jerusalem” which was also known as the Knights Hospitaller and continues today as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. On a side note, this speech led to Pope Clement XII issuing the Papal Bull "In Eminenti Apostolatus" which was the first official edict against Freemasonry.
Whatever his motivation, his speech was the spark that ignited a fire that burned in the hearts of many Masons and which led to the creation of Masonic knighthoods.
Within the US, the Chivalric Orders are a set of three Orders: Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, Order of Malta, and Order of the Temple (or Knights Templar). The Order of the Temple is one of the most impressive ceremonies in all of Masonry and is the true capstone of the American York Rite. The candidate represents one seeking admittance as a Knights Templar during the Crusades. The candidate is put through a number of trials to ensure he is worthy. Once proven worthy the candidate is admitted a Sir Knight of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple.
I moved into talking about American Chivalric Masonry as it is very difficult to trace the early development of the Order of the Temple. The earliest record of a Templar organization is in Scotland and Ireland in the mid-1700s. One such reason for the difficulty is due to careless record-keeping or from disasters such as the Grand Secretary of Canada’s house burning down and losing all of their early records. Masonic Templary came to America through British military and merchants. The earliest mention of Knights Templar is to be found in the records of St. Andrew's Royal Arch Lodge (they’d be called Chapters later) on August 28, 1769, when William Davis received; William Davis was a Captain in the Massachusetts militia and took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Some fun facts, the second recorded conferral of the Order of the Temple in America occurred on December 11, 1769, and the candidate’s name was Paul Revere. The third Templar was Joseph Warren, a general who lost his life at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Now I had to give this introduction of Chivalric Masonry because many of its invitational and appendant bodies stem from the Order of the Temple and yet are tied back to the continuation myths. Now you can’t go too far into the history of Chivalric Masonry without discussing the Rite of Strict Observance.
The Rite of Strict Observance was the brainchild of the D’Aumont legend. This order is said to have been formed some time in the early 1750s in Germany by Karl Gotthelf von Hund, who had been involved with Freemasonry since 1741. Von Hund claimed that he had not founded it, but had taken over from C.G. Marschall von Bieberstein in 1750. Under von Hund’s watch, the Rites degrees consisted of: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason, Scottish Master, Novice, and Knights Templar. The Scottish Master's degree concerned itself with the preservation of the lost word of Freemasonry which had been cut on a plate of pure metal, placed in a secure location, and centuries later discovered.
One of the strangest aspects of the Rite of Strict Observance was that the adherence had to swear an oath to blindly follow the directives of Unknown Superiors who ruled the Rite. This invisible leader was said to have possibly been Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. This was the same man whom Ramsey had tried to tutor some year prior. There is a lack of evidence that supports this idea, but nonetheless, the invisible rulers communicated through von Hund. The order did not develop any wide-spread appeal for a couple of decades, possibly due to the Seven Year War. From May 23 to July 6, 1775, a convention was held in Brunswick as there was a lot of confusion among the members. Even though they met for some time nothing really came of it other than more confusion among the members. Another convention was called on August 15, 1776, in Wiesbaden at the request of a Baron von Gugumos. During the convention though the members suspected the Baron was a fraud and demanded the Baron do what he promised. The Baron left the convention and never returned to do what he promised.
After von Hund’s death on October 28, 1776, the Rite began to go downhill. The Duke of Sudermania, Grand Master of Swedish Grand Lodge, was elected and installed as Deputy Grand Master of the Rite in 1778. Two years later he resigned. From July 1782 to September 1783, there was a convention held in Wilhelsmbad where it was resolved that the Freemasons were not descendants of the Templars, that there were no “unknown superiors” to hand out instruction, and soon after the Rite came to an end.
It should be clarified that the Rite did not die out entirely. It was to be absorbed into an order called the Rectified Rite, also known as the Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte which translates into Knights Beneficent of the Holy City, that was created by Jean-Baptiste Willermoz in 1774. Willermoz had been a Mason since 1752, was a member of Ordre des Chevaliers Macons Elus-Cohen de l'Univers (a precursor to Martinism), and was initiated into the Rite of Strict Observance in 1773. Although based on the Rite of Strict Observance, this Rectified Rite consists of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master, Scottish Master, Esquire Novice, Knights Beneficent of the Holy City, Professed Knight, and Grand Professed Knight.
According to A.E. Waite, Willermoz blended together with the forms and doctrines of the two rites, but de-Templarized the Rite of Strict Observance and "Martinized" it, which resulted in the Rectified Scottish Rite. Willermoz headed a committee to prepare the rituals of the revised degrees. Much of the work was done, but activity in this rite was interrupted by the eruption of the French Revolution. In 1806 the CBCS became active again, but, due to the political unrest, it soon would pass into Switzerland with the transmission of power to the Directoire of Helvetia; it was this jurisdiction that reinvigorated the Order in France after WWII. Today the body exists in Switzerland, France, England, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, and the United States.
The Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests is an invitational body with membership limitations. This order exists to recognize Past Commanders of Commanderies of Knights Templar who made great contributions to Masonic Templary, to their country, and to their community or society in general. This group is not to be confused with the Templar Clerics started by Johan von Starck who claimed Freemasonry was descended from the clerical order of the medieval Templars. This clerical group united with the Rite of Strict of Observance in 1772. The exact date of appearance for this Holy Rollers is not known, but probably started between 1770 and 1780 in Ireland before it spread to England and then to the US in 1829.
As I mentioned before, one of the Scottish legends plays into the Royal Order of Scotland which is an invitation-only Masonic order for Scottish Rite Masons or Knights Templar. While the legend takes the Order back to 1314, there exist no records to substantiate such claims. Early records date the Order back to 18th century Europe. It is said to have flourished in France by Scottish refugees who adhered to the Jacobite cause. The Order took roots in England where it grew for some years which then led to it establishing its headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland, where it has been stationed since that time. This order is structured to be governed by the hereditary King of Scotland so in the absence of a king, we are governed by the Deputy Grand Master.
There are a number of other knighthoods within Freemasonry that are not necessarily connected to the medieval Templar myths directly, but I’d like to mention them.
Officially known as the Ye Commemorative Order of Saint Thomas of Acon, this invitational order exists to reaffirm a Knights Templar’s vows and to raise funds for the maintenance of the Canterbury Cathedral.
This is a revived knighthood that was started during the Crusades after the Siege of Acre. William, the Chaplain to the Dean of St. Pauls, was appalled to find corpses of the Christians unburied around Acre. He with a few helpers buried a large number of the dead and tended to the wounded.
William then founded an order with the express purpose of burying Christian Knights who fell in battle in the Holy Land. Later, was added the purpose of fundraising to redeem ransomed captives captured by the Saracens. This order was dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket, an Archbishop of Canterbury who became despised by King Henry II and slaughtered by four knights of that monarch. The name Acon is the Anglicized version of Acre, where the order was founded. This order was purely English and continued to exist in England until King Henry VIII dissolved it, along with many other religious houses and monasteries. The London Chapel of the order passed to the Worshipful Company of Mercers, but was destroyed Great Fire of London, but was rebuilt. The modern order was started in 1974 in London by John Walker. In October 1999, several Americans traveled to England and were initiated into the order. The Province of the United States was formed in 2005 when enough Chapels were created. By 2015, the Province of the United States was the largest Province and on January 29, 2015, the United States broke off of England and formed its own Grand Council.
Lastly, the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite has a number of degrees such as the 15° or Knight of the East, 17° or Knight of the East and West, 18° or Knight Rose Croix, 21° or Noachite, or Prussian Knight, 25° or Knight of the Brazen Serpent, 27° or Knight Commander of the Temple, 28° or Knight of the Sun, 29° or Knight of St. Andrew, and 30° or Knight Kadosh, or Knight of the White and Black Eagle. While these degrees surround knighthood only a few claim derivation from the Knights Templar.
Can I say that we are the descendants of warrior-monks? I cannot. There are so many theories that it is very hard to tell the difference between reality and romanticism. Many accept these theories on pure faith, but despite their protestations, there is no definitive proof that Freemasonry stemmed from or is connected to the medieval Knights Templar. This is something even stated by the Grand Encampment, the governing body of the Masonic Knights Templar in America and several jurisdictions throughout the world. What I will say is that the myth and legend of this knighthood were so immense that it has transcended time and captured the imaginations of the noble-of-heart and with puffed-up pedigrees.