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Freemasonry and the Knights Templar

The story which connects the Knights Templars with Freemasonry in Scotland, after their return from the Crusades and after the suppression of their Order, forms one of the most interesting and romantic legends connected with the history of Freemasonry. In its incidents the elements of history and tradition are so mingled that it is with difficulty that they can be satisfactorily separated. While there are some writers of reputation who accept everything that has been said concerning the connection in the 14th century of the Freemasons of Scotland with the Templars who were then in that kingdom, or who escaped to it as an asylum from the persecutions of the French monarch, as an authentic narrative of events which had actually occurred, there are others who reject the whole as a myth or fable which has no support in history. Here, as in most other cases, the middle course appears to be the safest. While there are some portions of the story which are corroborated by historical records, there are others which certainly are without the benefit of such evidence. In the present chapter I shall endeavor, by a careful and impartial analysis, to separate the conflicting elements and to dissever the historical from the legendary or purely traditional portions of the relation. But it will be necessary, in clearing the way for any faithful investigation of the subject to glance briefly at the history of those events which were connected with the suppression of the ancient Order of Knights Templars in France in the beginning of the 14th century.

The Templars, on leaving the Holy Land, upon the disastrous termination of the last Crusade and the fall of Acre, had taken temporary refuge in the island of Cyprus. After some vain attempts to regain a footing in Palestine and to renew their contests with the infidels, who were now in complete possession of that country, the Knights had retired from Cyprus and repaired to their different Commanderies in Europe, among which those in France were the most wealthy and the most numerous. At this period Philip IV, known in history by the soubriquet of Philip the Fair, reigned on the French throne, and Clement V was the Pontiff of the Roman Church. Never before had the crown or the tiara been worn by a more avaricious King or a more treacherous Pope.

Clement, when Bishop of Bordeaux, had secured the influence of the French monarch toward his election to the papacy by engaging himself by an oath on the sacrament to perform six conditions imposed upon him by the king, the last of which was reserved as a secret until after his coronation. This last condition bound him to the extermination of the Templars, an Order of whose power Philip was envious and for whose wealth he was avaricious. Pope Clement, who had removed his residence from Rome to Poictiers, summoned the heads of the military Orders to appear before him for the purpose, as he deceitfully pretended, of concerting measures for the inauguration of a new Crusade. James de Molay, the Grand Master of the Templars, accordingly, repaired to the papal court. While there the King of France preferred a series of charges against the Order, upon which he demanded its suppression and the punishment of its leaders.

The events that subsequently occurred have been well called a black page in the history of the Order. On the 13th of October, 1307, the Grand Master and one hundred and thirty-nine Knights were arrested in the palace of the Temple, at Paris, and similar arrests were on the same day made in various parts of France. The arrested Templars were thrown into prison and loaded with chains. They were not provided with a sufficiency of food and were refused the consolations of religion. Twenty-six princes and nobles of the court of France appeared as their accusers; and before the judgment of their guilt had been determined by the tribunals, the infamous Pope Clement launched a bull of excommunication against all persons who should give the Templars aid or comfort.

The trials which ensued were worse than a farce, only because of their tragical termination. The rack and the torture were unsparingly applied. Those who continued firm in a denial of guilt were condemned either to perpetual imprisonment or to the stake. Addison says that one hundred and thirteen were burnt in Paris and others in Lorraine, in Normandy, at Carcassonne, and at Senlis. The last scene of the tragedy was enacted on the 11th of March, 1314. James de Molay, the Grand Master of the Order, after a close and painful imprisonment of six years and a half, was publicly burnt in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, in Paris. The Order was thus totally suppressed in France and its possessions confiscated. The other monarchs of Europe followed the example of the King of France in abolishing the Order in their dominions; but, in a more merciful spirit, they refrained from inflicting capital punishment upon the Knights. Outside of France, in all the other kingdoms of Europe, not a Templar was condemned to death. The Order was, however, everywhere suppressed, and a spoil made of its vast possessions, notwithstanding that in every country beyond the influence of the Pope and the King of France its general innocence was sustained.

In Portugal it changed its name to that of the Knights of Christ - everywhere else the Order ceased to exist But there are writers who, like Burnes, * maintain that the persecution of the Templars in the 14th century did not close the history of the Order, but that there has been a succession of Knights Templars from the 12th century down to these days. Dr. Burnes alluded to the Order of the Temple and the pretended transmission of the powers of de Molay to Larmenius. With this question and with the authenticity of the so-called "Charter of Transmission," the topic which we are now about to discuss has no connection, and I shall therefore make no further allusion to it. It is evident from the influence of natural causes, without the necessity of any historical proof, that after the death of the Grand Master and the sanguinary persecution and suppression of the Order in France, many of the Knights must have sought safety by flight to other countries. It is to their acts in Scotland that we are now to direct our attention.

(* "Sketch of the History of the Knights Templars," by James Burnes, LL.D., F.R.S., etc., London, 1840, p. 39.)

There are two Legends in existence which relate to the connection of Templarism with the Freemasonry of Scotland, each of which will require our separate attention. The first may be called the Legend of Bruce, and the other the Legend of d'Aumont. In Scotland the possessions of the Order were very extensive. Their Preceptories were scattered in various parts of the country. A papal inquisition was held at Holyrood in 1309 to try and, of course, to condemn the Templars. At this inquisition only two knights, Walter de Clifton, Grand Preceptor of Scotland, and William de Middleton appeared. The others absconded, and as Robert Bruce was then marching to meet and repel the invasion of King Edward of England, the Templars are said to have joined the army of the Scottish monarch. Thus far the various versions of the Bruce Legend agree, but in the subsequent details there are irreconcilable differences. According to one version, the Templars distinguished themselves at the battle of Bannockburn, which was fought on St. John the Baptist's Day, 1314, and after the battle a new Order was formed called the Royal Order of Scotland, into which the Templars were admitted. But Oliver thinks very justly that the two Orders were unconnected with each other. Thory says that Robert Bruce, King of Scotland under the title of Robert I., created on the 24th of June, 1314, after the battle of Bannockburn, the Order of St. Andrew of the Thistle, to which was afterward added that of Heredom, for the sake of the Scottish Masons, who had made a part of the thirty thousand men who had fought with an hundred thousand English soldiers. He reserved for himself and his successors the title of Grand Master and founded at Kilwinning the Grand Lodge of the Royal Order of Heredom. *

(* "Acta Latomorum," tome i., p. 6.)

The Manual of the Order of the Temple says that the Templars, at the instigation of Robert Bruce, ranged themselves under the banners of this new Order, whose initiations were based on those of the Templars. For this apostasy they were excommunicated by John Mark Larmenius, who is claimed to have been the legitimate successor of de Molay. * None of these statements are susceptible of historical proof The Order of Knights of St. Andrew or of the Thistle was not created by Bruce in 1314, but by James II in 1440. There is no evidence that the Templars ever made a part of the Royal Order of Heredom. At this day the two are entirely distinct. Nor is it now considered as a fact that the Royal Order was established by Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn, although such is the esoteric legend. On the contrary, it is supposed to have been the fabrication of Michael Ramsay in the 18th century. On this subject the remarks of Bro. Lyon, who has made the Masonry of Scotland his especial study, are well worth citation. "The ritual of the Royal Order of Scotland embraces," he says, "what may be termed a spiritualization of the supposed symbols and ceremonies of the Christian architects and builders of primitive times, and so closely associates the sword with the trowel as to lead to the second degree being denominated an order of Masonic knighthood, which its recipients are asked to believe was first conferred on the field of Bannockburn, as a reward for the valor that had been displayed by a body of Templars who aided Bruce in that memorable victory; and that afterward a Grand Lodge of the Order was established by the King at Kilwinning, with the reservation of the office of Grand Master to him and his successors on the Scottish throne. It is further asserted that the Royal Order and the Masonic Fraternity of Kilwinning were governed by the same head.

(* "Manuel des Chevaliers de l'Ordre du Temple," p. 8)

As regards the claims to antiquity, and a royal origin that are advanced in favor of this rite, it is proper to say that modern inquiries have shown these to be purely fabulous. The credence that is given to that part of the legend which associates the Order with the ancient Lodge of Kilwinning is based on the assumed certainty that Lodge possessed in former times a knowledge of other degrees of Masonry than those of St. John. But such is not the case. The fraternity of Kilwinning never at any period practiced or acknowledged other than the Craft degrees; neither does there exist any tradition worthy of the name, local or national, nor has any authentic document yet been discovered that can in the remotest degree be held to identify Robert Bruce with the holding of Masonic Courts, or the institution of a secret society at Kilwinning." *

(* "History of the Lodge of Edinburgh," by David Murray Lyon, chap. xxxii., P. 307.

After such a statement made by a writer who from his position and opportunities as a Scottish Mason was better enabled to discover proofs, if there were any to be discovered, we may safely conclude that the Bruce and Bannockburn Legend of Scottish Templarism is to be deemed a pure myth, without the slightest historical clement to sustain it.

There is another Legend connecting the Templars in Scotland with Freemasonry which demands our attention. It is said in this Legend that in order to escape from the persecution that followed the suppression of the Order by the King of France, a certain Templar, named d'Aumont, accompanied by seven others, disguised as mechanics or Operative Masons, fled into Scotland and there secretly founded another Order; and to preserve as much as possible the ancient name of Templars as well as to retain the remembrance of and to do honor to the Masons in whose clothing they had disguised themselves when they fled, they adopted the name of Masons in connection with the word Franc, and called themselves Franc Masons. This they did because the old Templars were for the most part Frenchmen, and as the word Franc means both French and Free, when they established themselves in England they called themselves Freemasons. As the ancient Order had been originally established for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem, the new Order maintained their bond of union and preserved the memory and the design of their predecessors by building symbolically spiritual Temples consecrated to Virtue, Truth, and Light, and to the honor of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Such is the Legend as given by a writer in the Dutch Freemasons' Almanac, from which it is cited in the London Freemasons' Quarterly Review. *

(* See Freemasons' Quarterly Review, London, 1843, p. 501, where the Legend is given in full, as above.)

Clavel, in his Picturesque History of Freemasonry, * gives it more in detail, almost in the words of Von Hund. After the execution of de Molay, Peter d'Aumont, the Provincial Grand Master of Auvergne, with two Commanders and five Knights, fled for safety and directed their course toward Scotland, concealing themselves during their journey under the disguise of Operative Masons. Having landed on the Scottish Island of Mull they there met the Grand Commander George Harris and several other brethren, with whom they resolved to continue the Order. d'Aumont was elected Grand Master in a Chapter held on St. John's Day, 1313. To protect themselves from all chance of discovery and persecution they adopted symbols taken from architecture and assumed the title of Freemasons.

(* "Histoire Pitioresque de la Franc Maconnerie, " p. 184.)

In 1361 the Grand Master of the Temple transferred the seat of the Order to the old city of Aberdeen, and from that time it spread, under the guise of Freemasonry, through Italy, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, and other places. It was on this Legend that the Baron Von Hund founded his Rite of Strict Observance, and with spurious documents in his possession, he attempted, but without success, to obtain the sanction of the Congress of Wilhelmsbad to his dogma that every Freemason was a Templar. This doctrine, though making but slow progress in Germany, was more readily accepted in France, where already it had been promulgated by the Chapter of Clermont, into whose Templar system Von Hund had been initiated. The Chevalier Ramsay was the real author of the doctrine of the Templar origin of Freemasonry, and to him we are really indebted (if the debt have any value) for the d'Aumont Legend. The source whence it sprang is tolerably satisfactory evidence of its fictitious character. The inventive, genius of Ramsay, as exhibited in the fabrications of high degrees and Masonic legends, is well known. Nor, unfortunately for his reputation, can it be doubted that in the composition of his legends he cared but little for the support of history. If his genius, his learning, and his zeal had been consecrated, not to the formation of new Masonic systems, but to a profound investigation of the true origin of the Institution, viewed only from an authentic historical point, it is impossible to say what incalculable benefit would have been delved from his researches.

The unproductive desert which for three-fourths of a century spread over the continent, bearing no fruit except fanciful theories, absurd systems, and unnecessary degrees, would have been occupied in all probability by a race of Masonic scholars whose researches would have been directed to the creation of a genuine history, and much of the labors of our modern iconoclasts would have been spared. The Masonic scholars of that long period, which began with Ramsay and has hardly yet wholly terminated, assumed for the most part rather the role of poets than of historians. They did not remember the wise saying of Cervantes, that the poet may say or sing, not as things have been, but as they ought to have been, while the historian must write of them as they really were, and not as he thinks they ought to have been. And hence we have a mass of traditional rubbish, in which there is a great deal of falsehood with very little truth. Of this rubbish is the Legend of Peter d'Aumont and his resuscitation of the Order of Knights Templars in Scotland. Without a particle of historical evidence for its support, it has nevertheless exerted a powerful influence on the Masonic organization of even the present day. We find its effects looming out in the most important rites and giving a Templar form to many of the high degrees. And it cannot be doubted that the incorporation of Templarism into the modem Masonic system is mainly to be attributed to ideas suggested by this d'Aumont Legend. As there appears to be some difficulty in reconciling the supposed heretical opinions of the Templars with the strictly Christian faith of the Scottish Masons, to meet this objection a third Legend was invented, in which it was stated that after the abolition of the Templars, the clerical part of the Order - that is, the chaplains and priests - united in Scotland to revive it and to transplant it into Freemasonry. But as this Legend has not met with many supporters and was never strongly urged, it is scarcely necessary to do more than thus briefly to allude to it. Much as the Legend of d'Aumont has exerted an influence in mingling together the elements of Templarism and Freemasonry, as we see at the present day in Britain and in America, and in the high degrees formed on the continent of Europe, the dogma of Ramsay, that every Freemason is a Templar, has been utterly repudiated, and the authenticity of the Legend has been rejected by nearly all of the best Masonic scholars. Dr. Burnes, who was a believer in the legitimacy of the French Order of the Temple, as being directly derived from de Molay through Larmenius, and who, therefore, subscribed unhesitatingly to the authenticity of the "Charter of Transmission," does not hesitate to call Von Hund "an adventurer" and his Legend of d'Aumont "a plausible tale." Of that part of the Legend which relates to the transfer of the chief seat of the Templars to Aberdeen in Scotland, he says that "the imposture was soon detected, and it was even discovered that he had himself enticed and initiated the ill-fated Pretender into his fabulous order of chivalry. The delusions on this subject had taken such a hold in Germany, that they were not altogether dispelled until a deputation had actually visited Aberdeen and found amongst the worthy and astonished brethren there no trace either of very ancient Templars or of Freemasonry." *

(* Burnes, "Sketch of the History of the Knights Templars," p. 71.)

In this last assertion, however, Burnes is in error, for it is alleged that the Lodge of Aberdeen was instituted in 1541, though, as its more ancient minutes have been, as it is said, destroyed by fire, its present records go no further back than 1670. Bro. Lyon concurs with Burnes in the statement that the Aberdeenians were much surprised when first told that their Lodge was an ancient center of the High Degrees. * William Frederick Wilke, a German writer of great ability, has attacked the credibility of this Scottish Legend with a closeness of reasoning and a vigor of arguments that leave but little room for reply. ** As he gives the Legend in a slightly different form, it may be interesting to quote it, as well as his course of argument. "The Legend relates," he says, "that after the suppression of the Order the head of the Templar clergy, Peter of Boulogne, fled from prison and took refuge with the Commander Hugh, Wildgrave of Salm, and thence escaped to Scotland with Sylvester von Grumbach. Thither the Grand Commander Harris and Marshal d'Aumont had likewise betaken themselves, and these three preserved the secrets of the Order of Templars and transferred them to the Fraternity of Freemasons." In commenting on this statement Wilke says it is true that Peter of Boulogne fled from prison, but whither he went never has been known. The Wildgrave of Salm never was in prison. But the legendist has entangled himself in saying that Peter left the Wildgrave Hugh and went to Scotland with Sylvester von Grumbach, for Hugh and Sylvester are one and the same person. His title was Count Sylvester Wildgrave, and Grumbach was the designation of his Templar Commandery. Hugh of Salm, also Wildgrave and Commander of Grumbach, never took refuge in Scotland, and after the abolition of the Order was made Prebendary of the Cathedral of Mayence.

(* "History of the Lodge of Edinburgh," p. 420.)

(** In his "Geschichte des Tempelherren's Orders." I have not been able to obtain the work, but I have availed myself of an excellent analysis of it in "Findel's History of Freemasonry," Lyon's Translation.)

Wilke thinks that the continuation of the Templar Order was attributed to Scotland because the higher degrees of Freemasonry, having reference in a political sense to the Pretender, Edward Stuart, were called Scotch. Scotland is, therefore, the cradle of the higher degrees of Masonry. But here I am inclined to differ from him and am disposed rather to refer the explanation to the circumstance that Ramsay, who was the inventor of the Legend and the first fabricator of the high degrees, was a native of Scotland and was born in the neighborhood of Kilwinning. To these degrees he gave the name of Scottish Masonry, in a spirit of nationality, and hence Scotland was supposed to be their birthplace. This is not, however, material to the present argument.

Wilke says that Harris and d'Aumont are not mentioned in the real history of the Templars and therefore, if they were Knights, they could not have had any prominence in the Order, and neither would have been likely to have been chosen by the fugitive Knights as their Grand Master. He concludes by saying that of course some of the fugitive Templars found their way to Scotland, and it may be believed that some of the brethren were admitted into the building fraternities, but that is no reason why either the Lodges of builders or the Knights of St. John should be considered as a continuation of the Templar Order, because they both received Templar fugitives, and the less so as the building guilds were not, like the Templars, composed of chivalrous and free-thinking worldlings, but of pious workmen who cherished the pure doctrines of religion.

The anxiety of certain theorists to connect Templarism with Freemasonry, has led to the invention of other fables, in which the Hiramic Legend of the Master's degree is replaced by others referring to events said to have occurred in the history of the knightly Order. The most ingenious of these is the following: Some time before the destruction of the Order of Templars, a certain Sub-prior of Montfaucon, named Carolus de Monte Carmel was murdered by three traitors. From the events that accompanied and followed this murder, it is said that an important part of the ritual of Freemasonry has been derived. The assassins of the Sub-prior of Montfaucon concealed his body in a grave, and in order to designate the spot, planted a young thorn-tree upon it. The Templars, in searching for the body, had their attention drawn to the spot by the tree, and in that way they discovered his remains.

The Legend goes on to recite the disinterring of the body and its removal to another grave, in striking similarity with the same events narrated in the Legend of Hiram. Another theory connects the martyrdom of James de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Templars, with the Legend of the third degree, and supposes that in that Legend, as now preserved in the Masonic ritual, Hiram has been made to replace de Molay, that the fact of the Templar fusion into Masonry might be concealed. Thus the events which in the genuine Masonic Legend are referred to Hiram Abif are, in the Templar Legend, made applicable to de Molay; the three assassins are said to be Pope Clement V., Philip the Fair, King of France, and a Templar named Naffodei, who betrayed the Order. They have even attempted to explain the mystical search for the body by the invention of a fable that on the night after de Molay had been burnt at the stake, certain Knights diligently sought for his remains amongst the ashes, but could find only some bones to which the flesh, though scorched, still adhered, but which it left immediately upon their being handled; and in this way they explain the origin of the substitute word, according to the mistranslation too generally accepted. Nothing could more clearly show the absurdity of the Legend than this adoption of a popular interpretation of the meaning of this word, made by someone utterly ignorant of the Hebrew language. The word, as is now well known to all scholars, has a totally different signification. But it is scarcely necessary to look to so unessential a part of the narrative for proof that the whole Legend of the connection of Templarism with Freemasonry is irreconcilable with the facts of history. The Legend of Bruce and Bannockburn has already been disposed of. The story has no historical foundation.

The other Legend, that makes d'Aumont and his companions founders of the Masonic Order in Scotland by amalgamating the Knights with the fraternity of builders, is equally devoid of an historical basis. But, besides, there is a feature of improbability if not of impossibility about it. The Knights Templars were an aristocratic Order, composed of high-born gentlemen who had embraced the soldier's life as their vocation, and who were governed by the customs of chivalry. In those days there was a much wider line of demarcation drawn between the various casts of society than exists at the present day.

The "belted knight" was at the top of the social scale, the mechanic at the bottom. It is therefore almost impossible to believe that because their Order had been suppressed, these proud soldiers of the Cross, whose military life had unfitted them for any other pursuit except that of arms, would have thrown aside their swords and their spurs and assumed the trowel; with the use of this implement and all the mysteries of the builder's craft they were wholly unacquainted. To have become Operative Masons, they must have at once abandoned all the prejudices of social life in which they had been educated. That a Knight Templar would have gone into some religious house as a retreat from the world whose usage of his Order had disgusted him, or taken refuge in some other chivalric Order, might reasonably happen, as was actually the case. But that these Knights would have willingly transformed themselves into Stonemasons and daily workmen is a supposition too absurd to extort belief even from the most credulous. We may then say that those legendists who have sought by their own invented traditions to trace the origin of Freemasonry to Templarism, or to establish any close connection between the two Institutions, have failed in their object. They have attempted to write a history, but they have scarcely succeeded in composing a plausible romance.