Politics in 18th Century Freemasonry


From the closing charge in the 1st degree

 “quote “ - By abstaining from every topic of religious or political discussion. -  “unquote “ 


This rule was included in the first edition of the constitution produced by Br. James Anderson for the Grand Lodge of England. Our general understanding of the purpose of this rule is to avoid any animosity among the brethren, or disharmony in the lodge due to differences in religious or political opinions, persuasions or affiliations. But was that the original intent of the rule? Well, perhaps we’ll find out as we go along.


The eighteenth century was a turbulent era in the British Isles and the politics of the British government and politics in freemasonry were inseparable. This situation was not caused by freemasonry but by the British government and by whoever happened to be sitting on the throne of Britain at the time. There were three different sovereign dynasties that occupied the throne during the eighteenth century. The first of these was the Stewart dynasty which by all accounts were very popular with the population and had ruled the kingdom since the Union of the Crowns in 1603. Their reign was broken for a short time by Oliver Cromwell, but after his death the Stewarts were brought back by popular demand. Although the Stewarts were popular with population, they were not popular with the British government for a variety of reasons, who had apparently decided that they’d had enough of the Stewarts. They brought in a Dutchman, William Prince of Orange and crowned him king while James 2nd Stewart was still on the throne. This could be considered a very broad hint to James who took the hint and skedaddled off to France, taking a bunch of his supporters with him and immediately started planning on how the Stewarts could reclaim the throne of Britain and of course the British Empire which was a lot to lose. So started what became known as the Jacobite cause, the great effort to bring back the Stewarts.


On the death of William of Orange the British government brought over from Germany Prince George of Hanover and crowned him king of Britain. He proved to be very unpopular not only in Scotland and Ireland but also in England and the British Isles were politically divided between the new Hanoverian dynasty and the deposed Stewart dynasty. Unfortunately this situation also affected freemasonry and a rift appeared between the lodges. Those who supported King George and those who supported the Jacobite cause.


The lodges became known as Hanoverian lodges and Jacobite lodges and the craft became divided into Hanoverian Masonry and Jacobite Masonry.

In 1715 the Stewarts made a poorly organized and half hearted attempt at regaining the throne. It was very quickly defeated but was obviously a heads up to the British Government and the consolidation of support for King George became a priority throughout all areas of the population, including Freemasonry. In the case of Freemasonry this was achieved by the advent of the first Grand Lodge of England.

Whenever politics are involved, as I’m sure we are all aware, half truths and downright lies can be expected.

We, as Masons, are given to understand that in the year 1717 four London lodges gathered together in the Goose and Gridiron pub in London, and between them decided to start the first Grand lodge of England. Although the likely hood of this event is not impossibility, it is highly unlikely. The fact that the four lodges were Hanoverian lodges and that after the event there was much celebration, feasting and toasting of King George tends to suggest that the whole affair had been orchestrated, probably by some agent or agency of the British Government. It turned out to be a successful ploy for within a few months another fifty two Hanoverian lodges joined the new Grand Lodge, with more joining as time wore on, the idea being to isolate the Jacobite lodges. In 1745 another attempt by the Stewarts to regain the throne by Charles Edward Stewart ( Bonnie Prince Charlie ) with disastrous results.

The bonnie Prince then decided that enough was enough and he took his family and beetled off to Italy where he remained in exile for the rest of his life. By 1746 the Jacobite cause was dead in the water and the Jacobite lodges became as politically useless as a one armed paper hanger.

Likewise the Jacobite lodges in France which had been founded by the supporters of the cause, although I am given to understand that French Masonic lodges continued to be politically involved in the political arena of their country.

But Jacobite Masonry as opposed to Hanoverian Masonry continued to be an issue. There was already another Grand Lodge, claiming the title of Grand Lodge of England but was provincial rather than national. It was the Grand Lodge of York, a stronghold of Jacobite Masonry. So there started a long drawn out series of negotiations to get the Grand Lodge of York ( the ancients ) under the protective wing of the Grand Lodge of England ( the moderns ). The negotiations took almost one hundred years before it was all finalized and the United Grand Lodge of England came into being in 1813, no doubt with the support and/or backing of the British Government. Why did it take so long? Well, not because of the Jacobite cause , that had faded into history by that time. It was mainly because of the differences between Jacobite Masonry and Hanoverian Masonry.


Jacobite Masonry offered higher degrees called Capitular Masonry, beyond the three craft degrees, consisting of the Mark Master Mason’s Degree, the Most Excellent Master’s Degree and the Royal Arch Degree, as well as the Royal Ark Mariners Degree, while Hanoverian Masonry only offered the three craft degrees, as it still does to this day with the spurious claim that there are only three degrees in Freemasonry with the master mason‘s degree being the highest degree in Masonry. A modified ritual, acceptable to both Grand Lodges, was eventually approved, and the marriage of the Grand Lodges consummated. The member lodges of the Grand Lodge of York however, were not about to lose their higher degrees and another Grand Lodge appeared on the scene. It is the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales which offered the Mark Master Mason’s degree and the Royal Ark Mariner’s degree. This Grand Lodge is not united with the United Grand Lodge of England.

Also another Grand Lodge, or rather Grand Chapter appeared. This was and is the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England and Wales which offers the three Capituler degrees. This Grand Chapter is also not unites with the United Grand Lodge of England.

And so, to refer back to my initial paragraph, did Brother Anderson include that particular rule in the first constitutions to avoid disharmony in the lodge, or to prevent Freemasonry from being a political force in future?

Politics can be that devious.

There is strangely enough, an ironic twist to this tale. The V.S.L. on which we all take our obligations, is the King James version of the bible. This particular King James was King James Stewart 1st of England. So the Hanoverian Masons did, and still do, like the rest of us, take their obligation on what may rightly be termed a Jacobite bible.


W.B. Bill Douglas

Kenilworth Lodge #29 A.F & A.M. G.R.A.