Spain and Portugal are doubtless the two European countries whose
history of Freemasonry was the most dramatic and
the periods of anti-Masonic repression the most brutal.
The omnipresence of the Roman Catholic Church, fierce adversary of
Free Masonry and its tolerance in religious matters until
the end of the twentieth century, and its broad implication in
political affairs in these countries, was certainly instrumental.
The first Spanish Lodge was founded in 1728 in Madrid, by the Duke of
Wharton, past Grand-Master of the Grand Lodge of London, exiled because of
his loyalty to the Stuart cause. It was highly successful but the
persecutions started as of 1740, when King Phillip V decided to
obey the bull of Pope Clement XII. Masons were banished, imprisoned,
condemned to the galleys. Freemasonry continued to evolve, however,
among the English and French living in Spain.
The situation worsened again in 1751 when King Ferdinand VI
authorised the Inquisition to persecute the Brethren. Conditions
returned to normal under the reign of Charles III and in
1780 the "Grand Orient of Spain" was founded, whose first Grand-Master
was a Minister, the Count of Aranda.
There were only two Lodges in Portugal at the time of the
excommunication pronounced in 1738 by Clement XII. One had mostly English and
French members, the other Irish Catholics. The second was thus immediately
to become the target of the Inquisition and had to cease all activities, while the first
was able to discreetly continue its work for five years before its
Worshipful Master, a Frenchman, was arrested together with several
of his Brethren, tortured and sent to the galleys.
The situation improved temporarily under the liberal reign of Joseph II
(1750-1777) before worsening again.
During the Napoleonic Empire, Spain as well as Portugal saw numerous
English and French soldiers confront each other on their soil.
As far as the French were concerned, it must be kept in mind that some fought
in Napoleon’s armies, while many others had rallied the English cause.
Masons were numerous on both sides, and this period was
therefore rather favourable to Freemasonry.
In particular, the Frenchman de Grasse-Tilly founded the
"Supreme Counsel of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite " of Spain
in 1811. At that same time, Portugal numbered 13 Lodges, often
founded in the wake of the Freemason generals Junot, Soult and
After the fall of the Empire, renewed periods alternately of persecution
and calm succeed each other, depending on the political fortunes
of the period. We must note here that the fact that Freemasons
were numerous in the Napoleonic and English armies as well
as among the revolutionaries who obtained the independence
of the Spanish colonies in South America (Bolivar,
San-Martin and Mosquera, among others, were Freemasons) was
probably not beneficial to the image of Freemasonry in Spain,
to say the least. Under the dictatorship of Dom Miguel,
more than 600 Brethren would be murdered in Lisbon. In Spain, many
Freemasons were decapitated, hanged or garrotted.
In Portugal it was not until 1833, with the return of Queen
Maria II, and 1868 in Spain at the fall of Queen Isabella, that the
situation improved somewhat, in spite of still frequent
vicissitudes causing often confusing conditions. There were
however not more than some 6000 Freemasons in Spain
until the 1930s.
As in many other Continental European countries, the twentieth
century was also to be grim for Freemasonry in the Iberian
Peninsula, since from the 1930s onward the regimes of the dictators
Salazar et Franco would again totally proscribe
Freemasonry, to which they reproached principally its
tolerance towards Protestantism, its English origin and its
liberal ideas. Particularly in Spain, the Freemasons who fell into the
hands of Franco’s troops during the civil war were
systematically executed. It seems that after the civil war
certain others were "sold" by Franco to the United States to avoid
being put to death.
Since the return of democracy in the two countries in the 1970s,
Freemasonry was progressively revived. It is worthy of note that after
three centuries of hostility, the Catholic Church seems no longer to
be opposed to it in the Iberian Peninsula, in as much as its " Cannon
Law " no longer explicitly excommunicates Freemasons, its influences
in civil society is diminished and some of its standpoints have
evolved considerably in the period of the Vatican II Council.
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