Schism: The Battle That Forged Freemasonry

Schism: The Battle That Forged Freemasonry

by Richard Berman


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Schism: The Battle That Forged Freemasonry by Richard Berman

This book examines the creation of the Antients Grand Lodge and traces the influence of Ireland and the London Irish, and most especially that of Laurence Dermott, the Antients' Grand Secretary, in the development of freemasonry in the second half of the eighteenth century. The book demonstrates the relative accessibility of the Antients and contrasts this with the exclusivity of the 'Moderns' — the original Grand Lodge of England. The Antients instigated what became a six decades long rivalry with the Moderns and pioneered fundamental changes to the social composition of freemasonry, extending formal sociability to the lower middling and working classes and creating one of the first modern friendly societies. Schism does not stand solely as an academic work but introduces the subject to a wider Masonic and non-Masonic audience and, most particularly, supplements dated historical works. The book contributes to the history of London and the London Irish in the long eighteenth century and examines the social and trade networks of the urban lower middling and working class, subjects that remains substantially unexplored. It also offers a prism through which Britain's calamitous relationship with Ireland can be examined.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845196073
Publisher: Sussex Academic Press
Publication date: 08/01/2013
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Ric Berman is a former senior visiting researcher at the University of Oxford’s Modern European History Research Centre and is currently a visiting research fellow at Oxford Brookes University. He is the author of Foundations of Modern Freemasonry.

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The Battle the Forged Freemasonry

By Ric Berman

Sussex Academic Press

Copyright © 2014 Ric Berman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84519-607-3


Laurence Dermott and the Antients Grand Lodge

If one were to search for a single point of origin at which London's émigré Irish began to veer away from the original Grand Lodge of England, it might be 11 December 1735. On that day, the minutes of English Grand Lodge record a meeting at the Devil Tavern in Temple Bar, central London. Three Grand Officers were absent. The Grand Master, Lord Weymouth, had 'received an express this morning from Paris concerning the death of his lordship's grandmother, the Lady Jersey so that he could not with decency attend the society this evening'; and Mr Ward, Deputy Grand Master, and Sir Edward Mansell, Senior Grand Warden, 'also happened to be out of town'. In their place, George Payne was 'desired to take the Chair as Grand Master' and 'Bro. Lambell and Dr Anderson ... took their seats as Grand Wardens pro tempore'. Martin Clare, the Junior Grand Warden, was elevated temporarily to Deputy Grand Master.

After opening the lodge and reading the minutes of the last Quarterly Communication and Charity Committee, the minutes record

Notice being given to the Grand Lodge that the Master and Wardens of a lodge from Ireland attended without desiring to be admitted by virtue of a Deputation from the Lord Kingston, present Grand Master of Ireland. But it appearing there was no particular recommendation from his Lordship in this affair, their Request could not be complied with, unless they would accept of a new Constitution here.

James King, the 4th lord Kingston (1693–1761), had served as Grand Master of English Grand Lodge in 1729, and in 1735, was sitting for the second time as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, having been elected in June. Given his Masonic standing and relative eminence as an Irish aristocrat, it may have been reasonable to expect that a deputation in his name would be welcomed with appropriate fraternal respect. However, with the excuse that 'there was no particular recommendation from his Lordship', the Irish were snubbed and their wish to be admitted 'could not be complied with'. The event stands out and, at least superficially, appeared to run against the fraternal philosophy that freemasonry professed to follow.

In his Introduction to the QCA transcript of Grand Lodge's minutes, William Songhurst explained the rebuff by noting 'the absence of fraternal intercourse' between the Antients and Moderns. And in an editorial footnote, he commented further that the decision to reject the Irish delegation 'seems to point to alterations having been made which prevented intervisitation':

We know that the premier Grand Lodge was not recognised either in Ireland or Scotland, though both maintained fraternal correspondence with the Antients. Recognition by the Grand Lodges in the sister kingdoms, and a union with the Grand Lodge of the Antients only became possible after the resolution passed by the Moderns in 1809 "that it is not necessary any longer to continue in force those measures which were resorted to in or about the year 1739 respecting irregular masons, and do therefore enjoin the several lodges to revert to the ancient land marks of the Society".

Despite these arguments having been widely accepted for many years, Songhurst's analysis is both inadequate and incorrect. First and most obviously, the Antients Grand Lodge did not come into existence until 1751, some sixteen years after the event under discussion; it was only after this point that the issue of a want of 'fraternal intercourse' between the two rival organisations developed. Second, a formal breakdown in the relationship between the Grand Lodge of Ireland and England did not develop until 1758, over two decades later. It was only in that year that Ireland recognised the Grand Lodge of the Antients formally as the sole legitimate grand lodge in England and broke off fraternal correspondence with the Moderns. Dublin's decision was linked to that of William Stewart, the 1st earl of Blessington, Grand Master of Ireland in 1738 and 1739 and a leading Irish aristocrat, who had agreed to become the Antients' first noble Grand Master two years earlier in 1756. Third, the Grand Lodge of Scotland did not recognise the Antients as the sole governing body of English freemasonry until even later, in 1773, when the 3rd duke of Atholl had become Grand Master of the Antients and was also appointed Grand Master elect of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. It was only at this point that Scotland entered into a formal Masonic pact with Ireland under which both grand lodges recognised the Antients Grand Lodge to the exclusion of the original Grand Lodge of England. The pact was a central thread in cementing the Masonic marginalisation of the Moderns in the late eighteenth century. It also reinforced a Masonic split between the Moderns and Scotland that had threatened for almost a decade. Where in 1762, the Grand Master of English Grand Lodge, Sholto Douglas, Lord Aberdour, had been the immediate past Grand Master of Scottish Grand Lodge, continuing a strong link between the two organisations, the following year the position had altered. From 1763 until 1765, Thomas Erskine, the 6th earl of Kellie, was both Grand Master of the Antients, where he presided from 1760 until 1766, and Grand Master of Scotland. Moreover, the 3 and 4 dukes of Atholl maintained the same strong association between the Antients and Scottish Grand Lodge, serving as Grand Masters of the Antients (1771–4, 1775–81, 1791–1813) while simultaneously sitting as Grand Masters of Scotland (1773–4, 1778–80, respectively).

But notwithstanding the historical inaccuracies, perhaps the most important issue for Songhurst and other historians seeking to explain the rejection of the Irish deputation is the argument that 'alterations [had] been made [to Masonic ritual] which prevented inter-visitation'. Although not often specified, there were two sets of changes. In the early 1720s, Desaguliers, George Payne and other leading figures at English Grand Lodge had modernised Masonic ritual, adopting a more Enlightenment style that promoted religious tolerance and brought education and entertainment into lodge meetings. However, this had not prevented inter-visitation and made freemasonry less popular. It had had the opposite effect. Between the early 1720s and the mid-and late 1730s, freemasonry grew almost geometrically, both in terms of its grass roots membership and the number of lodges accepting the authority of the new Grand Lodge of England. Although it is possible that Songhurst was referring to these alterations, it is more probable that he had in mind a second set of changes that took place in the late 1730s, some three or four years or so after the date on which the Irish deputation had been barred from admission to Grand Lodge. Regardless of the discrepancy between the dates, the second set of amendments to Masonic ritual were placed by Songhurst and others at the centre of the later dispute between the Antients and Moderns grand lodges. And given their role as the principal casus belli that instigated and sustained six decades of acrimony between the two organisations, it is appropriate to examine the issue in some detail.

The adoption by the Moderns of what the Antients criticised as 'innovative ritual' was termed 'the discard ... of the old unwritten traditions of the Order'. Two questions arise: first, did such changes occur; and second, how extensive and comprehensive were they. The answer to the first question is 'yes'. Why else would the Moderns have resolved in 1809 that it was no longer necessary for them to continue 'those measures which were resorted to in or about the year 1739'. However, the answer to the second point is harder to establish with clarity. Although the ritual used by Irish and Antients freemasons was at variance from that used by 'regular' English freemasons, the nature and extent of any divergence need to be understood in context. In addition, it is necessary to understand that the changes made in the late 1730s were demonstrably less radical and considerably less far-reaching than often supposed.

In the eighteenth century, Masonic ritual took slightly different forms in each of England, Ireland and Scotland. It is known and accepted that lodge practice also varied on a regional basis within each country and that it often differed materially from lodge to lodge. This was partly a function of an oral tradition that thwarted homogeneity, something that was achieved only later when ritual was written down. However, it was also the case that many individual lodges determined for themselves the precise nature of the ritual that they followed. Indeed, at least in the mid-eighteenth century, there was also a financial incentive to promoting and occasionally inventing additional Masonic ceremonies: extra fees could be levied by a lodge as members progressed from lower to higher degrees. It is not unreasonable to believe that this may have been a relatively important motive behind the initial spread of the Royal Arch in England and Ireland, where it only appeared on the Masonic scene in the 1730s and 1740s. And it is significant that, despite its relatively recent introduction into the Masonic ceremonial, the Royal Arch was later championed by the Antients as a principal differentiator between it and the Moderns and held out as providing evidence of the former's greater historical legitimacy and adherence to 'ancient' tradition. Tangentially, it is somewhat ironic that it was probably the popularity among freemasons of the many eighteenth-century exposés published in Britain, France and elsewhere that prompted greater uniformity in the forms of ritual used within the lodge. But standardisation in freemasonry only developed more substantially in the nineteenth century once an agreed form had been documented and disseminated by the then merged United Grand Lodge of England. And differences persisted even then. An obvious example is Bristol and the West Country, where the Masonic ritual employed had a strong commonality with that practiced in Ireland. The relationship was based on longstanding commercial ties which were mirrored in freemasonry, with merchants and traders forming and reinforcing Masonic bonds through inter-visitation and common lodge membership. Similar attachments extended to the London Irish: the first two Antients lodges to be warranted outside of London, Nos 24 and 25, were established in Bristol in October 1753. Further examples of the genre can be found in Appendix VI, which details the members of the lodge at the Ship behind the Royal Exchange and their relationships with Ireland.

Turning to the specifics of the accusations levied at the Moderns, the most common Antients complaint was that 'in or about 1739', the traditional passwords and handshakes that comprised the accepted form of Masonic recognition in the first and second degree ceremonies were transposed. The switch had purportedly been made at the suggestion of English Grand Lodge to exclude those masons whose knowledge had been gleaned from the press rather than from participating in the ceremonial. However, such a ruse would have become known rapidly. An alternative and more probable explanation is that such changes were introduced instead as an excuse to bar those thought to be of insufficient social standing. This is discussed in more detail below.

Other – lesser – Irish and Antients' criticism was directed at what was viewed as the over-secularisation of freemasonry and the omission of Christian symbolism; changes to the way in which initiates were prepared; the failure to recite the Old Charges in full (a lengthy process); and failing to use a sword in the initiation ceremony. Two further objections were directed at the use of 'stewards' to undertake roles performed in Ireland by 'deacons'; and, perhaps more tellingly, that the Moderns did not allow additional degrees to be worked in the lodge. Most of these complaints were relatively minor or even specious, and virtually all might be regarded as being undermined by the reality of eighteenth- century Masonic practice. As noted, given that Masonic ritual varied nationally, regionally and from lodge to lodge, such differences, whether minor or major, were sometimes the rule rather than an aberration. Examining the matter objectively, one can conclude with respect to ritual that in most areas of substance, the Moderns and Antients and their respective bodies of freemasons were largely aligned. Support for this interpretation is provided in Hiram, published in 1766, which set out to compare the two forms of ritual. The book confirms the extent to which the two overlapped and makes clear the absence of any material contradictions. This should not be a surprise. There is only modest evidence that points to Masonic ritual being the primary motive for the creation of Antients freemasonry and the principal cause of the later schism. In short, the issue has been misunderstood. But if ritual was not the central factor, what was?

The work of two Victorian historians, Robert Gould and Henry Sadler, underpins the received explanation of the dispute between the Antients and Moderns and how the Antients Grand Lodge came to be established. Gould's synopsis was based substantially on the minutes of what he dismissively called 'that schismatic body, commonly, but erroneously, termed the Antient Masons' and was limited to an analysis of freemasonry itself. Anecdotally, despite his partiality against the 'schismatics', Gould was surprisingly appreciative of the effectiveness of Laurence Dermott, the Antients' Grand Secretary, whom he termed 'the most remarkable mason of that time'. And he was correspondingly critical of the original Grand Lodge of England, Lord Byron, the then Grand Master, and its wider leadership, noting that their actions and inactions allowed the Antients to gain traction in London and elsewhere.

Sadler's assessment of the Antients focused more directly – and correctly – on the influence of the predominant majority 'Irish faction' in the new rival Antients Grand Lodge and its constituent lodges. However, unlike Gould, Sadler argued pedantically that since the London Irish had not been members of English lodges, it would be wrong to term the rivalry between the two organisations and their respective members a schism. Sadler's argument was based on the seeming tautology that, by definition, one cannot leave or fracture an organisation of which one has not been a member. He therefore contended that no schism had occurred and that the presence of two competing grand lodges was an aberration. This was a nonsense. But it was accepted without serious question in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Even a century later, Dashwood, writing in support of Sadler, made the quasi-legalistic observation that the position could not have been otherwise since no 'exclusive territorial jurisdiction [for freemasonry] had [then] been formulated'.

Sadler's approach, and that of many subsequent commentators, ignored the evidence. Moderns freemasons did join the Antients, and sometimes vice versa. Why else would the Moderns and Antients Grand Lodges sanction members who joined their respective rival? The Moderns insisted that their members meet only under their jurisdiction. Those who did otherwise risked expulsion. And the Antients took a parallel view:

if any lodge under the ancient constitution of England ... shall have in their possessions any authority from the Grand Lodge of Moderns or in any manner assemble or meet under such authority, [they] shall be deemed unworthy of associating with the members of the Ancient Community and the warrant they hold under this Right Worshipful Grand Lodge shall be immediately cancelled.

Sadler also disregarded the London Irish who were prevented or dissuaded from joining English lodges. This had been the case since the late 1730s, and probably earlier if the reaction to Lord Kingston's deputation to Grand Lodge is a guide. And he may have purposefully overlooked those freemasons who were ejected from regular English freemasonry and later found their way to the Antients. With almost a quarter of lodges expelled by the original Grand Lodge of England during the decade to 1750, the exodus is likely to have contributed substantially to the speed with which Antients freemasonry developed.


Excerpted from Schism by Ric Berman. Copyright © 2014 Ric Berman. Excerpted by permission of Sussex Academic Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of Tables,
List of Illustrations,
CHAPTER ONE Laurence Dermott and Antients Grand Lodge,
CHAPTER TWO Antients Freemasonry and the London Irish,
CHAPTER THREE The Antients' General Register,
CHAPTER FOUR London's Magistracy and the London Irish,
CHAPTER FIVE An Age of Decline – English Grand Lodge, 1740–1751,
CHAPTER SIX Masonic Misrule, Continued,
CHAPTER SEVEN The King's Arms Lodge,
CHAPTER EIGHT The Anglo-Irish: Ascendancy and Alienation,
List of Abbreviations,
Appendix Titles,
Notes & Selected Bibliography,

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