History of Freemasonry in France

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Masonic symbols (sword of Lafayette).

Freemasonry in France has a long and varied history.

Historiography[edit]

Until the mid 20th century, the history of Freemasonry was excluded from classic-style history syllabi in universities. Particularly in France, Masonic historiography was thus almost entirely divided between authors who were vehemently pro- or anti-Freemasonry (with the former often being masons themselves).[1] Since then, Freemasonry's political influence has diminished, and its historical conflict with France's Roman Catholic church (also now less politically powerful) has been if not resolved then at least appeased. This climate has been more favourable to the application of classic historical principles and methods to Masonic historiography, allowing it to develop and form a discipline of its own, "Masonology",[1] devoted to a wider and more neutral study of the highly varied cultural and intellectual universe formed by European Freemasonry in general and French Freemasonry in particular.

French Freemasonry offers the historian several documents (manuscripts, diplomas, engravings, caricatures, journal articles and other printed material) as well as a large number of objects relating to both ritual (Masonic aprons, tablets, vessels, medals) and everyday life (pipes, clocks, tobacco boxes and faience decorative art) that have been put on show in many museums and permanent exhibitions. However, the main sources in this area remain the manuscripts, especially the manuscripts cabinet at the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the municipal library of Lyon. In 2001, the Russian government repatriated (among other things) all the Masonic archives which had been confiscated by the Nazis during their occupation of Europe - these had been held at Moscow since 1945.[1]

Course[edit]

Ancien Régime[edit]

Origins[edit]

According to a tradition dating to 1777, the first Masonic lodge in France was founded in 1688 by the Royal Irish Regiment, which followed James II of England into exile, under the name "La Parfaite Égalité" of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Historians think such an event is likely, but it can never be proved conclusively.[2] The same can be said of the first lodge of English origin, "Amitié et Fraternité", founded in 1721 at Dunkerque[3] The first lodge whose existence is historically certain[4] was founded by some Englishmen in Paris "around the year 1725". It met at the house of the traiteur Huré on rue des Boucheries, "in the manner of English societies", and mainly brought together Irishmen and Jacobite exiles. It is quite probable that it was this lodge that in 1732 received official patents from the Grand Lodge of London under the lodge-name "Saint Thomas", meeting at the sign of the "Louis d'Argent", still on the rue des Boucheries.

In 1728, the Freemasons decided to recognise Philip Wharton, 1st Duke of Wharton (1698–1731) as "grand-master of the Freemasons in France". Wharton was staying in Paris and Lyon from 1728 to 1729, and in 1723 had already become grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of London.[5] His nomination as French grandmaster, prior to the transformation of the "Grand Lodge of London" into the "Grand Lodge of England in 1738, is considered by some historians as a point of departure for French Freemasonry and a declaration of its independence from British Freemasonry. He was succeeded as grandmaster of the French Freemasons by the Jacobites James Hector MacLean (1703-1750) and then Charles Radcliffe, Earl of Derwentwater (1693-1746).

If the existence of a grandmaster in France is already attested in 1728, it took ten more years for a true assembly of representatives from all the "English" and "Scottish" lodges[6] to form the first Grande Loge de France on 24 June 1738 and set up Louis de Pardaillan de Gondrin (1707–1743), 2nd Duke of Antin, as "general and perpetual Grand Master in the kingdom of France". It was this Grand Lodge which gave birth to the French Masonic jurisdictions which still exist today.

1730s[edit]

In December 1736, the chevalier de Ramsay pronounced a discourse in which he propounded the idea of a chivalric origin for Freemasonry.[7] This idea later had a definite influence on the instigation in French Freemasonry from 1740 to 1770 of a large number of Masonic Upper Degrees, which later regrouped around different Masonic Rites.

18th century Masonic plate from France

The first revelation of Masonic secrets to the French public dates to 1737, and the following year these were published in the La Gazette de Hollande under the title La réception d'un frey-maçon ("The reception of a Freemason"), drawing on investigations by René Hérault, lieutenant of police, and the testimony of a Miss Carton, a dancer at the Opéra, to whom a Mason had told the secrets. The police interest reflects the absolute monarchy's fears of the dangers it could incur from a "society admitting people of all estates, conditions, religions, and in which may be found a large number of foreigners". It therefore forbade "all traiteurs, cabaretiers, aubergistes and others from receiving the aforesaid assemblies of freys-maçons". However, this did not stop them meeting, under the protection of figures from the high nobility, such as the duke of Antin. Other investigations occurred from 1740 to 1745, giving rise to highly detailed police reports that now constitute a precious source for historians of Freemasonry. These investigations were also accompanied by arrests and light sentences, until Freemasonry definitively became part of French social life, with condemnations and sentences emanating from the monarchy ending around the end of the 18th century.[8]

Philippe d'Orléans as Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France

The year 1738 also saw the condemnation of Freemasonry in the papal bull In eminenti apostolatus of Pope Clement XII. This was the signal for a wave of anti-Masonic persecutions across European countries more loyal to the see of Rome, but not in France, where the bull was refused registration by the Parliament of Paris for political reasons (a bull had to be registered by the Parliament to take effect in France.[9] French Freemasonry thus very quickly became mainly Catholic in composition, including several priests,[10] and remained so until the French Revolution.

1740 to 1788[edit]

In the 1740s an original and mixed-sex form of Freemasonry, known as "Masonry of Adoption" arose among the high French aristocracy, of which the duchess of Bourbon-Condé, sister of the duke of Chartres,[clarification needed] was Grand Mistress. In 1743, after the death of the duke of Antin, Louis de Bourbon-Condé (1709-1771), count of Clermont, prince of the blood and future member of the Académie française, succeeded him as "Grand Master of all regular lodges in France". He remained in office until his death in 1771. Around 1744 there were around 20 lodges in Paris and 20 in the provinces.[11] Lodges in the provinces were most often founded by Masons out of Paris on business or via the intermediary of military lodges in regiments passing through a region - where a regiment with a military lodge left its winter quarters, it was common for it to leave behind the embryo of a new civil lodge there. The many expressions of military origin still used in Masonic banquets of today date to this time, such as the famous "canon" (cannon, meaning a glass) or "poudre forte" (strong gunpowder, meaning the wine).

In 1771, Louis Philippe d'Orléans (1747-1793) succeeded the comte de Clermont as grandmaster. Under his authority and with the support of the provincial lodges for action against the hegemony of the lodges in Paris, the Grande Loge de France was re-organised and in 1773 changed its name to the Grand Orient de France, which accounted for 600 lodges. Only some "Vénérables", mainly Parisians, refused to give up being president-for-life of their lodges, resisting this reform by forming a "Grand Lodge of Clermont" which lasted until May 1799.

1789 to 1815[edit]

Revolution[edit]

Lodges in France in 1789[12]
Nicolas Perseval, The Union of the Three Orders, c. 1789 - The painter has depicted the union of the orders taking place in front of the entrance to a Masonic Temple.
Table of the "Bonaparte" lodge, c.1810

After the French Revolution, the Jesuit Augustin Barruel wrote that Freemasons had actively prepared the 1789 revolution, which has been used to back theories of a Masonic plot. This thesis was often reprised later, notably during the French Third Republic, by Catholic authors (using it to oppose both the Republic and Freemasonry) and by Freemasons (so as to reinforce their pro-Republican stance and their positive image with the Republican government). In reality, there were Freemasons in both the Republican and monarchical camps. The Duke of Luxembourg, right-hand man to the Grand Master and moving-force behind the creation of the Grand Orient de France, emigrated in July 1789 and an aristocratic lodge known as "La Concorde" fled from Dijon as early as August 1789.[13] Having become "Philippe-Égalité", the Grand Master of the Grand Orient himself publicly renounced Freemasonry[citation needed] in 1793 shortly before being executed by guillotine.

Even though the Grand Orient proclaimed its attachment to the democratic form of government from January 1789 onwards, it was forced to cease its activities by the Terror between 1793 and 1796, and of the nearly 1000 lodges active on the eve of the Revolution only 75 were in a fit state to resume their activities in 1800.[14] Nevertheless, by their functioning in the years before the Revolution, these lodges had assumed a certain independence from the State and the Church, probably giving rise to new aspirations. Among active Freemasons in the Revolutionary period were Mirabeau, Choderlos de Laclos and Rouget de l'Isle, writer of the national anthem "La Marseillaise". In the French Egyptomania which followed their invasion of Egypt in 1799, around 1810 the Rite of Misraïm and "Egyptian" Freemasonry appeared among French troops based in Italy, later spreading to France in 1814.

First Empire[edit]

The plebiscite of 6 November 1804 legitimized the First French Empire of Napoleon I. In the following days, Masons learned that his brother Joseph Bonaparte had been named Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, with its administration effectively placed in the hand of Jean-Jacques-Régis de Cambacérès. One legend states that Napoleon himself had been a Mason, but comments he made on Saint Helena seem clear proof of the opposite:

A young woman received into a lodge of adoption during the First French Empire.

During the First Empire, the Grand Orient de France was under strict control from the political authorities[16] and little by little gathered almost all of French Freemasonry (which had newly developed and quickly reached 1,200 lodges, mainly military ones) under its aegis.[16] Nevertheless, in 1804 count Alexandre de Grasse-Tilly (1765–1845) came to France from his birthplace in the Antilles with powers assigned him by the Supreme Council of Charleston, founded in 1802. He established a Supreme Council of France and contributed to the creation of a "General Scottish Grand Lodge of France", under the protection of Kellerman. State centralism demanded the merger of these two institutions, which happened some years later.

1815 to 1850[edit]

Masonic banquet around 1840.

In 1814, at the start of the Bourbon Restoration, the count of Grasse-Tilly reawakened the conflict between the Grand Orient de France (wanting to be the unified centre of all French Freemasonry) and the Supreme Council of France (jealous of the independence of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite) which then lasted until the end of the century. The First Empire's final fall the following year majorly weakened French Freemasonry, which had been one of the Empire's key pillars,[17] with the number of lodges falling to 300 around the end of the year 1820.[18]

Throughout the 19th century French Freemasonry little by little made itself more democratic and more politicised - several Freemasons were among the revolutionaries of the July Revolution and, with the exceptions of Lamartine and Ledru-Rollin, all the members of the provisional government of 1848 were also Freemasons.[19] Lodges also became more and more anticlerical as Catholics left them in the wake of repeated papal excommunications (these had come into force in France through Napoleon's 1801 concordat).

Second Empire[edit]

In 1851, Napoleon III put an end to the Second French Republic and initiated the Second French Empire. As his uncle had done before him, he offered his protection to French Freemasonry.[16] He got the Grand Orient de France to agree to elect Prince Murat as its Grand Master but it did not wish to be represented by Murat. In 1862 they gained permission to elect a different representative and Napoleon III decided to name his successor himself - this was Maréchal Magnan, who was not already a Mason and so had to go through all 33 ranks of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in rapid succession to take up the post. The imperial decree had forgotten to mention the other French Masonic Rite, and so the "Scottish Rite",[20] under the academician Jean Viennet (1777–1868), only just managed to maintain its independence.

Two years later, the emperor newly authorised the Grand Orient to elect its Grand Master. Magnan was elected and remained Grand Master until his death in 1865 (the archbishop of Paris gave Magnan's absolution before his coffin, which was draped with Masonic insignia, for which he was criticised by the Pope). Learning its lesson from this authoritarian period, the Grand Orient suppressed the role of Grand Master at the end of the Second Empire, putting its leadership instead in the hands of a "President of the Council of the Order".

In 1869 there was a dispute between the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge of Louisiana in the United States over recognizing a Lodge that the GLL did not recognize. This was a prelude to the schism of Continental Freemasonry.

Paris Commune[edit]

In 1870 the Grand Orient de France numbered around 18,000 Freemasons and the Scottish Rite around 6,000.[21] March 1871 saw the start of the Paris Commune, in which Parisian Freemasons were heavily involved. Thirifocq, a militant socialist and member of the "le libre Examen" lodge of the Supreme Council of France, demanded that Masonic banners be set up on Paris's ramparts and that they should be "avenged" should they be torn by the bullets of the anti-Commune forces. Many Freemasons figured among the revolutionaries, including Jules Vallès and Élisée Reclus. On 29 April 1871 several thousand Freemasons of both obediences gathered behind dozens of banners for a large demonstration gathered before the Versaillan forces. This demonstration was followed by a meeting between two emissaries of the Commune (including Thirifocq) and Adolphe Thiers, which ended in failure and in the crushing of the Commune by the Versaillans. Unlike the Parisian lodges, those in the provinces did not support the Commune, on whose fall the Grand Orient officially disavowed the action of the Parisian lodges and rallied to Thiers and the French Third Republic, in which it was to play a leading role.

1875-1899[edit]

Jacques France (1879), Masonic Marianne.

On 8 July 1875, Jules Ferry (future minister of public education of the republic) and Émile Littré (author of the eponymous dictionary) were initiated in the "la Clémente Amitié" lodge. The French Republic wished to open secular schools throughout its territory and so entered into an open conflict with the Catholic Church, which opposed the opening of secular schools. It was in this context that the Grand Orient, which at this time made its support for the Republic official, decided in 1877 to abolish its requirement that its members believe in the existence of God and the immortality of the soul and for its lodges to work "for the Glory of the Great Architect of the Universe". In theory each lodge remained free to choose whether or not to continue respecting this former landmark of Freemasonry, but (in a climate poisoned by 30 years of open conflict between the Republic and the former state religion of Catholicism) in practice all references to religion would be phased out of the rituals of the Grand Orient.

The decision to admit Atheists was not universally approved in France and led, in 1894, to a schism in French Freemasonry. The lodges wishing to require a belief in Deity broke off from the Grand Orient and formed Grande Loge de France (the second organization of that name).[22]

As for the Scottish Rite of the Supreme Council of France, the traditional obligation was not suppressed, but Grand Commander Crémieux in 1876 brought back into force that his jurisdiction should not impose "any form to the Grand Architect of the Universe".[citation needed] The Supreme Council also faced a secession by lodges of the three upper degrees, which intended to move out from under its patronage. In the end it granted them their independence, merging them into the Grande Loge de France.

From 1893 to 1899, France saw the formation of the first mixed-sex mainstream Masonic obedience, which rapidly became international - the Ordre mixte international du Droit humain, which also adopted the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.

1900-present[edit]

1900-1918[edit]

French Freemasonry began the 20th century with the Affaire Des Fiches, a scandal that left lasting traces and which bore witness to its implication in the politics of the era. It began in 1901 when general André, minister for war and Freemason, asked for the philosophical and religious convictions of some 27,000 officers, to help their advancement. Hundreds of Freemasons across the country sent in this information. In 1904 the press seized on the affair, causing a huge scandal and leading to the dismissal of general André.[23]

In 1913 two lodges ("le Centre des Amis" and the "Loge Anglaise 204") left the Grand Orient and founded the "National Independent and Regular Grand Lodge", which was immediately recognised by the United Grand Lodge of England and until the 1960s remained mainly driven by Englishmen or Americans resident in France. In 1948 changed its name to the Grande Loge Nationale Française, which it still bears today.

Though the pacifist current which appeared in France before World War I also manifested itself in Freemasonry, as in other countries this current disappeared with the start of the war and the first cabinet of the "Union sacrée" included 9 Freemasons. An international conference in January 1917 held at the Grande Loge de France included many European obediences. It launched an appeal for the creation of the League of Nations, and a similar conference in June that same year representatives from 16 Allied or neutral obediences at the Grand Orient de France had the same objectives.[24]

1918-1945[edit]

After losses in the First World War, Freemasonry resumed its growth - the Grand Orient de France rose from 23,000 members in 1919 to 33,000 in the 1930s, whilst the Grande Loge de France rose from 6300 members to 16,000 in the same period.[24]

Although a request by Antonio Graziadei to specifically forbid members of the Communist party from also being Freemasons had been rejected as the condition seemed "too obvious", the continued masonic connections of many French communists led to a specific condemnation by Leon Trotsky in 1922, and an ultimatum that they should publicly sever such links by the new year.[25] Most socialist Freemasons who had chosen the French Communist Party after the split at the congress of Tours then left the party. Some of the lodges closed down in Russia by the Bolsheviks were re-formed in France by Russian refugees - "Astrée" within the Grande Loge, "l'étoile du Nord" and "la Russie libre" within the Grand Orient.[24]

In the inter-war period, French Freemasonry occupied a major place in the political appearance of the Republic and was strongly implicated in its struggles. It was thus particularly affected by the Republic's fall during the Battle of France in 1940. The Vichy regime and the German occupying forces united in October 1940 to organise an important anti-Masonic exhibition which toured throughout France. Its general theme affirmed the existence of a plot against France which had led to the country's fall and which according to the theses of the Action française had been organised by "the Jew, the Protestant, the Mason and the Foreigner". A secret-societies service was set up in 1941, which studied articles confiscated from such societies and published "Les documents maçonniques", a review which saw in Freemasonry one of the principal causes of France's defeat. A law of 1941 also applied the "statute on the Jews" to Freemasons. An anti-Masonic film, titled "Forces occultes", was produced and shown in Paris in 1943.[26]

Flyleaf of a Masonic diploma witnessing to a purge, 1945

A thousand French Freemasons were also deported or killed during the Second World War, mostly for involvement in French Resistance activities or due to their Jewish origins, with Masonic Temples pillaged and their archives confiscated. However, fellow-feeling that arose between Gaullists, Communists and Freemasons working in the Resistance against a common enemy meant that, in the post-war period, the Communist condemnation of Freemasonry diminished considerably in France.

When lodges revived on the France's liberation, purge committees were often spontaneously put in place. However, the total number of active French Freemasons had fallen by two-thirds[27] and French Freemasonry took twenty years to regain its pre-war numbers and never recovered the political and social influence it had had under the First Empire, during the 1848 Revolution and under the Third Republic, preferring instead to turn to philosophical reflections that became ever more spiritual in nature.[28] Also in 1945, the Freemasons of the lodges of adoption within the Grande Loge de France formed a "Women's Masonic Union of France" ("Union maçonnique féminine de France"), which in 1952 became the Grande Loge féminine de France. In 1959, this obedience abandoned the rite of adoption in favour of the Scottish Rite.

Postwar splits and unifications[edit]

In 1958, some brothers of the Grande Loge nationale française disagreed with its non-recognition of other French obediences and split to form the "Grande Loge nationale française dite « Opéra »", which has since then become the Grande Loge traditionnelle et symbolique Opéra (GLTSO). In 1964, the Grande Loge de France signed an accord with the Grand Orient de France which provoked a break within itself and within the Supreme Council of France. Grand Commander Charles Riandey, accompanied by hundreds of brothers, thus left the Supreme Council to form another under the aegis of the Grande Loge nationale française, known as the "Supreme Council for France".

Since the 1970s, there have been several splits which have given rise to many small obediences, as well as many micro-obediences and independent lodges. Though the seriousness of some of them is unanimously recognised, others' conformity to Masonic traditions is not always well-established. Some authors[29] see in this tendency a reflection of the individualist atomisation and rejection of institutions which (according to them) now characterises modern-day French society. On 20 February 2002 the Grand Masters, Grand Mistresses and Presidents of nine Masonic obediences[30] met in Paris to sign the founding text of "French Freemasonry" ("Maçonnerie française"), an expression originated as a 'brandname' by the Grand Orient de France. Its text went as follows :

[citation needed]

In October 2002, this collection of obediences created the Masonic Institute of France (Institut maçonnique de France, or IMF), with the aim of "promoting the cultural image of French Freemasonry across the historic, literary and artistic inheritance and its diversity" and of "rediscovering, deepening and making better-known to all interested members of the public the cultural and ethical values of Freemasonry". The IMF is both a foundation for Masonic culture and a study and research centre. It organises an annual salon on Mason books and awards a literary prize to an author who is not a Mason but defends ideas and values close to those of Freemasonry. However, in July 2006, the Grande Loge de France decided to leave the association formed in 2002 and the Grand Orient de France decided to annul the 'brand name' "Maçonnerie Française" with the INPI.

In France, there are some 11 Grand Lodges, few of which officially recognize the legitimacy of the others. However, in June 2005, the Grande Loge Nationale Française and the Grande Loge de France took steps to improve their fraternal working relations by signing a "Protocole Administratif", allowing them to cooperate with each other at a level below official recognition.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c (Dachez 2003, pp. 8–11)
  2. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 44)
  3. ^ (Naudon 1981, p. 66)
  4. ^ Mémoire historique sur la maçonnerie, supplement to the Encyclopédie, 1773
  5. ^ (Daniel Ligou et al. 2000, pp. 40–41)
  6. ^ (Naudon 1981, p. 72) - however, the existence of this gathering is not confirmed by more recent authors (see Talk:Grand Lodge of France).
  7. ^ (French) Full text of the discourse.
  8. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 52)
  9. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 53))
  10. ^ (Mitterrand 1992, p. 935a)
  11. ^ (Mitterrand 1992) counts "a dozen in Paris and fifteen in the provinces", "around 1740"
  12. ^ L'histoire 2001, p. 23
  13. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 200)
  14. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 79)
  15. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 81)
  16. ^ a b c (Mitterrand 1992, p. 935c)
  17. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 15)
  18. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 88)
  19. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 41)
  20. ^ This simplified appelation by which it is generally known in this era was then in fact known as the "Central Grand Lodge" of the Supreme Council of France
  21. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 76)
  22. ^ Grande Loge de France website
  23. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 104)
  24. ^ a b c (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 112)
  25. ^ Jane Degras (ed), The Communist International 1919-1943 Documents, vol 1, 1919-1922, The French Question, pp403-405
  26. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, pp. 163–168)
  27. ^ (D. Ligou et al. 2000, p. 175)
  28. ^ (Dachez 2003, p. 115)
  29. ^ for example (Dachez 2003, p. 118)
  30. ^ These were the 9 obediences mentioned in Freemasonry in France.

Bibliography[edit]

Documentaries[edit]

  • "Grand Orient les frères invisibles" - script by Alain Moreau, directed by Patrick Cabouat, produced by France 5 / Program 33.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pierre Chevallier, Histoire de la franc-maçonnerie française, 3 volumes, Fayard, 1974
  • Laurent Jaunaux, Concise History of the French Regular Freemasonry, Philalethe Society, 2001