Seeds of Dissent The Origins of Anti-Masonry - Part 1: Hanoverians, Jacobites, Protestants, and Catholics

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

The Morgan Affair proved to be the great catalyst for the anti-Masonic movement in the United States. It was a tipping point which sparked years of animosity that could have brought the fraternity down, but it was not, as some think, the first shot across Masonry's bow. Even before the inception of the first Grand Lodge, anti-Masonic seeds began to sprout in Europe. These had their origins mainly within organized religious bodies which saw Freemasonry as a negative influence, if not a threat. The church was intensely opposed to Freemasonry's support of secular ideals, raising concerns of potential subversion. It was also suspicious of the fraternity's secretive practices and oaths which it viewed as heresy. Finally, the church saw the growing presence of Freemasonry within influential circles as a challenge to its power.

The first known criticism was launched at Freemasonry as – for lack of a better term – a labor union. In 1383, John Wycliffe, known for translating the Bible into English, said of the Masons, 

"that they conspire together that no man of their craft shall take less on a day than they fix, that none of them shall do steady work which might interfere with the earning of other men of the craft, that none of them shall do anything but cut stone, though he might profit his master twenty pounds by one day's work laying a wall without harm to himself." 1

That is to say, Freemasons would not work for less than their stated wage rate, nor would they do work that infringed on the skills and ability of other craftsmen to earn their wages.

As the Freemasons transitioned from operative to speculative, things became more heated. The craft shook the foundations of religion which, at the time, is to say it shook the Catholic church. Freemasonry, through its Charges, espoused tenets that were foreign to the teachings of the church. Chief among these was its acceptance of all religions. The very first section of Reverend James Anderson's Constitutions of 1723 makes it clear:

"...if [a Mason] rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a perpetual Distance."

It did not help that the Masons were known to discuss radical Enlightenment-based concepts in their meetings such as the blasphemous ideas of Copernicus and Galileo that the earth orbited the sun – a notion that was a complete anathema to all that was good and holy.

In 1685, prior to the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, King James II2, a Catholic, assumed the throne. At the time, considerable friction was brewing between Catholics and protestants in the country. Adding to the tension, James was a cousin of Louis XIV, King of France, and many in England were becoming increasingly wary of that relationship.  

On top of the animosities building up over religion and his ties to France, James picked a fight with Parliament, eventually dissolving it in an attempt to form a new body that would support him unconditionally.3 James' 26-year-old daughter Mary was a protestant, which was a mitigating factor until 1688 when he had a son, James Francis Edward Stuart (James III), whom he announced would be raised as a Catholic. The birth of this son changed the line of succession, with many now outraged over the prospect of a Catholic dynasty in England. Just as many were certain the queen's pregnancy had been a hoax (a mystery that was never settled).4

Talk of revolution was in the air. In 1688, a group of James'  former supporters led by John Churchill (1650 –1722, 1st Duke of Marlborough) wrote to the Dutch Prince William of Orange, pledging their support if he would invade England. William, who also happened to be the husband of James II's daughter Mary, did just that. After a few skirmishes, James ran off to his cousin in France with baby James III in his arms.5 With that, William and Mary became rulers of England. A political movement, the Jacobites6, arose supporting the restoration of James to the throne.

A quarter century later, George I became King.7 He was a member of the House of Hanover which had ruled in Germany beginning in the early part of the 17th century. So Hanoverians were now in charge in England and strongly opposed to the Jacobites. The Jacobites saw Freemasonry as an important means to achieving their singular goal… restoring James or his Catholic Stuart successors to the throne.8 Their lodges were primarily Catholic. Hanoverian Lodges in England were mainly protestant but also admitted Catholics and atheists, as long as they adhered to the Hanoverian point of view. Thinking the Hanoverians were infringing on Jacobite Freemasonry, the now grown-up James Francis Edward Stuart, a good Catholic still living in France, approached Pope Clement, asking him to ban Hanoverian Freemasonry. James III thought since the Jacobian lodges were mainly Catholic, the Pope would go along with his request without also condemning the Jacobian brand of Freemasonry. The Pope didn't see it that way.


The Chief Minister of Louis XV of France, Cardinal André-Hercule de Fleury, who had been investigating Freemasonry as a part of the Inquisition, wanted all of Freemasonry banned.9 Clement, suspecting the King felt the same way and not wanting to cross the monarch, listened to de Fleury and in 1738, issued the first Papal Bull condemning the fraternity, In eminenti apostolatus specula:

"Now it has come to Our ears, and common gossip has made clear, that certain Societies… called in the popular tongue Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons… are spreading far and wide and daily growing in strength; and men of any Religion or sect, satisfied with the appearance of natural probity, are joined together, according to their laws and the statutes laid down for them, by a strict and unbreakable bond which obliges them, both by an oath upon the Holy Bible and by a host of grievous punishment, to an inviolable silence about all that they do in secret together… Thus these aforesaid Societies or Conventicles have caused in the minds of the faithful the greatest suspicion, and all prudent and upright men have passed the same judgment on them as being depraved and perverted. For if they were not doing evil they would not have so great a hatred of the light… We therefore… do hereby determine and have decreed that these same Societies… of Liberi Muratori or Francs Massons… are to be condemned and prohibited, and by Our present Constitution, valid forever, We do condemn and prohibit them.

Moreover, We desire and command that both Bishops and prelates, and other local ordinaries, as well as inquisitors for heresy, shall investigate and proceed against transgressors… and they are to pursue and punish them with condign penalties as being most suspect of heresy."

The Pope also notes in his encyclical, the first of many having since been issued against Freemasons, that "several countries" had already outlawed and eliminated Freemasonry.

In a way, one could argue it was not the Catholic church that struck this seminal blow to Freemasonry, rather it was differences between two factions of the Craft that got them condemned. At any rate, officially formed as a Grand Lodge in 1717, just two decades later the Catholic church, along with several countries, had banned the fraternity, leaving anti-Masonry as a stowaway on board as the Craft sailed for the new world.

1The Canadian Forum, a Monthly Journal of Literature and Public Affairs, Volume IV, No. 37, October, 1923, p. 284
2 James II (October 14, 1633 – September 16, 1701) ruled England and Ireland as James II and Scotland as James VII from February 6, 1685 to December 23, 1688, with historians sometimes referring to him as King James II & VII.
3 This never happened. Once James II dissolved Parliament, it never met again during his tenure as king.
4 Churchill, Winston, A History of the English Speaking Peoples, The New World, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1966, pp.404-405.
5 Ibid, pp. 396-410. The English have called this relatively bloodless coup the "Glorious Revolution." Its alternate names have been "The Bloodless Revolution,"  and "The Revolution of 1688."
6 The name derives from the Latinized version of James, or Jacobus.
7 William and Mary jointly ruled until her untimely death from smallpox in 1694. At William's death in 1702, Anne, the younger daughter of James II, took over. Anne died in 1714, when George I assumed the throne.
8 Irish Jacobitism and Freemasonry, Sean J Murphy, Eighteenth-Century Ireland, vol 9, 1994, pp 75-82,
9 Bernheim, Alain (2011). Ramsay et ses deux discours (in French). Paris: videographer, broadcaster, television producer. pp. 17–19. ISBN 9782906031746.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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