I - Introduction
I am fascinated by the methodology of history. I am
assuming that everyone here today has, at some time anyway, asked himself: ‘How
does one do historical research properly?’ So allow me begin by offering a few
Firstly, I want to draw your
attention to what may appear to be an unusual verb-form in my sub-title: ‘the
doing of Masonic historical research’. I have used this word
deliberately. Being engaged in Masonic historiography—pre-occupied with it and
even obsessed with it (as some of us are)—is a purposive activity: one which
entails intention, choices, eliminations, accumulations and assessments. It is
hardly ever casual. I hope that the reasons for my choice of this active
verb-form will have become clear by the time I end my offering to you today.
Secondly, speculative Freemasons, right from the founding
of the premier Grand Lodge in London in 1717, have been obsessed with compiling
various types of Masonic history. They have wanted to know, and to be assured
of, their origins.
John Hamill has sketched out the progress of English
Masonic historiography through to the nineteenth century, following on from the
pioneering excesses of James Anderson and William Preston and ending up with the
‘authentic school’. But if we have thankfully altered/improved our approaches to
Masonic historiography since Anderson’s day, the question still remains as to
what kind of history writing we are involved in and I do not think that much
consideration has been given by English Masonic scholars to the general nature
of Masonic research.
It is my intention, therefore,
to offer a tentative theoretical and I hope a useful model for what we might do
when engaged in Masonic historical research. And I propose to illustrate the
potential usefulness of this model by referring to an event which happened in
England in 1915 to a particular member of the English Craft.
But before I do that, let me
offer a third preliminary thought: that there is a broad spectrum of English
historiography. At one end of this spectrum we could find, say,
John E E Dalberg-Acton, better known as Lord Acton (1834–1902), the founding
editor of the first version of the 12-volume Cambridge Modern History.
Though not a Freemason, Acton was a good example of the so-called ‘authentic
school’ of historians. He was Regius Professor of History at Cambridge
University. He was never a prolific author. Nevertheless, the copious marginalia
in every book in his vast library betray the range of his thinking and, more
importantly for my present purposes, his general approach to writing history. In
writing his initial report for the whole project and outlining the general
principles he wished contributors to adhere to, he asserted his firm belief—and
that of many other of his contemporary colleagues then—in ‘absolute history’.
Acton was also a proponent of
Leopold von Ranke’s notion of ‘universal history’ and his general approach can
be seen as a kind of Whig adherence to the idea of history writing being a
steady progression from inferior to superior insights in which events could
properly be conceived of as being sequentially linked phenomena. Thus the
12-volume Cambridge Modern History, which was Acton’s final
contribution to the development of English historiography, can be seen as one of
the last late-Victorian attempts of the encyclopaedist ambition to compile a
total description. Hence, he could write optimistically in the project’s
"[Our] Waterloo must be one that satisfies French and
English, German and Dutch alike; [so] that no body can tell, without examining
the list of authors, where the Bishop of Oxford laid down his pen and where
Fairbairn or Gasquet, Libermann or Harrison took it up."
So the ‘authentic school’ believed that if one continued
one’s researching long enough, thoroughly enough and widely enough, one would
produce purely objective history, that could not—and indeed would not—be
questioned by others. The writing would be objective, impartial, calm, elevated,
moving authoritatively from topic to topic in stately progress. Such a blatantly
confident approach is still used by many English-speaking Masonic researchers
and their work may be properly regarded as being under-pinned by a late
nineteenth-century Victorian imperialism.
At the other end of this
spectrum one might find someone such as Edward H Carr (1892–1982), the
distinguished Cambridge historian of Soviet Russia who was active nearly sixty
years after Acton. Carr never held a professorial Chair but in 1961–2 he was
invited by the university to deliver the prestigious G M Trevelyan Lectures.
Ironically, I guess, they had been established as a living memorial to the life
and work of Trevelyan, another representative of the ‘absolute history’ school.
I say ‘ironically’ because Carr’s lectures, enshrined afterwards in a slim book
entitled What is History?—still in print and selling well—questioned
devastatingly the whole rationale of the ‘absolute school’.
Carr espoused a relativist
approach to historiography and saw history as ‘a continuous process of
interaction between the historian [as observer/interpreter] and his facts, an
unending dialogue between the present and the past’. In other words, historians
were interrogators of the documentary and other materials with which they worked
and they re-invented ‘history’ each in his own generation. While the historian
is and must remain objective in his rise above the limitations of his own
situation in society, for Carr and his followers total objectivity is an
impossibility. Hence he could write rather cynically:
The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing
objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a
preposterous fallacy … one that it is very hard to eradicate.
Such a very different approach from Acton’s intellectual
certainties of the late nineteenth century needs some explanation perhaps. Carr
was working in a very different moral and intellectual climate. Two World Wars
and the insidious Cold War, then approaching its fiercest configuration, had
engendered in a whole generation the relativism which still characterizes much
of the present thinking in academe.
Now the model which I am proposing to you today lies
somewhere—I hope comfortably—between these two ends of the spectrum.
II - The proposed model
I would like you to imagine
that you are standing at the edge of a quiet pool of water, a stone in your
hand. You throw it into the water. There is an initial splash, and you’re you
watch the ever-expanding ripples circulating out from that impact. It’s the sort
of thing we have all done when we were small boys. That’s the dynamic image of
doing Masonic history; it’s an image which is not static; it’s an image of
ever-widening concentric circles.
Now I am aware that this image
of playful childhood has its obvious theoretical limitations. For one thing, the
motion of the ripples on the surface of the pool would be vertical—not linear,
as I have implied. Secondly, unlike the surface of the water which will
eventually return to its previous tranquillity, providing that no more stones
are thrown in, there will be a Heisenberg effect brought about by the mere
presence and activity of the observer. History will never be the same once a
historian has done his work.
That said, what I am proposing is a model which has a
three-fold nature. There is the narrowest circle: the initial impact, as it
were. Surrounding that, or rather subsuming that, is a wider circle. Surrounding
that second circle, or again subsuming it, is the third and widest circle. I
shall label the first circle that of First Order questions; the wider circle
around it, that of Second Order questions; and the widest circle surrounding
both, that of Third Order questions.
Let me assign more
appropriate, more accurate descriptors. The first circle is that of restricted
Narrative questions, the second, that of wider Contextual
questions and the third, that of broader Philosophical questions. The
First Order, or Narrative, questions are the easiest to formulate and the
easiest to answer. They are subsumed within the Second Order, or Contextual,
questions which are more difficult to formulate and are a lot more difficult to
answer satisfactorily. They in turn are subsumed within the most problematic and
searching questions, the broad, Philosophical ones, that could eventually prove
to be almost impossible for the researcher to answer definitively.
Let me to explain about the
First Order, or Narrative, questions. These could help the researcher to
establish a narrative, or chronological sequence. For example: who was involved;
his/their age(s); their circumstances; where; when; what happened first, second,
next and finally?
These questions could be
centred on a particular individual Freemason, or a particular lodge, or a
special Masonic event, or even a particular Masonic artefact. This is a
perfectly legitimate approach to ‘doing’ Masonic research, but the history that
it produces is somewhat restricted and of little general value.
The Second Order, or
Contextual, questions would be intended to generate—as far as time, facilities
and other circumstances allow—a 360-degree panorama of the subject(s) which
was/were focus/foci of the First Order questions. So one would become involved
in providing answers to such questions as what happened elsewhere that was
similar or different; how do these other phenomena compare and contrast with the
original subject of the investigation; how can the similarities or differences
be accounted for.
The Third Order, or
Philosophical, questions would be aimed at providing a wider, ideational
context. They could raise much broader intellectual issues such as what place
the original event, and any similar or contrasting phenomena, may have had in
the general culture obtaining at the time.
So let me give you an example
of the kind of rather limited history that has been produced over several
generations by simply using the First Order questions approach. Some years ago I
started to investigate the lodges’ annual torch-lit eighteenth-century public
parades at night in December in the streets of towns and villages with the
Freemasons wearing their regalia—much to the amusement and perhaps interest of
the non-Masonic spectators who, by all accounts, would applaud and even cheer.
My first sources of information were almost entirely secondary ones: the various
published lodges’ histories that had been diligently compiled probably by the
lodges’ Secretaries, often to mark centenaries or bi-centenaries of the lodges.
These proved to be invaluable
starting points because they usually drew on original primary source materials
(for example, the lodge Minute Books, the Treasurers’ account books and
successive sets of by-laws) that had either disappeared, or had been lost, or
could not be made available to anyone outside the lodge. Sometimes they also
included quotations from contemporary non- Masonic descriptions of the
processions: for example, in newspapers that had long since ceased publication
and so were also unavailable. I have got to say that the published paper, still
available on enquiry, was not restricted to such a non-contextual approach!
But however useful as starting
points they may be for the novice, the old lodge histories are nearly always far
too self-referential. It is almost as if, for their authors—and presumably for
their readers who were often the majority of the subscribers—nothing much else
outside the actual activities of the lodge had ever happened. The resulting
‘history’ often amounted to nothing more than self-indulgent navel-gazing.
Or again, take another way of using the model. Suppose
that one wanted to write about a particular medieval religious building on which
it is known that operative stonemasons had worked. There are many such sites
still left in England. Of course, one could limit one’s inquiries to the First
Order type of question and so a full description of the site could be produced
with illustrations such as photographs and architectural line drawings etc.
But if one then started to
examine, say, the masons’ marks which might proliferate throughout the building
and compared similar examples from elsewhere, one might discover what other
buildings the particular workmen had been employed on. By ascertaining that, one
could then work out how far the medieval operative stonemasons had been prepared
to travel around gaining employment on other sites as journeymen; how long they
had been in those sites; how much variation there had been in their daily wages
during those periods etc. In other words, one would be contextualising the
particular site and so be occupied in building up a more general and a more
interesting picture of the life of these workmen who had created it, whom some
Freemasons would claim were our ancestors.
Or take yet another example of
how the model could be applied. Suppose that one wanted to write about a very
old and spectacular Masonic chair. One could give a reasonable account of it
merely using First Order questions. What is it? How old is it? What are the
design features? Who was the maker? How much did he charge for the manufacture?
What uses had it been put to? What is its general physical condition and state
of preservation etc.?
One could extend this by using
Second Order, or Contextual questions. Are there any similar pieces elsewhere?
Who made them? Were the designers and cabinet makers Freemasons and which
lodge(s) did they belong to? Where are the pieces located? Are there any
variations in the amounts which were charged for each comparable piece, perhaps
as the manufacturers became more famous or became more in demand? Are there any
differences in the present physical conditions and how can these differences be
However, one could extend the
contextual account even further by using Third Order, or ‘philosophical’,
questions. What effect, if any, did the increasing use of specially designed
Masonic furniture have on the development of the rituals in the lodges—they
having acquired their own premises rather than continuing to use the upper rooms
of taverns, as most lodges had done in the earliest decades of the eighteenth
How does the design of such
furniture compare with what was being manufactured for the huge country houses
(that is, for non- Masonic premises) in those days?
What does the use of such
‘thrones’ say about the evolving status of the presiding Masters, who in former
times had simply been elected and immediately proceeded to preside over the
activities without any further ceremony being used?
Should one continue to use
such ancient Masonic furniture in lodge today and so risk damaging it? Or,
should it rather be set aside and carefully preserved as a museum artefact and
so perhaps risk spoiling the members’ awareness of their lodge’s continuity.
III - Enter Bro Gustav Petrie
Gustav Petrie, a small
Austrian man of gentle and engaging disposition, was personally of no real
social or Masonic consequence. It is, therefore, not very surprising that no
photograph of him is known to exist. Consequently, though his story can be made
out (I believe) to be of some significance, we cannot even know now what he
Gustav was born in 1866 and,
being employed in his native country in some form of managerial capacity in the
coal trade, he came in early 1904 to the north of England and settled in the
busy port of Sunderland where most of the sea traffic was wholly pre-occupied
with the ever-expanding and very profitable coal export business. He took
employment with the one of the prominent local mine owners as a coal exporter
and so was in charge of the loading of the many ships that plied their trade out
of the harbour southwards to London and northwards to Edinburgh and Aberdeen. As
far as is known, he did not marry.
It was his commercial
connection with the coal trade that led Gustav quickly into Freemasonry. Both
his proposer and seconder were in the same business and were members of the
famous old Phoenix Lodge (now No 94). It had started sometime in the very early
eighteenth century and by 1784 had built and occupied its own purpose-built
premises near the river Wear, which it still uses today. He was well-liked and
presumably hard-working and soon found entry into membership of the popular
lodge. He was initiated on 3 January 1905, aged 39; passed as a Fellow of Craft
at an emergency meeting held on 28 March that year and subsequently raised as a
Master Mason on 17 May 1905. They did not waste time, those Phoenix Lodge
Masons, in those days.
Gustav was not ambitious
Masonically and seemed to have preferred simply to wait on his brethren at table
while they dined after the ceremonies. That particular office enabled him to be
become quickly known by every member of the lodge and their many visitors. He
was popular, and so it is not surprising to discover that towards the end of
1906 he was invited by some prominent members of the lodge to become one of the
founders of a new, ‘daughter’ lodge that had been proposed and was in
The membership of the Phoenix
Lodge was over 200 and that meant younger Masons would have to wait a long time
before they could be considered for election as Master. Founding a new lodge, to
meet in the same building but on different nights, was the answer. That lodge
still exists, Thornhill Lodge No 3216. Photographs of most of the Founders can
be found in the archives of the Phoenix Lodge but Gustav seems modestly to have
escaped the camera.
As in his ‘mother’ lodge,
Gustav assumed modest offices and seemed willing to just wait on the tables as
before, though sometimes he was appointed to act as an Assistant Secretary. His
competency in the ritual was such that on several occasions he was appointed to
act as the Senior Warden of his new lodge. His obvious willingness to be of
service meant that he continued to be very popular and the surviving lodge
records show him to be frequently a ‘stand-in’ for absentee officers.
As with nearly all new lodges,
there did not seem to be any shortage of candidates for initiation, at least in
the early days, and Thornhill Lodge began to grow rapidly. There were evenings
when multiple degree ceremonies were worked. The average attendance of members
and visitors (usually from seven local lodges) at every meeting in the first ten
years was thirty-seven brethren. In the period 1907–17 there were 112
initiations into membership of the lodge, the average number each year being
ten. And they were mostly young men who lived locally. Their average age was
thirty-three years. Of these initiates, 38% had some sort of connection with
employment at sea. Everything seemed to be progressing very satisfactorily until
the end of June 1914, when the First World War broke out.
On 16 August 1914, when
political affairs in Europe were desperate, Henry de Vere Vane (1854–1918),
ninth Lord Barnard, the Provincial Grand Master, wrote an extraordinary circular
letter addressed to all of the sixty-four lodges in his Province but without
taking advice from anyone elsewhere, even from his Deputy ‘upon whom he usually
relied in such things’. In this action he was to pre-empt an edict that was to
be issued by the United Grand Lodge of England in June 1915.
Barnard reminded his brethren
of the wording in the First Degree Charge, ‘that Nature has implanted in the
bosom of every man a sacred and indissoluble attachment to the country from
which he derives his birth’ and he reminded them of ‘the unwavering
allegiance due to the sovereign of their native land’. Besides, he
continued, ‘patriotism that involves no personal sacrifice is a useless sort
of virtue’. In his opinion one of the first duties of every Freemason was an
absolute loyalty to his country.
"For over one hundred years, with the exception of wars
that were at such a distance from us as to cause us no serious alarm, we have
never been in any real danger of having an enemy on our shores … the virtue of
Patriotism – that is to say of preparedness to undertake sacrifices for the
prosperity and welfare of the country … has become a living thing … but no
amount of flag-waving and shouting, and protesting our loyalty will avail us
against the foe … "
And, therefore, to ensure that
English brethren were not disturbed by the continuing presence in lodges of
foreign brethren whose loyalty to the British allies’ cause could, of course,
not be guaranteed, it would be better that any German, Austrian, Hungarian,
Italian and Turkish members should return to their own countries immediately. In
other words, he wanted all enemy foreign Masons out of his Province even if they
were fully paid-up members of any of the sixty-four lodges there.
One can understand perhaps why
Barnard may have adopted this attitude. His eldest son and heir, the Hon Henry C
Vane, was a serving British officer in France, and he was to die of wounds
received there in November 1917.
Gustav Petrie, ever the
obedient Mason, resigned from the Thornhill Lodge in November 1914 and returned
to his ‘native land’. The lodge Secretary noted in the Minute Book that his
resignation ‘was received with much regret at the circumstances which had
caused him to take such action’. The members of the lodge felt that ‘an
expression of their appreciation for his valued services in the various offices
which he had so ably filled should be recorded’.
And so one of the Founders of
this lodge was told to go away; that his presence, because of his foreign
nationality, was deemed—by the highest Masonic authority in that part of
northern England—to be no longer welcome.
IV - Applying the model to the case of Bro Gustav
Now my suggested model can be
applied to the case of Gustav Petrie. However, I must admit that I have
not actually answered these questions and, like most teachers, I simply
know some of the questions and entertain the hope that my listeners will start
to find the answers.
In others words, I hope that you find an interesting
subject (if you have not done so already) and perhaps start to use this model in
order to see if it helps when applied to your own Masonic circumstances.
First Order considerations
So, at the First Order, or Narrative, level one could set
out, in as much relevant biographical detail as possible, the facts of what
happened. I have not given you today all of the background information about
this man but I have no doubt that you will know the kinds of detail about him
and what happened to Gustav that would be interesting. What are his dates? Where
was he born? What were his family were like? What was his employment record both
in Austria and in England? What were his home circumstances while living in
Sunderland? What was his income from the flourishing coal trade there? What were
the various minor offices he held in the lodge which he helped to found? What
sort of character did he have as noted, for instance, by any of his Masonic and
non-Masonic associates in any correspondence that has survived? And so on. Who
knows: even a portrait photograph of him may be found one day in a neglected,
dusty cupboard somewhere.
Gustav’s story is not long or complicated and assembling
this data, in response to First Order questions, would not take too much time or
trouble. The chronological account could use primary source materials which are
still freely available: such as the Lodge’s relevant Minute Book, the
Treasurer’s Account Book for the period; the menus which Gustav served while
waiting upon his brethren at table; pictures of the Lodge room and the adjoining
dining room and of the ships in the nearby harbour with which he was associated
professionally. Copies of Barnard’s circular letter to his lodges still survive,
as do a few other relevant records about him in the archives based in the
Provincial Secretary’s offices.
Second Order considerations
First Order, or Narrative,
questions would produce a basic biographical and/or chronological account. But
it would be hardly very interesting. Second Order, or Contextual, questions—if
applied systematically—would help to ensure that Gustav Petrie becomes someone
rather more important, and in order to generate a 360-degree panorama of what
happened to Gustav in 1914 one could begin by asking question such as these:
- What, if anything, happened
to German- or Austrian-born brethren in any of the other lodges in the same
area, and in other parts of England, and even in other English-speaking
countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, where there
were UGLE lodges?
- If anything comparable did happen, how many such
brethren were involved?
- What reaction(s) transpired among the brethren in their
- What happened to lodges in England where there were
perhaps several or even many foreign members, especially where they held offices
at the time of the out break of World War I?
- The famous Pilgrim Lodge, now No 238 and founded in
1779, which meets in Freemasons’ Hall in London and which works its
Schroeder-type rituals in German, closed down voluntarily throughout the First
World War. Did that happen to any other UGLE lodges?
- Did lodges in ‘enemy’ countries treat English-born
Freemasons, who happened to be working in Germany, etc, and who were fully paid
up members of lodges there, in the same hostile way? If so, how many such
Freemasons were involved? What did they do? Did they repatriate?
- This incident involving Bro Gustav seems xenophobic; how
did it relate to the general climate of rampant xenophobia then prevailing in
most English-speaking countries—a climate that was fostered constantly in
Britain by newspapers, on posters, in some popular novels and in adventure films
shown in the cinemas up and down the land?
- How did Barnard’s circular letter compare with what was
decided by UGLE in that extraordinary Communication which it held in the Café
Royal in June 1915?
- Did other English Provincial GMs, and District GMs
overseas, anticipate that Grand Lodge decision in quite the same way? Did they
try to explain their decisions in similar circular letters?
- What, if anything, happened in lodges where there were
brethren who were German-born, Italian-born or Japanese-born nationals during
World War II?
- Was the reaction by Masonic authorities to the presence
and membership of any enemy nationals in UGLE lodges different in the Second
World War period? What happened to, say, Japanese-born nationals who happened to
be resident in the USA and who were members of American lodges at the outbreak
of World War II? How did their American brethren treat them?
The Grand Lodge debate: June 1915
A significant part of
providing the panoramic context would be to be to discover and then set out what
the Grand Lodge in London did in laying down a general policy and the consequent
procedures to be adopted.
The crucial meeting was the
Grand Lodge Communication held in June 1915, by which time the War had been
proceeding into horror for more than nine months and the numbers of casualties
had begun to mount. By then the original patriotic optimism at the outbreak of
hostilities that ‘it would all be over by Christmas’ had already proved to have
been too much of a misdirected fantasy because comprehensive newspaper accounts
of the unanticipated set-backs started to reach the anxious relatives of allied
service personnel waiting at home.
The debate in the Grand Lodge
was itself extraordinary both in its timing and conduct. It started in the
famous Café Royal in the afternoon of 15 June at 4 pm
and lasted until after 10 pm that
night. Many brethren wanted to speak, and tempers were raised. The Assistant
Grand Master, presiding as Grand Master pro tem, had to gavel no less
than five times and to reprimand with increasing impatience the vexatious
members who raised their voices and kept interrupting each other and, in the
heat of the moment, forgot the usual, sedate debating procedures that normally
characterize Grand Lodge proceedings. Eventually he had to command them to
‘respect the Chair’.
The matter which exercised the
brethren on that summer’s afternoon and evening was what should or could they do
about German nationals. The Grand Secretary had been receiving many inquiries
from individual lodges about what they ought to do when foreign ‘enemy’ members
were in their lodges. It was not just a simple matter of such men continuing to
hold their memberships and so possibly continuing to attend the meetings. The
following were the sorts of questions that were troubling them and which were
voiced from among the assembled brethren.
- What should lodges do if they had a member who was from an
enemy nation and, though he went back to his native country to fight on the
opposing side in the war, he continued to pay his annual subscriptions? Was he
to be regarded as a ‘normal’ member of the lodge? Indeed, could the lodge
continue to be regarded by the other members and by him as ‘his’ lodge?
- If he were to be absent from the meetings—for obvious
reasons—could he be regarded as having ceased his membership, at least until the
anticipated eventual end of the then current hostilities? After all, most
Englishmen at that early stage in the war were under no doubt that they would
win and that Germany and her allies would be defeated.
- Suppose such a brother were to be wounded, could his
English-born wife (and children if any) make a claim in the usual way for UGLE
- Indeed, could he make a claim for UGLE charity if he were
invalided out of his national service but continued to live in his native land?
What would happen if he were killed in action? Could his widow, perhaps
English-born, claim relief for herself and their dependent children, especially
if they continued to reside in England?
[Such delicate financial
concerns were important since those charitable funds had been accumulated from
regular annual donations collected by the lodges from the ‘normal’ members.]
- What would happen if, after the cessation of hostilities
and everything got back to normality and lodges began working as usual,
German-born nationals were to start re-attending their English lodges to which
they had (somehow) continued to pay their annual subscriptions? Could they, in
such circumstances, claim their original places in the line of office bearers in
succession towards the Chair—as had obtained at the start of the war—as though
they had merely been away ‘working’ abroad like many other foreign-born brethren
had done in the past?
- Suppose such a foreign-born national were to attend his
lodge and present on that occasion there was an English-born gentleman who was
on active service but home on leave. How could they both sit in the same lodge
room? Why should the latter be obliged to sit alongside someone from an enemy
nation, especially as he had been only a few days previously fighting against
men of that enemy nation? What if the English-born brother had been wounded in
the conflict? Should he be expected to sit in his lodge alongside (aged) male
relatives of a younger foreign national who had returned to his native land to
fight on the enemy side while they had continued to live and work and pay their
taxes in England and also attend their lodges?
- What should happen should such a wounded English brother,
recovering from his wounds in England, managed to attend his lodge proudly
dressed in his uniform (as many brethren had started to do) and there found a
brother, a German soldier (though not in uniform) who was a subscribing member
of that same lodge or perhaps a subscribing member of a visiting lodge who had
been fighting on the opposing side?
were raised and at one stage someone yelled across the floor in attempting to
set out his English case for not regarding such enemy members as legitimate
brethren: ‘After all, are we here not all loyal Englishmen first?’ An
interesting and revealing repost was immediately yelled back at him from several
quarters: ‘No! We are all here in this Grand Lodge first as Freemasons and not
These sorts of question were
not theoretical but were voiced by lodges’ Secretaries seeking practical advice
and ‘solutions’ if possible and if such cases were to arise.
The Board of General Purposes
decided, following the advice of the then Grand Secretary, that it was no use
him just issuing advice to individual lodges on an ad hoc basis. Some
order or systematically determined policy would have to be introduced. After
all, as one of the brethren present opined: in 1915 it was German nationals and
their like who were under consideration because of their vicious prosecution of
a disastrous war against England and her allies, but only a few decades
previously—at the start of the nineteenth century during the Napoleonic wars—it
would have been the French who were England’s enemies and the Germans and
German-speaking nations who were England’s allies.
The case of Bro Benedict
Arnold during the American Revolutionary War against Britain in the eighteenth
century was cited by one brother by way of explanation. Arnold had been properly
been regarded by the American Patriots as a notorious traitor to their cause and
he merited whatever punishment the law, as it was then manifested in the new
state, could devise. But he was not expelled from the Craft by his
American brethren, since he had not been tried and found guilty of any
Masonic crime. Yes, his actions in support of the British cause were
properly regarded by them as constituting civic treason but, strictly speaking,
he had not violated their Masonic constitutions.
According to the opinion which
prevailed in the United Grand Lodge of England on that day in June 1915, as
shown in the voting numbers, the same circumstances applied. These unfortunate
foreign nationals—if they continued to pay their annual subscriptions and these
subscriptions continued to be accepted by their lodges and they were not
convicted of any Masonic ‘crime’—must be entitled to consider themselves and
be considered by others in the English Craft as legitimate members of lodges
under the UGLE.
The most that the Grand Lodge
could do was to recommend to such brethren—indeed to urge them—that they cease
to attend their lodges for the time being (that is, until current
hostilities eventually ceased) so that the sensibilities of other, English-born
members who were attending were not violated by their continuing presence. In
other words that they should stop attending temporarily so that they could not
be accused of disturbing the love, peace and harmony of the particular
lodge—‘which should at all times characterize Freemasonry’—simply by being
present. If they were to continue to attend, as they were perfectly entitled to
do according to Masonic jurisprudence, then subsequently they could possibly lay
themselves open to a Masonic charge of deliberately disturbing the lodge. In
such circumstances an appropriate Masonic charge could be brought against them
under existing rules in the Book of Constitutions and, if convicted on
that charge and somehow continued to claim that they could attend, they could be
expelled from the Craft.
The legal problem was
explained at length by the Grand Secretary. If such foreign-born nationals
continued to pay their annual subscriptions, the lodges had to continue to
receive those subscriptions because at the time of paying they were still
Freemasons under the English constitution and by paying they were obeying the
lodges’ requirements as set out in their by-laws. Hence, if such subscriptions
were paid, and those foreign-born brethren were not in arrears, they had to be
regarded as members until such time as they, for whatever reason(s), ceased to
For instance, they could be regarded under the lodges’
by-laws as meriting exclusion by those lodges if they simply ceased to pay on
their own volition and became ‘in arrears’. In such circumstances, they would
cease to be regarded as fully-paid members of their English lodges. They could
be proceeded against by the individual lodges according to procedures set out in
their by-laws and if, on proper inquiry, they were to be found not to have been
in ‘good standing’, they could not continue to be entitled to attend those
The Grand Lodge, having
deliberated and set out the broad policy to be adopted, was it actually adopted?
What evidence in lodges’ Minute Books signals that it was either obeyed or
A few Third Order considerations
These are just a few of the
initial Second Order possibilities. And answering these more general Second
Order, or Contextual, questions would take a lot longer than answering the First
Order type. After all, the primary sources may well be scattered geographically.
That would necessitate some travel and expense. They may be in varying and
depleted physical conditions that would make transcription difficult and
time-consuming. They could be written or printed in foreign languages and so
translations could have to be made. Compiling large amounts of statistical data
could involve devising suitable charts, graphs and tables to display the
evidence succinctly, and could even entail the use of various methods of
statistical analysis. The sheer amount of the assembled data could necessitate
the co-operation of a co-researcher or two. And that possibility itself would
open up a whole different and interesting development in the conducting of the
Masonic research project because usually it would be a solo, or solitary,
But what of the wider Third
Order, or ‘Philosophical’, questions which subsume the two previous ones? How
could one relate this particular to more general cultural considerations?
I believe that the case of Bro
Petrie raises some important Masonic considerations. I shall illustrate this
possibility by mentioning just two.
For instance, how far and in
precisely what ways is membership of the Craft compatible with—to use Lord
Barnard’s phrase—‘absolute loyalty’ to the state? That question may not arise in
circumstances where the legitimate civil authority does not persecute the Craft
and indeed encourages it. For instance in England and Scotland, from the
Hanoverian era onwards, leading aristocrats, politicians, ecclesiastics and even
members of the Royal Family, have been prominent and active members of the
Craft, while in the USA, from the days of George Washington onwards, leading
politicians and other notable personalities have sought and enjoyed membership
of the Craft there.
In most English-speaking
countries the Craft has enjoyed the ‘protection’ of the established state. One
can understand why this might have become so in Britain since the early decades
of the eighteenth century. The Hanoverian dynasty were not all that secure in
their tenure of the throne (for example, with the Jacobite incursions into
England in 1715 and 1745) and it is not surprising that six sons of King George
III were encouraged to became prominent members of the Craft. That association
of the Craft with the highest levels of British society has continued. The Craft
is woven into the very fabric of the British establishment. It is a fairly happy
association that has evolved and one which seems to work.
But what happens where the
established state persecutes the Craft (for example, in France under the Terror
during the Revolutionary period, in the Austria-Hungarian Empire under Emperor
Joseph II, and in Nazi Germany)?
How far are members of the
Craft, because of the oaths which they take as Master Masons, expected always to
obey the expectations and even the commands of legitimate state authority? Are
there circumstances in which Freemasons of a particular country might find their
Masonic obligations at variance with the state’s requirements? Is loyalty to
one’s state always superior to the demands of the Masonic oath? What if the
state’s commands were patently immoral? What if the state demands that
Freemasons betray their brethren to the secret police because membership of the
Craft is defined by the authorities as a threat to the state security and those
authorities have a legal responsibility to protect the citizens generally?
The history of Freemasonry
brings many examples where Freemasons, for example when serving as fighters on
battlefields during wars, have ‘forgotten’ their civic obligations to kill the
enemy (as defined by their state) and, having found a wounded ‘enemy’ fellow
Freemason, have treated him well and even rescued him from peril. How does such
a member of the Craft reconcile his civic duty to protect his state or country,
possibly at the cost of his own life, with his Masonic obligation towards
another Freemason ‘not to injure himself myself or knowingly cause or suffer it
to be so done by others, if in my power to prevent it’?
What if their superior
officers, who may not be Freemasons themselves, learn of their subordinates’
humane actions towards the dreaded enemy on the battlefield, how would they
react to the news? Would the benevolent Freemason who helped or even rescued the
wounded ‘enemy’, deserve a court martial for disobeying the legitimate orders of
a superior officer who would be functioning dutifully in complete obedience to
the established authorities of their country?
The other interesting question
which this case seems to raise is that of ‘territoriality’. How far, and in what
ways precisely, can Freemasonry be regarded as just belonging to mere
geographical locations? Is German Freemasonry restricted to only Germany? Or is
the French Craft only for France? Or can English Freemasonry only be for
England? Is the prevailing ‘territorial’ mentality, which has evolved over
generations, compatible with the original ‘Grand Intent’ of the early
eighteenth-century originators which was ‘Masonry universal’? That important
phrase did not mean that they believed every man could, and should, become a
Freemason but that they assumed the Craft would emerge everywhere eventually
where there were some men of goodwill of a broadly similar disposition towards
mutual tolerance, a general desire for knowledge and one of trying to render
themselves more extensively serviceable towards their fellow human beings.
Perhaps in these fast-flowing
days of the Internet, 24-hour news-gathering, and democracy, Grand Lodges could
find it increasingly difficult to exercise their traditional forms of control
over their members by restricting international communication at various levels
and in various ways.
Furthermore, the whole problem
of ‘recognition’ could be brought into play. This is something that the United
Grand Lodge of England, acting as primus inter pares, has had recently
come to that the world has changed rapidly and is continuing to do so; that the
established ways of regarding foreigners who claim to be Freemasons have to be
adjusted because those controls have become incompatible with the equally
legitimate expectations of younger members whose daily lives at work involve
travel and frequent international communication.
V - But what happened in Sunderland eventually?
As I hope you might imagine,
that was certainly not the end of Gustav Petrie’s story. There was an
interesting sequel to the events of November 1914.
In the middle of September
1920, when the stricken survivors of World War I were trying, at home and
internationally, at the personal and at the political and governmental levels,
to get things returned to some form of peaceful normality, Gustav Petrie
returned to Sunderland and visited the lodge which he had helped to found. He
had kept writing to the lodge—his occasional letters to his English brethren are
carefully preserved in the lodge’s Minute Book of the period—and, presumably
they replied to him though (as yet) their letters to him have not been traced.
Imagine, if you will, what could well have been the
atmosphere in that ancient lodge room when he walked in as a visitor. After all,
seated there—according to the records—were at least two aged members of the
lodge who had lost close, younger relatives during the horror of that awful
calamity that had just ended.
What is more, he gave
greetings to the Master and the assembled brethren from his Johannes Lodge (his
Craft or Blue lodge) and then from his St Andreas lodge (his ‘Green’ lodge, from
the French word Ecossais, meaning ‘Scottish’). St Andreas lodges form the
second stage in the Swedish Rite. They work the fourth to sixth degrees in a
system or sequence of eleven degrees that is practiced in northern Europe.
Clearly, he’d found a new
Masonic ‘home’ and had joined a Johannes (or St John’s or ‘Blue’ Craft) lodge
while he had been exiled outside of England. ‘So what?’ you might say.
Well, the important thing is
this. The Swedish Rite has not been worked in Austria. It is a northern
European Masonic phenomenon. Therefore, the only possible conclusion could be
that Gustav had joined a German lodge which worked the Swedish Rite after
he had left England and had progressed through the system to achieve at least
the fourth degree. And yet, within a mere two years of the conclusion of the
Great War, here he was giving greetings to an English lodge as a German
Freemason. And the remarkable thing that happened was that the English
brethren greeted him warmly as a long-lost brother! And the Secretary recorded
his delight in being able to write in the Minutes about the enthusiastic reunion
which took place.
That simple, humane gesture by those ordinary, unimportant
Freemasons in Sunderland in September 1920—more than any of the rather pompous
and even pious self-justificatory expressions by higher Masonic authorities made
in London and elsewhere at the time—restores my own faith in what exposure to
the associationalism of Freemasonry can bring about in the hearts and minds of
most ordinary men. It is, I suppose, a small but telling demonstration of the
possible transition from the rough to the smooth ashlar, something to which
surely we all aspire!