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Many papers, notes and comments have been issued during the year 2002 concerning the Grand Lodge of France.[1] Some were written in best faith. As a freemason who was born in France, I deeply appreciated what moved their authors: a desire to put an end to what they considered an unjustified ostracism.


However the impartial historian I tried to be for the past thirty-five years, sometimes in spite of my personal feelings and friendships, cannot remain silent when facts are ignored or set in a wrong light and, purposely or not, misconstrued.[2]


Should a person be injustly accused of a crime, the lawyer in me does not believe that false witnesses should be called at the bar to prove a case of unguilty. Words such as ‘The Grand Lodge of France is one of the oldest, if not the oldest grand lodge functioning today’ will impress only those who know little or nothing about French masonic history.



The Original Grand Lodge of France


The expression Grande Loge de France is first found in a document delivered in Paris, 25 November 1737, by the Earl of Derwentwater to the Baron of Scheffer : ‘We grant him our full power to constitute one or several lodges in the Kingdom of Sweden; to make Master-Masons, and to name the Masters and Wardens of the lodges he will constitute, which lodges shall be subordinated to the Grand Lodge of France’.

However the earliest French grand lodge was founded in 1728 or 1729 – the exact date is unknown – during a stay in Paris of the Duke of Wharton (1698-1731). Wharton was elected in London Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge, 25 June 1722, and became afterwards Grand Master in France.

Wharton’s Grand Mastership became known as late as 1956 when a manuscript copy of the eldest-known set of Constitutions for the use of French lodges, voted upon in 1735, was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale. That document includes ‘Regulations modeled after those given by ... Philip, Duke of Wharton, Grand Master of the lodges of the Kingdom of France, with the changes made by the present Grand Master, James Hector McLean ... given with the agreement of the Grand Lodge, at the great assembly held 27 December 1735 ...’.

Wharton’s first successors in office were a Scotchman, James Hector McLean (1703-1750), and an Englishman, Charles, Earl of Derwentwater (1693-1746), elected 27 December 1736. French Grand Masters followed : Louis de Pardaillan, duc d’Antin (1707-1743), elected likely in 1738, Louis de Bourbon-Condé, comte de Clermont (1709-1771), elected 11 December 1743, and Louis Philippe Joseph, duc de Chartres (1747-1793), elected 24 June 1771, who became duc d’Orléans at the death of his father in 1785.



The Grand Orient of France


In 1773, after fourteen meetings held in Paris, a majority of Masters of the Grand Lodge of France approved a set of new rules entitled Statutes of the Royal Order of Freemasonry in France. They were sent to all the lodges of the French Kingdom together with a circular letter of thirty-five pages dated 26 June 1773.

The words Grand Orient de France, used until then only to show the place (the ‘Orient’) where a document was drawn up, became a different meaning in the new Statutes : ‘The Grand Orient of France comprises the Grand Lodge [herein defined as an executive body of seventy-seven members] and all the Worshipful Masters or Deputies of lodges, from Paris as well as from the Provinces, who may be able to attend its assemblies’.

An essential change introduced in these Statutes was that all Worshipful Masters were henceforth to be elected by their respective lodges whereas, under an unwritten law, most Parisian Masters owned their office for life by virtue of a personal Warrant and were termed ‘unmovable’.

Some disagreeing Parisian Masters seceded and kept on working under the name and former Regulations of the Grand Lodge of France.

Once the French Revolution was over, commissaries were nominated from both sides with the purpose of re-uniting the two bodies. The Grand Lodge commissaries agreed with the modifications introduced in 1773. The Treaty of Union which put an end to the existence of the Grand Lodge of France and re-united French Masonry under the Grand Orient was ratified on 22 June 1799. Except for a couple of independent ‘Scottish’ lodges in Paris, French masonic unity was achieved.

It was to last six years only.



The Supreme Council of France and his Craft Lodges (1804-1894)


In July 1804, comte Alexandre de Grasse-Tilly (1765-1845) returned to Paris from the United States. Under the authority of Letters of Credence dated 21 February 1802, delivered to him in Charleston by the Supreme Council of the United States of America, he elevated several Brethren to the 33° and founded the Supreme Council of France in October 1804.

This body helped and authorized the creation of a short-lived (Craft) Scottish Grand Lodge, October 17. It met for the first time, October 22, and merged with the Grand Orient through a Concordat which was signed 5 December 1804 and denounced, 6 September 1805.

After the abdication of Napoléon (1815), the Supreme Council stopped meeting. However nine of its active members joined the Grand Orient near which they founded a Supreme Council of Rites, ancestor of the present Grand College of Rites under the Grand Orient.

The Supreme Council of France re-awakened in 1821. One year later, it created in its bosom a ‘Central Grand Lodge’ which warranted Craft lodges working the first three degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite under the authority of the Supreme Council.

That peculiar situation, one Grand Orient (1773) with a Supreme Council and one Supreme Council (1804) which warranted Craft lodges, went on in France until 1894.

When the Grand Orient recognized the (irregular) Supreme Council of Louisiana by a decretal signed by Grand Master Mellinet on 5 November 1868, forty-four American Grand Lodges severed their relations with the Grand Orient within the next ten years.[3]

On the same grounds, Albert Pike, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the United States (S. J.), severed the relations of his Supreme Council with the Grand Orient of France, 2 May 1870, and ‘renewed its communications’ with the Supreme Council of France.[4]



1877 and the Grand Orient of France


At its yearly meeting in September 1877, the Annual Assembly (Convent) of the Grand Orient changed the wording of the first article of its Constitution, originally drawn up in 1849, which it had already modified in 1865. The 1865 wording was : Its principles [of Freemasonry] are the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and human solidarity. It considers liberty of conscience as an inherent right of each man and excludes no one because of his beliefs.

In 1877, these two sentences were changed into : Its principles are liberty of conscience and human solidarity. It excludes no one because of his beliefs.

Many Grand Lodges in the world understood the new wording as a declaration of agnosticism, if not of atheism, and ceased to acknowledge the Grand Orient as a regular masonic body. Since most American Grand Lodges had broken with the Grand Orient a few years earlier, nine only thought fit to take further steps at that time.[5] 

1894 The second Grand Lodge of France


Since 1822, French Craft lodges were warranted by, and worked under the authority of, the Supreme Council of France. Toward the end of the 19th Century, they wished to acquire their independence. A new body, without any tie with the original Grande Loge de France of the 1720s, was warranted under an identical name by a decretal of the Supreme Council of France, 7 November 1894. The full independence of this new Grande Loge de France was granted by two further decretals of the Supreme Council of France, enacted in 1904 and 1927.

The Grand Orient of France recognized the Grand Lodge of France in 1905. At that time, the Grand Orient comprized 386 lodges, the Grand Lodge seventy-five. Due to feelings of fraternity which originated in the First World War, twenty-three American Grand Lodges either recognized, or authorized intervisitation with, the Grand Lodge of France between September 10, 1917, and November 19, 1919. Twelve did the same toward the French Grand Orient during the same period.[6]

But since it was a Supreme Council which warranted the Grand Lodge of France in 1894, the latter body was never recognized by, nor was it ever in amity with, the United Grand Lodge of England.

In the 1st degree ritual of the new Grand Lodge of France, the Candidate took the OB standing, his right hand upon the General Statutes. The OB included the words "in the presence of the GAOTU" and the traditional penalty. On March 3, 1903, the Annual Assembly of the Grand Lodge decided that the expression GAOTU will be included in the rituals, but that the Lodges would be free to make use of it or not (Transactions of the Conseil Fédéral of the Grand Lodge of France, January-April 1903, pp. 21-24).



1913 The National, Independant and Regular Grand Lodge for France and its Colonies


In September 1913, one lodge seceded from the Grand Orient, constituted itself as a third French Grand Lodge under the name : Grande Loge Nationale Indépendante et Régulière pour la France et ses Colonies (National, Independant and Regular Grand Lodge for France and its Colonies). It was recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England two months later, by three American Grand Lodges (Mississipi, Missouri, Virginia) between 1914 and 1915, by nine more up to 1939, by thirty-seven further ones up to 1959, and by Alaska and Hawai in 1981 and 1989.[7] In 1948, it changed its original name into the present one : Grande Loge Nationale Française (French National Grand Lodge).[8]

Between 1913 and 1959, no relations whatsoever existed between this Grand Lodge and its two elder French sisters. Between both latter ones, relations were more or less intimate, according to the inclinations of the respective Grand Officers in charge.



After World War II


In September 1953, the Annual Assembly of the Grand Lodge of France moved for the first time of its history that the Obligation must be taken upon the Three Great Lights of Freemasonry and the VSL remain open when its lodges were at work. The decision was voted upon and accepted one year later at its next Assembly.

In the mean time, 15 May 1954, five European Grand Lodges (Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Austria, Germany) signed together the Convention of Luxemburg. One condition to become a member thereof was to break with irregular or non-recognized Grand Lodges within a period of five years, ending May 15, 1959.

Bilateral secret talks began 26 May 1955 between the Grand Lodge of France (1894) and the Grande Loge Nationale Française (1913). A joint committee met six times until September and agreed upon a draft specifying under which conditions both bodies would unite together. The executive body (Conseil Fédéral) of the Grand Lodge of France took cognizance of the draft, 26 November 1955, found it unacceptable and decided not to submit it to its Extraordinary Assembly called January next for the purpose of ratification.

The Grand Lodge of France was accepted a member of the Convention of Luxembourg in September 1956, a step ratified at its Annual Assembly a couple of weeks later.

In November 1958, the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge of France prepared the draft of a ‘Charter of Union of the Grand Lodges of France’ with the intent of uniting together with the Grande Loge Nationale Française. Between 6 February and 16 June 1959, representatives of the three bodies met five times. They failed to reach an agreement.[9]

In September 1959, the Grand Lodge of France suspended its relations with the Grand Orient for one year, a decision which was to become definitive if the Grand Orient did not return to regularity within that period.

According to its 1959 Year Book, the Grand Lodge of France was then in amity with eleven North American Grand Lodges (Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Wisconsin).



1964 The Treaty of Fraternal Alliance between Grand Orient and Grand Lodge of France


Five years later, the Grand Lodge of France changed its mind for at least some of the following reasons.

·         May 1960, a communiqué of the United Grand Lodge of England was issued in The Times, proclaiming anew the irregularity of both the Grand Lodge and the Grand Orient of France.

·         Bilateral talks which the Grand Lodge of France wished to enter into with the Grande Loge Nationale Française in September 1961 could not begin because of attacks from the latter on the former.

·         The Grand Lodge of France realized it was in the process of loosing its few remaining international relations : the United Grand Lodges of Germany had broken in 1960, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy did the same or decided upon a suspension in 1963.

Accordingly, in order to escape complete isolation from a national as well as from an international point of view, the Grand Lodge of France concluded a ‘Treaty of Fraternal Alliance’ with the Grand Orient. After a stormy session, it was ratified by 140 against 82 votes at its Annual Assembly, 17 September 1964.

On the next day, the Supreme Council of France rescinded its decretals from 1894, 1904 and 1927 by which it granted and acknowledged the independance of the Grand Lodge of France. Out of a total membership of some eight thousand Brethren, about a thousand left the Grand Lodge of France and, after contemplating founding a new Grand Lodge, rejoined the Grande Loge Nationale Française in May 1965.


The ratification of the Treaty in September 1964 resulted in the split of the Supreme Council of France (1804)

Its active members, all of whom belonged to the Grand Lodge of France, opposed drawing closer to the Grand Orient but they objected rejoining the Grande Loge Nationale Française as well. Their Grand Commander, Charles Riandey (1892-1976), repeatedly stated he shared that opinion.

However at its meeting of 18 December 1964, when the Supreme Council learned that Riandey held secret encounters with Grand Officers of the Grande Loge Nationale Française, it requested his resignation. As a consequence, the Supreme Council of the United States (Southern Jurisdiction) and that of the Netherlands suspended their relations with the Supreme Council of France middle of January next.

9 February 1965, Grand Commander Riandey thought necessary to be re-initiated in the Craft degrees by the Grand Master of the Grande Loge Nationale Française, Ernest van Hecke, and demitted from the Supreme Council the next day.

Charles Riandey, Paul Naudon (33° since 1960 and an Active Member since 1963) together with four 33° brethren and four other French Masons were initiated or re-initiated up to the 33° by the Supreme Council of the Netherlands, February 14. They founded the Supreme Council for France, consecrated in Paris, 24 April 1965.

The Supreme Council of France (1804) was subsequently termed irregular by most Supreme Councils of the world.



Why was the Grand Lodge of France ‘De-recognized’ by some American Grand Lodges ?


Seemingly ignoring the above facts, a recent article [10] set a political explanation for the ‘de-recognition’ of the Grand Lodge of France by North American Grand Lodges :

It has often been said that almost all concepts of Masonic regularity, if the most basic requirements of our craft are met, are based on politics. And thus, politically, the most damning single [my italics] element which lead [led ?] to de-recognition by ‘mainstream’ North American grand lodges was the Grand Lodge of France’s recognition of the Prince Hall Affiliated lodges of black US servicemen stationed in Europe after WW II – this, in an atmosphere of de Gaulle era anti-Americanism, was fuelled by competing grand lodges, all eager to be the ‘chosen one’ in the battle of eminent jurisdiction. By a strange twist of history, the concept of ‘one grand lodge per Masonic jurisdiction’ is rapidly becoming a thing of the past as one US jurisdiction after another realizes recognition between ‘mainstream’ and Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges [original capitalization. A. B.].

A strange explanation. A qualified member of the Grand Lodge of France wrote to me recently :

Mention of a Prince Hall Grand Lodge is first found in the report read before the Grand Lodge of France Annual Meeting in 1991 (p. 62), the then Grand Chancellor [...] having invited a delegation he had met a few days before at the Annual Assembly of the [unrecognized] Grand Lodge of Belgium, namely Charles B. Beane, Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachussetts, and Willis Garrett, Assistant Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland. [...]

Prince Hall is mentioned in the Grand Chancellor’s report for 1997 (p. 79) : « Our MW GM recalled [...] that the GLDF had recognized Prince Hall Masonry in 1952... ». However the minutes of the 1952 Grand Lodge Meeting do not show words to that effect. The first mention of a treaty of amity and mutual recognizance with a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, that of Georgia, is found in the minutes of the 1999 Grand Lodge Meeting (p.141) ... [a second one] with the Prince Hall GL in Washington (D. C.) in the Chancellor’s 2000 Report (pp. 65-66) ...

The following letter, written 21 June 1965 by a member of the Committee on Fraternal Relations of the Grand Lodge of Vermont to the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of France, seems to reflect the true reasons why the Grand Lodge of France was de-recognized by North American Grand Lodges :

I regret to inform you that our Committee on Fraternal Relations recommended to our Grand Lodge, which convened June 9-10 last, that the Grand Lodge of Vermont, F. & A. M., withdraw its recognition from and cease its exchange of Grand Representatives with the Grand Lodge of France, effective immediately.

It is my thought that one of the main reasons for this action is the reputed close connection between the Grand Lodge of France and the Grand Orient of France, and with the added thought about the attitude of the Grand Lodge of France and the Grand Orient de France relative to the required display of the Holy Bible during Masonic work.

Yours fraternally,

Half a dozen North American Grand Lodges remained in the Grand Lodge of France’s Year Books until 1973. But none ever since 1974.


Alain Bernheim


Among the informative books which were issued about the events of 1964 :

·          Marcel Cerbu, Le Combat des Francs-Maçons (1976). Bro. Cerbu was Chancellor of the Grand Lodge of France in 1964.

·          Confession d'un Grand Commandeur de la Franc-Maçonnerie - Mémoires posthumes - Introduction et annotations de Raoul L. Mattei (1989). Ill\ Bro. Mattei, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council for France (1976-1981), edited with comments the posthumous Memoirs of Charles Riandey, Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of France (1961-1965) and Grand Commander of the Supreme Council for France (1965-1974).

·          Raoul Mattei, Chronique d'un schisme maçonnique (1994).



[1]            For instance Bro. J.W. Worlein, ‘A Visit to the Grand Lodge of France’ (The Philalethes, April 2002).

[2]           For instance Bro. M. Poll, ‘The Recognition Game’ (The Philalethes, December 2002).

[3]           Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961 ed.), pp. 263.

[4]           [Lobingier] The Supreme Council, 33° (1931): 820. The Southern Jurisdiction ‘henceforward recognize(d) the Supreme Council of the 33d degree, for France and its Dependancies over which the Ill\ Bro\ Crémieux presides’ (Official Bulletin SJ, vol. I: 70). Pike analyzed the relations between both French Supreme Councils and the Southern Jurisdiction in his Address from March 29, 1860 (Transactions SJ 1857 to 1866, reprinted 1878, pp. 98-101). In his Allocution from October 15, 1888 (Official Bulletin SJ, vol. IX, Appendix, pp. 28-31) he summarized the reasons why relations were broken with the Grand Orient after its recognition of the Supreme Council of Louisiana in 1868.

[5]            See note 3.

[6]           Paul M. Bessel, ‘U.S. Recognition of French Grand Lodges in the 1900s’ (Heredom 5, 1996, pp. 221-244). Also [Lobingier] The Supreme Council, 33° (1931): p. 818 & Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961 ed.), p. 522.

[7]          Private communication (June 2002) from a Grand Officer of the GLNF.

[8]          In English : French National Grand Lodge, not ‘National Grand Lodge of France’ as Bro. Worlein wrote.

[9]           The reason for the failure had nothing to do with Landmarks but was a much more prosaic one : the contemplated United French Grand Lodge was to be headed by a Committee of nine members, three from each Grand Lodge. The fees however were to be paid according to the membership of each Grand Body. As a result, the Grand Orient would have one-third of the votes but must pay more than one half of the costs, a stipulation it declined to accept.

[10]            See Note 1.