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Ramsay’s life

We don’t have a single portrait of him and we do not know when he was born (1681, 1688 or, more likely, 1686, June 9 [1] ), and where. Brought up in Ayr, a small village near Kilwinning in Scotland, he was educated at Ayr Grammar school but we are not sure when and where he studied further. Possibly at Glasgow and then at Edinburgh University. A deeply religious young man,[2] he was supposed to become a minister but never did.

In 1708, Ramsay accepted the position of tutor to the two children of David, 3rd Earl of Wemyss.[3] About April 1710, Ramsay unexpectedly left the Wemyss estate in Thistleworth and went to Holland to meet Poiret [4] who will be responsible for the publication of Madame Guyon’s writings.[5]

Shortly afterwards, Ramsay left for Cambrai where he arrived in August 1710 [6] and made the acquaintance of the local archbishop Fénelon. Ramsay converted to Roman Catholicism six months later and stayed at the archbishop’s house until 1714. Ramsay went afterwards to Madame Guyon’s in Blois where he remained two years as a disciple as well as a private secretary. He left Blois for Paris toward the end of 1716 and became tutor to the son of the Comte de Sassenage, first gentleman of the chamber to the Regent.[7]

While living at the Sassenage’s house in Paris, Ramsay entered in contact with Stuart exiles.[8] His name first appears in the Stuart Papers in a letter from Dec. 16, 1720, in which Lord Landsdowne [9] described him to James as « a gentleman entirely attached to your Majesty’s service... [who] made it his request to me to introduce to your favourable acceptance his last edition of the labours of that great prelate » [10] herewith alluding to Fénelon whose life Ramsay was to publish in 1723.

About that time, Ramsay wrote to James adressing him as « the King of Great Britain » and ending his letter with the words « Be pleased to accept it as a tribute of my loyalty, as a mark of my duty, and as an earnest of that most profound respect, with which I have the honour to be, Sr, your Majesties most humble, most faithfull and most obedient servant and subject. »[11]

Ramsay left the tutorship of Sassenage’s child during the Summer of 1722. His Paris friends interceded by the Regent, then head of the Order, to have him knighted chevalier de St Lazare, May 20, 1723,[12] herewith qualifying him to receive a pension on the Abbey of Signy in France. Four days later, James III. granted Ramsay a patent of nobility written in French which reads thus translated into English :

It having been certified to us by several Lords of our Realm living in Paris that Andrew Michael Ramsay Esquire, a gentleman of Scotland, is descended through his father from the noble and ancient house of Dalhousie Ramsay, Peer of Scotland and through his mother from the most noble and very illustrious house of the Duke of Mar, Duke of Erskine and Peer of Scotland, we have been graciously pleased to grant him this our authentic declaration of the nobility of his descent, that it may be of service and of value to him whenever he may have need of the same.[13]

However when a French historian wrote in 1999 to Sir Malcolm Innes of Edingight, kcvo, the Lord Lyon King of Arms in Edinburgh, in order to ascertain whether Ramsay’s claim to nobility had any ground at all, he became the following answer :

I have not come across this person in my reading and researches. I note that the Old Pretender confirmed certain genealogical matters for this person. This having been done at some distance the reliability of such a certificate or diploma might be questioned.[14]

James seems to have hold Ramsay in high esteem [15] and, alluding to the possibility that Ramsay may sometimes come to Rome, wrote to him : « I believe it will be easy for me to employ you in a way equally fitting my service and your genius ». A little later, Ramsay was appointed a tutor to the Old Pretender’s first child, Charles Edward, who was born in Rome on New Year’s eve 1720. He left Paris, Jan. 3, 1724, and arrived in Rome after a three weeks journey. However he was to stay only a few months. Unhappy about the Roman atmosphere - he was considered an agent of the Paris Stuart coterie [16] - Ramsay asked permission of James to return to Paris and left middle of November. Altogether Ramsay’s association with the royal family at Rome was rather a failure.[17]


Ramsay lived then at the duke of Sully who had married one of Madame Guyon’s daughter in 1719. He began to write Les Voyages de Cyrus.[18] The novel issued in 1727 was a great success. However clever people noticed that Ramsay borrowed a lot. Lantoine [19] found an anonymous pamphlet printed in 1728, Entretiens sur les Voyages de Cyrus, [20] which listed all the sentences culled by Ramsay in Fénelon and Bossuet, or in less famous authors like Jacques de Tourreil (an obscure member of the Académie Française) and The improvement of human reason, exhibited in the life of Hai Ebn Yokdan from Abu Ibn al-Tufail, translated from the Arabic by Simon Ockley and printed in 1708 in London by E. Powell & J. Morphew ! Translated by Nathaniel Hooke, the Travels of Cyrus chiefly contributed to turn English attention to Ramsay.


In 1727, George II. succeeded to the English throne. A ‘general act of pardon’ seems to have been expected from the next Parliament but did not materialise. George merely did some pardoning, which possibly explains why Ramsay was able come to England toward the middle of 1729.[21] Highlights of his one year stay was his election (together with Montesquieu) as a Fellow of the Royal Society, Dec. 11, 1729 ; his membership of the Spalding Club, March 12 (O.S.), 1730 [22]; his initiation in the Horn Lodge of which the Duke of Richmond was WM, March 16 (O.S.), 1730,[23] a few weeks after Montesquieu ; and his reception as a Doctor of Civil Law at Oxford, April 10, 1730.


Back in Paris in July 1730 [24] Ramsay was employed by the Bouillon family as tutor of the young Godefroi Geraud, Duke of Château-Thierry (nephew of the Comte d’Evreux) and when the lad died, March 1732, of Evreux’s grand-nephew, Godefroi Charles, Prince of Turenne, born 1728.[25] Ramsay kept that position until June 1741.[26] James awarded Ramsay the title of Knight and Baronet, March 23, 1735,[27] on the recommendation of the Duchess of Bouillon and of Sir David Nairne whose younger daughter, Marie, then aged 34, Ramsay married in June.[28]


One and a half year later, Ramsay appears as out of nowhere on the French masonic scene. The title-page of a manuscript version of his Discours states the date of its delivery : 1736 Discours de Mr Le Cher de Ramsay Prononcé a la Loge de St jean le 26 Xbre, that is, December 26, 1736. From then on, documents concerning Freemasonry in Paris multiply whereas the last mention of Ramsay in a masonic context, besides his talks with Geusau in 1741, is a letter he wrote to a Jacobite friend on August 2, 1737. It is quoted below.


Ramsay died, May 6, 1743. The next day, his burial in St. Germain was attended by two freemasons : the Earl of Derwentwater, elected Grand Master of France one day after Ramsay delivered his Discours in Paris, and Alexander of Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton, then aged nineteen, who was made a mason by the Earl of Kilmarnock in the Lodge of Kilwinning on January 20, 1742 and became Master of the Lodge as well as Grand Master Mason in Scotland in 1750. Ramsay’s death certificate [29] was signed by both of them, together with Eglinton’s tutor, Michel de Ramsay who was Andrew Ramsay’s cousin, Alex. Home - likely a member of the Douglas family - and Geo de Leslie who belonged to the Roth family.[30]


The beginnings of French freemasonry [31]

Along the 20th Century, early important French masonic documents were discovered and published. The main ones are :

1.       the French Regles et Devoirs approved by the French Grand Lodge on December 27, 1735 under Grand Master Macleane and stating they are a modified version of those given by Philip, Duke of Wharton, described in the Approbation as having been Grand Master of the Lodges of the Kingdom of France.

2.       A French gazette manuscrite, dated January 4, 1737, stating that a general assembly of the most ancient and honourable society of freemasons, held December 27, 1736, at a place called Le Grand St Germain, rue du Paon, elected « the most high and mighty Lord Charles Ratcliff, earl of Derwent-Waters, a peer of England, in the place of Lord Hector Macleone (sic), baronet of Scotland ». [32]

3.       A document [33] stating that Derwentwater delivered a Warrant for a new lodge in Paris, February 14, 1737, in consequence of a temporary one issued by his predecessor MacLean, November 29, 1736. Derwentwater’s Grand Officers are listed by name as well as the WM and both wardens of the new lodge : Louis Collins, [Jean-Pierre] Le Lorrain and Joseph Agard. The lodge met at the hôtel de Bussy, also known as Landelle’s.

4.       The earliest-known Minute Book of a Parisian Lodge whose WM was the famous John Coustos.[34] It covers the period from December 18, 1736 to July 17, 1737. The Duke of Villeroy was made a mason in that lodge and chosen as WM in February. Coustos’ Senior Warden was a ‘D. Errembault Dudzeele’, whereas a ‘Denis Erembault, Marquis du Dyes’ was signatory to Document Nr. 3 from February 14, 1737, as Deputy Master p. t. of GM Derwentwater.

5.       A slightly different version of Document Nr. 1, delivered November 25, 1737, by Grand Master Derwentwater to the Baron of Scheffer, then a member of Coustos’ Lodge, together with a power to constitute lodges in the Kingdom of Sweden.[35]


Paris and the first lodges

How many lodges existed then in Paris is still a conjectural matter. The above documents mention three only :

·         Coustos’ lodge which met every other Tuesday à la ville de tonnerre dans la rue des boucheries.

·         The lodge at the hotel rue de Bussy (Document 3) whose WM Collins (replaced in April 1737 for a short time, by the Duke of Aumont) and wardens visited Coustos’ lodge, February 17, 1737.

·         The Grand Master’s (Derwentwater’s) lodge, mentioned in Document 4, March 12, 1737, in the following words :

WM Gousteau [Coustos], in the place of My Lord, the Duke of Villeroy, moved that the Masters and Wardens meet with the Grand Master of the lodges in France concerning some innovations made in the said Grand Master’s lodge, such as to hold a sword during the receptions [and] to find in the ballot-box more balls than the number of attendants. The brethren have unanimously said that nobody was allowed to make laws in freemasonry, since the offices of Grand Master, Master and Wardens merely consist in enforcing those laws which are transmitted by tradition.[36] Such uniformity distinguish masons from all other sects and made them respected in the whole of Europe, without which one is not acknowledged as such in another land, since one cannot wear any metal during a reception, the brethren added further that the order was not an order of chivalry but a sociable one, wherein any man of probity may be accepted without wearing a sword notwithstanding the fact that many lords and princes enjoy being a member thereof.[37]


According to the lists of lodges, printed in London since 1722, a lodge meeting at the King’s Head or Louis d’Argent, was warranted under Nr. 90 in Paris, April 3, 1732, by the premier Grand Lodge. It can hardly be Derwentwater’s, it cannot be the Bussy lodge warranted in 1736-37 nor Coustos’, since the latter met every other Tuesday whereas Nr. 90 met on the first Monday.[38] According to an undated note found in police archives, WM of the Louis d’Argent was Thomas-Pierre Le Breton [39] who was present on December 18, 1736, at the first meeting recorded in Coustos’ lodge Minute-Book.


The two main versions of the Discours

Until 1964, the interpretations given by various scholars of Ramsay’s Discours had one thing in common : they all commented ‘the’ Discours as if there had been one only.

My friend Pierre Chevallier was the first historian of French Freemasonry to bring out parts of an earlier hitherto unknown manuscript version of the Discours.[40] He followed indications given by Albert Lantoine [41] who mentioned its existence in the archives of a small French town, Epernay, located in the heart of Champagne’s vineyards. Lantoine wrote the manuscript copy was an ‘incomplete’ one,[42] suggesting it was a first sketch of the printed version. This was a mistake : both texts are quite different from another.[43]

The date mentioned on the manuscript of the Discours, December 26, 1736, was one day before the Earl of Derwentwater [44] was elected Grand Master by a general assembly of freemasons in Paris. Derwentwater, an Englishman, succeeded James Hector McLean, knight, baronet of Scotland. MacLean was several years Grand Master in France.[45]


Both versions are divided into three parts whose respective length is quite different :


Plan of Ramsay’s Discours

ms version

printed versions




1. Qualities required in the Order

ca. 1’000 words 

ca. 1’800 words 

2. Ancient traditions of the Order’s history

ca. 840 words

ca. 65 words

3. True history of the Order

ca. 400 words

ca. 850 words

Approximate total length :

2’240 words

2’715 words


Whereas the ms version is about 2’200 words long and the printed one 2’700, both have only 500 words in common. Some 1’000 words of the ms version were left out of the printed one to which about 1’500 new words were added.

Except for minor variations, later printed versions are similar to the earliest one from 1738.[46] Accordingly the ms text and the printed one must be discussed separately.

Both versions begin with identical words : the speaker addresses men who are about to be, or have just been, made Masons.


[1]             According to the Anecdotes (see Bibliography, I. Primary sources, Manuscript).

[2]           In 1708, « he had become one of a most interesting group of sincere religious persons in Scotland who turned with distaste from the prevailing forms of Christianity and sought satisfaction in mystical union with a loving God and worship of Him in spirit and in truth. » (Henderson 1952 : 16).

[3]             Wemyss’ son James (1699-1756) became 4th Earl and had two sons. The elder, David, was attainted after the 45’. His younger brother James became 5th Earl and was elected Grand Master Mason in Edinburgh, November 30, 1743, succeeding William, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock.

[4]           Pierre Poiret (1646-1719). Edited from 1711 to his death Mme Guyon’s Oeuvres complètes in 39 vol.

[5]           Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte (1648-1717) became famous as Madame Guyon. Author of mystical Commentaires on the Bible, « une folle pour les libertins et une hérétique pour les dévots » (Roger Priouret, La Franc-Maçonnerie sous les lys, 1953, p. 28), a « religious adviser to a host of earnest and completely unfanatical Christians in many lands and in different sects. Her writings had been commended to Ramsay before he left England » (Henderson1952  37). See Le Quiétisme (1973) by J.-R. Armogathe.

[6]             Ramsay, Histoire de la vie de Messr. François de Salignac de la Motte Fénelon, p. 102. The book was first published in 1723. My quotes are from the 1724 ed. printed in Bruxelles. Fénelon was one of the greatest French theologians.

[7]           Louis XIV died September 1, 1715. His great-grandson, Louis XV, heir to the French throne, will act as King from June 16, 1726, at the age of 16. In the meantime, power was in the hands of the Regent, the Duc d’Orléans, succeeded after his death (1723) by the Duc de Bourbon.

[8]           Among those, the Duke of Mar who was Secretary of State to James III and lived in Paris. Mar mentioned Ramsay’s name in several letters to James (Henderson 1952 : 59-60).

[9]           Made a peer under Queen Anne, sent to the Tower in 1715, he went to live in France. Formed there a group called the ‘Triumvirate’ with Mar and Dillon.

[10]             Henderson 1952 : 85-86.

[11]          A couple of years later, Ramsay wrote to James: « My greatest ambition as well as greatest happiness shall ever be to sacrifice all I am and all I have to your interests » (Henderson 1952 : 87-89).

[12]             Facsimile of the ms Minutes, Renaissance Traditionnelle 114 (April 1998) : 110-111.

[13]          Stuart Papers, Misc. 21/26 (Windsor Castle), facsimile in AQC 81 (1968) : 283. Bro. Tunbridge found the document  and put it at Bro. Batham’s disposal (ibid. : 313).

[14]             Renaissance Traditionnelle 117 (Jan. 1999) : 2. However Naudon and Lamoine wrote imprudently: « In spite of Voltaire’s assertions, reproduced without control by numerous historians, Ramsay belonged to a noble and great Scottish family » (Naudon 1960 : 78), « Ramsay, of genuine noble Scots stock » (Lamoine 2002 : 237). Both could not read very well either : quoting a sentence of Ramsay’s Discours after Lantoine, Naudon writes (ibid. p. 82, note 2) – but here, he seems to be copying Daruty 287 inaccurately ! - he could not find it in La Tierce 1742, whereas the sentence stays p. 136. Lamoine ascribes the imaginary date 1740 to an edition of La Tierce (Lamoine ibid. : 226).

[15]          « I have heard a great deal of good of him of all sorts of people and never any ill, and I believe he will answer my expectation » James to Southcott (Henderson 1952 : 93).

[16]             Henderson 1952  103. James must have become suspicious of Ramsay and in April 1724 wrote to Murray: « Ramsay is not to be anyways concerned in writings or politics » (Henderson 1952  104).

[17]             Henderson 1952 :108.

[18]          The French edition was dedicated to Sully, the English one to Lord Landsdowne. A Dublin edition appeared in 1728.

[19]          Lantoine 1927 : 122.

[20]          Likely the source of Voltaire’s entry ‘Plagiat’ in his Dictionnaire Philosophique : « Dans ces voyages, il [Ramsay] copie les phrases, les raisonnemens d’un ancien auteur anglais qui introduit un jeune solitaire disséquant sa chèvre morte, et remontant à Dieu par sa chèvre. Cela ressemble fort à un plagiat. Mais en conduisant Cyrus en Egypte, il se sert, pour décrire ce pays singulier, des mêmes expressions employées par Bossuet ; il le copie mot pour mot sans le citer. Voilà un plagiat dans toutes ses formes. ».

[21]          Ramsay spent Christmas 1729 at the Duke of Orrey’s (John Heron Lepper, AQC 35 : 78)

[22]          Not 1729, as Gould wrote (II : 284n & III : 81), since Ramsay signs as a FRS (Henderson 1952 : 140).

[23]          The date of Ramsay’s initiation was first ascertained by the Rev. Oxford (No 4, An Introduction to the History of the Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge, 1928, p. 16). Sitwell was immediately aware of it that same year (Transactions for the year 1928, Lodge No. CC, p. 42). In 1913, Chetwode Crawley did not believe in it (« He cannot have been initiated during the visit...  » AQC 26 : 61). Neither Lantoine who states Ramsay was initiated in 1736 (Lantoine 1930 : 48), nor Henderson (Henderson 1952 : 166), nor Pierre Chevallier (Chevallier 1964: 140) were aware of it.

[24]          Pierre Chevallier 1964 : 136. Henderson ignored how long Ramsay stayed in England (Henderson 1952 : 147). According to Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia (1961 ed.), Ramsay went in 1728 to England and spent 8 years there and in Scotland !

[25]          Godefroi Geraud was born 1719, his mother was Marie Charlotte Sobieska, sister of James’ wife, Marie Clémentine. Godefroi Charles was born 1728. Head of the house was the Duc de Bouillon.

[26]          He wrote many pamphlets and books during that time, his most important work being l’Histoire du vicomte de Turenne, maréchal général des armées du roy, issued in March 1735.

[27]             Henderson 1952 : 181-182.

[28]          Marie was born January 6, 1701. According to a gazette dated July 10, 1735, the wedding had taken place « about a month ago » (Chevallier 1968 : 135). Their first child, Isaac, born Dec. 1737, died June 1740. A daughter, Marie Catherine, born Jan. 1739, died in 1758 (Henderson 1952 : 185-186).

[29]             Parochial register quoted in French by Henderson (Henderson 1952 : 197).

[30]          ‘Lesley, comte de Rooth’ is listed in Bord 1908 : 118 as a member of the Lodge said by him to have existed in the Regiment of Dillon between 1700 and 1730. See also Philip Crossle in Transactions for the year 1928, Lodge No. CC, pp. 61-73 & 73-75 (translation of Bord 1908 : 491 and ff.) and his foot-note, p. 74.

[31]          Writing in 1968, Bro. Tunbridge stated: « Very little is known of Freemasonry in France prior to 1737 » and added in a fit of pure imagination : « In 1735 five French Lodges appeared on the English Registers » (AQC 81: 92) whereas they were only three : Paris, Aubigny and Valenciennes.

[32]          For the references to the first two documents, respectively published by Etienne Fournial in 1964 and George Luquet in 1956, see Bernheim 1968 : 120-121.

[33]          First published in Juvanon 1926 : 134-135.

[34]             Transcribed, published and commented by Daniel Ligou in Bulletin du Centre de documentation du Grand Orient de France 51 (1965) : 33-68.

[35]             Originally transcribed and published by Arthur Groussier, GM of the Grand Orient of France, in 1932. Republished by Fournial in 1964 (see note 35). Facsimile of the original document, extant in the Library of the Swedish Masonic Order, in Feddersen 1989 : 585-605.

[36]          Words very similar to those included in the Minutes of the Grand Lodge meeting in London, June 24, 1723 : « And the Question was moved. That it is not in the Power of any person, or Body of men, to make any Alteration, or Innovation in the Body of Masonry without the Consent first obtained of the Annual Grand Lodge. » (Quatuor Coronatorum Antigrapha X, 50), as well as to Regulation XXXIX printed in Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Freemasons 1723.

[37]          When masonic ceremonies will be revealed to the French public in December 1737, Derwentwater is reported by a member of Collins’ Lodge, abbé le Camus, as having « strongly protested against the French and stated they had been admitted in spite of his desires » (Luquet 1963 : 176).

[38]          After meeting every Wednesday au Louis d’Argent dans La Rue de Boucherie a Paris (1734 list), Nr. 90, according to the engraved lists issued from 1735 to 1740, met on the first Monday at the Hotel de Bussy, rue de Bussy (1735 & 1736 lists) and afterwards at the Ville de Tonnerre, Rüe des Boucheries (1738, 1739 and 1740 lists, in the latter one under Nr. 78). Strangely enough, another French Lodge, warranted by the premier Grand Lodge, August 12, 1735, with Nr 133 At the Castle at Aubigny (a castle which belonged to the Duke of Richmond) always met on the First Monday (1735, 1738-1740 lists).

[39]             Chevallier 1964 : 51. This lodge was never called Saint-Thomas until the 1760s, a fact brilliantly demonstrated in 1985 by Etienne Fournial, although most historians, from Thory to Sitwell (Transactions for the year 1928, Lodge No. CC, p. 41) as well as Pierre Chevallier asserted the contrary.

[40]          In Les Ducs sous l’Acacia (1964). Paul Tunbridge wrote Pierre Chevallier was a Mason (AQC 81: 93). He never was.

[41]          Lantoine 1927 : 117-118 (the text quoted there by Lantoine is that of the printed version of 1738, not the manuscript one, in spite of what his comments suggest) & 1930 : 32.

[42]          A word which Sitwell changed into ‘imperfect’ (Sitwell 1928 : 43). Also : « March 1737, the Discours is written in its definitive version » (Chevallier 1964 : 144). Printed versions are also termed ‘more complete’ by Lamoine.

[43]          Only the third part  of the ms version was transcribed in Chevallier 1964 : 147-149. Cyril Batham who issued both versions in English (AQC 81 : 298-304) names the printed version « Grand Lodge », which is misleading since it was not delivered in Grand Lodge by Ramsay. Batham admits he copied Gould’s translation (AQC 81 : 282, note 2), which is why one reads identical French words rendered differently in both English versions of the Discours printed in parallel columns in AQC 81. For instance : Oui, Messieurs translated as ‘Yes, gentlemen’ (ms) and ‘Yes, sirs’ (printed version).

            The last-issued volume 114 of AQC (October 2002) includes a further translation of the Epernay manuscript version by Georges Lamoine together with the translation of another ms version (originally located in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Toulouse by Jacques Léglise, see Bibliography).

[44]          James Ratcliff, Earl of Derwentwater (1693-1746), and his son James Bartholomew embarked from Dunkirk to Montrose, November 22, 1745, in order to take part in the 45’ in Scotland. The boat was captured by the Sheerness. Imprisoned at the Tower, James was beheaded in London,  December 8, 1746.

[45]          Neither the date of MacLean’s first election nor that of the foundation of the Grand Lodge of France have been ascertained yet. It is well to remember that we do not know the date of the foundation of the GL of Ireland either and that the only testimony we have of the premier Grand Lodge being formed in London on June 24, 1717, is the uncorroborated one of Anderson in the New Book of Constitutions, issued 1738, some twenty years after the event.

[46]          See Bibliography.