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We shall see now, with the help of a letter written a few weeks after the Grand Lodge meeting was cancelled – which is the last contemporary document of Ramsay as a Mason - , what was on his mind when he wrote the paragraph last quoted above.

This essential new piece of evidence came to light in 1963. when François Weil published a hitherto unknown letter written by Ramsay to the Marquis of Caumont [1] in Avignon, April 16, 1737, which includes many words and sentences closely resembling, and sometimes identical with, the printed version of the Discours. Their differences show what Ramsay chose not to express publicly.

Two and a half centuries before Professor David Stevenson, Ramsay stated that Freemasonry had come down from Scotland to England :


John, Lord Stewart or Grand Master of the House of the King of Scotland, brought our science from the Holy Land in 1286 and established a lodge at Kilwinn in Scotland in which he received as freemaçons the Earls of Gloucester and Ulster. Since that time, the old Kingdom and intimate ally of France was the depository of our secrets, the Center of the order and the conservator of our laws. From Scotland, our society spread in England, under the great Prince Edward, son of Henry III.


And directly following the previous words, Ramsay expressed his true inner political and masonic leanings :


The baneful religious discords which set Europe afire [2] and tore it apart in the sixteenth century caused our order to degenerate from the greatness and nobility of its origin. In order to satisfy the parricidal usurper Elizabeth who looked upon our lodges as so many nests of Catholicism which must be suppressed,[3] the Protestants altered, disguised and degraded many of our hieroglyphs, stamped our brotherly meals as Bacchanals, and polluted our sacred assemblies. Mylord Earl of Detwentwater, martyr of Royalty and of Catholicism, attempted to bring everything here back to its origin and to restore everything upon its ancient footing. The ambassadors of the Netherlands and of George Duke of Hannover [4] took offence, and blaspheming against what they ignored, assuming that the catholic, royalist and Jacobite freemasons resembled the heretical, apostate and republican freemasons, they blamed us first, and then sung our praises by screaming everywhere that we intended to undertake a ninth Crusade in order to re-establish the true monarch of Great Britain. Our assemblies at the head of which Louis XV intended to declare himself have been suspended for a while. That storm will only help to separate the wheat from the chaff but finally virtue and truth will triumph under the reign of the most loveable of all Kings [...].


Another document, also discovered by Françoise Weil, adds a further interesting touch. In a letter from August 2, 1737,[5] Ramsay wrote to the well-known Jacobite Carte :


you have no doubt heard of the rumours our French Free Masons made. I was the orator and had great views, if the Card. [6] had not wrote to me to forbear. I sent my discourse made at the acception at different times of eight dukes and peers and two hundred officers of the first rank and highest nobility to his grace the duke of Ormond. George Kelly is to translate it and send it to M. Bettenham to be printed. You’l[l] see there my general views for learning but my particular views for the good of our country, I’ll tell you when at meeting. If the Card. had deferred one month longer, I was to have gone to the ‘merite’ to harangue the king of France as head of the confraternity and to have initiated His Majesty into our sacred mysterys.[7]




As far as documents bear testimony, the answer to that question is negative. I showed why five years ago : [8]

q       According to Luynes’ Mémoires, under date March 18, 1737, Cardinal Fleury had on the previous day instructed the Lieutenant Général de Police Hérault that ‘no further meetings of Freemasons were to be held’.

q       Being away in the country, Ramsay was not aware of Hérault’s instructions when he wrote in a first (undated) letter to Cardinal Fleury : « Comme je dois lire mon discours demain dans une assemblée Generale de l’ordre, & le donner lundy matin aux examinateurs de la Chancellerie... ».[9]

q       As soon as Ramsay returned to Paris and heard the news, he quickly wrote a second letter dated March 22 (Friday), telling the Cardinal he had « just learned that masonic assemblies displease His Excellency ».

q       What about the General Assembly said to be held the next day in Ramsay’s first letter [10] ? The key to the riddle lies in the Minute-Book of the Coustos’ lodge.[11] On March 23 (Saturday), the lodge held an extraordinary meeting ‘to discuss proposals to be submitted to-morrow, 24th of the present month, to the Grand Lodge’. Coustos’ lodge met again the next day, March 24, and during that meeting a letter of the Grand Master [Derwentwater] was read, in which he moved (likely in consequence of Hérault’s instructions of the previous week)

to postpone the meeting of Grand Lodge because of certain circumstances (conjonctures) which shall not be stated (déduites). Enough to say that the free-masons are threatened not to have the freedom to hold meetings any more.

Accordingly, it appears more than likely that the text Ramsay sent to Cardinal Fleury was not delivered at all in 1737, since the Grand Lodge meeting was postponed on March 24 and, as far as we know, no further one was held that year.

In any case, we ignore which version of his Discours Ramsay sent to the Cardinal.[12] A version of the Discours may have been delivered in 1740 by the French Grand Master in Grand Lodge, as stated two years later by La Tierce (see Bibliography), but no further extant document corroborates his assertion.




For the past two hundred years, many commentators charged Ramsay with inventing additional degrees (including the Royal Arch) as well as a ‘Ramsay’s rite’ which, they say, he tried – without success – to introduce in London in 1728.

The latter absurdity originated in a manuscript History of Freemasonry written by Fessler in 1802.[13] According to Fessler, to the existing three English Craft degrees Ramsay added that of Knight of St Andrews of the Thistle, which already existed since the time James II. was in France, and grafted thereupon the three degrees worked in the Chapter of Clermont. Ramsay presented his reform to both the English and the French Grand Masters.

Thory, familiar with Fesslers History,[14] embellished the above in his Acta Latomorum and wrote without blushing :

In that year [1728], the Scottish Knight Baronet Ramsay laid in London the foundations of a new Masonry which, according to him, originated in the Crusades and whose invention he ascribed to Godfrey of Bouillon. He asserted that the St Andrews Lodge in Edinburgh was the head of the true Order of the Freemasons who were the scions of the knights of the Crusades. He conferred three degrees : the Ecossais, the Novice and the Knight of the Temple. Ramsay preaches a reform based on his discovery ; this doctrine is rejected.[15]

Many credulous historians recopied Thory. Gould, who was familiar with Schiffmann’s study on Ramsay, realized the claim was absurd.[16]


However it was still alive and growing in the middle of the 20th century. While preparing his biography of Ramsay, Henderson « had the privilege of consulting Dudley Wright [17] » on masonic matters and became the following answer :

There were nine degrees in Ramsay’s system. The first four comprehended Symbolic Masonry and formed the first Chapter. The second Chapter was composed of four further degrees and constituted what was called the Masonry of the Crusades. The third Chapter consisted of those who had been admitted to the ninth or highest degree, known as the Secrets of Scientific masonry. The three Chapters or Lodges were united into a Consistory... [18]




It seems to me that Ramsay’s life, what he did and chose not to do, what he thought and chose not to write, can be summarized in a few words : he was a true Jacobite, poor [19] and, most of all, dependent on the good will of various groups of persons – French aristocrats, Stuart exiles, Freemasons of different origins - whose opinions were different. And he needed them all.


Since we know nothing of Ramsay’s masonic activities between 1730 (his initiation in London) and December 1736 - the notes taken by Geusau in 1741 during his conversations with Ramsay, as reported by Büsching, might have proven a help ; however they include many inaccuracies and it is hardly possible to use them as a reliable source [20] -, guesses are our last resort in order to try and understand Ramsay’s behaviour.


Although made a Mason in London, Ramsay is not recorded among those present when the Duke of Richmond held a Lodge in Paris at his mother’s house in September 1734 nor when he held another one together with Desaguliers a year later, whereas Montesquieu attended on both occasions. Was Ramsay not invited ? Did he choose not to go ? Was he, at that time, already reading his Discours made at the acception at different times of eight dukes and peers and two hundred officers of the first rank and highest nobility ? We have no way to know.


What we know is that the printed version is extremely different from the manuscript one. So different indeed that I presume it might have been written as a consequence of the election of Derwentwater as Grand Master in France and likely under his influence.


If – but this is a very big if – if Ramsay was an early or even a founding member of the Louis d’Argent [21] at the time it was warranted by the premier Grand Lodge in Paris, that is, two years after Ramsay was made a Mason in Richmond’s lodge in London, it might explain why he did not keep the Gospel of St John as the book recovered in the foundations of Solomon’s Temple in his Discours. The book upon which Masons took the oath in England was the Bible. In French lodges, at least since 1736-1737, it was St. John’s Gospel. [22]


If – again ‘if’ – he decided to come closer to the Grand Master’s Lodge after Derwentwater was elected, it might explain some if not most of the changes between the two versions.


It is well to remember that the 1st article of the French Charges – in the 1735-1736 version – said : But though in past centuries, masons were charged to be of the religion of the land where they lived, yet it is thought lately more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all Christians agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves [...], whereas under Derwentwater it became worded thus : in past centuries, masons were charged to profess the Roman Catholic religion, yet, lately, they are not asked about their particular opinions on the subject, inasmuch as however they are Christians [...].


Would it be too far-fetched to read Ramsay as the author of a true story behind which recent events were told as legends of the past ? Should we dare translate At the time of the last Crusades with : A few years after the 1715’, take James, Lord Steward of Scotland made the Earls of Gloucester and Ulster Masons in his Lodge, the one English, the other Irish as meaning : Hector McLean made James Earl of Derwentwater and O’Heguerty (who were English and Irish) Masons in his Lodge ? [23]


Could it explain why Ramsay wrote : the Protestants altered, disguised and degraded many of our hieroglyphs,... and polluted our sacred assemblies. Mylord Earl of Detwentwater, martyr of Royalty and of Catholicism, attempted to bring everything here back to its origin and to restore everything upon its ancient footing ?


And wouldn’t Ramsay’s Discours make sense then ?


[1]           Françoise Weil  found the letter in the Wellcome Medical Library, London, within a Ramsay file and further ones in the musée Calvet in Avignon. In a letter from November 22, 1733, to a M. Brossette, Voltaire wrote about Caumont : «  c’est un homme qui, comme vous, aime les lettres, et que le bon goût a fait sans doute votre ami ». See comments in Chevallier 1964 : 215 and Bernheim 1974 : 30-32.

[2]           See note 70.

[3]           A reminiscence of Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Freemasons 1723 : 38.

[4]           Meaning King George III. Since August 1730, the British Ambassador in Paris was James, 1st Earl of Waldegrave, a grandson of James II by Arabella Churchill. In 1721, Waldegrave is listed as a member of the Goose and Gridiron Lodge (Harry Rylands, Records of the Lodge of Antiquity No.2, I : 25) and in 1723-1725, as belonging to the Horn Lodge in London in which both Montesquieu and Ramsay were made masons in 1730 at a few weeks’ distance. In April 1728, Montesquieu and Waldegrave travelled together from Paris to Vienna where Waldegrave was Ambassador. Both were present when lodges were held in Paris at the Duchess of Portsmouth’s house in 1734 and 1735. Waldegrave « had been requested by the Duke of Newcastle [England’s Premier Minister] to keep a vigilant eye on... the Jacobites in Paris » (see W.K. Firminger, AQC 48 : 114-115 & Wilfrid G. Fisher, AQC 76 : 56-57) The Dutch Ambassador was M. de Van Hoey (Duc de Luynes’ Mémoires, March 18, 1737, quoted in Luquet 1963 : 154.

[5]           A Jacobite agent living in France under the name of Philipps. See F. J. McLynn, France and the Jacobite Rising of 1745 (1981).

[6]           Read : Cardinal [Fleury].

[7]           Original English text. Bodleian Library (Oxford), Carte 226, f° 398 (Weil 1963 : 1789).

[8]           Bernheim 1997 : 9-10.

[9]           In English: « Since I ought to read my oration to-morrow in a General assembly of the order and hand it over Monday to the Chancery’s examiners... ». At the head of the letter stays ’20 mars’ (see the following note).

[10]          Both letters were first published by Lemontey (Histoire de la Régence et de la Minorité de Louis XV, 1832, II : 292 ff.), then reproduced in Daruty 1879 : 287-288. On the first one, transcribed in Lantoine 1927 : 120 and reproduced in facsimile in Lantoine 1930 between pp. 40-41, one can notice that the date 20 mars is not in the same handwriting as the letter and was likely added by the secretary of the Cardinal. Demain (to-morrow) doesn’t make sense, as showed below. Facsimile of the second letter also in Lantoine, facing p. 49. English translation of both letters in all editions of Gould.

[11]          See note 37.

[12]          An unsigned paragraph preceding Lamoine’s paper states : « There exist several printed and MSS versions of this text because Ramsay re-wrote it in order to have it approved by Cardinal de Fleury, the acting Prime Minister of the time » (AQC 114: 226). A similar sentence is included in the paper on the same page. It is repeated p. 233 with the addition of the word ‘obviously’.

[13]          It is quoted and discussed in Schiffmann 1878 : 54 ff and Schiffmann 1882 : 7-13.

[14]          Thory 1815 II : 320.

[15]          Thory 1815 I : 23.

[16]          « I do not believe that this speech first suggested additional degrees... If any persons assert that he was the concoctor of a new rite of seven degrees, the onus of proving anything so wildly improbable rests entirely upon themselves. » (Gould 1886, III : 79, note 4 & 91).

[17]    Henderson 1952 : 170. Dudley Wright is responsible for the first revision of Gould’s History of Freemasonry, five volumes, issued in 1931 (according to Hewitt, AQC 85 : 66) or in 1933 (according to Hugo Tatsch, AQC 46 : 457). He is described on the Web as « a prolific British author and folklorist who wrote several works on ancient religions, Freemasonry, and legends. His work in the area of vampirology remains important to this day ».

[18]          Besides, one reads in both ‘revised’ editions of Gould : « In 1737 [...] he delivered an oration, which has made his name famous in the annals of the Craft. This was published afterwards as the Relation Apologique et historique de la Société des F. M.  » (Gould-Wright III : 8 & Gould-Poole 1951, IV : 179), which is pure nonsense but fooled at least one unexperienced American scholar (See Bernheim 1997).

[19]          « I should be sorry if my health do not recover to have my dear Nerina [his wife] overcharged with debts, which I contracted these five years past by the excessive dearth of all necessaries, the vexatory impositions, the extravagant expenses of living at a pompous court, the death of my father in law Sir David Nairne, the infidelity of professing friends, and the diminution of my income by all these circumstances and events.» (letter from August 145, 1742, to Dr Stevenson, University Library of Edinburgh, La. 11 301/2, quoted in Chevallier 1968: 191-2).

[20]          Ramsay is said to have stayed « five trimesters » at James’ Court, while he remained in Rome from February to November 1724 ; his wife to have been thirty years old when they married, whereas she was thirty-four ; the cancelled French Grand Lodge meeting of March is termed « a general assembly of the brotherhood from all nations ».

[21]          Absolutely nothing is known about that lodge before 1737.

[22]          In the oldest-known French catechism (Reception d’un frey-maçon, 1736) : « the Candidate is led... face to face with the Grand Master, who is at the upper end, behind an Armchair, on which the Gospel of St. John has been placed ». In 1737, a French police report mentions that the oath is taken on the Gospel of St John (Chevallier 1968 : 56). In 1745, the French police raided a lodge at work and found among other things on a table a book mostly consisting of empty white pages. On one of the few written ones was the beginning of St John’s Gospel (Chevallier 1964 : 125).

[23]          According to Lalande, the three founders of Freemasonry in France.