Freemasonry and the Orange Order

Published in Issue 1 (Spring 1999), Letters, Letters, Volume 7

Sir,—David Rutland (‘Letters’, HI Winter 1998) raises the question ofwhether there is a connection between Freemasonry and Orangeism. Thereis certainly a perception among Roman Catholics in Ireland that such aconnection exists. Both institutions, in fact, deny a connection. InThe Orange Order—An Evangelical Perspective (1993) the Grand Chaplainof the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland, and the Deputy Grand Chaplain ofthe Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland state: ‘there are no connectionsbetween the Freemasons and the Loyal Orange Institution’. TheFreemasons’ Pocket Reference Book (fourth edition, London 1963) states:‘It need hardly be said that there has never been the slightestconnection with the Craft, in fact, in the early part of the nineteenthcentury private Masonic lodges not infrequently forbade their membersto have anything to do with certain organisations, including theOrange’.
Irrespective of denials some are not convinced. In Inside the Brotherhood  (1993) Martin Short claims:
It seems that when Masons have common political aims, but cannot pursuethem through Freemasonry, they set up parallel public movements. Thesebring additional advantages. They attract a mass working-classfollowing for the cause in question without diluting Freemasonry or itsmiddle-class ethos. They also give the Craft a wider but securerecruiting base for its own ‘non-political’ activities. Only a minorityof Orangeman would be socially acceptable in Ulster’s Masonic lodges,but those that are may be discretely approached and would probably bepleased to join.
Discounting conspiracy theories, I would postulate that Masonry andOrangeism tend to be confused because of characteristics which theyshare: both meet in lodges, wear regalia, have several degrees ofmembership and claim lofty and pious ideals. The stereotype would alsoinclude societies like the Ancient Order of Foresters, the Loyal Orderof Ancient Shepherds, the Odd Fellows and the Buffaloes. Many of thesemodelled themselves on Masonry simply because it was the largest andmost prestigious society and had perfected the brotherhood formula. Butthis cannot be held to imply that these societies had/have formalconnections—subterranean or otherwise—with the Craft.
The truth is that Orangeism, like many other brotherhoods, had itsorigins in the melange of secret societies which arose in the lateeighteenth century when almost every new society was constituted as abrotherhood. The list would include the Society of United Irishmen, theDefenders and (a little later) that curious brotherhood founded byDaniel O’Connell, the Ancient Order of Liberators.
Interestingly, to find direct connections between the Craft anddevotees of William of Orange, one has to go to the Netherlands, thefirst continental country to which Freemasonry was exported fromBritain. Lodges were established in the Hague and in Amsterdam in 1734,but a few years later were closed down by the States of Holland whoreferred to them as ‘improper gatherings…unseemly conventions’.Apparently their Orangeist and British affiliations aroused thehostility of the ruling De Witt faction. It was not until therevolution of 1747, which restored the Orangeist stadholder William IV,that the Craft was able to re-constitute itself. Since then itsconnections with the House of Orange have been close and in 1816, thesecond son of King William I, Prince Frederick William, became GrandMaster and so remained for sixty-five years until his death in 1881. Hewas also Grand Master of Belgium in 1871 and presided over a GrandOrient which had Masonic jurisdiction in both countries. To this daymembers of the House of Orange hold high positions in the Grand Orientof the Netherlands whose orbit covers numerous lodges in South Africaand in former Dutch colonies as well as in the home country.—Yours etc.,
West Finchley

Sir,—David Rudland (‘Letters’, HI Winter 1998) is correct in pointingout that the role of Freemasonry in Irish history has not received thescholarly attention it deserves. Freemasonry was indeed ‘a battlefieldof political thought’ in the 1790s—as was Irish society at large. TheMasons were not immune to political and sectarian tensions. Often thelocal and individual circumstances rather than any interpretation ofthe diffuse Masonic ideology dictated where an Irish mason stood in1798.
However, given the rapidly changing political situation of the1790s, quoting resolutions passed by Masonic lodges has its pitfalls.Those quoted by Mr Rudland were published in the winter of 1792-93, inthe immediate aftermath of the Catholic Convention and the demand forparliamentary reform. Some of the Masons who supported such resolutionsno doubt went on to become rebels in 1798, but most did not. A radicalby the standards of 1782 could be a moderate reformer in 1792-93 and aloyalist by 1798. For instance, the Belfast lodges of which SamuelKennedy (lodge no. 762) and Henry Joy McCracken (no. 763) were or hadbeen members, had by 1797 both passed resolutions supporting thegovernment. The Grand Master of the Irish Masons himself, LordDonoughmore, remained a strong supporter of Catholic emancipation, yetsupported the government in 1798 (raising a yeomanry corps into whichCatholics were admitted).—Yours etc.,
Trinity College


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