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C.4.2 The Royal Society and Freemasonry

There is a tradition that the philosophers and scientists, under the name of “Royal Society”, founded Freemasonry in the seventeenth century during the reign of Charles II. According to this theory, Dr. John Wilkins, a very learned man, wanted to get rid of Richard Cromwell’s administration, and to restore the monarchy. He thought of organising a society or club that, under the pretence to advance sciences, would in fact allow the king’s allies to meet without problem. The meetings always started with a scientific lecture that was followed by political discussions. After the Restoration this society took the name of “Royal Society of Sciences”, and some people believe that Freemasonry started there.

Not all historical evidences support this theory. In fact John Wilkins was quite close to the Cromwells, father and son alike, and an opponent to the monarchy. In 1648 he was nominated Master of the Wadham College, replacing a royalist who had been sacked. In 1649, after the decapitation of Charles I, he joined the Republican Party. In 1656 he married Cromwell’s sister and, later, Richard Cromwell made him Master of Trinity College, but he lost the job when the monarchy was restored one year later. His references as a royalist are very poor to say the least. Moreover most members of the Royal Society were known anti-monarchists. In addition he is assumed to have become disenchanted with Richard Cromwell’s administration in 1658, but the society was founded in 1646! General Monk is said to have been a member, but his name does not appear anywhere in the archive of the Royal Society. It has also been shown that the Royal Society was engaged in scientific matters and that political discussion was forbidden at its meetings. This shows that this theory was certainly invented.

Christopher Frederick Nicolai, a German, stated that some scientists who wanted to promote the experimental philosophy that had been introduced by Bacon, founded Freemasonry. The Royal Society was founded in parallel to study science in general. Many scientists participated in the foundation of both societies. According to this theory, Bacon owned much to the Rosicrucians’ natural philosophy. The Royal Society was created in 1646 by members who agreed with Bacon that philosophy, and the physical sciences, should be made available to all people. Members of both societies held meetings and made many scientific experiments in common. Time was not however ready for this way of thinking, religion was overshadowed by a mystical, quasi-Gnostic, theology, and alchemy was widely practised. According to another theory a group of learned men, among them Wilkins and Elias Ashmole, created in 1646 a second learned but secret society whose initiated members believed that science should not be divulged to all people. Its object was to build the House of Solomon in a literal sense. These philosophers used allegories to express their ideas. This was a society of alchemists and astrologers that, according to Nicolai, was the origin of Freemasonry. Both societies were created in 1646 with the same aims; they were to be known later on as the Royal Society and Freemasonry. The former was an open society dedicated to made science available to all while the other was of the opinion that this knowledge should be restricted to the few chosen initiates.

The Society of Freemasons remained alive after the Restoration of 1660, met regularly, and went as far as adopting internal regulations in 1663. However the times had changed again, the zeal of its members declined, and with it the society. The Royal Society, on the other hand, with its open policy prospered under Charles II and many Freemasons, including Elias Ashmole, joined it. However Freemasonry survived and made some changes in its constitution to clarify, in particular, its aims. Among other things, the Temple of Solomon replaced Bacon’s House of Solomon as its main allegory. This theory of the origin of the Craft is not supported by historical evidences anymore than the other theories.