Only two ancient organisations are fully identified with the Temple of Solomon: Freemasonry and the Knights Templar. On the base of what has been said before, the Secret Masonry appears to be an offshoot of the Templars, born after that the state and the church destroyed this public order. The fugitive Templars needed another organisation, secret this time, to help each other survive their ordeal. The Templars, fortunately, were used to secrecy that was part of their vows, as well as of their rule. Those knights already in Britain, and those who succeeded to escape there, were fortunate in the sense that the order for their arrest was given three months after their Brothers were arrested in France on Friday 13 October 1307. They used this delay to prepare themselves for a life on the run. Moreover, in January 1308, King Edward II was in France to get married, and Robert Bruce in Scotland was getting ready to fight the English. He needed all the help he could gather, and he welcomed the fugitive Templars who were known for their military experience. For this reason he ignored the papal order to arrest the Templars in Scotland and he gave them a safe refuge. At the same time the papacy had been taken over by the French who, not only chose the Pope, but also moved him from Rome to Avignon. Useless to say that the papacy was not very popular in England at that time, and very few people were willing to help the Pope.
The Templar problem was not solved for a long time. Jacques de Molay was burned seven years after being sent to prison. This gave the fugitives the time to organise themselves into a strong brotherhood. Only the hypothesis that Freemasons were the Knights Templar’s heirs is compatible with all the symbols still used to day in the Craft, including the legend of the “unfinished Temple of King Solomon”, whereas historical evidences show that this Temple was finished and in use for many centuries. The only Temple of Solomon that was not completed can only be the Order of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, in other words, the Knights Templar whose activity ended formally with the murder of their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay. The new modern Master Masons, known also as Master Builders, take the place of the Old Grand Master of the Templars, and work for the completion of the Temple that was interrupted through the actions of the Pope and the King of France. The allegory of the construction of the Temple was used as a cover story by the secret society that presented itself as a society of stonemasons. They were, of course, symbolic masons completing in secret a symbolic temple that people believed to have been destroyed. They also used this cover story to preserve the Old Charges (dealing mainly with mutual protection of the members of the secret society) and Landmarks of Masonry that, in reality, had nothing to do with operative Masonry. The members of this secret society were considered heretics. As such they could be condemned to death, their properties confiscated; the same was true for the people who were helping them. This obviously had nothing to do with the stonemason guilds of the Medieval Ages, which were pro-Roman Catholic Church.
The fugitive Templars’ main concerns were, first, to save their life and, only after, to find another way to believe in God. They still needed to believe in God but after the way they had been treated by the Pope, they accepted each individual’s ways of worship, as well as any attitude towards the established church. As a result, the fugitive Templars hold their group together by accepting, as members, men with different conceptions of how the Roman Catholic religion should be taught and interpreted. Due to their contacts with the Moslem world, the Templars were known for their religious tolerance. This openness is the rule followed by Freemasonry that admitted members of all faiths since the beginning.
There is, of course, a big gap of time between the suppression of the Templars following their arrest in 1307 and the public revelation of Freemasonry in 1717, with no historical evidences of Masonic activity in between. There were some evidences but they have not been correctly interpreted. The Peasants’ Rebellion of 1381 is hinting clearly to some Masonic and Templars connections, if only through the selective and vicious destruction of the Hospitallers’ properties and figureheads; on the other hand the old properties close to the heart of the Templars were protected. The Great Secret Society that led the rebellion with Walter “the Tyler” as its leader can only be understood if we assume that it was an emanation of the fugitive Templars.
The followers of the dissident English priest John Wycliffe formed another secret society known as the “Lollards”, or “Mumblers”. This group was officially identified in 1382, one year after the Peasants’ Rebellion. The Church tried to destroy them but without success, and the movement lasted for at least two centuries with cells all over Britain. They contributed to the establishment of the Protestant Reformation. It is quite probable that there was only one secret society at that time in Britain, and that the “Lollard” cells of early Protestants and the secret society that evolved into Freemasonry were part of the same organisation, or parts of two closely related ones. If this is the case, then Secret Masonry played a large role in the Protestant Reformation in England, although this has never been admitted.
There are, however, no historical evidences of the existence of Secret Masonry before 1717 although there has always been claims, later on, of Templar connection with Freemasonry. For instance, the short-lived “Strict Observance” Masonry claimed that fugitive Templars went to Scotland where they became associated with a guild of stonemasons. It is also believed that, before dying, Jacques de Molay named his successor as Grand Master of the Templar Order, Johannes Marcus Larmenius, and that after him there was an uninterrupted chain of successors. In summary the old relationship between the Templars and the Freemasons has been kept alive as an unproved concept.
The concept that the central purpose of Secret Masonry had been the protection of its members from discovery and punishment by the established church (the Roman Catholic Church) contrasts in some way with the arrival of the Reformation. The continuous existence of this secret society from the time of the Templars, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, to the time of King Henry VIII, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, could still be easily understood. But, why did the Secret Masonry have to wait until 1717 to become public whereas, with the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church had lost all its influence in Britain? Henry Tudor, a Roman Catholic, became King of England under the name of Henry VII in 1485. His son, Henry VIII, succeeded him in 1509 and he married Catherine of Aragon who, unfortunately, could not give him a male heir. He asked the Pope’s authorisation to divorce Catherine after having been married eighteen years. The Pope Clement VII refused; Henry VIII decided to cut his relations with Rome and to create his own English (Anglican) Catholic Church under his authority. Between 1536 and 1539 the monasteries were dissolved, and most of their land was sold at low cost to the King’s followers. Henry VIII died in 1547. It was his son, Edward VI, who opened the door to the Protestant Reformation in Britain. Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary Tudor, followed Edward on the throne in 1553. She left the monastic land in the hands of the Lords but she reintroduced the Roman Catholic religion in Britain under Rome’s authority. She is responsible for the death of more than three hundred Anglicans in three years. Elizabeth I, her sister, followed her on the throne of England in 1558 and she soon restored the Anglican Church power in England and cut anew the link with the papacy. King Philip of Spain wanted to conquer England and bring it back within the Catholic Church, but his Spanish Armada was defeated in 1558. Elizabeth’s authority was restored and the Anglican Church was unchallenged again. The Jesuit order tried to replace her but without success; it reinforced the Protestant movement in England. Elisabeth I died in 1603 leaving the Roman Catholic subdued, the Anglican Catholic in control of the court, and the new Protestants (Puritans, Presbyterians, etc.) on the rise. James I who was also king of Scotland under the name of James VI followed her. The translation of the Bible into English that he authorised is known as the “King James Version”, a best seller even now, although it enhanced the cause of Protestantism against his own wishes. King Charles I, who was married to the Catholic Princess Henrietta Maria of France, followed him in 1625. He was considered inefficient, and this led to a revolution in 1642 with, on one side, the King backed by the church, Oxford University and the rural gentry and, on the other, the Parliament that had the backing of the rich trading cities of the south. The leader of the parliamentary forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, defeated the royal forces in 1646. Charles was tried and condemned to death. He was beheaded on 30 January 1649. The Commons voted to abolish monarchy and Charles I’s heir, Charles II had to live in exile in France. England was by now a Puritan country.
Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, ruled as a dictator from 1653 until his death in 1658. His son, Richard Cromwell, followed him but he was inefficient and the army removed him in 1660. Charles II, a secret Catholic, was asked to come back to rule England and this he did with moderation and intelligence. Charles II died in 1685 and he was followed by his brother, James II, a devout Catholic who appointed many Catholics in the army, in the civil service and in the government.
The existence of Freemasonry during Charles II’s reign is well documented and his successor, James II, was one of their members. James II had a son in 1688, but the Protestant leaders imposed his older daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, a leader of the Protestant Dutch, as joint-heirs to the throne. In 1701 a law imposed that only members of the Church of England could go on the British throne. A religious settlement was also included that gave limited freedom of religious worship to non-Anglican Protestants. This was the end of the divine right of the kings of England, and the triumph of the parliament who could decide who would occupy the throne. In 1701 the throne passed to Anne, Protestant daughter of James II, who had seventeen pregnancies and no living child. During her reign the Royal Society flourished, Freemasonry grew and, in 1707, the Act of Union between England and Scotland was signed and Great Britain was born. In 1714 George I became King of Britain. He was the son of Sophia, a granddaughter of James I, who was married to the elector of Hanover. He was the founder of the Hanoverian dynasty, he never bothered to learn English, and he spent more time in Germany than in London but it did not mattered anymore as the country was ruled by Parliament. There were some plots to restore the Catholic Church in Britain but they all failed. Freemasonry had no more need for secrecy, no reason to hide from the establishment or plot against it. Freemasonry had become the establishment, and in 1717 it became public.