One of the most asked questions about the Knights Templar is whether they continued to exist long after their suppression through the Freemasons. Or put another way, are today’s Freemasons the inheritors of the white mantles of the Templars?
The linkage is difficult to prove but there’s no shortage of theories. One goes that after they were suppressed by Pope and the King of France, the Templars infiltrated stone mason guilds. These were then refashioned to embrace Templar ideals and rituals. In effect, the masons and Templars over time became one and the same thing.
Freemasons came to full public view in 1717 with the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England. The organisation’s website traces the history of the order back to the stone masons of the Middle Ages who built Europe’s great cathedrals and not to the Knights Templar. It doesn’t recognised the aforementioned merger of masons and Templars.
The website cites evidence of people becoming Freemasons throughout the seventeenth century such as a gentleman called Elias Ashmole in 1643. Then in the eighteenth century, grand lodges were formed in England, Ireland and Scotland and the order grew significantly to include top politicians and establishment figures. But as its lodges spread throughout government and business, the conspiracy theories proliferated.
From the eighteenth century to the present day, there were Freemasons happy to state that their rituals and organisation were directly descended from the Templars. Equally, there have always been Freemasons irritated by these claims. However, the creation of an occult mythology around masonic activity was largely created by Freemasons and not their detractors.
The prominent eighteenth century Freemason Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund was forever hammering home the link between masonry and the Templars. The baron founded The Rite of Strict Observance within Freemasonry, as series of degrees through which members would pass including the degree of “knight”.
Michael Haag details in his book The Templars that a crusader connection was first expounded by Andrew Michael Ramsay, a Jacobite who headed up the French Grand Lodge around 1737. He said in a speech that the crusaders had wanted to create a global spiritual confraternity. While attempting to rebuild the Temple of Solomon, he believed they had developed secret signs and rituals to protect themselves from Saracen infiltration.
When the crusades collapsed, these spiritual crusaders left the Holy Land and returned to their European homes setting up the first Freemason lodges. But these were neglected over time and the secrets forgotten. Only in Scotland was the flame kept burning.
The authors of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail in 1982 wrote about the alleged flight of Knights Templar to Scotland when the order was suppressed by the King of France in 1307, repeating an old claim that they participated in the Battle of Bannockburn against the English. They claimed to have discovered “what seemed to be” a Templar graveyard in Argyllshire with 13th century Templar gravestones and eighteenth century Masonic gravestones. The authors asserted that the later stones had mixed motifs suggesting a fusion at some point between the Templars and Freemasons.
The alleged link between Freemasonry and the Templars has often been used to damage the reputation of masons. Stephen Knight authored The Brotherhood in the early 1980s claiming a link to the Templars and arguing that Freemasons were running the United Kingdom. Knight had also written a book on Jack the Ripper claiming that his murders were part of a conspiracy involving masons and the Royal Family. If that sound familiar, it’s because it influenced the later work From Hell by Alan Moore.
John Robinson’s 1989 book Born in Blood claimed that Knights Templar fleeing arrest and torture in England and Scotland formed a secret society of mutual protection that eventually revealed itself as the Freemasons. The symbols and rituals we associate with the masons in fact dated back to the Templars. He credited this secret society with the Protestant Reformation and included among its members the first US President George Washington.