Charles Radclyffe and the Scottish Rite
By Tracy R. Twyman
Originally written for Dagobert’s Revenge Magazine, Copyright 2002
(Does not necessarily represent author’s current viewpoint.)
Charles Radclyffe was the head of the Priory of Sion from 1727 or 1746. He was the son of an illegitimate daughter of the Stuart King Charles II, and, according to Holy Blood, Holy Grail, came from “an influential Northumbrian family,” who since the time of James II had been the earls of Derwentwater. He was thus cousin to both Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Stuart king de jure who never made it to the throne, and to the Earl of Lichfield, George Lee, also the son of one of Charles II’s bastards. Charles Radclyffe and his older brother James became key figures in the “Jacobite” movement.” After Charles II’s successor, James III was sent into exile, this movement attempted to reestablish and secure the Stuart throne. (Interestingly, while James III was in exile, he resided with the duke of Lorraine at Bar-le-Duc.) That year, in 1715, there was a Jacobite Scottish rebellion in which both Charles and James Radclyffe participated, and there were arrested and imprisoned. James was executed, but Charles managed to escape, and fled to the protection of Jacobite sympathizers in France. He immediately became secretary to James II’s successor as king-in-exile, Bonnie Prince Charlie. It took thirty years, but finally Bonnie Prince Charlie and his ranks arrived in Britain in an attempt to retake the throne. Charles Radclyffe was captured on his way to join them, and the following year, when the Jacobite attempt was crushed, he was beheaded at the Tower of London.
But there was more than just Jacobite politics on the minds of Charles Radclyffe and his compatriots. They were also deeply involved in Freemasonry, particularly Scottish Rite Freemasonry, believed to have been inherited from the rituals of the Stuart dynasty. This brand of the Craft included many more degrees than regular “York Rite” masonry, which of course meant that it contained greater, deeper and more voluminous secrets. These mysteries were supposedly derived from Scotland, and from there, some even older source. The Scottish Rite rituals included more overtly “occult” material — Hermetic, cabalistic, Rosicrucian and alchemical material — and initiates were taught specifics about the origin and history of their organizations’ practices. Furthermore, as Holy Blood, Holy Grail blatantly states, “It is probable that Scottish Rite Freemasonry was originally promulgated, if not indeed devised, by Charles Radclyffe.” Charles also founded the first European Masonic lodge in Paris. He was shortly thereafter declared “grand master of all French lodges,” which he remained for at least a decade more. Therefore the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail state that, “The dissemination of 18th-century Freemasonry owes more, ultimately, to Charles Radclyffe than to any other man.” But Radclyffe did not work alone, nor did he accomplish everything hands-on, but worked through middlemen and accomplices, such as Chevalier Andrew Ramsay.
To a large degree, Ramsay associated with the same crowd as Isaac Newton, including Jean Desaguliers, who was one of the Royal Society’s “two curators of experiments” and one of the age’s leading proponents of Freemasonry in Europe, as well as a friend of Charles Radclyffe’s. Ramsay was further the master of the lodge at the Hague, where, in 1731, under his leadership, the first European prince to join Masonry was initiated: Francois, duke of Lorraine, soon to be Holy Roman Emperor through his marriage to Maria Theresa of Austria. Ramsay also studied math under Newton’s best friend, Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. As for Newton himself, Ramsay practically worshipped him, regarding him as the era’s leading sage. And like both Newton and de Duillier, Ramsay had a keen interest in the heretical Camisards. He was also a member of a Masonic-like secret society called the Philadelphes.
Ramsay moved to Cambrai in 1710, where he became part of the close circle surrounding Fenelon, the former cure of Saint Sulpice who was famous as an occult philosopher, and whose name pops up repeatedly in regards to the Grail mystery. He became a dedicated Jacobite shortly after meeting Charles Radclyffe, and even worked for a period as tutor to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Although he was a known enemy of the presiding government in England, he returned there in 1729 with no problem, and almost immediately joined the Royal Society, as well as the aforementioned “Gentleman’s Club of Spalding.”
The following year he returned to France to campaign for Freemasonry. Here he was patronized by relatives of Frederick of the Palatinate, the House of Tour d’Auvergne, viscounts of Turenne and dukes of Bouillon. The duke of Bouillon in particular was a cousin of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an outspoken champion of Freemasonry. Ramsay became his son’s tutor, and was given property to live on by the duke. However, Ramsay’s greatest contribution to the growth of Masonry came in 1737, when he delivered his Oration, which specifically detailed the origins and history of the order. This Oration later became incorporated as an official Masonic document, and its claims have become part of Masonry’s basic tenets. As Holy Blood, Holy Grail states, “On the basis of this Oration, Ramsay became the preeminent Masonic spokesman of his age.” But, they continue, “Our research convinced us … that the real voice behind Ramsay was that of Charles Radclyffe.” It was, after all, Charles Radclyffe who, as master of the lodge at which Ramsay gave his Oration, presided over the event. It was also Radclyffe who acted as chief signatory at Ramsay’s funeral in 1743. And there was another contribution to Masonry, particularly the Scottish Rite, that Radclyffe was to make as well.
In 1742, four years before Charles Radclyffe’s death on the chopping block, a German-born man named Karl Gottlieb von Hund was initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry. But this initiation was far from ordinary. According to Von Hund, it was presided over by three “unknown superiors” who conferred upon him a new system of Masonry as yet unrevealed called “the Strict Observance,” so named because of the stringent oath of obedience it required. These unnamed initiators claimed that the Strict Observance was a direct inheritance of the Knights Templar, specifically the ones who had escaped King Philippe’s persecution and settled in Scotland. Moreover, Hund had been a large contributor to the Scottish Jacobites, and he believed until the end that the man in charge of his initiation had been either Bonnie Prince Charlie himself, or one of his close associates. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail concluded that the man in question was in fact Charles Radclyffe, which would mean that the Rite of the Strict Observance, derived from the rituals of the Knights Templar, was installed in the degrees of Scottish Rite Freemasonry by none other than the Priory of Sion.
Unfortunately for Von Hund, no one in his own time believed his tale about the “unknown superiors,” who, although they had promised to contact him in the future and initiate him further, never did so. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail theorized that what had actually happened was that the Jacobite cause had collapsed, and that his initiators, Charles Radclyffe and friends, had all been either killed, imprisoned, or sent into exile.
But there is more evidence to confirm Baron von Hund’s story, and the involvement of the Priory of Sion. One of the few pieces of information von Hund did manage to obtain from his sole contact with the “unknown superiors” was a list of the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar — a list identical to the one provided in Secret Dossiers. This list, as we have discussed, had been established by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail to be more accurate than any other list of Templar Grand Masters they had previously seen. But Von Hund’s list was written when most of the vital documentation on the Templars that would have made such a list researchable was still hidden away in Vatican vaults, proving that Von Hund’s sources had access to inside knowledge.