By a blog reader
As we saw in the previous article, the development of grand Lodges and along with certificates and mutual recognition contributed substantially to the spread of Freemasonry across the globe.
But there is no doubt that the most important administrative mechanism by far that allowed Freemasonry to spread worldwide was the creation of the military lodge.
Once again, it was the Grand Lodge of Ireland that led the way, when in 1742, the very first traveling warrant was issued by it in 1732 to the First Battalion, Royal Scots in 1732. The warrant gave members of the lodge the authority to meet anywhere they were stationed.
By the 1770s there were already about 200 British military lodges in existence and by 1813, the estimated total number of regimental lodges had risen extraordinary to around 500.
Indeed, these traveling military lodges not only allowed Freemasons to meet wherever they were stationed in the world but in effect planted Freemasonry abroad. It was they (usually closely followed by both merchants and missionaries) that built some of the first communal structures on the empire’s frontiers and when a regiment departed a garrison town or colony, civilians who had participated in the military lodge would continue working and eventually receive their own warrant.
Wherever a strong civilian masonic presence had emerged, grand lodges proceeded to establish provincial grand lodges and a provincial grand master was appointed. The provincial grand master served as the grand master’s representative in a locality and was responsible for collecting fees, keeping registers, corresponding with the grand lodge, and keeping lodges and members in line. Most importantly, the provincial grand master had the authority to warrant new lodges.
Freemasonry expanded not just because the grand lodges had developed a well-organized, responsive administration but also because its emergence coincided with a period of remarkable growth in the British Empire. By the 1750s, British Freemasonry was already widely established from the Caribbean to Calcutta.
Freemasonry had arrived quite rapidly in Malta, albeit through a different route and we know for certain that it was already present on the island as far back as the 1730s under the Order of St. John but it is at this juncture pertinent to point out that at least the Lodge of St. John of Secrecy and Harmony which practically consisted exclusively of knights of the order operated under an English warrant.
For the first couple of decades under British rule, membership of the craft was dominated by British soldiers and sailors and though by the 1830s, membership came to include a greater representation of British merchants, Italian political refugees and indeed Maltese patriots, British servicemen continued to provide for the bulk of the membership right until 1979. Indeed with the departure of the British services in Malta, most lodges relocated back to the United Kingdom and the District of Malta was formally dissolved on 29th March 1984 . But that is the subject for another article when we look closely at the history of freemasonry in our country.
The British were not alone either in globalizing the masonic network. The other imperial powers of the day— primarily, the Spanish and Portuguese, the French, and the Dutch were also responsible for the spread of Freemasonry. But here we also start witnessing the first divergences between British Freemasonry and what eventually became to be known, for want of a better description, as Continental Freemasonry which ultimately culminated into a formal schism between British Freemasonry and the Grand Orient of France (and those lodges that followed it). An important topic that we will also discuss because it lies at the heart of the confusion between regular and irregular masonry.
The fact is that there was yet another factor still which helped the spread of Freemasonry and this was that the rise of Freemasonry coincided with another novel development and this was of course the onset of the so-called ‘’Enlightenment’’.
Ironically, it was certain radical ideas that owe their origin to the “Enlightenment” that ultimately proved inimical to British Freemasonry and which led to the irreconcilable split between the two main forms of masonry (excluding the pseudo-masonic bodies) that predominate today.