Are Freemasons really the spiritual and intellectual descendents of the mysterious 13th and 14th century self-styled guardians of the Holy Land known as the Knights Templar? In their 1988 book The Temple and the Lodge, authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh answer this question with a forceful, “Yes!” Baigent and Leigh go on to posit that the philosophy of the Knight Templars had a huge influence on America’s founding fathers, many of whom were active members of Masonic lodges, as well as on the development of the economic theory of capitalism and the French Enlightenment.
Freemasonry is an international organization founded in the 17th century and active to this day, dedicated to the principles of brotherly love, service to others and self-improvement. Freemasons keep their rites and ceremonies secret from non-members, using the symbolism of stone cutting and architecture to describe the individual’s moral journey. Over the years Freemasonry has developed a reputation in some circles as a mysterious society whose members actually try to dominate and control the world in secret ways.
In the 15th century the Knights Templar were also accused of attempting to dominate and control the world – an accusation which led to their downfall. The Knights Templar were an order of warrior monks founded in the 12th century, charged with the protection of Christians making pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The Order became vastly wealthy through the shrewd management of members’ assets in what was the first modern financial investment network, but rumors persisted that their wealth was ill gotten – perhaps through dark magic connected to the ruins of King Solomon’s temple on which the Order had built their fortress. In the 15th century, the Order ran afoul of the French King Philip IV and the French Pope Clement V. The Order was disbanded and individual Knights excommunicated. Many were imprisoned, tortured and executed. A few escaped.
Baigent and Leigh speculate that a group of French Templars anticipated the persecution and escaped to Scotland, carrying the Order’s vast stores of wealth with them. Once in Scotland, they fell into political intrigues that culminated with Robert the Bruce’s unlikely victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn. Baigent and Leigh claim to have found evidence of Templar graves in the Wester Ross region of the Scottish Highlands, and go on to conclude that these Templars were the forerunners of the order we know today as the Freemasons. Most historians writing today disagree with them.
Other parts of The Temple and the Lodge examine the relationship between Freemasonry and the American Revolution. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were active Freemasons, the authors point out, as were seven of the other men who signed the Declaration of Independence and 11 of the other men who signed the Constitution. Still Baigent and Leigh’s contention that the British generals Sir William Howe and Lord Cornwallis didn’t fight as hard as they might have because they were reluctant to oppose fellow Freemasons on the filed of battle seems farfetched at best.
Far more credible is Baigent and Leigh’s assertion that the Age of Enlightenment throughout 18th century Europe owed its commitment to principles like tolerance and universal brotherhood to the Masonic influences upon its chief philosophers: Voltaire, Hume, Rosseau and Montesquieu were all Freemasons.
The Freemason/Templar connection is one that has captivated the public’s imagination throughout history and continues to do so today as evinced by the popularity of novels like Dan Brown’s smash bestseller The Da Vinci Code and blockbuster movies like Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure franchise. Is it a real connection? While Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh argue in the affirmative, most other historians disagree.