Cultural Encounters: Freemasonry on the Continent
By the mid- eighteenth century freemasonry existed in most western European countries. 1 Its cultural migration was a complex process, to this day only partially understood. We will return to the chronology of the process and attempt to make sense out of the Channel crossing that accompanied it, but only after we have examined the tension that arose around the first Continental lodges. These were to be found by the mid-1730s in towns and cities of northern and western Europe, in that densely urban corridor from Amsterdam to Paris. With the lodges came the anonymous literary exposures, offering rituals and myths, not least, as we have seen, claiming Cromwell's association with the fraternity (see pp. 27-28). In this chapter we examine not the myths, but the realities, the actual beliefs of some of the earliest lodges, and, just as important, the official and unofficial responses to them in various European countries.
In the first instance the lodges on the Continent represented the foreign and the unknown. They also embodied British cultural values associated with the potentially subversive: religious toleration, relaxed fraternizing among men of mixed, and widely disparate, social backgrounds, an ideology of work and merit, and, not least, government by constitutions and elections. By the 1730s all these values were the prized ideals of an international cultural movement that laid claim to the secular and the modern, that came to be called the Enlightenment. And if that association were not enough, the lodges called attention to themselves by their secrecy.
The tension freemasonry aroused infected civil magistrates as well as clergy. In Paris lodge meetings were raided by the police (p. 27); in Portugal a freemason, John Coustos, a member of a London lodge, was arrested and tortured in 1743. The authorities claimed that he and his brothers had been publicly rowdy in violation of the Lenten season. The papal condemnation had been in 1738. In the 1740s freemasonry was regarded with suspicion in Austrian territories. 2 Their pious queen, Maria