The early history of Freemasonry in France is, from the want of authentic documents, in a state of much uncertainty. Kloss, in his Geschichte der Freimaurerei in Frankreich or History of Freemasonry in France (volume i, page 14), says, in reference to the introduction of Freemasonry into that kingdom, that the earliest date of any certainty is 1725. Yet he copies the statement of the Sceau Rompu, meaning the Broken Seal a work published in 1749 that the earliest recognized date of its introduction is 1718; and the Abbé Robin says that nothing of it is to be found further back than 1720.
Brother Lalande, the great astronomer, was the author of the article on Freemasonry in the Encyclopédie Méthodique, and his account has been generally recognized as authentic by succeeding writers. According to him, Lord Derwentwater, the Chevalier Maskeleyne, a Mr. Heguetty, and some other Englishmen, the names being corrupted, of course, according to French usage, founded, in 1725, the first Lodge in Paris. It was held at the house of an English confectioner named Hure, in the Rue de Boucheries. In ten years the number of Lodges in Paris had increased to six, and there were several also in the provincial towns.
As the first Paris Lodge had been opened by Lord Derwentwater, he was regarded as the Grand Master of the French Freemasons, without any formal recognition on the part of the Brethren, at least until 1736, when the six Lodges of Paris formally elected Lord Harnouester as Provincial Grand Master; in 1738, he was succeeded by the Duke d’ Antin; and on the death of the Duke, in 1743, the Count de Clermont was elected to supply his place. Brother R. F. Gould, in his Concise History of Freemasonry (page 355), considers that the name Harnouester is probably a corruption of Derwentwater.
Organized Freemasonry in France dates its existence from this latter year. In 1735, the Lodges of Paris had petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for the establishment of a Provincial Grand Lodge, which, on political grounds, had been refused. In 1743, however, it was granted, and the Provincial Grand Lodge of France was constituted under the name of the Grande Loge Anglaise de France. The Grand Master, the Count de Clermont, was, however, an inefficient officer; anarchy and confusion once more invaded the Fraternity; the authority of the Grand Lodge was prostrated; and the establishment of Mother Lodges in the provinces, with the original intention of superintending the proceedings of the distant provincial Lodges, instead of restoring harmony, as was vainly expected, widened still more the breach. For, assuming the rank and exercising the functions of Grand Lodges, they ceased all correspondence with the metropolitan Body, and became in fact its rivals.
Under these circumstances, the Grand Lodge declared itself independent of England in 1755, and assumed the title of the Grande Loge de France. It recognized only the three Degrees of Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, and was composed of the Grand Officers to be elected out of the body of the Fraternity, and of the Masters for life of the Parisian Lodges; thus formally excluding the provincial Lodges from any participation in the government of the Craft.
But the proceedings of this Body were not less stormy than those of its predecessor. The Count de Clermont appointed, in succession, two Deputies, both of whom had been displeasing to the Fraternity. The last, Lacorne, was a man of such low origin and rude manners, that the Grand Lodge refused to meet him as their presiding officer. Irritated at this pointed disrespect, he sought in the taverns of Paris those Masters who had made a traffic of initiations, but who, heretofore, had submitted to the control, and been checked by the authority of the Grand Lodge. From among them he selected officers devoted to his service, and undertook a complete reorganization of the Grand Lodge.
The retired members, however, protested against these illegal proceedings; and in the subsequent year, the Grand Master consented to revoke the authority he had bestowed upon Lacorne, and appointed as his deputy, M. Chaillou de Jonville. The respectable members now returned to their seats in the Grand Lodge; and in the triennial election which took place in June, 1765, the officers who had been elected during the Deputy Grand Mastership of Lacorne were all removed. The displaced officers protested, and published a defamatory memoir on the subject, and were in consequence expelled from Freemasonry by the Grand Lodge. Ill feeling on both sides was thus engendered, and carried to such a height, that, at one of the communications of the Grand Lodge, the expelled Brethren, attempting to force their way in, were resisted with violence. The next day the lieutenant of police issued an edict, forbidding the future meetings of the Grand Lodge. The expelled party, however, still continued their meetings. The Count de Clermont died in 1771 and the excluded Brethren having invited the Duke of Chartres, afterward Duke of Orleans, to the Grand Mastership, he accepted the appointment. They now offered to unite with the Grand Lodge, on condition that the latter would revoke the decree of expulsion.
The proposal was accepted, and the Grand Lodge went once more into operation. Another union took place, which has since considerably influenced the character of French Freemasonry. During the troubles of the preceding years, Masonic Bodies were instituted in various parts of the kingdom, which professed to confer Degrees of a higher nature than those belonging to Craft Freemasonry, and which have since been so commonly known by the name of the High Degrees. These Chapters as summed a right to organize and control Symbolic or Blue Lodges, and this assumption has been a fertile source of controversy between them and the Grand Lodge. By the latter Body they had never been recognized, but the Lodges under their direction had often been declared irregular, and their members expelled.
They now, however, demanded a recognition, and proposed, if their request was complied with, to bestow the government of the Hauts Grades, or High Degrees, upon the same person who was at the head of the Grand Lodge. The compromise was made, the recognition was decreed, and the Duke of Chartres was elected Grand Master of all the Councils, Chapitels, and Scotch Lodges of France.
But peace was not yet restored. The party who had been expelled, moved by a spirit of revenge for the disgrace formerly inflicted on them, succeeded in obtaining the appointment of a committee which was empowered to prepare the new Constitution. All the Lodges of Paris and the provinces were requested to appoint Deputies, who were to form a Convention to take the new Constitution into consideration. This Convention, or, as they called it, National Assembly, met at Paris in December, 1771. The Duke of Luxembourg presided, and on the twenty-fourth of that month the Ancient Grand Lodge of France was declared extinct, and in its place another substituted with the title of Grand Orient de France.
Notwithstanding the declaration of extinction by the National Assembly, the Grand Lodge continued to meet and to exercise its functions. Thus the Fraternity of France continued to be harassed, by the bitter contentions of these rival Bodies, until the commencement of the Revolution compelled both the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge to suspend their labors.
On the restoration of civil order, both Bodies resumed their operations, but the Grand Lodge had been weakened by the death of many of the perpetual Masters, who had originally been attached to it; and a better spirit arising, the Grand Lodge was, by a solemn and mutual declaration, united to the Grand Orient on the 28th of June, 1799.
Dissension’s, however, continued to arise between the Grand Orient and the different Chapters of the high Degrees. Several of those Bodies had at various periods given in their adhesion to the Grand Orient, and again violated the compact of peace. Finally, the Grand Orient, perceiving that the pretensions of the Scottish Rite Freemasons would be a perpetual source of disorder, decreed on the 16th of September, 1805, that the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree should thenceforth become an independent Body, with the power to confer Warrants of Constitution for all the Degrees superior to the Eighteenth, or Rose Croix; while the Chapters of that and the inferior Degrees were placed under the exclusive control of the Grand Orient.
But the Concordat was not faithfully observed by either party, and dissension’s continued to exist with intermittent and unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation, which was, however, at last effected in some sort in 1841. The Masonic Obedience of France was later on more amicably divided between the the Bodies, and the Grand Orient and the Supreme Council exist as independent powers in French Freemasonry. The constant tendency of the former to interfere in the administration of other countries would furnish an unpleasant history for the succeeding thirty years, at last terminated by the general refusal of the Grand Lodges in the United States, and some in Europe, to hold further Masonic communication with it; a breach which every good Freemason must desire to see eventually healed. One of the most extraordinary acts of the Grand Orient of France has been the abolition in 1871 of the office of Grand Master. the duties being performed by the President of the Council of the Order.
Discussion and an attempted avoidance of a threatening Masonic calamity by a large number of the Fraternity of France did not avail to prevent the General Assembly of the Grand Orient of France from completing its overthrow and that of its subordinates by the almost unanimous adoption of the now famous amendment of Article I of the Constitution of Freemasonry, on September 14, 1877.
The following is the text of the amendment and of the original second paragraph which was expunged:
Original paragraph: “Freemasonry has for its principles the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and the solidarity of mankind.”
Substituted amendment: “Whereas, Freemasonry is not a religion, and has therefore no doctrine or dogma to alarm in its Constitution, the Assembly adopting the Vaeu IX has decided and decreed that the second paragraph of .Article I of the Constitution shall be erased, and that for the words of the said article the following shall be substituted:
Being an institution essentially philanthropic, philosophy, and progressive, Freemasonry has for its object, search after truth, study of universal morality, sciences and arts, and the practice of benevolence. It has for its principles. absolute liberty of conscience and human solidarity, it excludes no person on account of his belief and its motto as Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.” The adoption of the above was after a full and deliberate consideration by its constituents, who for more than a year were in the throes of deep deliberation and judgment.
The Grand Lodge of England appointed a Committee to consider this action of the Grand Orient in thus expunging the existence of T. G. A. O. T. U. from its tenets, and they reported that such alteration is “opposed to the traditions, practice and feelings of all true and genuine Masons from the earliest to the present time”; and it was resolved that foreign brethren could only be received as visitors if they had been initiated in a Lodge professing belief in T. G. A. O. T. U., and would themselves acknowledge such belief to be an essential landmark of the Order. Similar action was taken by other Grand Lodges.
Since the above article was prepared by Brother E. L. Hawkins, a third Grand Lodge came into being in France. This is the Grande Loge Nationale indépendante et Réguliere pour la France et les Colonies Françaises, or the National Independent and Regular Grand Lodge for France and the French Colonies as constituted and recognized by the Grand Lodge of England. From the Manifesto issued to the Brethren on December 27, 1913, at Paris by Grand Master E. de Ribancourt, and from the Histoire de la Franc Maçonnene Française by Albert Lantoine, 1925 (pages 410-5) we learn that a Lodge at Paris, named the Centre des Amis, the Center of Friends, worked the Degrees of the Rectified Scottish Rite, in French the Rite Ecossais Rectify, from 1910 under the auspices of the Diretoire Helvétique of Geneva, Switzerland, but joined the Grand Orient of France in 1911 with the understanding that it could continue to practices its old ritualistic customs. The Lodge was accordingly constituted as a subordinate Lodge of the Grand Orient on Stay 1 , 1911, by Gaston Bouley, President of the Council. This Lodge in 1913 wished to establish a Chapter of Saint Andrew which in operation we may say in passing is deemed by the Grand Orient and similar Bodies to be equivalent, to use Brother Albert Lantoine’s expression in his History (page 411), to the Eighteenth Degree, the completion of the series contemplated by the usual ceremonies of the Rectified Scottish Rite that the Lodge practiced. When the rituals were supplied through the Grand Orient they avers discovered to omit mention of the Grand Architect of the Universe. Against this omission the Lodge protested but in vain. Accordingly the Lodge Centre des Amis of Paris with the Lodge Anglaise (meaning English) of Bordeaux formed the new Grand Lodge as is said by the Manifesto, “to safeguard the integrity of our Rectified Rituals and preserve in France the true Masonry of Tradition.!’ Brother NV. J. Coombes. Commenting on the situation in a paper read in 1927 before the literary Lodge, Saint Claudius, No. 21, Paris, had this to say:
Our position (that of the National, Independent and Regular Grand Lodge) is clear for the Grand Orient forbids the use of the phrase concerning the (Se A. O. T. U. (Grand Architect of the Universe) and Juvanon, in his Vers la Lumiére (meaning in French, Towards the Light) puts the status of the Grand Lodge of France quite clearly when he says (page 81) that the Grand Lodge of France has in order to attract the sympathy of the Anglo-Saxons, authorized its Lodges to use or to reject, as they please, the formula of the Grand Architect of the Universe, and has even permitted certain Lodges to place the V. S. L. (the Volume of the Sacred Law, the Bible) on the pedestal of the Worshipful Master, and on its Master Masons Diplomas puts A. L. G. D. G. A. D. L. U. (the initials of the French words meaning To the Glory of the Grand Architect of the Universe) leaving every member to interpret the phrase as he pleases.
This Grand Lodge formed the Provincial Grand Lodge of Neustrie with headquarter at Paris, and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Aquitaine under Bordeaux, having several Lodges at Paris, as well as at Boulogne, Havre, Dunkirk. Rouen, Bordeaux, etc. (see Independent and Regular National Grand Lodge of France).
An essay read by Brother N. Choumitsky, Saint Claudius Lodge, No. 21, Paris, 1927, deals with the matter of mutual recognition and was based on some twenty documents in the archives of the Grand Lodge of the Urkraine. From these we find the Grand Lodge of France early in 1764 asked the Grand Lodge at London to supply a list of the Lodges she had warranted. On July 18, 1764, these details were sent showing that of 340 Lodges only three were constituted in France by her: The Lodge, No. 49, Paris, a la Ville de Tonnerre, July 3, 1732; Lodge, No. 60, Valenciennes, in Hainault, 1733, and Lodge No. 73, Chateau d’Aubigny (in Artois or Berry, probably the latter), October 12, 1735. These Lodges were erased from the English list and the two Grand Lodges agreed not to create Lodges on each other’s territory. In 1765 the French Grand Lodge sent a list of her Lodges to England, and a new list early in 1767 with copy of rules and a form of Deputation. These were welcomed and the reply to them promised various documents. But operations in France were suspended by the authorities, February 21, 1767. The official relations of the two Grand Bodies ceased. Freemasonry again showed signs of life in France in 1771 and in 1772 there was submitted to the Grand Lodge of England the subject of a treaty drawn up by Lebady. Brother Choumitsky says the Grand Lodge of England no longer wished to treat as between peers, but attempted to enjoy certain prerogatives.
This did not meet with approval but efforts toward establishing mutual relations continued and December 1, 1773, prompted by La Chaussee, Baron de Toussainet, Grand Secretary, wrote to the Marquis de Vignoles, of the Grand Lodge of England, but his letter remained unanswered. Again he wrote on December 17 to the Marquis as well as to Brother Charles Dillon, D.G.M., also to Lord Petre, Grand Master, and to the Grand Lodge of England itself. To each one of them he sent a report of his Masonic organization.
A treaty was sent from France on June 13, 1776, and we may also note that on June 28, in the name of the Grand Lodge of England, Brother Vignoles complained of the establishment at Naples of a Lodge, Saint John of Secret and Perfect Friendship, by the French authorities. On August 8, 1775, Vignoles wrote to La Chaussee expressing a belief that the treaty would be acceptable. Three items were announced on September 5, bar Brother Heseitine, as being inadmissible because of the same objections as were made to Lebady’s project in 1772. The difficulty really arose by the word equality.
Brother Heseltine, as reported by Vignoles, was of the opinion that basis could not hold good since Germanic Sweden, Holland, etc., recognized their Mother in the Grand Lodge of London, and the latter had proofs of its pioneer Masonic labors in France. Vignoles planned to meet this in a complimentary way by suggesting that the reference to English authorities should be to the Sublime Grand Lodge of the Noble and the Ancient Society of Free and Accepted Masons, established at the East of London, etc. However, Brother Guillotin, Orator of the Chamber of Provinces and member of the Commission charged to examine this, offered advice that the best course would be not to speak about equality at all, taking care at the same time to insert nothing whatever in the treaty which might confirm the idea of any claim for superiority.
Vignoles again wrote, June 4, 1776, announcing that the Grand Lodge of England remained steadfast in her decision. brother Choumitsky tells of the upheaval in their plans made by the struggle for American Independence followed by the French Revolution and the altars of the Empire. He quotes Rebold about the later and undated sending of Brother Morand to London unsuccessfully to negotiate an alliance with the Grand Lodge of England, and that in 1851 Brother Razy also failed. He therefore makes the claim that while French Freed masons were individually welcome, the Grand Bodies in France were not recognized until the formation of the relational and Independent Grand Lodge in October, 1913. (if the Grande Loge Mixte in France, and the steps leading up to this curious situation, the proposed initiation of women, see Masonry.
The Histoire de la Franc-Maçonnerie Française by Brother Albert Lantoine (pages 383-93) points out that the Grand Orient of France in the General Assembly of 1920 recognized the Lodge Droit Humain (Human Right or Equity) a leading Co-Masonic Lodge at Paris but that this recognition was limited, Brothers but not Sisters might visit Grand Orient Lodges. The Grand Lodge of France has since the Convention of October 25, 1903, declared members of any Co-Masonic Bodies as irregular and by a decision of the Federal Council of September 15, 1913, refused to make any distinction between the Bodies claiming to be Co-Masonic.
the source: Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry