THE ROMAN LODGE OF FREEMASONS 1735–1737
Sometimes called “The Jacobite Lodge at Rome”
Bro. D. Currie P.M. Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No.2
(1st official recording of the "widow" of the 5th Earl of Winton)
The majority of Freemasons, not only in Great Britain, but throughout the world, are
aware that in 1737 Pope Clement XII issued an edict against the Craft, making
membership an offence in the eyes of the Church. It is not widely known that one of
the first Lodges to be affected by the Papal Bull was one which was meeting in the
Eternal City itself, a Lodge mainly composed of Scotsmen who were exiled in Rome
following the suppression of the Jacobite insurrection of 1715. They belonged to the
Court of the vanquished Stewarts, headed in 1735 by James Stewart – King James III
to his supporters and the Old Pretender to his detractors and enemies. These Jacobite
masons established their Lodge in 1735, and one is left to wonder why they did not do
so at an earlier date, but in 1735 the young Charles Edward was fifteen years old –
almost a man in those times – and it is probable that by establishing a Lodge, the
Stewart cause would hope to benefit by the support of continental Freemasonry. If
such hopes were entertained, they were no doubt dashed two years later by the Pope’s
action. Immediately after the Bull was issued, the Tyler of the Lodge, (who was a
servant of one of the members), was imprisoned for questioning by the Roman
Inquisition. He was treated very gently – almost with kindness – and was soon
released. It is apparent that his arrest was meant only as a warning to the Brethren of
their possible fates if they were too slow to disband. We are not aware of the Tyler’s
name, which indicates that although he was a Freemason, he was probably not a
member of the Lodge. In the early days of Speculative masonry, it was not
uncommon, if a Lodge required a Tyler, to make him a mason without conferring
upon him membership of the Lodge.
Following the demise of the Lodge, the minute book was retained by the
Master (the Earl of Winton) and following his death it was passed to one of the
members. After several changes of ownership, or stewardship, the book was handed
to Sir James Stirling, Bart. in the year 1799.
An inscription on the first page of the book was written by Andrew Lumisden,
a member of Lodge Edinburgh from Dunfermline, who received it from the widow of
its previous guardian in 1749. Brother Lumisden had business in Rome and Paris.
There is little doubt which city he was visiting when the book came into his hands,
but there is no doubt that he received it either from a former member of the Lodge, or
a widow of a former member. Lumisden kept the book until 1778, when he passed it
to John McGowan, an Edinburgh lawyer of great sagacity and trustworthiness.
McGowan had business contacts in Rome and Paris, and Lumisden instructed him to
hand the book over to Sir Alexander Dick, Bart. of Prestonfield. He was able to do so
without delay, and in order to find Sir Alexander’s interest in the volume we need to
go back to 1736. In that year Dr. Alexander Cunningham was admitted to the Roman
Lodge. The reigning baronet at Prestonfield was then Sir William Dick, whose
younger brother, Alexander, had been forced to flee the country like many other
gentlemen of Jacobite sympathies. Also like many then, he had changed pro tempore
and in Rome Alexander Dick was known as Dr. Alexander Cunningham. When his
brother died, Alexander inherited the title, and learning that he was no longer a
wanted man in Scotland, he returned home and settled in the family home as Sir
Alexander Dick of Prestonfield. In November, 1755, he was admitted a member of
Canongate Kilwinning Lodge, having been proposed by no less than the Deputy
Grand Master, Brother George Frazer. Sir Alexander had a son, William, and it was
he who, in 1799, returned the book to John McGowan, instructing him to hand it to
the Grand Master Mason for inclusion in the archives of Grand Lodge.
On the outer cover of the book there are traces of another hand written
inscription, which is now illegible, but in 1905, Brother William Officer took the
trouble to copy it before it was lost for all time. It reads:
‘This parchment book was delivered to me by Mr John McGowan who got it
at Paris, I assume, from Mr A. Lumsiden, to be deposited in my hands in 1778.
Roman Lodge of Freemasons
Dr. Cunningham was admitted in 1736
Prestonfield, 8 April 1787
This was returned by Sir William Dick to John McGowan to be deposited
among the archives of the Grand Lodge of Scotland.’
On page 2 of the minute book there is a list of names, presumably of the Founder
members of the Lodge, which reads:
William Howard ……………………….. Master
James Irvine )………………….Wardens
Richard Younger )
Dr. James Irvine (Sen) Hen. Fitzmaurice Will. Hay John Stewart
James Dashwood Chas. Slezer Thos. Twisden John Cotton
Thos. Lisle Will. Sheldon Will. Mossman Daniel Kilmaster
This was the only page on which the names of Howard, Younger, Lisle,
Sheldon and Kilmaster are mentioned. They do not appear to have attended again, for
at the first recorded working meeting the Master was John Cotton, who remained in
office until his successor was appointed. It is probable that an election meeting was
held, but not recorded, and later it became obvious that not all of the meetings of the
Lodge were minuted.
Students of history will be aware that Prince Charles Edward’s wet nurse was
a Mrs Sheldon, and that this lady was virtually the cause of the eventual estrangement
between his parents, James Stewart and Princess Clementia Sobieskwi. Possibly
William Sheldon, of the Roman Lodge, was her husband.
The list of names shown above is followed in the book by a number of blank
pages, then we come to the Lodge bye-laws, written first in Latin and then in English.
There are twelve statutes, some of which ring strangely in 1997:
1. No person to be admitted without balloting.
2. No person to be admitted the same night as proposed.
3. All foreigners to be excluded, except they speak the language.
4. All officers shall be created by the Master & all laws enacted by the Lodge.
5. The Master has two votes.
6. The Master has the power of calling a Lodge and fining unruly or refractory
7. Any Brother thinking himself aggrieved may appeal from the Master to the
8. All fines to be employed in charitable uses.
9. The Master and Wardens are keepers of the archives.
10. The Lodge shall not close till after supper.
11. The Elder Warden shall gather the votes of the Lodge and the Younger shall
have the Office of Secretary.
12. Every brother on his admission shall present the brotherhood with two pairs of
During the two years of its existence only twelve meetings of the Lodge were
minuted. Five were held at ‘Joseppe’s (or Guiseppi’s) on the Corsa’, six at the ‘Three
Kings on the Strado Paolina’ and one was held ‘chez Dion’ which was possibly a
house owned by a French dignitary and loaned for a special meeting.
The minutes of meetings contained only the barest essentials, presumably to
preserve secrecy in a city where Freemasonry was not held in universal high regard.
The first minute reads as follows:
‘Tuesday, August 16, 1735, was held at Joseppi’s on the Corso a compleat
Lodge where were present John Cotton, Master, Chas. Slezer and James Irvine
(Jun), Wardens, Thos. Twisden, James Irvine (Sen) M.D, Will. Hay, Will.
Mossman, Jo. Stewart and G. Seton Winton, who was entered that day’.
Bye-law No.2 makes it clear that Winton was proposed and balloted at an earlier,
unrecorded meeting. Brother George Seton Winton, Earl of Winton, was the nephew
of Alexander Seton who, in 1672, was the second candidate to be admitted to
Aitchison’s Haven who was not a practising stonemason.
The second meeting does not indicate any newcomers to the Lodge, there
appears the following interesting footnote. ‘N.B. That it be contrary to the Laws of
Masonry for a member to absent himself after due warning, it has been thought proper
by the Grand Master and the Lodge to fine Sir Max. Constable, Mr Fitzmaurice and
Mr Le Wick in their share of the supper’. This notice is the first mention of Le Wick,
whose name appears in several guises in other minutes. It has to be remembered that
the members of this Lodge had lived in Rome for many years, during which time they
did not have many opportunities to speak in English outwith the Lodge. Consequently
their written English was frequently mis-spelt.
At the third meeting Mark Carse and Count Soudavini were received ‘with all
due form’. This could mean that they were received as visitors or that they were
initiated, probably the latter. Also present was Brother Bandy De Vis, almost certainly
another manifestation of Mr Le Wick. On 4th January, 1736, the presence of a visitor
was recorded. This was Captain James Archdeacon, of the Etrange, a mercenary
regiment in the service of the King of Naples. At this time arrangements were being
made for Prince Charles Edward to experience some military service under the
Neapolitan banner, and it is possible that Captain Archdeacon’s presence in Rome
was in connection with these negotiations.
The fifth meeting of the Lodge was obviously felt to be of special importance
for the venue was changed from Joseppi’s to ‘chez Dion’ and the minute was written
entirely in French. It translates: ’28 February, 1736, there was held at Dion’s a true
and perfect Lodge in which were received, in solemn form and with customary
ceremonies the Count of Cronstadt, from Sweden, Viscount de Vasse, Colonel of
Cavalry in the Service of the King of France and M. de Croysman, Captain in De
After the 28th February, the next recorded meeting was held on 6th August,
1736, on which date the Earl of Winton assumed the Chair of the Lodge. The minute
advises that he had been elected as Master on 20th April. As there was no minute of a
meeting on that date, we have proof patent that not all meetings of the Lodge were
minuted. Of course, in 1736 these was scant ceremony attached to a new Master
taking the Chair. He had been elected, and on the appointed day he simply took his
place in the chair and appointed his Wardens and other Office-bearers. A visitor at
this meeting was John Forbes, but we have no information other than his name.
Dr. Alex Cunningham (later Sir Alexander Dick) was made a member of the
Lodge on 2nd January, 1737. Again it is apparent that he must have been proposed at
an earlier meeting that was not minuted. Present on this occasion was Alan Ramsay
(Jun) who was also in attendance on the 23rd January, together with Viscount de
Vasse, who had been promoted to Brigadier.
Ramsay attended for the third time on 9th May, 1737, when three new
members were made. They were Louis Nairn, John Halliburton and Alexander Clerk.
Thus we come to the final meeting of the Lodge on 20th August, 1737. The
grand Lodge of Scotland had been formed in Edinburgh during the previous
November, a circumstance which must have been known in the Roman Lodge, though
there is no reference to it in their minutes. At this final meeting the Earl of Winton,
who had attended all recorded meetings during his term of office, once again occupied
the chair, bringing to Masonic light a young man who, six years later was appointed
Junior Grand Warden at the Grand Lodge of Scotland after having joined the
Canongate Kilwinning Lodge. This was John Murray of Broughton, the same John
Murray who, in 1745, was appointed Private Secretary to Prince Charles Edward – the
same John Murray who, being taken prisoner by the Hanoverian forces some days
after Culloden, saved his own skin by turning King’s Evidence against his former
comrades in arms, sending Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat to the scaffold. What must have
passed through the mind of the Earl of Winton, who had given up his birthright for the
Stewart cause, when he learned of his Initiate’s actions?
George Seton Winton, Earl of Winton, ran away from home at the age of
fourteen years, making his way to Paris, where he managed to apprentice himself to a
watchmaker. He returned to Scotland in time to take up arms for the Jacobite cause in
the rising of 1715, raising troops in Dumfriesshire and the Borders. When the
rebellion was suppressed he was taken prisoner with the other leaders and sent to
London, where he was incarcerated in the Tower. Tried for treason, he was found
guilty and returned to the Tower to await execution. By using the skills he had learned
in Paris, he was able to saw through the bars of his dungeon using a watch spring, and
he was successful in making his escape. He made his way to Rome, where he lived on
a pension from James Stewart until his death in 1750.
Lord Winton was faithful to the Craft as he was to his defeated cause, for it
was he who, following the suppression of the Lodge, took charge of the minute book,
and by instructing his wife of his wishes he ensured that the book found its
honourable resting place in the archives of the Grand Lodge. It can therefore be said
that although he never served under the authority of Grand Lodge, he rendered her a
great service. For that service and for his fidelity to his beliefs, we should honour him.