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  You are in: Home > History > Schism  

The Battle that Forged Freemasonry

Ric Berman

Richard Berman is the author of Foundations of Modern Freemasonry; he holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a Doctorate in History from the University of Exeter. Ric was previously a Senior Visiting Researcher at the University of Oxford’s Modern European History Research Centre and is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. He lives with his family in Oxfordshire and is presently researching a book on colonial America.


Schism examines the creation of the Antients Grand Lodge and traces the influence of Ireland and the London Irish, and most especially that of Laurence Dermott, the Antients’ Grand Secretary, in the development of freemasonry in the second half of the eighteenth century.

The book demonstrates the relative accessibility of the Antients and contrasts this with the exclusivity of the ‘Moderns’ – the original Grand Lodge of England. The Antients instigated what became a six decades long rivalry with the Moderns and pioneered fundamental changes to the social composition of freemasonry, extending formal sociability to the lower middling and working classes and creating one of the first modern friendly societies.

Schism does not stand solely as an academic work but introduces the subject to a wider Masonic and non-Masonic audience and, most particularly, supplements dated historical works. The book contributes to the history of London and the London Irish in the long eighteenth century and examines the social and trade networks of the urban lower middling and working class, subjects that remains substantially unexplored. It also offers a prism through which Britain’s calamitous relationship with Ireland can be examined.

List of Tables
List of Illustrations


chapter one
Laurence Dermott and Antients Grand Lodge

chapter two
Antients Freemasonry and the London Irish

chapter three
The Antients’ General Register

chapter four
London’s Magistracy and the London Irish

chapter five
An Age of Decline – English Grand Lodge, 1740–1751

chapter six
Masonic Misrule, Continued

chapter seven
The King’s Arms Lodge

chapter eight
The Anglo-Irish: Ascendancy and Alienation


List of Abbreviations
Appendix Titles
Notes & Selected Bibliography

Review by John R. “Bo” Cline, President, The Masonic Society, PGM, Grand Lodge of Alaska, in The Journal of The Masonic Society

In his book Masonic Facts and Fictions, first published in 1887, Henry Sadler argued against the contemporary notion “that the founders of this body [Ancient Grand Lodge] were originally seceders from the Mother Grand Lodge of 1717, and they are invariably referred to as ‘the schismatics’”. Sadler states that there is no evidence available to conclude that a considerable number of the founders of the Ancient’s Grand Lodge actually owed allegiance to “the regular Grand Lodge of England.”

… In his current book, Schism: The Battle that Forged Freemasonry, Ric Berman (author of The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry) argues that Sadler’s contention that no schism had occurred, since “. . . by definition, one cannot leave or fracture an organization of which one has not been a member. . .”, “was a nonsense”. Berman points to a socio/economic schism which existed between the upper and middling progenitors of the ‘Premiere’ Grand Lodge (the Moderns) and the lower middling and working class, primarily Irish émigrés who founded the rival Antients Grand Lodge as the chief cause of the rift.
…Touted by the publishers as more accessible to the average reader than Berman’s previous work, Schism provides an objective view of the social and economic environment surrounding the formation of the Antients Grand Lodge during the mid-eighteenth century in England. Berman describes the various factors that fostered the development of the Antients to the detriment of the Moderns, factors which included:

• Social indifference and a greater accommodation of all who wished to participate;
• Focus on Masonic ritual during meetings, which for some more especially expatriate Irish, became a substitute for Christian liturgy;
• Patronage by Irish and Scottish aristocracy;
• Masonic charity accessible to all through creation of the world’s first ‘friendly society’;
• Official recognition by the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland;
• Dysfunction of the Moderns Grand Lodge during the mid-eighteenth century; and more particularly
• The marketing skill of Laurence Dermott (Antients Grand Secretary and author of Ahiman Rezon).

All of this on the backdrop of England’s onerous mercantilist policies which subjugated the British colonies, especially Ireland and the Anglo-Irish during the eighteenth century.
Understanding the past and the conditions that existed during the formation of Freemasonry provides a lens by which to view the Craft and understand its relationship with the world today. Schism: The Battle that Forged Freemasonry provides such a lens and is an excellent addition to Berman’s The Foundations of Modern Freemasonry.

Review by Dr Bob James, Newcastle, UK, of Foundations of Modern Freemasonry
and Schism – The Battle that Forged Freemasonry

These two books, in my opinion, are the most important on English freemasonry published in recent times.
The first introduces the crucial networking which produced the first buzz of interest in freemasonry in 1720s London. The second describes the battle between London’s established Grand Lodge, the ‘Moderns’, and the lower middling, largely Irish, ‘Antients.’
In Foundations, Berman located new material showing the predominance of magistrates in Masonry’s most sociable and therefore most influential lodges and the bridge freemasonry provided between Newtonian theory and its application. Masonic lectures and demonstrations of ‘natural philosophy’ fed directly into the engineering and hydraulic schemes driving the industrial revolution and their popularity enhanced freemasonry’s image as THE society for the upwardly mobile.
In Berman’s view, English freemasonry was a deliberate creation of a few members of the Horn Tavern able to convince leading politicians and aristocrats to join. The argument has profoundly political and religious implications and in highlighting them Berman has done a great service to scholars of Masonry. In showing how the organisation changed soon after it began, was challenged and forced to reform he has ensured that assertions that freemasonry was somehow immutable can no longer be made.
Where Berman’s first volume was centred on personalities and their unique histories, his second concerns the collective experiences of two distinct social groups. He brings ‘the Antients’ to life, delves into their occupations, communities and grievances against the original Grand Lodge.
Berman reports the evidence that suggests that Antient freemasonry was an association of friends, neighbours and co-workers, ‘the large majority of whom lived and laboured’ close to one another. From the middling and lower classes, these men were concerned with the financial security fraternalism could offer and formed recognisable ‘mutual benefit funds’.
The two volumes are extremely well produced and both are credits to their publishers and their printers. But the warmest appreciation must go to the researcher and author, Ric Berman, in providing a precise, social context for the invention of English Freemasonry.


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Paperback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
272 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Release Date:
July 2013
  Illustrated:   Yes
Hardback Price:
£55.00 / $74.50
Paperback Price:
£25.00 / $39.95

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