Burnes, Masons and Knights Templar 77

UPDATE Almost two years after writing this post I finally managed to make contact with Robert Cooper at Freemason’s Hall in Edinburgh, and he could not have been more friendly and helpful, spending an hour with me on the phone going over various points and arranging to show me various material. I am not deleting the criticisms below as they are part of the record; but they are of course substantially altered.

There is a strange link between the warped mind of Anders Breivik and the biography of Alexander Burnes I am writing. Anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code or The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, knows the (dubious) story of a continued descent of the Knights Templar through the rites of Scottish Freemasonry (the Da Vinci Code, of course, finishes in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland). Anders Breivik’s “Templar” manifesto, his signing himself as “Andrew Berwick” and his posing in Masonic costume all indicate he was influenced by this stuff.

Well, that story of the Scottish Freemasons inheriting the rites and knowledge of the Knights Templar was first popularised by Alexander Burnes’ brother, James Burnes, in his “Sketch of the History of the Knights Templar” (Edinburgh, 1840). James Burnes went on to become “Grand Precepteur de l’Ordre Souverain Du Temple” and “Grand Preceptor of the British Langue of the Sovereign and Illustrious Order of St John of Jerusalem”. The source for this is Robert Bigsby in his Memoir of the Illustrious and Sovereign Order of St John of Jerusalem, (Irongate, 1869).

James Burnes’ History of the Knights Templar describes himself as the Masonic “Grand Prior of India.” This is undoubtedly true – there are plenty of other sources. He also really was, as he claims, a Knight of Aquitaine and of the Royal Guelphic Order of Hanover and Saxe Coburg, created by reigning monarchs who were also masons. Bigsby says James Burnes was “best remembered for his zealous exertions in promoting Freemasonry in Scotland and India.” He apparently reached number two in the Scottish freemason structure, though I have yet to find his title.

His brother Alex Burnes, the subject of my biography, was also a zealous freemason and some sort of search for ancient masonic knowledge linked to Alexander the Great was a sub-theme of his wanderings in Central Asia – and links in of course to Kipling’s exploration of the same masonic themes in The Man Who Would Be King, which is at least in part based on Alex Burnes. Freemasonry was a fundamental part of the Burnes family’s life – Alex and James’ great-uncle, the poet Robert Burns was famously a freemason, and their are more Burnes (eight) in the list of members of the Knights of St John which Bigsby publishes, than any other family.

I genuinely have no agenda, pro or anti Freemason (to be honest I view them as harmless and a bit silly), in digging up this old stuff. But I hope that the above explains why I cannot leave this aspect out of a biography of Alexander Burnes. Yet I have contacted in writing the masonic organisations in Scotland and in India, and the Order of St John, to ask if they have any records relevant to James and Alexander Burnes. The Scottish Masons claim never to have heard of the Burnes, – that cannot be true – while the others have not replied to my letters.

They can hardly be surprised people think ill of them if they are so secretive and unhelpful. I am afraid their new (and I am sure unwelcome) association with Breivik will make them even more paranoid and hostile to anybody researching this stuff.

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77 thoughts on “Burnes, Masons and Knights Templar

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  • David Grierson

    Mr Murray,

    this your guy?

    “Of the same family as Burns was Sir Alexander Burnes (1805-1841). Sir Alexander was Grand Master of Scottish Freemasons in India and Grand Preceptor (Knights Templar) of Southern Asia. He had distinguished himself by exceptional military skill in the India Department of the Royal Army, was knighted, and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1839. A very promising career was suddenly cut short when he, his brother, and a subaltern, who were on a military assignment in Afghanistan, were set upon by a mob and killed on November 2, 1841. ”


    Another link poss of interest, that you might have already seen of course: http://fsantoke.byethost3.com/dglindia/hist1.htm

    It’s about the History of Scottish Freemasonry in India.

    I’m not a freemason, but I am Scottish and know that plenty of Freemasons are very open about their history. The librarian is the bloke at the Grand Lodge of Scotland you’ll need to deal with directly. I think his name’s Bob Cooper ( who wrote a very interesting book called The Rosslyn Hoax, btw )

    If he’s not letting on about ritual secrets I’m guessing he’d be happy enough to help you if he can.



    ( ps I know all this because a few years back I was Technical Manager on a site-specific contemporary dance production that used Mason HQ on Edinburgh’s George St as the set. We were treated with courtesy and respect at all times by the helpful staff. Mind you, the Arts Council probs coughed-up a fair whack to hire the place )

  • Chris

    OK, how can you show to the contrary that there are only a few bad Masons out there? I can’t prove a negative. I look forward to you showing evidence to prove your point.

    question 2 – this is one example of you showing your ignorance on the subject. the only thing you give an oath not to reveal are the modes of recognition within Freemasonry, nothing else. nothing is going to land anyone in hot water. It doesn’t work like that.

    question 3 – Freemasonry has always been pioneering freedom and democracy. just because some people think it’s prone to corruption doesn’t mean that it is. It teaches honesty, integrity and self-improvement. I know this far more acutely than you.

    question 4 – a candidate does not take an oath in ignorance. you are not signing a blank cheque. you are right – only a dimwit would take such an oath. Can you quote me, or even paraphrase these ‘blind oaths’ please? I’d be interested to know what they are seeing as you seem to think so much about them. Only a dimwit would make a statement about something which he knew nothing about….

  • Jaded.

    Chris, on question 1, I don’t need to prove my point. I clearly said we can just agree to disagree. As far as i’m concerned anyone, even with just a few brain cells to rub togther, would know that masons are no better than the rest of us and that society is in a dire state. The notion that there are only a ‘few bad masons’ is ludicrous. Let’s just agree to disagree eh? Or is that not allowed?
    On question 2, I believe that masons take oaths not to reveal secrets, which is much more than simply revealing modes of recognition, so you may find that you are wrong on that Chris. You are saying that’s it’s ok for all those who have renounced, not left, freemasonry to say anything they like without fear of any comeback whatsoever right?
    Question 3 was about how you concluded that I frequented ‘conspiracy websites’ so you have gone off track there. As for what you did say I will respond. Freemasonry is just a group of people. Peoeple are subject to corruption and no matter how hard it tries freemasonry, as a group of people, is no different. Again we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that and on the logic you have used to conclude that I must visit ‘conspiracy websites’. That is allowed I hope.
    On question 4, I amazed you don’t understand what I am saying. If you take an oath not to disseminate secrets yet to be revealed, then that is a ‘blind oath’. To paraphrase – ‘I swear I won’t reveal masonic secrets’. I don’t know any more about these secrets than the people taking the oath. I just know that such oaths are made and that is all I need to know. I have no problem with you thinking me or calling me a dimwit either. I will ask you once again Chris. What would your view of a mason be who didn’t think I was entitled to my peaceful and honest opinion, in relation to what i’d term a ‘blind oath’, about only dimwits signing up? Whether you agree with my opinion or not is compeltely irrelevant. The point is that it’s my peaceful and honest opinion. I have given my logic and I would appreciate an answer please Chris.

  • Chris

    Craig – good luck with your research. Try the Scottish GL rep as DG suggests – Bob Cooper is well known for his help with all matters masonic. He’s appeared in many documentaries which are available online and knows his stuff.

    Jaded – I give up. It makes no odds to me if you want to continue your ignorance. Buy Freemasons For Dummies and gain a basic understanding about a subject that is WAY deeper than you can possibly imagine. Good luck.

  • Jaded.

    Jaded – ‘I have no problem with you thinking me or calling me a dimwit either. I will ask you once again Chris. What would your view of a mason be who didn’t think I was entitled to my peaceful and honest opinion, in relation to what i’d term a ‘blind oath’, about only dimwits signing up? Whether you agree with my opinion or not is compeltely irrelevant. The point is that it’s my peaceful and honest opinion. I have given my logic and I would appreciate an answer please Chris.’

    Yes everyone, totally as I predicted, notice how he has done everything humanly possible to avoid answering a simple question. I think such an evasive approach must surely cast doubt on every single word that this individual has uttered. After all did he not state this:

    ‘They’ll tell you whatever you want and it’ll be the truth. A true Mason is genuine and honest – becoming a better person is one of the central aims of Freemasonry.’

    How on earth can all of that tally with not being able to answer a simple question? Very, very odd is all I can say. Just my honest and peaceful opinion. For the record, I wish you well and hope some common sense enters your existence one day.

  • Roderick Russell

    Chris, President Kennedy once said – “The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.” In my view secret societies should always need to justify themselves, because the plane fact is that they have the potential to be very dangerous for our civil liberties.
    Now I know that in history, freemasonry played a major role in disseminating ideas of liberty and democracy in what were totalitarian States. The independence movement in America, the fight for increased parliamentary powers and extended franchise in the UK, even the failed Decembrist movement in Russia, and so much else, owed much to freemasonry and its secrecy. Indeed in these totalitarian societies – freedom required secrecy: to speak out in public meant arrest or worse.
    But is this still the case today, or is freemasonry morphing into something rather different? Is this what JFK was getting at?
    In a democratic country, secrecy often has the opposite effect – when the need to democratize has gone, the only targets a secret society, if it goes rogue, can be of danger to are democratic institutions themselves. Take the mafia or triads: both began as patriotic movements, and just look at what they morphed into. Freemasonry is a major force in the legal and political communities where I live. It dominates our police and security services. My own experience is that it is certainly not encouraging fair play and integrity amongst its membership. Your members dominate most of the key positions in MI5 / MI6 who increasingly operate outside the law as a Stasi-style secret police. One wonders if your past heroes, such as Burke and Jefferson, would be impressed with your society today.
    To me the litmus test is a simple one – do these secret societies *actively* support Rule of Law at all times, or not? Do they ensure that at all times they operate in a way that doesn’t harm non-members?

  • craig Post author

    David Grierson,

    That is indeed my man. I am very grateful for that link but wondering if there is some confusion with his brother James. James certainly held such titles, and his obituaries say so. In Alexander’s case he was certainly a Mason, but I had not come across anything before to indicate he was quite that high up – fascinating if true.

    I am in Edinburgh for the Festival from next week and will try to track down Bob Cooper. But I really have been in both written and telephone communication with them last year, and was told they had no record of the Burnes, which was plainly nonsense. Possibly my reputation as an anti-establishment figure put them off (it’s Edinburgh, after all). I will see if I can get further by actually meeting them.

  • mary

    Suhayl Have You Placed Your Order Yet?
    PS Was The Missing Prefix Ama As In Amabo?

  • Chris

    Hi Roderick. Thanks for your post which raises valid points. I agree that Freemasonry should be challenged, as it always has been, just like politics, religion and other institutions are in a healthy society. Personally I believe that it is over-estimated. People can just as easily meet in private outside of Freemasonry as they can within it. There are far more non-Masons as Masons in positions of power and this has always been the case. Masonry does not have some kind of monopoly over any section of society which would enable it to dominate it, even if it had the intention of doing so. Political or religious discussion is not tolerated, as are any actions which contravene the laws of the land. Freemasonry really isn’t such a secretive fraternity and I’m not sure that JFK had them in mind when he said what he did. His enemy was a lot closer to him than that in my opinion – I would suggest factions within the CIA with mob connections were more likely candidates, but thats another topic entirely.

    MI5/MI6 – I don’t know about that but I would rail against that just as strongly as you if it were the case. Why they would need Freemasonry as a vehicle seems a bit odd. They could surely do what they want more subtly outside the order, not least since membership lists are not exactly super-secret. If you wanted to have secret meetings to discuss secret agendas you’d do it outside of any registered organisation. Otherwise, all join the local golf club – much lower profile.

    Burke and Jefferson may not be so impressed, but mainly because fewer members take the time to understand the deeper, esoteric content that Freemasonry offers, but thats a personal opinion.

    The litmus test – yes, Freemasonry does actively support the rule of law at all times. There is a genuine promotion of honesty, integrity, charity and tolerance. The fundamental pillars of brotherly love, relief and truth are taken very seriously, unlike in society generally I might add.

  • Jaded.

    But answering a simple quetion repeatedly asked can, mysteriously, just be a step too far for some of these noble folk on occasion… 🙂

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Joseph is materialising, Mary (as The Archangel might’ve said, one sunny morning). Incidentally, just for your interest, the ‘Joseph’ in the novel, ‘Joseph’s Box’ is Joseph (Yusuf) of Canaan. In shameless self-promotion, one must wear the coat of many colours:
    The Quranic Yusuf is a fascinating figure, a symbol of inner, spiritual beauty. The quest for ‘Yusuf’ therefore is a journey through the vicissitudes of this life.
    Persian poetry loses more than most in the translation and this is very High Victorian. Still…
    Mathematics, the universe.

  • John Goss

    Craig, you might be right. Kipling may not have been signalling anything negative, but I was picking up the signal nonetheless. I wonder if there was an obligation for him to write ‘The Mother Lodge’, and his other masonic poems, to stand him in good stead for the Nobel Prize for Literature; and likewise T. S. Eliot with ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. Whether William Golding was a mason or not I don’t know, but he wrote ‘Darkness Visible’, the phrase being from Milton, and one which has found its way into the masonic ritual, hence Walton Hannah’s disclosure of the same title. (There are no windows in masonic lodges). It is inescapable that many winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature were masons.

  • Matt Keefe

    I’ve edited a number of books on Freemasonry including, mostly notably for our purposes here, several written by current or former Freemasons debunking all the Knights Templar rubbish so many of them seem to cling to. You could look up the author Stephen Dafoe if you’re in need of research – a highly skeptical author and former Freemason specialising in the order’s history. He might be able to tell you where to look, or point you in the direction of those who might be more sympathetic than whoever you’ve spoken to so far.

  • John K

    You do sometimes surprise me by how un-savvy you seem to be with the internet.
    Bob Cooper is very easy to “track down” – the Grand Lodge have a very informative website. Not very secretive at all! I just googled “curator scotland grand lodge”
    His email is:
    [email protected] tel: 0131 225 5577

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