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.

77 thoughts on “Burnes, Masons and Knights Templar

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  • craig Post author

    Angrysoba, Yugostiglitz

    Foucault’s Pendulum is a great novel that operates on many levels. You are not, I think, supposed to believe in the mysticism, only to believe in the novel that the perpetrators believe it. But Eco is complex. There is no doubt it borrows heavily from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which resurrected James Burnes’ ideas (via some French nutters) and inflicted this mystic sub-culture upon us. But it did not borrow from The Holy Blood nearly so heavily as Dan Brown did in the Da Vinci Code, and at least Eco had the grace to acknowledge it.

    I too have a secret agenda in making this posting, which is easy to discover – I am hoping that someone will pop up and volunteer where I might find some information on the Burnes masonic activity.

  • Paul Johnston

    I agree Yugo, very much like “The Name of The Rose” what with witches and devils being blamed where in fact the true evil comes from man.

  • craig Post author

    John Goss,

    I am sorry, I have to disagree with you on one detail. Kipling in his work repeatedly renders his ordinary soldier’s voices in cockney, and in rendering cockney he frequently shows the double negative used incorrectly, to indicate a positive – a common mistake in the argot he is correctly reproducing. I don’t think he is signalling anything here.

  • ingo

    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.

    Their refusal to let you have access to historical records they hold should make you think twice about their harmless nature, freemasons, unlike Christainity, is still seen as a hand up in business and local Government. here in Norfolk the head of planning and transportation is a declared freemason and his decisions do show it. It is an inciodious club that operates to its own agenda, regardles what local/national democracy demands and prescribes.

    Tried to send the excerpts from the wargamers forum on to the Pink un’ yesterday, the NCFC forum, it was denied three times, they probably did not like the all telling flags underneath Norge’s posts.

    looking forward to the book, he sounds a right rebell.

  • Jon

    > Is it “Islamophobic” to state the fact that all rapes in Oslo over the past 5 years
    > have been committed by foreigners?
    It is if it is untrue. And I strongly suspect it is untrue. Do you have a source for your statement?
    > Diversity + Proximity = War
    I live in Birmingham in England, and we have plenty of diversity and proximity here. Sure, there are scrapes every now and again, but I don’t believe we are at war, nor should we be. Multiculturalism is like marriage – it generally works but it’s never perfect.
    I’d recommend against using terms like “war” in this context anyway – sounds odiously like ‘white power’ talk to me.

  • woody

    “…here in Norfolk the head of planning and transportation is a declared freemason and his decisions do show it,” says Ingo.

    Does this account for the horrendous and costly incinerator proposal that’s being pushed through against everyone’s wishes, trampling all reason and gambling with public health?
    Craig, it’s on your doorstep, or would have been… you guys in Norwich said ‘no thanks’ so Kings Lynn is lumbered with it. I bet Norwich is stiff with the [email protected]@rds!

    I once met Martin Short who wrote ‘Inside the Brotherhood’. Well worth picking up a copy. It includes an excellent (and frightening) chapter on the City of London, ‘Squaring the Square Mile’. Read and despair.

  • Jack

    John Goss – “You cannot be a Christian and a Freemason.”

    Try telling that to a very large number of clergy! Not to mention the Vatican – their involvement is notorious. As it happens I’m an atheist – and I find Freemasonry even less palatable (quite apart from being historical balderdash.)

    Good to hear you’re not a Mason, Craig – especially as no is the only direct answer it’s possible to get on the subject. When the answer is something along the lines of “Don’t you think that’s a private matter?”, or the subject is changed – you can take the answer as yes. Few non-Masons will bother with anything other than a direct answer.

    Not all Masons are corrupt. But Freemasonry is unquestionably – if only by virtue of its lack of transparency – one of the central agencies in the corruption in our police forces and central and local government.

  • dreoilin

    “Is it “Islamophobic” to state the fact that all rapes in Oslo over the past 5 years have been committed by foreigners? You silly one-worlders are bringing this kind of violence to reality.” — Slobadon
    Oh heavens, not here as well. I’ve just been debunking that on a Tea Party site. Here are the facts:
    “The police report referred to is Voldtekt i den globale byen (Rape in the global city) which provides a detailed analysis of the rape statistics in Oslo during 2010. The report in fact shows that, of 131 individuals charged with the 152 rapes in which the perpetrator could be identified, 45.8% were of African, Middle Eastern or Asian origin while the majority – 54.2% – were of Norwegian, other European or American origin.
    “The claim that “all rapists in Oslo are immigrants” is based exclusively on the figures for “assault rape”, i.e. rape aggravated by physical violence, a category that included only 6 of the 152 cases and 5 of the 131 identified individuals. All of those 5 individuals were indeed of African, Middle Eastern or Asian origin. However, the police report adds that in other cases of assault rape, where the individual responsible was not identified and the police relied on the description provided by the victim, “8 of the perpetrators were African/dark-skinned appearance, 5 were Western/light/Nordic and 4 had an Asian appearance”.
    “Which falls some way short of substantiating the claim that all perpetrators of aggravated rape in Oslo are of non-western origin, never mind the assertion that “Muslim immigrants” are responsible for all rapes in the city.”

  • craig Post author


    I don’t disagree at all that masonic lodges can be the focus for local corruption in the letting of local public funded contracts. I am quite sure that is true, But it is true of many other institutions, especially the Labour Party!

  • Anon

    People should not forget Freemasonry is not just exclusive to the UK, it has members all over the world. Freemasonry is just one more layer of the absolute corruption within our society.

  • Chris

    Its strange how a whole institution gets rubbished because of the actions of a few individuals rather than the 6 million members (who do far more good than most will ever know). Freemasons take an oathe not to do anything that contravenes civil law or undermines the state, but you wouldn’t know that. How much nepotism takes place within families (I work for such a company) and within other institutions (eg. Conservative Clubs, golf clubs, pubs, etc) and is conveniently overlooked? While I agree that anyone in a position of civil office or responsibility should declare their membership, it is otherwise an issue which is up to the individual – remember we still live in a democracy? Hitler commited genocide against the Masons, sending over 200,000 to their deaths alongside the Jews, because of their belief in freedom, equality and tolerance. But again, you wouldn’t know anything about that either.

  • Jaded.

    Chris – ‘because of their belief in freedom, equality and tolerance.’
    That would be the some are more equal than others bit then. 🙂

  • woody

    Chris, let’s not spoil the peculiar fun of ordinary masons. But if they are in public life membership should be forbidden, otherwise they cannot comply with the Seven Principle of Public Life (especially Integrity).

  • Chris

    @ Jaded – I suggest you read up on the history of Freemasonry. You will find that it is not nearly as self-serving as you assume and never has been.

    @ Woody – ‘peculiar’ as in unique as much as odd. Most things seem peculiar if you don’t understand them (as a Christian mass for example – people eating the body and blood of an idol, who is also worshipped nailed to a cross – how peculiar is that??). You do have a valid point regarding those in public life, however. Transparency should prevail rather than trust. I do understand peoples concerns in that regard. Its the shallow ‘bogeyman’ thinge which I’m tired of.

  • Jaded.

    Chris – ‘Transparency should prevail rather than trust.’
    That would be the ‘should’ rather than ‘does’ bit then. 🙂
    Mary – ‘Chris Are you the press officer for the Grand Lodge or something?’
    Oh Mary, you are very suspicious and conspiratorial. Are you suggesting that certain masons ‘work’ the internet? They are doing busy committing charity to have time for such activities don’t you know.

  • Chris

    @ Mary – no, just trying to balance the argument rather than let a few bigots appear as if they know what they’re talking about. I see Freemasonry for what it is and nobody said it’s perfect. Name an institution that is. If you know one it probably has no members 😉

  • Jaded.

    Ah, but what about the some organisations being less perfect than others bit… 🙂

  • ingo

    Chris, secrecy in the 21st. century is misplaced loyalty and if masons do good, why do they not tell all and get some brownie points for it. Off course this would mean telling us where the money comes from and who made decisions.

    Becoming a public servant or councillor and be a feemason at the same time means that you are splitting your loyalties before having made a decision, the company you keep, not always savoury in a lodge, is in constant competition with your public mandate, or is it not?

  • Chris

    Ingo – the only secrecy within Freemasonry concern the modes of recognition, nothing else. It’s born out of a tradition from various times in the past where complete secrecy was a necessity, when you’d be persecuted or even executed for daring to discuss religious, political or social issues, as was the case before the Enlightenment. The traditions and rituals have remained unchanged since at least the early 1700’s and apart from a few minor tweaks (eg. to the old penalties of death that used to exist) much has remained. They hold no other secret knowledge and I’d be interested to know what kind of secrets you believe they do hold. Where the money comes from? What money? Please explain.

    With regards to FM’s also being public servants, it’s about being transparent so the position cannot be abused. Freemasonry is not a hotbed of corruption and nepotism. Unfortunately the only Freemasons you hear about are the bad ones. Fortunately they are far fever in number than the conspiracy fanatics would have you believe. I certainly wouldn’t be one if that was the case and neither would most others.

  • Jaded.

    That would be the ‘so few in number’ and ‘ideas only espoused by conspiracy fanatics’ thet you feel compelled to ‘work’ the internet bit then. 🙂

  • Jaded.

    And my apologies, my narrative lazily omitted the ‘otherwise I wouldn’t be one bit’. 🙂
    Anyhow, how would one know all of this before they joined anyway? And how would one unbecome one if they joined and later found out otherwsie pray tell? I am intrigued for sure…

  • Chris

    @ Jaded – at last, a non-trolling question from you.

    You probably know several Masons without even being aware of it, as was the case with me. But once you have established that you do know one or more, you’d be amazed at how much they’ll tell you if you show a real interest. 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. Read up on the subject and avoid those conspiracy websites for a change.

  • Jaded.

    More like I know several masons without them being aware of it. And that’s just through logic. Anyhow, my ‘questions’ (note the plural) you have not answered at all. Moreover, as for ‘first none trolling question’, I hadn’t provided you with any previous questions and was just commenting.

    Question 1 – How would one know there are only a few ‘bad’ masons out there?
    You limply just generalise and say ‘oh, I found out I knew a couple before I joined’. And what’s that supposed to prove exactly? Furthermore, there is surely only so much they could tell you, which in itself couldn’t go far on the characters of hundreds of thousands, before you joined anyway.
    Question 2 – And how would one unbecome one if they joined and later found out otherwsie pray tell?
    You haven’t answered this question at all. It’s all very feeble saying ‘I wouldn’t be one otherwise’, which is all based on a few chats with a couple you knew before joining, then not saying how you ‘wouldn’t be one’ leave if you discovered otherwise. It’s like you’re preprogrammed with all the same lines.
    And on exactly what basis are you stating that I visit ‘conspiracy websites’? And another question for you 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? Zero out of four questions answered probably…

  • Chris

    And if you join and don’t like it, you leave. It really is as simple as that. You may have it confused with Scientology or some other cult or religion. Freemasonry is neither of those.

  • Chris

    Just caught your last post, will answer your questions:

    question 1 – I know that there are only a few bad Masons out there because I know how Freemasonry works and how it doesn’t tolerate criminal or immoral activities. There may be a few who use Masonry for the wrong purposes but they usually are found out by the organisation or by the outside world.

    The Masons I knew before I joined coincidentally happened to be some of the most decent people I know. I had known all of them well for years and they wouldn’t be a part of anything that was in some way bad or a negative influence. They told me plenty, plus everything is available for anyones viewing on the internet. In fact, in that respects, there are no secrets at all.

    question 2 – as I have already said, if its not your thing, you leave. What, you think you’re not allowd to? Freemasonry isn’t for everyone, just like anything else in life. Its not a prison – you seem to be very bleak about the whole thing and seem to know little about the subject, hence my comment about the conspiracy websites.

    Blind oath – what is this exactly??

  • craig Post author


    But do you have a theory why nobody will tell me anything about the former Grand Prior of India and something impressive of Scotland? Do they not maintain written archives? I would think they must.

  • Chris

    Hi Craig. No, I have no explaination. as far as I’m aware the Grand Lodge of England has always been helpful with such research and I can only assume that the Scottish Grand Lodge would be the same, although they are a totally seperate organisation so I can’t speak with any great authority. If you’re near London you can visit the library at Grand Lodge in London (http://www.ugle.org.uk/library-and-museum/) and I highly recommend you do – maybe you can find some answers there? There is so much academic research available online and other websites dedicated to the Craft I’d be suprised if the info you are looking for isn’t out there waiting to be found. Sorry for not being of much use with this, though.

  • Jaded.

    Chris, how you can say there are only a few bad masons out there is beyond me. Society, on the whole, doesn’t tolerate criminal or immoral activities. However, look at how many get away with it and how corrupt society is. Do you actually think bad masons wouldn’t be trying hard to conceal their duplicity? Pull the other one. Masons are no better than the rest of society. Okay, I can’t deny that you answered question 1 and we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
    Ok, question 2 then. If a man renounces freemsonry he is still subject to his oath of silence. In my eyes he isn’t free and hasn’t left at all. Something he said might land him in hot water later on in life. That’s ‘leaving’ is it? We’ll just have to agree to disagree again.
    On to question 3. You say that you perceive me to be bleak and ignorant of freemasonry. That viewpoint leads you to conclude that I visit ‘conspiracy websites’. Well, I can’t fathom that, but if you say so. You then, later on, proceed with another daft binary. Just because some people might think it’s undemocratic and prone to corruption doesn’t mean they think it’s a ‘dark, evil force’.
    As for question 4, you haven’t answered me at all. A mason takes these oaths without knowledge of what he is entering into. I term that a ‘blind oath’. Taking an oath in ignorance is a bit of an oxymoron in my opinion. 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? I have given my logic and I would appreciate an answer please.

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