The Masonic Order of Athelstan
in England, Wales and its Provinces Overseas

The Chevalier Ramsay Lecture Award

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Who was Andrew Michael Ramsay?
Destined to become one of the most romantic figures in the history of Freemasonry, Andrew Michael Ramsay was born in Ayr, Scotland in about 1686. He entered Edinburgh University at the age of 14 and studied classics, maths, theology and on finishing his studies he took up the position of tutor for the nobility.

In the early 1700’s he moved to London, ostensibly to learn French. His circle of friends included Isaac Newton, David Hume and John Desaguliers. He left England bound for Holland around 1709 and he is recorded as having joined the Duke of Marlborough’s army in Flanders. Then, in 1710 he became a pupil of the liberal mystical philosopher, François Fénelon, Bishop of Cambrai, and was converted to Roman Catholicism. On Fénelon’s death in 1715, Ramsay went to Paris where he became a friend of Philippe d’Orléans - the Regent of France.

The Prince was also the Grand Master of the Order of Lazarus and through that acquaintance Ramsay was able to be admitted into this Order which henceforth qualified him to be known as the Chevalier de Ramsay. In 1723, King James granted him a certificate of Nobility, and in 1735 made him a Knight and a Baron, whereby he became Sir Andrew Michael Ramsay.

Ramsay was a novelist, historian, religious philosopher, and teacher. He was a Scottish expatriate, yet he was welcomed home from France by the English government. He was a Presbyterian, a Roman Catholic and a Jacobite, yet was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford and made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

He died at St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, in 1743 and is buried in the church cemetery there.

The Freemason

In 1730, while visiting England, Ramsay was initiated into Freemasonry in the Horn Lodge in London. This was reported in the London Evening Post as occurring on 16th March and he was initiated with several brethren or noble birth.

He would become a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society and the Royal Society, both so influential in the rise of Speculative Freemasonry.

Upon Ramsay's return to Paris, he became active in the Craft and soon rose to the rank of Grand Orator, as Freemasonry was beginning to form out of Lodges into a Grand body.

What is the Ramsay Oration or Discourse?

In France at that time, candidates were being received in increasing numbers, but the ceremonies were very brief and elementary, giving the candidates little idea of the aims and objects of the Craft.

Ramsay thought that this was regrettable so in December 1736 he wrote an Oration which he delivered at social boards following initiation ceremonies.

This was to become one of the most discussed speeches ever delivered and it is certain that no other has ever received so much attention, been so misunderstood, or had so much effect on the course and development of Freemasonry.

It was most likely delivered on 27th December 1736 at St. John’s Lodge, although Gould has the date as 1737.

I have left some links in the comments section below to some interesting articles and discussions on Chevalier Ramsay. These include far more detail regarding the Oration some of which are credited in the production of this video. I draw your attention to the excellent work by W. Bro. Martin McGregor.

What exactly did Ramsay say? Well a lot and I’ll give a few examples of his rhetoric regarding the Craft;

“The obligations imposed on you by the Order are to protect your brothers by your authority, to enlighten them by your knowledge, to edify them by your virtues, to suffer them in their necessities, to sacrifice all personal resentment and to strive after all that may contribute to the peace and unity of society.”

“We desire to unite all men of enlightened minds, gentle manners, and agreeable wit, not only by a love for the fine arts, but much more by the grand principles of virtue, science and religion, where the interests of the Fraternity shall become those of the whole human race, whence all nations shall be enabled to draw useful knowledge and whence the subjects of all Kingdoms shall learn to cherish one another without renouncing their own country.”

Why the Chevalier Ramsay Lecture Award?

The original architects of the Masonic Order of Athelstan took a great deal of modern inspiration from the infamous Ramsay Oration.

Ramsay aimed at giving candidates a reason to take pride in the Craft, and in their heritage. His Oration was certainly not a factual history of the Craft but rather an allegorical account of what he perceived the origins to be.

As Athelstan caused the Ancient Charges to be set down at York, it is thought that the Ramsay Oration was more was more than just an inspirational charge after initiation, it could be argued that it was the Ramsay’s own version of those Old Charges.

The Ramsay Oration was to become one of the most discussed speeches ever delivered and it is certain that no other has ever received so much attention, been so misunderstood, or had so much effect on the course and development of Freemasonry.

Misunderstood and misinterpreted in parts and naturally used as ‘evidence’ in the creation myths of many Higher Masonic Orders. However, there is one fact; in that the Ramsay Discourse of 1736/37 did directly influence the foundation of a Masonic Order nearly 270 years since it was first delivered; and that is ours; the Masonic Order of Athelstan.

So, it was agreed that from our inception that a Chevalier Ramsay Lecture would be delivered at the Annual Assembly meeting of Grand Court. It being awarded to the most thought-provoking, well-researched and inspiring subject matter from any member of our Order.

This has been the case since our very first Annual Assembly of Grand Court in 2006.

As Grand Master I was proud to enshrine in our Statutes the mandatory requirement for each Court to deliver a lecture at their Installations meetings. Thus, recognising the contribution of Chevalier Ramsay in inspiring anyone; Mason or non-Mason alike; to expand their wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

Some 15 years later the Chevalier Ramsay Lecture Award has become a highly prized and coveted Masonic accolade.

2020 will see some improvements that will surely enhance its lustre in Freemasonry – watch this space Brethren!

MW Bro Paul W Johnston
16th May 2020