Freemason Prisoners in the Napoleonic Wars
3 papers on Prisoners in the Napoleonic War


MASONS PRISONER OF WAR

Discussion in 'Masonic Education Repository' started by Blake Bowden, Apr 13, 2010.

THE WORLD of 150 to 200 years ago was a changing and disturbed world. Steam power was replacing the horse on land and the sail at sea, just as the idea of political and religious liberty had commenced to wipe out serfdom and bigotry in civilized lands. The United States was proving its right to independence and self-determination, and even then was preparing for the great internacine struggle of the Civil War.

It was an age of expanding horizons and increasing vision, of strident revolution, mighty nations, and even mightier conflicts. It was also the time of a remarkable demonstration of Masonic diligence and fraternal toleration to an unheard of degree.

During the Seven Years War and the Napoleonic Wars (1740 to 1814), approximately 200,000 members of the French Army were taken prisoner and held in captivity in England. Not all of these prisoners were French, although they were members of the French Army. How many Poles, Germans, Italians, and Spaniards there were in this group cannot be said, but there must have been a considerable number. As a guide, one might use the half million men that Napoleon led into Russia in the abortive campaign of 1812. On ly 200,000 of these soldiers were French. In view of this, the Masonic diligence they displayed takes on an interesting international tinge.

About 50,000 of the war captives were held in Britain in eight principal land prisons; the rest were incarcerated in prison ships that were literally floating coffins. The officers among the ship-bound prisoners were considered in a category separate from the others. Those who would give their parole were allowed to live in one of the designated 'parole towns.' They received a weekly allowance from the British Government of a half-guinea, about $1.50 at today's rate of exchange. This allowance, it should be understood, was given only to those who would give their parole. The rest got nothing, bad food, rags for clothing, pestilence and chains.
Food For Thought
SOURCE: http://www.myfreemasonry.com/threads/masons-as-prisoners-of-war.10873/
3 prison hulks - HMS Discovery, HMS Warrior & HMS York
No one ever took the pains to record just how many of the prisoners were Masons, but there must have been a great many and of considerable dedication. In the eight land prisons they established five Lodges; in the 50 parole towns, 32 Lodges; and, impossible as it may be to conceive, in the 51 prison hulks, where anything like a normal life was virtually if not completely impossible, there were six Lodges established.

It should be understood that these were not casual or occasional meetings of men belonging to the Craft, but, within the limitations of time and facilities, properly established Bodies, although generally without warrants. They conducted regular stated meetings with a full list of officers and a code of by-laws. They kept accurate and complete minutes of their meetings, many of which are preserved to this day.

That this was not only condoned but even encouraged by British brethren is attested by many recorded facts. At least four of these Lodges, (Ashby, Chesterfield, Leek, and Northampton), applied for and received permits from the Acting Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, although they did their work in association with the Grand Orient of France. Rites practised generally were the Rite Francaise ou Moderne, adopted by the Grand Orient of France in 1786. It featured seven degrees, the first three the same as those we practice today, the upper four in ascending order being Elect, Scotch Master, Knight of the East, and Rose Croix. To add variety to the picture, some of the certificates given by these Lodges were signed in the Eleventh Degree of the Adonhiramite Rite. That the Craft could even think of a Lodge meeting under the stultifying conditions of the prison ships is almost incredible, but they did. In fact, one brother left a description of a Lodge meeting he visited on one of the hulks, the Guilford, anchored in Portsmouth harbour. This visiting brother was named Lardier.

He visited this meeting under the sponsorship of two other brothers, whom he refers to as 'Children of the True Light.' They traversed the whole length of a lower deck without illumination. Then they reached a trapdoor which was raised by another brother so they might descend a short, rotten ladder to a still lower, still darker deck.

In this situation he was led through complete darkness by sure hands until they were confronted by a man who demanded the password, signs, and grips. Having satisfactorily met this challenge, they crawled through a small door into a cramped room, where the ceiling was so low that they could not stand erect. Illumination of the 'hall' was by means of a candle mounted in an old bottle. Only the Master was provided with a seat, and this was a dilapidated bench from which one leg was broken. The rest of the brethren sat on the floor. Here the visitor saw a candidate put through one of the degrees.

He remarked: "Physical examination and much of the ritual were impossible because of the cramped quarters but the candidate was rigorously tested from the moral viewpoint, especially in matter of patriotism."

The Master's speech, which was also a prayer, went:

"Thy children cannot close these labours without expressing their grief and rendering homage to Thee. My heart is not captive, it is still free and faithful, it lifts itself out of this place of bondage and speeds to the land that gave it birth. May the glory of Thy triumphs never fade, may the Hero who guides Thy Chosen be able to add the last and only jewel which is wanting in Thy crown . . . by utterly destroying that odious rival which dares to contend with Thee for mastery of the world."

These words are living proof of the indestructible spirit of the faithful Craftsmen who met in that dark room in the belly of the prison ship.This remarkable meeting closed with a voluntary offering for the relief of others more distressed than themselves. What can men give who have nothing for themselves? No one knows, but give they did and records amply show that the generosity of these half-starved half-clothed shadows of what were once men gave not only for needy brethren but for all prisoners whose need was greater than theirs. Was there ever a more perfect ashlar for that symbolic temple?

Where did they get anything to give? Again, no one can say, but it is known that they made and sold art trinkets of magnificent craftsmanship. This undoubtedly was a part of their source of income. Truly marvellously contrived medallions constructed by these unfortunate brothers are still on display in the great Freemason's Hall off Drury Lane in London.
A selection of Jewels made by prisoners in the Napoleonic wars
Forty-four certificates issued by these Lodges have been discovered. These beautifully lettered documents, with a seal of wax from specially cut dies enclosed in a tin box, ribboned as documents of the day often were, are each a work of art in itself. The wonder is not that they spent the time and effort to make them so notable, but that the wretched prisoners on the comfortless and pestilential prison hulks were able to procure the necessary items for their fabrication.

Considering the words of the Guilford Master quoted earlier, and in view of the centuries of bitter French-English rivalry and war, it would seem unlikely that even Masonry could cross so insurmountable a barrier, but it did. It is reported that a Brother Burnes, who was magistrate and Master of the British Lodge at Montrose, actually released French prisoners from jail as a fraternal gesture.

The minutes of many British Lodges show that French parolees were frequently received as welcome visitors and in many cases became joining members. As has been noted earlier, at least four Lodges among French prisoners were sanctioned by English Grand Lodge warrants. Most of the French Prisoner-of-War Lodges restricted themselves to French members, but in at least three Lodges (Abergevenny, Launceston, and Wincanton), Englishmen applied for membership and were accepted and initiated.

An interesting sidelight occurs through the fact that under French Masonic rules, seven Master Masons in a town where there was no Lodge or twenty-one in a town where a Lodge already existed, could hold a meeting and elect officers. Thus, at Peebles, in 1811, French prisoners established and operated a Lodge. The local British Lodge made no objection to this until it was discovered that the prisoners' Lodge was initiating new members. They objected to the Grand Lodge of England on the grounds that their own properly constituted Lodge was adequate to the occasion. The Grand Lodge agreed, but the prisoner-Masons, operating under their own French rules, disagreed. Records of this disagreement are to be found in several references, but only one makes further comment, and he notes rather cryptically that there is no record that the prisoners' Masonic work was discontinued.

To complete the picture, it is not only necessary but fitting to point out that during this same period of time approximately 25,000 English soldiers were taken prisoner by the French. Once again, it is impossible to say how many of these men were Masons. However, in a detachment of the British 9th Regiment of Foot that was captured and confined, there was a regularly constituted travelling Military Lodge No. 183, "Antients." This Lodge met regularly in prison, the fortress of Valenciennes, until 1814. T he minutes of its meetings have been preserved.

Today, as we sit in our comfortable halls with all the treasured implements of our moral labours about us, it is difficult to conceive of the difficulties under which our imprisoned brethren struggled to maintain and demonstrate their fraternal fidelity, but not at all difficult to understand. Masonry to them was far more than a fraternal link; it was a vital and living key to continued existence.

As a final note, it should not be thought that this small section of history is merely a record in the archives or, for that matter, only another demonstration of the way Masonry raises a man above himself. It is still a subject for discussion and comment. As late as 1913 a pamphlet was published in Paris, accusing French Freemasons of assisting their imprisoned British brethren to escape. At this late date, firm proof for or against this assertion is impossible to find. However, from the evidence at hand, it would appear quite likely that the accusation is gloriously and wonderfully true.

Source: Robert M. Walker 32 degree
PRISONER LODGES IN CHESTERFIELD

“During the Napoleonic Wars, French Officers who were prisoners of war were billeted in Chesterfield. They formed two Lodges during the years 1809 - 12 Loge de l'Espérance and Loge de St Jerôme et l'Espérance. Scarsdale members made 8 visits to Loge de St Jerome et l'Espérance, while the Scarsdale minutes record that on 5th March 1810, "Hy. Vinclair and R. de la Croix, two foreigners, visited this night." Both were prominent French Masons.

The French prisoners had little money and were not allowed to go more than a mile from Chesterfield, but they found a sympathiser in Sir Windsor Hunloke, Master of Scarsdale in 1800 and a Roman Catholic, who is said to have moved the milestone further along Derby Road so that the Frenchmen could visit him at Wingerworth Hall!”

“The officers among the ship-bound prisoners were considered in a category separate from the others. Those who would give their parole were allowed to live in one of the designated 'parole towns.' They received a weekly allowance from the British Government of a half-guinea, about $1.50 at today's rate of exchange. This allowance, it should be understood, was given only to those who would give their parole. The rest got nothing, bad food, rags for clothing, pestilence and chains.

No one ever took the pains to record just how many of the prisoners were Masons, but there must have been a great many and of considerable dedication. In the eight land prisons they established five Lodges; in the 50 parole towns, 32 Lodges; and, impossible as it may be to conceive, in the 51 prison hulks, where anything like a normal life was virtually if not completely impossible, there were six Lodges established.

It should be understood that these were not casual or occasional meetings of men belonging to the Craft, but, within the limitations of time and facilities, properly established Bodies, although generally without warrants. They conducted regular stated meetings with a full list of officers and a code of by-laws. They kept accurate and complete minutes of their meetings, many of which are preserved to this day.

That this was not only condoned but even encouraged by British brethren is attested by many recorded facts. At least four of these Lodges, (Ashby, Chesterfield, Leek, and Northampton), applied for and received permits from the Acting Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, although they did their work in association with the Grand Orient of France. Rites practised generally were the Rite Francaiseou Moderne, adopted by the Grand Orient of France in 1786….”
FROM SOURCE:  http://www.napoleon-series.org/cgi-bin/forum/archive2009_config.pl?md=read;id=109592
NAPOLEONIC WARS - A MASON'S WORD

During the period known at the Napoleonic wars (1793 circa 1814) there were up to 122,000 enemy sailors and soldiers held in captivity. The officers were held in 50 parole towns from Abergaveny, Bishop’s Castle through to Wincanton. The bulk of the prisoners were held in rotten hulks on the rivers around the UK as well as in the city goals.

There were between 200-300 prisoners per town, and before any officer was allowed to reside in a parole town he was required to sign a document promising to observe certain rules. Having done this he was said to be “on parole.” This took the following form:
whereas the commissioners for conducting His Majesty’s transport service and for the care and custody of French officers and Sailors detained in England have been pleased to grant…leave to reside in…upon condition that he gives his parole of honour not to withdraw one mile from the boundaries prescribed there without leave for that purpose from the said Commissioners, that he will behave himself decently and with due regard to the laws of the kingdom, and that he will not directly or indirectly hold any correspondence with France during his continuance in England, but by such letter or letters as shall be shown to the agent of the said commissioners under whose care he is or may be in order to their being read and approved by the superiors, he does hereby declare that having given his parole we will keep it inviolably.

In all parole towns the following notice was posted in prominent positions.

Notice is hereby given
That all such prisoners of war are permitted to walk or ride on the great turnpike road within the distance of one mile from the extreme parts of the town (not beyond the bounds of the parish) and if they shall exceed such limits or go into any field or cross-road they may be taken up and sent to prison, and a reward of ten shillings will be paid by the agent for the apprehending them. And further that such prisoners are to be in their lodgings by 5 o’clock in the winter and 8 in the summer months, and if they stay out later they are liable to be taken up and sent to the agent for such misconduct.

However, during 1810-1812 some 462 officers broke their parole and escaped to France, and of these, 310 escaped in one year (1812), but abroad not one British Freemason officer had broken his parole. However, the French prisoners were held in ‘open prisons’ whereas the British were held mainly in fortresses and secure castles, and therefore not readily having of an opportunity to decamp. The French authorities did not contribute to the keeping of their prisoners, whilst the British gave each French officer half a guinea per week for sustenance, also being on parole they were free to find employment locally if they could.

There was even an instance where the officers became far too successful in business, whereby they were banned from lace making, as it was affecting the local trade! However, the lot of those held in prisons such as Bristol, Norman Cross or Dartmoor were much less convivial. Many thousands of French and indeed American POWs from the War of Independence died from starvation or prison fever.

The French army, just like the British, had a long tradition of having travelling Lodges attached to their military. The first Lodge in the French army was La Parfait, constituted in 1759. So it is not surprising that Lodges sprang up in most of the 50 cantonments in the UK.

The French rule was that seven Master Masons could form a Lodge in a town where there was no Lodge, and they became  “loge en instance”. In at least four cases, the French applied to Lord Moira, Grand Master of the Ancients Grand Lodge, to hold meetings.

They were held under the provision of the Antients and in association with the Grand Orient of France. The Lodge permit for Des Vrais Amis de l’Odre Ashby-de-la- Zouch is still extant. The brethren of Royal Sussex Lodge No. 353 bought the lodge furniture from the French prisoners. Still on view in the Burton Masonic hall are the floor cloths and furniture bought from the French Lodges before their repatriation.

The French Lodges had names which reflected their circumstances, among them De l’Esperiance (hope), De l’infortunes (the unfortunate ones) and De la Paix Desiree (hope for peace).

Lodges were not only accessible in the parole towns. In Portsmouth, for example, upon the prison ship the Guildford, a Monsieur A. Lardier wrote in his book Historie des Pontons of a Lodge held in the hull of the ship in such a confined space that, although he was “less than the ordinary stature of ordinary men we were obliged to bend almost double, so limited was the space.”

He added: “The Master of the Lodge, who was as Sovereign Prince Rose Croix, presided from a rickety three-legged bench which he struggled throughout the ceremony to keep stable. The remainder of the brethren were obliged to sit upon the floor ‘in the manner of Turks or Tailors’.” The floor work must have been particularly impressive, for this was not an occasional Lodge, but one of a regular programme of meetings held by our zealous French brothers.

The Freemasons of Poole raised funds to assist British prisoners of war in France and even entertained a French prisoner brother. One Englishman captured by the French, on discovering that he was a fellow Mason, had him billeted with brothers in Verdun. During his captivity, which lasted from 1803 to 1814, Napoleon personally provided Christmas dinner for the English Freemasons.

Then there is the story of the ‘amity’ biscuit. A Captain Jacques le Bon captured the brig Oak in 1813, and upon discovering that the captain was a fellow Mason, released him. Not only that, he also presented him with a small dog which had been owned by an English Mason who had been recently captured.

The dog had a biscuit suspended around its neck. Captain le Bon stated that he would not even keep a brother’s dog in captivity, nor would he see it want for food. The biscuit, mounted and framed, is the prize possession of Lodge of Amity No. 137 at Poole.

There are numerous memories of the French brethren still visible in England, ranging from Lodge furniture, Masonic artefacts in museums, through to grave stones in English churchyards, memorials to French brothers who had given their Parole - their Word.
SOURCE: http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-16/p-35.php