- Written by JL Freeman
The Francken Manuscript, the informal name of the degree texts for the Order of the Royal Secret (ORS), has long been a text that fascinates Freemasons of every jurisdiction. Authored in 1725, it is one of the more cohesive haut grades or high degree Masonic orders in the world and is the historical predecessor of the Scottish Rite. The Francken Manuscript adeptly answers the question: what was the Scottish Rite like before it was the Scottish Rite?
The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Mother Council of the World, holds one of several copies of this manuscript, and in 2015, published Freemasonry’s Royal Secret, which is the full text of the Francken Manuscript along with a brief historical background of Freemasonry in the time of Etienne (Stephen) Morin, who brought the Order of the Royal Secret to Jamaica in the early 18th century. This degree system, as contained within the book, is comprised of twenty-two primary degrees with an appendix of three additional degrees that were, as the book’s introduction tells us, brought to the new world as honors for sale. These additional degrees are the Royal Arch, the Select Master of 27 (an early version of the Royal and Select Master degree), and the Scottish Elder Master degree, whose text eventually served as the inspiration for the 33°, Inspector General.
Those among the Scottish Rite that have not examined its ritualistic history would do well to read this volume. Freemasonry’s Royal Secret gives the full story of a degree system that spread rapidly and gave Freemasons in the Colonies their own version of higher degree Masonry. The Order of the Royal Secret was one of the most widely accepted and most successful of the high degree systems. Its success as a bearer of more light led to its incorporation into the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in 1801, where many of its philosophical precepts survive in updated dramatic ceremony. Overall, Freemasonry’s Royal Secret is to be considered an historical overview of the Scottish Rite in its infancy. It is a window into the past of one of the longest-lived haut grade systems of Freemasonry, and the impact of this text cannot be understated. Had the Scottish Rite not absorbed Morin’s work, it can be assumed that the Mother Council of World would likely not have been founded. The text may be a straight reprint of Morin’s Order of the Royal Secret, but its historical impact is still felt many decades later.
As Scottish Rite Masons, we would do well to learn from our past ritual. For anyone seeking a starting point for a ritualistic history of the Scottish Rite, Freemasonry’s Royal Secret is a fantastic genesis for research into our past. Let your journey towards Equilibrium begin here.
James A. Kring, 32° KSA