It did not take long for English Freemasonry to arrive in Italy.The Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717; evidences show, in 1735, at least two lodges (both with no name and unattached) were working in Italy, Rome and Florence. In those years a number of separate kingdoms were ruling over the peninsula. Principalities, dukedoms, kingdoms, the so called, large ‘kingdom of two sicilies’ and the territories under papal control, from the Tirrenean sea to the Adriatic with Rome as the religious and political capital. Italy was a country where foreign powers were struggling to gain control by using separations and rivalry with the Roman Catholic Church also working to maintain its influence.
The lodge in Rome was run by Stuart supporters and the church authorities allowed it to exist hoping that James, who was exiled in Rome, might regain control over England. Shortly after, when hope had faded, the lodge vanished. A major Italian Masonic library will soon give details of their ongoing research on this Rome lodge.
I thus focus on the so-called ‘Englishmens’ lodge in Florence. Tuscany, ruled as a Grand Duchy under Gian Gastone de’ Medici (heir to the Medici family), shared borders with the Papal territories. Gastone did not like Rome’s influence in internal affairs. The previous ruler had given away too much power and privileges to Catholic bodies. Soon Gian Gastone realised his Grand Duchy could achieve a major improvement in overseas commerce: for this, however, he needed a freehand.Therefore he blocked the power of Catholic institutions in Tuscany. Good relations with England brought a number of English citizens to Florence, including a representative from HM court, Sir Horace Mann.
This group of Englishmen, loyal to the then King, started meeting as a lodge in a tavern. Charles Sackville, Earl of Middlesex, became the second WM and details of his Masonic activity appeared in Quatuor Coronati Lodge no.2076, in 1911 (Begemann, volume n.12) and in 1945 (Chetwode Crawley, vol.58. A record from 1732, gives details on the initiation of Antonio Cocchi, doctor to many English sojourners: he was probably the first Italian to enter Freemasonry. Shortly after, more Italians joined, mostly not fluent in English and showing more interest in the British community in Florence than in Freemasonry. The Florence lodge was also a nest for spies, who would get useful information from its Italian members. The lodge existed to 1739, shortly after Gian Gastone died. However, another Italian was to take an important office in Englishmen’s lodge.Tommaso Crudeli became the lodge secretary around 1735. Crudeli was a scholar and, by teaching Italian to some British citizens, he became close to Sir Horace Mann and others.
Crudeli was an excellent poet and writer. Some of his work set the basis for his struggles with the strong Catholic forces fighting not to lose their influence and benefits. When Gian Gastone’s successor, Francesco Stefano Lorena, was appointed a political war broke out against the local Catholic party, and Crudeli became the thin vase in the middle of thick vases clashing. His position was unprotected when the lodge closed, following a 1739 recommendation set by Lord Robert Raymond (lodge member elected GM.) right after his departure for London. The overall situation after the 1738 ‘In Eminenti Apostolatus Specula’ excommunication set by Pope Clemente XII was difficult, even if that papal bull was not acknowledged by Tuscan rulers. As British citizens were largely beyond the reach of papal courts, they realised that some lodge members were in danger. Von Stosch, an Austrian noble suspected of being a spy, Buondelmonti and Giuseppe Cerretesi, both readily informed of the pending warrants, and Tommaso Crudeli was jailed on 9 May 1739. He spent five months in very poor conditions, including weeks in a horrible cell on heresy charges.
No trial was set up; meanwhile his health was worsening. Several months spent in these conditions caused serious concerns about his life. Eventually, following efforts from Tuscan emissaries, Crudeli was released in July 1740, being obliged to never leave his house in Poppi. He never underwent trial, nor did he ever confess or betray his brethren. Sadly, his health had already cracked and Crudeli died in 1745. He is considered by many as the first martyr of universal Freemasonry. In my opinion, Crudeli arused hostility among individuals with his pen. A poet and not a politician, he did not realise the extent of his lyrics in that dangerous period. It is not just a matter of fighting for freedom of speech. He made serious mistakes and relied too much on someone else’s protection. The treatment he was given by clerics was useful to Tuscan rulers in order to cancel the Inquisition in their territories, and to start again collecting fees from the Church, reinforce civil power and foreign respect. Crudeli was the lamb in all this and the clerical powers acted beyond any civil and moral law, thus originating a fierce fight with a large part of the Italian population, including of course the massoni, the Italian word for Freemasons.
It is, also, worth noting of a Grand Lodge of England petition dated 12 December 1739, of one ‘Thomas Crudeli, a prisoner in the Inquisition in Florence on account of Masonry’, which was warmly recommended by Lord Raymond, then Grand Master, and which resulted in a grant of 21 pounds being authorised for the relief of the petitioner (as in The Builder 11, 5 May 1925 in ‘Masonic Benevolence Between 1717 and 1813’- W.B.M. Bachcroft).
Englishmen interests later focused on the Tuscan seaport of Livorno (you may find it on maps under its English name, Leghorn), where four lodges were set between 1763 and 1771, having either Ancient or Moderns patents. Tuscany and Umbria are, to this day, considered the homeland of Freemasonry in Italy.
Alessandro Ruzzi (The squadre, march 2017)
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