Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond convened his first English lodge in France in 1734, the year that he succeeded as Duc d’Aubigny. Lodge meetings were held at Louise de Kérouaille (pictured), his grandmother’s house on the Rue des Saints-Pères in Paris and in a private room at the Hôtel Bussy. Richmond also established a lodge at his grandmother’s estate at Aubigny-sur-Nère, 40 kilometres south-east of Orléans.
Louise de Kéroualle had been sent to the English court by Louis XIV with the expectation that she would become one of Charles II’s royal mistresses and lobby in favour of French interests. She succeeded on both counts and was rewarded by Louis XIV with the Duchy of Aubigny, and by Charles II, who made her Duchess of Portsmouth and granted their (illegitimate) son the title of Duke of Richmond.
The prelude to the Lodge meeting at Aubigny is recorded in a letter to Richmond dated 23 August 1734 from Thomas Hill, the duke’s former tutor and now friend and member of his household. Among other matters, it emphasises how Jean Theophilus Desaguliers altered ‘the production’ to create a ‘greater air of antiquity and consequently make it more venerable’ and thus more appealing to its aristocratic French audience:
I have communicated to the new, if I am not mistaken, right worshipful … Dr J Theophilus Desaguliers, your Grace’s command relating to the brotherhood of Aubigny sur Nère. I need not tell you how pleased he is with this further propagation of masonry… When I mentioned the diploma he immediately asked me if I had not Amadis de Gaula or some of the old Romances. I was something surprised at his question, and begun to think as the house was tiled our brother had a mind to crack a joke. But it turned out quite otherwise. He only wanted to get a little of the vieux Gaulois in order to give his style the greater air of antiquity and consequently make it more venerable to the new lodge. He went from me fully intent on getting that or some other such book. What the production will be you may expect to see soon.
It became customary for Richmond to travel to France annually and in September the following year he convened a lodge in Paris once again:
They write from Paris that His Grace the Duke of Richmond and the Rev. Dr Desaguliers (formerly Grand Masters of the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons and now authorised by the present Grand Master under his Hand and Seal, and the Seal of the Order) having called a lodge at the Hotel Bussy, His Excellency the Earl of Waldegrave, his Majesty’s Ambassador to the French King; the Right Hon. the President Montesquieu; the Marquis de Lomaria; Lord Dursley, son of the Earl of Berkeley; the Hon. Mr Fitz-Williams; Messrs. Knight, father and son; Dr Hickman, and several other persons, both French and English, were present; and the following noblemen and gentlemen were admitted to the Order, viz., His Grace the Duke of Kingston; the Rt. Hon. the Count de St. Florentin, Secretary of State to his most Christian Majesty; the Right Hon. The Lord Chewton, son to the Earl of Waldegrave; Mr Pelham; Mr Herbert; Mr Armiger; Mr Cotton and Mr Clement. After which, the new Brethren gave a handsome Entertainment to all the Company.
The names and standing of those attending the Lodge underlines freemasonry’s status as a diplomatic qua political tool. The central figure was the Comte de Saint-Florentin, a senior advisor to Louis XV and the minister responsible for the Huguenots in France. He would have been an appropriate figure to cultivate and the concurrent initiation of the Duke of Kingston and Earl Waldegrave’s eldest son, James, Lord Chewton, would have flattered Phélypeaux much as the Duke of Newcastle’s raising at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole’s country house, had honoured the Duke of Lorraine a few years earlier.
A second key figure was President Montesquieu, Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron Montesquieu, president à mortier du parlement de Bordeaux. Among the other attendees, ‘Mr Pelham’ was Thomas Pelham Jr. (c.1705-1743), the Duke of Newcastle’s loyal second cousin, MP for Hastings (1728-41). Pelham was at the time serving as Ambassador Waldegrave’s private secretary.