Villeroy-Coustos Lodge

In December 1736 John Coustos (pictured), a British jeweller based in Paris, established a Masonic lodge in the city. Less than two months later the Duc de Villeroy, one of Louis XV’s most senior courtiers, was initiated into the Lodge. That imprimatur gave the Lodge status, something reflected in its renaming as ‘Villeroy-Coustos’ Lodge. Villeroy became Master on 17 February 1737 with Coustos serving as his deputy.

Louis Bontemps, the hereditary Premier Valet of France, was a second prominent initiate. The Bontemps family had been ennobled in the mid-seventeenth century and Bontemps, whose godparents included Louis XIV, held the title alongside other royal offices such as Governor of the Tuileries, Superintendent of the Royal Buildings and Gardens, and Captain of the Varenne Hunt.

A list of Lodge members is given below and several names can be highlighted, including Johan Christoph Baur, a German-born banker who was later Deputy Grand Master of France; and Count Czapski, a Polish nobleman. It has been suggested that Baur provided a conduit for Louis XV through which monies were transferred to finance Swedish troops in Poland, and that he was engaged in intelligence matters. Regardless, Baur’s relationship with Swedish diplomats in Paris facilitated the expansion of freemasonry into Sweden and the issue of warrants authorising Swedish lodges.

Count Czapski was exceptionally well-connected within the French court and very familiar with diplomatic concerns. He was a first cousin to Marie Leszczynska (1703-1768), one of King Stanislau’s daughters, who had become Queen of France following her marriage to Louis XV in 1725. Czapski was later Master of Villeroy-Coustos lodge and subsequently founded one of the first lodges in Warsaw, Poland.

Despite the initial success of Villeroy-Coustos lodge, Lord Derwentwater, the Jacobite Grand Master of Freemasons in France, made it plain within months that he was unhappy to see French lodges whose loyalty was to the Grand Lodge of England. Many French freemasons heeded his call and joined lodges recognised by Derwentwater.

Freemasonry’s growing influence raised concerns within the government, police, and secret service, and in 1737 Cardinal Fleury moved to curb the perceived threat. Unmonitored social gatherings among the elites were regarded as problematic by Fleury and initially at least, freemasonry’s association with Jacobitism was troubling when Fleury was seeking rapprochement with Britain. Fleury wrote to the head of police in Paris in 1737 instructing him to suppress Masonic meetings – ‘all the Taverns and Eating Houses are forbid, by an Order of the Lieutenant de Police, to entertain the Free-Masons’ – a ruling that temporarily drove some lodges underground.

Villeroy-Coustos lodge was the subject of a police raid later that year and the lodge ceased to operate thereafter. The section of the lodge’s records that deal with its denunciation and closure were redacted: ‘cancelled by the advice (and order) of the brethren [for] reasons known to the brethren’. The reason is unclear but it is likely that its demise was hastened by depositions made to the authorities in which Coustos and Thomas Le Breton, the master of Louis d’Argent and a member of Villeroy-Coustos, were accused (falsely) of improper and heretical behaviour:

Thomas Le Breton, with his kindred spirits (La Confederation), as well as the man called Jean Meyers Custos, and others, in defiance of the laws of God and man, held a meeting in the Rue du Four, and another at Dassy, both absolute orgies – and that too during Lent, in fact during Passion Week. The whole progeny of turpitude and excess evidently ran riot in the streets: drunkenness, gluttony, fireworks, revelry; the entire village of Dassy turned out. And all this on the pretence of holding a masonic meeting.

Members of Villeroy-Coustos Lodge, Paris, 1736-37 [1]

d’ Aunillon (Abbé)
de Bauclas
Baur, J.C.
Beccaria, Janee Francoe
de Bertouch, R.
de Bousch (Baron)
Bruguier, Pierre
Bulow, V.
Cave, H.M.
Coustos, Jean
de Czapski, (Comte)
Danicus, Enricus
Demeure, Philibert
de Dever, D.
Dudzeele, D.
Du Mont (Le Chevalier)
Dune de Sardegne
Farsetti, Philippe
de Feuillas
da Fletto, Giusepino
Fremant, J.P.
de Gatterburg [poss. Katerbourg], (Comte)
Géraudly, Claude
de Görtz, (Baron)
Gosselin, Jean Philippe
Gray, Laurent
de Gualtieri
Hanker, Henry
de Hastrel, (Le Chevalier)
Klein, Jean Herman [poss. Hörman]
Krafft, Johann Daniel
de Lagerie
Le Breton, Thomas Pierre
Le Tourneur
de Liebentantz, M.G.
Lubormirski, J., (Prince)
Maille, Guillaurne
Manne, Carlino
de Meiners
Naudot, Jaque Christophe
Naudot (le fils)
Paris de Meyzieu
Pasquier de la Haye
de Plessen
Quineau, Edward
De Royaucourt
de Scheffer, (Baron)
de Swirby, (Comte)
Tamm, Gaspard
de Villeroy, (Duc)
Weiss von Fürstenfeld, Joseph Theodore
de Wendhausen, (Baron)
de Wendhausen, (Baron, le cadet)
de Wind

The lodge’s members include some twenty-eight Frenchmen; seven Swedes; thirteen Austrians / Germans; six British (Cave, Coustos, Driver, Gray, Quineau and Scriver); and two from the United Provinces. Other nationalities, including Italian, are also represented.

The lodge minutes dating from 18 December 1736 to 17 July 1737, seized in the police raid, are held in the French National Library. Lodge meetings took place at the Ville de Tonnerre, Rue des Boucheries, St Germain, every second Tuesday. The lodge met on some twenty-two occasions and apart from the first two meetings the minutes are signed by all those present.

With regard to the members, Baron de Görtz was the eldest son of Charles II’s chief minister, one of the architects of Sweden’s repeated attempts to overthrow the Hanoverians in Britain and Ireland and install James Stuart as king. Prince Stanislaw Lubomirski (1704-1793), a hereditary Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and Polish nobleman, was Grand Marshal at the court of Augustus III. Count Carl Fredrik Scheffer (1715-86), a Swedish diplomat and politician, was subsequently Grand Master of Sweden (1753-74). Scheffer was subsequently installed as a Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim and a Commander of the Order of the Polar Star, Swedish chivalric orders created by Frederick I.

The presence of Niels Krabbe De Wind, Denmark’s ambassador to Paris, and Carl Adolph von Plessen, a colleague at the Danish Embassy in Paris, is significant. Louis XV was seeking to pry Denmark away from its alliance with Britain and establish a pan-European anti-Hanoverian alliance involving Sweden, Denmark, Prussia, Spain and France.

Among others listed, Philippe Farsetti was a diplomat at the Venetian Embassy in Paris; Claude Jaquier de Géraudly served as the royal physician and dentist; Jean-Daniell Krafft, a leather merchant originally from Hamburg, founded what is thought to be the or one of the first lodges in Germany in 1737 and in 1743 became Grand Treasurer of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Lower Saxony; and Thomas Le Breton, a banker and goldsmith, was also master of the lodge Au Louis Argent in Paris, another Lodge constituted under an English warrant, No. 90, in 1732.

The members also included several musicians: Jacques-Christophe Naudot (c.1690-1762), a flautist and composer; Jean-Pierre Guignon (1702-1774), a leading violinist and composer; and Pierre Jelyiotte (1713-1797), a fêted tenor.  Their presence validates the affluence of the members: musicians and actors tended to join lodges either at the behest of their patrons for whom they would play in lodge, or in search of patronage.

[1] Lodge Minutes and Signature Book, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, Joly de Fleury collection, 184, ff. 132-46. The members are listed alphabetically. Cf., AQC, 92 (1979), pp. 116-8.