The legitimacy of the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem

Introduction

This weekend, I have had the pleasure of attending a very interesting lecture, given by a good friend, regarding the history of the Knights Templar (1119-1307). The lecture mentioned the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem (OSMTH) as a modern successor of the ideology of this ancient and famous Order.

Detail of the Chinon Parchment, with details of the trail of the Knights Templar and the Pope's involvement (Vatican Museum secret archives library)

Detail of the Chinon Parchment, containing details of the trail of the Knights Templar and the Pope’s involvement (Vatican Museum secret archives library, reference number Archivum Arcis Armarium D 218. ASV, Archivum Arcis, Arm. D 217)

The original order of the Knights Templar was founded by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman from the Champagne region, along with eight of his companions, in Jerusalem around 1119. In 1307, Philip IV of France arrested the Knights Templar on charges of blasphemy, idolatry, and sodomy. The investigation and trial into the alleged misdeeds of the Knights Templar took place in Rome between 1307 and 1312. On 18 March 1314 the Grandmaster and other knights of the Order were burned alive by order of King Philip. In September 2001, Barbara Frale, an Italian paleographer at the Vatican Secret Archives, found a copy of a document, known as the ‘Chinon Parchment’ in the Vatican Secret Archives. The document explicitly confirms that in 1308 Pope Clement V absolved Jacques de Molay and other leaders of the Order including Geoffroi de Charney and Hugues de Pairaud (Barbara Frale 2004, “The Chinon chart – Papal absolution to the last Templar, Master Jacques de Molay”, Journal of Medieval History 30 (2): 109–134). Another Chinon parchment dated 20 August 1308 addressed to Philip IV of France, stated that absolution had been granted to all those Templars that had confessed to heresy “and restored them to the Sacraments and to the unity of the Church” (Pierre Dupuy, Histoire de l’Ordre Militaire des Templiers Foppens, Brusselles 1751; Étienne Baluze, Vitae Paparum Avenionensis, 3 Volumes, Paris 1693. Nonetheless, the Pope suspended the order (see appendix 1, below for the details).

Wikipedia describes the OSMTH as follows:

The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, (Latin: Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani, OSMTH), is a self-styled order founded in 1945 by Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1878-1960), claiming to be a continuation of the self-styled l’Ordre du Temple founded in France, 1705, officially reconstituted in 1804 by Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat, and recognized as an Order of Chivalry by its patron Napoleon Bonaparte in 1805; Fernando Campello Pinto Pereira de Sousa Fontes succeeded his father as the head of the order in 1960.

It is interesting to see to what extend the current OSMTH can be seen as a successor of the ideology of the ancient Templer Order.

Inspiration

An important personality regarding the revival of Templer history was Andrew Michael Ramsay. Raised a Calvinist, Ramsay converted to Catholicism in 1709. Leaving England for Holland in 1709, he soon moved to Cambrai (France) where he lived with the well-known mystical theologian, François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon (1651-1715), Archbishop of Cambrai.

Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743)

Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay (1686–1743)

In 1713 or 1714, Ramsay moved to Blois where he was employed as secretary to a co-founder of Quietism (a Christian philosophy), Madame Guyon. In 1716 Ramay moved to Paris, where he spent the rest of his life in and near that city (Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, pp. 280-315 vol 81 (1968). Much of Ramsay’s life is only known from Anecdotes de la vie de Messire André Michel de Ramsay a manuscript dictated by Ramsay, and now in the Bibliotèque Méjanes at Aix-en-Provence. Cited AQC, vol 81 (1968). Cf. Mackey’s Encyclopedia for a 1680 birth date).

It was in Paris where Ramsay met the Duc d’Orleans who admitted Ramsay as a member of the Royal and Military Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem. This entitled him to use the prefix of Chevalier. James, the Old Pretender, granted Ramsay a certificate of nobility in 1723. In 1728 he succeeded in having a diploma of nobility registered by the King of Arms in Edinburgh (Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, pp. 280-315 vol 81, 1968). In his famous  Oration of 1737, Ramsay suggested that Freemasons were closely connected to the Knights Templar (Gould’s History of Freemasonry – Vol. III, page 11, Compiled and Edited by R.’.W.’. Gary L. Heinmiller, Director, Onondaga & Oswego Masonic Districts Historical Societies):

At the time of the Crusades in Palestine many princes, lords and citizens associated themselves and vowed to restore the temple of the Christians in the Holy Land, to employ themselves in bringing back their architecture to its first institution. They agreed upon several ancient signs and symbolic words drawn from the well of religion in order to recognize themselves amongst the heathen and the Saracens. These signs and words were only communicated to those who promised solemnly, even sometimes at the foot of the altar, never to reveal them. This sacred promise was therefore not an execrable oath, as it has been called, but a respectable bond to unite Christians of all nationalities in one confraternity. Some time after our Order formed an intimate union with the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. From that time our Lodges took the name of Lodges of St. John. This union was made after the example set by the Israelites when they erected the second Temple who, whilst they handled the trowel and mortar with one hand, in the other held the sword and buckler.

Ramsay’s statements increased interest in Freemasonry. It also generated a strong desire among Masons to participate in orders with a knightly background. As a result, the Scottish Rite and York Rite branches of Freemasonry incorporated a number of knightly degrees. On 16 July 1782 a Masonic congress was held at Wilhelmsbad, near the city of Hanau in Hesse Cassel. The meeting was chaired by Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who was at that time the Grandmaster of the Order of the Strict Observance. The meeting lasted for thirty sessions. When the congress was finally closed it concluded that ‘Freemasonry was not essentially connected with Templarism, and that, contrary to the doctrine of the Rite of the Strict Observance, the Freemasons were not the successors of the Knights Templars.” The result of its finding was that very soon many of the other Templars degrees and orders died out (Eugen Lennhoff, Oskar Posner, Dieter A. Binder, Internationales Freimaurerlexikon. 5. überarbeitete und erweiterte Neuauflage der Ausgabe von 1932. Herbig, München 2006; Ferdinand Runkel, Geschichte der Freimaurerei. 3 Bände. Reprint von 1932, Edition Lempertz, Königswinter 2006, Bd. 1, S. 193 ff.). The current Masonic order of Knights Templar derives its name from the medieval Catholic Order. However, it does not claim any direct lineal descent from the original Templar order.

l’Ordre du Temple

These events have been the seeds for a second important rivival of the Templar Order. In 1804 Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (29 May 1773 – 18 February 1838) founded the l’Ordre du Temple, The Order of the Temple (see the Manuel des Chevaliers de l’Ordre du Temple).

In 1804 two French Freemasons, Philippe Ledru (1754-1832) and Bernard-Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1775-1838) found the Order of the Temple (l’Ordre du Temple). Fabré-Palaprat was made its grandmaster. Fabré-Palaprat was the son of a surgeon in the Cahors, France. He studied at the diocesan seminary and was ordained a priest. He left the priesthood to study medicine. Fabré-Palaprat was awarded the Legion of Honour for his defence of Paris in 1814. He received the July Medal for his actions during the Three Glorious Days of the Revolution of 1830. Napoleon I, who viewed freemasonry favourably, allowed them to carry on their activities, including solemn processions in the streets of Paris with mantles and toques (see Malcolm Barber (ed): The military orders : fighting for the faith and caring for the sick Aldershot, Great Britain, 1994; Variorum and the Manuel des chevaliers de l’Ordre du Temple. Paris, 1817 (2d ed.: 1825); The manual of Palaprat’s French order). This Order was not a continuity of the Knights Templar, although Fabré-Palaprat fabricated the so-called Larmenius Charter. This document, started in Latin in 1324, listed 22 successive Grand Masters of the Knights Templar from 1324 to 1804, with Fabré-Palaprat’s name appearing last on the list.

Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS

Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS

In 1815, Admiral Sir William Sidney Smith, GCB, GCTE, KmstkSO, FRS (1764–1840) became associated with the French Order of the Temple. Smith was a British naval officer. Serving in the American and French revolutionary wars, he later rose to the rank of admiral. Napoleon Bonaparte said of him: “That man made me miss my destiny” (Thomas Pocock, “A Thirst for Glory: The Life of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith”, p.114, Pimlico 1998).

As admiral of the British navy Smith successfully defended Acre against Napoleon in 1799, and supposedly was given by the Greek archbishop a Templars’ cross (left in Acre by Richard Lionheart) in gratitude. This cross opened the doors for Sir Sydney who became a Templar and tried to create a branch of the Order in England, for which he was made Grand-Prior. His aim was to send the order to participate in the liberation and pacification of Greece and other areas under Ottoman control. He also tried to establish a base in Malta and taking over the old activities of the order of Saint-John (since Malta was then in the hands of the British). He managed to get Augustus-Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843) interested in the project. The duke of Sussex (6th son of George III) became Grand Prior of England. The duke was the Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge of England. In addition the English politician Charles Tennyson d’Eyncourt (uncle of the famous poet Alfred Tennyson) was attracted to the Order. On the death of Fabré-Palaprat, Smith became Regent of the order, but his subsequent death soon followed by that of the duke of Sussex dissipated the order in England. D’Eyncourt himself lost interest and resigned from the order in 1849 (see: François Velde, Heraldica, Revived and Recently Created Orders of Chivalry). The succession of the French branch of the Order is described by Serge Caillet in his important study: Trois siècles de résurgences templières:

Au tout début du XIXe siècle, en France, la légende templière commence à se répandre en marge de la franc-maçonnerie, dans le cadre d’un Ordre d’Orient et de la loge parisienne des chevaliers de la Croix, dirigée par un certain Dr Ledru, qui prétend détenir la succession magistrale du dernier Grand Maître secret de l’Ordre du Temple, le duc Timoléon de Cossé-Brissac (1734-1792) . Élu Grand Maître en 1804 [le 4 nov.], Bernard Raymond Fabré-Palaprat (1773-1838), un ancien séminariste devenu médecin, propage véritablement ce nouvel Ordre du Temple, sous le patronage de l’empereur Napoléon 1er, ce qui lui vaut d’attirer quelques personnages de renom. Fabré-Palaprat revendique en ligne directe la succession de Jacques de Molay, et, pour attester son lignage, produit même une charte, portant la signature de tous les Grands Maîtres depuis le Moyen Âge… C’est un faux, qui sera vite reconnu et dénoncé comme tel. Il n’empêche que l’Ordre eut en France sa période faste, ses notables, son clergé. (…) Peladan passe aussi pour avoir été Grand Maître, de 1892 à 1894 dit-on, de la lignée templière de Fabré-Palaprat. Je ne puis le garantir. (…) Le 19 janvier 1932, des Templiers de la lignée de Fabré-Palaprat (Joseph Cleeremans, Gustave Jonckbloedt et Théodore Covias) fondent à Bruxelles l’Ordre souverain et militaire du Temple, dont l’enregistrement paraît au Moniteur belge, le 20 janvier 1933. (…) En 1934, un Conseil de régence de ce qu’il reste de l’Ordre de Fabré-Palaprat place à sa tête Émile Vandenberg – avec un intermède par un certain Théodore Covias, de 1935 à 1942 – qui, le 23 décembre 1942, transmet ses pouvoirs au Portugais Antonio Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1878-1960). En 1945, celui-ci fonde l’Ordre Souverain et Militaire du Temple de Jérusalem (OSMTJ), qui a son siège à Paris. L’OSMTJ s’est divisé en 1970, quand Fernando Campello Pinto de Sousa Fontes, fils d’Antonio Campello Pinto, a fondé l’Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani (OSMTH), qui a son siège à Porto. Nouvelle scission en 1996 quand naît  l’Ordre Suprême Militaire du Temple de Jérusalem, dont les membres souhaitent servir, tout comme les chevaliers des origines ont servi. La devise de l’ordre Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini Tuo da Gloriam est tirée du Psaume 115, verset 1 ‘Pas à nous, Seigneur, pas à nous, mais à Ton Nom seul donne la Gloire’

OSMTH

Caillet’s study shows that the OSMTH has its roots in 1804. The formal founding took place in Belgium in 1932 and was recorded in the Government Gazette in 1933. A Belgian priory was founded in 1815 by Albert-Francois marquis du Chasteler. After 1840, this Priory split into “Legitimate” and Masonic priories.

Dom Antonio Campelo Pinto de Sousa Fontes (30-03-1878 / 15-02-1960) 50° Magnus Magister et Princeps Regens 1942-1960

Dom Antonio Campelo Pinto de Sousa Fontes (1878-1960) 50° Magnus Magister et Princeps Regens 1942-1960

The Masonic Trinity of the Tower priory lasted until 1930, when it was abolished. In 1932 several former members established a new Grand Priory of Belgium, restored the Catholic tradition, and adopted the name   Knights of the Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple (Chevaliers de l’Ordre Souverain et Militaire du Temple). Shortly after, a move was made to restore the International Order with a Magisterial Council led by a regent. The second regent, Emile-Isaac Vandenberg was of jewish descent and used the name of his wife “Vandenberg” to protect himself from the Nazis. He played a key role is the further development of the Order. Vandenberg married on 21 November 1921, to Josefina Vandenberg and with his father-in-law and brother-in-law they founded the company of Vandenberg & Isaac, Furniture Manufacturers, based in Mechelen. Vandenberg was one of the eight founding members of the Sovereign and Military Order of the Temple in 1932, and succeeded Theodore Covias as Regent on 8 August, 1935. On 1 October 1935, he was elected 49th Grand Master of the Order although he occupied this post for only a relatively short time. In 1941 Germany invaded Belgium. On 23 December 1942, he issued a Decree transferring the office and the custody of the archive to Antonio de Sousa Fontes, Grand Prior of Portugal.  On 11 April 1943, the day after very heavy bombardments on Martsel, Vanderberg died when the car he was driving left the road and plunged into a small river called “Veste van Berchem,” near Antwerp, but, not being able to swim, he drowned. Vandenberg was buried at Mechelen. Unique documentation regarding his membership of the Order remains in the procession of his descendants.

Vandenberg’s main focus was to re-establish unity, in particular with priories in Italy, Portugal and Switzerland. The International Order became a confederation of Autonomous Grand Priories, known as OSMTH. To ensure Templar survival, Vandenberg made a temporary transfer of the archives to the care of the Portuguese Prior, Antonio Pinto de Sousa Fontes. It is often said that, once the war ended in 1945, de Sousa Fontes refused to return the archives. This cannot be the case, since Vandenberg died in 1943. After the sudden death of Vanderberg, de Sousa Fontes assumed the title of Regent. The International Order (OSMTH) became divided. Some Priories rejected De Sousa Fontes’ leadership. Two years later the Regent issued updated Statutes, in which he described the Order as being “traditionally Catholic, chivalric, cosmopolitan, independent and conservative.” In 1948 De Sousa Fontes designated his son, Dom Fernando de Sousa Fontes as his successor.

Crolian William Edelen (1920 - 2006)

Crolian William Edelen (1920 – 2006)

On 15 February 1960 De Sousa Fontes died. His son, Fernando de Sousa Fontes, succeeded him, assuming the title of Prince Regent. In the meantime, the Grand Prior of Switzerland, Anton Leuprecht, had been receiving Americans into the Swiss Grand Priory. As more Americans joined the Order, an American Grand Priory was formed. One of them was Crolian William Edelen. He was educated at the University of North Carolina, and was with Signal Intelligence in the India-Burma theatre of World War II. His actively pursued memberships numerous Orders. From 1966 until 1976, under the royal protection of the former King Peter II of Yugoslavia, he was Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta. As Emeritus remained a member of the Supreme Council. Formerly he had been Grand Prior of the U.S. Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, and held the Grand Cross from the autonomous Priory of Switzerland and from the Regent in Operto, Portugal. The Corporate Charter for the American Grand Priory was signed on 4 June 1962 by Edelen, William Y. Pryor, Herschel S. Murphy, Warren S. Hall, Jr., John D. Leet, Lawrence Stratton and George J. Deyo. The Grand Priory was incorporated in the State of New Jersey on 29 June. Edelen was chosen the first Grand Prior. The Prince Regent recognized the Autonomous Grand Priory of the United States (SMOTJ-GPUSA). In April 1964 the former king Peter II, became the Royal Patron of the American Grand Priory. He remained in this office until his death on 3 November 1970.

The International Order continued to have problems. In 1970 the De Sousa Fontes called together a Convent General of the Order to meet in three sessions: Paris, Chicago and Tomar, Portugal. Resolutions were passed that recognized the Order as “universal and not limited to any one nationality or Language”, and that the Order “shall be a Christian Order”. These efforts did not bring back unity to OSMTH.

Dom Fernando Pinto Pereira de Sousa Fontes, The Grand Master of the OSMTH

Dom Fernando Pinto Pereira de Sousa Fontes, The Grand Master of the OSMTH

With increasing opposition from European Grand Priories, De Sousa Fontes turned to the American Grand Priory, appointing members to the Grand Magistry. The situation remained calm until 1993 when de Fontes revised the Statutes so that he could become the “Grand Master”, a title his father previously assumed. Again the Prince Regent called a Convent General to meet in three sessions. At the first session in Santiago, Spain, the revised Statutes were presented, but no decisions were made. The final session held in London. In 1995, a proposed agenda, calling for basic reforms, was sent to De Sousa Fontes, now calling himself Grand Master. De Sousa Fontes cancelled the session. In reaction, the British Grand Prior, Major-General Sir Roy RedgraveKBE MC (16 September 1925 – 3 July 2011) called for an International Conclave, to explain his objections and concerns. At its meeting in June 1995 a list of reforms were drawn up to be presented to De Sousa Fontes. The Grand Priors agreed to meet in Salzburg, Austria on 3 November 1995 to receive the response. Besides the fate of De Sousa Fontes, during the Salzburg meetings, the future structure of the Order and its administration was discussed. On 2 November 2 1996, a document, known as the “Coordinated Statutes of the Ordo Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani” was adopted, stating the goals and structure of the Order as an international confederation of Autonomous Grand Priories. The separation from De Sousa Fontes was settled in New Orleans in 1999, where the Grand Magistral Council approved a previously drawn up Statement of Separation. A Grand Council of Grand Priors was formed to govern the Order, since the office of Grand Master was considered vacant (Source: personal notes from the archives of Sir Roy Redgrave – June 5, 2003). The current Order is therefore structured as a federation.

Conclusions and recommendations

OSMTH’s charitable works are of great importance to society. Therefore, it is essential to preserve a solid foundation of this internationally operating organisation. Despite OSMTH’s general disclaimer that it does not claim a direct heritage to the medieval Knights Templar, its aims, symbols and rites are obviously patterned after the medieval Order. The OSMTH can therefore best be described as a commemorative order. Nevertheless, in spite of these official disclaimers, other neo-templar groups insist that they have direct Templar origins.

The OSMTH cannot be seen as a self-styled or pseudo-order, as its direct predecessor (the Order of the Temple) was approved by Napoleon Bonaparte, by imperial decree in 1807. On 13 June 1853, it was given recognition by Napoleon III.  In 1918, the Order was re-registered in France in accordance with French law. The Grandmaster De Sousa Fontes was the direct link with the Order that was founded by Fabré-Palaprat. In my opinion, it is therefore a legitimate commemorative order. Wikipedia’s description of the OSMTH is incorrect.

I recommend the following regarding the future development of the OSMTH.

  • OSMTH enjoys the Patronage of HH Princess zu Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg (princess consort to the current Head of the Ducal House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg) and the Religious Protection of His Beatitude the Most Blessed Theodosius, Metropolitan (ret.) of the United States and Canada. The OSMTH could as well seek the patronage of a member of the House of Bonaparte to confirm the continuity with the original Order of the Temple. The headship of this family is in dispute between Charles, Prince Napoléon, (1950) and his son Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon (1986). The only other male member of the family is Prince Jérôme Napoléon (1957). A descendant of Napoleon’s sister Caroline Bonaparte is the American actor and singer René Murat Auberjonois. There are also a number of descendants of Napoleon’s illegitimate, but recognized son Alexandre Colonna-Walewski from his relation with Marie Countess Walewski. DNA studies have also confirmed the existence of descendants (the Clovis family) of Lucien Bonaparte, who was detained at sea by the British when on his way into exile in America. His son, Lucien Louis-Lucien Bonaparte, was a comparative linguist and dialectologist, and was born in England;
  • Electing a Grandmaster is in accordance with the traditions of the Order. Try to find an honorary (or second) Grandmaster with historical connections to the OSMTH. Legitimate honorary Grandmasters sould be related to the persons mentioned in this article.
  • Adequately conserve the archives of the Order, by making a professional description of its content and then make sure the archives are stored in a solid public library, such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France (already containing important documents regarding the Order of the Temple) or the Library of Congress. Interesting documents can be found in city the archives Reims as well;
  • Use only one single website (instead of multiple local websites) to promote coherence and avoid confusion.

Appendix 1: Statement by the Vatican regarding the parchment of Chinon

THE PARCHMENT OF CHINON THE ABSOLUTION OF POPE CLEMENT V OF THE LEADING MEMBERS OF THE TEMPLAR ORDER

Chinon, Diocese of Tours, 1308 August 17th-20th

Original document formed by a large parchment folio (700x580mm), initially provided with the hanging seals of the three papal legates who formed the special Apostolic Commission ad inquirendum appointed by Clement V: Brenger Frdol, Cardinal Priest of the titular church of the Most Holy Nereus and Achilleus and nephew of the pope, tienne de Suisy, cardinal priest of St. Cyriac in Therminis, Landolfo Brancacci, cardinal deacon of St. Angelo. In a reasonable state, even though there are some big violaceous stains, caused by bacterial attack. An authentic copy was enclosed to the original document, which is still kept in the Secret Vatican Archives, with the reference number Archivum Arcis Armarium D 218. ASV, Archivum Arcis, Arm. D 217.

The document contains the absolution Pope Clement V gave to the Grand Master of the Temple, friar Jacques de Molay and to the other heads of the Order, after they had shown to be repented and asked to be forgiven by the Church; after the formal abjuration, which is compelling for all those who were even only suspected of heretical crimes, the leading members of the Templar Order are reinstated in the Catholic Communion and readmitted to receive the sacraments. The document, which belongs to the first phase of the trial against the Templars, when Pope Clement V was still convinced to be able to guarantee the survival of the military-religious order, meets the apostolic need to remove the shame of excommunication from the warrior friars, caused by their previous denial of Jesus Christ when tortured by the French Inquisitor. As several contemporary sources confirm, the pope ascertained that Templars were involved in some serious forms of immorality and he planned a radical reform of the order to subsequently merge it into one body with the other important military-religious order of the Hospitallers. The Act of Chinon, which absolves the Templars, but does not discharge them, was the assumption required to carry out the reform, but it remained dead letter. The French monarchy reacted by triggering a true blackmail mechanism, which then urged Clement V to reach the ambiguous compromise ratified during the Council of Vienne in 1312: unable to oppose himself to the will of the King of France, Phillip the Fair, who imposed the elimination of the Templars, the pope removed the order from the reality of that period, without condemning or abolishing it, but isolating it in a sort of hibernation, thanks to a clever device of the canon law. After explicitly declaring that the trial did not prove the charge of heresy, Clement V suspended the Templar Order by means of a non definitive sentence, imposed by the necessity to avoid a serious danger to the Church that banned them, under penalty of excommunication, to use such name or their distinctive symbols.

Appendix 2: Grandmasters OSMTH

1804-1839  Bernard Fabre-Palaprat (Order of the Temple)
1839-1840  Sir William Smith
1840-1850  Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India – George V., King of Hanover
1850  Narcisse Valleray (Regent)
1866  A.G.M. Vernois (Regent)
1892  Joséphin Péladan (Regent)
1894  Secretariat International des Templiers
1934  Conseil de Regence – Joseph Vandenberg (Ordo Supremus Miltaris Templi Heirosolimytani)
1935  Theodore Covias (Regent)
1935-1942  Emile Isaac (Vandenberg) (Regent)
1942-1960  Antonio de Sousa Fontes (Regent)
1960- 1999 Fernando de Sousa Fontes (Regent)

The current Grandmaster of the Order is Patrick E. Rea, Brigadier General – US Army (Ret.)

The relation between genealogical and judicial truth

At the Rootstech 2016 conference, American genealogist James Ison made an interesting remark regarding direct and indirect genealogical evidence. Ison is currently Manager of Strategy and Planning at the Family History Library, an important genealogical research facility in Salt Lake City. The library is operated by FamilySearch, the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ison earned a Master’s Degree from George Washington University. He is recognized as an authority in the field of genealogy. Ison stated:

Direct evidence is awesome. A birth certificate will list the name of parents. It’s direct evidence. It answers a question. A marriage license will say what the bride’s maiden name is. A baptismal record will say the dates and the places of birth—just exactly what we want.

(…)

Indirect evidence is like a puzzle piece. You can’t answer any particular question just based upon this piece of evidence. You have to fit it together.

In cases where only indirect evidence is available, the Genealogical Proof Standard is helpful in establishing credible research. The Standard is based on a book written by mrs Christine Rose; Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case. It includes five essential steps for accurate research:

  1. Reasonably exhaustive research has been completed.
  2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  3. The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, original taken by Thomas Helsby in Santiago, January - February 1854

Sir Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne, original taken by Thomas Helsby in Santiago, January – February 1854

Applying the Genealogical Proof Standard does not guarantee that the truth will prevail, but it serves accountability and transparency. In my opinion genealogical proof resembles Lakatos views on the concept of truth. Lakatos’ suggested that in science, a scientific theory should be seen as a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques. These theories all share a common hard core, called a research programme. The question of whether a theory is true of false is replaced by the question of whether a research programme is progressive or degenerating. A progressive research programme is characterized by growth and prediction of novel facts and more precise predictions. In contrast, a degenerative program is marked by a lack of growth and does not lead to novel predictions that are later verified (Imre Lakatos, Philosophical papers. Vol I: The methodology of scientific research programmes. I. Science – Philosophy 2. Mathematics – Philosophy. I. Title 11.). Genealogical research can also contain some of these characteristics. After establishing the basic facts (often in the form of a family tree), theories regarding missing facts can be based on indirect evidence. To a certain extend, they can be characterized as a prediction for finding direct evidence (e.g. a marriage certificate). If, for example, someone has lived and worked in England for all his life, it can be predicted that he has married in England and research regarding his marriage should not start in South America. A genealogical progressive research programme elaborates on certain basic findings and develops theories (in the form of predictions) about the missing information.

In some cases, genealogical evidence is used in legal matters. Legal evidence has a totally different character, in particular when court rulings are given. In such cases a progressive research programme can hardly be determined. The case ends in a decision in a relatively short period of time.

Judicial evidence

The judicial process can be seen as a a kind of black box, within which information from all kinds of sources is processed according to defined rules of evidence in order to produce a new form of truth: the ‘judicial truth’. This type of truth becomes, to a certain extent, simply one more competing version of truth. Like other versions, it can be accepted, refuted, celebrated or simply ignored. This is illustrated in two cases where genealogical evidence was essential for establishing judicial truth. In the first case, the evidence is in particular based on witness statements, with some degree of technical evidence. In the second case, conclusive evidence is given by a DNA-test.

The Tichborne case

The Tichborne case was a well-known legal dispute in Victorian England in the 1860s and 1870s. It concerned the claims by a man called Arthur Orton, later Thomas Castro, to be the missing heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. Orton failed to convince the courts, was convicted of perjury and served a long prison sentence.

Roger Charles Tichborne was born in Paris on 5 January 1829. He was raised mainly in France, although the Tichborne lands and fortune were based in Hampshire, England, where his uncle was the 8th baronet. As a result of his upbringing, Roger spoke English with a strong French accent.  At the age of 20, Roger joined the 6th Dragoon Guards in Dublin, but sold his commission three years later in 1852. In 1853, Roger’s father inherited the Tichborne baronetcy after the deaths of his two elder brothers. In the same year, Roger, now the heir to the Tichborne title and fortune, travelled to South America. In 1854, he boarded a ship, the Bella, bound for New York, but less than a week later, the Bella was lost at sea and Roger was declared dead in 1855. The Tichborne baronetcy was passed to Roger’s younger brother Alfred in 1862 when his father died. Alfred died only four years later, just months before the birth of his son, who inherited the title at birth in 1866.

Roger’s mother, Lady Henriette Tichborne, was devastated by the news of her son’s disappearance at sea. She remained hopeful that he had survived the shipwreck and sent out inquiries across the world as to his whereabouts. In November 1865, Australian solicitor William Gibbes sent Lady Tichborne a letter, informing her that a man, claiming to be her son, had contacted him. This man was a butcher from Wagga Wagga, calling himself Tom Castro. Although he was physically larger than Sir Roger, had lighter hair and spoke no French, these discrepancies did not bother Lady Tichborne, who had not seen her lost son for more than ten years.

After Lady Tichborne’s death in 1868, Orton was compelled to continue the pretence, as he needed the Tichborne inheritance to pay off his large debts. This led some of the Tichborne family to take him to court over his claim, beginning one of the most celebrated legal cases of the nineteenth century.

The first trial lasted almost a year, from 11 May 1871 to 5 March 1872. Tichborne v. Lushington was a civil trial to establish Orton’s claim to the Tichborne inheritance. Nearly one hundred people spoke in Orton’s defence, but the holes in his story soon became obvious, particularly his inability to speak French – Sir Roger’s childhood language.

Arthur Orton’s perjury trial, Regina v. Castro, began in 1873 and lasted over six months. This time a jury had to be convinced that Orton’s claim to be the lost Sir Roger Tichborne was false. Again, the evidence against Orton was damning, and in February 1874, he was convicted of two counts of perjury and sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour by Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn (source: State Library New South Wales).

An important issue was the degree of facial resemblance of Orton to the Tichborne family, which fact never has been fully explained. It may suggest that there was some kind of biological relation between Orton and the Tichborne family. In the University College London Galton Papers a document can be found, stating:

2225. [stamped in left margin]University College London Galton Papers 158/2M[end stamp] [underscore]MEMORANDUM We have had submitted to us, for Examination,[end underscore] enlarged authentic [italics]Photographs;[end italics] First, of Mr. Roger Tichborne, (date, 1854): Secondly, of the person claiming to be Sir Roger Tichborne, (date, 1874). [underscore]These Portraits have Geometrically Bisected[end underscore]: and the several divided sections we have ourselves affixed, interchanged, and transferred from one Portrait to another. [underscore]We are of Opinion that the Perfect Combination[end underscore] and Minute Correspondence of the several sections are [italics]bona fide[end italics] and unimpeachable, and fully justify the conclusion that [italics]one and the same person sat for each portrait.[end italics] Fredk. Snary, Photographer, [established, 1856] 26, Castle Street, Bristol. Louis Lowenthall, Photographer, [established, 1858] 14, N. Wine Street, Bristol. John Hayward, Print-Seller, [established, 1840] 1, Corn Street, Bristol. Frederick Bowden, Print-Seller, [established, 1850] 27, U. Arcade, Bristol. H. Gardiner, Ornamental Carver, [30 years] 28, Victoria Place, Clifton. T. Sherwood, Smith, Practical Surveyor and Land Agent [40 years] 30, Corn St. Bristol. [end]

The case however was finally solved by applying classic legal rules of evidence. There was no room for developing a research programme.

The Pringle of Stichill case

The law is a living construct. It develops with society, bringing new challenges and new opportunities into the courtroom. Currently, the law is changing rapidly as a result of the ongoing evolution of digital technology. In one specific field, that of evidence gathering for genealogical purposes, the Pringle of Stichill-case should be seen as a milestone case.

On 5 January 1683 Charles II granted the Baronetcy of Stichill (“the Baronetcy”) to Robert Pringle of Stichill “and the male heirs of his body”. The eighth baronet was Sir Norman Robert Pringle, who lived from 1871 to 1919. He married Florence Vaughan, who gave birth to Norman Hamilton Pringle (“Norman Hamilton”) and subsequently to two more sons, the first of which was Ronald Steuart Pringle (“Ronald Steuart”), who died in 1968. Norman Hamilton was enrolled without opposition as the ninth baronet. When he died in 1961 his son Sir Steuart Robert Pringle (“Sir Steuart”) was enrolled without opposition as the tenth baronet. Sir Steuart died in April 2013.

The two claimants in this matter are Sir Steuart’s son, Simon Robert Pringle (“Simon”), and Norman Murray Pringle (“Murray”), son of Ronald Steuart. Following Sir Steuart’s death, both Simon and Murray registered claims to succeed to the Baronetcy. Simon’s claim is made on the basis that, as Sir Steuart’s male heir, he is entitled to be enrolled as the 11th baronet. Murray, however, claims that Norman Hamilton was not the legitimate son of the eighth baronet and that accordingly the true ninth baronet was his late father, Ronald Steuart. Murray thus claims to be the true tenth baronet.

Murray’s claim relies upon DNA evidence obtained as part of “the Pringle Surname Project”. This was founded by Murray to determine the chieftainship of the clan Pringle, and the late Sir Steuart provided his DNA for the project. Expert opinion on the totality of the DNA evidence was that it provided “very strong support” for the view that the eighth baronet is grandfather to Murray but not Sir Steuart. Simon does not dispute the DNA evidence, but he raises four arguments as to why it should not be admitted on public policy grounds. By this reference the Board is required to advise Her Majesty as to (i) who is entitled to be entered on the Official Roll of the Baronetage as the Baronet of Pringle of Stichill and (ii) whether the DNA evidence should be admitted in order to determine the first question.

The Board finds that there is no legal ground for excluding the DNA evidence, which demonstrates to a high degree of probability that Norman Hamilton was not the son of the eighth baronet. The Board therefore concludes that (i) Simon is not the great grandson of the eighth baronet and is not the heir male of the first baronet; and (ii) Murray is the grandson of the eighth baronet and is, as the heir male of the first baronet, entitled to succeed to the Baronetcy (source: The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Privy Council Reference No 0079 of 2015).

Conclusions

The term ‘evidence’ is widely used in many different ways and in many different contexts. Genealogical evidence is often used for claims regarding the use of titles of nobility. Even when based on so-called ‘direct’ evidence, it is not certain whether these claims are true or not true, as the Pringle case shows. The concept of truth is the core of many philosophical discussions and it is my advice to be careful when claims of nobility or genealogy are either accepted, refuted, celebrated or simply ignored. In numerous cases regarding such claims, truth is no more and no less than a personal choice, often based on the assumption that written statements in official registers correspond with biological facts (see e.g. C.W. Delforterie, Liegen tegen de dominee: drie voorbeelden van het laten dopen van buitenechtelijke kinderen als zijnde tijdens een huwelijk verkregen / door C.W. Delforterie In: Liber Amicorum Jhr. Mr. C.C. van Valkenburg / [met een ten geleide van A. Snethlage en bijdr. van W.J. Kolff … et al.]. – ‘s-Gravenhage: Centraal Bureau voor Genealogie, 1985. – P. 69-80: geneal. tab. Met lit. opg.). One thing is certain. Written statements cannot change biological/genealogical facts but such facts can change written statements.