Writing the Invisible College

Below are three very different aspects of the Soldier, Spy and Scientist, Sir Robert Moray, who was a founder of the Royal Society in 1660.

Sir Robert Moray cannot be taken to be a typical mid-seventeenth century Freemason: the fact that he reveals so much about what Masonry meant to him in itself makes him unique.1

David Stevenson, Professor of Scottish History, University of St Andrews

While he [Sir Robert Moray] lived he was the life and soul of that body [The Royal Society]2

The Right Revd. Gilbert Burnett, Bishop of Salisbury

After he [Cardinal Richelieu] sounded the depth of the man’s mind and finding he [Sir Robert Moray] was indifferent, so as he could make a fortune, whether it were with the King or with the malcontented Puritans, he finds no difficulty to persuade him that his love for the Scots, by virtue of their ancient league made him lament their cases.3

Patrick Gordon, Spalding Club, London

During the research for the Invisible College Robert reached a stage in his inquiry where he was haunted by a single shadowy figure. These three quotations, which are reproduced here, show different and conflicting aspects of Sir Robert Moray. This man kept popping up at every turn of Robert's research. He seemed to have been involved in almost every key event that formed the “Society For Promoting Philosophical Knowledge by Experiment”. He was also the driving force behind turning it into a royal club. If Robert was ever to understand why the Royal Society was born he knew that he needed to discover more about him. It seemed that the Royal Society was Moray's brain child; his influence was far more than any other single person. 

Here Robert continues the story of his research in to Moray's background.

Hidden by Mist

What motivated Moray? He changed sides so often during the Civil Wars it is hard to keep track of him. He was knighted by Charles I, within days of serving as a senior member of the Army that had contributed to the king’s downfall and was still threatening him! He was ransomed from a Bavarian jail by the French and sent to London to act as their negotiator with the Scots. He helped persuade Charles II to be crowned King of Scots, at Scoon, and within a few months was imprisoned for trying to assassinate the new king. He was with Charles II in Paris when General Monck decided to restore the Monarchy, but he did not return to England until three months after the king, and was immediately given a grace and favour home in Whitehall and seemed to have access to every philosopher in London within weeks. I needed to know much more about this enigmatic man.

The only major biography of Moray, published in 1922,4 does not mention that he was a Freemason. However, the Earl of Elgin has preserved a long series of letters he wrote to Brother Mason, Alexander Bruce. [Copies may be consulted at the Royal Society.] This collection is known as the Kincardine Papers and goes into great detail about the importance of Freemasonry to Sir Robert.

During the sixty five years of his life he worked as mercenary and spy for the king of France; was Quartermaster general for a Covenanter's Army; almost managed to rescue Charles I from the Scots; was imprisoned and ransomed by the Bavarians; became a negotiator in the arrangements to have Charles II crowned king of Scots at Scoon; led a Scots’ rising against Cromwell; was imprisoned for trying to assassinate Charles II; was appointed Privy Counselor, Lord Justice Clerk and Lord of Session in Edinburgh (despite having no legal experience); worked as a spy for the Earl of Lauderdale; and in his spare time was the life and soul of the Royal Society. Why did Scottish Freemasonry consider him so important that they created a Lodge of Research named in his honour: Lodge Sir Robert Moray, No 1641?

Just who this man was and what drove him was a real puzzle.

I was staying in North Wales, whilst I was reviewing my material on Robert Moray. I had been sitting all evening in the middle of a great pile of papers and books, each contributing conflicting snippets of information about this shadowy man. Whilst I was struggling to make any sense of the conflicting views of him that lay in front of me I lost track of time. Suddenly I was distracted from my thoughts by the noise of a car starting up outside. I glanced out of the window and saw there was a faint trace of light in the eastern sky. By this time my head was so buzzing with facts I knew I would be unable to sleep so I decided to go for a walk to watch the sunrise. I went quietly out into the warm and slightly damp summer night and set off up the valley. I was heading for my favourite vantage point, an old stone circle on the hilltops high above the village. There was a slightly waning moon in the South and it gave good light as I started on the steep lane up the hillside. As I climbed I was conscious that I kept passing through patches of mist, but the moonlight was good enough to see where I was going, so I kept walking upwards. I arrived at the high site of the stone circle as the moon was settling low in the South west. I looked back expecting to see the little seaside village laid out below, but it had disappeared. The valley I had just walked up was now filled with a soft white mist, and was reflecting the cold sheen of the setting moon along a broad silver path across its flat top. Sticking through the mist I could see the tops of protruding trees, the tall spire of the Church, casting a shadow on the mist and beyond that the high outcrops of rock on the side of the Snowdonia hills, but I could see nothing of the village, even though I knew it must still be there.

The sky above the mist was a clear deep blue. It was still dotted with some of the brighter stars and as I waited it brightened to a clearer blue, the gulls and jackdaws started to call in the valley below and the first rays of the rising sun turned the mist to a deep golden red. The sun, low on the horizon cast long shadows, from the outlying stones of the circle I stood in. I watched the shadows shorten as the sun climbed into the sky. Yet strangely whilst the shadows of the standing stones got shorter the shadow of the church spire seemed to be getting longer! I realised that as the warmth of the sun’s rays hit the mist it was melting away and more of the spire was appearing. Slowly the structure of the village appeared bit by bit, until I could see it laid out below me, now outlined by the stark black shadows of the morning sun. As I walked back down the hill I knew what my next step had to be.

Underneath the mists of history, the motives and movements of Robert Moray must lie, as unseen as the village had been just a few minutes earlier. If I took all the facts I had about him, arranged them in order and used the historical context of the times to illuminate his actions then perhaps the light of historical events would burn away the mists and allow him to emerge. Just as the village had done. Then I could hope to be able to see him clearly and perhaps begin to understand him. I walked back down the hill and started to organise my information.

The results of my efforts will be published in Jan 2002. There I have written the full story as I found it. It fascinated me I hope you enjoy it as well.


1 The Origins of Freemasonry, David Stevenson, Cambridge Univ Press, Cambridge, 1988

2 History of his own Times, Gilbert Burnett, London, 1723

3 A Short Abridgement of Britainís Distemper, Patrick Gordon, Spalding Club, London, 1844

4 The Life of Sir Robert Moray, Soldier, Statesman and Man of Science, A Robinson, Caxton & Co, London, 1922

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