The Order of Saint Joachim was born during the Enlightenment, and reflects many of the influences of that time. Almost 70 years after it was founded, in his 1821 book A.M. Perrot describes the Order’s aims as including the promotion of “tolerance of religion” and the “worship of a Supreme Being”. These are very much Enlightenment catchphrases and ideals, which were embraced in the mid-1700s by a wide range of intellectuals, nobles (particularly Protestant German nobles, like the Saxe-Coburgs) and even revolutionaries. It was also if not a battle cry, at least a challenge to the conservative Catholic German states, which sought to expand their political influence within the Holy Roman Empire and were eventually held back in 1785 by an alliance known as the Germanic League, headed by Prussia’s Frederick the Great, and which included the Saxe-Coburgs.
There were many esoteric groups that arose – some very briefly – during the Enlightenment, and there was much movement of members among them. These included reasonably well-known groups such as the Freemasons, the Illuminati and the Rose Croix, as well as the more obscure, such as the Gold Rosicrucians, the Order of Perfect Initiates of Asia, or the extravagantly-named Order of African Architects. While some of these groups were intellectually influential in the wider promotion of the broad Enlightenment ideals of religious tolerance, equality, and the brotherhood of man, their actual direct political influence has always been debatable. Nonetheless, there are still groups and conspiracy theorists today who claim the modern world is ruled by Masons, Illuminati and the like.
Some have noted the use of the phrase “Supreme Being” (“des höchsten Wesens”) in both the ancient and current ceremony of The Order of Saint Joachim. While it may seem that it has a particularly Masonic ring to it, it was a concept shared by other Enlightenment philosophical schools and secret societies, and has the benefit of not being specific to any one faith in an ecumenical order. It is also noteworthy that while German Freemasonry promoted equality, it also was respectful of authority and social distinctions, making it particularly attractive to aristocrats who were wary of some of the Enlightenment’s more radical and revolutionary elements. This is reflected in the Order’s oath to show “loyalty towards their princes” and to “support the needs of their military”.
Offered only as a curious footnote to the history of The Order of Saint Joachim, its early period also brought it into contact with several of these Enlightenment societies. Given the politics and limited social circles of the times, it is not surprising that there would be social connections. A number of our original 14 founding members had personal or historic connections with various Enlightenment, mystic or esoteric groups. Duke Karl Christian Erdmann von Württemberg-Oels, was one of the original 14 founders of the Order. The Dukes of Württemberg were known as patrons of the arts, but also were key figures in the beginnings of Rosicrucianism. In the late 1500s and early 1600s, the court of a previous Duke of Württemberg was well known as a centre of alchemical and occult activities, with Simon Studion and Johann Valentin Andreae as its most notable Rosicrucian figures.
The Order’s second Grand Master, Count Franz Xaver von Montfort, who was an early but not a founding member of the Order, was depicted in a contemporary painting as an alchemist and gold maker in his laboratory, a nod to his ancestors’ interest in pursuing the transmutation of base metals into gold.
The Order of Saint Joachim was originally named “The Knights of the Order of Jonathan, Defenders of the Honour of Divine Providence”, and organized at least partially along the lines of a military Lodge. It’s earliest insignia included the “All-Seeing Eye” which was associated with numerous Masonic and other esoteric bodies.
Albert Pike, a controversial but influential American Freemason and American Civil War general, carelessly and wrongly lumped The Order of Saint Joachim in with many of these Illuminati-related Enlightenment societies. In his 1883 work, A Historical Inquiry In Regard To The Grand Constitutions Of 1786, he indicated that the disbanded Illuminati continued on through the various branches of the Rosicrucian Order, including the later versions of the Gold Rosicrucians, namely, the Order of Perfect Initiates of Asia, or the Asiatic Brethren, and the various Orders of Light. Pike also goes so far as to specifically mention “The Order of Saint Joachim (St. Jonathan)” as one of the many successors to the Illuminati, however he overlooks that the founding of The Order of Saint Joachim predates the Bavarian Illuminati by more than twenty years, and so could not have grown out of it.
The Bavarian Illuminati was founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, who was born Jewish, raised a Jesuit and ended his life as an anti-clerical reformer. The Bavarian Illuminati had as “its professed object … by the mutual assistance of its members, to attain the highest possible degree of morality and virtue, and to lay the foundation for the reformation of the world by the association of good men to oppose the progress of moral evil.” At first the Bavarian Illuminati was very popular, enlisting some two thousand members. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson wrote a tribute to Weishaupt’s ideals and reformist zeal.
Increasing Jesuit animosity and anti-clerical sentiment from the Illuminati brought the unwanted attention of the Catholic Elector of Bavaria, who was already in confrontation with the Protestant Germanic states to the north. As a result the Elector of Bavaria issued edicts for the suppression of the Bavarian Illuminati on June 22, 1784, which were repeated in March and August, 1785 (the same year as Catholic Bavaria and Austria’s German ambitions were thwarted by Frederick the Great and the Germanic League). Under the cloud of a variety of accusations, Weishaupt was banished from Bavaria. He fled his native Ingolstadt on horseback eventually ending up in Gotha, where he was offered refuge by Duke Ernst II of Saxe – Gotha – Altenberg, cousin to the Saxe – Coburg – Saalfelds. Duke Ernst II of Saxe – Gotha – Altenberg is listed as a member of the Bavarian Illuminati, along with other prominent Germans such as Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick, author Johann Goethe and nationalist writer Johann Herder.
Adam Weishaupt died in Gotha in 1811, although almost two centuries later he is still reviled by conspiracy theorists and religious fundamentalists who inexplicably still see the invisible hand of the long defunct Illuminati at work behind the scenes of modern world events. The Illuminati has been variously been accused of everything from causing world wars to conspiring with space aliens in order to bring about a One World Government under their mysterious rule.
With the effective end of the Bavarian Illuminati in about 1790, many mystic and hermeneutic societies formed and reformed to fill the gap, often with very grand names and claims to supreme religious or other mystic knowledge. Some were offshoots of Freemasonry. Others borrowed heavily from Islamic, Cabalistic or ancient Egyptian “knowledge”. Alchemy and contacting the spirit world also featured in some of them. Most were short-lived or were eventually absorbed back into more mainstream societies, like the Masons.
Historical records do show that a few Illuminati were later members of The Order of Saint Joachim, as the Illuminati did initially attract many prominent German individuals. These people were both free-thinking Catholics as well as German Protestant nobles at continual odds with the expansionist political ambitions of the Catholic powers in Bavaria and the Austrian Empire.
A member of the Illuminati who was also a founding member of The Order of Saint Joachim was Leopold Reichsgraf von Kollowrat-Krakowsky (1727-1809). He was the Bohemian-Austrian High Chancellor and President of the Court Chamber. In 1783 be became Master of a Masonic Lodge in Prague and Deputy Master of the “Zur wahren Eintract” Lodge in Vienna. In 1786 he joined the “Zur Wahrheit” Lodge in Vienna and between 1782 and 1788 he was a member of the Parisian Lodge “Les Amis Réuni”. In 1788 he became a member of the Gold- und Rosenkreuzer. In 1782 he was recruited into the Bavarian Illuminati by Baron von Knigge at the Wilhelmsbader Convention of Masons and in 1784 became the national leader of the Illuminati for Austria. An active man, he was also the Commander of the Priory of Bohemia for the Sovereign Order of Malta. In 1789 Kollowrat founded the first Masonic Lodge in Malta itself – St. John’s Lodge of Secrecy and Harmony – until it was ordered closed by the Inquisition in 1792. Reichsgraf von Kollowrat-Krakowsky was himself a Catholic, and was only able to pursue his esoteric interests by virtue of being under the direct protection of Leopold II, King of Bohemia and Hungary, and later Holy Roman Emperor.
The Order of Saint Joachim also appears to have some other connection to the Gülden und Rosenkreuzer (Gold Rosicrucians), founded in 1777, which had Illuminati and Masonic roots. The Gold Rosicrucians was Hermetic in character, drawing heavily on Eastern and Islamic mysticism. The Gold Rosicrucians was headed by Johann Karl Baron von Ecker und Eckhoffen, who in 1787 was Chancellor of The Order of Saint Joachim. Baron von Ecker und Eckhoffen is named as a member of several other mystic societies, including the Christian Masonry of Bohemia in 1756, and the Asiatic Brethren.
Our Vice Chancellor, Sir Levett Hanson (1754-1814), was also active in various Masonic bodies in Europe, ultimately being driven from Modena by the Austrian authorities where he was serving as Chamberlain to the Duke with the rank of Brigadier General. Under suspicion as a Jacobite revolutionary and Masonic “spy” (both of which charges appear to have been completely unfounded), he was forced to leave Modena in 1794, briefly imprisoned in Innsbruck and then exiled. After leaving Austria he became acquainted with The Order of Saint Joachim, and served it until his death.
Catalogue files of the National Library in Paris contains a title: “Compendium of the Laws and Constitutions of the Order of Jonathan founded in honour the Holy Providence, 1762” (Abrégé des Lois et Constitutions de l’Ordre de Jonathan institué en l’honneur de la Providence Divine, 1762). This appears to be a copy of the early Charter and rules of the Order of Saint Joachim from the period between 1755 and 1767 when its name was still The Knights of the Order of Jonathan, Defenders of the Honour of Divine Providence. Tragically, that book is now lost.
Unfortunately, the above document is sometimes confused with another document published in 1773 in Amsterdam, Holland, being the Rules, Statutes, Constitutions and Ceremonies of the Order of Jonathan and David and Jesus Christ. While there are similarities in the name, The Order of Jonathan and David is a Dutch quasi-Masonic body founded in the late 16th century, which was established using modes of recognition by signs and symbols chosen from the story of David and Jonathan in the Bible. A modern version of this French Masonic ritual apparently still exists today, now known as The Order of the Secret Monitor. It is completely unrelated to The Order of Saint Joachim, although some sources treat them erroneously as the same body.
The two unrelated bodies do however apparently share a common a scriptural base, following closely the writings of the Bible’s Book of Samuel, Chapter 20, which tells the story of the enduring friendship between David and Jonathan. It is also almost certainly the source of motto of The Order of Saint Joachim: Love Hath United Friends (Junxit Amicus Amor), a noble sentiment which still appears on the face of the Order’s Knight’s breast cross.
An interesting manuscript is deposited in the library of the United Grand Lodge of England in London. A manuscript dated November, 1892 is a translation of a French ceremony from the “Rite of Adoption Ritual of 35º Chevalieres of St Joachim”. It is a translation by an English Masonic researcher named F.G. Irwin of a manuscript in the Paris Arsenal Library. The ritual described is almost identical to the Order’s Ceremony of Investiture still in use following the same form as 1802. However, the French 35th Degree also has added typical Masonic floor work, wands for the officers, signs and a “secret” handshake which do not appear in the Order’s normal ceremony. Because the French ceremony includes both men and women performing the ritual, it likely belongs to the French Grand Orient de France branch of Masonry. Of interest is the opening of the “Court” where it is stated that the reason for the gathering is for “the purpose of studying the Ritual and practices of Freemasonry and tracing its connection with the chivalric orders and the Rite of Adoption, and especially with the Order of Saint Joachim.”
There is no known direct connection of The Order of Saint Joachim to Freemasonry. It is speculated that the Order’s ceremony (recorded in Hanson’s 1802 book about orders of knighthood) was adopted and turned into a French Masonic degree through its brief connection with Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law. Murat reportedly usurped the Order’s Grandmastership when he became Duke of the Berg in 1806, but lost interest in The Order of Saint Joachim when he became King of Naples in 1809 and established his own system of honours. Murat was an active Freemason. He was initiated as a Freemason on December 26, 1801 at the “L’Heureuse Rencontre” (“Happy Meeting”) Masonic Lodge in Milan, and later was a member of the “Napoleon” Lodge in Paris. He became Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France on April 5, 1805 and was elected First Grand Warden on September 30 later that year. In 1808, he became the Worshipful Master of the “La Colombe” (“The Dove”) Lodge which subsequently changed its name to “Sainte-Caroline” in honour of Murat’s wife. On October 27, 1809 he founded the Grand Order of Naples and became its Grand Master. It may be that Murat or one of his Masonic subordinates familiar with the investiture ceremony of The Order of Saint Joachim took and adopted it into a “side order” within the French Grand Orient Lodge whereby it travelled back to France. It is not known if this degree still exists or is practised, or for certain how it became part of French Freemasonry.
Even though the Order of Saint Joachim never had a formal or even casual connection to Freemasonry, with the reorganization of the Order in 1929, Grand Chapter felt it necessary to specifically restate that the Order had no connection – formal or informal – to Freemasonry.