Richard Carlile

To his credit, Richard Carlile’s Manual of Freemasonry (1831) was so successful that it was reprinted many times and was used by Freemasons throughout the remaining nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England as a source for learning ritual.

Richard Carlile (8 December 1790 – 10 February 1843) was an important agitator for the establishment of universal suffrage and freedom of the press in the United Kingdom.

Born in Ashburton, Devon, he was the son of a shoemaker, at the age of six he went for free education to the local Church of England school, then at the age of twelve he left school for a seven-year apprenticeship to a tinsmith in Plymouth, England.

In 1813 he married, and moved to Holborn Hill in London. Jane Carlile gave birth to five children, three of whom survived.

Portrait of Eliza Sharples Carlile (1803-1852) from The Battle of the Press: As Told in the Story of the Life of Richard Carlile (1899) by Theophila Carlile Campbell
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Then some time after 1829, Carlile met Eliza Sharples (1803—1852) who is noted as the first female freethought lecturer in England.  She became Carlile’s common law wife, together they had at least four children.

‘His interest in politics was kindled first by economic conditions in the winter of 1816 when Carlile was put on short-time work by his employer creating serious problems for the family:

‘I shared the general distress of 1816 and it was this that opened my eyes.’

He began attending political meetings where speakers like Henry Hunt complained that only three men in a hundred had the vote, and was also influenced by the publications of William Cobbett.

As a way of making a living Carlile sold the writings of parliamentary reformers such as Thomas Paine on the streets of London, often walking ‘thirty miles for a profit of eighteen pence’.

Note: Though there is no evidence Thomas Paine was a Freemason, he penned ‘An Essay on the Origin of Free-Masonry” (1803–1805) about Freemasonry being derived from the religion of the ancient Druids.  To be continued . . .

Portrait (c. 1810), watercolour, of Henry Hunt (1773–1835) by Adam Buck (1759–1833)
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (6 November 1773 – 15 February 1835) was a British radical speaker and agitator remembered as a pioneer of working-class radicalism and an important influence on the later Chartist movement. He advocated parliamentary reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws.

William Cobbett, portrait in oils, possibly by George Cooke, about 1831 National Portrait Gallery, London
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William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) was an English pamphleteer, independent journalist, Member of Parliament.

Along with a popular agrarian faction, he argued that reforming Parliament, including abolishing rotten boroughs’, unnecessary foreign activity and suppression of wages would promote internal peace and ease the poverty of farm labourers and smallholders.

He was among the pre-party lobbies who backed lower taxes, saving and preferably reversing enclosure of the commons and resistance to the 1821-adopted gold standard.

In April 1817 he formed a publishing business with the printer William Sherwin and rented a shop in Fleet Street, London. 

To make political texts such as Paine’s books The Rights of Man and the Principles of Government available to the poor he split them into sections which he sold as small pamphlets, similarly publishing The Age of Reason and Principles of Nature.

He issued unauthorised copies of Southey’s Wat Tyler and after the radical William Hone‘s arrest in May 1817, he reissued the parody of parts of the Book of Common Prayer for which Hone was to be tried, then was himself arrested in August 1817 and held without charge until Hone was acquitted in December of that year.

William Hone, by William Patten, given to the National Portrait Gallery, London in 1899
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William Hone (3 June 1780 – 8 November 1842) was an English writer, satirist and bookseller.

His victorious court battle against government censorship in 1817 marked a turning point in the fight for British press freedom.

Carlile took on distributing the banned Radical weekly The Black Dwarf at a time when the government was prosecuting publishers:

The Habeas Corpus Act being suspended…all was terror and alarm, but I take credit to myself in defeating the effect of these two Acts upon the Press…Of imprisonment I made sure, but I felt inclined to court it than to shrink from it.


Carlile then brought out a radical journal, Sherwin’s Political Register, which reported political meetings and included extracts from books and poems by supporters of the reform movement.

a coloured engraving that depicts the Peterloo Massacre (military suppression of a demonstration in Manchester, England by cavalry charge on August 16, 1819 with loss of life) in Manchester, England.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Peterloo and The Republican

Carlile was one of the scheduled main speakers at the reform meeting on 16 August 1819 at St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester. Just as Henry Hunt was about to speak, the crowd was attacked by the yeomanry in what became known as the Peterloo massacre.

Carlile escaped and was hidden by radical friends before he caught the mail coach to London and published his eyewitness account, giving the first full report of what had happened, in Sherwin’s Weekly Political Register of 18 August 1819.

His placards proclaimed ‘Horrid Massacres at Manchester’.

The government responded by closing Sherwin’s Political Register, confiscating the stock of newspapers and pamphlets.

Carlile changed the name to The Republican and in its issue of 27 August 1819, demanded that:

The massacre… should be the daily theme of the Press until the murderers are brought to justice…. Every man in Manchester who avows his opinions on the necessity of reform, should never go unarmed – retaliation has become a duty, and revenge an act of justice.

Carlile was prosecuted for blasphemyblasphemous libel and sedition for publishing material that might encourage people to hate the government in his newspaper, and for publishing Tom Paine’s Common Sense, The Rights of Man and the Age of Reason (which criticised the Church of England).

In October 1819, he was found guilty of blasphemy and seditious libel and sentenced to three years in Dorchester Gaol with a fine of £1,500.

When he refused to pay the fine, his premises in Fleet Street were raided and his stock was confiscated.

While he was in jail he continued to write articles for The Republican which was now published by Carlile’s wife Jane, and thanks to the publicity it now outsold pro-government newspapers such as The Times.

To curb newspapers the government had raised the ½d tax on newspapers first imposed in 1712 to 3½d in 1797, then 4d in 1815.

From December 1819 it set a minimum price of 7d and further restrictions. At a time when workers earned less than 10 shillings (120d.) a week this made it hard for them to afford radical newspapers, and publishers tried various strategies to evade the tax.

Groups would pool their resources in reading societies and subscription societies to purchase a book or journal in common, and frequently read it aloud to one another as was the case with James Wilson.


Portrait of James ‘Purlie’ Wilson, (1760 – 1820); a Scottish Radical Reformer. c1810
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

‘James Wilson (3 September 1760 – 30 August 1820), commonly known as ‘Purly Wilson’, was a Scottish revolutionary, a prominent figure in the Radical movement seeking electoral reform.

He was a weaver from the town of Strathaven in Lanarkshire, but as the Industrial Revolution affected the weaving trade he had to find alternative work.

A free-thinking man, he was sceptical of religion and disliked the government of the day.

He read Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man and started to become active in lobbying for political reform.

By 1821, Carlile was a declared atheist (having previously been a Deist) and published his Address to Men of Science, in favour of materialism and education.

In the same year Jane Carlile was in turn sentenced to two years imprisonment for seditious libel, and her place as publisher was taken by Richard Carlile’s sister, Mary.

Within six months she was imprisoned for the same offence.

The process was repeated with eight of his shop workers, and over 150 men and women were sent to prison for selling The Republican.

Carlile’s sentence ended in 1823, but he was immediately arrested and returned to prison for not paying his £1,500 fine, so the process continued until he was eventually released on 25 November 1825.

In the next edition of The Republican he expressed the hope that his long confinement would result in the freedom to publish radical political ideas.

An example of the support he received from around the country is the £1.5.1 sent to him in Dorchester jail by forty working men in the West Yorkshire village of Hunslet, accompanied by a noble letter on behalf of those ‘few Friends to Truth and Justice’.

He then published further journals, The Lion which campaigned against child labour and The Promptor.

He argued that ‘equality between the sexes’ should be the objective of all reformers, and in 1826 published Every Woman’s Book advocating birth control and the sexual emancipation of women.

Cobbett denounced this book as ‘so filthy, so disgusting, so beastly, as to shock even the lewdest men and women.

Carlile was an advocate of the Christ myth theory. He did not believe that Jesus existed. He debated Unitarian minister John Relly Beard in The Republican, 1826.

Carlile was jailed again in 1831 under the charge of seditious libel, given two and a half years for writing an article in support of agricultural labourers campaigning against wage cuts and advising the strikers to regard themselves as being at war with the government. 

He left prison deeply in debt, and government fines had taken from him the finances needed to publish newspapers.

His political and social opinions never altered, but his philosophy underwent a change in the 1830s.

In 1837 H. Robinson published the results of his later thinking in the book Extraordinary Conversion and Public Declaration of Richard Carlile of London to Christianity.

In 1834, Carlile was tried for creating a public nuisance, when he displayed two effigies in the windows of his shop at 62 Fleet Street, one in blue representing a broker titled ‘Temporal broker’ and another dressed as a bishop titled ‘Spiritual broker’.

A large group of people were often gathered there, impeding traffic and causing quarrels. Carlile was found guilty, but judgment was respited.

After living for some years in extreme poverty in Enfield, Carlile returned to Fleet Street in 1842, dying there the following year.

He donated his body for medical research. Large numbers of people attended his funeral in Kensal Green Cemetery on Sunday 26 February 1843, where his sons protested at the Christian burial rite being administered in the common grave he was being buried in – citing that he ‘passed his life in opposition to all priestcraft’.

Richard Carlile was not a Freemason, and therefore not under any obligation not to reveal the secrets of Freemasonry. 

However, and while imprisoned at Dorchester Gaol, (about 130 miles from London which back in 1800s is about two full days ride by horse drawn stage coach) and clearly with some outside help, he first published a series of Masonic Exposés in The Republican during 1825.

Carlile then reissued the material in a complete volume in 1831, with the title The Manual of Freemasonry, a complete exposé of Masonic rituals that included the three Craft degrees, the Royal Arch, the Mark and the Knight Templar degree, plus others.

To his credit, the exposé was so successful that it was reprinted many times and was used by Freemasons throughout the remaining nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in England as a source for learning ritual.

The book is basically a version of Emulation Ritual, with a few inconsistencies. 

After the Union of 1813 (in December of that year) that formed the United Grand Lodge of England, it was necessary that the ritual be standardised, with approval of the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland.

A result of this was the International Compact, which governs relations between the three Grand Lodges.

The ritual to be used in United Grand Lodge of England and in Lodges under that constitution were produced by the Lodge of Reconciliation, which as formed in June 1816. This has formed the basis of Emulation Working since its inception in 1823.

How could Richard Carlile, who not a Freemason, and while imprisoned at Dorchester Gaol, have access to such detailed Masonic Ritual at the very time it was being compiled?  

Perhaps he was no more than a ghost writer for the true author, who must have been a member of the Lodge of Reconciliation at the time, who wanted the ritual exposed and printed, so it did, by virtue of public knowledge, become the de facto standard.

United Grand Lodge of England could not possible sanction such a publication of the ritual, which as seen as being the secrets of Freemasonry, by the very fact of their oaths the members had undertaken.

And certainly, United Grand Lodge of England did not need another William Morgan (1774 – c. 1826) affair on its home turf. 

This did not work out well for William Morgan or Freemasonry in USA in general. Allegedly, due to some overzealous Freemasons, who took Morgan’s exposé as a violation of his obligation too seriously, brought Freemasonry into disrupt throughout the USA, which took years for it to recover from.

English Freemasonry needed to learn from this and needed a different strategy. The lesson here, ‘don’t use a Freemason to expose the secrets of Freemasonry in print’.

Thereby selecting a non-Mason, already discredited by the establishment, to print the Emulation Ritual, as an exposé, would provide an ideal solution, to establish it as the new standard workings, with plausible deniability.

Step forward Richard Carlile. The Manual Of Freemasonry, published in his name, proved to provide the perfect solution.

No lynching mob as no obligation had been violated. In time, The Manual Of Freemasonry became a bestseller amongst Freemasons as the de facto English Freemason’s Ritual book, and the rest is history so the speak. 

The first ‘official’ Emulation ritual book was not published until 1965.

Manual of Freemasonry

The great subject of Masonry is Solomon’s Temple. The two first secret words are B**z and J****n, the pillars of the porch of that temple.

Through all the Masonic degrees, ancient or modern, the subject continues to be a dark development of the building of the temple.



The Battle Of The Press:

As Told In The Story Of The Life Of Richard Carlile By His Daughter Theophila Carlile Campbell

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Rediscovered Rituals of English Freemasonry

by David Harrison

This in-depth work examines a compendium of Masonic rituals found in Richard Carlile’s once popular Manual of Freemasonry,some of the exotic high degrees displayed in his exposé being regularly practiced in England during the early nineteenth century.

For the first time, Carlile’s work is fully discussed, degree by degree, to not only reveal the full Masonic story, but to examine the eclectic sources of these degrees and the writers who influenced his work.

Indeed, these writers, such as Thomas Paine, William Finch and Godfrey Higgins will also be observed, along with an examination of the radical, free thinking ideas that Carlile projected in his exposé.

We will see how a rich array of Masonic high grades were practiced at a time of much development and profound change for English Freemasonry; the idea of the complete Masonic story being revealed via these high grades was, to certain English Freemasons, deeply attractive, especially to those who were found wanting after the union of 1813.

Carlile’s exposé, as we shall see,served these needs, his work revealing a rich fusion of radicalism along with an opulent collection of Masonic rituals that emerged from a variety of sources, such as Peter Lambert de Lintot’s Rite of Seven Degrees and the French exposé Les Plus Secrets Mystéres.

In short, Carlile’s work is a highly valued piece of Masonic literature and gives an important insight into what can be seen as a very English practice of high degree Masonry during the time.

This new examination of The Manual of Freemasonry is a much overdue rediscovery of the significance of his work on English Masonry and published in 2020, commemorates the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, an event that was witnessed by Carlile. 


available at

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