There are a "family" of Orders represented by the two titles, The Ancient and Illustrious Order Knights of Malta and The Royal Black Institution. The history is as follows;
At the turn of the century, in the United States of America there existed no shortage of groups claiming to be Knightly fraternities of St John, owing their origins through Freemasonry, or through the Black Association, ancillary to the Orange Lodges, created for the preservation of a Protestant Ireland.
Chevalier Andrew Ramsey, a Jacobite Catholic Scotsman of humble origins, was at one time secretary to the French writer and Churchman, Fenelon, and a Knight in an Order connected to the Order of St Lazarus. In a speech to a group of French Freemasons, in 1736, Ramsey provided a mediæval antecedent to the Masons with the Order of St John. This provided the beginnings of Masonic 'Orders of John'. In the development of his theme, he also provided the Knights Templar, as part of Freemasonry heritage. This antecedent, whilst having gained popular belief in the past, is now rejected in any academic account of the beginnings of Freemasonry - even by authors within Freemasonry.
Some "Orders of St John" resulting from this development preserve in their histories justification of the connection via Freemasonry to the historic Order. One myth, is that after James Sandiland, the last Scottish Prior, abdicated in 1563, (with the property of the Order in Scotland being given to him as a personal possession by Queen Mary), he and his followers continued a tradition of St John, but as a Protestant organisation, and that after Sandiland's death, the movement merged into Scottish Freemasonry. Another myth, is that, in France, there was some kind of interconnection between Hospitaller Knights and Freemasonry, which introduced the Order of St John into Freemasonry. Roger Peyrefitte provides some substance to a connection in his story of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta being subjected to a Papal Commission in the 1950s which ruled on the nature of its sovereignty. Within Peyrefitte's account is the claim that, a Masonic Lodge existed on Malta, in Grand Master De Rohan's time consisting of Knights, and that this Lodge had been founded by a Knight of the Order.
The Orange Order (or Society as it was first known) was formed in 1795 to maintain Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and by its name celebrates the victory of William of Orange over the Roman Catholic King James II at the Boyne River in 1690. The development of the Lodges of the Society were heavily influenced by Freemasonry. By 1797, a new organisation emerged intimately connected with the Orange Order, the Royal Black Association of the Knights of Malta. As with the Orange Order, with its system of degrees, so too, did members of the Black Association progress in membership through degrees. The inference by apologists of the "St John/Malta Orders" tracing their origins through the Black Association, is that, Knights of Freemasonry formed the basis of the Black Association. One Author in referring to the Freemasonry Knights, states "the Malta Order in Britain was, in effect, "captured" by the Orange Institution." For example, to be a member of the Black Association, a man had to be a member of the Orange Order, and have first reached the Purple Degree.
In 1807, HRH Ernest Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland became the Grand Master of the Orange Order, but in 1836 owing to a Parliamentary investigation into the Orange Lodges attached to Irish regiments, the Duke dissolved the Orange Order. A year later, in 1837, the Duke became the King of Hanover. The Orange Order, revived in 1845 being kept alive by Lodge members. In common with other British Institutions, branches were formed in Scotland, Ireland, England and Canada, and spreading out from there. The International Headquarters was known by the lengthy and somewhat pompous title of "Imperial Parent Grand Black Encampment of the Universe", with its centre based in Glasgow.
The Black Association was represented in Canada, as early as 1829, with other groups existing there in the 1840s. By 1868, the organisation had spread to New York. The members of the North American organisation, saw themselves very much as the Black Association of the 'Knights of Malta', with more emphasis on the chivalric aspects, and less on the fraternal masonic aspects.
From 1870, the Order in North America began to flourish. In 1874, Robert Ernest Augustus Land was elected as Grand Commander of the Order of the Knights of Malta, and on June 19th 1875, the North American organisation the 'Supreme Grand Black Encampment' of North America was granted autonomy in its affairs by the Imperial Parent. Almost straight away, the American group abolished the need for members to belong to the Orange Order. There was a reduction in the number of degrees from twelve to three. The move away from a fraternal model to the chivalric model of organisation became more marked. These developments strained relationships with the Imperial Grand Parent in the years 1875 to 1881, when on the 4th June 1881 the Imperial Parent cancelled the Warrant which created the American Organisation. Land continued to lead the American organisation, with the loyalists to the Scottish Parents having to re-organise, but like the Independent organisation they also adopted a chivalric model of existence, assuming the name of "Ancient and Illustrious Order of the Knights of Malta". By 1954, relationships by the loyal organisation with the Parent organisation had ceased.
The independent organisation led by Robert Land, with its headquarters in Toronto, was known as the "Knights of St John and Malta". The ditching of the identity of a political-fraternal organisation had left a gap, which was quickly filled, as the Order took on the role of a friendly society in providing insurance for its members, which became a formal part of the Order in 1882, becoming a compulsory element for the members by 1896. According to Formals, this led to a steady decline in membership, which in its turn led to a faction setting up independently in 1906, led by Charles Hayward as the "Order of Knights Hospitaller". In January 1908, Hayward's group held a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, in an attempt to enlarge its membership with prominent persons. By 1921, the organisation had ceased existence.
In 1910, owing to 10 deaths, and the inability of the Scheme to make proper payments, the Order of the Knights of St John and Malta was subjected to an investigation by the Superintendent of Insurance of the State of New York, which issued an order of liquidation. As a result of the investigations, the Order's Grand Chancellor, Henry C. Siegman committed suicide. These events led to a near collapse of the Order. The Grand Priory of Canada became independent, and Arthur T. Lamson in a bid to create a continuing organisation led a further group called "The Knights of Malta", which registered itself as a Corporation in the State of Jersey in 1911. However by 1912 the group had become defunct, with the members re-joining the main organisation, which despite, the disgrace over the insurance problems, and severe loss of membership, had managed to continue its existence.
In 1928, the Knights of St John and Malta increased it membership, by the
reconciliation with the Canadian Priory, and by the addition of Knights who
claimed to have been part of the historic Spanish Order. The name of the
Order was changed to "The Sovereign Order of St John and Malta". By the 1950s,
the central administration of the Order had fallen into abeyance, leaving
two Commanderies operating independently, that of Pennsylvania, led by Franklin
A. West, and California (known as the Priory of the Pacific) led by Robert
Formhals. This group joined the self-styled
The Scottish Branch of the Ancient High and
Exalted Order of St. John
Modern Orders in the tradition of
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