In the early 18th century, a mysterious secret society called the Gormogons briefly appeared in England, apparently formed in direct opposition to the increasingly prominent Freemasons. This obscure group left few records behind, and their goals and accomplishments remain unclear. But their provocative public announcements provide a fascinating window into the socio-political tensions of the time, while also highlighting Freemasonry’s growing stature as a target of parody.
Origins and Early History
The first public knowledge of the Gormogons came with a notice in the September 3, 1724 edition of the London Daily Post. This announcement claimed the order was established in ancient China “many thousand years before Adam” by the first Chinese emperor Chin-Qua Ky-Po. It said that a visiting “Mandarin” had recently introduced the society to England, recruiting “several Gentlemen of Honour”. The notice also made the group’s contempt for Freemasonry clear, declaring no Mason would be admitted until they renounced their “novel order” through a degrading ritual.
Later clues point to Philip Wharton, the Duke of Wharton, as a likely founder of the Gormogons. Wharton had served as Grand Master of the Freemasons in 1722. But he left angrily in 1723 after failing to change the rules to make the Deputy Grand Master an elected position. Less than a year later, the Gormogons emerged, professing open disdain for Masonic lodges. Furthermore, Wharton was referenced in a 1724 letter as a prominent Mason who left the order through a “degrading” Gormogon ritual.
The group also exhibited strong Jacobite political leanings, with several leaders linked to Jacobite exiles and the Stuart cause. The Gormogons were likely aiming to advance Jacobite interests through their activities.
Practices and Beliefs
Several consistent practices and beliefs defined the Gormogons during their brief existence:
- They performed degrading initiation rituals for any new members who had previously been Freemasons. This involved publicly renouncing Freemasonry and burning Masonic regalia like aprons and gloves.
- The Gormogons strongly parodied and mocked Freemasonry through their rituals and writings. They claimed a more ancient origin than Freemason lodges, and their leadership titles lampooned Masonic equivalents.
- The group had close connections to the Hellfire Clubs, which Philip Wharton also founded. These notorious clubs similarly aimed to shock and outrage society through blasphemous rituals.
Overall, the Gormogons seemed to position themselves as a subversive counterpart to Freemasonry, likely hoping to degrade its growing social influence.
Demise and Legacy
After a flurry of activity in the mid-1720s, the Gormogons essentially disappeared by the late 1720s. Their last known public notice came in 1728, and the group was defunct after Philip Wharton’s death in 1731. Very few records of the Gormogons’ activities have survived, though a medal from the period still exists in the British Museum.
The group briefly reappeared in fictionalized form as antagonists in the 2007 TV series Bones. But otherwise, this obscure, short-lived brotherhood remains an ephemeral footnote in history. Their rise and fall sheds some light on the complex political and social tensions of early 18th century England. It also illustrates Freemasonry’s growing stature and influence at the time, as a target of mockery for marginal groups like the Gormogons. But their limited legacy and mystifying motivations make them a truly intriguing historical curiosity.