In his essay on the interesting parallels between Freemasons and Jesuits — that is, members of the Society of Jesus —  Ritchie Robertson explains that unlike Franciscans, Dominicans, and other religious orders, the Jesuits did not wear ecclesiastical garments and therefore raised suspicions: “As was later thought of Jews, they were able to pass without being recognized and thus to infiltrate the unsuspecting society around them” (14). Ignoring their accomplishments in astronomy, physics, and linguistics, Protestants and Catholics alike often believed Jesuits had created a worldwide network of conspirators and assassins.

They were thought to be behind the murders of William the Silent in 1584 and Henri III of France in 1588, the assassination attempts on Henri IV in 1593 and 1594, the murder of Henri IV in 1610, and the attempt by Damiens to assassinate Louis XV in 1757. They were alleged to have murdered two popes (Clement VIII and Clement XIV) and to have killed Cardinal Toumon at Macao in 1709 by poisoning his chocolate. In 1758, an attempt to assassinate King Jose of Portugal, probably by the jealous husband of his mis- tress, gave the enlightened minister Pombal a pretext to crush the Jesuits by implausibly charging them with complicity. In Britain, they were alleged to have instigated the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and the Popish Plot in 1678. On the Continent, they were blamed for helping to cause the Thirty Years War. Later, in the nineteenth century, they were held responsible for Swiss Civil War of 1847, the Franco-Prussian War, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. [14]

What events in Victorian England encouraged such paranoid conspiracy theories?

In what kind of literature would you expect them to appear?


Robertson, Ritchie. “Freemasons vs Jesuits.” Times Literary Supplement (October 12, 2012): 13-15.

Last modified 28 November 2012