Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

II. The Comuneros

519. Introductory Remarks.—The downfall of Napoleon, by a pleasant fiction, invented by historians who write history philosophically, that is, chisel and mould history to fit systems drawn from their inner consciousness, is eaid to have made Europe free. True, the battle of Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna restored the kings to their thrones, but to say that Europe was thereby made free is false. Instead of one mighty eagle hovering over Europe, the limbs of that ancient Virgin were now torn to pieces by a flock of harpies; instead of one mighty ruler, a host of petty tyrants returned to revel in the delights of a terreur blanche. Religious despotism, by the restoration of the pope, was to be the fit prelude to the political tyranny which followed the "Restoration."

But the Napoleonic meteor, in its flight across Europe, had shed some of its light into the dense brains even of the most slavishly loyal German peasant, accustomed to look up to the kingly, princely, or grand-ducal drill-sergeant as his heaven-appointed Landesvater, so that he began to doubt the ruler's divine mission. Hence secret societies in every country whose king had been restored by the Congress of Vienna in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria. Some of those secret societies had been fostered by the princes themselves, as long as their own restoration was the object aimed at; but when the societies and the nations they represented demanded that this restoration should involve constitutional privileges and the rights of free citizens, the "restored" kings turned against their benefactors, and conspired to suppress them. But such is the gratitude of kings. However, turn we to the secret societies formed to undo the evils wrought by Waterloo. I begin with Spain.

520. Earliest Secret Societies in Spain.—Even before the French Revolution there existed in Spain secret societies, some averse to monarchical government, others in favour of clerocracy. Among the latter may be mentioned the "Concepcionistas," or "Defenders of the Immaculate Conception" (523), who carried their zeal for Ferdinand VII. and their tenderness for the Church to such a degree as to desire the return of the blessed times of the Holy Inquisition. They also sought to get hold of the management of public affairs, to turn them to their own profit; and the dismal administration of the Bourbons shows that they partly succeeded. Probably from this association arose that of the "Defenders of the Faith," Jesuits in disguise, who in 1820 spread themselves over Spain, taking care of the throne and altar, and still more of themselves. During the reign of Ferdinand VII. also arose the "Realists," who, to benefit themselves, encouraged the king in his reactionary policy.

521. Freemasonry in Spain, the Forerunner of the Comuneros.—After the French invasion of 1809, Freemasonry was openly restored in the Peninsula, and a Grand Orient established at Madrid; but it confined itself to works of popular education and charity, entirely eschewing politics. The fall of Joseph and the Restoration again put an end to these well-meant efforts. In 1816, some of the officers and soldiers, returned from French prisons, joined and formed independent lodges, establishing a Grand Orient at Madrid, very secret, and in correspondence with the few French lodges that meddled with politics. Among the latter is remembered the lodge of the "Sectaries of Zoroaster," which initiated several Spanish officers residing in Paris, among others Captain Quezada, who afterwards favoured the escape of the patriot Mina. The revolution of the island of Leon was the work of restored Spanish Masonry, which had long prepared for it under the direction of Quiroga, Riego, and five members of the Cortes.

522. The Comuneros.—After the brief victory, badly-concealed jealousies broke forth; many of the brethren seceded and formed in 1821 a new society, the "Confederation of the Communists" (Comuneros), which name was derived from that memorable epoch of Spanish-history when Charles V. attempted to destroy the ancient liberties, and thus provoked the revolution of the Commons in 1520, which was headed by John Padilla, and afterwards by his heroic wife, Maria Pacheco. In the battle of Villalar the Comuneros were defeated and scattered, and the revolution was doomed. The new Comuneros, reviving these memories, declared their intentions, which could not but be agreeable to Young Spain; nearly sixty thousand members joined the society: women could be initiated, who had their own lodges or torres, or towers, as their meetings were called, and which were presided over by a "Grand Castellan." The scope of the society was to promote by all means in its power the freedom of mankind; to defend in every way the rights of the Spanish people against the abuses and encroachments of royal and priestly power; and to succour the needy, especially those belonging to the society. Some of the more advanced of the Comuneros were for beheading the king, or exiling him to the Havannah, on the principle that to put a house, whether domestic or national, in order, it was first necessary to get rid of all greedy hangers-on and parasites, and the Spanish throne and the royal family of Spain with them came under the above designations. But the nation thought otherwise.

On being initiated the candidate was first led into the "hall of arms," where he was told of the obligations and duties he was about to undertake. His eyes having been bandaged he was conducted to another room, where, after he had declared that he wished to be admitted into the confederation, a member acting as sentinel exclaimed: "Let him advance, I will escort him to the guard-house of the castle." Then there was imitated with great noise the lowering of a drawbridge, and the raising of a portcullis; the candidate was then led into the guard-room, unbandaged, and left alone. The walls were covered with arms and trophies, and with patriotic and martial inscriptions. Being at last admitted into the presence of the governor, the candidate was thus addressed: "You stand now under the shield of our chief Padilla; repeat with all the fervour you are capable of the oath I am about to dictate to you." By this oath, the candidate bound himself to fight for constitutional liberty, and to avenge every wrong done to his country. The new knight then covered himself with the shield of Padilla, the knights present pointed their swords at it, and the governor continued: "The shield of our chief Padilla will cover you from every danger, will save your life and honour; but if you violate your oath this shield shall be removed, and these swords buried in your breast."

Both the Masons and Comuneros sought to gain possession of superior political influence. The former, having more experience, prevailed in the elections and formed the ministry. Hence a contest that agitated the country and injured the cause of liberty. In 1832, the Comuneros endeavoured to overthrow the Freemasons, but unsuccessfully. Still Masons and Comuneros combined to oppose the reactionary party. They also succeeded in suppressing Carbonarism, which had been introduced into Spain by some refugee Italians. These societies, in fact, though professing patriotic views, were nothing but egotistical cliques, bent on their own aggrandisement. How little they were guided by fixed principles is shown by their conduct in Spanish America. In Brazil they placed on the throne Don Pedro, and in Mexico they established a republican form of government, just as it best suited their own private interests. But such is the practice of most patriots.

523. Clerical Societies.—But the royal party also formed secret societies. Among these we have mentioned the "Concepcionistas," or "Defenders of the Immaculate Conception," founded in 1823 (see 520 ante), with the sanction, if not at the instigation, of Ferdinand VII. This was followed in 1825 by the "Defenders of the Faith," also previously referred to, and in 1827 by a third, known as the "Destroying Angels." The existence of the last is denied by clerical writers, but that it did exist, and that the Minister Calomarde was its chief, are facts proved beyond dispute. The doings of these clerical secret societies covered the king, a despicable character in every way, with disgrace, and involved the country in constant internecine war and ruin, which are matters belonging to history.

But as specially concerning the secret societies of Spain, it should be mentioned that at that period they were split up into four distinct parties: (1) the Aristocratic, who received great support from England; its objects were the restoration of the constitution, and a change of dynasty. (2) The Mineros, whose head was General Mina. They were chiefly military men, closely allied with the Aristocrats, and largely subsidised by England. The American Government, with a view to the conquest of Mexico, also favoured them. Opposed to them were (3) the Republicans, whose designation indicates their object. (4) The Comuneros, who, though also desiring a republican form of government in Spain, opposed the plans of the third party.