This is a constructive endeavour to explore the philosophy of a spiritual and intellectual adventurer, Andrew Michael Ramsay, a Scottish émigré in France whose commitment to Jacobitism was surpassed only by that to European freemasonry. Ramsay came from a family in Ayrshire divided by religion; his father was a Covenanter, his mother an Episcopalian. His sympathies were more influenced by the latter, but were more substantially shaped by non-juring intellectuals in Aberdeenshire who tempered their Jacobitism with Quietism. They were in close contact with Flemish and French mystics; contacts which led Ramsay to arrive in Cambrai in 1710 at the household of Archbishop François Fénelon. Over the next two years, not only did the archbishop persuade Ramsay to convert to Roman Catholicism, but he imbued him with his political philosophy to broaden, but not dilute, the base of monarchical government in the interest of public liberty. Fénelon’s views on political virtue were designed to influence the heir to the throne, the duc de Bourgogne, to transform France after the death of Louis XIV. However, Bourgogne died three years before his father in 1712. After Fénelon’s own passing, Ramsay spent six years, between 1717 and 1723, editing and interpreting the archbishop’s works, which brought him to the attention of the Jacobite Court at Rome where he was briefly employed as a tutor to the infant Charles Edward Stuart. But he was unceremoniously dismissed after a duel and returned to France to broaden his intellectual interests. He moved on from a universal plan of government that synthesised natural law and divine right theory to uphold absolute monarchy and reject the Revolution of 1688–90. In key publications from 1727 to 1732, deism became the inspiration for his blending of science, education and political economy with mysticism and history to uphold political virtue, unity and order. In the process, he tempered his advocacy of absolutism. Robust monarchy was to be supported not so much by a British-style parliament as by a hereditary aristocratic senate. Ramsay, who wrote mainly in French, can certainly be portrayed convincingly as a bridge between French and British intellectual traditions of political thought, a role hitherto assigned mainly to the Englishman Henry St John, viscount Bolingbroke. As such, Ramsay was an understated luminary in the early Enlightenment with shrewd networking skills that brought him into contact not only with Fénelon and Bolingbroke but also with Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift and David Hume, among others. However, Ramsay was very much a compromised intellectual. L’Histoire de la Vie de Fénelon (1723) was adapted by Ramsay to suit Jacobitism rather than remain true to Fénelon’s concepts of political virtue. Doubts about the authenticity of the work further arise from Ramsay’s claim that he was present at a meeting in which the archbishop advised and guided James VIII and III at Cambrai in 1709. This purported meeting occurred one year before Ramsay met Fénelon. In Les Voyages de Cyrus (1727), Ramsay was an unashamed plagiarist, especially of Bishop Jacques-Benigne Bossuet’s scriptural defence of Louis XIV as an absolute monarch. While the focus of this book is on policy rather than process, it is manifestly stronger on text than context. The author, Andrew Mansfield, leaves a biographical discussion of Ramsay and his associates until Chapter Six, sandwiched between chapters on Jacobite and post-Jacobite polemics. This results in some repetition of information. Of far greater significance is the presumption in the opening two paragraphs that British political thought was as homogeneous as the French in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. This seriously underestimates Ramsay’s Scottish heritage and leads to such unsubstantiated statements (p. 11) as that Charles II was supported by a hereditary aristocratic senate in Scotland in the 1680s. Actually, Scotland was then run by James, firstly as Duke of York and secondly as king assisted by his nominated (not hereditary) privy council consisting of nobles, gentry, lawyers and military commanders, who enforced a form of absolutism through militias as much as standing forces, to the great concern of Whigs in England. In the aftermath of the Union of 1707, Jacobite intellectuals, inspired by the neo-stoicism taught at Marischal College, Aberdeen, in the course of the seventeenth century, were actually questioning the centrality of monarchy to Scottish identity. They put forward the concept of a Scottish patria, whereby the identity of the people was expressed through the momentous attainments of scholars, soldiers and adventurers no less than the monarchy. Loyalty to the territorial nation became a more pressing concern than allegiance to the exiled house of Stuart. In turn, the Stuarts should be prepared to accept constitutional limitations as the price of their restoration. James VIII and III sought to counter this by commissioning Thomas Innes in 1716 to reassert the primacy of dynastic statehood, which was duly accomplished in A Critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of the Northern Parts of Britain, or Scotland (1727). Thomas Innes was a priest teaching at the Scots College in Paris where his brother Lewis was the rector. Ramsay met Lewis around 1719 (p. 159). Although Ramsay was himself an adventurer, his Jacobite polemics thereafter not only supported the restoration of the house of Stuart but reinforced the primacy of dynastic statehood. His subsequent polemical endeavours were undoubtedly shaped by his deism. But this was not just an intellectual exercise or thwarted ambition, as might appear from A Plan of Education for a Young Prince (1732). Ramsay was instrumental in tying Scottish rite freemasonry into French freemasonry, which not only provided important political connections for Jacobites in exile, but provided Charles Edward Stewart with a gateway to European courts and intellectual circles well after the Jacobite cause was extinguished in the wake of the rising in 1745–6. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 3, 2018
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