The Royal Black Association of the Ancient, Exalted, Illustrious Religious and Military Order of the Knights of Malta was a Scottish chivalric association. It was closely associated in the beginning with Orange Order, although frequently at odds with it. It seems originally to have been synonymous with various “Black” organizations that evolved into the Royal Black Institution by 1846, but was perhaps only one of a number of them.
In the color symbolism popular at the time, the color black symbolized Protestantism, orange symbolized adherence to the House of Orange, and blue symbolized Freemasonry. The color symbolism can become confusing. The name Royal Black Association is intended to convey they are a Protestant association. Originally, membership was restricted to those who were also members of the Orange Order.
Members of the Black Association of the Knights of Malta believed they were authentic knights of the medieval Hospitaller Order of St. John in a continuous and unbroken tradition but the evidence is sketchy.
During and after the Reformation the Order lost Protestant members through both expulsion and disaffection. The Order’s property was confiscated in England (1540) and Scotland (1564). Yet, even after the dissolution in Scotland there are references to preceptors of the Hospital of Scotland (William Schaw in 1589; William Schaw and John Boswell of Auchinleck in 1600; and a member of the Hay family called George or Gilbert in 1642). The Order is said to have been introduced to Ireland in 1643 for the protection of Protestants who had escaped a Catholic massacre in 1641 (Cyclopædia of Fraternities, 274).
The implication here is the Scottish knights in the 18th century were heirs of the Hospitallers though the Priory of Torpichen, which had been dissolved in 1564 but apparently lingered on until 1642 or 1643. This was the theory circulated in the late 1800s, but it is now generally rejected. There is no mention of this group between 1643 and perhaps 1797 or 1820. The gap is too long to be credible.
The earliest evidence asserted for the modern Order is a Royal Black Warrant said to have been signed on 16th September 1797. However, the earliest record of this 1797 warrant is an entry dated 1820. These “Black Knights” were allied to the Orange order. To become a member, a man had to be first an Orangeman. One reason often given for the absence of early records is these records were perhaps maintained and carelessly kept by the Orange Order.
These knights came to be called the Royal Black Association of the Religious and Military Order, Knights of Malta. In 1807 HRH Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland was elected Grand Master in separate elections by both the Orange and Black organizations, but then resigned in 1820 following a parliamentary inquiry. He became King of Hanover in 1837.
The patronage of a royal prince gave an aura of legitimacy, but it seems likely they were originally a quasi-Masonic organization who accepted Chevalier Ramsay’s assertion the Scottish Hospitallers survived the dissolution of the Order in 1564 by entering Freemasonry (Andrew Michael Ramsay, Discourse (1737).
Another theory is that the Scottish Hospitallers originated through what has been called the Temple-Malta Order. The evidences are scattered. From 1705 to 1723, Philippe, duc d’Orléans was Grand Master of revived Templar order (Ordre du Temple). They are said to have been joined by Hospitaller Knights exiled to France from Malta for engaging in Masonic activities. In 1743 a formal organization was formed that became known as the Temple-Malta order. This organization might have been exported to Scotland as part of the French policy of de-stabilizing Britain by promoting the Jacobite cause leading up to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745, when Charles Edward Stuart (the Young Pretender) is said to have himself been made Grand Master of another revived Templar order. It is, however, difficult, although perhaps not impossible, to understand how a Catholic order in 1745 turned into a anti-Catholic order by 1797.
The Scottish order established branches in Canada (1829), England (1842), Australia (1868), and the United States (1874). These branches gave rise to dozens of splinter groups of varying character, some as nobiliary associations, some as confraternities, and some as simple fraternal orders.
“The Magnanimous and Invincible Order of Royal Blackmens Association” of Lodge No. _ , held in _________, having commenced on 16th September, in the year 1797, for the preservation of our Glorious King and Constitution.
We, the Right Worshipful the Grand Master, Deputy Master, Deputy Grand Master, and Grand Pursuivant, and the rest of the Grand Officers of this Noble Order meet for the sole and only purpose of relieving our distressed and oppressed loyal Protestant Brethren around the Globe, this being our Warrant. Given under our hand and seal.
Long live our Glorious King and the Memory of our Glorious Deliverer, William III.
- Joseph Tineman, Grand Master – 16th September 1797
- Benjamin Goodman, Deputy Grand Master – 17-09-1797
- Thos. Tinley, Grand Pursuivant – 17-09-1797
- Daniel Maulang, H.P. – 17-09-1797
- George Dobson, D.H.P. – 17-09-1797
- John Ladd, G.S. – 17-09-1797
- Alfred La Grues, D.G.S. – 17-09-1797
- 1797 Joseph Tineman (Ireland)
- 1807 Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland
- 1820 William Leedom (Provincial Grand Master, Ireland)
- 1827 William Freeman (Provincial Grand Master, Ireland)
- 1831 George Donaldson (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
- 1840 Robert Blair (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
- 1850 William Dixon (Provincial Grand Master, Scotland)
- 1853 William Dixon (Grand Master)
- 1855 Samuel Robertson
- 1860 Henry Marshall
- 1866 Hans Newell
- 1869 George McLeod
- 1890 Thomas Macklin
- 1897 William G. Ingram
- 1915 Louis G. Pierson
The early history of the Order is considerably confused, with different writers interpreting the history in different ways, often to make a favorable case for their branch of the Order.
- The Cyclopædia of Fraternities, edited by Albert Clark Stevens (1907). 266-77,
- Robert W. Y. Formhals (Prince Grand Master of the Hospitaller Order of St.John of Jerusalem), White Cross: Story of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem (1979).
- Robert Willard Yates Sanguszko Formhals, The Story of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller (June 1975).
- Portadown Royal Black District Chapter No 5, History of the Royal Black Institution.
- The Ancient and Illustrious Order Knights of Malta.
- History of the Royal Black Institution at EvangelicalTruth.com
- Scotland at Tripod.com.
Note: This text originally prepared as the Overview for a Geni project. Revised May 3, 2020 to repair links.