Freemasonry prospered in Portugal, not least since several
of Napoleon’s officers were active in the Craft, including
Marshals Lannes, Junot and Ney.
Troops under Wellington held a Masonic meeting in
Lisbon, following which they walked in procession and full
regalia through the streets of the city. The Masons were
stoned and only narrowly escaped being shot at, which was an
embarrassment to the Duke, then acting as Marshal General of
the Portuguese Army.
In an attempt to diffuse the tension, and in typical awareness
of the sentiments of the local populace, Wellington issued
a General Order dated 5 January 1810 addressed to his officers,
requiring them to refrain from overt Masonic activity:
an amusement which, however innocent in itself and allowed by
the law of Great Britain, is a violation of the law of this [Portugal]
Country, and very disagreeable to the people.
Five years later Wellington was again to come face to face
with his Masonic reputation. Marshal Michel Ney, who met
his end during the ‘White Terror’ as a traitor, executed by a
firing squad on 7 December 1815 in a Paris public park,
recognised Wellington as a Masonic brother.
In a document now apparently lost between Apsley House
and the Southampton University archives, Marshal Ney
appealed to Wellington ‘as a Brother’ to help save his life, but
Wellington was not in a position to intervene.
A political cartoon called "A Wellington Boot - or the Head of the Armye"
Ney had been initiated in Le Trinosophes Lodge No. 494
in Paris under the Grand Orient of France in 1826, and a legend
has persisted that the ‘Bravest of the Brave’, as he had been
referred to by Napoleon, escaped execution with the help of
French Freemasons and the Duke of Wellington.
The legend is perpetrated by the inscription on Peter Stuart
Ney's tomb in the Third Creek Presbyterian Church in rural
Rowan County, North Carolina, USA:
In memory of Peter Stuart Ney, a native of France and soldier of
the French Revolution under Napoleon Bonaparte, who departed this
life Dec. 15, 1846, aged 77 years.
Peter Stuart Ney, a schoolmaster, was buried there in 1846.
His last words on his deathbed are reported to have been:
By all that is holy, I am Marshal Ney of France.