A selection of historical facts relating to The Lion and the Covenant
FACT : Since travels in Ethiopia in 1769-70 by the Scottish explorer James Bruce (who had learned the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge'ez in Portugal) senior British Freemasons have been aware of Ethiopia's special religious claims. These include the claim of possession of the Ark of the Covenant at the holy city of Axum in Tigré province. James Bruce was a Freemason who was a descendant of King Robert I of Scotland (Robert the Bruce).
FACT: From the eighteenth century onwards, male members of the present royal dynasty in Britain have been heavily involved in Freemasonry at a high level, even forming their own royal Alpha lodge. (Prince Charles however has refused to become a Freemason).
FACT: In the early 1860's the Ethiopian Emperor Theodore began gathering the cultural and religious treasures of Ethiopia together at his mountain fortress of Magdala. Theodore was a royal usurper who had deposed the previous emperor, and used holding the treasures as a means to try and cement his grip on power.
FACT: In this same period, the British Government deeply offended Theodore by failing to answer his letter to Queen Victoria and refusing to accept an embassy from him. The British authorities also refused to continue to protect the long-established Ethiopian chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem*, resulting in the Ethiopian monks there being evicted after a residence of many centuries, an action supported by the Turkish governor. The British Government and its representatives also took other actions that seemed to imply they were in league with Theodore's enemies, the Turkish Ottoman Empire and its Egyptian vassals, who were the chief exterior threat to his lands.
(* in those days Jerusalem and all Palestine were under the control of the Turkish Empire).
FACT: As a result, early in 1864 Emperor Theodore seized the British consul to Ethiopia (a Captain Cameron) as a hostage, along with a group of Europeans, until his grievances were satisfactorily addressed. Instead, the hostage crisis dragged on for over four years into 1868.
FACT: The official sent by Britain to negotiate a solution to the diplomatic and hostage crisis was, provocatively, a Turkish subject. He was also an archaeologist who had assisted a member of the British government in the excavation of Babylon. His appointment is difficult to explain, given that British officials more qualified for such a negotiation had volunteered but been passed over.
FACT: In 1865, with royal patronage, a Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) was established. Its founding committee included many prominent Freemasons, among them some leading politicians such as the soon-to-be PM the Earl of Derby, whose son Lord Stanley, an influential Freemason, was soon to be Foreign Secretary. Both of those men were in power when the invasion of Ethiopia was ordered.
FACT: In February 1867 an archaeological expedition sent by the PEF to Jerusalem began to dig under Temple Mount. The expedition was led by a loyal and enthusiastic Freemason, Lieutenant (later General Sir) Charles Warren of the Royal Engineers. Lieutenant Warren was also later the founder and first Master of the leading Masonic research lodge, the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. Walter Besant, an early secretary of the PEF until 1886, became in 1886 first Treasurer of that same lodge.
FACT: Also in February 1867, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (the second son of Queen Victoria), set sail from England in HMS Galatea. He arrived in Portugal early in March. In June he was ordered to sail from Gibraltar to Australia, where he stayed for nearly six months as the first royal visitor to the great southern land. He returned to England late in June 1868. Although he had been shot and wounded in Sydney in March 1868 in an assassination attempt, Prince Alfred was ordered to return to Australia later that year, departing from Plymouth on 7 November 1868 and reaching Sydney in March 1869. He made his third visit to Sydney in three years in September 1870.
FACT: Meanwhile, in July 1867 Queen Victoria and the British government received a visit from the Sultan of Turkey and his vassal the Khedive of Egypt, with glittering pomp and ceremony. The next month a decision was taken by the British Government to invade Ethiopia. The main invasion force, the majority of which was sent from India, landed around the 3 January 1868.
FACT: The British commander, Sir Robert Napier, appears to have been under orders to go to Magdala and relieve it of its treasures no matter what. Proof of that is that early in his campaign Napier had a good opportunity to cut Theodore off and engage him decisively before the Emperor could gather more forces and retreat to Magdala. The superiority of British arms (for example their new and deadly Snider rifles) and training meant that Theodores brave but ill-disciplined musket & spear-equipped warriors stood little chance in open combat. Such an encounter would have a much easier battle than to attack a mountain fortress protected by artillery after a long and arduous approach through the wildest and most difficult terrain. But Napier deliberately chose not to take up his easier opportunity.
FACT: In April 1868, with the hostages safely recovered and Theodore's forces defeated, the invading British imperial army nevertheless stormed Theodore's fortress of Magdala and looted it, seizing Ethiopia's religious and cultural treasures. In fact the loot at Magdala was so extensive it covered half an acre of ground and was loaded onto fifteen elephants and almost two hundred mules.
FACT: The invading British force included a number of mysterious civilians and an "official archaeologist", a Mr Richard Holmes, said to have secured "many interesting items" from Magdala. Holmes was an assistant in the British Museum's Department of Manuscripts, but soon after the successful war became Sir Richard Rivington Holmes KCVO, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures and Librarian to Queen Victoria and her son Edward VII at Windsor Castle (from 1870 until 1906).
FACT: The Ethiopian Emperor Theodore committed suicide during the final British assault, macabrely using a pistol once sent to him by Queen Victoria as a gift. His son Alemayehu was brought to Britain and educated at the Queen's personal expense, but languished far from his family and friends in what was to him a very strange land. He died while still a youth. A guilt-stricken Queen Victoria had him buried among her own relatives in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
FACT: Exactly thirty days after the fall of Magdala, in what appeared to be a kind of triumphal celebration, Lieutenant Warren convened a Masonic lodge in Jerusalem beneath Temple Mount, in a hewn cavern he had earlier discovered there.
FACT: A curious trail of "coincidences" links three cities in Australia visited by Prince Alfred with the Ethiopian events.
FACT: In May 2001 a tabot, an Ethiopian representation of the Tablets of Moses (the Ten Commandments), as used on the high altar of an Ethiopian church, was discovered hidden in a cupboard in a church in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. It is believed that many other unidentified items from Magdala may still be held privately in England and Scotland.
The above are only a few of the startling facts you will read in The Lion and the Covenant
The Lion and the Covenant, the sensational new read of 2009
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The Lion and the Covenant 2009