A handful of manuscript pages among the private papers of John Toland (1670–1722), the prolific Irish writer and philosopher, reveal nearly everything known about a Dutch secret society called Les Chevaliers de la Jubilation (the Chevaliers of Jubilation). Founded sometime before 1710 by a group of French exiles in The Hague, the Chevaliers were part dinner club, part private joke, and part serious conspiracy against French political and religious absolutism in the age of Louis XIV. See Toland, John.
Very little is known for certain about the Chevaliers; the surviving papers include minutes of four meetings, a short speech made by the Grand Master to the other members, and nothing else. The scanty source material includes the names of several members, the fact that the Chevaliers considered the Roman gods Mercury and Minerva to be their patrons, and the fact that they apparently drank a great deal. Toland himself was a member, and may have been the founder of the order during his stay in The Hague between 1708 and 1710.
A good deal of their reported meetings consisted of buffoonery and heavy drinking, but the Chevaliers had a serious purpose. Nearly all the members were French dissidents in exile from the autocratic government of their homeland, and several of them – Jean Rousset de Missy, Charles Levier, Michael Böhm, and possibly Toland himself – worked together to produce the most scandalous book of the eighteenth century, the Traité des Trois Imposteurs (Treatise on the Three Impostors), which argued that Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were swindlers who manufactured bogus religions in order to manipulate people through fear and credulity, and proposed a new pantheist religion of nature.
The central target of this treatise was the intensely Catholic and conservative absolutism of Louis XIV of France. Ideas of the sort put into circulation by the Chevaliers of Jubilation, however, helped lay the foundation for radical secret societies in France and elsewhere in western Europe for more than two centuries to come.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006