Established in London, England in the 19th century – specifically in 1883 – the Primrose League was a quasi-official group of people who wished to secretly ensure that the powerful, conservative, right-wing figures within government maintained that power. It had four, primary goals: “To Uphold and support God, Queen, and Country, and the Conservative cause; To provide an effective voice to represent the interests of our members and to bring the experience of the Leaders to bear on the conduct of public affairs for the common good; To encourage and help our members to improve their professional competence as leaders; To fight for free enterprise.”
That all sounds well and good; however, it should be noted that much of the work of the Primrose League – as it sought to influence the public mindset on the matter of politics in the U.K. – was undertaken in a decidedly secret, cloak-and-dagger, and near-Machiavellian fashion. Concerned that the Conservatives might lose their influence and sway, a number of powerful men in London got together to bring to life what became known as the Primrose League.
They included Sir Randolph Churchill, Sir John Gorst, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, and Colonel Fred Burnaby. By 1910, the membership was considerable. All of the members had to make a specific pledge: “I declare on my honor and faith that I will devote my best ability to the maintenance of religion, of the estates of the realm, and of the imperial ascendancy of the British Empire; and that, consistently with my allegiance to the sovereign of these realms, I will promote with discretion and fidelity the above objects, being those of the Primrose League.”
Of course, most of the many men and women who pledged allegiance to the Primrose League had no dark side attached to them. Rather, they were simply enthused by the idea of being able to help the Conservatives hold sway (as a firm non-conservative, none of this impresses me), and they did so in an open and enthusiastic fashion. But, just like so many societies, the Primrose League had a public face (which was the only face that even most of the members were aware of), and a far more intriguing private face. It’s this shadowy face that we will focus our attentions upon.
It’s important to note that the meetings of the Primrose League were held at the Carlton Club, which can be found on St. James’s Street, London. The club’s members, at the time, included prime-ministers, high-ranking military and political figures, and shadowy characters linked to the growing world of espionage. It’s notable that the Carlton Club remains, to this very day, a place where the elite of London meet and secretly plot. Its members include senior figures in the U.K.’s intelligence community: personnel within MI5 (the U.K.’s equivalent of the FBI), MI6 (the U.K.’s version of the CIA), and the Government Communications Headquarters (whose widespread surveillance programs very closely mirror those of the United States’ National Security Agency).
Not only that, one of those who undertook a great deal of work for the Primrose League (undercover work, it should be stressed) was none other than the infamous occultist and “Great Beast” Aleister Crowley – who, during the course of his lifetime, had ties to more than a few secret societies. While still only in his early twenties, Crowley was, essentially, recruited into the Primrose League for one specific reason. It was a reason filled with controversy and potential hazards. Although, outwardly at least, the Primrose League came across as an open, benevolent body that simply wanted to ensure that the flag of the Conservatives continued to wave, behind the scenes much more was afoot.
The group secretly hired people whose job it was to dig up dirt on politicians that were against the ideology of the Conservatives, to uncover scandal, and to ferret out just about anything and everything inflammatory that might be used to quieten potentially troublesome characters in the world of 19th century U.K. politics. Aleister Crowley was one of those brought on-board. By all accounts, he did a very good job of seeking out information on politicians involved in shady financial deals, and on well-known society figures engaged in affairs behind the backs of their wives. Less than subtle blackmail of those same figures very quickly became the order of the day. The Primrose League secretly flexed its muscles and issued dire warnings to those on whom it had extensive and damning dossiers, thanks in significant portions to Crowley’s spying activities. Typically, those facing potential ruin – and specifically those opposed to Conservatism – quickly caved in. The result: the Primrose League became a major body in Victorian era politics – and, for those that incurred its secret wrath, a much feared one.
In 2004, the Primrose League – which, by that date, had long given up its more controversial activities of the 19th century – finally closed down, citing dwindling interest in the group and falling attendance at its meetings.