The Covenant of Perfectibility, the forerunner of the original Bavarian Illuminati, was founded by Adam Weishaupt in Ingolstadt.

Weishaupt had become a professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingolstadt in 1773, having graduated with a doctorate of law five years earlier. The university was controlled by the Jesuits but, not being a cleric himself, Weishaupt found himself increasingly frustrated by the religious authorities.

Having been inspired by the Enlightenment, Weishaupt set up his own secret society to spread its ideas. Beginning with just five members, the early years of the society saw it expand so slowly that by the summer of 1778 there were still only 27 members. In an attempt to develop his own organisation, in 1777 Weishaupt was initiated into a lodge of the Freemasons and the following year he formally renamed his society the Order of Illuminati.

Despite the order’s humble beginnings, the early 1780s saw the Illuminati began to establish bases in other Bavarian cities. The library contained books and other literature that were banned in Bavaria due to their ‘liberal’ content, and this formed the basis of the society’s beliefs and goals.

As recruitment increased throughout the early 1780s, the Illuminati attracted the attention of the government. The exposure of a number of members who held powerful civic and governmental positions fuelled criticisms that the society was undermining Bavaria.

In response the state’s ruler Charles Theodore, who had suppressed liberal thought since his succession in 1777, issued an edict in 1784 that banned the Bavarian Illuminati. After the collapse of the society, Weishaupt fled Bavaria and never returned.

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© Scott Allsop