The Royal connection
With members of the Royal Family carrying out a vital role in Freemasonry, John Hamill counts the line of princes and dukes who have played their part over the past three hundred years
This year, the nation rightly celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen, but there is another significant royal and masonic anniversary of which many of the Craft may not be aware. It was the two hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the initiation of HRH Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales, the first member of the English Royal Freemasons, on 5 November 2012. The eldest son of King George II, Frederick Lewis did not come to the throne, as he died in 1751 at the early age of forty-four. This was some nine years before the death of his father, who was succeeded by Frederick Lewis’s son George, who went on to reign for sixty years as King George III.
Frederick Lewis was made a Freemason in what was termed an ‘occasional’ lodge, presided over by the Reverend Doctor JT Desaguliers, Grand Master in 1737. In the fashion of the day, the prince was made both an Entered Apprentice and a Fellowcraft at the meeting. A month later, another occasional lodge was held and he became a Master Mason. Due to lack of records for the period, we have no information as to what Frederick Lewis did in Freemasonry, other than that in 1738 he was Master of a Lodge. We know this because in the same year, the Reverend Doctor James Anderson published the second edition of The Constitutions of the Free Masons, which has a wonderfully flowery dedication to the prince ‘now a Master Mason and Master of a Lodge’.
It would be interesting to speculate if Frederick Lewis discussed Freemasonry within his family, for one of his brothers and three of his sons went on to become Freemasons. The youngest of his sons, Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745-1790), had rapid promotions. He was initiated at an occasional lodge on 9 February 1767; was installed as Master of the Horn Lodge in April 1767 and in the same month elected a Past Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge. In 1782 he became our first Royal Grand Master and held that office until his untimely death in 1790. He was also the first Royal Brother to enter the Royal Arch, being exalted in the Grand Chapter in 1772 and was its Grand Patron from 1774 until his death.
Henry Frederick introduced the next generation of royalty to the fraternity, with sons of King George III becoming Freemasons. Three of them went on to serve as Grand Master: George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and King George IV) succeeded his uncle as Grand Master in 1791 and served until he became Prince Regent in 1812, when he was succeeded by his younger brother Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex. At the same time, their brother Edward, Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients Grand Lodge.
With two royal brothers at their head in 1813, the two Grand Lodges came together as the United Grand Lodge of England, with the Duke of Sussex as Grand Master. Sussex was determined that the would succeed, and put in place a number of procedures that today still form the basis of the government of the English Craft and Royal Arch.
The death of the Duke of Sussex in 1843 marked a twenty-five-year period without royal participation for the simple reason that – with the exception of Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert – there were no princes of an age to join. That situation was happily rectified in 1868 when the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) became a Freemason on a visit to Sweden. In 1869 he was elected a Past Grand Master and in 1874 became Grand Master, holding office until he came to the throne in 1901 when he took the title of Protector of Freemasonry.
The Prince of Wales was soon joined by two of his brothers, the Duke of Connaught and the Duke of Albany, and brought in his son, the Duke of Clarence. The Duke of Connaught succeeded his brother as Grand Master in 1901 and was to be an active ruler until 1939. He was supported by his son Prince Arthur and by his great nephews, the then Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor); the Duke of York (later King George VI); and the Duke of Kent, father of our present Grand Master. The Duke of Kent succeeded as Grand Master in 1939 but his rule was cut cruelly short when he was killed in an RAF air crash in 1942.
Today, English Freemasonry is fortunate to still have Royal support. HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh became a Master Mason in Navy Lodge, No. 2612, of which he is still a subscribing member. HRH The Duke of Kent has been our Grand Master since 1967 and his wise counsel and great support in what has been a turbulent time for English Freemasonry, have been invaluable. His brother HRH Prince Michael of Kent has given long service as both Provincial Grand Master for Middlesex in the Craft and as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons.
To look back on two hundred and seventy-five years of Royal support is a wonderful sight and something that English Freemasons hope will continue long into the future.