Celebrating 300 years
Wednesday, 13 June 2012 01:00

Pages from a new chapter

Today the formation of a Grand Chapter would be widely reported. As John Hamill explains, such was not the case for the Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter of England

As I wrote in the last issue of Freemasonry Today, the Royal Arch was brought into being by the signing of the document now know as the Charter of Compact on 22 July 1766, although the date was later tampered with. Strangely, there is no mention of that charter within the minutes of the chapter, which turned itself into the Grand Chapter. So exactly how did events pan out?

1765: The signing of a manifesto
On 12 June 1765, a group of twenty-nine companions met at the Turk’s Head Tavern in Gerrard Street, Soho and signed a manifesto by which they constituted themselves into an independent Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. The manifesto – a set of rules to govern the operation of the chapter – was copied into the minute book in an illuminated style and was signed by those present and then by every brother on his exaltation within the chapter.

1766: Grand Chapter catalyst
Among those who joined were many of the major figures then involved in the running of the premier Grand Lodge. Exactly a year after its formation, the success of the chapter was crowned by the candidate at the meeting on 11 June 1766 being the then Grand Master – Cadwallader, Lord Blayney. It would appear that this event was the catalyst for the formation of a Grand Chapter, although the minutes are silent on this matter, any discussion of the Charter of Compact, or even to its signing. The only reference in the minute book is in the accounts where it is noted that a Mr Parkinson was paid two guineas for engrossing the charter.

1769: Just a private chapter?
The chapter continued to work as a private chapter, regularly exalting new members and it is not until 1769 that the minutes begin to show evidence of it acting as a Grand Chapter. In that year it began to issue charters to form new chapters. Of these foundations five are still in existence today. It would appear from the minute books that the chapter continued a dual role as both a private chapter and a Grand Chapter until it evolved into Supreme Grand Chapter in 1817. From 1795 it began to function on a regular basis as we would expect today.

1778: Spreading the message
In 1778, the chapter began to organise Provinces with the appointment of Grand Superintendents, whose main function appears to have been to stimulate the formation of new chapters. Thomas Dunckerley, who did so much to promote the Royal Arch in the late eighteenth century between 1778 and his death in 1795, was appointed Grand Superintendent in no less than eighteen counties.

1795: Grand Lodge softening
Despite many of its leaders being involved in the Grand Chapter, the premier Grand Lodge consistently refused to acknowledge the Royal Arch as part of its system. By 1795 that attitude had softened and the premier Grand Lodge announced, rather condescendingly, that it had no objections to the Royal Arch as a separately organised society.

1809: Royal Arch an integral part
With HRH The Duke of Sussex becoming both Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge and First Grand Principal of the Grand Chapter, the latter body gave him full powers to negotiate on their behalf whatever settlement could be achieved as to the position of the Royal Arch, once the of the two Grand Lodges had been carried through. It was as a result of that, and his position as Grand Master, that a compromise was achieved and the Royal Arch was accepted as an integral part of pure antient masonry.

1817: Birth of the Supreme Grand Chapter
The Grand Chapter continued to exist until 1817 when, with the Craft arrangements being almost completed, The Duke of Sussex turned his mind to the Royal Arch. The Grand and Royal Chapter merged with the former members of the Antients Royal Arch, with the Supreme Grand Chapter coming into being. Surprisingly after 1817, the dual nature of the original Grand Chapter – acting both as a regulatory body and a private chapter – continued with men of eminence being exalted within the Grand Chapter itself.

1832: Last exaltations
The last occasion the Grand Chapter acted as both regulator and private chapter was in May 1832 when the Marquis of Salisbury, the Marquis of Abercorn and Lord Monson were exalted at an emergency meeting of Grand Chapter.

Published in SGC
Monday, 19 March 2012 17:00

The Lord Blayney mystery

As the bicentenary of the inclusion of the Royal Arch chapter into ‘pure antient masonry’ draws near, John Hamill examines the mystery behind its formation

On 22 July 1766, the first Grand Chapter in the world came into being when members of an independent chapter met in London to draw up what is now known as the Charter of Compact, converting their chapter into the Excellent Grand and Royal Arch Chapter, with Cadwallader, ninth Lord Blayney, at its head. We know this because the chapter’s minute book, which commences with a meeting held on 22 March 1765, stills exists. Until as recently as the late forties, however, masonic historians believed that the Grand Chapter had been formed in 1767.

The mystery can be traced back to the charter itself, which concludes with the statement that it was signed at the Turk’s Head tavern in Gerrard Street, Soho, on 22 July 1767. It wasn’t until masonic historian J R Dashwood examined the document in 1949, while preparing a paper on the first minute book of the original Grand Chapter, that evidence of tampering was discovered. Dashwood noticed that at the top of the document, in the recitals of the styles and titles of Lord Blayney, a capital P (standing for Past) had been inserted clumsily before the words Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons. At the other end of the document, it was equally clear that the original final digit of the year had been scraped off and been substituted in all cases, except the Anno Lucis (AL) date, with a seven. In the AL date the final digit had become a one.

One explanation is that despite the fact that many of its senior members were involved in the Royal Arch, the Premier Grand Lodge was not well disposed towards it and would not recognise it as part of its basic system. Dashwood argued that it would have been a huge embarrassment to them to have their current Grand Master, Lord Blayney, as a member. As head of the order, Blayney would have been one of the prime movers in turning a private chapter into a governing body as well as being the principal signatory to its founding document. On 22 July 1766, Blayney was still Grand Master, but by 22 July 1767 he had retired from that high office. Hence, Dashwood argued, the alterations were made to suggest that the events all took place after Blayney ceased to be Grand Master.

That theory appeared to meet with general acceptance until, in 1998, Freemason Yasha Beresiner gave a short talk on the charter in Supreme Grand Chapter. He queried whether, as most of them were involved in the chapter, the hierarchy of the premier would have been embarrassed by the events in July 1766. Beresiner theorised that it was more likely that once news got around that a new masonic order had been formed, and the Grand Master was at its head, their members would have flocked to join it.

A pious fraud

Another mystery is the twenty-one signatures on the left of the charter who attested that they accepted the terms documented ‘on the Day and Year above written’. Dashwood described this as ‘a pious fraud’. He had good reason for doing so as of the twenty-one signatories only the Earl of Anglesey was present in the chapter on 22 July 1766, having been exalted that evening. Of the remainder, more than two thirds had not been exalted at that date. The majority of them were exalted between 1767 and 1769.

While it is always satisfying to solve a mystery, in the great scheme of things does it really matter that the document was tampered with? Surely what is important is that the events of July 1766 took place and gave birth to the Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter, enabling members of the premier Grand Lodge to become involved in the Royal Arch.

Had it not existed, it could be argued that the ‘antients’ would not have had the numerical strength to persuade the premier Grand Lodge, in the negotiations leading to the of the two Grand Lodges in 1813, to accept the Royal Arch as a part of ‘pure antient masonry’. Had that not happened we would not have had our indissoluble link between the Craft and Royal Arch. And, very importantly, would have no reason to have a party in October 2013 to celebrate its bicentenary.

Published in SGC

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