Honour and Friendships brush with history

Friday, 15 July 2022

It is surprising how a bit of research through the ancient minutes of a Lodge will throw up some interesting facts and prompt some additional research

Such was the situation when Jeremy Shaw was looking through some of the records of an earlier Lodge of Honour and Friendship of Blandford – predating the existing one by about 50 years. This showed the part played by the members of that Lodge, and others from surrounding Lodges, in paying a last sad tribute of respect following the death of the last Grand Master of the Antients.

HRH Edward Augustus, Duke of Kent and Strathearn was born in 1767, the 4th son and 5th child of HM King George III. Whilst training on the continent for his future military career, Edward Augustus was initiated into Freemasonry in 1789 in Lodge Union des Coeurs in Geneva. Two years later he was posted to Quebec where he became Provincial Grand Master of Lower Canada under the Ancient Grand Lodge of England.

In 1813 he was appointed as what was to become the last Grand Master of the Ancient Grand Lodge of England – elected, it is said, to help smooth the union of that body with the Premier (Moderns) Grand Lodge of England, headed by his younger brother HRH The Duke of Sussex and to form the United Grand Lodge of England in December of that year. At Edward’s behest, his brother, the Duke of Sussex was to become the first Grand Master of the new United Grand Lodge of England.

Few published histories of Edward Augustus make much mention of his Masonic career. However - apart from an episode whilst posted to Gibraltar in 1802, where his overly strict discipline, adherence to the book and fanatical attention to detail, rather than quell a mutiny, only made matters worse - much is written about the Duke in very favourable terms that will be familiar to all Freemasons. He must have learnt a lesson in Gibraltar, because after that time he is depicted as: an honourable man; a pious man; a humble man; he was an abolitionist; a philanthropist; he founded schools and hospitals; he preached tolerance of variation in religion; and he united opposing political parties in supporting charitable causes. He was clearly a man who took to heart the Masonic obligation of practicing out of the Lodge that which he was taught in it.

Following the birth of their daughter Princess Alexandria Victoria in May 1819, who was to become HM Queen Victoria. The Duke and Duchess of Kent, concerned about managing the Duke's great debts, sought to find a place where they could live inexpensively and incognito.  The coast of Devon was recommended where they leased a property: Woolbrook Cottage on the seaside by Sidmouth. 

However, soon afterwards, following a short illness, thought to be caused by not changing out of wet socks and boots after a walk in the rain, the Duke died of pneumonia on Sunday 23 January 1820. Only six days before his father, HM King George III, and less than a year after his daughter's birth.

Chroniclers of the time recorded that in every town through which the funeral pageant passed - on its journey from Sidmouth to Windsor - the utmost respect was evinced by the inhabitants; the shops were closed, the church bells rang and every respect was paid. And which brings me to the information identified by Jeremy Shaw from the ancient minutes from the first Lodge of Honour and Friendship.

As part of the journey, the Duke’s body was to stage in the Parish Church in Blandford overnight. The Brethren of the Lodge of Honour and Friendship obtained dispensation from the then Deputy Provincial Grand Master of Dorset, Thomas Parr, to hold an Emergency Lodge on Tuesday. February 8th, 1820,  '… to form a Procession to the Church to follow the remains of our Departed Brother, His Royal Highness the late Duke of Kent.' Unfortunately, the Brethren were 'prevented from performing the intended honours'. Therefore the Lodge Junior Deacon was dispatched to '… wait on the principal Undertaker and know at what hour the body of His Royal Highness will be removed in the morning, in order that the brethren may then form a procession from the Church to the Top of the Town.'

The following morning the Lodge being opened in form with solemn prayer – again with ‘dispensation’ - the Brethren accompanied by a number from Amity Lodge and other local Brethren – '… all dress’d in Mourning with White Gloves, the Jewels also being dress’d in Crape, the procession was arranged, and the Brethren preceded by a Band of Music went to the Parish Church of Blandford, and preformed the Grand Honours over the Remains of our Departed Brother, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent. The Brethren then preceded the Corpse, the Band playing Solemn Music, to the extremity of the Town, the Procession then passed by the Brethren, who then returned in the same Order to the Lodge Room.'

Thus the Brethren of Blandford paid their tribute of thanks to a highly respected Brother who helped pave the way to forming our United Grand Lodge of England.

Mark Hinsley Provincial Grand Director of Ceremonies

Lodge of Honour and Friendship No 1266

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