With vision, energy and, above all, a sense of tolerance, the Duke of Sussex played a pivotal role in shaping modern Freemasonry
The Duke of Sussex, Grand Master from 1813 to 1843, is a towering figure in the history of English Freemasonry. Playing a pivotal role in the unification of the Premier and Antient Grand Lodges to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of his influence on Freemasonry.
Augustus Frederick was born a royal prince on 27 January 1773, the ninth of the 15 children of George III and Queen Charlotte. On 27 November 1801, at the age of 28, he was made Duke of Sussex by the King.
Augustus had a reputation for open-mindedness and was considered the most liberal of his siblings, being something of a social reformer. In opposition to the views of some of his older brothers, in particular the Duke of Cumberland, Augustus favoured Catholic emancipation. He was, despite his devout Christianity, a strong supporter of the Jewish community, too. He also lent his influence to promote various benevolent schemes and was once referred to as ‘the most charming beggar in Europe’.
Augustus was initiated into the Lodge of Victorious Truth in Berlin in 1798 while studying in Germany. He took rapidly to masonry, eventually occupying the Chair of his German lodge. Back in England, in 1800, Augustus joined his brother George’s Prince of Wales Lodge, now No. 259. The Duke joined the Lodge of Friendship, No. 6, in 1806 and Antiquity, No. 2, in 1808. In 1814, he was instrumental in the resuscitation and, later, amalgamation of several lodges to form Royal Alpha Lodge, No. 16 – which was the Grand Master’s personal lodge and remains so to this day.
BRINGING THE LODGES TOGETHER
In 1813, Augustus was elected Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge while his elder brother, the Duke of Kent, became Grand Master of the Antients, and they became involved in the completion of the negotiations for the unification of the two Grand Lodges.
The Articles of Union were finalised at the end of 1813 and on 27 December 1813, the Duke of Kent graciously stood aside for his younger brother to take the reins of the new Grand Lodge. Augustus remained Grand Master for 30 years until his death in 1843. He referred to the union of the two Grand Lodges as ‘the happiest event of my life’.
Augustus was a very hands-on Grand Master, resolving ‘to rule as well as to reign’. He attended meetings of the special Lodge of Reconciliation (1813-1816), personally chaired the Board of General Purposes and was involved in the detail of all of the major Board decisions. The Union did not proceed quite as smoothly as it might appear from our vantage point, 200 years further on. Indeed, Augustus faced significant resistance to the changes necessary to bring together two proud organisations with similar aims and ceremonies, but with important differences.
Demonstrating his independent thinking, he was the first royal to be buried in a public graveyard. After his death on 21 April 1843, and following the instructions recorded in his will, he was laid to rest in Kensal Green Cemetery in North London. Such a humble choice of burial place by a royal prince required the permission of Queen Victoria. He had been the Queen’s favourite uncle and gave her away at her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. The Spectator of 29 April 1843 wrote: ‘Her acquiescence in his selection of a place of burial may be received as an indication that she understood as well as loved him.’
Did you know?
The Duke was famed for his open-mindedness and liberal attitude, and he supported people of different religions
Did you know?
He was the first member of the royal family to be buried in a public graveyard – Kensal Green Cemetery in London
Words: Dr Lawrence Porter
The latest exhibition at the Library and Museum explores the history and development of the Holy Royal Arch Degree
Coinciding with the special October Convocation of Supreme Grand Chapter, Excellent Companions: Celebrating the Royal Arch opens on Great Queen Street in the same month. Among the objects that will be on display during the exhibition is this portrait, shown right, of Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (1745-1790), who was one of George III’s brothers.
The Duke of Cumberland was initiated in February 1767 at an ‘occasional’ lodge at the Thatched House Tavern, St James’ Street, and was installed as Master of the New Horn Lodge two months later. In 1771, after a short period in the Royal Navy – a career path decided by his brother – Cumberland married Anne Horton, a commoner, without the King’s consent. He and the Duchess were excluded from court but led an active social life.
Cumberland was elected Grand Master in 1782 and remained so until his death in 1790. He initiated his nephew, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), into Freemasonry in February 1787. In this portrait, Cumberland is wearing the robes and regalia of the Grand Patron of the Royal Arch, an office he held from 1774 to 1790, but which ceased to exist in 1813.
Among the many jewels that will be included in the exhibition is one designed by the renowned masonic jewel maker Thomas Harper. It was presented to Daniel Beaumont in 1800, the year that Beaumont was exalted in the Chapter of St James (now No. 2) in London. The exhibition runs from 14 October 2013 to 2 May 2014.
For more information visit the Library and Museum website
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.