Skip to content

B.5.5 The “Union” – Supreme Grand Chapter

By the end of the eighteenth century the rituals of the two competing Crafts were very similar and some good intentioned Masons worked for their union in peace and harmony under a single Grand Lodge. A few lodges went so far as to enter their candidates to the three basic degrees according to both systems, which required a double ceremony at each stage. A lodge in Lewes, Sussex, had even two Craft lodges, one of each kind, working at the same time. In addition there were a lot of visiting between Brethren of moderate lodges. In other words the time was ripe for a union of some sort and this happened in 1813 with the Royal Arch being an important factor in the negotiations, and in the settlement. Among the “Moderns”, most of the Grand Officers of the lodges were also members of chapters, but the official opposition to the Royal Arch still continued.

The “Antients” Grand Lodge promoted the cause of the Royal Arch in the negotiations, but they were careful not to give the “Moderns” any reason to pull out; they also consulted all the way the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. However the question of the Royal Arch does not seem to have been mentioned in the early discussions. For the “Antients”, this did not seem necessary as, from their point of view, Masonry included the three Craft Degrees and Royal Arch, and it was not necessary to mention specifically any of them. On the other hand the “Moderns” wanted to clarify the position of the Royal Arch in the Union. They still officially opposed it as an organisation, but most of them joined it on a personal basis. The majority of the Freemasons -“Antients” and “Moderns”- agreed that the Royal Arch Degree would be fully integrated in the Union and, finally, a compromise acceptable to both parts was found in November 1813. It was agreed that Masonry consists of three degrees (and no more), that is those of the Entered Apprentice, of the fellowcraft and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. In the same way that, after the Union, there was a United Grand Lodge, there was also a United Grand Chapter, a title that was changed in 1821 into “Supreme Grand Chapter”.

There is no mention of the Royal Arch in the Craft Constitutions of 1815-47 and it was necessary to wait until 1853 for a preliminary declaration, included in the preambles, that is still found in to day Constitutions. Representatives of the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland and England met in London in July 1814 in view of entering into an “International Compact”. But the uncertainty of the English Grand Lodge in relation to the Royal Arch made any agreement impossible. Royal Arch Masonry was in a kind of limbo in the period between the Craft Union of 1813 and the so-called Royal arch “Union” of 1817, and even for a few more years the situation was unclear as the Supreme Grand Chapter did not work. Each chapter and each lodge working the Royal Arch was left on its own after the Craft Union.

As a result of the Craft Union of 1813, the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England for formed in 1817 by the union of the Grand chapter of 1766 and the “Antients” so-called Grand Chapter of 1771. Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge had been given full power to negotiate this union, and new Constitutions were adopted on 15 April, 1817 but it took some time to have them published. All chapters registered before 27 December 1813 were automatically recognised by the United Grand Chapter if they were attached to a regular warranted Craft Lodge. Those chapters that were not attached to a regular Craft lodge had to do it as, in England, a Royal Arch Chapter cannot exist if it is not attached to and existing Craft lodge warranted by the Grand Lodge. In Scotland, Canada and United States the chapters are independent under their Grand Chapters. The act of Union did not authorise lodges to work the Royal Arch as it had been the case with the “Antients” lodges before although, since the 1790’s, even the “Antients” tried to restrict the making of Royal Arch Masons to the Chapters only. For some time after 1817 some chapters were reluctant to attach themselves to a lodge, and some others had difficulties to find a lodge that would accept them, as a lodge could only have one chapter attached to it. In 1822 ninety chapters were still unattached. In addition, some chapters working in Scotland under English charters granted before the Union could not attach themselves to any Craft lodge, were allowed to remain unattached. For many years the “Antients” lodges that had conferred Royal Arch Degrees continued to do so, and many chapters went on working without any warrant. The regulations of the United Grand Chapter of 1823 did not require anymore that a candidate for Exaltation must have the Installed Master qualification. It required only that the candidate should be a Master Mason of at least twelve months standing. Since 1893 this delay was reduced at four weeks as it is still now.

A revision of the Royal Arch Regulations was made in 1955-56 in order to adapt them to the present conditions, and to make them more compatible with the Craft Constitutions. The Order is managed by a representation from all private chapters on the register and by the Grand Officers, present and past, with the Three Grand principals at their head. It is called the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England and it meets every three months. First Principals, present and past, if still active members, represent the private chapters. In addition a Committee of General Purposes also meets quarterly and manages the finances of Grand Chapter, deals with applications for chapter, and acts as Board of General Purposes. To qualify to be elected as Grand Officers the candidates must be First Principals, present or past, of a chapter. The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, if an Installed First Principal, shall be the First Grand Principal, but if he has not these qualifications the First Grand Principal shall be elected annually. In the same way, and if qualified, the Pro Grand Master is the Pro First Grand Principal, and the Deputy Grand Master is the Second Grand Principal. If they have not the qualifications, the First Grand Principal appoints the two others. The Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge, the Grand Treasure and the Grand Registrar occupy, if qualified, the corresponding offices in the Royal Arch. The First Grand Principal appoints the other Officers. Grand Superintendents and Grand Inspectors are Grand Officers. A petition to the Grand Chapter for a charter for a new chapter must be signed by at least nine Royal Arch Masons and must be accompanied by a majority recommendation by the Master, Wardens and members of a regular lodge to which the proposed chapter will be attached. A complete chapter consists of three Principals, two Scribes, Treasurer, Principal Sojourner and his two assistants, and other Officers and Companions, making up the number of seventy-two. If they are more members then the members in excess may not hold the staff of office, or be considered as Councillors. The Officers of a chapter are appointed by the Principals, or elected according to the chapter’s rules, but the tree Principals and the Treasurer must be elected. The Installation and Investiture of Officers are laid down in the by-laws as imposed by the Grand Chapter Regulations. The precedence of the Officers is the following: the Three Principals, Scribe E. or Secretary, Scribe N., Treasurer, Director of Ceremony, Principal Sojourner, Assistant Sojourners, Assistant Director of Ceremony, Organist, Assistant Scribe E., Stewards and Janitor. A candidate for Royal Arch Masonry must have been a Master Mason for four weeks at least.

The “Antients”‘ rule stated that “not chapter shall be convened to exalt a candidate to the degree of Holy Royal Arch Mason unless six regular and registered Royal Arch Masons are present”. More recent rules, including the Grand Chapter Regulations of 1955-56, indicate that no exaltation can take place if the Tree Principals and at least six companions are not present, the quorum being nine.

A chapter of Instruction or Improvement is held under the sanction of a warranted chapter, or at the request of the First Grand Principal. Its proceedings must be in accordance with the Order’s Regulations. These chapters have a long story dating from at least 1783.