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E.3.2 The Grand Lodge of the Antients

Another Grand Lodge came officially in existence in 1751, although it claims to have existed since 1739. Its members believed that they followed a more ancient and purer form of Freemasonry. For this reason they wanted to be known as the “Antients”, and they called the followers of the first Grand Lodge, the “Moderns”, although it had been created before.

The apathy and neglect of the Premier Grand Lodge let to its inability to lead the Craft and, in addition, there were some differences of opinion concerning the ritual and the ceremonial. The Premier Grand Lodge went through a difficult period during the years 1730-1760, and the reputation of Freemasonry was low in England. Its Grand Masters neglected their duties, or were incompetent, and many lodges, more than a quarter of them, left for the “Antients”, died, or were thrown out of the Premier Grand Lodge. . As a consequence some dissident Masons created a rival Grand Lodge that was soon successful. In addition irregular “making” became common, very often against payment. This became possible following the edition of at least two documents (“A Mason’s Examination” and Prichard’s “Masonry Dissected”) explaining in great details the working of the Craft and allowing in this way anybody to initiate anybody willing to pay the requested fee.

Freemasonry spread rapidly in France, Ireland and Scotland and many of these “foreign” Masons came to England, and asked to join English lodges. Many had not been properly initiated and they brought new ideas, which had little to do with traditional Masonry. To detect these “false” Masons, the Premier Grand Lodge changed the mode of recognition in the First and Second degrees. These changes were not well accepted by many Brethren, and many left for the “Antients” Grand Lodge.

In the 1730′ there was some bad feelings between the Grand Lodge of England, on one hand, and the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland, on the other; the former treated the latter ones with condescension and was putting in doubt the regularity of the private lodges created by them. Moreover the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland approved the English Orthodox Masons opposed to the changes brought to the ritual by the Premier Grand Lodge. The angry Irish and Scottish Masons living in England did not like to be treated as second best Masons by their English Brethren, and they supported the creation of a rival Grand Lodge. Many English provincial and military lodges were also sympathetic to the “Antients” ritual and working. The Premier Grand Lodge also banned the processions so dear to the members of the Craft and this too led to much disaffection.

Finally five independent lodges formed the “Grand Lodge of the old institution” whose members were mostly middle class Irish, whereas the Premier Grand Lodge attracted mainly members of a higher social level. In 1751 this new organisation changed its title to “The Most Ancient and Honble Society of Free and Accepted Masons” and adopted its own rules and orders. The first one said that the Masters and Wardens of the “Antients Grand Lodge” must meet on the first Wednesday of every month. This rule was taken over by the United Grand Lodge after the Union of 1813. The “Antients” Grand Lodge was created officially on 17 July 1751 when its rules and orders were adopted. The official name of the “Antients” Grand Lodge became “The Most Antient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons”. Laurence Dermott compiled the Constitutions of the “Antients” fraternity in 1756 and called it “Ahiman Rezon” that can be translated as “the Brother’s Secret Monitor”.

The “Antients” said that the “Moderns” had:

– Transposed the mode of recognition of the first and Second Degrees.
– Omitted prayers.
– De-Christianised the ritual, Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723 being the proof.
– Ignored and neglected the Saints’ Days by holding their festivals on days that were not the days of St John.
– Omitted in some cases to prepare Candidates in the customary way.
– Abbreviated the ritual, in particular having neglected the so-called lectures, in fact catechisms, attached to each degree.
– Ceased to recite the Ancient Charges at Initiations.
– Introduced austerity in the ceremonies, in particular having no place for the sword in the Initiation ceremony (only the Tyler wore a sword).
– Allowed the esoteric ceremony at the initiation of a Master to fall into disuse.
– Departed from the ancient method of arranging the lodge.
– Ignored the Deacon.

The conflict between the two organisations lasted until the Union in 1813. The “Antients” proposed their Grand Master in 1761 to be the “Grand Master of Masons”, as the “Moderns” had done before and done again in 1766. Both Grand Lodges wanted to become the supreme Masonic authority in the world. Between 1768 and 1772 unsuccessful attempts were made to obtain a Charter of Incorporation from the Parliament for the Premier Grand Lodge. The failure was mainly due to the opposition of the “Antients”, and this led to a deterioration of their mutual relations.

Anderson in his Constitutions of 1738 mentioned the foreign lodges, but treated them as if they were subject to the English Premier Grand Lodge. This was not well received by the “Old” York Lodge and the national organisations in France, Ireland, Scotland and Italy. It is also doubtful if the English Premier Grand Lodge regarded these Grand Lodges as its equal. Anderson considered that all the other Grand Lodges owned allegiance to the English Premier Grand Lodge, forgetting that all the sister lodges, with the exception of the French one, were following the “Antients” ritual. When the “Antients” Grand Lodge was founded, both the Irish and Scottish Grand Lodges entered in alliance with it, respectively in 1762 and 1773 and they did not anymore regard the Premier Grand Lodge as the legitimate Masonic body in England. For both of them the “Antients” Grand Lodge represented the English Freemasonry and they followed very similar rituals and ceremonies.

Brethren who had been initiated, let us say, under the “Antients” Grand Lodge, and who wanted to join a “Modern” lodge, had to follow a procedure known as “Remaking”, as their new Grand Lodge regarded them as having been initiated in a irregular or clandestine manner. The opposite change required the same procedure too. A member of a Grand Lodge who participated to a meeting of a lodge affiliated to the other system could be excluded. Even a personal association with a Mason of the other system could be punished. “Remaking” has been known since the 1730’s, the “Irregulars” then being the members of Irish and other systems. With the growth of the Antients, remaking became a current procedure.

The “Antients” claimed to have close links with York Masonry, and this helped them to increase their influence as York was then considered, and it is still considered to day by many Masons, to be the home and origin of the “purest and most ancient of Masonic system.”

Most of the London lodges observed the instructions issued by the Premier Grand Lodge although not always without reluctance -for instance with the changes introduced in the recognition signs of the First and second Degrees. On the other hand, many provincial lodges, but also a few from London, ignored the changes. Many lodges started to explain to the initiates the differences between the “Antients” and the “Moderns”, and this led to some lodges to take a position half way between the two systems. These lodges, whose members were known as “traditioners”, were very involved in the future Union between the two conflicting bodies. The “traditioners” were loyal to their Premier Grand Lodge, but also to the ancient forms of Freemasonry that admits no innovation. A “Traditioner” lodge had Deacons, would accept “Antients” Masons as visitors, and would generally work also the Royal Arch Degree that is typically “Antients”. The spread of additional degrees in the eighteenth century was mainly due to “the “Antients” and “Traditioner” Masons. As a result a “Traditioner” lodge was nominally “Modern”, but fundamentally it was “Antients”.

The influence of the “Moderns” decreased but with the election of Lord Blayney, who had been initiated as an “Antient”, as Grand Master in 1764, things begin to change for the best and the power of the Premier Grand Lodge reached new heights. He did his best to reconciliate the two systems hoping, in the process, to erect the English Grand Lodge as the supreme Masonic authority in the world. Under Lord Blayney seventy-four new “Modern” lodges were created and he sponsored the Royal Arch Degree that had not been regarded as part of the Masonic system by the “Moderns”, even if they practised it unofficially. Most historians accept that Lord Blayney initiated the process of reconciliation that was led to its end by Thomas Dunckerley, another “Traditioner”.

By the end of the eighteenth century the main differences in the ritual and practices followed by the two systems had become minimal. A confluence of the two systems on a common base was by then seen as inevitable as the points in common increased and a compromise was on its way. In addition, the majority of the “Modern” Brethren preferred the “Antient” working. In other words, reconciliation was in sight but it only happened in 1813.