In the later part of the eighteenth century the two main Grand lodges of England, the “Moderns” and the “Antients” Grand lodges, began to collaborate and to establish some communication lines between themselves. Many “Moderns” lodges adopted a ritual very similar to that used by the “Antients”, and most moderate Masons on both sides worked to reach a compromise and to unite the two organisations.
At the time of the Union the number of “Antients” Masons in England and Ireland together was greater (although this was not the case in England alone) that the number of “Moderns” in England only. The situation was the same in the USA and Canada. In 1809 the “Moderns” created the Lodge of Promulgation that was, first, to promulgate the ancient landmarks and to explain to the Brethren the necessary alterations and, secondly, to constitute a committee to negotiate with the “Antients”. This committee analysed forms and ceremonies and suggested to adopt versions very close to those followed by the “Antients”. It also revised the first three degrees, the installation ceremony, and introduced the “Antients” function of Deacon in the “Moderns” lodges. This, in fact, brought the “Moderns” in line with the “Antients” practice as a prelude to the Union of the two bodies. The “Moderns” also cancelled all the changes they had introduced seventy or eighty years before. The Lodge of Promulgation declared that “the ceremony of Installation of Masters of Lodges is one of the two (or is it “true”) Landmark of the Craft, and ought to be observed”. The “Moderns” adopted the installation ceremony in 1810.
The Prince of Wales (future George IV) was Grand Master of the “Moderns” from 1790 to 1813; he resigned before the Union to be followed by his brother, the Duke of Sussex. The fourth Duke of Atholl had been the Grand Master of the “Antients” since 1791; he too resigned in favour of Edward, Duke of Kent. These two Royal Brothers presided over the two Grand Lodges at the time of their Union in November 1813. Among the twenty-one articles of the union treaty, one declared that pure ancient Masonry consisted of three degrees including the Royal Arch. A Lodge of Reconciliation, formed of Master Masons or Past Masters from each body, was created to unify the ritual and ceremonies of the new organisation.
The true union took place on St John’s Day, 27 December 1813 at Freemasons’ Hall. Grand Lodges of the “Moderns” and the “Antients” were opened in different rooms, then the procession entered the hall and the two Grand Masters took their place on each side of the throne. The Act of Union was read, ratified, and the Grand Chaplain proclaimed the creation of “The United Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of England”. The Act of Union was put inside the Ark of the Masonic Covenant in front of the throne. The Duke of Sussex was elected Grand Master, and other Grand Officers were appointed.
The Grand Masters of Masons in England, Ireland and Scotland, with their Grand Officers, constituted the membership of an International Conference held in London in 1814. The Lodge of Reconciliation remained alive until 1816 that is until it had finished its tasks and those started by the Lodge of Promulgation. In particular, it revised all the degrees and ceremonies, transmitted and explained the new instructions to the lodges. The ritual proposed by the Lodge of Reconciliation was adopted by the Grand Lodge; most of it was not binding on the lodges, except in regard to the Obligations in the First and Second Degrees and to the opening and closing of the lodges. No written or printed ritual has been approved by the United Grand Lodge, but it was expected that all the lodges would follow the same one, that is the ritual approved, but not written down, by the Grand Lodge in 1816. Most English lodges follow in fact the same ritual handed down from generation to generation of Brethren since the early nineteenth century. The Scottish Grand Lodge follows the same procedure as in England but the Irish’ imposes the ritual to be followed by all its lodges.
The slight variations in Masonic ritual between lodges always are matter of discussions, some lodges believing that theirs is the right one, and that the ritual used elsewhere is not. It must not be forgotten that the Lodge of Reconciliation only suggested a unified ritual that was transmitted orally to the lodges. That there are some variations between lodges is consequently normal, but these differences should nevertheless remain minimal. As a result there is not any orthodox ritual imposed word by word by the Lodge of Reconciliation.