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Freemasonry may be defined, in its wider interpretation, as covering a wide spectrum of activities and the whole of the subject in its many diverse forms. The Craft, on the other hand, within the general concept of Freemasonry, is what every individual has to experience in order to qualify as a full fledged Mason and it consists of just the first three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. All subsequent and additional degrees and orders are built on these three degrees and there is no obligation for any Freemason to advance beyond the three degrees of the Craft. This in spite of the fact that to enable a Mason to enjoy any degree or order beyond the Craft, it is necessary for him to have taken all of the first three degrees. This however, was not always the case. The Antients Grand Lodge formed in 1751 in competition to the existing and much older Premier Grand Lodge, soon advocated that ancient freemasonry comprised not of three but four degrees. They practised what they preached and for the best part of sixty years a goodly number of English Freemasons saw the Craft as consisting of four degrees, the fourth being the Royal Arch - not to be confused with the current 4th degree of the Installed Master, practised in South Australia!


The Emergence of the Antients

Organised freemasonry began with the establishment in London of the Grand Lodge of England, the first Grand Lodge in the world, on 24 June 1717. Although the event was totally ignored by the contemporary press, newspaper reports and exposures in the early part of the 18th century influenced much of our subsequent history. Within two decades into the activities of speculative freemasonry, things were not going at all well for the Craft. A series of anti-Masonic articles, particularly the repeated editions of an exposure by Samuel Prichard titled Masonry Dissected, first published in 1730, led to the clandestine making of masons. This allowed unauthorised persons to benefit from Masonic charity and caused considerable concern in Grand Lodge. Meanwhile the succession of Grand Secretaries who had been charged with running the Premier Grand Lodge was inadequate. The same Grand Officers held their posts year after year, the appointed Grand Masters, during this first half of the 18th Century, proved to be equally inefficient and Grand Lodge was not meeting regularly. Heads of the Craft rarely appeared at Masonic meetings. Lord Byron, just as one instance, was appointed Grand Master in April 1747. His five year Grand Mastership had been totally inactive as he had spent all of his time abroad. Freemasonry was at its lowest ebb and the advent of a new and competing Grand Lodge, that of the Antients, was as inevitable as it was expected.


On 17 July 1751 five lodges, whose membership consisted exclusively of Irish freemasons, met as a General Assembly at the Turks Head tavern in Greek Street, London and founded the Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Institutions. This became known as the Grand Lodge of the Antients.  The Antients were formed as a rival body to the existing Grand Lodge. Their strong Irish origins led them on a course of divergence of ritual and practice which was distinctly different and quite innovative. Within a year of its establishment, the new Grand Lodge was under the effective and almost exclusive control of its second Grand Secretary, Laurence Dermott. Dermott was a most extraordinary and accomplished Freemason. It appears that he genuinely believed in the legitimacy of the Antients and his scorn of the activities of the Premier Grand Lodge was unbounded and he successfully engineered dubbing them as ‘The Moderns’, a term that has remained in use to this day.


The Royal Arch as the 4th degree

In 1756, with the publication of the first edition of the Book of Constitutions of the Antients Grand Lodge headed Ahiman Rezon, a curious title that still defies definition, the emphasis that Laurence Dermott wished to place on this fourth degree of the Craft became apparent. The fourth degree was the Royal Arch - a degree that the Premier Grand Lodge refused to recognise in spite of the interest shown by many of its members. Quite clearly, Dermott’s emphasis on this fourth degree was an attempt to discredit the attitude of the Premier Grand Lodge. Ahiman Rezon, entirely composed and written by Dermott himself, includes a lengthy prayer dedicated to the Royal Arch, now being accepted as the fourth degree, after which he states:


Having inserted this prayer, and mentioned that part of Masonry commonly called the Royal Arch (which I firmly believe to be the root, heart, and marrow of masonry) I cannot forbear...


Through Ahiman Rezon, Dermott also ensured the appearance of a close link between the Antients and York Freemasonry. This is particularly manifest in the titles of the warrants issued by the Antients Grand Lodge.


The Rise and Adoption of the Royal Arch

The Royal Arch had its own separate development as a degree beyond the Craft before the formation of the Antients Grand Lodge. The Antients adopted the existing and separate order and incorporated it into their system as a fourth degree. There is no evidence to indicate how and when Royal Arch masonry began. The first we hear of the Royal Arch is in a pamphlet titled A Serious and Impartial Enquiry into the Cause of the present Decay in Free Masonry in the Kingdom of Ireland written by the Dublin based Dr Fifield Dassigny and published in 1744. In it he mentions that a Masonic impostor in Dublin claimed to be a Royal Arch Mason from York but he was discovered to be a fraud by a true Royal Arch Mason who had become a member of the Order in London.


Although there has been no evidence of early Royal Arch masonry in York, in London, however, contrary to the wishes of the Premier Grand Lodge, members of the Moderns are seen to be active in Royal Arch Masonry. It is this persistent reluctance of the Premier Grand Lodge to recognise Royal Arch Masonry that Dermott capitalises on. He could see that by placing sufficient importance on the antiquity of the Royal Arch, to the extent of incorporating it as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry of the Antients Grand Lodge, Dermott could further distance the Moderns from what could be interpreted as true ancient freemasonry.


‘Morgan’s  First Register’ & Antients Warrants  

In spite of the importance that Dermott placed in the Royal Arch as being part of the Craft, it would appear that the degree was not fully incorporated into the thinking of the Antients Grand Lodge for some years. Otherwise one would have expected to see the Royal Arch mentioned as the fourth degree in some of the early documents relating to the Antients Grand Lodge. The earliest of these is Morgan’s Register. At the time of its formation on 17 July 1751 the Grand Lodge of the Antients appointed John Morgan as its first Secretary. He remained in office for less than a year, having decided to take up a career as a seaman. He resigned from the Antients and his duties were taken over by Laurence Dermott. The first entry in the Register is dated 17th of July 1751 and begin with an alphabetic index to the Register followed by the Rules and Orders/ to be Observe’d/ By the Most Ancient and Hon’ble Society of/ Free and Accepted Masons. There are a total of 16 rules, in John Morgan’s handwriting, as formulated by the appointed committee on 17th July. Two additional rules by Laurence Dermott have been added and dated on the margin on 6th April and July 1st 1752, respectively. None of these extended rules refer to either a fourth degree or the Royal Arch.


The warrants of the Grand Lodge of the Antients are another source of early documents in which a mention of Royal Arch may be expected to be found. These were issued to the various individual Lodges. One would presume that if the Antients saw the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Freemasonry, which could be freely practised in the Lodges under its jurisdiction, than such authority should appear in the warrants granted to the lodges. But this is not the case. 14 September 1752 retroactive warrants dated 17th July 1751 were granted to five of the Antients lodges. They each begin with a declaration of the supposed sanction from the Constitutions granted by Prince Edwin in the year 924 and continue with the implicit statement that authority is given to Admit enter and make Masons according to the Ancient and honourable Custom of the Royal Craft.  Needless to point out that the Royal Craft mentioned has no connection to the Royal Arch. There is no mention of a fourth degree in any of the warrants of the Antients.


Evidence of a fourth degree

It is much later, after 1771, that evidence of the practice of the Royal Arch as the fourth degree surfaces in the minutes of Antients lodges.  The Lodge of Tranquillity number 185, for instance, was presented with its warrant together with the Lodge Book at its consecration in December 1787. The warrant, as expected, does not make any mention of the Royal Arch. The Lodge Book, however, sets out details of the certificates to be issued both to Master Masons and to a Master Mason who has been admitted to the Holy Royal Arch.  Furthermore, the Lodge minutes on October 15th 1792, record that it was proposed and agreed To call a Royal Arch Chapter for the purpose of Initiating the several Past Masters of the Lodge to the sublime degree of Royal Arch Masons. 


The Royal Arch, implied now to be part of Craft Freemasonry so far as the Antients Grand Lodge is concerned, is first mentioned by the Antients in relation to a bizarre incident. It is to be found in the second minutes of the Grand Lodge, selected parts of which read as follows:


Grand Committee at the Griffin Tavern Holborn

March 4. 1752

Brother John Gaunt Master of No.5. In the Chair


The following Brethren viz Thomas Figg ...... Made formal complaints against Thomas Phealon and John – Macky, better known by the name of the leg of Mutton Masons.... both impostors in Masonry. That upon examining some brothers whom they pretended to have made Royal-Archmen, The parties had the least Idea of the secret.....Nor had Mackey the least idea or knowledge of Royal Arch Masonry. But instead thereof he had told the people whom he deceived, a long story about 12 white Marble stones &c &c and that the Rain Bow was the Royal Arch with many other absurdities equally foreign and Rediculous. The Grand Committee Unanimously agreed and ordered that neither Thomas Phealon nor John Mackey be admitted into any Ancient Lodge during their natural lives.


The most striking aspect about this report – which, as stated, is the first mention of the Royal Arch among the Antients - is the coincidence of the circumstances and wording with those used by Dr Fifield Dassigny in 1744. In his A Serious and Impartial Enquiry… Dassigny says that a certain Masonic Charlatan or ritual monger had professed to be a Master of the Royal Arch but was only an impostor who propagated a false system and who preached a ritual that was a ridiculous innovation. In considering this comparison we need to bear in mind that the Antients derived their inspiration and much more from Ireland. That the minutes referred to above were written by Dermott himself, who had subscribed to the 1744 edition of Dassigny’s Disquisition, and was himself made a Royal Arch Mason in Dublin in 1746. Furthermore Dassigny is quoted verbatim by Dermott in Ahiman Rezon, the Constitutions of the Antients first published in 1756. The coincidences are too many to be insignificant.


The Royal Arch is mentioned, somewhat infrequently, on various occasions and always as the most essential and important part of Craft Masonry, though the evidence of its actually being practised is not prevalent. There is one interesting and well-known mention of the Royal Arch in the minutes up to the end of the decade.  It is a reference of an indirect nature, though frequently quoted and of a well publicised incident. It appears as a foot note by Dermott to the minutes of the emergency meeting of Grand Lodge on 16 December 1759. The memorandum follows on the report in the minutes where a petition was heard from one William Carroll a Certified Sojourner in distress. Dermott’s memo, in the form of a post script to the minutes, states:


The private collection made for Carroll above mention’d amounted to five Guineas: It appeared that William Carroll a Certified freemason of Dublin petitioned the Modern Masons (not knowing any difference) and that Mr Spencer then Secretary to the Modern Society sent out the Answer to Carroll’s petition in the following words viz. ‘Your being and Ancient Mason, you are not entitled to any of our Charity the Antient Masons have a Lodge at the five Bells in the Strand, & their Secretary’s name is Dermott. Our Society is neither Arch, Royal Arch or Antient so that you have no Right to partake of our Charity’. The petitioner Carroll delivered the original paper Written by Mr Spencer to Mr Dermott G S in whose custody it remains.


This original paper Written by Mr Spencer to Mr Dermott is now lost. Clearly it has not been quoted in full in the minutes. Its exact content, considering Dermott’s antagonism toward the Moderns, may well reveal more than is apparent on the surface or can be deduced from Dermott’s record of the minutes of 16 December 1759 or his quotation from the letter in the later editions of Ahiman Rezon.


There is surprisingly little material relating to the Royal Arch in the various editions of Ahiman Rezon. One may attribute this to the simple fact that there was a lack of qualified Masons who had achieved this fourth degree. At the time of the release of the Constitutions in 1756 there were an estimated 500 members of the Antients belonging to some 30 Lodges. It would appear that there was no more than just a handful of Royal Arch Masons among them. The insistence by the Antients Grand Lodge on the need of a Master Mason to have been the Master of his Lodge as a prerequisite to the Royal Arch made it all the more difficult to attain this fourth and sublime degree.


Royal Arch in context

The present Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England, had its formal beginnings at a meeting at the Turk’s Head in London on the 12 of June 1765 when Companions of the E G & R C commonly called The Royal Arch (met) in full Chapter assembled. A year later, in July 1766, Lord Blayney, than Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge, entered into a Charter of Compact with a number of Brethren of his own Grand Lodge, the Moderns, to form the Society of Royal Arch Masons under the Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter.  With the establishment of this Grand Chapter by members of the Moderns Grand Lodge, Dermot would have clearly been disconcerted at the initiative, with regard to the Royal Arch, being taken away from him. Something had to be done. Greater Royal Arch activity among the Antients finally led to that great anomaly in our Masonic history, the formation in 1771 of a separate Antients Grand Chapter. This was a contradiction in terms. If the Antients saw the Royal Arch as the fourth degree of Craft Masonry why should there be a need for a separate body to administer the Royal Arch? Clearly, this was an attempt to give an appearance of a separately controlled Order to counteract the actions of the members of the Premier Grand Lodge who had established their own Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter. An Antients Grand Chapter never existed as such. What did happen is that at the Quarterly Communication of the Antients Grand Lodge on 4 December 1771, when significant resolutions were adopted with regard to the conduct of the Royal Arch in the future, a committee called the General Chapter was created. It met on 3rd January 1772 and confirmed the resolutions adopted by Grand Lodge. The General Chapter was a Committee and nothing more, under the control and jurisdiction of the Antients Grand Lodge. It took on the responsibilities of a Grand Chapter but with very limited powers, authorised by the Grand Lodge itself. Grand Chapter Officers were never appointed nor were there any separate finances or a separate Treasurer.


In considering Royal Arch activities within individual Antients’ Lodges, we need to bear in mind again that as the fourth degree in Craft masonry, the exaltation took place in Craft Lodges and was not worked in independent separate Chapters. In this context it is interesting to analyse the content of Register of Members of the Royal Arch (Antients’). This important and first detailed record of the Royal Arch activities of the Antients Grand Lodge also lists the names and exhaltation dates of members of the Royal Arch in 1783. There are a total of only 37 names listed covering the period from 1746 to 1783. Whilst too much emphasis should not be placed on the completeness of this listing, the overall indication remains apparent. That is that in 1783, when the Register was began, there were a significantly limited number of mason who had taken the fourth degree in Freemasonry and achieved the standing of Royal Arch Masons.


Rules & Regulations 1794

The Royal Arch, established as the fourth degree by the Antients Grand Lodge, only began to gain momentum from about 1771 onward. These activities culminated at a meeting of the General Grand Chapter, in the form mentioned above, held at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on 1st October 1794. At this meeting the new Rules and Regulations, confirmed by Grand Lodge on 3rd December 1794, were introduced. 


The full title reads:


Rules and Regulations /for the /Introduction to and Government/of the /Holy Royal Arch Chapters, /under the protection and supported by /The Ancient Grand Lodge of England, /made at several times.  /Revised and Corrected at a General Grand Chapter, held at the Crown and Anchor /Tavern, in the Strand, London, October 1, 5794. /Confirmed in Grand Lodge, December 3, 1794.


     The first two clauses state:

ANCIENT MASONRY consists of Four Degrees. --- The Three first of which are, that of The APPRENTICE, The FELLOW CRAFT, and the Sublime Degree of MASTER; and a Brother being well versed in these Degrees, and having discharged the Offices of his Lodge, particularly that of Master, and fulfilled the Duties thereof with the Approbation of the Brethren of his Lodge, is eligible, if found worthy, to be admitted to the Fourth Degree, The HOLY ROYAL ARCH.


It follows, therefore, of course, that every regular Warranted Lodge possesses the Power of forming and holding Lodges in each of those several Degrees; the last of which, from its Pre-eminence, is denominated among Masons a Chapter.


These two statements, that Antient Freemasonry consists of four degrees and that every craft lodge may exalt Royal Arch Masons, concepts in practise for decades, are now affirmed for the first time in 1794, as the official policy of the Antients Grand Lodge. This regulation is the first to give a written, clear and blatant authority to Craft Lodges to conduct and confer the fourth degree. There is no earlier written identification of the Royal Arch as the fourth degree in any document or source material.



By now several more editions of Ahiman Rezon had been published following on the second one in 1764. The 4th edition in 1787 was the last to be published during Dermott’s lifetime. In the 1800 edition of Ahiman Rezon, the 1794 rules and regulations appeared verbatim.  It is significant, however, that in the next 7th edition published in 1807, both the heading and opening clauses have been altered. The title now states:


Laws and Regulations /for the /Instruction and Government /of the /Holy Royal Arch Chapters,/Under Sanction of the Grand Lodge of England, / according to the old Constitutions. /His Grace the Duke of Atholl, Grand Master. /Revised, approved and amended in General Grand Chapter, /

at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, Strand, /London, 1st April 1807.


and the opening clause has the following words omitted: and having discharged the Offices of his Lodge, particularly that of Master, and fulfilled the Duties thereof with the approbation of the Brethren of his Lodge it reads:


Antient Freemasonry consists of four Degrees – The three first of which are, that of Apprentice, the fellow Craft and the sublime degree of Master; and a Brother being well versed in these degrees and otherwise qualified is eligible to be admitted to the fourth degree, the Holy Royal Arch.


Thus, from 1807 onward, the requirement by the Antients Grand Lodge that only a duly installed Past Master is qualified to take the fourth degree and become a Royal Arch Mason, is disposed of. There is an element of irony in that aspects of the Royal Arch as a fourth degree, that Laurence Dermott emphasised through his life, only materialised as formal, written policy of the Antients four years after his death and more than four decades after the set up of the Antients Grand Lodge.


In the latter part of the 18th century, as the possibility of a union was beginning to become apparent, Royal Arch activity increased and took on a greater significance. Whilst the Premier Grand Lodge continued with its obstinate refusal to recognise the Royal Arch in any form, the Antients were vindicated by the terms of the Union of the two Grand Lodges in December 1813. Although there was no question of continuing with the Royal Arch as a separate fourth degree in Carfy Freemasonry, on the sole insistence of the Antients, the oft-quoted opening paragraph to our Constitutions, the General Laws and Regulations, was inserted as follows:


By the solemn Act of Union between the two Grand Lodges of Free-Masons of England in December 1813, it was ‘declared and pronounced that pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more viz., those of the entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch’.


Quite a unique situation and a permanent reminder of the importance of the fourth degree, the Royal Arch, to the Antients Grand Lodge.




Adams, Cecil  Ahiman Rezon, the Book of Constitutions' AQC 46, 1936

Batham, Cyril N The Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Constitutions

The Prestonian Lecture for 1981

Dashwood, J R (Ed) Early Records of the Grand Lodge of England According to the

Old Institutions Quatuor Coronatorum Antigrapha – London Volume XI

Jones, Bernard E Freemason’s Book of the Royal Arch London 1957