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A History Of Mark Masonry
EARLY HISTORY - MARK MASONRY BEFORE 1813
The use of marks by operative stone masons was discussed in Part 1 of this history series, together with mason organisations and grades. Foundations, also, were laid to demonstrate that these organisations and grades had associated ceremonies.
This module will show the development, in relevant countries, of speculative Masonry and its Mark ceremonies.
"It is quite certain," writes Cryer (1996:32) "that when a revised and modified Masonry was founded in the early years of the Eighteenth Century there were many essential points in Operative Masonry which were not carried over into the newer rituals..." That is, the ‘Moderns’ - the English Grand Lodge founded in 1717 - adopted only the Craft degrees, and ignored the Mark and other degrees.
Ward (1921:87) writes that operatives had seven degrees. Two of these, Fitter and Marker, and Setter and Erector, equate to the two Mark degrees usually found in early speculative lodges, Mark Man and Mark Master. The Mark Man was associated with Fellow Crafts and Mark Master with Masters. Ward states that "...the working of these two degrees is very similar to our own ritual, save that the legend is not given, but is included as an incident in the Annual Drama lodges staged." The ‘drama’ consisted of operative lodges taking part in a public procession and enacting some aspect of their profession, perhaps that to do with their patron saint.
Ward cautions that later operative ritual - Eighteenth Century on - may have in part stemmed from speculative ritual. This must always be borne in mind, although Cryer (30-31) points out that, if this were the case, (1) where did the speculatives get their ritual? (2) Operative ritual has material not used by speculatives and (3) the speculative material ‘is much more logically explained’ when set in the ‘later Operative’s scheme’.
The rejection and discarding of stones, at least, can be physically shown to have existed with olden masons. In Germany a hoary custom is recorded, where if a stone was spoiled the stone mason was punched and the stone ceremoniously carried to a ‘charnel house’. Just such a depository, 3.5 metres in depth, has been found near Regensburg Cathedral, Bavaria, which was built 1275-1530.
In 1931 the United Grand Lodge of England published an historical note saying that the ritual of the first and second degrees came from the ‘early Operatives’. Cryer (31) is of the opinion that one should add to this the third degree and the Mark.
This study examines the Mark’s progress in Accepted Freemasonry. This is in two part -
In Scotland both operatives and speculative Masons had to have a mark. The historian Newton (1964:287) writes:
"The use of a Mark by every brother of a Scottish Lodge was essential. The Register of Marks was kept with the greatest regularity, probably because Scottish Lodges retained
their operative character long after English lodges had become wholly speculative."
Newton also wrote (287), and it is worth giving it in full, that:
"... it is to Scotland I think we must look for the birthplace of the Mark Degree as a
speculative working. There are now Lodges north of the border practising speculative Masonry whose records show them to be direct descendants of operative Lodges existing
from ancient times. In 1865 a report prepared by a special committee was presented to
the Grand Chapter of Scotland which stated:
"In this country from time immemorial and long before the institution of the
Grand Lodge of Scotland (1730) what is now known as the Mark Master’s
Degree was wrought by the operative Lodges of St John’s Masonry..." "
In the Nineteenth Century the Glasgow masons had two classes of lodges, one for apprentices, and one for fellows - these latter had an overseer as their master. They said that they were (Cryer:41) simply following the practice of the Glasgow Cathedral builders of some time prior to 1550. (The St Mungo Cathedral was built in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries).
The first Schaw Statutes, 1598, stipulated that Fellow Crafts - and Masters - must enter their name and mark in the lodge book whenever they attended. This rule merely followed a much older one. To put this time into some perspective; Francis Drake had recently returned to England, in 1580, after a voyage of circumnavigation begun in 1577.
The earliest extant minutes of the (then operative) Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary’s Chapel), 31 July 1599, are affirmed by its Warden, who placed his mark to them (wardens were then the ‘masters’ of Scottish lodges). The further minutes of that year note the presence of a number of non-operative masons, together with their marks.
The lodge of Aitchison Haven, in 1603, registered the mark of an entrant Fellow.
Moving on to 1670, the Lodge of Aberdeen records 49 signatures, only two without marks (perhaps they forgot?), one quarter being operatives. The non-operatives included several nobles.
The famous Mother Kilwinning Lodge (Springett, 1946:14) has a 20 Dec 1674 record of a John Smith being admitted and paying for his mark. William Montgomerie received his mark and promised to pay for it. In 1678 two apprentices paid for and ‘got their mark’, and Lord Cochrane, Warden, appended his mark to the entry.
Cryer (1996:115) classes English Mark ritual into three main ‘families’, those deriving from -
‘Harodim’ was the name given to operative Craft rulers or Masters, as well as Past Masters. Lectures were mainly in rough verse (this can still be experienced by members of the Royal Order of Scotland). With their material, argued Cryer (117-118), ‘who needed to make up new ritual content?’. The similarities between operative and speculative points are many.
A 1352 statute of Edward III, often referred to by Masonic historians, but usually discounted as almost meaningless, is never-the-less the first official English record of the term ‘freemasons’. It acknowledges the existence of operative mason ‘guilds’.
The age was loaded down with ignorance, superstition, bigotry and despotism. Most cathedral planners, architects and builders, however, seem to have been more clearsighted. They were men of practical science. They had to get their work right. For those lower down the scale, for the ‘hands on’ men, however, strong, clear, distinct and emphatic rules were needed. Standing orders would need to be intrinsically known - for the illiterate best achieved by ritual. To underpin the stability of the team standing order ritual would doubtlessly include personal decency guidelines.
The Lodge of Hope 302 Moderns, at Bradford, Yorkshire, claims that it was warranted by the York predecessor of what was later named ‘The Grand Lodge of all England, York’, in 1715, and that it had worked a Mark ceremony from that time. This it continued to work up to the Union of 1813; and thereafter claimed it had a right to continue working.
The kingdom continued to have leadership problems. Queen Anne died in 1714. A Protestant was required - the best heir, although a little distant, was George Louis, ‘Elector of Hanover’. Brought over he became George I. In 1727 he was succeeded by George II. The Georges were far from popular, but the system rolled on. Upon George II’s death in 1760 he was succeeded by his son, George III. The Masonic point is that the Hanovarians were continually challenged by the previous Royal Dynasty, the Scottish Stuarts, who had become Catholic, and two types of Freemasonry were in being.
The early English type had been partly developed from that brought from Scotland by the court of the Stuart King, James I, in 1603. James was a speculative Freemason, being initiated in the Scottish lodge Scoon and Perth in 1601 (Scottish GL Year Book 1990:50). With the Hanovarians in power in 1714, and a war with Scotland, the Scottish type of Freemasonry was no longer popular in London, and a pro-royalist (Hanovarian) system was initiated in 1717.
Ireland has a crowded recent history of invasions - by Vikings, Normans and then the English.
In 1596 the English ‘pacified’ Catholic Ireland, but insurrections followed. The conquest was completed in 1603, the English fearing that otherwise one of their old enemies, for example Spain or France, would gain control of the island, and so outflank them. In 1649 Cromwell stormed into Ireland to make the control clear. All these English-related upsets to the populace happened in early speculative Masonic times. Freemasonry was caught up in all.
However, as did England and Scotland, Ireland had had old mason lodges and similar. The English brought in newer influences. Cryer (43) reports Crowly, on early Irish Masonry, in 1897 writing that, "We can safely hold it as proved that the speculative history of today is the continuous and natural development of the Operative Masonry of the medieval Guilds."
Cryer (43) notes that as early as 1688 operative lodges were known to have admitted speculatives.
It is known that Trinity College, Dublin, had a speculative lodge. A 1688 record lists every Freemason there who received his mark.
England began settling North America in 1607 (Virginia), with various Spanish, French and Dutch settlements preceding. Early English settlements were of a deliberate kind, one driving force being to place Protestants in the New World, as a counter to the Catholic Spanish. Some were of the Puritan type, and some Freemasonry was involved, but the details are now lacking.
Freemasonry developed in North America early in its European settlement history. The state of the Mark prior to 1717, however, appears to be unknown.
As Europeans moved across the globe in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries Freemasonry went with them. This applied particularly to the British and French.
Again, knowledge of Mark ceremonies prior to 1717 appears to be lacking.
A by-law of Lodge Doric Kilwinning, 1758, states the cost of being ‘admitted’ an ‘Entrid Apprentice’, ‘passint to a felow Craft’, ‘Raising to Master’ and ‘made a Mark Master’. Cryer (42-3) thinks this suggests a Mark ceremony.
Gould (1955-1971:58) writes that from about the start of the 1760’s it is ‘evident’ that Scotland had two Mark ceremonies, Mark Man for the Fellow Craft, and Mark Master for Masters. Cryer agrees, noting a reference to a ‘distinct Mark degree’ at the Journeyman Lodge of Dumfries, Mark Master, in 1770. St John’s Operative Lodge at Banff also preserves a record, 1778, of a Mark working.
A crisis occurred in 1788, when Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, died in France. It will be recalled that he was the grandson of the Catholic James II, deposed in 1688. Charles Edward had a son. By this time, however, the great majority of Scots were Presbyterians, and feared having a Roman Catholic king. Although unhappy with the Georges, these were seen as the lesser evil - for the Scots the Stuart wars were over.
In 1895 a Scottish Freemason article (Handfield-Jones 1969:169) outlined the earliest forms of the Mark degree known to researchers. These were (1) ‘Fellow Craft Mark’, (2) ‘Mark Master’ (for Masters), (3) ‘Fugitive Mark’ (for RA Companions), and (4) ‘A Hint to Wayfarer’ or ‘Christian Mark’, for Knight Templars.
By 1800-odd unattached Scottish chapters or lodges of Royal Arch Masons, says Grantham (5), were definitely working extra degrees, including Mark varieties. Knight Templar encampments, meeting by ‘inherent right’, or warranted from Ireland, were also working them.
By this time, writes Cryer (170), lodges were opening in the Fellow Craft Degree and then working a Mark degree ‘much the same as it is today’, only with extras. The Early Grand Scottish Rite was then working the ‘Fellow Craft Mark’ as its fifth degree, and ‘Marked Man’ as its sixth.
At Kinrosshire as early as 1790 ‘The Mark or Chairmaster’s Degree’ was practised. A similar form was noted in the Edinburgh Defence Band when, in 1842, the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland decided to warrant ‘Chair Master Lodges’. This form of the Mark apparently restored old operative practices previously not worked.
The French Revolution began in 1789, apparently helped along by many Masonic nobles. These were anxious to see a more equitable French society. However, the revolution was not ended by them - aspiring lower classes took it over and many nobles, including those bent on reform, were guillotined. Together with the subsequent seethings in Ireland, the English Establishment feared a similar revolution in Britain. They brought in the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799. High level intervention saw Freemasonry exempted, but reports still had to be made. In Scotland the Craft
Grand Lodge took on the task (Grantham:14) and had to define what had to be done. In 1800 it resolved that the ‘Three Great Degrees of Masonry’ were Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason. Craft lodges, under strict penalty, were forbidden to work any other degree. Theoretically the Mark was dead in St John (Craft) lodges.
However, many lodges ignored Grand Lodge. In Edinburgh, probably as a way around the problem, St Stephen’s Lodge founded the ‘Society of Royal Arch Masons and Knight Templars of Edinburgh’. It gathered homeless degrees and in 1811 became the principal founder of the ‘Royal Grand Conclave of Knight Templars for Scotland’ (Grantham:5). Amongst others it fostered the Mark.
Thus, as Scotland entered the nineteenth century, Mark ceremonies were widely scattered and under various ‘protectors’, including disobedient St John lodges, the Royal Arch, Knight Templars and the new Grand Conclave.
1717 marks the year some London lodges took it upon themselves to form the "Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons under the Constitution of England". This began to claim sovereignty over speculative lodges all over England and Wales. It also took it upon itself to discount all degrees except the Craft.
Many lodges resisted joining, some for a very long time. When the Grand Lodge sent out to collect old Masonic documents many were burned. We know almost nothing of the extent to which the Mark, as undoubted used in old English operatives lodges - see previous section - was used speculatively. However, after 1717 information, at first sketchy, begins to appear.
York, close to Scotland, is said to have a long Masonic history, but this cannot be proven. However one of the old York lodges, outraged at London’s move to control all English lodges, in 1725 formerly constituted "The Grand Lodge of All England, held at York." It claimed to be an old authority, but outside Yorkshire was almost unknown. Becoming dormant from 1740 to 1761, and extinct in 1792, it never-the-less had a strong influence on English - and American - Freemasonry. Apparently the Mark had been worked at York for a long time. Draffin (1954:90) wrote, "The Mark Degree was regularly worked under the authority of the Grand Lodge (of All England), meeting from time immemorial at York." Springett (15) adds the ‘Midland Counties’ to Yorkshire.
1730 is taken by Masonic scholars as the ‘turning point for ceremonial matters’ (Jones, 1950:165), with the publishing of an exposure, Pritchard’s Masonry Dissected. One result was the London Grand Lodge, later called by some the ‘Modern’ Grand Lodge, tightening up on various degrees other than Craft being worked in its lodges. Some Modern lodges defied their Grand Lodge and worked the Mark ‘underground’,
It is recorded that Union Lodge, Norwich, East Anglia, in 1732 worked the Royal Arch, Knight Templars, Ark and Mark degrees. Mark Masonry, says Cryer (84) now began to ‘flourish’ in Southern and South Western England. The Marquise of Granby Lodge, Durham (near Scotland) in 1733 made a Mason a Marked Mason, then a Master Mason and, finally, a Mark Mason.
These were not ordinary times. 1733 saw the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with John Kay’s patenting of the flying shuttle loom. In the same year Charles Edward Stuart, the ‘Young Pretender’, landed in Scotland from France, and led an army as far south as Derby before retreating. Wanting the throne of England back for his family, the stand-off came to a head in 1746, when the Scots were decisively defeated at Culloden. This was to add to later Scottish-English Masonic problems.
In 1751 those Masons who found the ‘London’ Grand Lodge to be much faulted, including its aversion to non-Craft degrees, formed "The Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons". Because they claimed to abide by the ancient traditions they became known as the ‘Antients’. The Scots and the Irish agreed with them, their Grand Lodges dropping relations with the Moderns and recognising the Antients. The Antients encouraged their lodges and Royal Arch chapters to work further degrees, including Mark degrees.
By now many military regiments had their own lodges, which moved with them. The great majority had Irish warrants, with the Scots later issuing some. The Moderns only joined in 1775, restricting membership to officers. They issued few. As the regiments moved around Britain and the British territories, including America - and later Australia - they spread ‘Antient’-type Freemasonry, including the Mark.
An important form of Masonry found in England’s north-west was the Harodim - ‘chiefs’ - system. As practiced in the Phoenix Lodge at Sunderland - not far from the Scottish border - in 1756 it was a series of lectures given to Past Masters. It covered aspects of a range of degrees, including Mark, Ark and Link. It seems, says Cryer (54) to have been a ‘part of the old Trade Guild System’.
In that same year, 1756, a lodge at Newcastle - placed even closer to Scotland - ‘made’ a Mark Mason, without him paying the fee of ‘one Scots Mark’. Up until then its members had been ‘receiving’ a mark. It seems that a Scottish-type Mark ceremony had been introduced. This was also the year that the British gained control of India; the regimental lodge scope to spread Masonry, with the Mark, was expanded. It moved, also, with great force to Canada in 1753, when the British wrested Quebec from the French.
In 1769 a major Mark event occurred on 1 September when Thomas Dunkerly, an illegitimate son of George 11, brought a fully fledged two degree Mark system to Portsmouth, on the southern English coast. These were Mark Man and Mark Mason - or Master. By great fortune - almost an miracle -MS copies of his degrees have recently come to light. Cryer (77) is almost certain that Dunkerly obtained these degrees from the Inniskilling Dragoon’s lodge. Mostly of the Royal Arch Chapter
Friendship, which was associated with the Phoenix Lodge, were Irishmen. It held an Antient’s warrant, and one from York.
Dunkerly delivered the two Mark degrees to the Chapter. Both the Lodge and he were Moderns, but they were liberally minded. The minutes of the meeting are the first in England to give a clear notation on the Mark.
The American Revolution, 1775 to 1783, historically proven to have had a strong Masonic influence, was to help lead American Masonry even further from the official English Modern’s system.
Until about 1780 most of the English Mark meeting consisted of a lecture, given as a catechism between the Master and the Senior Warden. This was to change. By 1793, also, Dunkerly, then in his 70’s, was concurrently Provincial Grand Master of eight provinces, and Royal Arch Grand Superintendent of 18. He thus had ample opportunity to spread the further degrees, including Mark.
By at least 1780 all Antient lodges and many Modern chapters were working further degrees, with the Mark an important one. Minerva Lodge, Hull, founded in 1782, for example records 30 years from then of working the Mark. Some lodges began to keep a register of marks.
A development occurred in Wiggan, close to the Scottish border, when a Modern’s lodge, Tranquillity, in 1785 began to record separate Mark lodge meetings. We see an end form of this in South Australia, where the Duke of Leinster Lodge, 363 IC, holds separate Mark meetings, exactly as if they were those of an independent body. However, they are just separate meetings of the craft lodge. More closely, they are an integral part of the Leinster’s Holy Royal Arch Chapter; which itself holds separate meetings. But the one set of Leinster officers work all three orders. By a step system, all the business of the Mark, including financial, is done by the Chapter. All the Mark element does is keep discrete minutes.
England was now going through the throes of grave problems. George 111 had a mental illness and there was a regency crisis. The French Revolution, breaking out in 1789, saw the Reign of Terror of 1793-4, which frightened the middle and upper classes. Then Napoleon emerged, with all his threats to the world balance of power. Freemasonry managed to get itself exempted from the Unlawful Societies Act of 1797, but every lodge had to report on each meeting, with the names of those attending, to local authorities. That, in fact, was one of the tasks of the Junior Deacon, and explains the wording still used today. This reporting tended to put a damper on ‘extra’ meetings.
Various forms of Mark workings are known to have now been dispersed across the country. Interest was spurred by a William Finch (Cryer 127-8), who began publishing in 1801. He brought forward Mark lecture details, for example, which gave a prod to future Mark directions.
British power, backed by the growing Industrial Revolution, kept growing. Nelson defeated a combined Spanish-French fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. In the following year the British took the Cape of Good Hope. Armed services lodges had even greater opportunities to spread Freemasonry, including the Mark.
‘Travelling Mark Lodges’ were beginning to do the same in England. It is known that one, probably from Cheshire (Cryer 94-5) went to Dunkerfield, Lancashire, in 1808, and at a combined meeting instructed members from five local Craft lodges on how to work the Mark.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland was founded circa 1725 - the early records are lost. The workings of its lodges were of the scope and style encouraged by the later Antient’s Grand Lodge. That meant that Craft lodges could work any degrees they wished - including the Mark.
In the late 1700’s ‘Arch’ and ‘Royal Arch’ degrees in Ireland were quite different (Cryer:47-8). The Arch was a form of early Mark, into which title the name eventually evolved.
A certificate of 1775 of the Knight Templars at Kinsale designated the recipient as a Mark Man.
In 1781 the Grand Lodge of Ireland constituted ‘The Early Grand Encampment’ to facilitate the working of ‘higher degrees’. This body recognised and encouraged old practices, even ‘restoring’ some. The Mark benefited.. By 1805 it had issued 32 warrants, including some in Scotland and England.
Severe Irish troubles continued. Drawing spirit from the French Revolution the Irish, almost all of whom were Roman Catholic, wanted to break away from Protestant England. The Eighteenth Century’s last decade saw Ireland racked with violent internal struggles, mainly between the dominant Protestants, who were royalists, and the Catholic republicans. A bitter rebellion in 1798 was put down. France landed supporting troops, fruitlessly. Alarmed, England passed an Act of Union in 1801. Such was the background of turn-of-the-century Irish Freemasonry.
Some Irish Craft lodges continued to work the Mark, even though the Grand Encampment was now supposed to control it. ‘Old Lodge 611’, for example, at Glasslough, County Monaghan, (Cryer 106-7), has 1802-15 minutes showing that it worked many degrees, including ‘Ark Mark and Link Masonry’.
The Irish continued to work their versions of the Mark, not only in some Craft lodges, but usually closely associated with other orders, including Chapter, Red Cross, Knights Templar, and their ‘Chair Master’ lodges. These were destined to contribute to ‘solving’ (Gould 12-13) English Mark problems.
The ever-increasing world-wide impact of the British military lodges has been noted. Of the ‘Antient’ type they diffused a liberal style of Masonry. By the end of the eighteenth century, for example, there was apparently no ‘Modern’ style of Masonry in North America.
Even then, in the New World, a regional style of Mark was evolving. The marks given, for example (Cryer 110) were not diagrammatic but descriptive. For example, Bald Eagle and North Pole.
In the Quebec region, 1759-1781, many degrees were worked, Mark being one.
A Mark lodge of some description, says Cryer (109), is recorded as being in America in 1768. In Middletown, Connecticut, the Grand Royal Arch Chapter in 1783 formed a Mark lodge. All members were Mark Master Masons.
At Jamaica and Charleston, West Virginia, circa 1787, the ‘Rite Ancien de York’ was worked. The fifth degree was a form of Mark. A lodge in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has minutes showing that it was making Mark Masters from 1792-1798.
As the nineteenth century began to unfold world Mark workings appear to have been increasing.
Cryer, Neville: The Arch and the Rainbow, Lewis, Addlestone, 1996.
Draffen, George: ‘The Mark Degree’, in Grand Lodge of Scotland Year Book, GL Scot, Edinburgh, 1954.
Gould, F: ‘Some Notes of the Mark Degree’, in Grand Lodge of Scotland Yearbook, GL Scot, Edinburgh, 1971.
Grantham, John: History of the Grand Mark Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales, and the Dominions and Dependencies of the British Crown, Lewis, London, 1960.
Handfield-Jones, RM: A New and Comprehensive History of the Grand Mark Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England...1856-1968, G Mark L, London, 1969.
Jones, Bernard: Freemasons’ Guide And Compendium, Harrap, London, 1950-82.
Newton, Edward: ‘The Mark Degree’, in Ars Quatuor Coronatum, London, 1954.
Springett, B: The Mark Degree, Lewis, London, 1946.
Ward, J: Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods, Simpkin, London, 1921.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014