THE KING AND THE CRAFT
by R.W. Bro. W. H. V. Taine, P.G.W., PM.
Recently there have been on our televisions references by the Prince of Wales and Alistair Cooke to King George III and very interesting discussions of his way of life, by which I was led to extract from family documents an official commission as Ensign issued to my great grand uncle John Taine in 1798-at the head of which is the impressivesignature reproduced above (and lower down that of the Duke of Portland, twice Prime Minister, though not at that time). The Commission was for service in a Home Guard" for the defence of London, at a time in the Napoleonic Wars when England was threatened with invasion. I was led also to a further study of the little I had read about that Monarch's connection with Freemasonry, and I think it may be of interest to the Brethren of this Lodge of Research to set out something of what I have learned: preceded by some particulars, known facts, instead of the assumptions about his life and character which have led to mostly unjustified discredit.
His father Frederick, the Prince of Wales, having unexpectedly died, in 1760 George succeeded his grandfather King George II on the throne of Great Britain and Ireland. at the age of twenty-two, and lived until 1820, a reign exceeded in length only by that of sixty-four years of his grand-daughter Victoria.
Unlike the two German Georges who preceded him, who hated England and its language, he could say in his first speech to Parliament that he "gloried in the name of Briton", and "Farmer George" as they called him, became very popular with his people and much esteemed by those who knew him best. Among those was the famous writer Fanny Burney (D'Arblay), for some years a Keeper of the Robes to his Queen.
She kept a secret diary, from which it was eventually learned that in her experience the King was "a kind, considerate, studious and cultivated man” - in connection with which it may be recalled that his extensive private library became the nucleus of that of the British Museum. And the Encyclopedia Brittanica to say - “He set a standard of faithful truth in . . . private life which was new . . . in the Court circles of England, which has survived even the Regency to become almost a commonplace of modern English life".
As to his mental illness, the "Royal malady" which is said to have been hereditary: the first breakdown was in 1788, when his favourite daughter died: this was after many years of reign with extraordinary difficulties - national, political and family; but he quickly recovered. He was again overcome, however, in 1810, and hopelessly, and it was necessary to appoint a Regent, his eldest son; he was one of those whose way of life had almost certainly contributed to his father's breakdown: such people as a modern writer has referred to as “very free and easy and not that respectable" - and that is putting it very mildly indeed!
THE KING AND FREEMASONRY
Possibly because he came to the throne at the early age of twenty-two, after years of domination by a very strict mother, he was not a Freemason; but it is remarkable that his father had been, and his two uncles, and also that his own three brothers were. I venture to propose him, however as a Promoter of the Art, because as a Monarch he was unique in all the history of the Craft. Of the seven of his sons who reached manhood, six became Freemasons, and several received high, and the highest honours in the two Grand Lodges of the Moderns and the Antients, and eventually did good service. In order of age the six were the Prince of Wales and the Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, and Sussex, something of whose careers and characters we shall now say a little, abbreviating their titles.
WALES (1762-1830) later King George IV, was initiated in 1787 by a Lodge specially convened at the Star and Garter, a popular tavern in Pall Mall. Next evening the Grand Lodge of the Moderns resolved unanimously that because of "the great honour conferred on the Society by the Prince, in all its assemblies he should sit 'next to and on the Right Hand of the Grand Master’“.In Vol.III of Gould's History of Freemasonry, page 108, we read that it was the belief of Grand Lodge that it was "of the first importance to obtain the Sanction and Protection of the Royal Family to the Proceedings of the Craft" (which may expain things difficult for the Freemason of today to understand).
His Masonic Career: He was Grand Master of the Moderns from 1790, until 1813, and in 1805 was elected to the same office by the Grand Lodge of Scotland (but for that only Scottish Freemasons were eligible). In 1787 he was instrumental in founding the Prince of Wales Lodge in London (now No. 259) and his interest in the Craft is perhaps shown by the fact that its members then were principally his personal friends. As King he was officially appointed "Patron of the Craft".
Regent and King: Because of his father's illness, in 1811 he was appointed Regent and after nine years or so he succeeded him as King George IV. He was very unpopular with his people and by no means efficient or satisfactory as Ruler - noted in particular for his outstanding extravagance in money matters.
YORK (1763-1827) Prince Frederick, who like his younger brothers was awarded a dukedom in early manhood, was initiated in the Britannic Lodge, No. 33 (founded in 1730) in 1787: like his elder and younger brothers be was immediately honoured with high rank in Grand Lodge, but I have been unable to find any activity on his part in Freemasonry in general, except an occasional attendance with his brothers at special meetings; but no doubt there was a good reason for it, as his career will show. York is said to have been his father's favourite son, but perhaps before he became so, at the age of six months, the King influenced his "election" to a richly endowed Bishopric in Germany, which he held for forty years.
His life and attainments show that he was probably the most capable and personally distinguished of all the current Royal Dukes He served with varying success on the Continent in the Napoleonic Wars (as titular Commander-in-Chief) but on his return to London "devolved himself with the greatest vigour and success" to Army reform (Encyc. Britt.); it is he who is commemorated by the fine Duke of York's Column in Waterloo Place, London.
CLARENCE (1765-1837) afterwards King William IV, like his brothers was initiated early in his twenties - by the Prince George Lodge at Plymouth (where he had been sent [under a cloud] from Portsmouth) in 1787; and from 1828 until 1830, when he became King, he was Master of the Prince of Wales Lodge already mentioned. He was a Naval Officer, and once served under Lord Nelson, but never with any special distinction; but after much effort he succeeded in obtaining the rank of "Lord High Admiral". From Fanny Burney again: "He was gay and full of sport and mischief, yet clever withal".
He did not marry until he was fifty-two years old and heir to the throne, but perhaps it is somewhat to his credit that he had an alliance with a famous actress and remained faithful to her for twenty years - during which time, as he wrote to his mother the Queen, she presented him with ten children (all named FitzClarence).
KENT (1767-1820) was initiated in 1790 by the Union Lodge at Geneva and became probably the most active in Freemasonry of all the brothers, with the possible exception of Sussex. He was an Army Commander, severe with his troops and far from popular generally but as one writer says "certainly showed his best side in his Masonic contact" (Pocket History of Pick and Knight). Already ranked as P.G.M. (Moderns) while serving as Brigadier in Gibraltar, he was appointed Prov. Grand Master. it is recorded that in or near his period there seven regiments stationed on the Rock contained Military Lodges.
As Major-General in Lower Canada in 1792 he reached the same office there but under the Grand Lodge of the Antients. Finally, as we shall see, he became Grand Master of the Antients. As of the Blood Royal, however, he has a special claim to distinction: in 1818 he married a Princess and, unlike any of his elder brothers, fathered an heir to the throne - Victoria, who succeeded William IV in 1837, long after Kent's death.
CUMBERLAND (1771-1851) was initiated in 1796 at the home of the Earl of Moira, an active advocate of Union between the Antients and the Moderns and a greatly esteemed servant of the nation. At the farewell dinner to the Earl when he left for high command in India, Cumberland was one of the six Dukes present, including Gloucester, King George's nephew and son-in-law, but in general little or nothing is known of Cumberland's interest in the Craft.
He was an arrogant and dissolute man, greatly disliked; in 1837 he became King of Hanover, where his autocratic behaviour caused serious trouble, both to his subjects and himself, and a bitter struggle was ended only by his death in 1851.
SUSSEX (1773-1843) was initiated in Berlin in 1798 by the Royal York Lodge, which was named after his uncle, a Duke of York, who had been initiated therein in 1765; eventually he also(Sussex) became a member of the Prince of Wales Lodge, and Master of the Lodge of Antiquity from 1809 until his death in 1843. It is interesting to note that by a close vote in 1830 he was elected President of the Royal Society, and presided over its regular meetings for years; this was the society of scientists and philosophers which had previously commissioned Captain Cook's exploration of the Antarctic and South Seas and the consequent discovery of New Zealand. As to his personality: at his death The Times in a leading article said that it considered him, "of all the sons of George III, the most popular after the Duke of York and the most accomplished after King George IV”. Others, however, were not so complimentary: as a Grand Master from 1813 he was often arbitrary and irritable, possibly because of his health: for many years he suffered greatly from asthma.
A detailed history of Sussex, his life, errors and achievements, may be found in A.Q.C. volume 52 (1939) in a Paper submitted by Bro. Lewis Edwards and covering with the subsequent discussion 38 pages, and very frankly - its first words are "To have been twice morganatically married".
THE KING'S SONS AND THE GRAND LODGES
Soon after the beginning of the King's reign, Freemasonry in England had been divided. under two Grand Lodges known as "the Moderns" and 'The Antients"; the former was established in 1717, and the latter in 1751 because of the concern by many Brethren that there had been departures from recognised usages and customs of the Craft. There was growing rivalry and sometimes acrimony between the two bodies, and as time went on it became even more clear to thinking Brethren that under such Ancient Landmarks as "meeting on the level and parting on the square' they should be united in the true spirit of the Craft.
After years of protracted negotiations matters came to a head in 1813, principally because of the untiring efforts of the Earl of Moira already referred to, who was a devoted Freemason and Acting Grand Master of the Moderns; and possibly through the interest of his Grand Master the Prince of Wales (now Regent) who had held office since 1790 but was now retiring in favour of Sussex. The Grand Master of the Antients since 1774, the Duke of Atholl, now resigned his office in favour of the Duke of Kent, who is said to have been strongly in favour of a Union; his curious association with both of the rival Grand Lodges has already been remarked upon.
Sussex, who had been elected Grand Master of the Moderns on the 7th of April, 1813, was empowered (as he wished) two months later to make arrangements for the Union of the two Grand Lodges, and on the 25th of November the necessary Articles were duly signed and sealed. An interesting point is that during the proceedings Sussex was made an "Antient" Mason.
On St. John's Day, the 27th of December, 1813, the Brethren of the two Fraternities assembled in the Freemasons' Hall in London, on the level at last, and the United Grand Lodge of England was officially constituted. Kent then proposed, and it was carried unanimously, that Sussex should be its Grand Master, and he accepted, and remained in that office until his death in 1843.
In the search for information about King George and his sons, one question has continually presented itself - "Did he influence them to become Freemasons?" I have found not one shred of suggestion that he did, but feel that he may have, for the following reason. His children were brought up with a simple, almost non-royal family background, but when the sons became "men about town", subject to inevitable flattery and temptation, their behaviour and mistakes grieved him sorely: one by one they seem to have turned against him. In such a situation who could have so greatly helped him as those close relatives, his uncles and brothers, all Freemasons, members of a well-known System of Morality, to whom he surely must often have turned for advice and assistance in the many difficulties of his long reign.
Can any of my readers throw any light upon this matter?
A.Q.C., Gould's History (revised edition), Encyclopedia Brittanica, Pick and Knight's Pocket
History and Pocket Reference Book, etc.
SOURCE UML No 22 no2 p19 (April 1977)