This is a very old degree, with some indication that it existed in Scotland as early as 1599, although early evidence really only starts with documentation in the Craft Provincial Grand Lodge of Durham showing that it was being worked in the 1750’s. The first available mention of English Mark activity in surviving minutes is recorded for 1st September 1769, by the Royal Arch Chapter of Friendship No. 3 (subsequently re-numbered 257) meeting in Portsmouth. The next oldest minute referring directly to the Mark is in 1773 for the Marquis of Granby Craft Lodge No 124, and then in 1777 for the St Thomas’ Lodge No. 142 in London. In Scotland the Dumfries Lodge (now Thistle Lodge No. 62) recorded in 1770 that the Master elect was an Entered Apprentice, a Fellow Craft, a Master Mason and a Mark Master Mason. In Ireland there is a Mark Masons certificate dated 27th August 1775, issued by the Knights Templar of Kensale in County Cork.
So we can assume from such diverse geographical evidence that Mark Masonry must have been established some time before these early records, and that it was an integral part of Freemasonry which in actual fact, in Scotland, Ireland and other parts of the world, it still is, being worked either in the Craft or the Royal Arch or both.
It is only the course of English Masonic history which disassociated the Mark from the mainstream of Masonic activity, with the Premier Grand Lodge, which had been formed in London in 1717 only recognising the three Craft Degrees, and subsequently wanting nothing to do with any other form of masonry, not even the Royal Arch. This tunnel vision, together with many other actions and edicts, which included chopping ritual and passwords around in response to the exposure and lampooning in the popular press of the day, eventually led to the formation of a rival Grand Lodge in 1751 which styled itself “the Antients” on the basis that the masonry they practised predated that of the Premier Grand Lodge, who they dubbed “the Moderns”. Lodges under the Antients were permitted to confer any degree under their Craft Warrant and the Royal Arch and Mark were two such degrees, together with others.
And so we ended up with something of a masonic civil war, culminating eventually by the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, following extensive negotiations and huge compromises between the two Grand Lodges. That is a fascinating and lengthy story in its own right – but as regards supplementary degrees the only one which succeeded in remaining under the umbrella was the Royal Arch, which until very recently was described as the completion of the third degree, although that has all changed now.
So the Mark, together with all the other Masonic degrees was out there in the cold, alone but by no means defeated. A number of Craft Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters continued conferring the Mark degree as they had always done, or set up unauthorised Mark Lodges for the purpose. Others sought warrants from North of the border where the Mark had become a prerequisite for admission into the Royal Arch. Indeed the Mark degree flourished to the extent that the United Grand Lodge did very nearly end up recognising it, even passing a resolution to that effect in March 1856, but this was unfortunately rescinded on a technicality at the following Quarterly Communication.
Not to be beaten, the Mark enthusiasts of the day really then only had one route to follow – to set up their own separate Grand Mark Master Lodge for England, and within three weeks of Grand Lodge’s final rejection of recognition, this was achieved on 23rd June 1856 with Lord Leigh, the then Craft Provincial Grand Master of Warwickshire as its Grand Master. And the rest, as they say, is history. The “mooring” of the Royal Ark Mariners to the Mark has got its own similarly intriguing tale, and that is available under the RAM section of this website. Today, following the continued development of our own Grand Mark Lodge, having now evolved into the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales and its Districts and Lodges Overseas, we have over 1,500 Mark and 900 Royal Ark Mariner Lodges situated in 45 different countries throughout the world. There are 41 Provinces in England and Wales, 27 Districts overseas and three groups of Lodges under Grand Inspectors, all administered from our very own delightful headquarters situated a few doors away from St James’ Palace in London.
“Among Mark Master Masons you will ever find friends, who will administer relief to your distress and comfort in your affliction…”.
Known as the “Happy Degree”, Mark Masonry has found great popularity for it’s ritual and fellowship. If you are interested in becoming a Mark Master Mason please contact W. Bro. Ian Belsham, the Provincial Grand Secretary.
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