Authors – W. Bro Rodney Grosskopff, PADGM, assisted by W. Bro Frank Stock, PADGM

The origin of Mark Masonry is shrouded in the same mystery as the Craft itself. The detail is
blurred by the same zealous passion for secrecy that has denied us a clear view of the history of
the whole of Freemasonry.
We know that masons have marked their work with an individual mark since the time of the pyramids.
Mention is made of these mason’s marks and even of the Mark Degree in the ancient records of both
operative and speculative masons. The Schaw Statutes dating back to 28 December 1598 were compiled
by William Schaw – Master of Works to King James VI of Scotland – in order to regularise the Craft
in which it was ordained that “No master or fellow of craft is to be received or admitted except in
the presence of six masters and two entered apprentices, the warden of the lodge being one of the
six. The date thereof, being orderly booked and his name and mark inserted in the said book”.

The young German Steinmetzen of the 17th century, once free of their apprenticeship and thereby
attaining the rank of fellow craft, were formally admitted into the fraternity in a lodge, when
they took an obligation to be true and loyal to the craft, and received and pledged their marks.

This practice was also adopted by potters, goldsmiths and silversmiths, etc. Indeed, it is by these
hallmarks that we can accurately date silver today and now who made it, which has tended to enhance
its value to us
We know that in Scotland the Mark Degree existed in some form prior to the founding of the first
Grand Lodge. In Lodge Kilwinning, the minutes of 20th December 1678 read as follows: “Two
apprentices were entered who paid their binding money and got their marks”.

It is interesting to know that in Scotland at the time, apprentices were only ‘Entered’ once a year.
However, during the year they were ‘booked’ and attended catechism so that by the time they were
‘entered’, they had been in lodge for some time, but only became members once they were ‘entered’,
at which time they were also taught certain secrets – but what they were we have no knowledge and
can only surmise.
The introduction of the Mark Degree in English Lodges has generally been credited to Thomas
Dunckerley. This was certainly the first documented case. The Phoenix Royal Arch Chapter No. 257
held a meeting on September 1st, 1769 at the George Tavern, Portsmouth and the minutes record the
event as follows: “The Pro. G.M. (then an abbreviation for ‘on behalf of the Grand Master’) –
Thomas Dunkerley … having lately received the ‘Mark’, he made Brethren ‘Mark Masons’ and ‘Mark
Masters’ and each chose his mark.”

There are, of course, many references to the Mark Degree after that in lodge minutes. We even have
a Mark ritual dated 1790 – ‘The Punshon – Kinross MS’ – which proves that Mark Masonry existed and
indeed flourished at about this time.

To understand what happened later, let us now briefly look at what was happening in English Craft

As we all know, in 1717 the Premier Grand Lodge was formed. In about the 1740’s, a group of English
Masons in London of mainly Irish descent, decided to form their own Grand Lodge to follow what they
believed was the ancient practice of Freemasonry, and were thereafter nicknamed “The Antients”.

These ‘Antients’ believed they had the right to work all the non-craft degrees in their own craft
lodges without requiring special charters, albeit on special evenings. They developed a consecutive
system of degrees – the three Craft Degrees, followed by the Mark (in two parts), Passing the Chair,
Excellent and Super-Excellent Master, Royal Arch, Knight’s Templar, Rose Croix, etc. We therefore
know that in the “Antient” lodges, the Mark Degree was practiced. We have no knowledge as to what
form it took, but we suspect that it was not much more than an obligation and the communication of
the secrets – whatever they may have been – and the opportunity to choose a Mark.

What the ‘Moderns’ were doing with respect to the Mark Degree at this time we have no knowledge. We
do know, however, that they formed a Supreme Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch and can only imagine
that they practiced the Mark as part of the Royal Arch, although there is no evidence to confirm

In 1813, the two Grand Lodges were reconciled. In reaching Union a number of compromises had to be
made, mainly at the expense of the non-craft degrees. “It was declared and pronounced that pure and
ancient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, viz, the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow
Craft and Master Mason including the supreme order of the Holy Royal Arch”.

Little or nothing is heard of the Mark Degree in England between 1813 and 1851, the reasons for
which may be found in the circumstances which led to the union of the two Craft Grand Lodges.

Although committees had been appointed to look into the possibility of a union or merger of the two
Grand Lodges – the Premiers’ and the Antients’- from as early as 1790, very little happened until
two royal brothers, the Duke of Kent and the Duke of Sussex, each found themselves at the head of
one of the Grand Lodges, and between them they resolved to put an end to the matter.

Within six weeks they had resolved all the problems resulting in Union being achieved and concluded
on 27th December 1813. As to who was to be the Grand Master of “The United Grand Lodge of England”,
the Duke of Kent graciously stepped aside to allow his younger brother, the Duke of Sussex to fill
that position. Sussex was absolutely determined that this United Grand Lodge should succeed and he
was a tireless worker to that end. Indeed, so intensely did he focus on that desire, that he
neglected all the other degrees and orders. Unfortunately, this led to a decline in other orders in
England -particularly the Mark.

Then, in 1851, a curious event took place. Six English brethren who had taken the Mark Degree in
Bon Accord Chapter in Aberdeen and who were living in London, decided to form a Mark Lodge in that
city for the sole purpose of working the Mark Degree – the first in England. They applied to Bon
Accord for a charter, which was granted and issued on 17th September 1851. Witnessing the success
of the new Lodge – it grew to 120 strong in the space of one year – the Grand Lodge of Scotland
declared it to be illegal and instructed Bon Accord to withdraw its charter, which they refused to
do, and after a long and bitter battle with the Grand Lodge of Scotland, rather than back down,
returned their own charter.

From then on, Mark Masonry gathered strength in England to establish its rightful place in the
mainstream of the Masonic system. The early founders applied to the United Grand Lodge of England
for recognition, and Grand Lodge set up a joint committee of the ‘Board of General Purposes and the
Supreme Grand Chapter to investigate the matter. On 1st February 1850 this committee reported back
as follows: “the Mark Masons Degree, so called, does not form part of the Royal Arch Degree in that
it is not essential to craft Masonry, but that it may form a graceful addition to the Fellow Crafts
degree”. This part of the report was signed “Zetland” – i.e. the Earl of Zetland Grand Master.

On a motion proposed by Edward Lloyd, the then Senior Grand Deacon, it was resolved on 5th March
1856 that: “The Degree of Mark Masonry is not at variance with the Antient landmarks of the order
and the degree be additional to, and form part of, Craft Masonry, and should be added thereto under
proper regulations.” However, at the next quarterly communication, in June 1856, The Past Grand
Deacon, John Henderson, moved the non-confirmation of the previous minute which, after a long
debate, was carried.

On the same day, four journalists applied to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter to form St.
Mark’s Lodge of Mark Master Masons. To avoid further infiltration, the independent body of the
United Grand Lodge of Mark Masters was formed and Lord Leigh, a personal friend of the Grand Master,
took the office of Grand Master of Mark Master Masons.

When the Grand Lodge of Scotland were subsequently called on to define their position with respect
to the Mark, they ruled: “that the Mark had always been part of the Royal Arch and it should remain
so.” (a distinctly shortened version of the quarterly convocation of 1st February 1858).

Mark Masonry prospered very well and by 1868, some 11 years after our own Grand Lodge had been
formed, there were 100 lodges.


By some quirk of fate, therefore, and, of course, John Henderson, Mark Masonry is not part of the
Craft, but it cannot be denied that it has always been very close to Craft Masonry and is getting
even closer – in fact, closer than any other of the non-craft degrees. To illustrate the point, the
following comments are worth noting.

The Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons of England and Wales was, and still is, unique in that the
Mark Degree in every other constitution is administered under its Supreme Grand Royal Arch Chapter.
By 1879, however, every one of those chapters had recognised the United Grand Lodge of Mark Master
Masons of England, Wales and its Districts Overseas, except Scotland and, of course, the United
Grand Lodge of England.
Indeed, an English Royal Arch Mason cannot be admitted to an American R A Chapter unless he can
show that he has received his mark. The opposition of the Grand Lodge of Scotland was logical, when
viewed with the benefit of hindsight. Many of the purely Mark Lodges in England were operating
under the Grand Lodge of Scotland at first, which made little sense at the time, and by a natural
tendency most of those lodges, one after another, swung their allegiance to the Grand Lodge of
Mark’ Master Masons of England – which obviously must have been of concern to the Grand Lodge of

Their (G L of S) conduct in the ‘offensive1 was less than Masonic and a bitter debate ensued.
Eventually, in 1901, they did, however, come to terms with the situation and acquiesced in it. The
Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons and the Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland have been growing
closer and closer ever since then. Indeed, in 1958, in an interesting ceremony, they even exchanged
representatives to cement that closeness. By 1901 there were 282 lodges swearing allegiance to the
Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons -three of which were in South Africa.

Perhaps the greatest and most real recognition of the closeness of the Orders is the fact that,
since 1886, except for a few years, the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Mark
Master Masons have been led by the same person – usually the same Royal Brother – or by someone who
is at least head of one of them whilst, at the same time, being very senior in the other.

The first Royal Leader in the Mark Degree was HRH the Duke of Albany who was made Past Grand Master
in 1881. He was, at the time, Junior Grand Warden of the Craft as well as Provincial Grand Master
of Oxfordshire. It appears that he had a delicate constitution, suffering from haemophilia, and his
career was unfortunately cut short. Before dying, however, in 1884, he advanced his elder brother
Edward into Mark Masonry and installed him in the chair of Adoniram at the same meeting on the 5th
June 1883. At his insistence, his brother took over from him after his death.

Edward VII. Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, was made Grand Master of Mark Master Masons and thereby
Grand Master of both that and the Craft in 1886. He had already been Grand Master of the Craft
since 1874 and accepted the office in the Mark, making it explicitly clear that his assumption as
Grand Master of Mark Master Masons should not be misconstrued as an attempt to unify the two bodies.
He worked very hard for Mark Master Masonry during his reign, causing the first Mark Masons Hall to
be founded and the Benevolent Fund to be enlarged, and only gave up the office on his ascension to
the Imperial Throne.

Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, Grand Master of both Craft and Mark Grand Lodges from
1902 to 1939 took over when his brother became King. As his obituary said “he was one of the
greatest figures in Freemasonry of his own or any other age”.

George VI, – Albert, Duke of York, Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex and Senior Grand Warden of
the Mark. He was finally made Past Grand Master of Mark Master Masons, but even after he became
King, he never gave up an active interest in the Mark Degree and attended regularly.

George, Duke of Kent, was Grand Master of the Craft and the Mark from 1939 to 1942. The Duke took
over from his Grandfather, the Duke of Connaught, on his resignation in his 88th year. It was hoped
that he would rule as long and as gloriously as his Grandfather, but alas that was not to be. He
was a romantic character and joined the R.A.F. at the outbreak of war and was killed in action in
1941, leaving a vacuum which was only filled for the Mark in 1967, by his son, Prince Michael of

Prince Michael of Kent, Provincial Grand Master of Middlesex and brother of the present Duke of
Kent, Grand Master of the Craft since 1967, became Grand Master of the Mark in 1982. Before him,
there were some extremely competent brethren at the helm of Mark Masonry, e.g. The Earl of Euston,
and the 4th and then 5th Earl of Stradbroke, and it was not appropriate until 1981 that Prince
Michael take over.

In every case, the Grand Master of the Mark has also been a Provincial Grand Master in the Craft,
and this applies even to the Pro-Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master and the Assistant Grand

This synopsis of our joint leaders shows how close the Mark actually is to the Craft. You may ask
why, if they have been growing closer, there has been no official union, amalgamation or
recognition. Is it because, way back in 1856, they were too hasty to form a new Grand Lodge, and
ever since have been happy with the separation? Even now, we still talk of recognition and appear
to long for it, but do absolutely nothing to bring it to fruition.

This separation and individuality has undoubtedly lead to its development as a fuller and richer
degree, to such an extent that in South Africa, we have brethren of the other four constitutions
which meet here joining the English Mark Degree out of preference.

In more recent years official recognition of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons, by the United
Grand Lodge of England has been displayed by the attendance at the 150th Anniversary meeting of
Mark Grand Lodge, in the Royal Albert Hall on 26th October 2006, by Most Worshipful The Grand
Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, H.R.H. The Duke of Kent, the brother of H.R.H. Prince
Michael of Kent, the Grand Master of English Mark Master Masonry.