There is a well-known statement that was agreed upon in the Act of Union between the Premier and Antients Grand Lodges in 1813 – it appears at the front of the Book of Constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England. It is a declaration that “Pure Antient Masonry consists of three degrees and no more, namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch”.
The fact that a second Grand Lodge (the “Antients”) emerged in 1751 was largely because of a disagreement over ritual content. It is therefore hardly surprising that, eventually, in order to achieve harmony a considerable amount of ground had to be conceded by both parties. The Premier (or “Moderns”) Grand Lodge did not recognise the Royal Arch, or even the Installation Ceremony, as part of pure Masonry – so they evidently conceded much to the Antients in order to achieve the Union. Against this background the Mark and other Masonic Orders were left in limbo. We had in fact a good old English compromise that left many brethren discontented.
So, what was emerging as a closely related set of “Solomonic” degrees, i.e. symbolism based on KST (or, in the case of the Royal Arch, on the building of the Second Temple) became split. Mark was no longer to be considered by the Craft as part of pure Antient Masonry. After 1813 the Mark Degree continued to grow in popularity and was worked, unofficially, in Craft Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters – a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. The eventual establishment of a separate English Grand Lodge of Mark Masters Masons in 1856 came after a very intriguing period, involving encounters with the Grand Chapter of Scotland and much else besides. But this is a subject for a much longer paper.
For the present purpose it will suffice to note that a resolution to include the Mark Degree as an integral part of English Freemasonry appeared in the minutes of the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge in March 1856. Astonishingly, at the following Communication in June, the minute was not confirmed. It transpires that this was less because the Craft did not want the Mark but rather that the proponents of the Mark did not want it to become a simple appendage to the Second Degree. Most authors now agree that the covert dealings that went on behind the scenes were engineered to ensure that the Mark would emerge in control of its own destiny. The fact that the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons was formed on 23rd June 1856, only 19 days after the rejection of the minute relating to the Mark at the June Quarterly Communication of the Craft Grand Lodge, is strong evidence for this.
However, none of this discussion alters the purely logical argument that the Mark is, in reality, as much part of pure Freemasonry as the Royal Arch. This is reinforced by the other stark fact that the Mark Degree is so recognised by our two Sister Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland – and indeed by most other constitutions throughout the world. In almost every constitution the Mark Degree is a pre-requisite for the Royal Arch.