As with Craft Freemasonry, there is debate as to the origins of the Royal Arch, not helped by the paucity of surviving evidence. From that evidence we know that the Royal Arch was known in London, York and Dublin by the late 1730s. In extant Lodge Minute Books of the 1750s we know that the Royal Arch was being worked within Craft Lodges under both the premier and the Antients Grand Lodges in England, and in Lodges under the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland.

The Antients Grand Lodge had the opposite view to the Royal Arch to that of the premier Grand Lodge, regarding it as an integral part of their system and working it in their Lodges as a fourth degree. Indeed, their Grand Secretary, Laurence Dermott, described the Royal Arch as "the root, heart and marrow of Masonry". They believed that their Lodge warrants entitled them to work any of the known degrees in Masonry, and extant Minute Books for Antients Lodges provide valuable evidence for the working of the Royal Arch and other degrees in the late eighteenth century.

Much work was involved in reorganising the Craft after the Union of the two Grand Lodges was achieved on 27 December 1813, so that it was not until 1817 that HRH The Duke of Sussex was able to turn to the Royal Arch. On 18 March 1817, the Royal Arch members of both of the former Grand Lodges were summonsed to a meeting at Freemasons' Hall. The Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter were opened in one room, and the Royal Arch members of the former Antients Grand Lodge opened a Chapter in a second room.

The Committee appointed to formulate Regulations worked quickly and presented a draft to Grand Chapter on 15 April 1817. They were accepted and set the seal on the future arrangement and development of the Grand Chapter. They also demonstrably marked the new relationship between the Craft and the Royal Arch and the interdependency of the two. To mark that interdependency:

certain designated Officers within the Grand Lodge, if properly qualified, automatically held equivalent office in Grand Chapter

One area which had not been looked at in 1817 was the ritual. In the 1820s a number of Chapters in the Provinces had written in requesting guidance, which had not been forthcoming. Complaints were raised and in 1834 the Duke of Sussex set up a special Committee to decide what the Royal Arch ceremonies were and to demonstrate them to the Grand Chapter so that they could be approved and adopted by all Chapters. The Committee duly deliberated and their work was approved by Grand Chapter.

The earliest reference to external relations in the Grand Chapter Minutes came in 1808 when it was ordered that Companions exalted in Scotland and Ireland should be admitted to the Grand Chapter and its subordinate Chapters. With the new arrangements after 1817 and the growth of Grand Chapters in other constitutions, a nice question arose. Although Supreme Grand Chapter was sovereign over the Royal Arch, it was not wholly independent of the United Grand Lodge. Could it, therefore, accord recognition to other sovereign bodies? A neat compromise was achieved. Grand Chapter does not accord formal recognition to or exchange representatives with other Grand Chapters but if a foreign Grand Chapter draws its membership from a Grand Lodge recognised by the United Grand Lodge then inter-visitation and fraternal relations will happily take place.

SGC Logo