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 first Grand Chapter
The Minute Book exists, in the Grand Chapter archives, of an independent Chapter meeting in London in 1765. The first Minute is dated 22 March 1765, and the Minutes show the Chapter to have met at the Turk's Head Tavern, Gerrard Street, Soho on the second Friday of every month.
At its meeting on 11 June 1766 the Chapter exalted the Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge, Cadwallader, 9th Lord Blayney, who immediately became its First Principal. The Chapter had been drawing its membership from the senior members of the premier Grand Lodge, and therein lay a problem. The Grand Lodge regarded the Royal Arch as an innovation, additional to the Craft, and began to object to its being worked in Lodges. The Chapter meeting at the Turk's Head provided a solution. At its meeting on 22 July 1766 the Companions present, including Lord Blayney, signed a beautifully engrossed and illuminated document, now known as the Charter of Compact, by which they converted themselves into The Excellent Grand and Royal Chapter of the Royal Arch of Jerusalem, the first Grand Chapter in the world.
From its inception the Grand Chapter had a dual function: being the regulatory body for the Royal Arch, as practised by members under the premier Grand Lodge, and continuing to act as a private Chapter regularly exalting new members. The Charter of Compact as well as being the authority for the Chapter to act as a Grand Chapter also included the first eleven rules for the government of the Royal Arch, covering regalia and jewels, the qualification for admission, the chartering of new Chapters and the fees for a Charter, a seal for the Grand Chapter, meetings of the Grand Chapter and the election of Grand Officers.
It took the new Grand Chapter a little time to begin its regulatory work. The first seven charters for new Chapters wee issued in 1769, two for London and one each in Manchester, Portsmouth, Burnley, Colne, Bury and Bristol. The preponderance of Chapters in Lancashire was undoubtedly due to the influence of John Allen, a signatory of the Charter of Compact, First Grand Principal in 1772 and Provincial Grand Master for Lancashire 1769 - 1806. By 1813 the Grand Chapter had chartered 120 Chapters to meet in England, Wales and territories overseas. The Chapters were given their own names and numbers, separate from the Lodges from which they drew their membership. They were supposed to make an annual return of members to the Grand Chapter but the rule was rarely observed until the passing of the Unlawful Societies Act of 1799, under which they had to make an annual return to the local Clerk of the Peace, which they then copied to the Grand Chapter.
To stimulate the growth of the Royal Arch the office of Grand Superintendent in and over a Province was introduced in 1778 when John Allen was appointed to Lancashire and Cheshire; Thomas Dunckerley to Essex and the Isle of Wight; Capt George Smith for Kent; and William Spencer for Yorkshire. Dunckerley was to become almost ubiquitous as a Grand Superintendent being appointed to eighteen Provinces, from Durham in the North to Cornwall in the West. The Provinces were based on the then existing Counties.
Connections between the Royal Family and the English Royal Arch began in 1772 when, on 12 December, in the Grand Chapter acting as a private Chapter HRH Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (brother to King George III) was exalted. In 1774 he was elected Grand Patron of the Royal Arch, a portrait of him in his robes for that office still hangs in Freemasons' Hall. In 1776 he was elected First Grand Principal and was annually re - elected to that office until 1785 when, because of his duties as Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge, he asked to be released from office but was continued as Grand Patron. On his death, in 1790, he was succeeded as Grand Patron by his nephew HRH William, Duke of Clarence (later HM King William IV), who remained as Grand Patron until 1817.