Buckingham Palace on the Square

From the Daily Mail:

A branch of the Freemasons secret society is being formed by members of the Royal Household and police who protect the Royal Family.

And their decision to call it The Royal Household Lodge has put them on a collision course with Buckingham Palace – as has their plan to co-opt the royal cipher – EIIR – for their regalia, to underline their connection to the Queen.

…Author and broadcaster Martin Short, whose book Inside The Brotherhood exposed Masonic practices in the UK, said: “It’s a catastrophic time to start such a lodge, given all the problems facing the Royal Family at present.

“The Royal Family is desperately trying to prove it is modernising – in PR terms, this is bad news for them.”

As it happens, I read Inside the Brotherhood (1989) not long back – although it is packaged by the publisher as a sensationalist exposé and some of the chapter titles tend toward the lurid, in fact on the whole the book avoids conspiracy-mongering and where it explores abuses these are seen more as due to the complacency and institutional failings of an unaccountable leadership rather than as the outworking of some sinister grand design (at least, as regards British Freemasonry: the book also covers the Italian P2 business). Given what we now know about how institutions work when they are not under public scrutiny, this is quite believable.

Members of the royal family have been involved with Freemasonry for a long time, and today the “Grand Master” is the Duke of Kent, a cousin of the Queen – Prince Philip went through some Masonic initiations to please his father-in-law, but he has shown no interest since (The back of St James’s Palace, by the way, is just over the road from one of the main Masonic centres in London: Mark Masons’ Hall, a grand but much more discreet building than the headquarters of the United Grand Lodge of England near Covent Garden. Mark Masons’ Hall has featured on this blog before, as the venue for the right-wing Right Now! conferences).

I’ve actually met a few Masons over the years, and it’s clear that for them the organisation is a harmless social club with a strong civic conscience. However, one can also appreciate the concerns of Palace staff quoted by the Mail:

Non-members in Royal service are said to be fearful they will be overlooked for prestigious promotions and left unsupported in any below-stairs clashes.

…A Palace insider said: “There’s a lot of consternation and rightly so. People fear a lot of business will now be conducted behind closed doors so that those who don’t sign up to Freemasonry can’t have any effect on it.

“They are concerned that Masons will be preferred and those who aren’t Masons will be written out of the script.

“Backstairs life is already complicated enough – there are all sorts of allegiances and cliques and cabals. People fall in and out of favour and there’s a lot of whispering in ears…”

This is surely the main problem with a group which has been dubbed “the mafia of the mediocre”: not that it’s a grand conspiracy, but that when based around a place of employment a lodge constitutes a clique which undermines the measures that modern workplaces have put in place to counteract the all-too-human tendency to favouritism. The fact that women are excluded from Freemasonry (aside from some obscure affiliates) makes such lodges particularly undesirable, and distasteful.

Of course, the ideal is that a Freemason is interested in the pursuit of virtue rather than rank or status; Freemasonry purports to be a spiritual journey, and the symbols and rituals are supposedly designed to make an initiate aware of human imperfectability in relation to God. However, whether or not Masonry is sometimes abused for worldly advancement, one has to wonder about the attitude that is actually fostered by the organisation; it seems to me that some Masons revel in grand titles before and weird letters after their names, and in membership of exalted Masonic “Orders”, and one wonders how often such titles and hierarchies are actually substitutes for true inner maturity of character (I can think of some examples). One Christian criticism of Freemasonry is that some of the Masonic declarations, which gloat over secret knowledge unknown to outsiders, go against Christian ideals.

Freemasonry is, though, a fascinating subject and the pseudo-arcane rituals and preposterous mythology are fun in a “Dungeons and Dragons” kind of way. And while rejecting conspiracy theory, it is the case that certain lodges act as networks for individuals with particular interests, and so are worth keeping an eye on (just why, for instance, were the Right Now! conferences held in Mark Mason Hall?).

Despite Christian critiques of Freemasonry – which range from fundamentalist conspiracy theories through to more considered theological and ethical objections – Christian Freemasons see no conflict, and Freemasonry enjoys some support within the Church of England: Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher was an enthusiast, and there are services of thanksgiving in Canterbury Cathedral. Short’s book mentions a particularly exclusive lodge, the Kaiser-I-Hind Lodge (pp. 374, 571 in 1989 edition), which had as a member the secretary-general of the General Synod.