On 5 December 1952 His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, consort of the new Queen Elizabeth II, as yet uncrowned, was initiated into the secrets of Freemasonry by the Worshipful Master of Navy Lodge No 2612. He joined against his will. His uncle, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, was - in the words of an impeccable source close to the Royal Family - 'fiercely opposed' to Freemasonry, and had strongly advised Philip to have nothing to do with it. But in 1947 when Philip became engaged to Princess Elizabeth, his future father-in-law King George VI had made it plain that he expected any husband of his daughter to maintain the tradition of royal patronage of Freemasonry. George was an ardent Mason and finally extracted a promise from Philip to join the Brotherhood. George died before Philip was able to fulfil the promise, but despite his own reservations (he regarded the whole thing as a silly joke) and his uncle's hostility, he felt bound to honour his promise to the dead King.
But having been initiated to Freemasonry as an Entered Apprentice, Philip felt honour was satisfied and he was free to act as he chose - which was to forget the whole business as quickly as possible, and while still nominally a member of the Brotherhood, the Duke has taken no active part for thirty years and has refused all invitations to climb the masonic ladder and achieve grand rank.
His determination to rise no higher in the masonic hierarchy has meant that, in masonic terms, Philip is inferior in rank to thousands of commoners. This has caused much irritation in the sealed rooms of Great Queen Street, and annoyed the masonic elders considerably in the 1960s when a successor to the Earl of Scarborough, who had taken office as Grand Master the year before Philip was initiated, was being discussed. The monarch's husband, the Freemason of the highest standing in the non-masonic world, was considered the natural successor. But Philip would not have it.
Finally, in 1966, after much speculation both within Masonry and outside, the new Grand Master was named -in the William Hickey column of the Daily Express. He was to be the thirty-year-old Duke of Kent, the Queen's cousin, who was a major in the Royal Scots Greys stationed at Hounslow. The Duke, who was initiated into Masonry in 1964, would be following in the footsteps of his father who had been Grand Master between 1939 and 1942, when he was killed in action. Hickey's prediction came to pass and the Duke was installed as Grand Master by the Earl of Scarborough at the greatest masonic spectacular of all time - the 250th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall in June 1967 when Masons from all over the world attended in full regalia and Arab Mason walked with Israeli Mason only ten days after the Six Day War.
Philip's apathy and Mountbatten's antipathy have had their effect on Prince Charles, the heir to the throne. Mountbatten, as Charles' favourite uncle, made a lasting impression on the future King and Charles remains adamant, despite rumours to the contrary, that he does not wish to become a Freemason. A greater influence in this direction than either his father or his uncle, however, has been his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who had much of the responsibility for Charles' upbringing when his parents were travelling. The Queen Mother, despite - perhaps because of - being the wife of a devoted Freemason, does not approve of the Brotherhood. She is a committed Bible-believing Christian and, largely due to her influence, Prince Charles too is a committed (as opposed to nominal) Christian.
Great pressure was brought to bear on Charles when he was in his early and mid-twenties to follow family tradition and become a Freemason. It was assumed by high Masons that when Charles reached his twenty-first birthday in 1969, he would be initiated and take over from the Duke of Kent. He refused to be pressed into doing so, and when approached he gave an emphatic 'No', adding, 'I do not want to join any secret society.' When he was twenty-five the Sunday Mirror published an article by Audrey Whiting, described in her byline as 'an authoritative writer on Royal affairs'. She said that the pressure brought to bear on Charles to become a Mason had been 'considerable'. She continued:
If he persists [in refusing] he will become in due time the first monarch in centuries who has not been the titular head of Freemasonry in Britain . . . Freemasonry will survive and flourish, as it does today, without a monarch as its titular head - but the Prince's refusal to adopt the traditional role in [the] ranks of Masonry as heir to the Throne was and is a great blow to a body of men who are above all traditionalists.
But by this time there was talk that Charles 'was not strictly against Freemasonry', but that he simply had no wish to become involved. According to Whiting, he wanted to prove himself as a man 'who can meet and beat all the tests which could face a fighting man and an adventurer'.
A senior court official told me: 'The answer is that without benefit, if you can call it that, of wartime experience, Charles is determined to be as good as his father - and perhaps even better.'
The question remains: Will Charles, in the end, conform to tradition?
Despite rumours that the Prince had suggested that 'if he joined the Brotherhood, it would be as an initiate to the Royal Air Force Lodge No 7335, there is still no indication that Charles has changed his attitude.
I failed miserably to ascertain more clearly Charles's current thinking on the subject. The Court is brimming with Freemasons and my own enquiries never got past Charles's masonic private secretary, the Hon Edward Adeane. Adeane, son of Lt-Col the Rt Hon Lord (Michael) Adeane, former private secretary to the Queen and Freemason of Grand Rank, refused to ask the Prince if he would be prepared to say why he had decided to go against tradition. He told me: 'The basis for the suggestion that His Royal Highness has any view on the matter at all depends purely on speculative statements in the press, and the Prince of Wales does not comment on other people's speculation.'
The first part of this statement was really not true for anyone who had contacts within the Grand Lodge, the Palace or at Windsor. The suggestion that the Prince had views on the matter was not a matter of speculation. However, I wrote back asking if I might rephrase my question in the light of Adeane's statement: 'Rather than asking why the Prince has taken a stand, which I now realize to be in doubt, can I ask the Prince what his thinking is on the subject of Freemasonry, not necessarily whether he intends joining the movement or not, but simply his thoughts on the organization?' I received a two-line reply. The first line thanked me for my letter. The second said: 'I am afraid that I cannot assist you in this matter.'
It is an interesting anomaly that the Queen, as a woman, is banned from entering a masonic temple - yet she is Grand Patroness of the movement. Her two younger sons are already marked down by the elders of Great Queen Street as possible future Grand Masters, should they not go the way of their brother Charles. Prince Michael of Kent is already a Brother of Grand Rank, having been Senior Grand Warden in 1979.