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The Thirty-Third Degree

There is an elite group of Freemasons in England over whom the United Grand Lodge has no jurisdiction. These are the brethren of the so-called Higher Degrees, and even the majority of Freemasons have no idea of their existence.

Most Freemasons who have been raised to the 3rd Degree to become Master Masons believe they are the top of the masonic ladder. As novices they were Entered Apprentices. They were then 'passed' as Fellow Craft Masons and finally 'raised' as Masters. The very name Master has connotations of supremity. If Master Masons have ambition it will usually be to achieve office within their Lodge - eventually, with good fortune and the passing of years, to become Worshipful Master of their mother Lodge (the Lodge to which they were first initiated into Masonry). Those who have their eyes fixed on higher office will aim for rank in their Provincial Grand Lodge or in the United Grand Lodge itself. But even the Grand Master of all England is only a Freemason of the 3rd Degree. The three Craft degrees form the entire picture of Masonry for most of the 600,000 'uninitiated initiates' of the Brotherhood in England and Wales.

3° Master Mason 1

2° Fellow Craft 1

Entered Apprentice

The 'Masters', who form the largest proportion of Freemasons, are in most cases quite unaware of the thirty superior degrees to which they will never be admitted, nor even hear mentioned. This is the real picture, with the three lowly degrees governed by Grand Lodge and the thirty higher degrees governed by a Supreme Council.

These thirty degrees, beginning with the 4th (that of Secret Master) and culminating in the 33rd (Grand Inspector General), are controlled by a Supreme Council whose headquarters are at 10 Duke Street, St James's, London SW1. Nobody walking down Duke Street from Piccadilly is likely to suspect the true nature of what goes on inside the building, even if he or she happens to notice the small plate to the right of the entrance which says, 'The Supreme Council. Ring once'. Built in 1910-11, this imposing Edwardian mansion with fine neo-classical features might easily be taken for a consulate or the headquarters of some private institute. Nor do people thumbing through the S-Z section of the London Telephone Directory get any clue from the entry sandwiched between Supreme Cleaners and Supreme Die Cutters: 'Supreme Council 33rd Degree . . . 01-930 1606'.

Nobody looking at that fine but anonymous house from outside could suspect that behind its pleasing facade, beyond the two sets of sturdy double doors and up the stairs there is a Black Room, a Red Room and a Chamber of Death. To high Masons, the house in Duke Street is known as the Grand East.

Members of Craft Freemasonry - that is, all but a few thousand of England's Masons - often argue that Free-masonry is not a secret society but 'a society with secrets' though the argument is in the end unconvincing, it has its merits. But no such case can be made out for the wealthy society-within-a-society based at 10 Duke Street.

The Thirty-three Degrees of Freemasonry

33° Grand Inspector General

32 ° Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret

31° Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander

30 0 Grand Elected Knight Kadosh, Knight of the Black and White Eagle

29° Knight of St Andrew

28° Knight of the Sun

27° Commander of the Temple

26° Prince of Mercy

25° Knight of the Brazen Serpent

24 ° Prince of the Tabernacle

23 ° Chief of the Tabernacle

22° Prince of Libanus

21° Patriarch Noachite

200 Venerable Grand Master

19° Grand Pontiff

18° Knight of the Pelican and Eagle and Sovereign Prince Rose Croix of Heredom

17° Knight of the East and West

16° Prince of Jerusalem

15 0 Knight of the Sword, or of the East

14° Scottish Knight of Perfection

13° Royal Arch (of Enoch)

12° Grand Master Architect

11° Sublime Elect ?

10° Elect of Fifteen

9° Elect of Nine I

8° Intendant of the Building

7° Provost and Judge

6° Intimate Secretary

5° Perfect Master

4° Secret Master

3° Master Mason

2° Fellow Craft

10 Entered Apprentice

One of the regulations of ordinary Craft Freemasonry is that no Mason may invite an outsider to join. Anyone wishing to become a Freemason must take the initiative and seek two sponsors from within the Brotherhood.* The position is reversed for Freemasons of the 3rd Degree who wish to be elevated to the Higher Degrees. Initiation is open only to those Master Masons who are selected by the Supreme Council. If a representative of the Supreme Council establishes a contact with a Master Mason and concludes that he is suitable, the Candidate will be offered the chance of being 'perfected' and setting the first foot on the ladder to the 33rd Degree. But only a small proportion, even of the limited number of Freemasons who take the first step, progress beyond the 18th Degree, that of Knight of the Pelican and Eagle and Sovereign Prince Rose Croix of Heredom. With each Degree, the number of initiates diminishes. The 31st Degree (Grand Inspector Inquisitor Commander) is restricted to 400 members; the 32nd (Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret) to 180; and the 33rd - the pre-eminent Grand Inspectors General - to only 75 members.

While the Armed Forces are strongly represented in ordinary Freemasonry, the 'Antient and Accepted Rite of the Thirty-Third Degree' is particularly attractive to military men. Grand Inspectors General (i.e. members of the Supreme Council) have included Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis, successively Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East and Allied Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean in the Second World War; Major-General Sir Leonard Henry Atkinson; Brigadier E. W. C. Flavell; Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Williams; Brigadier General

*This, at least, is the theory - and United Grand Lodge staunchly maintains that it is the practice. In reality most Entered Apprentices are recruited by existing Masons they know personally.

Edward Charles Walthall Delves Walthall; and scores more in the last two decades. Before his retirement in 1982 the Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander (the most senior Freemason of the 33rd Degree in England and Wales and Head of the Supreme Council) was Major-General Sir (Herbert) Ralph Hone, KCMG, KBE, MC, TD, and so on. There is no mention of Freemasonry in his entry in Who's Who, which lists every other decoration, award and distinction he has earned in his eighty-seven years, although becoming Britain's highest Freemason can have been of no little consequence to him. In masonic matters he would dispense with all the other abbreviations and simply sign himself, Ralph Hone, 33°. Born in 1896, he is also a Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

He was wounded during the First World War while serving with the British Expeditionary Force, went on to practise as a barrister-at-law in Uganda and Zanzibar in the 1920s, becoming Resident Magistrate in Zanzibar in 1928 and Crown Counsel of Tanganyika Territory two years later. In the thirties he was Attorney-General and Acting Chief Justice of Gibraltar, and Attorney-General of Uganda between 1937 and 1943. After serving as Chief Legal Adviser, Political Branch, and then Chief Political Officer, GHQ Middle East, he was appointed to the General Staff of the War Office in 1943. After the war he was Chief Civil Affairs Officer in Malaya for a year before becoming Secretary-General to the Governor-General of Malaya and then Deputy Commissioner-General in South-East Asia. In 1949 he was appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of North Borneo. At the end of five years there he spent seven years as Head of the Legal Division of the Commonwealth Relations Office. This took him into 1961 when he returned to the Bar. Among other posts at home and abroad in the next fourteen years he was a Constitutional Adviser to R. A. Butler's Advisers on Central Africa, to the South Arabian Government and the Bermuda Government. He was Standing Counsel to the Grand Bahama Port Authority until his retirement in 1975 at the age of seventy-nine. He succeeded Most Puissant Brother Sir Eric Studd, Bt, OBE, 33°, as Sovereign Grand Commander.

This, then, was the man who - at the time The Brotherhood was completed for New English Library - was truly Britain's highest Freemason, whatever might be said of the Duke of Kent, the current Grand Master of Craft Masonry. Page 40 shows the hierarchy over which the Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander presides, with the Duke of Kent's sub-hierarchy way down low.

Although in 1936, 1947 and 1967 Major-General Sir Ralph Hone held grand rank in the United Grand Lodge, and has achieved distinction in many fields, he is one of that brand of men who attain power without notoriety or fame. Few of the many hundreds of Freemasons I have interviewed had even heard of him, and of those few only five knew of him in his secret role as the highest Mason of the highest Degree. These five were all initiates of the Ancient and Accepted Rite: two Sovereign Princes Rose Croix of Heredom (18th Degree); one of the 180 Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret (32nd Degree); a 33rd Degree Grand Inspector General; and a former Grand Inspector Inquisitor of the 31st Degree who had renounced Freemasonry, in order, he said, to become 'a true and living Christian'. But beyond the fact that Major-General Sir Ralph was the pre-eminent member of the Supreme Council, none of them would say any more either about the man himself or about the rituals, the degrees or the administration of the Rite.

Sir Ralph's successor is Harold Devereux Still, former Grand Treasurer and Junior Grand Warden of the United Grand Lodge of England, and Grand Treasurer and Grand Scribe Nehemiah of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of England. He also attained the rank of Grand Master of the United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta.

The Brotherhood attracts men of distinction in the judiciary and legal profession, as will be seen later. One such man is His Honour Judge Alan Stewart Trapnell, who was appointed to the Circuit Bench in 1972. He is a Craft Freemason of grand rank, having been Assistant Grand Registrar in 1963, Junior Grand Deacon in 1971 and Senior Grand Deacon in 1979. In 1969 he became Assistant Grand Sojourner of the Supreme Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons. All these details are listed in the Masonic Year Book,which is now very difficult for non-Masons to come by. What is not mentioned is that he is a Freemason of the 33rd Degree and Grand Inspector General for Middlesex.

Although Craft Freemasonry is worldwide in the sense that it exists in most parts of the non-Communist world, and even underground in parts of the eastern bloc, it has no international organization. The Ancient and Accepted Rite of the Thirty-Third Degree is the only cohesive masonic group run on truly international lines. The Supreme Council in London is one of many Supreme Councils in various parts of the globe, of which the senior is the Supreme Council of Charleston, USA, which effectively operates a worldwide network of Freemasons in the most powerful positions in the executive, legislature, judiciary and armed forces as well as the industry, commerce and professions of many nations.

The English working of the Rite - sometimes known by the code name Rose Croix from the title of the initiate to the 18th Degree - differs from the American in one basic respect. In England and Wales only a few of the 33 degrees are conferred by special ritual, while in the USA each degree has its own initiation ceremony. In this country, the 4th to 17th Degrees are conferred at once and in name only during initiation of the selected Freemason to the 18th Degree. To the few who rise higher than the 18th Degree, the 19th to 29th are conferred nominally during the ritual of initiation to the 30th Degree -that of Grand Elected Knight Kadosh or Knight of the Black and White Eagle. Degrees above the 30th are conferred singly. No initiate can rise higher than the 18th Degree without the unanimous agreement of the entire Supreme Council.

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