The Royal Arch Purple Order

The Royal Arch Purple degree is an integral part of the Orange Order in nearly every jurisdiction throughout the world today, apart from Ireland (the place of its birth). It serves as either the 2nd or 3rd degree in the different Orange jurisdictions. It is also placed as the 3rd degree in the Independent Orange Order degree system. The Royal Arch Purple degree is operated within the Royal Arch Purple Chapter in Ireland, which is a separate organization to the Orange Order, although closely linked to both the Orange and the Black on the Loyal Orders ladder. It is actually sandwiched in-between the two. Local gatherings that administer the Royal Arch Purple degree are called Chapters. They exist for the purpose of conferring one single degree – the Royal Arch Purple degree.

The vast bulk of Irish Orangemen today view the Royal Arch Purple degree as a natural progressive step of advancement from the Orange Institution to the Royal Black Institution. The evidence of this is seen in the fact that nearly every single Orange Lodge in Ireland today has a Royal Arch Purple Chapter attached to it. But for most of its existence, Grand Orange Lodges viewed the Arch Purple and Black degrees as being “anathema” to Orangeism.

Note: the solid and unrelenting opposition of GOLI to the RAP and the RBI

Most Royal Arch Purplemen jokingly and affectionately refer to the Royal Arch Purple initiation as “Riding the Goat.” For more information on why it is called that and what it actually signifies, please see: Riding the goat.

The degree:

The draft to the Arch Purple Chapter’s book traces the roots of the Royal Arch Purple degree, stating that, “In light of the evidence available it would appear that the degree given today evolved from certain practices which had their origin in the Masonic Order, together with some innovations which had been introduced by those brethren conferring the degree in different areas being added to the original theme of the pre 1800 degrees to form a new ritual.”

In their book ‘The Orange Order: An Evangelical Perspective’ Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland (which owns the Royal Arch Purple as its second degree) Rev. Ian Meredith and Irish Arch Purple man Rev. Brian Kennaway comment on the Arch Purple degree. They state, “It has to be admitted that this is the most ‘Masonic-like’ part of our ceremony.” They later describe it as “a Christianised or ‘Reformed Freemasonry’ ” (pp. 12, 25).

The Royal Arch Purple oath
The Royal Arch Purple degree revealed in full
A biblical analysis of the Royal Arch Purple degree

There were three main degrees worked within the Orange Order in its early days between 1795 and 1798. These were – the Orange degree, the Orange Marksman degree and the Purple Marksman degree. Whilst little is known of the exact content of these three degrees it seems certain that they were highly ritualistic in character, being modelled on the first three degrees of Freemasonry, namely, Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason.

Read a detailed exposure of the Royal Arch Purple by W P Malcomson:

Orange degree → Entered Apprentice degree
Orange Marksman degree → Fellowcraft degree
Purple Marksman degree → Master Mason degree

A ruling authority over the Orange – a Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland – wasn’t formed until 21st April 1798. This body brought much needed stability and leadership to the Order at a strategic period in its history. Grand Lodge immediately addressed the bewildering amount of unnecessary ritualism that had found its way into Orangeism, and here began a process of reform which purged out all the ritualistic baggage which had settled itself within the Order. This resulted in the disposal of the original three (elaborate) degrees of the Orange.

From this date forward, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland accepted only simplicity within its Order. Between 1798 and 1800 Grand Lodge began a process of implementing this simplification by standardising procedures throughout every lodge in Ireland. That they might eradicate any lingering injurious behaviour by spurious characters, they abolished the old Orange Order in 1800, with its ritualistic connections, obliging every Orangeman to rejoin a now simplified new Orange Institution.

Those ritualistic Orangemen inside the Order who bore allegiance to the former neo-Masonic degrees were far from happy at this radical reform. Some continued to practise these illegal degrees in a clandestine manner, in blatant violation of the rules of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland.

Facing strong persecution from a now powerful Grand Lodge and realising their beleaguered position, they merged the three old degrees into one large ritualistic degree. The Arch Purple Chapter’s book ‘History of the Royal Arch Purple Order’ explains: “Sometime between 1800 and 1811, possibly in 1802, a new degree was devised.” This degree was “developed from the three pre 1798 ‘old degrees’ ” (p. 59). This elaborate degree became known as the ‘Royal Arch Purple degree’.

Orange degree →
Orange Marksman degree → Royal Arch Purple degree
Purple Marksman degree →

From its inception, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland looked upon this neo-Masonic Royal Arch Purple degree with understandable abhorrence. It was viewed as being incompatible with, and contrary to, both Protestantism and Orangeism. Those ritualistic Orangemen who practised the degree were persecuted by Grand Lodge, forcing them to practise the degree in great secrecy for fear of expulsion from the Order. Grand Lodge maintained this position throughout the whole of the 1800s and into the early 20th century. The hard line assumed by the Orange Institution in Ireland mirrored the resolute stance of Orangeism throughout Great Britain.


Whilst opposition to the Royal Arch Purple within 19th Century Orangeism was enormous, a proposal was made to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to accept the Royal Arch Purple degree into the Institution in the early 1900’s. It succeeded in that it passed two readings, but when it came before the Grand Lodge meeting of 8th December 1909, in Dublin, delegates present resolutely rejected the introduction of the Royal Arch Purple degree into the Orange Institution of Ireland.

Realising there was little chance of the Arch Purple degree being integrated into the Orange Institution of Ireland, these clandestine Orangemen, on 30th November 1911, inaugurated their own Institution – the “Royal Arch Purple Chapter of Ireland”- with its own ruling authority known as the Grand Chapter.

For more on the internal debate within the Orders we recommend The Orange Order by Brian Kennaway:

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland – 2 degrees

1st degree: Orange degree
2nd degree: Plain (or Small) Purple degree

Royal Black Institution – 11 degrees

The Royal Black Institution consists of eleven degrees, as follows: –

(1) Royal Black degree – exposed and biblically examined
(2) Royal Scarlet Degree – exposed and biblically examined
(3) Royal Mark degree – exposed and biblically examined
(4) Apron and Royal Blue degree – exposed and biblically examined
(5) Royal White degree – exposed and biblically examined
(6) Royal Green degree – exposed and biblically examined
(7) Gold Crown degree – exposed and biblically examined
(8) Gold Star and Garter degree – exposed and biblically examined
(9) Crimson Arrow degreee – exposed and biblically examined
(10) Gold Link and Chain degree – exposed and biblically examined
(11) Red Cross degree – exposed and biblically examined

The Institution also possesses a final retrospective degree, which is essentially an overview of the 11 degrees that the candidate has traversed.

Red Cross Grand Charge – exposed

We recommed An Army with Banners: The Real Face of Orangeism by William Brown