Royal Arch Purple Formed
The enemy within (1802-1828)
Facing strong persecution from a now powerful Grand Lodge and realising their beleaguered position, the remaining clandestine Orangemen sought to preserve their old cherished rituals. The only way these ritualists could possibly do so was to form an alternative Purple degree and subtly try to merge it into the current two-degree Orange system. They did this by merging the three old degrees – Orange degree, Orange Marksman degree, Purple Marksman degree – 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 by the Brethren who valued and loved the old traditions and who were concerned by the turn of events”(p. 58). 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 –
The Arch Purple Chapter’s book also confirms its make-up, how it was designed to “include as much as possible of the travel and ritual of the original three’.”
The draft to the Royal Arch Purple Chapter’s book diplomatically outlines the roots of the Arch Purple degree, stating, “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.” Even this guarded statement was omitted from the published book!
This degree was worked so secretly that it wasn’t until 1811 that it came to Grand Lodge’s attention.
11 November 1811
Information reached Grand Lodge that the ritualists were at their work. Grand Lodge, being in no mood for compromise, released a blunt warning to these rebels, declaring, “It having been reported by several gentlemen that in defiance of the Rules of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, some Masters of Lodges in different parts of the Kingdom, have initiated Orangemen into systems which they term Black, Scarlet, Blue, Royal Arch Purple etc.
It is resolved unanimously that the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland does acknowledge no other colours or degrees amongst Orangemen but Orange and Purple and that all other colours of Black, Scarlet, Blue, Royal Arch Purple, or any other colour are illegal and injurious to the true Orange System, and if any Orangeman shall presume, after public notice of this resolution to meet in any such Black or other similar Lodges, upon due proof thereof he shall be expelled and his name sent to every Lodge in the Kingdom.”
This condemnation is the first ever historic mention of the neo-Masonic Royal Arch Purple degree.
30 December 1811
The Grand Lodge of England were quick to show their solidarity with the Grand Lodge of Ireland by the release of this important communiqué within a month of the Irish statement: “That the Grand Lodge of England does by no means sanction or authorise any Orders or Degrees in the Orange system save the Orange and Purple; and that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the Grand Lodge of Ireland, testifying our concurrence of opinion in this point.”
(Complaint to Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland)
16 January 1813
We have no record of the content of the Royal Arch Purple degree until Lifford Orange District complained in a letter addressed to Grand Lodge of Ireland outlining the degrading details of this ceremony, being practiced by clandestine Orangemen.
Lifford testified: “Dissentions and divisions exist with regard to making men into the Purple Order in this place. Several Lodges introduce the Man to be made, naked and hoodwinked, and go through a long and tedious form, and then he has to take an obligation, in many respects different from that prescribed by the Regulations of the Grand Lodge, at another time a man is entered and has to pass through several forms, and perform several other things, and take another oath, and this they term Royal Arch Mark; and they consider no man a proper Purple Marksman till he has performed all as above; nor will they allow any to visit or sit in their Lodges, till they conform thereto.
We therefore pray that the Rt. Worshipful the Deputy Grand Master may transmit us a proper Order on this subject and clearly point out if any change has taken place in the Purple Order late, under the sanction of the Grand Lodge, so that we may be able to set this dispute at rest.
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27 January 1813
The Grand Lodge of Ireland responded promptly to Lifford’s concerns. In a strongly worded statement, they declared: “Your Memorial containing an account of the Heathenish and indecent ceremonies practised themselves by some calling themselves Orangemen, I laid before the Grand Lodge of Ireland, who heard it read with the most poignant grief and indignation: and I am directed to say, that nothing can be more contrary to our Loyal Institution than such practices. The Principles of the Orange Institution, following the Principles of the Christian Religion, are precise, clear, and simple, easily understood, and easily practised; Piety towards God – Loyalty towards our King, and Good Will to all our Neighbours – To enter into Societies professing and practising these Principles, requires no idle or ridiculous ceremony… we have no mystery, or superstitious Rites; For we well know, where mystery begins, honesty terminates.
We therefore pray you, Friends and Brother, to make known these sentiments to these Lodges, who have deviated from our Rules.
Entreat them to put away from them Practices which they have adopted so derogatory to our Glorious Institution – tell them these were the very Practices and Ceremonies of the Illuminati of France and Germany, who brought their country to slavery and ruin. Ask them how such Practices can conduce to the Maintenance of the Protestant cause, to the advancement of Loyalty, or the Good of the People? Adjure them to return to the right way, and if through your admonition they shall return, what is passed shall be forgotten; but if they persevere in a course of such gross impropriety, assure them that the Grand Lodge will withdraw their warrants.”
1st March 1813
These rebellious ritualists refused to desist from such unseemly behaviour whereupon they were expelled, without delay, from the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland.
Grand Lodge directed Lifford, “You are hereby required to withdraw the warrants of such Orange Lodges in the County of Donegal, and District of Strabane as have not complied with the Orders of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, with regard to making Men into the Purple Order, and it is clearly to be understood, that no change has ever taken place in the Purple Order, under the sanction of the Grand Lodge.”
Whilst this local difficulty was eradicated, there were more violations being reported to Grand Lodge from other areas of Ireland. Grand Lodge released a wider admonition on the 12th of July the following year.
12 July 1814
They stated, “Many of the very best friends of our Loyal Orders have complained of innovations, by ridiculous and even superstitious ceremonies having been adopted in some places by spurious Orders of Royal Arch Purple, Black, Scarlet, Blue and Gold; and by assuming, in some degree, the Rules and Regalia of that very respectable Order, the Freemasons; which, however honourable in themselves, are totally distinct from Orangemen – of these abuses, brethren, we warn you, and earnestly entreat you to avoid them, as whoever continues in such practices cannot be received as a brother of our Order.”
7 July 1817
Grand Lodge was fighting a determined battle to expose and purge out any trace of this iniquity from Orangeism. To assist their campaign they distributed a tough letter of condemnation to every Lodge in Ireland, which read as follows:
“The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to the Masters, Officers and Members of the various Lodges therein.
Dear Brethren and Beloved friends,
…The Grand Lodge would here close this congratulatory Letter to the Members of our Order, were they not called upon, by Letters from the North, which state, that the silly, shameful, and even idolatrous practice, of mystically initiating into Black, Red, and perhaps Green Orders, still continues.
The Grand Lodge of Armagh, in the year, [Eighteen] Eleven, bore testimony against those ridiculous Innovations,”
(Grand Lodge then printed its statements of 11th November 1811 and 27th January 1813 which we have previously printed in the proceeding pages of this booklet)
“Grand Lodge did then, as it does now, most strongly reprobate all Innovations; and we therefore request, that every Lodge of Ireland, that holds in abhorrence those Heathenish Rites, will send its Number, and state of its Account, to the Grand Treasurer, Sir R. Musgrave, Custom-house, Dublin, that such Lodge may be registered as adhering to the true Principles of the Orange Institution, and that all others may be rejected and cut off from our Fellowship.”
7th August 1817
Grand Lodge met in Dublin with deep concern at the gradual, yet well-organised, infiltration of the true Orange system by the ritualists.
At the meeting they resolved “to attend, by their respective representatives, on the 20th day of November next, at a general meeting of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, in Dublin, to take into consideration the state of the Orange Institution, in regard to the Orders and Alterations lately introduced among the Brethren. And to determine how far the same are, or are not, expedient for the well-being of the Institution, as it is become highly necessary to secure unanimity and harmony amongst the Orange Men of Ireland.”
The rebellion was being brought to a head.
20 November 1817
This meeting attracted probably the largest and most representative gathering of Grand Lodge members yet to date. Outside of the great array of Grand Lodge Officers, there were 608 representatives from the many Lodges throughout Ireland. Such a turnout revealed the strong sentiment about the subject existing within the Order. The mood of the assembly was defiant.
Orange historian Sibbett records, “It was a full meeting and the following resolutions were agreed to unanimously:
1. “That the only original Orders of the Institution are Orange and Purple.”
2. “The Orange Order as improved in the year 1800 is sufficiently perfect and requires no alternation whatever.”
3. “That as it appears that some confusion has crept into the Purple Order; and for the purpose of producing perfect unanimity and conformity the following committee are appointed to regulate the same.”
The Institution had spoke and spoke firm, the mood of the gathering was unequivocally resolute against the moves of the ritualists.
These resolutions also confirm that there was no official change in the degree system or content of the Orange Institution between the years 1800 and 1817. Despite the determined efforts of the ritualists the two simple degrees of the Order remained unchanged.
A committee was appointed to regulate the Purple Order so as to eradicate any confusion within the ranks which had been introduced by misguided elements. The urgency of this matter is seen in the fact that they met the next day.
Read a detailed exposure:
21st November 1817
1. “That as uniformity and unanimity are the sure and only basis of security to the Institution it is most earnestly recommended to all Brethren that they will endeavour to adopt that uniformity and preserve unanimity, the advantages of which are so obvious.”
2. “That it is also most earnestly recommended to the Brethren that in the admission of new members into the respective Lodges the utmost simplicity of form should be observed.”
3. “That the members of this committee are authorised to communicate to every part of the Kingdom the approved form of admission and the requisite means of being known as members of the Institution.”
This committee reiterated the simplistic character of the Purple degree. And so as to preserve uniformity and unanimity they informed every Lodge in the United Kingdom of their position.
19 January 1820
Grand Lodge was still facing aggravation from the ritualists who refused to conform to the rules of the Orange Institution. A committee was appointed to enquire into the undignified behaviour and influence of these ritualistic renegades. They were instructed to report promptly and decisively on this matter. This they did within three days.
“The Committee, from several circumstances arising out of the present enquiry are led to observe, that various and jarring forms of admission and initiation have found their way into different Lodges, together with ceremonies, &c., not only unknown to the original simplicity of the Institution, but in many cases repugnant to common sense, to the religious feelings of many, most worthy, Brethren, and even to common decency. In order to guard against the future recurrence of this crying evil, the Committee have thought fit to institute a form of admission and initiation which they consider fully adequate to the end in view, and which to be to combine with due brevity a proper degree of the Solemnity, so necessary to be observed, at the important moment of a man’s dedicating himself by a voluntary Obligation, taken in the face of his Brethren, to the zealous discharge of his duties as a loyal Protestant…
In making the change required it has been their study to keep in view and to restore the sublime simplicity of the original Orange Institution; and to keep as widely as possible from approaching – (in the only thing in our Institution which can be classed under the Head or denomination of ‘Mystery’ viz. those Signs & c., whereby we are to guard ourselves and our Association against the danger of hostile intrusion) the system of other recognised Associations.
In making the change requisite, they have not been unmindful of the inculcation of those principles which led our proto-types through the wilderness – and the founders of the Association through the danger which called it into existence, and beset its infancy, viz. – dependence on and confidence in that Power in Whose hand alone are the issues of Life, and the sure foundation of all Prosperity.
All human Institutions are liable to error and corruption – it cannot therefore be a matter of surprise, however it may be of regret, that ours has suffered beneath the hand of time. But the Committee rejoice to think that the Institution having its dilapidations will now be repaired, and that it will stand once more and for long ages to come, firm and beautified in all the grandeur and simplicity of its original foundation; and that the late efforts of our Enemies, which were at first the cause of dismay and apprehension, have been in fact, the cause of much real good: and productive of advantage rather than injury. Thus giving us sure and certain evidence how frequently a protecting Providence is really watching, over the best interests of Man, while to our limited vision he appears to be wielding the Rod of Chastening Affliction.”
The mood of the committee was resolute and clear. It was time to root out the ritualism which some clandestine members had attempted to foist upon the Order, and return the whole institution to the “simplicity of its original foundation.” The “original foundation” being the ritual free Order of 1800. From this time on the Purple degree was known as the Plain or Small Purple. The name Purple Marksman was omitted completely from the Orange Order as it was being fraudulently used by the ritualists as an excuse to work the old pre-1798 ritualistic Purple Marksman degree.
All membership of the Purple Order was declared null and void and every Orangeman was re-initiated into the simple Purple degree.
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The first evidence of opposition to this reform came on the 28th February 1820. The Grand Master of Armagh warned Grand Lodge that, “Information having reached me of efforts being in progress on the part of a few interested Persons, to create dissention in the Orange Association, by endeavouring to decry the late proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which have been found to interfere with certain practices of their own, not tending to the good of the Association. – I feel it my duty to caution you against such Persons, and such efforts; they are not friends. I purpose being in Armagh during the approaching Assizes, and will be most happy to afford Information to such as wish for it, but I must warn you against hearkening to designing Persons, who cannot be acquainted with the facts which have influenced the Grand Lodge in their late serious deliberations.
I rely with confidence on your attending to this warning of your friend, and Grand Master W. Blacker.”
On 10th April 1820 Orangemen in Burrasakane, County Tipperary reported that they wanted to know the reason “why the higher colours should be surpressed? and praying to act under a different colour from that sanctioned by Grand Lodge.”
Grand Lodge replied bluntly that they “knew of no other colours belonging to the Orange System than Orange and Purple.”
A number of rebellious Armagh Orangemen met to organise an Orange meeting to focus opposition to Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The Clandestine Organisers were Thomas Seaver, Henry Sling, Robert Maxwell, John Simpson, Richard Warmington.
Captain Thomas Seaver, District Master of Camlough, Co. Armagh, was expelled from the Orange Institution. Seaver was later to move to France and align himself with the radical Republican politics of Daniel O’Connell and the Repeal Movement.
“The Grand Lodge have to state, with great satisfaction, that those disagreements which unfortunately took place in the Order on the change of 1820 are subsiding apace; and the number of Lodges which decline acting under the improved system are reduced to a very few.”
Henry Sling and sixteen others were expelled from the Orange Institution. 13 Lodges in Rathfriland District where threatened with expulsion for defying Grand Lodge.
The Royal Arch Purple Chapter. In its book ‘History of the Royal Arch Purple Order’ records that, “Worshipful Brother Ogle R Gowan in his ‘Annals and Defence of the Orange Institution of Ireland’ written in 1825 says, in relation to the New Rules of 1820”
“At all events it was ultimately the cause of irritating many of the most virtuous brothers, whose active co-operation would have been most desirable, of weakening the confidence of the Country Lodges, of producing protests from the Metropolitan Lodges, and, finally, of introducing “a despicable knot” of swindlers and factionalists, who had nearly brought disgrace and dishonour upon the untarnished purity of the Society, till at length they were “everlastingly expelled by the uncompromising firmness and virtue of the Grand Lodge on 13 September 1824.”
(18th March 1825 – 15th September 1828)
The Orange Order in Ireland was dissolved to comply with parliamentary legislation. Under ‘The Unlawful Societies Act’ all Irish secret religious societies were outlawed.
15th September 1828
Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was re-formed on 15th September 1828. Its strong prohibition of the ritualistic Royal Arch Purple and Black degrees remained unaltered.
Grand Lodges opposition to Royal Arch Purple and Black degrees
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