History of the Orange Order

History of the Orange Order

Orange Poster

The Loyal Orange Institution was formed on 21st September 1795 shortly after the ‘Battle of the Diamond’ outside Loughgall, Co. Armagh. Three well-known local men of the area, James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan, established the institution. Whilst much is made of these ‘founding fathers’ within Orange circles; from a spiritual perspective we see no evidence that any of them had evangelical credentials. History, in fact, shows that all three men were dedicated Freemasons and two of the three were actually proprietors of licensed premises.

The Bible addresses such people, saying, “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also, that thou mayest look on their nakedness!” (Habakkuk 2:15). The Rev. Allan Dunlop, addressing this passage of Scripture in his book ‘Where Shadows Fall’ (p. 37), says, “The curse of God is upon the drink trade for what profits it brings are wrung from widows tears, children’s terror, women’s virtue and young men’s strength; and of wives and mothers broken hearts.”

It is true to say that Dan Winter came from a Quaker background, although his ungodly lifestyle shows he was anything but a dedicated Quaker. Firstly, Quakers have always practised strict ‘total abstinence’ and have always opposed the devilish influence of alcohol. Winter was the proprietor of a public house. Secondly, Quakers have always been opposed to the heathenish practices and teachings of Freemasonry. Winter was a zealous Freemason. Thirdly, Quakers have always been pacifists, opposing all type of fighting. Winter was the leader of the local ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’ (an illegal Protestant militia group of the day), and he was also a well-known ‘cock fighter’ in the area.

The ‘Battle of the Diamond’ itself lasted only fifteen minutes and was centred on Dan Winter’s public house, which was located at the Diamond crossroads. This battle (or skirmish) resulted in Winter’s premises being burnt to the ground by the attacking Roman Catholics who were ironically known as ‘the Defenders’. This place was the special focus of the attack as it was the gathering house for the local ‘Peep O’ Day Boys’. Prior to the battle, the authorities had made several arrests and various arms seizures relating to this illegal group.

Winter’s supporters, many of whom were Freemasons, gathered around the debris of the public house and pledged themselves to form a new secret society, made up wholly of Protestant men. Now that they no longer had Winter’s premises as a meeting place the men retired to James Sloan’s public house in the local village of Loughgall. Here the Orange Institution was properly organised.

The founders of the Orange Institution were known as ‘unwarranted masons’, ‘clandestine masons’ or ‘hedge’ Masons. These Masons were a rebellious group who would not accept the existing degree format of the ruling Masonic Grand Lodge of the day. Belinda Loftus, in her book ‘Mirrors’ (p.24) confirms that the clandestine or hedge Masons were “unwarranted by the Grand Lodge in Dublin” because Irish Masonry “refused to recognise any degrees but craft.” Up until the early 1800s the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland only accepted three degrees, – Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason, collectively known as the ‘Craft degrees’ or the ‘Blue Lodge’. All other degrees were held to be illegal.

The Unwarranted Masons were the more zealous (or esoteric) Masons who adhered to the many mystical degrees, which today are accepted within the domain of higher degree Freemasonry. These degrees are found under the auspices of the Red Lodge, known as the Chapter and the Chivalry degrees, known as the Preceptory.

The Irish Masonic publication ‘History of Freemasonry in the Province of Antrim’ alludes to these clandestine Masons. It explain how these men would ascend to “the top of some neighbouring hill, and there, towards the close of a summers evening, after the manner of the ancient Druids, perform their rites and ceremonies, the meeting being properly tyled and guarded…They were unwarranted and recognised no authority and no authority recognised them” (p.143&144).

Winter, Sloan and Wilson, accompanied by others, felt the great need to instigate a ceremony of initiation into the new body and not surprisingly Freemasonry was chosen as the model. Initially the Orange had one sole degree known simply as the ‘Orange degree’. As the months progressed the founding fathers introduced a further degree somewhere around late 1796. The ‘Orange Marksman’ degree as it was originally designated, became better known as the ‘Purple degree’. It was constructed in Portadown, in the home of prominent Freemason, John Templeton – a location frequently used for Masonic ceremonies. Orange historian (and well known Freemason of his day) Colonel R.H. Wallace outlined in his ‘History of the Orange Order’ (1899) how the founders “were observed going into and out of a house in which a Masonic Lodge held its meetings,” and that, “He [Mr Templeton] invited them into the Masonic room, and there and then satisfactory arrangements were made.” He concluded by saying, “the influence of the place and its associations can be discerned in the results” (p. 50). Another Orange historian R.M. Sibbett in ‘Orangeism in Ireland and Throughout the Empire’ (1938) explained how, “The subject uppermost in their minds was touched upon and discussed, and, at the request of Mr. Templeton, they adjourned to a room which had been used for other ceremonies. Here the warrant was produced, the lodge was reopened, and a higher Order was added.”

A further degree was added as Orangeism consolidated itself. The Royal Arch Purple Chapter book states that, “Probably late in the year 1796 or early 1797 a third degree known as Purple Marksman was added to the ritual. It is likely to have been composed by the same hands, probably in the same room as that of the Orange Marksman or Purpleman” (History of the Royal Arch Purple Order p. 39).

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. The Royal Arch Purple Chapter book testifies that these three initial Orange degrees were “elaborate degrees” (p. 59).

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

These were the three main degrees that were worked within the Order between 1795 and 1798, although many other ritualistic degrees were finding their way into Orangeism throughout the island of Ireland. Most of these degrees can today be found within the Royal Black Institution.

During this early period each individual Orange lodge administered its own control over the working of degrees, as no controlling authority existed to govern the degree system. A Grand Lodge of Ulster, as it were, was formed on 12th of July 1797, although it seemed to exercise little power over the whole island of Ireland.

The prevailing confusion within the Order, coupled with a large influx of new members, due to the deteriorating political situation in the form of the Republican uprising of the ‘United Irelanders’, resulted in the formation of a Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland on 21st April 1798. This 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. These were replaced with two simplified degrees of ‘Orange’ and ‘Plain Purple’. Out with the old degrees went the old leadership of James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan.

Wasting little time, Grand Lodge released a strong statement on 13th December 1798 which reflected the hierarchy’s strong desire to separate themselves from former error, stating: “That many persons having introduced various Orders into the Orange Society which will very much tend to injure the regularity of the institution. The Grand Lodge disavows any Order but Orange and Purple and there can be none other regular unless issuing and approved by them.”

From this date forward, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland accepted only two degrees within the Order – ‘Orange’ and ‘Plain Purple’. 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.

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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 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 composition, how that it was designed to “include as much as possible of the travel and ritual of the original three.”

The draft to the Arch Purple Chapter’s book diplomatically 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.” Even this guarded statement was omitted from the published book!

Nevertheless, 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 third 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).

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.

By the start of the 1900s many of these rebellious Orangemen throughout the British Isles had subtly worked themselves into positions of responsibility within their respective Grand Lodges. This provided them with ideal opportunities to pursue their covert aims.

In 1902 the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland capitulated and accepted the Royal Arch Purple degree as an integral part of its Institution. This was achieved by replacing the Plain Purple degree with the Royal Arch Purple degree, thus maintaining a two-degree system.

The success of these ritualistic Orangemen in Scotland encouraged their Irish counterparts to bring a proposal to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland to accept the Royal Arch Purple degree into their Institution. In their endeavours they 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. The formation of the Grand Chapter seemed to give the Arch Purple a respectability they never before enjoyed, albeit it was still looked upon with suspicion by most within the Orange Institution in Ireland.

This significant event inspired those ritualistic Orangemen in England who adhered to the Royal Arch Purple degree to increase pressure upon their Grand Lodge for acceptance of the degree. Their subtle campaign finally succeeded, for in 1913 the Grand Orange Lodge of England accepted the Royal Arch Purple degree as an integral part of its Institution. This was achieved by adding the Royal Arch Purple degree to the two existing degrees, thus making it the third degree. This alteration proved to be Orangeism’s final one to date. The Orange degree system remaining as follows:

Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland (2 degrees)
1st degree: Orange degree
2nd degree: Plain Purple degree

Loyal Orange Institution of Scotland (2 degrees)
1st degree: Orange degree
2nd degree: Royal Arch Purple degree

Loyal Orange Institution of England (3 degrees)
1st degree: Orange degree
2nd degree: Plain Purple degree
3rd degree: Royal Arch Purple degree

Whilst the mistrust towards the Royal Arch Purple degree in Ireland prevailed for many years, the Arch Purple Grand Chapter, at its formation in 1911, introduced subtle procedures which over time would create the psychological image that the Arch Purple degree was a progressive step within the Orange Order. They deemed that one could not obtain the Arch Purple degree unless in good standing within the Orange Institution. They also held that any local Orange Lodge which formed its own private Royal Arch Purple Chapter, was expected to use the same lodge number for the Arch Purple as they did in the Orange (e.g. LOL 100, RAPC 100), thus deceptively blurring the differences between the two Orders. These policies were installed behind Orange backs.

As the 20th century has progressed most Orange Lodges simply hold their Royal Arch Purple meeting at the end of an Orange meeting. This occurs (normally) once a quarter. The Lodge is ‘closed’ and then reopened as a Royal Arch Purple Chapter. This is called ‘raising the meeting’. All Orangemen, who are not yet Arch Purple men, are required to leave. This practice again portrays an image, in the minds of the uninformed, that the Arch Purple degree is a higher degree within the Orange Institution.

The Royal Arch Purple Chapter, also, arrogantly appropriated the ‘Royal’ prefix to their newly formed Institution without any prior authorisation. This self-conferment reinforced the rogue nature of the Arch Purple Order as the Crown alone is the only lawful authority that can perform the granting of such an important title. Such conferment can only be bestowed as a sign of royal recognition. The criteria for using the ‘Royal’ prefix is outlined in ‘The Royal Encyclopaedia’, which states: “Permission to use the title ‘Royal’ in front of the name of an institution or body… has long been a mark of royal favour. These honours, which are sparingly granted, are valued marks of royal recognition… the grant of the title ‘Royal’ is a matter of royal prerogative.”

Today, the Royal Arch Purple Chapter still flaunts this ‘Royal’ title, as if, somehow, they are the focus of royal favour. The ‘Royal’ prefix also gives the Institution a respectability it has never hitherto earned. Moreover the Chapter can never argue that such a title refers to the scriptural ‘royal priesthood’ as such a description pertains solely to God’s elect. It seems that the title relates more to the Order’s links with Freemasonry, which promotes its members from the Blue Lodge or Craft Masonry (the first three degrees) to the Red Lodge where the Mason is initiated into the ‘Royal Arch degree’.

As the years have passed by, the former hostility from the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland towards the Royal Arch Purple degree has all but been extinguished. The Arch Purple Chapter has exploited the 20th Century indifference, existing within Grand Lodge, by portraying the Arch Purple degree as a natural step of advancement within the Orange Institution. This practice has prevailed, despite the Arch Purple Order still being debarred by Orangeism’s own rules. The second degree of the Orange Order still outlines in its question and answer catechism:

Q. “Have you a number?
A. Yes.
Q. What is your number?
A. One and another one which makes my number 2.
Q. What 2?
A. The Orange and Purple the only two orders recognised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland ” (Purple hear meaning – Plain Purple).

A potential candidate to the Royal Arch Purple cannot come of his own accord; he must first be chosen by the Order and then discreetly asked by those within.

Every member of the Royal Black Institution must first pass through the Royal Arch Purple Chapter before advancing into the Black Institution. All members of the Royal Black Institution have completed this elaborate degree.

Little is disclosed of the actual numerical strength of the Royal Arch Purple Chapter’s membership. Estimates of the size of the Orange Institution of Ireland (from which the Arch Purple recruits) vary between 40,000 and 100,000 members. Informed sources within the hierarchy of the Chapter estimate that 95% of Orangemen today join the Royal Arch Purple Chapter and have therefore been initiated into this degree. Those within the Independent Loyal Orange Institution (which also employs the degree) believe their membership to be less than 1,500 members. So when calculating the influence of this degree in our Province today we see anything up to 95,000 men are subject to the Royal Arch Purple’s oaths, rules and teaching. This figure is colossal (even if many of these men are lapsed or inactive) when one thinks that you must be a Protestant male over the age of 19 to join the Arch Purple Order. Allowing for this fact and the fact that there are only 500,000 Protestant males who live in Northern Ireland, up to one in three Protestant males (over the age of 19) could be under the influence of this neo-Masonic structure (including thousands of professing believers). This is amazing when coupled with an estimated 45,000 Craft Masons (first three degree Masons) in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority of which are Protestant males. Combining the strength of both institutions together totals well over 100,000 Protestant men.

There are also many more tens of thousands of Orangemen throughout the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth who have also been initiated into this Order.

The history of the Royal Black Institution
The history of the Black degrees
The beginning of the chivalrous secret society concept

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