Knight Templar Priests – Our beginnings

A Talk by V I11 Kt Pt Reg Cooley

The first attempt at a history of the Order took the form of an eight page pamphlet which, while it gave us some useful information on the revival of the Order and the founding of Grand College, only scratched the surface. This is not surprising, as the continuous documented history of the Order does not really start until Henry Hotham breathed life into a moribund organization. Our predecessors do not seem to have believed in keeping records of the Order, and alas, those very important Royal Kent records of the period immediately preceding the foundation of Grand College are also lost to us.

A year ago, a talk on the early days would not have detained us more than about ten minutes, (for which you might have been thankful!) but now we are able to make your attendance here more worthwhile. The mist over the origins and practice of the Order is lifting, though still very patchy. Much more research is still required, some, probably, under our own noses!

We can say with certainty that the Order started in the 18th Century, but how, is still very much a matter of conjecture. One historian, John Yarker, who, when it came to writing Masonic history, sometimes displayed an enthusiastic inventiveness, claimed that our origins went even further back, to 1686, but offered no evidence. This year, 1686, became known, rather uncritically, as the Year of Revival.

This claim is repeated in the Historical Note which forms the preamble to the 1877 printed Ritual, to which I shall refer later. There is, however, a possibility that this was written by Yarker and so has to be approached with some caution. Another historian, possibly Yarker again, says the Order was heard of at an early date in the hills of Ayrshire, where it was known as the White Mason. Plenty of mist there, and though we cannot discount it certainly the Order came to Scotland in the 19th Century, but we’ll talk about that later.

Throughout the 18th Century various authorities claimed that the Masonic Rite consisted 7 or 8 degrees, but as each had his own ideas, these varied considerably. One writer, in 1765, had No.6 degree as Knight Templar, and No 7 Professed Knight (said to be Templar Priest), but the so-called York system in 1780, and a London System, terminated with the seventh degree of Templar Priest or Holy Wisdom.

York Lodge has a Treasurer’s Account of the transactions of the “Order of Knights of the Tabernacle at the Grand Lodge in York” which was thought, because of the Tabernacle reference, to be a KTP body. This appears to be confirmed by the minutes of the Jerusalem Preceptory No.5, Manchester from 1812 to 1816, which state that the degree of the United Sacred Band of RAKTYP is an Old York Degree, they having printed warrants in 1786. It also says that the Encampment at Bottoms has a very old warrant granted by York. We do know that the degree was worked at Bottoms. To add to our confusion, we have a handwritten ritual, also from York Lodge archives, purporting to be of the Royal Union Band of HRAKTP, a body of which, as yet, we know nothing.

The Knights of the Tabernacle did apparently issue a Warrant to Rotherham for which they charged a guinea. However, there is nothing in the account to suggest a KTP working; one item of expenditure for “makings and expenses” by the Grand Chaplain seems to indicate the use of some kind of tracing board – this was a regular item in lodge accounts, though the recipient was generally the Tyler. So we cannot at present identify this Order, particularly as the title “Tabernacle” in a KTP context is subsequently found only once in 1813, and then not again until the mid-1840s in America.

W strongly suspect that the warrants issued were for Encampments, who would, ipso facto, be entitled to work the KYP degree, as we are aware that the York Grand Encampment of Kt practised the three Degrees of Arch, Templar and Priest. The degree followed the Kt without intermediary and, quoting the 1877 Ritual, “was considered the Ne Plus Ultra of Templary, and dated its era from the ‘Year of Revival, or 1686.’”

It is said that the Bristol, Bath and Salisbury Camps which confederated in 1786, propagated another system called the Seven Steps of chivalry, but whilst this did not include the degree of Knight Templar Priest, the 1877 Ritual, in its Historical Note, says they also practised the degree. Incidentally, the full title of this Ritual is “The Perfect Ceremonies of The United Sacred Band of Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests after the Order of Melchisedec.”

There were at least 5 such Bands by 1799; there is in existence Priestly Warrant No.5 which, issued, not by a supreme authority (of which there was none) but by the Annahilt Union Band, which had been formed by Lodges Nos. 606 and 683. This gave permission for a Band to be set up at Dromore in Northern Ireland, provided that the neighbouring Bands at Belfast and Lisburn thought it right to sanction it.

This permission stated:
“We the President and Seven Masters of the united Sacred Band of (K)Night Templar Priests held under the sanction of Lodge No.606 and 683, and on the Grand Registry of Ireland. And it was agreed that Brother John Ferguson and the Rest of the Brethren of Lodge No.508 should Establish a Band in Dromore it being the certain Distance Between each band that is 6 miles. He shall have No.5 with the Greatest of Pleasure and Make No Delay in the Establishment of it. And that No other Town or place shall have any claim on it more than ours.”

It was signed John Ferguson as President and by seven brethren from each lodge designated 1st to 7th Masters and finally, by the Lodge Secretaries. This Band subsequently grew to encompass 8 Lodges and was active up to the late 1850s. We know of at least 10 Union Bands in Ireland.

Most Bands had a President and seven Masters, though a Dublin Union Band had a Grand Scribe and seven Grand Pillars. There appears to have been two Dublin Union Bands. One operated under the sanction of Lodge No.950, in the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot, 1804 to 1824, and the other was worked under sanction of three KT Encampments.

Each of the Officers of a Union Band had a seal. In the Newry Band, the President’s, a larger one, bore the name of the Band, a Cross with the words “INRI Supremus”,
with doves, winged cherubs, a crown and a hand. One set of seven seals each bore a word or words which added up to “Let Truth stand though the universe should sink into ruins,” and others “Weep not, behold the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the Book loose the seven seals.”

The Newry Band seals depicted a lion rampant, an anchor, an irradiated sun, a five-pointed star, a winged cherub, a skull and a crown.

William Waples, a Knight Templar Priest who investigated the introduction of the Order into North East England, says that the Irish Rite, which included Kt and KTP, was taken to Edinburgh sometime between 1790 and 1798, by brethren of the Militia Lodges. The Shropshire Militia introduced this Rite to St. Stephen’s Lodge No.145 and 1798; this was one of the 40 Irish Warrants which, by 1810, had spread through Scotland at that time, and was designated “The Arch Temple No.31 (St. Stephens Lodge No.145).”

One warrant was granted to the St John’s Lodge No.94 in Sunderland in February 1807. From this Lodge, apparently, was formed the Joppa Encampment No.37 of Knights Templar, in response to an invitation from the Duke of Kent to accept a warrant under the newly formed Grand Conclave of England. This was in1812.

At the request of the Newcastle members, this Encampment sponsored the Royal Kent Encampment in 1812. And of course it was from the Royal Kent Knights Templar that our modern Order sprung, and we thus have an interesting and direct link of over a hundred years between the Irish rites and Royal Kent’s practice of the Degree.

It’s not known for certain how often Joppa worked the degree, or indeed if they worked it at all, but they were certainly empowered to do so. In Scotland, the Order has been described as having a chequered and uncertain existence from about 1825 until 1875. Authority to work the degree was contained in all and it was contained in all Scottish Templar Charters under the Great Priory of Scotland, and it was supervised by a Grand Conclave of HRAKTP. The degree remained in the Statutes until 1933 when, after some discussion and the examination of a ritual supplied by the Grand Conclave (which somehow must have survived nearly 60 years without a job) it was removed without protest. It took nearly as long, 53 years, to revive it north of the Border.

Elsewhere in England, the main centre for the Order was Lancashire, where there were at least two Union Bands, at Bolton and Manchester. There is in existence a splendid KTP Certificate issued by the 2nd Lancashire Union Band in April 1828. This Band comprised Lodges 289. 286 and 675 and met at Bolton, and there was also another which worked in Yorkshire at Bottoms, near Lancashire border. We have a transcript of a ritual (much of which is unreadable) but which is plainly headed “Tabernacle of Jerusalem under the Conclave of St. John No.9” in 1813. This body is now shown in the Liber Ordinis as St. Joseph’s Preceptory, still meeting in Manchester. It is very interesting to note the year of this Tabernacle (1813) is variously described as AL 5817, AO 693, AC 439 and AKTP 127, the latter implying the “Year of Revival” – 1686. This is also the first instance of use of the word “Tabernacle” as plainly referring to KTP.

In the United States and Canada there is evidence that the Order was worked in the 19th Century. Harold Voorhis, a prominent American historian, stated he had seen a notice of the Priestly Order on the back of which was a record of two meetings of the Order of High Priesthood in 1829. His view was that these two Orders overlapped each other but implies that they were KTP.

The next reference he came across was from a Frederick Webber, an Irishman who joined masonry in 1848, and became a “Special Deputy for the USA of the Order of Holy Wisdom”. It is not known from whom Webber received his authority. The likeliest source would appear to be the Supreme Grand Master of the Great Priory of Canada, Lt Col William MacLeod Moore. Webber was also described as a Past VII Pillar, but we have no idea how and whence the rank came.

Webber stated in a Bulletin issued around 1875 in his capacity as Special Deputy that the KTP degree was first conferred in Kentucky in 1840 and existed in Canada and that under a Special Patent he organized a Tabernacle in two Commanderies, in Louisville and Henderson, both also in Kentucky. The aim of the Bulletin was to solicit members, but there is a hint that his motives were not altogether altruistic, when he says “This Order will cost but little and the amount is entirely dependent upon the distance I would have to go and the expense of the trip”. Incidentally, we have as yet found no evidence of the existence of a Tabernacle in Canada at that time, though recent researches by V I11 Kt Pt Knowles in America appear to point to KTP activity in Kentucky before 1840.

Webber, who served the Supreme Council 33rd Degree of the Southern Jurisdiction for 48 years, and was Secretary General for 21, next raised a Temple Tabernacle in 1878 in Albany, New York. Voorhis also mentions an Emmanuel Tabernacle in Chicago, but it spite of his saying no documentary evidence exists, in fact, there is a record of members of this Tabernacle attending the Grand Encampment Triennial Ingathering of 1880 but from then on the rest is silence.

Finally, Millard Hicks was made a KTP by Frederick Webber in Washington DC in 1897. But we still don’t know who made Fred a member? Hicks gave the degree to six other candidates between 1898 and 1904 in the State of Maine but they appear to have been unattached and unorganized and nothing more was heard of the Order in Maine. I leave America with one interesting thought – Webber set up Tabernacles, yet on this side of the Atlantic the first KTP body to be called a Tabernacle after 1813 was Royal Kent at the turn o the century.

We were intrigued at Grand College to receive a copy of a KTP Certificate issued in 1806 to a Richard Lovelace, in a Lodge No.183 held in the 9th Regiment of Foot. What intrigued us was that the Regiment was in Valenciennes, in France, and in the middle of the Napoleonic wars. I eventually found that the 9th Regiment had been serving in Ireland and embarked in two vessels fro the Netherlands, for service against France. Unfortunately, both vessels were shipwrecked, one at Calais, and the other further west.

The Calais vessel was carrying the HQ of the regiment, and so a number of officers and 260-odd soldiers went into the bag. As the Warrant must have been carried by the Headquarters, the brethren obviously made good use of their time in captivity.

Masonry was much more widespread in France in those days than it is today, and so the brethren would not only have been tolerated but actively encouraged by many of their captors.
Perhaps I may be permitted a digression here, for which I am indebted to John Hamill, concerning Richard Lovelace. He was apparently an honorary member of the Lodge, not being elected a joining member until 1813. In which year he, having passed the Chair and being an Excellent Mason was exalted to the degree of Royal; Arch Mason – seven years after being made a KTP! This was in April. In May the Master set up a Committee to examine the difference which and occurred between Lovelace and Brother Lind. The Committee agreed that the two brethren should be invited to attend the next meeting of the Lodge, but Lovelace objected to Lind being allowed to enter the lodge. A rumpus ensured as a result of which Lovelace was excluded. His name was crossed out of the Minute Book both for Craft and Royal Arch. Unfortunately, the difference is not recorded.

No mention is made in the Lodge minutes of the working of the KTP degree. John Hamill adds that this is not surprising – not only was the lodge an Antients Lodge, and therefore they would consider their lodge warrant sufficient authority to work any Masonic degree or Order within the Lodge, but they also had a fair number of joining members from the Irish Constitution who would have come across the KT KTP in their own lodges, as, of course, we have seen.

Before I finish I would revert to the 1877 Ritual to which I have referred several times. This edition includes the 21 Laws of the order, A Historical Note, Observations on Wisdom, and of course the ceremony itself.

The Laws were more akin to the Ancient Charges than to a series of Regulations, and had to be read to each candidate, who was then required to sign a Declaration of assent. It was also the Laws read to him previous to his admission, so that, presumably, he could see what he was letting himself in for. This duty devolved on the First Pillar.

I was particularly taken by Laws 7 and 18. In Law 7, a Knight Templar Priest obliged in his honest employment, or in Lodge, Chapter or Conclave, to converse with any wrangling, lewd or drunken companion, let him be on his guard; despatch his business; flee their company as he would the plague. Why should he lose his soul for such wretched men?

And in 18, he is enjoined not to spend time idly by day or by night in ignorance, profaneness, swearing, drunkenness or gaming; neither shall he follow sinful pleasures, foolish diversions, vain fashions, or unlawful exercises of the age we live in. But the sincerity of our ancient brethren shines through the whole 21 Laws, never more so than in the last which outlines the duty of care in vouching “and by so doing the whole brotherhood shall continue united in the true faith of the Gospel of Christ, that love, holiness, and righteousness may shine forth in every soul, in innocency, beauty and lustre.”

It seems very strange that only a few years after these Laws were printed, there was only one Knight Priest, Henry Hotham, left, and I find that difficult to believe. On a closer examination of his declaration however, he could be interpreted as saying that he found himself the last installed High Priest, even though he does go on to refer to himself as the sole survivor. What cannot be denied however was that the Order was moribund for inexplicable reasons, and he saved it. And from those days the Order has never looked back.