Mantle and Mitre

The story of the King Templar Priests

Reg Cooley

During the early years of the history of Freemasonry, there were, literally, hundreds of degrees and orders which have left little trace beyond passing references in Masonic encyclopaedias. Very many of these are known to have had continental origins in the 18th Century; the certain provenance of others is completely unknown. Among these is one Christian Order which made its appearance in Irish Masonic history in the latter part of the 18th Century, and prospered in Ireland for over 60 years, shooting out branches into Lancashire and Scotland.

Today this Christian Order of Holy Royal Arch Knight Templar Priests, or Order of Holy Wisdom, thrives as a sovereign international body represented on five continents. It has its home in York, and is administered by a Grand College. Yet in the 19th Century it was suppressed in Ireland, died out in Scotland, and become moribund in England.

When the Degree was conferred in those early days in Ireland, it was worked by Knight Templar Encampments and Craft Lodges, acting singly or, more often, collectively in what were known as Union Bands. There was no over-all authority; an existing Union Band had an apparently self –adopted, but nonetheless respected, authority to “warrant” other Union Bands. This was in the spirit of an ancient by-law which stipulated that any Knight Templar Priest “if in case of necessity, shall admit and make two men into this Order, and two Brethren shall admit and make one man into this step or degree of Masonry provided him or them to be proven true and faithful Brethren of the Knight Templar Order.”

Ironically, it was a desire to have a supreme authority to regulate the Order which led to its extinction in Ireland. A request to the Grand Conclave of High Knights Templar of Ireland to place the Order under their authority was rejected, the further working of the order being deemed inadvisable, for reasons as yet undetermined. And so, in 18668, the Order was extinguished in Ireland, since to continue would have invited Grand Lodge sanctions, that body having prohibited any Masonic assembly not authorised by itself or by any other |Masonic authority recognised by it.

The Scottish branch of the Order did not prosper in spite of enjoying the recognition of the Great Priory of Scotland, which gave authority for the degree to be worked in Scottish Knight Templar Preceptories. The last known working during this period was in 1883, when once again, the Order died out.

This left England or, to be more specific, Lancashire and Yorkshire. In England, the earliest reference to the Order is in 1802, when a Band was formed in Lancashire. This was followed by the Second Lancashire Union Band at Bury which, in 1819, in turn empowered three lodges to establish a Band at Bottoms, in West Yorkshire. This Band functioned to about 1873.

The 2nd Lancashire Band must have lasted somewhat longer as there was apparently sufficient demand for the Masonic publishers A Lewis to publish a Ritual in 1877. Unfortunately few records exist of the workings and demise of these Bands, and it seems that, for the third time, the Order was about to disappear.

According to one Henry Hotham, a very prominent Northumbrian mason, it almost had disappeared. It is mainly due to him that the present day Order owes its existence. Hotham saw himself as the last Knight Templar Priest, and in 1894 revived the Order by creating a sufficient number of Knight Templar Priests (using the ancient by-law referred to above as his authority) to form a Tabernacle in Newcastle-on-Tyne. As a consequence the first of the modern Tabernacles, Royal Kent, taking its name from the Knight Templar Encampment which had also formerly worked the KTP degree, was formed. And so, once again, the Holy Order of Knight Templar Priests had renewed its grip on life. For a while, however, it was a rather tenuous grip.

In 1897, control of the Order was passed to the Allied Masonic Degrees in London, it being expected that the Order would now gain a much higher profile from which it would profit; this was implicit in the agreement signed with the AMD. In fact, nothing happened, and a period of inanition ensued. The Order seemed bound once more for extinction.

Once again a White Knight rode to the rescue, in the form of Colonel Charles Napier Clavering, the Provincial Grand Master of Northumberland. On being appealed to he joined the Order to see if it were worth saving, and agreed that it was. Negotiations were opened with the AMD but had to be placed on the back burner when war broke out in 1914.

Napier Clambering succeeded to the Grand Mastership of the Allied in 1920, and was then able to insist that the Council should either carry out the terms of the agreement to support and promote KTP, or to restore its independence. In 1923, the Council decided that it was in everybody’s interests that the two bodies part company.

On the 14th May 1924, with Napier Clavering as the Grand High Priest, the newly constituted Grand College, the governing body of the Order, came into existence, and by the end of the month had consecrated its first two Tabernacles, in London and Harrogate. The speed with which this all happened indicates that these two Tabernacles must already have been in the pipe-line. Unfortunately, the records covering the period are lost.

The Order grew only very slowly for the first 40 years, with only 30 new Tabernacles, 10 of which were in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Indeed, such was the slow progress of the Order in England that none was consecrated for over 21 years from 1926, and there was a further gap between 1954 and 1960. The first overseas Tabernacle, New Zealand No. 7 was consecrated in London, in 1930, fir which potential members had travelled from New Zealand.

But the most important development occurred at Newcastle in 1935, when USA Tabernacle No.9 was consecrated. This was formed specifically to qualify American brethren to enable them to set up a recognised Knight Templar Priest authority in the USA.

And so the Grand College of America, the only other KTP constitution in the world, came into existence. A very close and harmonious relationship has been maintained with that body ever since.

The pace of expansion increased tremendously from the early 1960s, prompted by the dynamic leadership of George Watson Bourne, and continued by his two successors, Harry Beckett Raylor and John Owen Place. In 1966, the first of 13 Canadian Tabernacles was formed in Ontario, and in 1968, the Order arrived in South Africa; 11 years later, Harry Raylor, in a whirlwind tour of that country, consecrated five Tabernacles in eight days. Earlier, in 1962, George Bourn became the first Grand High Priest to visit overseas Tabernacles when he went to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, an example now followed regularly.

In subsequent years the Order spread to Holland, Germany, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Wales and Tasmania. In 1986, it had made a very welcome return to Scotland after over a century’s absence and thrives with nine Tabernacles in two Districts. Progress will continue with the breaking of new breaking of new ground in 2001 when Tabernacles are to be consecrated in Singapore and Malaysia, bringing the number of consecrations to 210. Remarkably, this Order is probably the only one to show a steady annual increase in its membership, against the prevailing trend.

This is perhaps a little surprising. It is an invitational Order, but open only to regularly installed Masters who are subscribing members of a Craft Lodge, and subscribing members of the Royal Arch and Knights Templar. It is proud to have attracted among its members very many Heads, serving and past, of every other Masonic Order, at home and abroad. Among its Grand High Priests, and District Grand Superintendents, have been, and still are, numbered many of the most prominent Masons of the day.

The Ceremony is standard throughout the Order is of powerful Christian symbolism, the keynote of which is Light. The dress is a white mantle and KT tunic, and a mitre. The order is administered by Grand College from its Headquarters in Castlegate, through 44 District Grand Superintendents. The highlight of the year is the Annual Assembly in June at Birmingham, at which, the preceding evening, the Ladies are entertained to dinner and, the following day, to excursions to places of interest. The functions are attended by well over 300 members and their ladies, from all over the world.

The membership of the Knight Templar Priesthood is now well over 6,000 which, though not large in comparison with many other Orders, nevertheless represents a significant achievement. It has come a long and difficult way in its chequered 200 years history.

Reg Cooley was the Grand Recorder of the Order