Reception of H.R.H. Prince Of Wales as Past Grand Master

Painted by artist and Freemason Bro. Sigismund Rosenthal

The oil painting below by artist and Freemason Bro. Sigismund Rosenthal depicts the reception, proclamation and welcoming of H.R.H. Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales as Past Grand Master Mason of United Grand Lodge of England on 1st December 1869, a year following his initiation into the Craft in Sweden.

H.R.H. Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and later King Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria and Great Grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II was made a Freemason in Sweden on 20th December 1868 whilst visiting King Charles XV of Sweden who was also the Grand Master of the Order of Swedish Freemasons.

Sweden operated a progressive system of 11 Degrees which the Prince of Wales received over a period of just two days - the first six degrees of the Swedish Rite on 20th December, the remaining four on the 21st December and then finally the highest degree of Knight Commander of the Red Cross, which was also classed as a civil honour, making him a Knight Commander of the Order of King Charles XIII of Sweden.

The reasoning for his initiation in Sweden as opposed to in England was likely due to his being heir to the throne. After all, how do you choose which Lodge and which senior Brother should have the honour of initiating a future King? Easier perhaps to have the ceremonies conducted by a King and crown prince of a friend and allied country.

At the time however it was suggested it was due to his mother, Queen Victoria’s alleged dislike of Freemasonry. As royal patron of no less than three national masonic charities however this is unlikely.

United Grand Lodge of England

Following the initiation, news was sent to England, where it was unanimously agreed that H.R.H. Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales would be appointed Past Grand Master in line with the established protocol for members of the Royal Family that joined the Craft from 1767.

To satisfy any precautions, a request was made to Order of Swedish Freemasons for English translations of the first three degrees of their system, which was responded to and showed their system similar to the English equivalent.

Almost a full year later, at the Quarterly Communication of 1st December 1869, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales was received, proclaimed and welcomed as Past Grand Master by the Grand Master, Bro. Thomas Dundas, 2nd Earl of Zetland (White haired figure, painted standing in front of the throne that was made for King George IV). H.R.H. Prince of Wales responded that he felt it “a deep honour” to be there that day and to be admitted into the Grand Lodge of England.

The Prince of Wales pictured on Earl of Zetland’s left (to the right as we look at the painting) later went on to become Grand Master in 1874 and during his 26 years as Grand Master, the number of lodges almost doubled, and membership was seen as a status of a Brother’s standing in their local community.

Upon coming to the throne in 1901, Edward ceased his active participation in Freemasonry, however took on the title of “Protector of the Craft” and maintained an interest until his death in 1910.

Bro. Sigismund Rosenthal

Bro. Sigismund Rosenthal (1813-1884) was an immigrant originally from Breslau in Germany, who appears on the 1861 census with his family, living at 2 Red Lion Square in Holborn, London.

As well as the painting above, he is known for many portraits of prominent figures, including a Bro. Thomas Dundas, 2nd Earl of Zetland,Grand Master of United Grand Lodge of England; Grand Master of the Knights Templar William Stuart and Grand Master Bro. George Frederick Samuel, 1st Marquess of Ripon who resigned as Grand Master of United Grand Lodge of England upon his conversion to Catholicism in 1874, ultimately being replaced by H.R.H. Prince of Wales.

Rosenthal’s masonic career included being Master of Polish National Lodge #534, leading a deputation received by ruler of Supreme Council Grand Orient of Italy, Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1864.

The painting itself is the only known image in colour to show the interior of the old Grand Temple and considered to be one of the best depictions of the “Ark of the Masonic Covenant” with it’s dome intact outside of it’s creator Bro. John Soane’s own drawings. It has always proven popular with members of the Craft, with prints and reproductions made available from an early date as can be seen from this advert from the Masonic Periodical “The Freemason” in February 1873 which has a set of two paintings available by the artist.