During nearly three hundred years since the first Grand Lodge was organised in London, England in 1717, there have been many Freemasons that have changed the Craft in a progressive and positive way. The following list is compiled of Masons that I have chosen, mainly from a historical perspective, and perhaps also being from an English stance as well. The list can act as a brief introduction, and for further research on the Masons discussed, I can refer the reader to some of my books mentioned below.
Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers
Dr John Theophilus Desaguliers is a celebrated natural philosopher, poet and Freemason from the early eighteenth century. He was an early Grand Master of the Premier Grand Lodge and is now seen as the Mason, along with Dr James Anderson, who changed the ritual structure during the 1720s and created the three degree system, a system that is still practiced around the world today.
Rev. James Anderson
Rev. James Anderson, like Desaguliers, is seen as a Mason who conducted ground-breaking work, forging Modern Freemasonry during the early eighteenth century, and is now more famous for his Constitutions of 1723, and the second edition which he changed considerably in 1738. Every Grand Lodge today has a set of Constitutions; rules and regulations that determine the administration and practice of the Craft, a legacy indeed of Anderson’s work.
Dr Francis Drake
Dr Francis Drake was a Mason under the Grand Lodge of All England held at York, or the York Grand Lodge for short. He gave the ground-breaking Oration in 1726, an Oration that not only declared the Grand Lodge at York for the first time, but also put forward the ethos and philosophy of Freemasonry. Indeed, on reading of Drake’s Oration, one will recognise the values that are at the very core of modern Masonry. The Oration was published a number of times and became widely read, even being popular with London Masons. Drake went on to become Grand Master of York in 1761.
Laurence Dermott was an Irish Mason who was a force behind the formation and the development of what became known as the ‘Antient’ Grand Lodge, founded in 1751 as a reaction against the Modernisation of Freemasonry by the Premier Grand Lodge, along with the pomp and ceremony and the issues of class that was becoming apparent in certain London lodges against Irish Masons. The ‘Antients’ quickly took hold and rivalled the ‘Modern’ Grand Lodge, paving the way for a Union in 1813 which brought change and compromise to the Craft. The ‘Antients’ also gained a foothold in America and assisted in spreading the Craft there.
William Preston was a Mason who, at one time, had been an ‘Antient’ Mason, a ‘Modern’ Mason, and a Mason under the York Grand Lodge, being a founder of the Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent. He was an avid ritualist and promoted education within the Craft, his legacy being the wide use of the Preston-Webb ritual in the USA and the Prestonian Lecturer under the UGLE.
The Duke of Sussex
The Duke of Sussex became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813, and guided through the changes that the union of the ‘Antients’ and the ‘Moderns’ brought – not an easy task within Freemasonry! He was seen by many – such as the writer George Oliver – as being heavy handed, being stern in his views in regard to ritual and the Royal Arch (which became seen as an addition to the third degree under the UGLE). Despite the Liverpool Masonic rebellion, he kept the Union together and his firm control is seen in the fact that the UGLE is still going strong and is respected throughout the Masonic world.
Albert Pike’s contribution to Freemasonry is very well known, his development of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite and his book Morals and Dogma being an influential work that has been read by many thousands of Freemasons since first published in 1872. The work, besides promoting the Scottish Rite, discusses Pike’s theories on the degrees, giving lectures on each and portrays his in-depth intellect on the secrets of symbolism. Pike and his work has arguably inspired countless Freemasons over the past 150 years.
So do you agree with this list – or would you replace these with other influential Freemasons?
For further information on the featured Freemasons of this list, please refer to a selection of my work: