Thomas Dunckerley

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Frontispiece from Sadler's biography of Dunckerley Thomas Dunckerley.jpg
Frontispiece from Sadler's biography of Dunckerley

Thomas Dunckerley (23 October 1724 – 19 November 1795) was a prominent freemason, being appointed Provincial Grand Master of several provinces, promoting Royal Arch masonry, introducing Mark Masonry to England, and instituting a national body for Templar masonry. This was made possible by an annuity of £100, rising to £800, which he obtained from King George III by claiming to be his father's illegitimate half brother. [1]

Holy Royal Arch Degree of Freemasonry

The Holy Royal Arch is a degree of Freemasonry. The Royal Arch is present in all main masonic systems, though in some it is worked as part of Craft ('mainstream') Freemasonry, and in others in an appendant ('additional') order. Royal Arch Masons meet as a Chapter; in the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch as practised in the British Isles, much of Europe and the Commonwealth, Chapters confer the single degree of Royal Arch Mason.

Order of Mark Master Masons

The Order of Mark Master Masons is an appendant order of Freemasonry that exists in some Masonic jurisdictions, and confers the degrees of Mark Mason and Mark Master.

Knights Templar (Freemasonry)

The Knights Templar, full name The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta, is a fraternal order affiliated with Freemasonry. Unlike the initial degrees conferred in a regular Masonic Lodge, which only require a belief in a Supreme Being regardless of religious affiliation, the Knights Templar is one of several additional Masonic Orders in which membership is open only to Freemasons who profess a belief in Christianity. One of the obligations entrants to the order are required to declare is to protect and defend the Christian faith. The word "United" in its full title indicates that more than one historical tradition and more than one actual order are jointly controlled within this system. The individual orders 'united' within this system are principally the Knights of the Temple, the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St Paul, and only within the York Rite, the Knights of the Red Cross.


Early career

In 1735, Dunckerley was articled to William Simpson, a barber and peruke maker of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, but ran away after just two years to join the navy. [2] He is recorded from 14 April to 4 August 1742 as an able seaman on the muster book of HMS Namur. [3] On 6 January 1745, the minutes of Trinity House at Deptford record that 'Mr Thomas Dunckerley being Examin'd & found Qualify'd to be a School Master in her Majesty's Navy & having produc'd a certificate (as usual) of his Sobriety & good Affection to his Majesty, he was certify'd accordingly'. [4] He is first mentioned in Admiralty records on 19 February 1744, when not quite twenty years of age, he was appointed schoolmaster on a seventy gun ship called HMS Edinburgh. In 1746 he was appointed Gunner on a sloop, a term equivalent to Chief Gunnery Officer. He proceeded to posts as Gunner on larger ships, including the 90 gun HMS Prince (ex-Triumph). From 1757 to 1761 he served on HMS Vanguard as both Gunner and Schoolmaster. On this ship, he saw service at the Siege of Quebec. After service on HMS Prince, he was superannuated in 1764. [1]

Royal paternity

According to Dunckerley, it was in 1760, while attending his mother's funeral, her neighbour, Mrs Pinkney, told him of her death-bed confession. While her husband was away on the business of the Duke of Devonshire, she had been seduced by the Prince of Wales (later King George II), who was Thomas' natural father. Being immediately called away to sea, this information was of no immediate use to him. However, on his superannuation in 1764, monies owed to him were not paid due to incomplete paperwork, and he was obliged to pay medical expenses after an accident caused his daughter to require an amputation of the lower leg. This left him in debt, and arranging for his pension to be paid to his family, he took ship with the frigate HMS Guadeloupe to the Mediterranean. The next year, he was put ashore at Marseilles with scurvy. On his recovery, with the help of Captain Ruthven of the Guadeloupe and the financial assistance of freemasons in Gibraltar, Dunckerley managed to lay his case before several persons of rank on his way back to England. Finally, in 1767, his mother's statement was laid before King George III, who accepted Dunckerley's claim to be the half brother of his father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, the son of George II, and provided an annuity of £100, which quickly rose to £800. [1] He also was granted apartments in Hampton Court Palace. [5]

Prince of Wales British Royal Family Title

Prince of Wales was a title granted to native Welsh princes before the 12th century; the term replaced the use of the word king. One of the last Welsh princes, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was killed in battle in 1282 by Edward I, King of England, whose son Edward was invested as the first English Prince of Wales in 1301.

George II of Great Britain King of Great Britain and Ireland

George II was King of Great Britain and Ireland, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover) and a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire from 11 June 1727 (O.S.) until his death in 1760.

Frederick, Prince of Wales Prince of Wales

Frederick, Prince of Wales, KG, was heir apparent to the British throne from 1727 until his death from a lung injury at the age of 44. He was the eldest but estranged son of King George II and Caroline of Ansbach, and the father of King George III.

Dunckerley's claim of royal paternity was not universally accepted in his lifetime. On his death at least one contemporary cast doubt on his illegitimacy. Recent studies also claim to refute his own version of his parentage, although Arthur Edward Waite certainly accepted it, perhaps based on his resemblance to George III in his portrait. [6] [7]

Dunckerley as freemason

Dunckerley was initiated into freemasonry at Lodge No 31, at the Three Tuns in Portsmouth, in January 1754. In 1760, he obtained a warrant for a lodge aboard HMS Vanguard, which he took to form London Lodge (now No. 108) in 1768. After leaving Vanguard, he obtained a warrant for a lodge on HMS Prince, which he later transferred to HMS Guadeloupe. This later became the Somerset House Lodge, meeting at the Turk's Head in Soho. With the Vanguard warrant, he obtained a roving commission from the Premier Grand Lodge of England to inspect the state of the craft wherever he went, including "to regulate Masonic affairs in the newly acquired Canadian provinces." Under this authority, as Acting Grand Master of all Warranted Lodges in Quebec he installed the first Provincial Grand Master of Canada, Col. Simon Frasier, in Quebec in 1760. [8] [9]

Freemasonry group of fraternal organizations

Freemasonry or Masonry consists of fraternal organisations that trace their origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons that from the end of the fourteenth century regulated the qualifications of stonemasons and their interaction with authorities and clients. The degrees of Freemasonry retain the three grades of medieval craft guilds, those of Apprentice, Journeyman or fellow, and Master Mason. The candidate of these three degrees is progressively taught the meanings of the symbols of Freemasonry, and entrusted with grips, signs and words to signify to other members that he has been so initiated. The degrees are part allegorical morality play and part lecture. Three degrees are offered by Craft Freemasonry, and members of any of these degrees are known as Freemasons or Masons. There are additional degrees, which vary with locality and jurisdiction, and are usually administered by their own bodies.

Portsmouth City & unitary authority area in England

Portsmouth is a port city in Hampshire, England, with a total population of 205,400 residents. The city of Portsmouth is nicknamed Pompey and is mainly built on Portsea Island, a flat, low-lying island measuring 24 square kilometres in area, just off the south-east coast of Hampshire. Portsmouth is the only island city in the United Kingdom, and is the only city whose population density exceeds that of London.

Soho District in London, United Kingdom

Soho is an area of the City of Westminster, part of the West End of London. Originally a fashionable district for the aristocracy, it has been one of the main entertainment districts in the capital since the 19th century.

In 1767, he was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Hampshire. At that time, the office of Provincial Grand Master had fallen into disuse, but Dunckerley would personally revive it in several counties. He is known to have been the Provincial Grand Master for Essex from 1776, Dorsetshire and Wiltshire from 1777, and Gloucestershire and Hampshire in 1784. [10] A document of 1786 appoints him Provincial Grand Master for the Counties of Dorset, Essex, Gloucester, Somerset and Southampton, the City and County of Bristol and the Isle of Wight. [9] In 1785, Dunkerley founded the Lodge of Harmony, Number 255, at the Toy Inn at Hampton Court, presumably as his own home lodge. [11] It was at Dunckerley's request that the Province of Bristol was created, still unique in English Freemasonry as the only province confined to a single city, and having all of its lodges meeting in the same building. [12] In 1790 he was also made Provincial Grand Master of Herefordshire. [13]

In 1766, the Moderns who worked the Royal Arch degree formed a Grand Chapter with Lord Blayney at its head. He made Dunckerley his Grand Superintendent, in which capacity he authorised chapters, and toured his provinces creating new chapters and Royal Arch masons, frequently (according to some historians) exceeding his authority. [1] [14] Although Dunckerley belonged to the Moderns Grand Lodge, he leaned towards the Antients in ritual, making him a natural ambassador for Royal Arch Masonry in his own Grand Lodge. He was one of the signatories on the original charter of the Moderns Grand Chapter. [15]

The first evidence of Mark Masonry is in 1769, when Dunckerley, at a Royal Arch Chapter, made several brethren Mark Masons and Mark Masters. It is possible that Dunckerley created the degree. [16]

In 1790 and 1791, Dunckerley projected the centralization of the rather scattered Templar groups in England. On 24 July 1791 he informed the York Encampment of Redemption that he had been invited to assume the office of Grand Master by the Knights Templar of Bristol. York favored the proposal, and in due course Dunckerley accepted the office. The groups referred to his authority in 1791 included The Observance of London, the Redemption of York, the Eminent of Bristol, and the Antiquity of Bath. Dunckerley became the Grand Master of the first national Grand Conclave of "The Royal Exalted Religious and Military Order Heredom, Kadosh, Grand Elected Knights Templar of St. John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta". [17] His energy and organisational zeal contributed to the growth of the order until his death in 1795. After this, the institution became moribund until revived by the Duke of Kent almost a decade later. [18]

The encyclopedist Albert Mackey blamed Dunckerley for inventing Royal Arch Masonry, and splitting the third degree in the process, removing the true word of a mason to the new degree, and losing the original "pure" form of the ritual forever. [19] This is unlikely, as the Royal Arch degree was worked for at least a decade before Dunckerley's initiation. [15]

He published a number of charges, lectures and songs related to different branches of freemasonry. Together with Grand Secretary Heseltine and William Preston, he campaigned and raised funds for the first dedicated headquarters of English freemasonry, the first Freemasons' Hall. During his lifetime he held various high masonic offices: Past Senior Grand Warden of England, Provincial Grand Master for the Counties above mentioned, and Past Grand Master and Grand Superintendent of Royal Arch Masons over eighteen counties. [1] His major contribution was to the emerging "higher degrees", the Templar, Royal Arch, Ark Mariner, and Mark degrees. Not only did he successfully promote them, he organised them, standardised their ritual, and forced them to keep proper records. [18]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Thomas Dunckerley, his life, labours, and letters by Henry Sadler, London, 1891
  2. Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012, pp. 39-40.
  3. Ron Chudley, Thomas Dunckerley: A Remarkable Freemason, London, Lewis Masonic, 1982, p. 64
  4. Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012, p. 43
  5. Arthur Edward Waite, A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, I:202. London, 1921
  6. Waite, I:202
  7. Susan Mitchell Sommers, Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, London, Pickering & Chatto, 2012
  8. Waite, I:202
  9. 1 2 Southchurch Masonic Study Circle Clifford Wyatt, The Life and Times of Thomas Dunckerley
  10. Waite, I:202
  11. Middlesex Mark retrieved 29 August 2013
  12. Province of Bristol The Canynges Lodge of Mark Master Masons, retrieved 27 October 2012
  13. Waite, I:202
  14. Waite, I:202
  15. 1 2 Phoenix Masonry Bernard E. Jones, Freemason's Book of the Royal Arch, revised Carr, 1966, retrieved 1 November 2012
  16. Pietre Stones The Mark Degree, Craig Gavin, The Square Magazine Vol 25, September 1999
  17. Waite, I:202; II:227
  18. 1 2 Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, The Revival of a Patriotic Order: Knights Templar in England and New York, Knight Templar Magazine, 2 January 2011, retrieved 2 November 2012
  19. Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry Entry on York Rite, retrieved 2 November 2012
  20. Waite I:202-203
  21. Waite, I:203