It is the accepted view that the Ritual of Freemasonry, at least insofar as the First and Second Degrees are concerned, is in part derived from the ceremonies of the early Operative Guilds. The expression "So mote it be", and the words "cowan" and "hele", for instance, point to antiquity. The Toast to "The King and the Craft" is not, of course, any part of the Ritual, but it is one of the best authenticated heirlooms we have received from the remote past.
The various Old Charges, dating back to the middle of the fifteenth century, differ in form and as to historical references, but all seem to concur in calling on the Mason "To take heed right well and wisely" to the first charge, that Masons should be true men to God, and, in the second place, that they shall be true Liegemen to the King and true to the craft of Masonry. We may surmise that in these Old Charges lies the origin of the Toast to "The King and the Craft", and that on the occasion of Refreshment, after giving thanks to the Almighty Architect, this Toast would follow naturally and in due course.
In 1738 Dr James Anderson was ordered by Grand Lodge to draw up the revised Constitutions of Masonry. His compilation is known to this day as the "Constitutions of 1738". His work has some imperfections, but the learned Doctor had a sound and accurate knowledge of the Masonic usages and customs of his own times, and those of the preceding generation. The first actual reference to the Toast is to be found on page 88, which states that this Toast was drunk by Scottish Masons in the reign of King James 1 of Scotland (circa 1430). In reference to this custom in Scotland it is notable that there is still in the possession of St John's Lodge, Glasgow, No 3, a celebrated Chest, which seems to have been used at great Masonic functions in the seventeenth century, and to contain the records. On the outside is carved an inscription, "God save the King and Mason Craft, 1684"
The next reference is in the time of King James 1 of England, who was also King James VI of Scotland. Page 98 of the Constitutions contains an account of the laying of the foundation-stone of the new Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in 1607. Here Dr Anderson relates that the Grand Master Inigo Jones and the Grand Wardens, the Earl of Pembroke, and Nicholas Stone, a celebrated Sculptor, attended, and a purse of broad pieces was laid upon the stone for the Masons to drink to: -
"The King and the Craft".
Whenever the Toast is mentioned in these Constitutions it has the distinction of being printed on a separate line and in larger type.
Dr Anderson states that at the Festival in 1719 Dr Desaguliers, then Grand Master, "revived the old regular and peculiar toasts or healths of Freemasons". These appear to have been three in number, namely, "The King and the Craft", representing the principle of Loyalty, the "Entered Apprentice" (on appropriate occasions) representing Fraternity, and the "Tyler's Toast", representing Relief. Two more were added later at the Festivals, the "Grand Master" and the "Grand Stewards", and by the close of the eighteenth century the total list averaged about nine.
A further mention of this Toast is to be found on page 180 of the Constitutions of 1738. The occasion referred to was the laying of the foundation-stone of the Church of St Martin's-in-the- Fields, in the reign of King George 1, 1727. Many prominent Freemasons attended, amongst others, no doubt, Dr Anderson himself. The Toast to "The King and the Craft" was drunk with full Masonic honours.
With the advent of the Hanoverian Kings to the throne of England undoubtedly Freemasonry in the first half of the eighteenth century lay under some suspicion of harbouring a lingering sympathy with the Royal House of Stuart. In June 1722 a deputation of Freemasons waited on Viscount Townsend, one of His Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, and brother-law of Sir Robert Walpole, historically the first Prime Minister of England, to assure him of the absolute loyalty of the Craft, and that all its proceedings and ceremonies were founded on this basis.
An interesting letter has been preserved relative to this matter, from Dr Thomas Manningham, Deputy Grand Master 1752 to 1756, dated from Jermyn Street, London, the 12th July 1757, to one Bro Sauer, of The Hague. He was authorised by the then Grand Master, the Earl of Carnarvon, to set out the practice and customs of the English Grand Lodge. After going into various points he states: "Our Healths in Lodge are first, the King and the Craft with 3.3 (etc)". I refer to the Quatuor Coronati Transactions vol. v. (1893), page 110.
In the Toast lists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries this Toast holds the foremost place. It was given with full Masonic honours, whether the King was or was not a Freemason. It will be remembered that the first Sovereign who was a Freemason was King George IV, who reigned from 1820 to 1830. His brother, who succeeded him as King William IV and reigned until 1837, was also a Freemason. The Toast list for the Grand Festival of 1794 (from the Freemason's magazine, 24th January, 1864, vol. VIII) contains the following:
1. Toast, "The King and the Craft". Music, "God Save the King"
In the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge from 1738 to 1767 this Toast appears as the proper Toast to give first after the "Master's Song". After the edition of 1767 the Song and Toasts were omitted.
The references thus far have all been drawn from the records of the Grand Lodge founded in 1717, and known as the Senior or Modern Grand Lodge. The other Grand Lodge, founded in 1751, known as the Atholl or Ancient Grand Lodge, professed, and probably with some justice, to practise and observe the more authentic and correct ritual and customs of Ancient Freemasonry. In any case, it is a fact that at their Union in 1813, the points in ritual and customs for which the Antients contended were almost entirely adopted by the United Grand Lodge. Having regard to this, and also to the fact that a large number of important Lodges on the present Register are the lineal descendants of the old Antient Lodges, it is significant that on this point the practice of both Grand Lodges was identical. In the Minutes of the 24th June, 1760, and again on the 26th September 1761, of the Antient Grand Lodge the authorised Toasts are recorded, and "The King and the Craft" heads the list with full Masonic honours. On the first date George II was King, on the second George III, neither of whom was a Freemason.
As to the practice in the Grand Lodge of Ireland, it is recorded in Spratt's Constitutions, published in Dublin, 1751, that when the foundation-stone of the Parliament House was laid by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret, many Freemasons were present, and the health of "The King and the Craft" was drunk. A List of the Toasts in the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, 1817, is headed by that of "The King and the Craft".
It is thus clear beyond reasonable doubt that this Toast is 'an ancient usage and established Custom of the Order". Only the strongest possible reasons could therefore excuse its elimination or alteration. Yet in the early years of the twentieth century, no doubt under influences emanating from the continent of Europe, attempts were made to modify the Toast and to separate the two elements in it. This led to a scholarly examination of the origin and history of the Toast by W Bro John P Simpson BA PAGReg, to whose researches and writings I am indebted for much of the material in the present paper. In these words he stoutly advocated the retention of the Toast in its ancient form: -
"With great respect I submit that the circumstances of our times and position of Freemasonry, furnish us with very strong arguments for the retention of the Toast in its present form, and with Masonic honours as it has been given from time immemorial. I do not wish to labour the subject by recapitulating all the arguments in favour of this; but in conclusion, will touch upon one aspect of the matter only. In the eighteenth century up to, perhaps, the year 1780, Freemasons' Lodges on the Continent were allied with religion and loyalty, and were, perhaps, more aristocratic even than in England. The Higher and Christian degrees were extensively practised in France, Spain and Portugal. The rise of the "Illuminati" in Germany, and the formation of such Lodges as "Le Contrat Social" (the name of the famous revolutionary treatise written by Jean Jaques Rousseau) composed of members of the Jacobin Club in Paris, were indications of the commencement of a new era. The history of the movement is told in an interesting and now rare book by Professor Robinson, of Edinburgh, published in 1789 and entitled "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all Religions and Governments of Europe". He contends that the French Revolution was directly brought about by the Freemasons' Lodges in Paris, and this is also the view taken by the French historian Lamartine in his "History of the Girondists". Since then it is common knowledge that Continental Masonry, for the most part, has gradually become anti-religious and socialistic, and it would, most unfortunately, be impossible to associate it in any sense with monarchy and loyalty. It is, I submit, therefore incumbent on us in the Mother Grand Lodge of the World to be very cautious, and to take no step, however trivial it may appear, which may give semblance to the idea that the indissoluble connection of King and Craft is not subsisting as it was in the days of our forefathers. Many other arguments will readily occur to Brethren in favour of the retention of this ancient Toast in its entirety and with full honours, and I have yet to hear of any valid argument against this contention".
The death of King Edward VII, a Past Grand Master, and the accession of King George V, who was not a Mason, in 1911, brought the question to an issue, and led to a circular dated 6th January 1911, being issued by the Grand Secretary General:-
"Dear Sir and Brother,
I am directed by the Pro Grand Master to send you the enclosed copy of a historical note on the Masonic toast "King and Craft" by Bro J P Simpson, which has greatly impressed him and which he thinks may be of interest to you and the Brethren of your Lodge.
The question whether this time-honoured toast should be retained or not is being widely discussed at the present time, and there are some who think that it would be more loyal to make the first toast "The King" in the ordinary manner instead of coupling His Majesty's name with the Craft. This view, no doubt, results from a prevalent misapprehension as to the origin and meaning of the toast "King and Craft". It is thought by many that the health of the Sovereign has been honoured in this manner only on account of his or her patronage of Freemasonry, and that the toast ought to give expression to the wider and more disinterested loyalty of citizens of the Nation. Others, again, have been under the impression that the old toast was the occasion for drinking to the prosperity of the Craft simultaneously with the health of the Sovereign.
Bro Simpson's interesting comments, based on careful historical research, seem to make it clear that none of these views are correct, and that the real significance of the toast is that loyalty to the King is an essential principle of Freemasonry. The Pro Grand Master has been asked by many Brethren to give a ruling as to the proper form of the toast, but he does not feel justified in interfering with the discretion of Masters of Lodges in that which appertains to the convivial part of Freemasonry. The Pro Grand Master, however, is himself strongly impressed with the correctness of Bro Simpson's views, and hopes that the ancient form of toast "King and Craft" will be generally retained.
Yours faithfully and fraternally
E Letchworth, Grand Secretary"
Thus, the Pro Grand Master refrained from making any hard and fast rule of the form of the Toast, and it therefore remains within the discretion of the Master of the Lodge. He did, however, go so far as to express the hope that the ancient form of the Toast would be generally retained, and retained it was.
King George V was succeeded on the throne by two sons, Edward VIII and George VI, both of whom were Masons, and no question was to the Toast arose during their reigns. On the death of King George VI and the accession of our present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1952, however, some confusion arose over the form of the Toast. The Board of General Purposes made the position quite clear in its report of 19th February, 1952, adopted at the Quarterly Communication of Grand Lodge on 5th March 1952. The relevant item read as follows:-
"The Loyal Toast"
As there appears to be considerable doubt in the minds of Brethren regarding this matter, the Board wishes to make it clear that, in countries where the loyal toast of the Queen is honoured, the first Masonic toast should be "The Queen and the Craft". This should be followed with Masonic 'fire", where such is given".
Thus, the question was settled conclusively, and, we trust, for all time for Lodges under the English Constitution. Nevertheless, in some Lodges and in some jurisdictions in countries of the Commonwealth the first toast is to "The Queen", followed by the singing of God Save the Queen. The second toast is to the Grand master.
This evening at our Banquet the Toast will be proposed by the newly installed Master in its traditional form. In drinking it we, as true and loyal subjects, shall express our patriotic love and duty to our gracious and beloved Sovereign Lady. Every Mason present may therefore signify his conviction that loyalty to the Queen is for him an essential principle of Freemasonry.