A Man And A Mason To Be Proud Of
Written version of the talk delivered to the Burlington Lodge on the 250th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday 05 December 2006.
(I am indebted to Richard Sandbach, whose article in AQC 102 is my main source for this brief post)

WM, Distinguished Brethren & Brethren,

It is a great honour to be invited actively, so to speak, to participate in your important celebrations and thank you W M and Brethren for your invitation to address the Lodge this afternoon.

Brethren, there is a distinct difference between famous men who happen to be freemason - to whose careers freemasonry did not contribute any fame: Winston Churchill, the Duke of Wellington, Oscar Wilde and men who are famous freemasons: John Anderson, Laurence Dermot, Thomas Dunckerley, William Preston and, of great relevance to these celebrations of the Burlington Lodge today: Dr Robert Thomas Crucefix. These are men who, but for their involvement in freemasonry, would have most probably passed on forgotten. Of all the many famous freemasons, Crucefix will be seen as the most controversial and charismatic.

His dedication to freemasonry is manifest in his total involvement in the Burlington Lodge where he was initiated on 16 April 1829, became Master in 1833. He was Treasurer for a decade from 1839 and, simultaneously served as Secretary for 5 years in 1844. Sadly, as you will read in Victor’s excellent history of the Lodge, Burlington Lodge lost a great deal of its early records and we have no information of Crucefix’s early days as a freemason, beyond what we find in his own writings.

To study and understand as complex a character as Crucefix, however, we first need to consider two other aspects relevant to freemasonry: the time framework and the standing of the Duke of Sussex. In England the Union of the Antients and Moderns took place in December 1813 after the two Grand Lodges, the Moderns (1717) and the Antients (1751) had been at loggerheads for more than 60 years. The following decades, though exciting and gratifying at the concordat that had finally been reached, were precarious and difficult.

The rule of the Duke of Sussex as Grand Master had to be, by force of circumstance, harsh and strict. Here was a man of Royal blood and great intelligence and talent who enjoyed being son of a King, yet was basically insecure. He was held back by an unlawful and failed marriage, illness and a chronic shortage of available funds. In freemasonry, particularly as Grand Master, he found ethics and a spirit that coincided with his own outlook on life and allowed him to fulfil his forceful nature and autocratic instincts.

This tendency to autocratic rule manifested itself in various ways, not least by the subjugation of the Orders and degrees beyond the Craft and Royal Arch, which had began to prosper in the last decades of the 18th century. This, however, only applied to England. It was not the situation in the neighbouring Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland, where the many Orders beyond the Craft continued to flourish and prosper.

It was in this ambiance that Crucefix launched himself, so to speak, onto the Masonic stage. Richard Sandbach, to whose article in AQC 102 I am indebted for this brief presentation, states:

Crucefix did not so much climb the Masonic ladder as scale it with the rapidity of an assault

Intent and intense, he joined Lodge after Lodge, (he was Master of Lodge of Concord in 1834, the year after he stepped down as Master of Burlington). Exalted into the Royal Arch (Naval & Military Royal Arch Chapter) in Edinburgh a year after his initiation, he joined and progressed through the Chair of several chapters. He was soon involved in all the other Orders, so far as they were available in England, Scotland and/or Ireland. The Knights Templar, Rose Croix and Ne Plus Ultra (1831), the Knight Templar Priest (1832), Ark Mariner (1833) Mark (1839). He was also involved in Freemasonry in France and USA. In between his Lodge, Chapter and encampment activities, he dedicated himself to what was his love in freemasonry: charitable work. He joined and was vociferous in several committees, which is how all the problems associated with Robert Crucefix really began.

In 1834 Crucefix founded the Freemasons’ Quarterly Review (FQR), of which he remained editor until 1840. The new magazine was intended to report on all matters of Masonic interest, especially on the proceedings of the Quarterly Communication of the United Grand Lodge of England, in full. It is significant to note that anonymity to contributors to the magazine was guaranteed from the start, implying that Crucefix had plans or concerns that his comments in the FQR might be controversial and would be objected to by the hierarchy. In the same year he also became Chairman of a fund raising committee for the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Freemasons. A project advocated some years earlier by the Rev Gilbert Gilbert and which Crucefix now re-launched with full fervour. Quite naturally, he promoted these initiatives for a home for aged and ailing freemasons through his new quarterly magazine, the FQR. On 29 May 1835 a theatrical entertainment was organised by Crucefix, now a Trustee and Treasurer, to raise funds for the Asylum Project and more serious problems began.

The Duke of Sussex’s annoyance with Crucefix began in simple terms but soon escalated to a full frontal conflict. Sussex did not like Crucefix’s involvement in the Orders beyond the Craft and he particularly did not like Crucefix promoting these Orders through the pages of FQR. This was in total opposition to the Duke’s intentions, who, following the Union in 1813, was attempting to suppress Masonic activity beyond the three Craft degrees and the Royal Arch in England in order to keep control. This was manifest, for instance, in the Christian allusions in the other Orders, which The Duke had been endeavouring to remove from Craft ritual. More importantly, the Duke felt persuaded that there was no room for an additional charity in Freemasonry.

The Duke had plans for a totally different charitable project to that proposed by Crucefix. It was a scheme of annuities from which needy freemasons would be able to draw funds. He felt that there simply was no need for an Asylum especially a building that would drain funds and that the burden of maintenance would tie the Craft down. Freemasonry could simply not afford another charity, according to the Duke. In pursuing his personal views he demanded and then rejected presentations made by Crucefix of plans for the Asylum Project. Meanwhile warnings were directed at Crucefix by senior masons, the Deputy Grand Master and the Grand Secretary, that no meeting on the subject of the Asylum should take place without the Grand Master’s approval. The repeated appeals and warnings were to no avail. Crucefix began to travel the Country promoting his cause among freemasons and in his magazine. Convinced that ‘public’ opinion could win over the Grand Lodge and the Grand Master.

Somewhat surprisingly, in December 1837 the Quarterly communication of Grand Lodge passed a motion recommending the contemplated Asylum to the favourable consideration of the Craft. The motion was confirmed in March 1838 but Crucefix would have been wrong to think he was home and dry. He went ahead with full publicity notwithstanding the fact that he was soon made aware that the Grand Master and his executive not only objected but saw the Asylum Project as an unauthorised institution, in spite of the resolution passed by Grand Lodge. This was confirmed in a long letter by the Grand Master addressed to Crucefix and others in August 1839, which ended:

Now, without imputing motives to anyone, there can be no doubt the Craft will be misled in supposing that I have given a silent consent to such a plan, which I am equally determined, as before, to resist; therefore, unless it is clearly understood chat the intention of erecting an Asylum is totally abandoned, I feel myself under the necessity of declining any communication upon the subject.

The battle was on. The Asylum committee approved a rebuttal document at a meeting in November effectively stating that the Duke had got things wrong and that Grand Lodge had approved the resolution regarding the establishment of the Asylum. Unfortunately, during the meeting presided by Crucefix, matters got out of hand and the Duke of Sussex was overtly insulted. As a result, on 10 March 1840, the Board of General Purposes suspended two Brethren concerned and Crucefix, for six months. As unjust as this may have been, worse was to come. Crucefix decided to appeal to Grand Lodge and was informed by his lawyer that a notice of appeal automatically annulled his sentence of suspension. He therefore continued to attend meetings. This infuriated the Grand Master who personally confronted Crucefix in the corridors of Grand Lodge on 19 April 1840, as recorded in FQR. The image that can be conjured is vivid, Sussex 6 foot 3 inches tall and corpulent by any standards, in a state of agitation looking down on the little Doctor. Crucefix was accused of being a disgrace to freemasonry, that he had led the Brethren astray, insulted the Grand Master and in gross violation of discipline had attended and presided as Master in Lodges when under suspension.

The dismissal of Crucefix’s appeal on 3rd June 1840 on technical grounds were made worse by the Duke of Sussex himself presiding over the proceedings. Crucefix vented his anger with a direct attack on the Grand Master in the pages of FQR and a personal impertinent letter accusing the Duke of deviating from the landmarks of the Order. He resigned from all the lodges and as a Grand Officer. When summoned by the Board to attend and explain his conduct, he refused on the grounds that the Board no longer had any jurisdiction over him. Although there is no supporting evidence, Crucefix must have been persuaded to attend the special meeting of Grand Lodge convened in October 1840. He turned up in Scottish regalia but was soon clothed with his proper English rank of Past Grand Deacon – looking undoubtedly as he does in the famous painting donated by this Lodge to Grand Lodge,of which you can see a reproduction on display. The impasse had to be broken. The Duke of Sussex did not attend and proceedings in the hands of the Deputy Grand Master, the Marques of Salisbury were conducted with absolute propriety. Crucefix signed a drafted apology and his expulsion was rescinded by a vote only just carried by 145 to 127. It would appear, as a further gesture of reconciliation, in the next issue of the FQR in December 1840 it was announced that the FQR had passed into other hands.

On 21 April 1843 the Duke of Sussex passed to the Grand Lodge above and the 2nd Earl of Zetland was installed as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England. So far as freemasonry was concerned in England, the flood gates were opened. Crucefix remained involved in the revival of the Christian Orders, which he had continuously supported through the pages of the FQR in the past two decades. He became Sovereign Grand Commander for life of the Supreme Council 33rd degree of the A& A Rite (Rose Croix) and declined the Grand Mastership of the Knights Templar in February 1846, though he acted as the Director of Ceremonies at the installation in the Grand Conclave of England.

On various occasions in correspondence with his close friend Dr Oliver, Crucefix had complained that the proceedings against him and his defiant responses have seriously injured my health. Dr Robert Crucefix died at Bath on 25 February 1850. The same year that the Duke of Sussex scheme for the care of the aged and Crucefix’s Asylum, which was officially opened in August, were united under the auspices of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, still prospering today and a legacy to Crucefix’s dedication.

Bro Richard Sandbach, in the reference I quoted, asks: was Crucefix swayed by charity or by ambition? Did he act for the benefit of Freemasonry or some purpose of his own?

My view, Brethren is that the Burlington Lodge can take very great pride in having had this warm-hearted and genuine Brother as a member of its Lodge.

by W. Bro. Yasha Beresiner