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The Marquess of Ripon

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Acknowledgements
  3. Family History
  4. Political Career
  5. Masonic Life
  6. Conclusions
  7. References
  8. Appendix A (Letter Proposing Viscount Goderich as a Candidate for Freemasonry)
  9. Appendix B (The Minutes of Viscount Goderich's Initiation)
  10. Appendix C (Consecreation Dates of Local Lodges)
  11. Appendix D (The Marquess of Ripon's Entry into Who Was Who)


Undoubtedly the most celebrated member of the Lodge of Truth in bygone times was George Frederick Samuel Robinson, the Marquess of Ripon. He joined the Lodge in 1853 when he had been elected MP for Hudderfield. Ripon went on to have a distinguished career in politics, becoming Lord President of Council and Viceroy for India, whilst masonically he went on to be the Grand Master.

It is extremely rare, if not unique, for a Mason who joined a Lodge outside London to go on to become Grand Master. Usually Grand Masters are connected to the Royal Family and join a London Lodge. The Lodge of Connaught & Truth is therefore most proud to count such a distinguished Brother amongst its Past Masters. The paper is divided into three sections. The first section gives a brief description of the Marquess of Ripon’s family background, the second is concerned with his political career and his contribution in shaping the world as we know it today, and last but by no means least, his Masonic career.

One of the first hurdles I encountered when starting my studies was finding any references in historical textbooks to the Marquess of Ripon, especially as during his lifetime he was known by four different titles. It seems appropriate, therefore, to start by describing the various titles by which he was known. From 1853 to 1859 he was known as Viscount Goodrich, a courtesy title which he had taken after his father had been elevated to the Earldom of Ripon. In January 1859 his father died and he became the Earl of Ripon. A few months later his uncle, the senior Earl died and the title then passed to the subject of this lecture. At this point he became the Earl de Grey and Ripon, but was referred to simply as Earl de Grey.
In 1871 as a reward for his negotiating the Washington Treaty he was given a marquessate by Gladstone and was known thereafter as the Marquess of Ripon. A marquess, coincidentally is between a duke and an earl and according to de Bretts the correct title is marquess, as opposed to marquis which is the French version. To compound matters further, he was more commonly referred to as Lord Ripon and it is under this title he can be found in textbooks. Although one should refer to a historical subject by the correct title by which he was known at the particular time in question, I will refer to him simply as Lord Ripon to simplify matters.

Statue of Lord Ripon in the public park in the city of Ripon


The author would like to thank Tony Denholme of the University of Tasmania, author of Ripon’s political biography, whose knowledge and understanding of the the Marquess of Ripon acted as a guide and catalyst to this work.

  • First Edition : Thursday 3rd April, 1997
  • Second Edition : Sunday 26th October, 1997
  • Third Edition : Saturday 23rd May, 1998
  • Fourth Edition : Sunday 12th December, 1998
  • Internet Edition Sunday 13th March, 2011

Lord Ripon's Family History

The Robinson family can be traced back to the early sixteenth century when the fortunes of the Robinson family were established by William Robinson of York who was born in 1522. He made his money by trading with the German ports as the Hanseatic League declined, and was rewarded for his efforts by becoming Lord Mayor of York in 1581 and subsequently its member of parliament. Like most successful merchants in Tudor times he bought land and when he died Staxby and Baldersby in Yorkshire and Wotton in Lincolnshire were part of his legacy. The family survived the Civil War though Royalist in sympathy, and William Robinson’s grandson accepted a baronetcy at the Restoration and in the 1660s served as a member of the restoration Parliament.

When he died in 1689 the estates passed to his nephew William who also received a baronetcy for supporting the new King. He continued the family’s connection with York and was its M.P. from 1697 to 1722. William’s grandson Thomas, elevated the Robinson’s further when he was rewarded with the Barony of Grantham in 1761 for political and diplomatic services to the Hanoverians. He married a great-great-grand-daughter of Oliver Cromwell, Frances Worsley. His son Thomas, the Second Baron Grantham, further added to the increasing wealth of the family by pursuing an undistinguished diplomatic career as Ambassador to Spain.

In 1780 at the age of forty-two Lord Grantham married Mary Gemima Grey Yorke, daughter of the second Earl of Hardwicke. They proved to be a devoted couple during their short marriage, and provided a loving home environment for the two sons who survived infancy. The elder, Thomas Phillip was born in 1781 and he inherited the title and the estates when Grantham died in 1786. Additional legacies, among them the de Grey earldom in 1833, and the Ripon estates of Elizabeth Lawrence of Studley Royal made him one of the wealthiest landowners in England in the mid 1840s. As Earl de Grey he served Peel as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1834-35 and as Viceroy of Ireland in 1841-44. But it was the Earl de Grey’s younger brother Frederick John who brought the greatest distinction to the Robinson family by becoming Prime Minister, albeit for a short time, in the autumn and winter of 1827-28.

Frederick Robinson, Ripon’s father, like most younger sons of the day had made politics a career and entered the House of Commons in 1806 as member for the Irish rotten borough of Carlow. Before attaining cabinet rank he had had wide diplomatic and political experience as Under Secretary for the Colonies in 1809, and at the Admiralty the following year. It was perhaps to alleviate his impecunious position that in August 1814 he married the plain but rich heiress, Lady Sarah Albina Louisa Hobart, daughter of the 4th Earl of Buckingham who had no legitimate heir. When Lady Sarah came into her inheritance in 1816, Robinson for the first time in his life, had a measure of financial independence. During the making of Canning’s government he had been created the first Viscount Goderich and had taken the leadership of the Lords. In the summer of 1827, on Canning’s death, George IV called him to the premiership.

The premiership of Ripon’s father is conspicuous for its failure. His good nature became a weakness in dealing with subordinates and this gave rise to serious disputes in the cabinet over matters concerning the rights of the King and foreign policy. Burdened by his own domestic cares, Ripon’s father was increasingly unable to control the ill-assorted mixture of Whigs and Tories in the Cabinet. It was at number 10 Downing Street, during his father’s short tenure as Prime Minister, that George Frederick Samuel Robinson, the subject of this lecture, was born on the 24th October, 1827 at No.10 Downing Street.

His schooling was haphazardly given at his mother’s home, Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire, and he attended neither school nor university. The reason for this seems to have been his mother’s fear for the health of her son. Her first son died soon after birth in 1816, and a daughter Elinor Henrietta died at the age of eleven in 1826. No chances were taken with George Frederick Samuel.

Frederick John Robinson, 1st Earl of Ripon , styled The Honourable F. J. Robinson until 1827 and known as The Viscount Goderich between 1827 and 1833.

Ripon married at the age of twenty-four to Henrietta Vyner who was the grand-daughter of Ripon’s uncle Earl de Grey. The ceremony was held at the house of Earl de Grey in St. James Square in London on 8th April, 1851. They were a devoted couple and raised one son, Oliver. When Ripon came into his inheritance in 1859 he inherited not only his father’s lands but his uncle’s as well. This included not only Nocton Hall in Lincolnshire but primarily Studley Royal just outside Ripon.

The house of Studley Royal burned down in 1946 but the stables (which are now privately owned) still survive. Studley Royal must have been truly impressive as it stood in the grounds of a four-hundred acre deer park. In addition to one of the most beautiful water gardens in England the land encompasses the ruin of Fountains Abbey. The property is now owned by the National Trust and is well worth a visit.

Studley Royal  

Lord Ripon's Political Career

As we move on to Ripon’s political career it is important to establish the historical context. The period that Ripon entered politics, the 1850s, has a reputation for stability which was by no means apparent at the time. 1848 was the year of revolutions in Europe. Louis Philippe, the King of France was overthrown; there was revolution in Vienna and four days later in Milan. A month later a Chartist procession in London was called off as troops were mobilised. The British government of the time feared revolution may also break out. As Kitson-Clark says:-

... the England of 1850 resembles the cruder pre-industrial, pre-democratic, resolutely unreformed England of the eighteenth century more closely than we have been pleased to imagine. (Kitson-Clark, 1962).

The aristocracy still held the controlling strings in both national and local politics and public life at its best was characterised by privilege and influence acting according to the principle of noblesse oblige and at its worst by jobbery and open corruption. With such a father and uncle, however, it is not surprising that the young Ripon aspired to a political career himself. His uncle de Grey had the patronage of a number of parliamentary seats, notably Ripon, and it was perhaps, in preparation for such a career that his father arranged for him to go on a diplomatic mission to Brussels in 1849. Perhaps also his father hoped that contact with Europe in turmoil would dissuade his son from extreme radical views he had come to hold. In the company of his cousin he visited Switzerland, Italy and France. It was Paris that really inspired Ripon. On his return from Europe, Ripon associated himself with the Christian Socialists. However for over a year, Ripon does not seem to have taken a very active part in the affairs of the Christian-Socialists, largely out of deference to his father who was scandalised by his sons views and revolutionary associates.

Until 1851-52 Ripon’s radical sympathies though real enough, were still largely academic and philanthropic. However, within a few months of his wedding he was drawn out of his ivory tower into the thick of an industrial dispute; the ‘lock-out’ of the engineers in the winter of 1851-52. At this point the Christian-Socialists were thrown into national prominence by their appearances on worker’s platforms, their letters to newspapers, and by their public lectures. After the final collapse of the engineers in April 1852 Ripon turned his attention to politics. The events and dangers of 1848 were still fresh in the minds of politicians and people alike, and Ripon with his working class contacts was more alive to the fact than most. According to Ripon’s political creed English life should become more democratic in the light of aristocratic failure: it is important to appreciate that in the 1850s only land owners and the middle class were allowed to vote.

As Ripon saw it only administrative and parliamentary reform and ultimately the secret ballot could weaken the aristocratic stranglehold. Ripon’s parliamentary career in the 1850s assisted in the loosening of this aristocratic grip. He took with him into politics another of his radical interests: education. The 1840s saw a growing demand for an extension of elementary education. It is also interesting that W.E. Forster, the Bradford Quaker industrialist, was a friend of the Christian-Socialists. Forster and Ripon were to form a friendship at this time which bore fruit in the Education Act. This piece of legislation is considered so important that Bradford erected a statue in Forster’s name and named a square in the city centre after him. In view of his persistently held advanced opinions, his uncle de Grey would neither sponsor Ripon, nor provide him with a family pocket borough, the usual method by which young aristocrats were launched into politics. Left to his own resources Ripon’s choice of a constituency descended upon Hull, a tough sea-faring borough with a bad electoral reputation for dishonest practices.

Ripon took great pride on his clean electioneering behaviour, ironically however, shortly after being elected a member of parliament for Hull he was unseated after accusations of bribery. To such a man of honour and integrity this smirch must have been extremely hurtful. However, it did not put him off and he was determined to get back into the Houses of Parliament in order to do which he stood for election at Huddersfield. As Denholme says:-

Huddersfield was a constituency much more to his liking, and he was soon to become a popular figure among the mill workers of the town. Huddersfield always had a special place in [Ripon’s] affections for he became a freemason there,... [and] this aspect of his inner life was to be of great importance to him. He also took a lively interest in borough affairs: he helped to establish a mechanic’s institute and followed closely the progress of a co-operative woollen mill in the town until late in his life. (Denholme 1982, p.19)

On Saturday 17 April, Ripon addressed a crowd, estimated at 10,000, as part of his electioneering campaign, four days later he was elected for Huddersfield, receiving 675 votes to Joseph Starkey’s 593. It was not as apathetic a turn out as the figures suggest but it does accentuate the differences between our two times, indeed Ripon witnessed at first hand the basis of the changing democracy in nineteenth century Britain.

When Ripon was born, only those who owned land were allowed to vote. The middle class were enfranchised when Ripon was five years old and when Ripon was forty years old this was extended to the securely domiciled workers in town. Eventually the agricultural labourers were allowed to vote nineteen years later; thus by the time Ripon was fifty-nine he had witnessed the entire male population enfranchised. Needless to say, female voters had to wait a while longer. The politics of the nineteenth century were not organised as it is today (among strictly party lines) and whilst in the House of Commons Ripon formed his own small pressure group which was referred to as the Goderichites. Though he was the junior of them from five to twelve years Ripon was the acknowledged leader of the group.

The Goderichites group consisted of Henry Bruce, M.P. for Merthyr Tydfil from 1852-1869 and Austen Henry Layard, who was M.P. for Aylesbury from 1852-1857. The group was later to expand to include other members of parliament like Edward Horsman and Danby Seymour as well as several extra-parliamentary figures such as Tom Hughes (who wrote Tom Brown’s Schooldays), and later W.E. Forster (who became an M.P. in the 1860s).

The Goderichites took a particular interest in army and civil service reform, limited liability, Indian and industrial affairs, and the abolition of privilege. Their contribution helped avoid the chasm that the events of 1848 had threatened. They looked for social progress through the moral regeneration of the people and the destruction of privilege, their main inspiration was ethical and Biblical rather than feudal.

In debates Ripon made his mark as a good House of Commons speaker. His speeches were not oratorical masterpieces but they had the habit of going straight to the point. However his style of open and forthright attacks upon the establishment were not getting him very far, and his sense of frustration led to a period of self-doubt and depression in the autumn and winter of 1853-54. His career as a private Member of Parliament was brought to an end by his father’s death in January 1859 and his elevation to the Lords as the Earl of Ripon. Even more momentous was his acceptance of office under Palmeston of whom he been so critical. These two events brought to an end the political campaigns he had led in the Commons with his friends, though his connections with them remained.

  Cartoon of Lord Ripon from an 1868 copy of Vanity Fair

Career at the War Office

Between 1853 and 1859 Ripon had established himself as an expert on military matters, with definite views on the necessity for the abolition of purchase and for improving the efficiency of the service. It was this reputation that led to him joining Palmeston’s administration in 1859 as Under Secretary of State for War under Herbert. Ripon like many other radicals welcomed the Crimean War (1853-6) as a war against the tyranny Czardom, but he also relished the opportunities presented by the mismanagement to press home the argument he had been making in public for over two years.

In office he effected some useful reforms especially in the administration of the War Office and in the conditions of life in the army. Commissions in the army were still largely obtained by purchase. Regulations laid down by the Duke of Wellington in the year before he died ensured that young gentlemen should have some ability before commissioning, and consequently an examination had to be passed before a commission could be bought, but the exclusiveness of the army was for Ripon a social injustice of the first order.

Having previously failed in 1855 Ripon urged the abolition of purchase on the grounds of efficiency of a professional army. This change of tactic is interesting as previously he had appealed to the Parliament’s sense of justice and fair play. He was fast learning the crafts of a politician and the new methods paid off. Palmeston, true to his word, granted a Royal Commission and the subsequent report which roundly condemned the system of purchase.

Ripon also wanted to remove from the occupation of the soldier the stigma of the criminal in the hope of improving both standards and morale. The Crimean War had aroused the public interest in the lot of the private soldier: William Russell’s revelations in The Times and the work of Florence Nightingale had dramatically highlighted his abominable conditions of service, and one of the consequences of this publicity was a new respect for the British fighting man.

1859 marks a turning point in the history of the army in the nineteenth century. Whilst it is true that the evil days of the Crimea had passed, and the army had acquitted itself well during the Indian Mutiny, torpor and ineptitude would almost certainly have returned without this reforming urge from Herbert, his superior and Ripon himself. The War Office and the Horse Guards seemed to have a built-in resistance to change. In breaking down the resistance to change, Herbert and Ripon conditioned the army bureaucracy to the notion of reform which bore fruit in the early 1870s.

His success as Secretary of State established his administrative reputation and made it certain that he would be given further office. On the death of Sir George Lewis, who had succeeded Herbert, Ripon got his long-looked for promotion and entered the cabinet as Secretary for War in 1861. His promotion and term of office coincided with the start of American Civil War of 1861-5. On matters of sanitary reform, Ripon worked closely with Florence Nightingale and the fruits of their labour were a changed attitude on the part of the army towards hygiene and the status and role of medical officers.

Lord President of Council

By the time Gladstone returned to power in 1868 Ripon had established a reputation as an enlightened and efficient administrator. Though Ripon would have preferred to return to the War Office Gladstone offered him the Lord Presidency of the Council. Ripon was not unhappy with the position for it gave him ministerial responsibility for educational questions which were at that moment were "of particular urgency and importance". Ripon’s achievement was sweetened further by the success of most of the other Goderichites. Bruce, though he had lost his seat at Merthyr, became Home Secretary and a new seat at Renfrew was soon found for him. Forster, after some hesitation accepted the vice-presidency of the Council under Ripon. The unique social and romantic radicalism of the Goderichites had at last found a home under the broad umbrella and moral imperatives of the Liberal Party.

Much of what Ripon had campaigned for in the 1850s came to fruition in the late 1860s and early 1870s. In particular two pieces of legislation were introduced which he had supported since his early parliamentary days became law; the secret ballot and the education act. Ripon had been an advocate of the secret ballot from his Christian-Socialist days, and it must have given him great pleasure to introduce this measure to the House of Lords as the Electoral (Parliamentary and Municipal) Bill on its second reading on 10 August, 1871.

In addition Ripon had departmental responsibility for introducing the most far reaching reform of elementary education in the nineteenth century of which he was later to say "one of the matters of which in a long public career I am most proud". In doing so he realised another of his earliest dreams, that of bringing elementary education to the masses. At his side was his long time friend, confidant and sympathiser in the education cause, W.E. Forster. Throughout his life Ripon held high hopes of the spread of education to the working classes, not only because he believed it absolutely necessary for emerging democratic society, the commonly held view of "educating our masters", but more because it was an instrument for elevating the masses.

During Ripon’s tenure as Lord President and W.E. Forster tenure as Vice-President the two men were able to effect a number of substantial educational reforms that virtually revolutionised the attitude of British governments to education, and which established models and patterns for future state intervention. By bringing about the active participation and complete involvement of the state in the educational system the two men gave it a social responsibility that it could not discard.

Another one of Ripon’s abiding interests in promoting education was the Mechanics Institutes, especially as they were the only means of working class education for adults outside London. Ripon’s roots and his political interests lay in the North of England and not surprisingly therefore most of his work for the Institutes were confined to Yorkshire, and to Huddersfield in particular.

Alabama Treaty

The highlight of Ripon’s tenure in office in Gladstone’s administration was his work on the joint Anglo-American High Commission of 1871 which settled serious outstanding points of difference between Britain and the U.S.A., indeed so serious was the state of Anglo-America relations at the time that war seemed inevitable. The failure of the British to understand the deep sense of grievance felt by the Americans over the fitting out of the Alabama and other Confederate ships in British ports at the time of the Civil War largely accounts for the deterioration of relations in the late 1860s. But the crisis reached its flashpoint over the Alabama claims. These differences concerned the building of ships for the Confederate Navy in British shipyards and subsequent hospitality to such ships in British Empire ports. These activities were made possible, as Americans saw it, by the inadequacy of the British neutrality laws and their lax enforcement. The British statute on neutral conduct, the foreign enlistment act of 1819, forbade the equipping, furnishing, fitting out, or arming within British jurisdiction of vessels for the purpose of attacking the commerce of friendly powers, or the augmentation of "the warlike force" of such vessels, but did not prohibit the building of such vessels.

Taking advantage of this loophole in the law, Captain James D. Bulloch, the Confederate agent charged with such business, arranged with English shipbuilding firms for the construction of the ships, which became famous as the Confederate cruisers Florida and Alabama. In each case the ship was built but not "equipped, fitted out, or armed" in a British shipyard. Each put to sea without equipment and in a remote unpoliced sanctuary - the Florida in the Bahamas, the Alabama in the Azores - met another steamer bringing her armament, officers, and crew.

Each was then duly commissioned as a ship of the Confederate Navy and began her career as a commerce destroyer. The Florida made over forty prizes before she was herself captured by the U.S.S. Wachusett, by a violation of neutrality, in the port of Bahia, Brazil. The Alabama destroyed fifty-seven prizes and released many more on bond before she was sunk in a duel with the U.S.S. Kearsarge off the port of Cherbourg, France. Next after these two in destructiveness and notoriety was the Shenandoah, purchased for the Confederacy from her English owners and armed and manned at sea. Beginning her career late and cruising in the Pacific, she destroyed a large part of the New England whaling fleet at a time when, unknown to her officers or their victims, the Confederacy had ceased to exist.

In the cases of the Florida and Alabama, Charles Frances Adams, the United States minister, had laid before the British government evidence that the ships were being prepared for the service of the Confederacy. The evidence against the Alabama was so strong that at the last moment the Prime Minister, Earl Russel, ordered her held. The order came too late. The Alabama had steamed out of the Mersey River on a "trial trip" from which she never returned. The United States held Great Britain guilty of breaches of neutrality in permitting her escape and in construction of the Florida.


British High Commissioners for the 1871 Treaty of Washington. Lord Ripon seated in the centre

The United States held also that Great Britain had violated the principles of neutrality in permitting confederate cruisers to augment their strength in ports of the British Empire. The Shenandoah, for example, had put in at Melbourne, Australia, where in spite of protests from the United States consul, she was allowed to make repairs, take on a supply of coal, and recruit additions to her crew. In addition to the actual destruction wrought by the Alabama, Florida, Shenandoah, and less celebrated raiders, their depredations had caused a skyrocketing of insurance rates, kept ships idle in port, and driven many northern ship-owners to sell their vessels or transfer them to foreign registry. For all these losses British negligence or partiality was held responsible.

With Canada defenceless, it was possible that the whole of North America would be brought into the vigorously expansive post-war United States. Britain, with its army still largely unreformed, was militarily paralysed and yet faced the possibility of war on two fronts. Into the midst of this potentially war-like threat Ripon was dispatched as Chairman of the Joint Commission. Ripon’s approach of conciliation and compromise won widespread praise and he succeeded in diffusing the tension between the United States. Tanterden, who was the secretary to the British commissioners commented on:-

... the very able way in which Lord [Ripon] conducts the discussion. He never loses temper, never presses an advantage too far and hits hard when required -- and is wonderfully quick in catching at and making his points. (Baker, 1979, p.484)

For Britain’s failure to exercise "due diligence" over the Alabama, the Florida and the Shenandoah she was asked to pay £3 million. In the long run the Washington Treaty which settled the Alabama claims as they were commonly referred to was a landmark in the history of international law and lead to much improved relations after the dark years of the 1860s. Furthermore, it completed the withdrawal of the British from North America without bloodshed, yet still left Canada intact.

This altered Britain’s perspective in the region which according to Stacey, Britain had:-

... suddenly withdrew from her traditional responsibilities in the interior of the continent, thereby saving roughly a million pounds a year, facilitating the reform of her army and materially strengthening her military position with respect to Europe. By 1872 it could almost be said that Great Britain had ceased to be a North American power. (Stacey, 1955)

For his role in the successful negotiations Ripon was given a marquessate and thus in 1871 he became the Marquess of Ripon.

Conversion to Catholicism

In August 1873 Ripon resigned from Gladstone’s government, chiefly he was gloomy about the future direction of the Party. By 1873 the great reform ministry was a spent force. The heady achievements of the early years had given way to a disillusionment among the rank and file, and a growing desire by a number of cabinet ministers to be free. However Ripon’s resignation was probably due to "spiritual unrest". His mother, to whom he was devoted and who had been his only intellectual and religious guide until late adolescence, died in 1867. F.D. Maurice, his political mentor of the 1850s, died in 1872, close relatives had been massacred by Greek brigands in 1870, and his son had been close to death in 1873.

In September 1874 some rather surprising news was revealed which, one hopes, by today’s more enlightened times would hardly raise an eyebrow. Apparently Lord Ripon had converted to Catholicism. Unfortunately Ripon’s conversion coincided with one of two outbreaks of anti-Catholic sentiment in England during Victoria’s reign. The first was in 1850 after the Catholic Church had been permitted to re-establish its hierarchy in Britain, and the other followed the Vatican Council of 1870, and in particular the assertion of Papal Infallibility.

His reception into the Catholic Church took London society and even his closest friends by surprise:-

... no Freemason or old colleague or intimate friend had any inkling of his intention. Only Lady Ripon suspected, but even she was uncertain, although she was aware that for many months he had retired with volumes of Newman and the early Fathers to that austere bookroom at Studley which, sunless and fireless he persistently occupied from early manhood to old age. (Lord Esher in The Quarterly Review, No 471, April 1922.)

Ripon had been an active Freemason for over twenty years and had become Grand Master in 1870, but he attended his first mass at St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark in April 1870, the Sunday following the assassination of his father-in-law Frederick Vyner. As he grappled with the full implications of a possible conversion to Catholicism it is not difficult to imagine the confusion in his mind as long cherished ideas came under review.

It was not easy for a man in Ripon’s position, holding high office in a Protestant country, to accept the Roman faith. When Ripon was received into the Catholic Church on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin on 8 September 1874 the outcry from press and pulpit alike confidently predicted the end his public career. This outcry left Ripon publicly silent and apparently unmoved. His conversion momentarily stunned the political world and prompted the Prime Minister, Gladstone, to write a famous pamphlet which claimed that converts to Catholicism renounced their "mental and moral freedom". The Times (always a critic of Ripon) made a viscious attack upon him which attempted to discredit Ripon’s career to date, and to ensure that he never held political office again. Coming from The Times this view was unpleasant enough but when it appeared that it was shared by none other than Gladstone himself, Ripon’s political future looked bleak indeed.

In the autumn of 1874 it was assumed by Ripon himself and his erstwhile cabinet colleagues that his public career had ended. In a diary he kept from 1878-80 he wrote "when I first became a Catholic I fully thought my conversion would be a bar to office". In September 1874 the political world expected that after twenty years in public office and service to the Liberal cause, Ripon would retire to enjoy the fruits of his considerable estates. Ripon contented himself with travel abroad, the domestic pleasures of Nocton and Studley Royal, and the study of religion and politics. However by 1878 Ripon was once again taking part in Liberal Party consultations. Since Gladstone’s resignation as leader of the party in January 1875, this obstacle in the way of his political advancement had been removed. Ripon was much more at peace with himself as he found that both his social and political philosophies were strengthened by his spiritual calm and certainty.

  John Poyntz Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer; George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon

However, it is generally agreed that the foreign and imperial policies of Disraeli’s government were the major reason for Ripon’s active return to political life. Both Rossi and Wolf stress the outbreak of war with Afghanistan in the summer of 1878 as a crucial date. Ripon was vexed that the deliberate policy of forty years should be reversed and that the country had become involved in a war without Parliament ever having had the slightest opportunity of expressing its opinion on the subject. He soon became one of the leading spokesmen on Indian affairs for the opposition, and along with Lord Northbrook (an ex-viceroy) and Lord Halifax he became one "of a triumvirate which substantially shaped opposition policy regarding India and Afghanistan".

The Viceroy of India

In the spring of 1880 when the general election returned the Liberals with Gladstone again at their head, Ripon was offered and accepted the viceroyalty of India. A position from his experience he was well qualified to undertake. Like all "advanced" Liberals before Chamberlain, Ripon disliked imperial rule and looked to its eventual demise. He accepted that despotic rule was necessary in the short-term but with real power lying at home and subject to close scrutiny by parliament. Mathur claims Ripon deserves recognition for pursuing consistent policy in Central Asia. Along with his measures to free the press, and his enthusiastic promotion of education, Ripon’s scheme for greater native participation in local government has to be seen in the light of furthering, as the "Resolution" itself indicates, "that desire and capacity for self-government which all intelligent and fairly educated men may safely be assumed to possess". Self-government was one of Ripon’s first and last political principles.

One of Ripon’s first acts was the re-establishment of the freedom of the press in India. A free press, subject only to registration, had been the rule in India since 1853, and was only temporarily suspended during the mutiny. Lord Lytton had decided to curb the activities of the vernacular press, and following legislation in 1878, printers and publishers were obliged to give bonds and submit proofs to local government inspection.

Lord Ripon as Viceroy of India from an 1880 magazine  
These bonds were subject to forfeit if the newspaper excited disaffection against the government, or encouraged racial or religious hatred. However in introducing limited forms of self-government he was to run amok of the Anglo-Indian community. For nothing in Ripon’s viceroyalty created more anger, anguish, and controversy than the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill, better known as the Ilbert Bill.

The legislation was introduced by Sir Courtenay Ilbert, on 2 February 1883. This laid down that district magistrates and session judges should exercise jurisdiction over European-British subjects, thus making the racial origin of the judge irrelevant. The reaction of the Anglo-Indians was immediate and hostile. Ripon was aghast at this explosion of hatred and denunciation, and in particular at his own failure, and that of his advisors, to anticipate the danger of the Anglo-Indian backlash. However the viceroy remained firm.

The legislation was implemented through a compromise, namely that a European subject could claim a jury, however the principle of native judges sitting in cases involving Europeans was firmly established. In spite of this Ripon endeared himself to Indians by his sincerity and as Mathur says, the educated Indian never blamed him for his limited successes in particular measures. Even so, according to George Thomas, Ripon’s local self-government statute "laid the foundation for the political independence of India. He lit the torch that led ultimately to the political autonomy of the country". According to the Quarterly Review Ripon had industriously scattered the germs of independence in India with the doctrine that "the natives were entitled to rule, the English nothing more than interlopers; the time had arrived when India was entitled to ‘Home Rule’".

  The visit of the Viceroy Lord Ripon in 1884 - Patiala
When Ripon returned to England in January 1885, he had been out of the hurly-burly of English political life for nearly five years. Indeed he had not held office in England since his resignation in 1873. He was appointed 1st Lord of Admiralty 1886 during the short term of office of Russel and in 1892 he was appointed as Colonial Secretary, an office which he held until 1895 under both Gladstone and Rosebery. From 1895 to 1902 the Liberals were in opposition whilst the Conservatives assumed power under the Marquess of Salisbury.
Built in 1913 this building houses the Corporation of Chennai city. It was named after Lord Ripon.  

Lord Privvy Seal

Politically the last years of Ripon’s life must have been among his happiest. He witnessed the revival of the Liberal fortunes after 1903 and became Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the Liberals in the House of Lords in the 1906 government under his old friend Campbell-Bannerman, and soon rejoiced in the approval of friend and foe alike for his conduct of affairs. His radical temper was well attuned to the reforming spirit of 1906 and he acquired a new enthusiastic lease of political life.

Thus at the age of 79 he was called upon to undertake the daunting task of leading the small band of Liberals in the Lords against the entrenched Conservative majority. This was in spite of his wife’s death in 1907, his own frequent protestations of tiredness, and requests for a period of time between retirement and the grave. After so many frustrating years in opposition it was refreshing for him to be back in the harness and able to address himself to the duties of high office.

Ripon resigned from office in 1908 and this was ostensibly attributed to his age and health but stemmed from a disagreement with Herbert Gladstone, the Home Secretary. There was no bitterness in his final departure from the government and Ripon was undoubtedly content to allow the retirement to be seen as personal rather than political as Asquith had requested.

Lord Ripon by George Frederic Watts  

Lord Ripon's Masonic Life

When Viscount Goderich was admitted into the Lodge of Truth in 1853 he joined a Lodge which was markedly different from the one today. For a start the Lodge of Truth then met in a room which had been specially built at the Rose and Crown, an important posting and commercial house at the lower end of Kirkgate. The Rose and Crown was opposite what is now the Huddersfield Hotel. The Rose and Crown was demolished some time ago and gave way to the Palace Theatre and now serves as a bingo hall. The Lodge of Truth was only eight years old when Ripon joined in 1853, however it had a membership of sixty-three. The membership had seen a massive boost from a humble eighteen in 1851 to fifty-two "in the remarkable year of 1852" (Simpson 1945, pp. 27-33). In 1852 Brother John Sykes, a joining member from the Lodge of Harmony, was in the chair. During his year there were thirty-three initiations, twenty-nine passings and twenty-three raisings!

Even the lodge number was different in those days. Ripon joined The Lodge of Truth No. 763 of the United Grand Lodge of England: the lodge numbers were reallocated in 1863. From the minutes of one-hundred and fifty years ago it becomes obvious, at least in the first few years, that attendance was not as regular as it is nowadays. Unfortunately this situation is exacerbated by the fact that the names of Brethren attending the Lodge are not recorded in the minutes.

The Initiation of Lord Ripon

The story of Ripon’s Masonic career starts on 27th April 1853 when, he wrote a letter to Brother John Sykes, the same John Sykes who had initiated thirty-three candidates the previous year. I doubt Ripon’s letter to Brother Sykes still exists, which is a shame because it may have contained some valuable information. However, on the following day of 28th April 1853 Brother Sykes wrote a letter to the then Worshipful Master, Brother Thomas Robinson nominating Ripon as a candidate for Freemasonry. In this letter, a copy of which is given in Appendix A of this paper Brother Sykes states:-

... and having long contemplated joining our honourable fraternity, his Lordship has evinced such a strong desire to become a Member of the Lodge of Truth, as expressed in a letter from his Lordship to Br. Sykes, P.M. dated London April 27th 1853. (Letter duplicated in the minutes previous to the minutes taken at the regular lodge meeting of Friday 6th May, 1853)

This letter has nine other names of members of the Lodge of Truth on the bottom, in addition to that of Brother Sykes.

... and we affectionately request that you will cause his Lordship’s name to be inserted in the next summons for the regular Lodge Meeting of Friday the sixth of May... (Letter duplicated in the minutes previous to the minutes taken at the regular lodge meeting of Friday 6th May, 1853)

Ripon was indeed balloted for on 6th May 1853 at the next regular Lodge. At the tender age of twenty-five he was initiated as the 91st member of the Lodge of Truth on Tuesday 17th May 1853 at an Emergency Lodge. The reason an Emergency Lodge was called, something far more common in those days than today, was that Ripon was unable to attend the regular Lodge meeting owing to parliamentary duties.

According to Simpson (1945, pp. 35-36) the honour of initiating Ripon went to Brother Hardy, a Past Master of Fortitude and Old Cumberland Lodge No. 12. Brother Hardy had become a joining member of Harmony in 1852, thence a joining member of the Lodge of Truth only three months before Ripon was initiated, in February 1853. Hardy was the Head of Huddersfield College and, according to Simpson was a "man of literary attainment and apparently well-skilled in the noble order".

I think Simpson may have jumped to an incorrect conclusion. In the very short minutes of Ripon’s initiation it merely states that "Brother Past Master Hardy very pleasingly illustrated the First Tracing Board". These minutes are duplicated in Appendix B. There is no mention of who was in office that night and, from what I can see, no evidence to suggest anything but that the officers of the year took part in the ceremony.

Ripon's Affinity for Freemasonry

Changing tack slightly, there are two questions surrounding Ripon’s application to join Freemasonry which I have often speculated about. The first of these is what attracted Ripon to Freemasonry in general, and secondly what attracted Ripon to join the Lodge of Truth in particular.

Before venturing an opinion as to what attracted Ripon to Freemasonry it is important to establish the context in which Freemasonry existed in the early nineteenth century. The public perception of Freemasonry in today’s society appears to be one of institutionalised nepotism; the "Mafia of the mediocre" with bizarre rituals and secrets, an organisation to be simultaneously ridiculed and feared. Freemasonry has neglected relations with the community in which we live. The perception of Freemasonry in Ripon’s time, however, seems wholly different from today’s. The Times, for example, described it as "... a harmless and kindly association" (Saturday 5th September, 1874). To be a Freemason was to be the quintessential Englishman, a part of the establishment at the height of the British Empire (which was why his conversion to Catholicism was such a shock for Victorian England).

It is interesting to note that Ripon held high public office, was an active Freemason and indeed went on to become Grand Master apparently without challenge. I doubt Freemasonry could get such a favourable opinion printed in The Times today and is in contrast with the recent publication of the Home Office Select Committee’s report on so-called "secret societies" (The Times Wednesday 26th March, 1997, p.2). This demonstrates that whilst the Craft has not changed the mostly favourable opinion of our Order prevalent at that time unfortunately has.

Portrait of Lord Ripon which now hangs in the room used by the Lodge of Instruction

Freemasonry in Ripon’s time was seen as a somewhat radical organisation which held progressive ideas on how society should be organised: an essentially democratic view which today one takes for granted. In particular Freemasonry’s egalitarian principles were at odds with the ruling class at that time. To make a comparison of a famous predecessor, Robert Burns died thirty-one years before Ripon was born. According to a posting on the internet, the National Museums of Scotland states that "Burns was a man of strong and passionately held views on the issues of his day. His commitment to Freemasonry at that time marked him as a man of liberal and egalitarian views".

Being the voracious reader he was, Ripon may well have read one of the many exposés of Freemasonry, the first of which was by Samuel Prichard and appeared as far back as 1730 in the Daily Journal. If indeed if he did read the exposés, he may well have come across such sentiments as are conveyed in the presentation of the Second Degree Working Tools:-

...The Level points out or denotes that we have all sprung from the same stock, are partakers of the same nature, and sharers in the same hope, and that whatever distinctions amongst men in society may be necessary to preserve subordination or reward merit and ability, yet there is no eminence or station should make us forget that we are Brethren, and that he who by fortune is placed in the lowest sphere of existence may be equally entitled to our regard with the most exalted. (Lodge of Truth Ritual).

As a radical and essentially egalitarian person who was interested in introducing democracy to the masses he would have found Freemasonry in tune with his own philosophy. It is probable then that Ripon would have agreed with such sentiments:-

... [Ripon] was then still a Christian Socialist and a Republican, and he found much to attract him in the broad [range of interests] and simple ethics of Masonic teaching. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634).

Ripon’s deep religious and political convictions were the cornerstones of his purpose in life, he found Freemasonry to be entirely empathetic with his persuasion:-

A constant theme in his speeches and writings is the desire to pursue policies which would "bind" men together in unity and common progressive purpose, guided by the fraternal Christian ethic. (Denholme 1982, p.ii)

Having proposed some reasons why Ripon might wish to associate with Freemasonry, one has to ask why Ripon chose to join to Lodge of Truth. Ripon wrote his letter of application to Brother Sykes on 27th April from his London residence of 5 Whitehall Yard; this was merely four days after being elected to parliament as the M.P. for Huddersfield. It may have been an "extension of his lively interest in borough affairs" (as Denhome put it) that Ripon chose to join a Lodge in his constituency, joining a fraternity the philosophies of which he so readily identified. Here was an opportunity for him to meet and associate with the influential townsfolk, however, one thing is for sure it was not one a decision he took lightly.

If one reads between the lines of the letter from Brother Sykes reproduced in Appendix A it does not appear that his proposer, Brother Sykes, actually knew Ripon. For example, Sykes does not propose and second Ripon in the normal manner, instead he nominates him. Additionally Sykes adds seven other members names to his motion, as if he were submitting a petition. These extraordinary lengths would not have been required had the normal rules of the Book of Constitutions applied and the request to join the Lodge of Truth may well have been have a ‘bolt out of the blue’.

There may be a number of possible connections and this is, I would emphasise speculation. In the previous year on 14th April 1852 the Provincial Grand Master the Right Honourable the Earl of Mexborough attended a Provincial Banquet which was hosted by the Lodge of Truth. 1852, you may remember, is the year that our old friend Brother Sykes was in the chair and apparently initiating, passing and raising the whole of the borough Huddersfield.In the circles that Ripon moved in he probably knew the Earl of Mexborough and that was the Provincial Grand Master. It may have been on Mexborough’s recommendation that Ripon joined the ‘up and coming’ Lodge of Truth.

We also have to look at the application for membership from the Lodge’s point of view. Whilst he may well have been the son of a nobleman he was also a young man, as we have seen of "persistently held advanced opinions" whose uncle would not sponsor for a seat in the Houses of Parliament. At this time Brother Sykes could not have known whether Ripon would turn out to be a loose canon or a future Grand Master and we have to acknowledge Brother Sykes’s sound judgment in this matter.

Membership of the Lodge of Truth

Ripon was passed on the 12th October 1853 and raised one month later on 25th November, both at Lodges of Emergency (probably owing to his parliamentary duties). Hardy gave the second degree tracing board but unfortunately the minutes do not reveal who took part in his Lordship’s raising. Two years later, in 1855 Ripon was installed into the chair of King Solomon as the tenth Worshipful Master. This means it took him just over two years to get to the chair, having spent the obligatory year as a Warden. Although his officers were invested in December, Ripon was not installed until June of the following year. Simpson states:-

there is nothing to show why this Installation Ceremony was deferred from December 1854 to June 1855: perhaps [Ripon] was away on Parliamentary duty... (Simpson, 1945, p. 36).

From Denholme we know Ripon had actually been holidaying in Pau in November 1854 and was also in the Pyrenees in March 1855 (Denholme 1982, p.50 and p.87). It appears Ripon may have been on an extended holiday (!) The year that Ripon was in the chair was a very significant one for the Lodge of Truth for it was during his term of office as Worshipful Master that the Lodge moved to Fitzwilliam Street in Huddersfield. The removal of the Lodge had first been suggested in open Lodge on the 25th November, 1853 (the same night as Ripon’s raising), although no doubt many informal discussions will have preceded.

The foundation stone to Fitzwilliam Street was laid on Wednesday 27th December 1854 on the Festival of St. John. by Brother George Wright. He was Ripon’s predecessor in the chair and would have probably been deputising for him in Ripon’s absence. Friday 5th October 1855 was the first regular Lodge meeting held at Fitzwilliam Street and the Deputy Provincial Grand Master "allowed a dispensation of [Ripon’s] presence when the motion of removal is made" (Simpson 1945, p.38). Coincidentally, this makes Fitzwilliam Street one of the oldest purpose-built Masonic temples which is still in active use in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding. Ripon was away in Scotland at the time of the first meeting, however the Worshipful Master sent a cheque towards the building of the new hall for £20. In today’s money this donation would be worth about £1,000.

In the following year of 1856 and having completed his year in the chair Ripon was given Grand Lodge honours and became the Senior Grand Warden. The following year Ripon became a joining member of the Wakefield Lodge No 495. This decision coincided with two events, first he was returned as Member of Parliament forYorkshire West Riding and a local land owner and colliery owner called Col J C D Charlesworth had joined Wakefield Lodge two months earlier.

Ripon's Rise to the Provincial Grand Master

In 1861 the Earl of Mexborough died and was succeeded to the high office of Provincial Grand Master by Ripon who was now thirty-four years old. Ripon’s appointment to Provincial Grand Master proved to be most popular in the Province:-

... and was fully justified by the active interest he took in the affairs of his Province. To this day many of the Yorkshire Lodges have extracts from his Masonic speeches inscribed on their walls, and the skill and impressiveness with which he gave ritual are still recalled by the older Brethren as an example to new Masters. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922. pp.633-634)

Strenuous efforts were made to host the installation in Huddersfield and the three Huddersfield Lodges at that time, Harmony Huddersfield and Truth combined to lobby Province. But it was not to be. The Leeds Committee sent representatives to The Lodge of Truth to say that Leeds possessed superior accommodation in the form of Victoria Hall, and that if the Huddersfield Lodges would withdraw its claim they would allow His Lordship to be installed in Leeds under the Banner of The Lodge of Truth; the Officers of the Lodge to open and close the Lodge.

This was indeed done on the 22nd May, 1861. However, owing to a regrettable oversight the brethren of the Lodge of Truth were not allocated Banquet Tickets. Ripon was most apologetic about the incident and that:-

... he had learnt with the deepest regret that there had been a misunderstanding with reference to the Banquet Tickets; he said that it was a source of great disappointment to him, not to meet with the Brethren of his Mother Lodge at the Banquet, and he asked the Brethren not to permit it to produce any want of harmony and union, so that the matter could be speedily forgotten. (Simpson 1945, p.50).

His appointment as Provincial Grand Master seems to have enlivened Ripon, and in addition to the Lodge he had joined at Lincoln two years previous (Witham Lodge No. 297 in Lincoln) he joined two other London Lodges. On 11th June 1861 he joined the Lodge of Friendship No. 6 (a Red Apron or Grand Stewards’ Lodge) and on 2nd July he joined Royal Alpha Lodge No. 16. Royal Alpha is the Grand Master’s personal lodge and Ripon made it a point to be at each installation. He was its Worshipful Master three times, namely the year after he joined in 1862, then again in 1870 and 1874.

As we have seen from the extract from The Freemason the Provincial Grand Master Ripon was highly involved in the affairs of the Province. On 19th April, 1865 at a Provincial Grand Lodge held in Huddersfield he laid the foundation stone for The Mechanics Institute at Lockwood. As we have seen Ripon had an abiding interest in education and Mechanics Institutes were the only place adults could receive education outside London and was twice chairman of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics Institutes.

Appropriately enough to this paper the Mechanics Institute in Lockwood, with its fine façade, was restored in early 1997 and has been converted into flats. A far more appropriate use than the empty shell it was when I first visited it in 1996. I think Ripon would have thoroughly approved of the University of Huddersfield a mile down the road which dwarfs this small building which was, nevertheless, a testament of the first step towards providing local adult education.

Ripon's Rise to Grand Master

In the same year that he become Provincial Grand Master Ripon was also appointed Deputy Grand Master by The Right Honourable the second Earl of Zetland. On 2nd March, 1870, on the retirement of Zetland, he succeeded to the Grand Mastership, and was in due course installed to the throne of King Solomon on the 14th May 1870 (Masonic Year Book 1991-92, p.814 Outstanding Masonic Events)

As the magazine the Freemason stated:-

His tenure of office, though lasting only four and a half years, was unprecedently brilliant and fruitful. He had never been a fainéant Mason. Indeed, so earnest and punctilious was he in all the offices he held in the Craft that his private secretary, Seton, found it necessary to become a Freemason in order to keep up with his chief’s engagements. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634)

As an example of this "brilliant and fruitful" period he introduced the then Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward VII) to Royal Alpha Lodge.

[Letter from the Prince of Wales]

Sandringham, King’s Lynn

22nd April, ‘70

My dear [Ripon], - Many thanks for your letter and for giving me all the information I asked you concerning the approaching Masonic festival........

I have the greatest pleasure in accepting your kind offer to make me a member of the Alpha Lodge. I had long wished to belong to a London Lodge. I am sure I could not belong to a better one than the Alpha Lodge.

I remain, yours very sincerely,


(Source: The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634)

  HRH Prince of Wales as Grand Master, succeeding Ripon

HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales was not initiated in England but in Sweden. On a visit to Stockholm in December 1868 he was put through all eleven degrees of the Swedish system by the King of Sweden. On the news reaching England, he was, in 1869, elected an honorary Past Grand Master of our Grand Lodge. The other Royal Princes, the Duke of Connaught and his younger brother, the Duke of Albany, also joined the Craft during Ripon’s Grand Mastership.

All three princes were loyal supporters of the Craft and indeed the Duke of Connaught succeeded his brother as Grand Master in 1901 on Albert Edward’s accession to the Throne. This period of time thus lead to an unprecedented level of support for Freemasonry by the Royal Family. The Connaught Lodge No. 3800, daughter lodge of the Lodge of Truth, was named after the Duke of Connaught who was Grand Master at the time. THe two Lodges were amalgamated in 2004.

Perhaps the most conspicuous event in his reign as Grand Master was during his mission to the United States to negotiate the Washington Treaty. He was the first Grand Master to visit America, and both he and the American Lodges took care that the interesting event should be suitably celebrated. On 10th May, 1871, he was received with great splendour and enthusiasm by the Grand Lodge of Columbia in the presence of delegations from all the American Grand Lodges. Ripon made skilful use of the occasion to dilate on the civil allegiance of Freemasons and the application to their guiding principle to the cause of Anglo-American friendship.

Duke of Connaught as Grand Master    

Speaking on a familiar theme in reply to an address of welcome, he said:-

We all know that fraternity is the first principle of Masonry, and therefore it is that all must rejoice at everything that tends to bind more closely together the Masons of different nations and countries. A union between American and English Masons, a union which, for my part, I have always believed, and now I believe more strongly than ever, cannot be too close and fraternal. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634. Emphasis added)

He went on to say:-

The leading principle of our ancient Craft is all of fraternity... whatever may be their race or nation. Masonry does not, however, cause men to forget their patriotism in a vague cosmopolitan feeling. Men are better citizens of the United States and better subjects of the Crown of England because they are Brethren of our ancient Fraternity.... I believe that it is for the highest interest of the highest civilisation of the world, I believe that it is for the highest interest of America and England, that there should be the closest and most intimate union between the two countries. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634)

In 1871 after his negotiation of the Washington Treaty he became the first Marquess of Ripon and on the 22nd January 1873 at a Provincial Grand Lodge held at Huddersfield a congratulatory address was made to Ripon on attaining his majority; he had been in masonry for twenty-one years. On 4th March 1874 Ripon was re-elected for the fifth time as Grand Master. On this occasion he gave a speech expressing his deep gratitude:-

I am very happy to be able once more to congratulate you on the prosperous conditions of the Craft at the present time... I trust that we shall always bear in mind that the strength of the Order does not lie in the number of its Lodges or in the increasing roll of its members, but in the spirit by which its members are animated and which lives and breathes in our Lodges. It is because I hope and believe that these principles are deeply written in the hearts of all that I do esteem it a very great honour once more to be able to be called upon to preside over you. (The Freemason, 27th May, 1922, pp.633-634)

During Ripon’s reign as Grand Master the body of the Order flourished mightily. The number of new Lodges for which Ripon was privileged to grant Warrants reached a higher proportion than it had during any previous period. In fact, the number of the Lodges warranted by Ripon was two-hundred and sixteen. Indeed during Ripon’s reign as Deputy Grand Master and Grand Master he warranted many local lodges to the Province of Yorkshire West Riding, for example Trafalgar and Scarborough in Batley; Mirfield Lodge; Saville at West Vale; Ryburn at Sowerby Bridge; Brighouse; De Warren at Halifax and last but by now means least, Thornhill at Huddersfield. A full list of Lodges he warranted is given in Appendix C.

Additionally there are six Lodges that I know of that were named after Lord Ripon. The first of these were de Grey and Ripon (No. 837) which meets at Ripon in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding. The second de Grey and Ripon Lodge (No. 905) was formed in 1862 and met at the Cafe Royal, London, this Lodge handed in its warrant in the early months of 2000. A third de Grey and Ripon Lodge (No. 1161) meets in Bridge Street, Manchester in the Province of East Lancashire and was formed from its mother Lodge Caledonian No. 204 in 1867, when Ripon was Deputy Grand Master. (Unfortunately de Grey and Ripon No. 1161 handed its warrant in in October 2004 http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-11/p-24.php). Finally, there is the Marquess of Ripon Lodge (No. 1379) which meets in Darlington in the Province of Durham.

The following year of 1868 Goderich Lodge (No. 1211) which now meets at Headingley in Leeds was consecrated. The name Goderich was probably chosen because there was already a Lodge named after de Grey and Ripon in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding. However, Ripon graciously consented the Lodge the privilege of using his coat of arms and crest and became the only Lodge in the country to be allowed to do this. Finally, during his reign as Grand Master the Marquess of Ripon Lodge (No. 1379) of Darlington, Province of Durham, was consecrated and is the only one to bear his marquessate title.


As previously mentioned Ripon was accepted into the Catholic Church on the 8th September, 1874. Although he was well acquainted with the relations between the Craft and the Papacy, apparently he was slow to believe that the Papal Bulls which had been levelled at the Craft were still valid. However, when at the last moment the attitude of the Vatican in regard to Freemasonry was made clear to him, it was relatively much too small a matter to modify the grave decision at which he had arrived. Ripon resigned having withdrawn from the Craft on 2nd September, 1874 sacrificing his political and Masonic career for the greater universal spiritual company of the Roman Catholic Church. At this time Ripon has been in Masonry for twenty-one years, of which he had been the Provincial Grand Master for thirteen years, and the Grand Master for four years. Coincidentally, the lodge rooms on Skellgate in Ripon, still have his regalia as Provincial Grand Master on display. According to the apocryphal story, Ripon gave his regalia for the gardener to burn when he resigned from the Craft. The gardener never carried out his instructions and, thinking that it was worth something of value, kept hold of it. Eventually the regalia found its way to the local lodges.

Ripon resigned from public office in 1901 at the age of 81. He spent much time in London where he was honoured by the Eighty Club at a luncheon in November of that year. On this occasion he made a speech in response to a very warm welcome by the Prime Minister, Asquith:-

Mr. Asquith has said that I have remained through a long public life, a faithful exponent and loyal supporter of certain great political principles. That is true, and it is to that consistent adherence to these noble principles that I owe any success which may have attended my public life... What has been the guiding principle of my course in public life. I started at a high level of Radicalism and in 1852 I was considered to be a very dangerous young man. I am a radical still, just as much as I was then, but I am afraid that I am much more respectable. (Denholme 1982, p.259)

The end came quite suddenly. On the morning of Friday 9 July 1909 he suffered a heart seizure and died later the same day, an hour before his son arrived. He was buried at the church of St. Mary the Virgin in the grounds of his beloved Studley Park. I will leave the final words to a quote from Denholme’s book on Ripon which neatly encapsulates the life and times of the First Marquess of Ripon:-

It is... the story of an eminently worthy man who did his best... to improve the lot of ordinary folk wherever they lived; from the blackened towns of industrial England and impoverished Ireland, to the dusty plains of famine-ridden India. (Denholme 1982, p.iii)



Baker, G. (1979) Private Members, Liberalism and Political Pressure : a mid-Victorian case study. University of Adelaide, PhD. 1979.

Craddock, JR The Marquess of Ripon, (n.d.) an occasional paper used as a lodge lecture.

The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, K.G. (1926) Fifty Years of Parliament, Cassel and Company Ltd, London.

Denholm, A. (1982) Lord Ripon (1827-1909) - A Political Biography, Croom Helm, London & Canberra

Lord Esher (1922) The Quarterly Review, No 471, April 1922, p.221.

Kitson-Clark, G. (1962) The Making of Victorian England, London, 1962.

Mathur, L.P. (1972) Lord Ripon’s Administration in India (1880-84), S. Chand & Co (Pvt) Ltd, Ram Nagar, New Delhi.

Masonic Year Book 1991-92, p.814 Outstanding Masonic Events

Newbould, I. (1990) Whiggery and Reform 1830-41, MacMillan, London

Pratt, J.W. (1965) A History of United States Foriegn Policy, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J. (Second Edition)

The Quarterly Review, Vol 166, Jan-Apr. 1888, pp. 264-5.

Reid, T.W. (1888) Life of the Rt Hon W.E. Forster, Adam & Dart, Bath

Rossi, J.P. (n.d.) Lord Ripon’s Resumption of Political Activity Recusant History

Simpson, H.L. (1945) The Lodge of Truth No.521 (1845-1945), Limited Edition.

Stacey, C.P. (1955) Britain’s Withdrawal from North America 1864-1871 Canadian Historical Review, Vol. XXXVI, No.3, 1955.

Thomas, G., (1969) Lord Ripon - The Father of Self-Government, Indo-British Review, Vol I, No.3.

Worts, F.R. The Goderich Lodge No.1211 Leeds (1868-1943)

Waite, A.E. (1970) A New Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry.

Who Was Who 1897-1915 p. xxxix.

Wolf, L. (1921) Life of the First Marquess of Ripon, 2 Vols.


The Freemason, 27th May, 1922 A Notable Past Grand Master, The First Marquis of Ripon.

The Times Saturday 5th September, 1874, page 9.

Loose Leaf Notes held at Grand Lodge Library

Letter from Grand Library to Brother Heatley, 5th February 1976.

A New Arrangement for the Entered Apprentices Song


National Museums of Scotland "An Exhibition in Celebration of the Life, Times and Legacy of Robert Burns" - taken for the internet www.nms.ac.uk/exhbition.html (21st October 1996).






Appendix A

Letter Proposing Viscount Goderich as a Candidate for Freemasonry

New Street Huddersfield

April 28th 1853

To Thos. Robinson Esqr.

Worshipfull Sir and Brother,

We the undersigned being Members of the Lodge of Truth No. 763, held at the Freemasons Hall, Kirkgate, Huddersfield, hereby nominate George Frederick Samuel Robinson commonly called VISCOUNT GODERICH, Member of Parliament, residing at No. 5 Whitehall Yard, London, aged 25 years, as a Candidate for Freemasonry, and we affectionately request that you will cause his Lordship’s name to be inserted in the next summons for the regular Lodge Meeting of Friday the sixth of May, and issued seven days previous to such meeting as in accordance with Constitutions Page 85 Section 2.

The reason why this Emergency is urged is that his Lordship cannot leave his Parliamentary duties for a longer Period than during his next visit to Huddersfield, about this time, and having long contemplated joining our honourable fraternity, his Lordship has evinced such a strong desire to become a Member of the Lodge of Truth, as expressed in a letter from his Lordship to Br. Sykes, P.M. dated London April 27th 1853.

We are Worshipl. Sir and Brother,

Yours very faithfully and fraternally,

John Sykes, P.M. G.T. Wright, S.W.

Thos. R. Tatham, P.M. Wm. Cross Marsh, J.W.

Itus Tewlis, P.P.G.S.B. and P.M. Walter Bradley, S.D.

Michael Kemp, P.J.W. William Hewitt Shepherd, Secy.

Thomas Abbey Bottomley, M.C.

[The page is entitled The following letter was rec’d from the WM and entered accordingly and appears opposite the minutes taken on Friday May 6th, 1853]

Appendix B

The Minutes of Viscount Goderich’s Initiation

Emergency Lodge of Truth No. 763

Tuesday May 17th, 1853

The Lodge was duly opened in the First degree at 5.15pm.

George Frederick Samuel Robinson previously elected was regularly initiated and desires to take the next degree.

Brother Past Master Hardy very pleasingly illustrated the First Tracing Board

The Lodge was closed at 7.15pm in Peace and Concord.

The minutes are signed by Thomas Robinson as Worshipful Master and William Shepherd as Secretary

Appendix C

Consecreation Dates of Local Lodges

Lodges Consecrated in the Province of Yorkshire West Riding when Ripon was Deputy Grand Master (1861-1870) and Grand Master (1870-1874). (N.B. These are approximate only and some require verification with the respective Lodges).

Lodge No. Ripon’s Rank Name of Lodge Cons’ted Place of meeting
904 Deputy Grand Master Phoenix 1862 Rotherham


St. Oswald 1862 Pontefract


Trafalgar 1863 Batley


Pentalpha 1863 Bradford


Harrogate & Claro 1864 Harrogate


Shakespeare 1864 Bradford


Sincerity 1864 Wakefield


Eccleshill 1864 Bradford


Excelsior 1864 Leeds


Mirfield 1866 Mirfield


Royal Wharfedale 1866 Otley


Goderich 1868 Leeds


Scarborough 1868 Batley


Defence 1868 Leeds


Saville 1868 West Vale


Wentworth 1868 Sheffield


Ryburn 1869 Sowerby Bridge

Grand Master

Brighouse 1870 Brighouse


De Warren 1870 Halifax


Zetland 1870 Leeds


Wharncliffe 1873 Penistone


Friendly 1874 Barnsley


Thornhill 1874 Huddersfield


Olicana 1874 Ilkley

Appendix D

The Marquess of Ripon’s Entry in Who Was Who

Ripon, 1st Marquess of (created 1871), George Frederick Samuel Robinson, K.G., P.C., G.C.S.I., C.I.E., D.L., J.P., D.C.L. (Hon Oxford), Litt.D. (Hon. Victoria), F.R.S. ; Baronet. 1690 ; Baron Grantham, 1761; Earl de Grey, 1816 ; Viscount Goderich, 1827; Earl of Ripon, 1833 ; Lord Privvy Seal, 1905-8 ; Lord-Lieut. N.R. Yorkshire, 1873-1906 ; High Steward of Hull ; Hon. Col. 1st Batt. W. York Rifles since 1860 ; became a Roman Catholic, 1874 ; (2nd Lord Grantham concluded the preliminaries of peace with France, 1783) ; b. London, 24 Oct. 1827 ; son of 1st Earl and Sarah, only daughter of 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire ; succeeded father and uncle, 1859 ; married 1851, Henrietta Anne Thedosia, C.I. (d. 1907) daughter of Captain Henry Vyner, Gautby Hall, Lincolnshire, grand-daughter of 1st Earl de Grey ; one son. M.P. for Hull, 1852-53; for Huddersfield 1853-57 ; for Yorkshire West Riding, 1857-59 ; Under-Secretary for War, 1859-61 ; to India Office as Under-Secretary, 1861-63 ; Secretary of State for War, 1863-66 ; Secretary of State for India, 1866 ; Lord President of Council, 1868-73; Chairman of Joint Commission for drawing up Treaty of Washington, 1871 ; Grand Master of Freemasons, 1871-74 ; Gov.-Gen of India, 1880-84 ; 1st Lord of Admiralty, 1886 ; Sec for Colonies, 1892-95 ; Mayor of Ripon, 1895-96. Owns about 21,800 acres.

Heir : Son, Earl de Grey, q.v. Address 9 Chelsea Embankment, S.W. ; Studley Royal, Ripon. Clubs : Brooks’s Reform, Traveller’s Athenaeum, United Service. (Died 1909).

Source: Who Was Who 1897-1915 p. xxxix.

n.b. This entry fails to mention the fact that Lord Ripon was the first Chancellor of the University of Leeds.

Images of HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and Marquess of Ripon as Grand Master courtesy of FreemasonCollection http://www.freemasoncollection.com for which we are most grateful.