For those not initiated in the ways of the brotherhood, it remains a shadowy world of intrigue.
But the Freemasons are to next month lift the lid on their proud ties to the British Royal family with the largest exhibition of their jewels ever staged.
The Museum of Freemasonry will next month put jewels owned by Edward VII, who was Grand Master before he ascended to the throne on display for the British public, explaining in full for the first time his long-term relationship with the brothers.
(The Museum of Freemasonry will next month put jewels owned by Edward VII, who was Grand Master before he ascended to the throne on display for the British public)
The exhibition will see some his personal jewels, left to the museum after his death, put on display to the wider public for the first time, in an effort to tell the story of how he used his membership to mix more widely with society than he could in royal life.
Around 150 jewels, including those once owned by the Duke of Connaught, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling, will also go on display in what the museum calls the “first major exhibition of masonic jewels in the UK”.
Mark Dennis, curator, said the collection was “probably one of the largest bodies of male jewellery anywhere”, saying he aimed to “introduce people to another facet of freemasonry”.
(The jewels going on show will be from the Grand Lodge’s own collection, with items from the Royal family presented as gifts over the years)
Earlier this year, the Freemasons went public in trying to overcome their “undeservedly stigmatised” secretive reputation, with the United Grand Lodge of England placing adverts in newspapers“Enough is enough” and offering to hold public open evenings.
In September, the Museum of Freemasonry will publicised its “Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood & Identity” exhibition, to teach the public the meaning behind the emblems signifying the lodge or rank a freemason belongs to, or a special event or a charitable act they have performed.
The star exhibits will include jewels belonging to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who was initiated into Freemasonry in a lodge in Stockholm by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway in 1868.
While a Prince, he was a prominent Freemason, joining and founding many lodges and serving as Grand Master before having to take a step back when he was crowned Edward VII in 1910 to become Protector of the Craft in England, Ireland and Scotland.
The display will include jewels made for him to celebrate the founding of charitable institutions for boys and girls of masons who were orphaned or had fallen on hard times, bearing his insignia and initials.
(The star exhibits will include jewels belonging to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert)
A star-shaped jewel marking his installation as Grand Master in 1875 will also be included, along with a commemorative piece for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, celebrated at a meeting of 7,000 Freemasons at the Royal Albert Hall.
Mr Dennis said many people enjoy the idea of Freemasons being mysterious, with a “lot of curiosity” from museum visitors about their badges and rituals.
The jewels going on show will be from the Grand Lodge’s own collection, with items from the Royal family presented as gifts over the years. “Some have been on display from time to time, but never given the prominence we are giving them now,” he said.
“What we’re hoping to do this time is to tell a little bit more of the story and put them in context, so people can really appreciate them.”
(Prince Albert, who was initiated into Freemasonry in a lodge in Stockholm by King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway in 1868)
Several of Queen Victoria’s sons were Freemasons, in an era when members were open about their membership.
“This was a time when members of the Royal Family didn’t take on roles in civil life as much as they do now, but here was a man who wanted to mix much more widely with his subjects,” Dennis said of the Prince of Wales.
“Naturally they were presented rather more blingy versions of the jewels.
“They are brothers and wearing the same jewels, but if you’re Prince of Wales, your’s will probably have diamonds on.”
The Freemason ties with the Royal family continue, with Duke of Kent currently Grand Master. Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood & Identity will open on September 20.