In a 2002 BBC poll, former British prime minister Winston Churchill was named as ‘the greatest ever Briton.’ He is an incredibly popular figure in the United Kingdom for his gallant leadership of the Allies during the Second World War.
Many of Churchill’s speeches have been preserved as national British treasures, and his impact on the British never-say-die bulldog attitude is undisputed. But what of his attitude towards Freemasonry?
While everyone remembers Churchill as the man who dared go up against Hitler, fewer people realize that he was in fact a proud Freemason and drew upon his membership of the fraternity throughout his successful life.
In this article, we will explore the life of Winston Churchill the Freemason, and take a look at some of his most telling contributions to the Craft. We will also consider to what extent Winston Churchill can be considered as the UK’s most well-known Freemason.
As always, this writing does not reflect the official views of Freemasons Community, but is merely the views of one Mason.
Winston Churchill – the greatest Briton
Before we uncover Churchill’s Masonic story, let’s take a look at why his fellow country men and women consider him to be the greatest Briton to have ever lived.
Born in 1874, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill struggled through his early schooling, particularly in mathematics, but he excelled in grammar and English; skills that would stand him in good stead as his political career took off in the decades to follow.
Winston Churchill’s political career rose to prominence in the 1930s, as he became one of the most outspoken critics of the policy of appeasement adopted towards Germany. While public opinion at the time reflected the British government’s decision to avoid a repeat of World War I at all costs, Churchill foresaw the danger of pandering to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.
When he became Prime Minister in 1940, Churchill formed a coalition with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin as the three men shaped Allied strategy to defeat Nazi Germany. He led the Conservative party back to office in 1951 after the end of the war but was forced to retire in 1955 due to ill health.
In many respects, Churchill’s entire political career had been geared towards wartime leadership. A true patriot who believed in his country’s greatness, he led the Allied forces from the brink of defeat to a memorable victory.
Alongside his political career, Churchill was a successful author, publishing many notable works throughout his life including The Gathering Storm and Their Finest Hour. Churchill authored more than forty books and also contributed to a number of periodicals.
At the end of the Second World War, he received his investiture as a Knight of the Garter from the Royal Family of England and is forever known in the United Kingdom as Sir Winston Churchill, the greatest ever Briton.
When did Winston Churchill become a Freemason?
Winston Churchill was initiated into Studholme Lodge 1591 in May 1901, at the age of 26. He completed his second degree two months later and was made a Master Mason on 5th March 1902.
It is said that Churchill was motivated to join the lodge because he had many friends and family members who were Masons, and Freemasonry at the time was an incredibly popular and well-respected institution for men of good social standing.
Freemasonry was enjoying a boom in popularity at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to the election of Edward Prince of Wales as Grand Master in 1875. And it is likely that such a high-profile appointment inspired a politically ambitious Churchill to join the Craft.
Edward’s appointment to the Craft gave huge impetus to Freemasonry as he dutifully fulfilled his Masonic obligations in public and constantly promoted the benefits of the fraternity.
He was often involved in the laying of foundation stones of buildings, bridges, and churches, and he did great things for the popularity of Freemasonry at the time.
Why did Churchill become a Mason?
As well as the generally positive perception of Freemasonry at the time of Churchill’s initiation, he joined Freemasonry to keep up with the family tradition. The influence exerted on him by his father Lord Randolph certainly played a part in his joining the Craft.
We can also point to Churchill’s membership of other fraternities as an indication of his interest in the benefits that connecting with like-minded men in his community had on him. In 1904, he accepted an honorary membership in the Hawthorn Lodge of the British Order of Ancient Free Gardeners.
He is also recorded as a member of the Loyal Waterloo Lodge of the National Independent Order of Odd Fellows, as well as a member of the Ancient Order of Druids. It’s clear that Churchill’s attraction to fraternal institutions likely inspired him to become a Mason.
What was significant about the lodge that Churchill joined?
Studholme Lodge has an interesting history. In 1876, John Studholme Brownrigg, who was the Provincial Grand Master for Surrey, gave his family name to the consecration of the new Studholme Lodge 1591.
In 1881, the lodge relocated from Surrey to London, and garnered a sparkling reputation in Masonic circles, as it attracted aristocratic members and was the home lodge of many of the social elite at the time.
For instance, the guestlist at the lodge’s 21st installation banquet in 1897 included 17 members of parliament, and numerous Earls, Knights, and Lords, who would have ensured the night was most spectacular.
It is no coincidence that Winston Churchill joined a lodge with such a highly regarded social standing, as the connections he developed within would have no doubt helped to further his political career.
Studholme lodge underwent further changes later in Churchill’s life, when it merged with United Lodge No. 1629 to form United Studholme Lodge. Today, it is known as Studholme Alliance Lodge after another merger, although it has retained its original number of 1591.
Churchill’s Masonic journey
It would be fair to say that Churchill’s Masonic journey was not uniform, as he was involved in a number of curious incidents throughout his Masonic career. In 1912, he resigned from his home lodge with the intention of forming a new lodge in 1918, that he and some fellow Masons sought to name – the Ministry of Munitions Lodge.
Unfortunately for Churchill, his petition to demit was rejected by the new lodge, and although he was no longer a member of a lodge, he continued his membership within the Craft throughout his life.
Although the petition acquired 95 signatories, it was refused by the Grand Lodge on the grounds that:
“The policy of the advisors of the Grand Master has always been to decline to recommend the printing of a warrant for a new lodge where it was intended that the membership thereto be restricted to the members of any particular department of the Civil Service of the crown.”
A fair assessment of Churchill’s involvement in Freemasonry can be seen in the words of former Grand Secretary Sir Sydney White, who said:
“Winston Churchill was initiated as a young man but never progressed in the order and has taken no part for many years.”
In this regard, a large part of Churchill’s life was consumed by pressing matters both at home and abroad, and his Masonic career was overshadowed by his political responsibilities.
That being said, Churchill attended many Masonic events at various lodges throughout his life and recognized the positive impact it had on his relationships and professional endeavors. Of Freemasonry, Churchill famously said:
“Masonic labour is purely a labour of love. He who seeks to draw Masonic wages in gold and sliver will be disappointed. The wages of a Mason are in the dealings with one another; sympathy begets sympathy, kindness begets kindness, helpfulness begets helpfulness, and these are the wages of a Mason.”
In these words, brother Churchill perfectly summarises the very essence of Freemasonry and explains the true value that membership of the fraternity bestows. Although he wasn’t the most active Mason, it is clear from his words that he valued his Masonic ties, and there is no evidence to suggest he was anything other than complimentary about Freemasonry as a whole.
Churchill’s Masonic apron
Perhaps in joint recognition of Churchill’s prominence, his personal Masonic apron is held on public display by the Museum of Freemasonry at Freemasons’ Hall in England.
It is one of a number of artifacts at the museum paying tribute to some of the most influential and well-known Master Masons of the past, and Churchill undeniably fits the bill.
Is it fair to say that Churchill is the UK’s most well-known Freemason?
In spite of his relative inactivity within Freemasonry and the fact that he resigned from his home lodge in 1912, there is little point in disputing the fact that Winston Churchill is one of the most well-known Freemasons in the UK.
The fact that he wasn’t as active as others doesn’t detract from the fact that he was a proud Mason, and he undeniably leant on the many relationships he formed within the Craft throughout his life.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s professional relationship was able to flourish because both men were Masons. It was the foundation for one of the most important friendship’s in history, and eventually brought an end to the Second World War.
Churchill’s involvement in the fraternity is something that brothers are incredibly proud of to this day, and it is indicative of the exceptionally high standards that Freemasonry sets.
But what of other prominent Masons in British history?
Now that we’ve put Winston Churchill on a pedestal as the most well-known British Mason, let’s take a look at three other candidates for the title.
Robert Burns – The famous Scottish poet was an active member of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Scotland. One of his most well-known works – ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is said to be about the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood that Freemasonry is founded upon.
Sir Alf Ramsey – The man who led England to their first and only World Cup win in 1966, Sir Alf Ramsey was initiated into Waltham Abbey Lodge in Essex in 1953. In the world of British football, Sir Alf’s defining achievement is most fondly remembered.
Sir Ernest Shackleton – One of the greatest explorers ever to have lived, Ernest Shackleton visited the poles on three occasions and made many important scientific discoveries during his life. He was initiated into Navy Lodge No. 2612 and famously went ten years between his initiation and his second degree!
As the birthplace of Freemasonry, the UK undoubtedly has its fair share of prominent former members. But few are held in higher regard than Sir Winston Churchill, who shaped British politics in the early-mid twentieth century and led his country to victory against Germany in the Second World War.
Many agree that Churchill embodied the Masonic spirit, and even though he wasn’t the most active Freemason throughout his life, it’s clear that Winston Churchill left his mark on the fraternity and is rightly renowned as one of Freemasonry’s most prestigious brothers.