The Grand Council of Royal and Select Masters of England and Wales and its Districts and Councils Overseas was formally constituted on 29th July 1873 by four Councils chartered just two years earlier by the Grand Council of New York. They organised themselves into a Sovereign body under the Patronage of the Rev. Canon G.R. Portal, a Past Grand Master of Mark Master Masons, who was Installed as the Grand Master of the Order. By the turn of the century there were twenty seven Councils. The number of Councils has continued to grow and at 2013 stood at 244.
The four degrees in the Order are often referred to as the 'Cryptic Degrees', and the Order sometimes as 'Cryptic'. The ceremonies complete the Solomonic legend as they prove the essential link between the degrees of Mark Mason, the Raising in Craft, and The Royal Arch. This can be seen clearly in the following timeline.
974–967 BC preparation of materials and the start of building of the Temple - Mark
969–968 BC building progressing and construction of a secret vault - Select Master
968 BC death of HA - Royal Master (and Raising in Craft)
967 BC dedication of the temple - Most Excellent Master
586 BC destruction of Temple – the word is lost - Super-Excellent Master
534 BC recovery of the word - Royal Arch
The degrees are taken in the following sequence.
Select Master – Candidates for this degree are said to be "Chosen" The degree takes place in a secret vault (or Crypt) beneath the Temple consisting of several arches into which the secrets were deposited and later discovered. It tells of a well known mason employed by King Solomon who accidentally enters into the crypt where the three Grand Masters were meeting and illustrates the consequence of the intrusion.
Royal Master – Candidates for this degree are said to be "Honoured" The degree is set just before the completion and dedication of the first Temple and deals with an inquisitive Fellow Craft seeking certain assurances from Hiram Abif as to when he may receive the secrets of a Master Mason. It shows how the secrets came to be deposited in the crypt. The reply to the Fellow Craft’s enquiry is said to be one of the most enthralling and personal pieces of ritual found in Freemasonry.
Most Excellent Master – Candidates for this degree and that of Super Excellent Master are said to be "Received and Acknowledged" The degree deals with the completion of the first Temple and the celebration to mark it’s completion.
Super-Excellent Master – The degree is based on the time of the temples imminent destruction and refers to the siege of Jerusalem.