In the early 1800s, there were a number of bodies, Masonic and otherwise, using the name Red Cross which have confused the early history of this Order. However, there is no doubt that the present Order was re-organised and firmly established by Robert Wentworth Little in 1865.
It was an Order which once started, spread rapidly and in the first decade, over a hundred Conclaves were chartered.
The ‘Masonic’ Order of the Red Cross of Constantine appears to have been first organised in the United Kingdom by Charles Shirreff about 1780 AD, and was re-organised in 1804 by Waller Rodwell Wright.
During the next fifty years the Order was not very active until in 1865 Grand Imperial Conclave was reassembled for the election and enthronement of William Henry Wright.
Since 1865 there has been steady and continuous working and daughter Grand Imperial Conclaves have been formed from England throughout the world and in recent years, in Germany, France and Finland.
The Order of the Red Cross of Constantine belongs to the ‘East and West’ class of Initiatory Rites and consists of three degrees – Knight, Priest-Mason and Prince-Mason – titles which represent grades in the scale of Initiation.
The 1st Degree of the Order, that of Knight Companion, leads from the Pagan Dispensation to the Christian, using the Legend of Constantine the Great as a symbol of that conversion. The candidate comes as a ‘Knight of Rome’ desiring to embrace Christianity,and he must, in accordance with the General Statutes of the Order, be a Royal Arch Mason.
The 2nd Degree is that of Venerable Eusebius and is one of the symbolic Priesthoods. A Knight who has attained this status is eligible for the office of Eminent Viceroy in a Conclave provided he is a member of the Appendant Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St. John the Evangelist and that he is regularly elected to that office.
The 3rd Degree is confined to the Most Puissant Sovereign, who represents Constantine, Sovereign-Prince of the East and West. A Sovereign shall have served for one year in the office of Viceroy in a regular Conclave. This Degree completes the Rite of the Red Cross of Constantine.
The Appendant Orders of the Holy Sepulchre and of St. John the Evangelist were attached to the Order of the Red Cross of Constantine at an early date and a separate certificate is issued to members of this Order. There is no connection, historically or ritually, between the Masonic Degree of Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and the medieval Military Order of the same name, which is said to have been founded in the eleventh century.