His Majesty’s Servant, David Garrick Esq – Freemason?

David Garrick - a painting by Gainsborough David Garrick – a painting by Gainsborough

W. Bro Leonardo Monno, Media Team member, provides a short synopsis of the life of David Garrick, 18th century actor and possible freemason.

In the 18th century, actors were known as “His Majesty’s Servants”, and were entitled to wear the royal livery of scarlet. The most talented English Shakespearean actor of the time was David Garrick, whom Alexander Pope described “a young man who has never had an equal as an actor and never will.” Garrick became famous also as a playwright, producer and manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London.


He was born on February 19, 1717, at The Angel Inn in Hereford Town the grandson of David de la Garrique, a French Huguenot wine merchant, and the third child of Peter, a British Army recruiting officer who had emigrated from France in 1687. The family lived in Litchfield, Staffordshire, where David met Samuel Johnson while attending the local free grammar school. They became friends for life. The year 1717 is coincidental.

David travelled to Lisbon, Portugal, with his brother Peter Jnr in 1728 to learn about the wine business from their paternal uncle and returned to Litchfield a year later to continue his education.

When Samuel Johnson closed his failing Academy in Edial, near Lichfield in 1737, which David sometimes attended, he travelled to London in search of better fortune. David accompanied him. They set out in March, sharing one horse and a little money on the journey. In Rochester, the well-known mathematician Rev. Colson, had offered to give him free education, but then left for a post at Cambridge soon after David arrived. The young man returned to London and, with a little family inheritance, started a wine business jointly with his brother Peter running the venture from Litchfield. Much of the time as wine merchant was by necessity spent socialising and transacting business in taverns and coffee-houses, an occupation that young Garrick found quite agreeable. He focused  his business calls at the Bedford Coffee-house in Covent Garden, an establishment plagued by scandals, but also crowded every night with actors, playwright and theatre managers. The likeable Garrick was soon accepted within that circle and when in March 1741, a player at the Goodman’s Field Theatre fell unwell, Garrick dashed onto the stage to anonymously play the part of Harlequin.

David Garrick always wore a five-curled wig. He was a charmer with large eyes, stocky, short, with a soft voice and initially spoke with a strong Staffordshire accent that made him mispronounce words like “firm” as “furm”. In short, he was not considered suited for the theatre, but he proved everybody wrong.

Rising temperatures and poor sanitation in the capital during the summer caused the theatres to shut down for a few months, the wealthy to flee to their country homes, and the actors to tour the provinces.

In the summer of 1741, Garrick joined the Giffard & Dunstall theatre company and went to Ipswich where, under the stage name Lyddal, he became known as a talented young actor. in October the same year, he played Shakespeare’s Richard III for the first time under his own name at the Goodman’s Fields Theatre in Whitechapel, London. His performance was a hit and for seven months the nobility and gentry filled the road to Goodman’s Fields with their carriages to see him act.

Garrick had a long relationship with the scandalous Irish actress Pegg Woffington, but in June 1749, he married Eva Marie Veigel, a famous Viennese dancer and Lady Burlington’s protégée. John Fielding wrote of David’s lifetime devotion to Marie, “the chastity of Mr Garrick… and his exemplary life as a man has been a great service to the morals of the dissipated age.” The couple were childless, and even though Eva Marie outlived David by a record 43 years, she never remarried.


Garrick’s status as a Freemason has not been proven but given that many of his friends were members of the Craft, it seems highly likely he might have been one. In September 2012, W. Bro Yasha Beresiner, a Past Master of Research Lodge Quatuor Coronati No 2076 in the UGLE, wrote in The Square Magazine that the assumption Garrick was a Freemason, stemmed from the gift of an enamel snuff box by Bro Alex Kirkaldy of the Palatine Lodge No 114 to the St. Paul’s Lodge No 194 in February 1848. The box had been bequeathed by David’s widow.

In the minutes of February 1848, the St. Paul’s Lodge Secretary wrote, “This precious relic originally belonged to that famous actor and Brother Mason Garrick.” When the box was stolen in 1889, the St. Paul’s Lodge replaced it with a silver copy on which was inscribed, “This snuff box replaces the one given to the Lodge by Brother David Garrick”, and an event that couldn’t have happened because Garrick had died years before the Lodge had been warranted in 1790.


In 1763, he embarked on the Grand Tour, which took him to Paris, Turin, Milan, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, and Munich and lasted almost two years. It’s not unlikely that he might have followed the example of some of his English contemporaries and joined Freemasonry abroad.

Garrick’s many private and public acts of kindness show that he was a very compassionate man. One example of his benevolence was the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund that he set up and funded. It was a charity for the relief of “invalids and widows, and orphans,” of those who worked in theatrical productions.

In January 1776, he wrote to Sir Grey Cooper and asked for help in getting a law passed that would make the Fund official. He said, “I could end my theatrical life the way I wanted to, by giving the actors this necessary and honourable security for their money.” The Act passed in 1777.

There are many other stories about how kind and generous Garrick was, which show that, even if he might not have been initiated in the Craft, he was as good a Mason as any other Brother.

David Garrick and his wife Eva Marie David Garrick and his wife Eva Marie

After he married Eva Marie Veigel in 1749, Garrick bought 27 Southampton Street, which was only a five-minute walk from Covent Garden and the Drury Lane Theatre. Five years later, he bought 5 Adelphi Terrace, Durham Yard, south of the Strand, an address where he had kept his “vaults” as a wine merchant almost two decades earlier.


Middlesex is linked to David Garrick because he purchased two properties in the Province.  In 1754, he bought Fuller House, a beautiful estate on the banks of the Thames in Hampton to use as a summer house.

He changed the front of the house, built a temple to Shakespeare in the grounds, and held parties for his masonic neighbours, Lord Burlington, who was his patron, Alexander Pope, Horace Walpole, and William Hogarth Garrick’s best friend in London. Garrick also bought Hendon Hall, Middlesex, now in the London Borough of Barnet, and built a temple to Shakespeare. He never lived there and used the property as an investment only.

David Garrick - a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds David Garrick – a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds


Sir Joshua Reynolds introduced Garrick to the Literary Club by describing it as a most admirable institution of friends who shared an interest in the arts. “Then I think I shall be one of you,” Garrick exclaimed.

When this was related to Johnson, he scoffed and said, “He’ll be one of us! How does he know we’ll let him?” Boswell noted the Doctor had also said, “Garrick will disturb us, Sir, with his buffoonery” a reference to Garrick’s excellent mimicry, which is the art of entertaining by ridiculing something or somebody.

But the most logical reason for turning Garrick down for nine long years might have been that he was neither a poet nor a writer. He finally joined the Club in 1773, and was said to have behaved with discretion.

The duties of a Freemason are to be socially and morally good, to avoid excesses and intemperance, and to not act “ludicrous or silly” when the Lodge is doing what is “serious and solemn.”


Garrick’s health was always very vulnerable, and a kidney malaise took him to the grave. When in Munich in 1764, he was in bed for five weeks with typhoid fever. In the winter of 1773-74, he got gout and so began making frequent trips to fashionable City of Bath to take the waters and also to act and stage plays in the city’s theatres.

In 1778, David fell ill first with the gout and then with shingles. He managed to travel back to London, but on January 15, he had a rerun of the kidney problems. On January 18, 1779, Garrick fell into a coma and died at 8 a.m. on January 20.  It is said that the last words he uttered when he briefly awoke from unconsciousness were: “Oh dear!” His funeral took place in February a few short weeks later. It was a grand event, and the procession stretched from the Adelphi to Westminster Abbey. He was buried in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, near Shakespeare’s tomb.

After he died, several exclusive clubs were set up and named after him. This is the case of the Garrick’s gentleman Club in Covent Garden that actors and men of letters founded in 1831. Today it boasts over 1,400 members and some Masonic Lodges and Chapters dine there in its luxurious setting.

David Garrick changed the English theatre and audience’s tastes, instituted player rehearsals and turned the actor’s performance from robotic monologues into a disciplined display of emotions that matched the story narrated on stage. We will remember his lifetime of work for a very long time.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden
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