Section. 1 - Masonry early introduced into England, - Account of
the Druids. - Progress of Masonry in England under the Romans. - Masons highly
favoured by St. Alban
The history of Britain, previous to the invasion of the Romans,
is so mixed with fable, as not to afford any satisfactory account, either of the
original inhabitants of the island, or of the arts practised by them. It
appears, however, from the writings of the best historians, that they were not
destitute of genius or taste. There are yet in being the remains of some
stupendous works, executed by them much earlier than the time of the Romans; and
those vestiges of antiquity, though defaced by time, display no small share of
ingenuity, and are convincing proofs that the science of masonry was not unknown
even in those rude ages.
The Druids, we are informed, retained among them many usages
similar to those of masons; but of what they consisted, at this remote period we
cannot with certainty discover. In conformity to the antient practices of the
fraternity, we learn that they held their assemblies in woods and groves, and
observed the most impenetrable secrecy in their principles and opinions; a
circumstance we have reason to regret, as these, being known only to themselves,
must have perished with them.
They were the priests of the Britons, Gauls, and other Celtic
nations, and were divided into three classes: the bards, who were poets and
musicians, formed the first class; the vates, who were priests and
physiologists, composed the second class; and the third class consisted of the
Druids, who added moral philosophy to the study of physiology.
As study and speculation were the favourite pursuits of those
philosophers, it has been suggested that they chiefly derived their system of
government from Pythagoras. Many of his tenets and doctrines seem to have been
adopted by them. In their private retreats, they entered into a disquisition of
the origin, laws, and properties of matter, the form and magnitude of the
universe, and even ventured to explore the most sublime and hidden secrets of
Nature. On these subjects they formed a variety of hypotheses, which they
delivered to their disciples in verse, in order that they might be more easily
retained in memory; and administered an oath not to commit them to writing.
In this manner the Druids communicated their particular tenets,
and concealed under the veil of mystery every branch of useful knowledge, which
tended to secure to their order universal admiration and respect, while the
religious instructions propagated by them were every where received with
reverence and submission. They were entrusted with the education of youth; and
from their seminaries alone issued curious and valuable productions. As judges
of law, they determined all causes, ecclesiastical and civil; as tutors, they
taught philosophy, astrology, politics, rites, and ceremonies; and as bards, in
their songs they recommended the heroic deeds of great men to the imitation of
To enlarge on the usages that prevailed among those ancient
philosophers, on which we can offer at best but probable conjectures, would be a
needless waste of time; we shall therefore leave the experienced mason to make
his own reflections on the affinity of their practices to the rites established
among the fraternity, and proceed to a disquisition of other particulars and
occurrences better authenticated, and of more importance.
On the arrival of the Romans in Britain, arts and sciences began
to flourish. According to the progress of civilization, masonry rose into
esteem; hence we find that Caesar, and several of the Roman generals who
succeeded him in the government of this island, ranked as patrons and protectors
of the Craft. Although at this period the fraternity were employed in erecting
walls, forts, bridges, cities, temples, palaces, courts of justice, and other
stately works, history is silent respecting their mode of government, and
affords no information in regard to the usages and customs prevalent among them.
Their lodges and conventions were regularly held, but being open only to the
initiated fellows, the legal restraints they were under, prevented the public
communication of their private transactions.
The wars which afterwards broke out between the conquerors and
conquered, considerable obstructed the progress of masonry in Britain, so that
it continued in a very low state till the time of the emperor Carausius, by whom
it was revived under his own immediate auspices. Having shaken off the Roman
yoke, he contrived the most effectual means to render his person and government
acceptable to the people, and assuming in the character of a mason, he acquired
the love and esteem of the most enlightened part of his subjects. He possessed
real merit, encouraged learning and learned men, improved the country in the
civil arts, and, in order to establish an empire in Britain, he collected into
this dominions the best workmen and artificers from all parts, all of whom,
under his auspices, enjoyed peace and tranquillity. Among the first class of his
favourites, came the masons; for their tenets he professed the highest
veneration, and appointed Albanus, his steward, the principal superintendant of
their assemblies. Under his patronage, lodges, and conventions of the
fraternity, were regularly formed, and the rites of masonry practised. To enable
the masons to hold a general council to establish their own government, and
correct errors among themselves, he granted to them a charter, and commanded
Albanus to preside over them in person as Grand Master. This worthy knight
proved a zealous friend to the Craft, and afterwards assisted at the initiation
of many persons into the mysteries of the Order. To this council, the name of
Assembly was afterwards given.
[An old MS. which was destroyed with many others in 1720, said
to have been in the possession of Nicholas Stone, a curious sculptor
under Inigo Jones, contains the following particulars: St. Alban
loved masons well, and cherished them much, and made their pay right
good; for he gave them ijs. per weeke, and iij d. to their cheer. A MS. written in the reign of James II. before
cited in this volume, contains an account of this circumstance, and increases the weekly
pay to 3s. 6d. and 3d. a day for the bearers of burdens.
Whereas, before that time, in all the land, a mason had but a penny
a day, and his meat, until St. Alban mended it. And he got them a
charter from the King and his counsell for to hold a general
counsell, and gave it to name Assemblie. Thereat he was himselfe,
and did helpe to make masons, and gave them good charges.]
Some particulars of a man so truly exemplary among masons will
certainly merit attention.
Albanus was born at Verulam, (now St. Alban's, in
Hertfordshire,) of a noble family. In his youth he travelled to Rome, where he
served seven years under the Emperor Diocletian. On his return home, by the
example and persuasion of Amphibalus of Caer-leon, (now Chester,) who had
accompanied him in his travels, he was converted to the Christian faith, and, in
the tenth and last persecution of the Christians, was beheaded, A. D. 303.
St. Alban was the first who suffered martyrdom for the Christian
religion in Britain, of which the venerable Bede gives the following account.
The Roman governor having been informed that St. Alban harboured a Christian in
his house, sent a party of soldiers to apprehend Amphibalus. St. Alban
immediately put on the habit of his guest and presented
himself to the officers.
[The garment which Alban wore upon this occasion was called a Caracalla;
it was a kind of cloak with a cowl, resembling the vestment of the Jewish priests. Walsingham relates, that it
was preserved in a large chest in the church of Ely, which was opened in the reign of Edward II. A. D. 1314; and
Thomas Rudburn, another writer of equal authority, confirms this relation; and adds, That there was found
with his garment an old writing in these words: 'This is the Caracalla of St. Amphibalus, the monk and preceptor
of St. Alban; in which that proto-martyr of England suffered death, under the cruel
persecution of Diocletian against the Christians.]
Being carried before a magistrate, he behaved with such
a manly freedom, and so powerfully supported the cause of his friend, that he
not only incurred the displeasure of the judge, but brought upon himself the
punishment above specified.
The old constitutions affirm, that St. Alban was employed by
Carausius to environ the city of Verulam with a wall, and to build for him a
splendid palace; and that, to reward his diligence in executing those works, the
emperor appointed him steward of his household, and chief ruler of the realm.
however this may be, from the corroborating testimonies of ancient historians,
we are assured that this knight was a celebrated architect, and a real
encourager of able workmen; it cannot therefore be supposed, that free-masonry would
be neglected under so eminent a patron.