The Web of Hiram

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Preston Illustrations of Masonry- Book 4 The History of Masonry in England

Section 1 - Masonry Introduced into England

Section 2 - Masonry in England under St. Austin, King Alfred, Athelstane and the Knights Templars

Section 3 -History of Masonry in England, during the Reigns of Edward I to Henry VI.

Section 4 - History of Masonry in the South of England from 1471 to 1567

Section 5 - Progress of Masonry in the South of England from the Reign of Elizabeth to the Fire of London in 1666.

Section 6 - The History of Masonry in England from the Fire of London, to the Accession of George I.

Section 7 - History of the Revival of Masonry in the South of England

Section 8 - History of Masonry from its Revival in the South of England till the Death of King George I

Section 9 - History of Masonry in England during the Reign of King George II

Section 10 - History of Masonry in the South of England from the Accession of George III, to the end of the year 1779.

Section 11 - History of the most remarkable Events in the Society from 1779 to 1791 inclusive

Section 12 - History of Masonry from the Installation of the Prince of Wales as Grand Master, to the Grand Feast in 1795 inclusive.

Section. 2 - History of Masonry in England under St. Austin, King Alfred, and Athelstane; and also under the Knights Templars.

After the departure of the Romans from Britain, masonry made but a slow progress, and in a little time was almost totally neglected, on account of the irruptions of the Picts and Scots, which obliged the southern inhabitants of the island to solicit the assistance of the Saxons, to repel these invaders. As the Saxons increased, the native Britons sunk into obscurity, and ere long yielded the superiority to their protectors, who acknowledged their sovereignty and jurisdiction. These rough and ignorant heathens, despising every thing but war, soon put a finishing stroke to all the remains of ancient learning which had escaped the fury of the Picts and Scots. They continued their depredations with unrestrained rigour, till the arrival of some pious teachers from Wales and Scotland, when many of these savages being reconciled to Christianity, masonry got into repute, and lodges were again formed [See the Book of Constitutions.] but these being under the direction of foreigners, were seldom convened, and never attained to any degree of consideration or importance.

Masonry continued in a declining state till the year 557, when Austin, with forty more monks, among whom the sciences had been preserved, came into England. Austin was commissioned by pope Gregory, to baptize Ethelbert king of Kent, who appointed him the first archbishop of Canterbury. This monk, and his associates, propagated the principles of christianity among the inhabitants of Britain, and by their influence, in little more than sixty years, all the kings of the heptarchy were converted. Masonry flourished under the patronage of Austin, and many foreigners came at this time into England, who introduced the Gothic style of building. Austin seems to have been a zealous encourager of architecture, for he appeared at the head of the fraternity in founding the old cathedra of Canterbury in 600, and the cathedral of Rochester in 602; St. Paul's, London, in 604; St. Peter's, Westminster, in 605; and many others.

[See the Monasticon Anglicanum.]

Several palaces and castles were built under his auspices, as well as other fortifications on the borders of the kingdom, by which means the number of masons in England was considerably increased.

Some expert brethren arrived from France in 680, and formed themselves into a lodge, under the direction of Bennet, abbot of Wirral, who was soon after appointed by Kenred, king of Mercia, inspector of the lodges, and general superintendant of the masons.
During the heptarchy, masonry continued in a low state; but in the year 856, it revived under the patronage of St. Swithin, who was employed by Ethelwolph, the Saxon king, to repair some pious houses; and from that time it gradually improved till the reign of Alfred, A. D. 872, when, in the person of that prince, it found a zealous protector.

Masonry has generally kept pace with the progress of learning; the patrons and encouragers of the latter having been most remarkable for cultivating and promoting the former. No prince studied more to polish and improve the understandings of his subjects than Alfred, and no one ever proved a better friend to masonry. By his indefatigable assiduity in the pursuit of knowledge, his example had powerful influence, and he speedily reformed the dissolute and barbarous manners of his people. Mr. Hume, in his History of England, relates the following particulars of this celebrated prince:

"Alfred usually divided his time into three equal portions: one was employed in sleep, and the refection of his body by diet and exercise; another in the dispatch of business; and a third, in study and devotion. That he might more exactly measure the hours, he made use of burning tapers of equal lengths, which he fixed in lanthorns; and expedient suited to that rude age, when the art of describing sun-dials, and the mechanism of clocks and watches, were totally unknown. By this regular distribution of time, though he often laboured under great bodily infirmities, this martial hero, who fought in person fifty-six battles by sea and land, was able, during a life of no extraordinary length, to acquire more knowledge, and even to compose more books, than most studious men, blest with greater leisure and application, have done in more fortunate ages."

As this prince was not negligent in encouraging the mechanical arts, masonry claimed a great part of his attention. He invited from all quarters industrious foreigners to repeople his country, which had been desolated by the ravages of the Danes. He introduced and encouraged manufactures of all kinds among them: no inventor or improver of any ingenious art did he suffer to go unrewarded; and he appropriated a seventh part of his revenue for maintaining a number of workmen, whom he constantly employed in rebuilding his ruined cities, castles, palaces, and monasteries. The university of Oxford was founded by him.

On the death of Alfred in 900, Edward succeeded to the throne, during whose reign the masons continued to hold their lodges, under the sanction of Ethred, his sister's husband, and Ethelward, his brother, to whom the care of the fraternity was intrusted. Ethelward was a prince of great learning, and an able architect; he founded the university of Cambridge.

Edward died in 924, and was succeeded by Athelstane his son, who appointed his brother Edwin, patron of the masons, This prince procured a charter from Athelstane, empowering them to meet annually in communication at York, where the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 926, at which Edwin presided as Grand Master. Here many old writings were produced, in Greek, Latin, and other languages, from which the constitutions of the English lodges are originally derived.

[A record of the society, written in the reign of Edward IV. said to have been in the possession of the famous Elias Ashmole, founder of the Museum at Oxford, and unfortunately destroyed, with other papers on the subject of masonry, at the Revolution, gives the following account of the state of masonry at this period:

'That though the ancient records of the brotherhood in England were many of them destroyed, or lost, in the wars of the Saxons and Danes, yet king Athelstane, (the grandson of king Alfrede the Great, a mighty architect,) the first annointed king of England, and who translated the Holy Bible into the Saxon tongue, (A. D. 930,) when he had brought the land into rest and peace, built many great works, and encouraged many masons from France, who were appointed overseers thereof, and brought with them the charges and regulations of the lodges, preserved since the Roman times; who also prevailed with the king to improve the constitution of the English lodges according to the foreign model, and to increase the wages of working masons.
'That the said king's brother, prince Edwin, being taught masonry, and taking upon him the charges of a master-mason, for the love he had to the said craft, and the honourable principles whereon it is grounded, purchased a free charter of king Athelstane, for the masons having a correction among themselves, (as it was anciently expressed,) or a freedom and power to regulate themselves, to amend what might happen amiss, and to hold a yearly communication and general assembly.
'That accordingly prince Edwin summoned all the masons in the realm to meet him in a congregation at York, who came and composed a general lodge, of which he was Grand Master; and having brought with them all the writings and records extant, some in Greek, some in Latin, some in French, and other languages, from the contents thereof that assembly did frame the constitution and charges of an English lodge, made a law to preserve and observe the same in all time coming, and ordained good pay for working masons, &c.'
From this era we date the re-establishment of free-masonry in England. There is at present a Grand Lodge of masons in the city of York, who trace their existence from this period. By virtue of Edwin's charter, it is said, all the masons in the realm were convened at a general assembly in that city, where they established a general or grand Lodge for their future government. Under the patronage and jurisdiction of this Grand Lodge, it is alleged, the fraternity considerably increased, and kings, princes, and other eminent persons, who had been initiated into masonry, paid due allegiance to that Grand Assembly. But as the events of the times were various and fluctuating, that Assembly was more or less respectable; and in proportion as masonry obtained encouragement, its influence was more or less extensive. The appellation of Ancient York Masons, is well known in Ireland and Scotland; and the universal tradition is, that the brethren of that appellation originated at Auldby near York. This carries with it some marks of confirmation, for Auldby was the seat of Edwin.
There is every reason to believe that York was deemed the original seat of masonic government in this country; as no other place has pretended to claim it, and as the whole fraternity have, at various times, universally acknowledged allegiance to the authority established there: but whether the present association in that city be entitled to that allegiance, is a subject of inquiry which it is not my province to investigate. To that assembly recourse must be had for information. Thus much, however, is certain, that if a General Assembly or Grand Lodge was held there, (of which there is little doubt if we can rely on our records and constitutions, as it is said to have existed there in Queen Elizabeth's time,) there is no evidence of its regular removal to any other place in the kingdom; and, upon that ground, the brethren at York may probably with justice claim to the privilege of associating in that character. A number of respectable meetings of the fraternity appear to have been convened at sundry times in different parts of England, but we cannot find an instance on record, till a very late period, of a general meeting (so called) being held in any other place beside York.
To understand this matter more clearly, it may be necessary to advert to the original institution of that assembly, called a General or Grand Lodge. It was not then restricted, as it is now understood to be, to the Masters and Wardens of private lodges, with the Grand Master and his Wardens at their head; it consisted of as many of the fraternity at large as, being within a convenient distance, could attend, once or twice in a year, under the auspices of one general head, elected and installed at one of these meetings, and who, for the time being, received homage as the sole governor of the whole body. The idea of confining the privileges of masonry, by a warrant of constitution, to certain individuals, convened on certain days at certain places, had no existence. There was but one family among masons, and every mason was a branch of that family. It is true, the privileges of the different degrees of the Order always centered in certain numbers of the fraternity, who, according to their advancement in the Art, were authorized by the ancient charges to assemble in, hold, and rule lodges, at their will and discretion, in such places as best suited their convenience, and when so assembled, to receive pupils and deliver instructions in masonry; but all the tribute from these individuals, separately and collectively, rested ultimately in the General Assembly, to which all the fraternity might repair, and to whose award all were bound to pay submission.
As the constitutions of the English Lodges are derived from this General Assembly at York; as all masons are bound to observe and preserve those in all time coming; and as there is no satisfactory proof that such assembly was every regularly removed by the resolution of its members, but that, on the contrary, the fraternity still continue to meet in that city under this appellation, it may remain a doubt, whether, while these constitutions exist as the standard of masonic conduct, that assembly may not justly claim the allegiance to which their original authority entitled them; and whether any other convention of masons, however great their consequence may be, can, consistent with those constitutions, withdraw their allegiance from that assembly, or set aside an authority, to which not only antiquity, but the concurrent approbation of masons for ages, under the most solemn engagements, have repeatedly given a sanction.
It is to be regretted, that the idea of superiority, and a wish to acquire absolute dominion, should occasion a contest among masons. Were the principles of the Order better understood, and more generally practised, the intention of the institution would be more fully answered. Every mason would consider his brother as his fellow, and he who, by generous and virtuous actions, could best promote the happiness of society, would always be most likely to receive homage and respect.]

Athelstane kept his court for some time at York, where he received several embassies from foreign princes, with rich presents of various kinds. He was loved, honoured, and admired by all the princes of Europe, who sought his friendship and courted his alliance. He was a mild sovereign, a kind brother, and a true friend. The only blemish which historians find in the whole reign of Athelstane, is the supposed murder of his brother Edwin. This youth, who was distinguished for his virtues, having died two years before his brother, a false report was spread, of his being wrongfully put to death by him. But this is so improbable in itself, so inconsistent with the character of Athelstane, and indeed so slenderly attested, as to be undeserving a place in history.

[The excellent writer of the Life of King Athelstane  (Biog. Brit. vol. i. p. 63. Ist edit.) has given so clear and so perfect a view of this event, that the reader cannot receive greater satisfaction than in that author's own words:
"The business of Edwin's death is a point the most obscure in the story of this king, and, to say the truth, not one even of our best historians hath written clearly, or with due attention, concerning it. The fact as commonly received is this: The king, suspecting his younger brother Edwin, of designing to deprive him of his crown, caused him, notwithstanding his protestations of innocency, to be put on board a leaky ship, with his armour-bearer and page. The young prince, unable to bear the severity of the weather, and want of food, desperately drowned himself. Some time after, the king's cup-bearer, who had been the chief cause of this act of cruelty, happened, as he was serving the king at table, to trip with one foot, but recovering himself with the other, 'See,'  said he, pleasantly, 'how brothers afford each other help;' which striking the king with the remembrance of what himself had done in taking off Edwin, who might have helped him in his wars, he caused that business to be more thoroughly examined, and finding his brother had been falsely accused, caused his cup-bearer to be put to a cruel death, endured himself seven years sharp penance, and built the two monasteries of Middleton and Michelness, to atone for this base and bloody fact (Speed's Chronicle, book vii. chap. 38)."
Dr. Howel, speaking of this story, treats it as if very indifferently founded, and, on that account, unworthy of credit (Gen. Hist. P. iv. c. 2. sect. 10). Simeon of Durham, and the Saxon Chronicle, say no more, than that Edwin was drowned by his brother's command, in the year 933 (Simeon Dunelm. p. 154. Chron. Saxon. p. III.). Brompton places it in the first, or, at farthest, in the second year of his reign; and he tells us the story of the rotten ship, and of his punishing the cup-bearer (Chronicon. p. 828.). William of Malmsbury, who is very circumstantial, says, he only tells us what he heard (De Geft. R. A. lib. ii.); but Matthew the flower-gatherer (Matth. Florileg.) stamps the whole down as an indubitable truth. Yet these discordant dates are not to be accounted for. If he was drowned in the second, he could not be alive in the tenth year of the king; the first is the more probable date, because about that time there certainly was a conspiracy against king Athelstane, in order to dethrone him, and put out his eyes, yet he did not put the author of it to death; is it likely then, that he should order his brother to be thrown into the sea upon bare suspicion? But the reader must remember, that we cite the same historians who have told us this story, to prove that Athelstane was unanimously acknowledged king, his brethren being too young to govern; one would think, then, they could not be old enough to conspire. If we take the second date, the whole story is destroyed; the king could not do seven years penance, for he did not live so long; and as for the tale of the cup-bearer, and his stumbling at the king's table, the same story is told of Earl Godwin, who murdered the brother of Edward the Confessor. Lastly, nothing is clearer from history, than that Athelstane was remarkably kind to his brothers and sisters, for whose sakes he lived single, and therefore his brother had less temptation to conspire against him.]

The activity and princely conduct of Edwin qualified him, in every respect, to preside over so celebrated a body of men as the masons, who were employed under him in repairing and building many churches and superb edifices, which had been destroyed by the ravages of the Danes and other invaders, not only in the city of York, but at Beverley, and other places.

On the death of Edwin, Athelstane undertook in person the direction of the lodges, and the art of masonry was propagated in peace and security under his sanction.

When Athelstane died, the masons dispersed, and the lodges continued in an unsettled state till the reign of Edgar in 960, when the fraternity were again collected by St. Dunstan, under whole auspices they were employed on some pious structures, but met with no permanent encouragement.

After Edgar's death, masonry remained in a low condition upwards of fifty years. In 1041, it revived under the patronage of Edward the Confessor, who superintended the execution of several great works. He rebuilt Westminster Abbey, assisted by Leofrick earl of Coventry, whom he appointed to superintend the masons. The Abbey of Coventry, and many other structures, were finished by this accomplished architect.

William the Conqueror having acquired the crown of England in 1066, he appointed Gundulph bishop of Rochester, and Roger de Montgomery earl of Shrewsbury, joint patrons of the masons, who at this time excelled both in civil and military architecture. Under their auspices the fraternity were employed in building the Tower of London, which was completed in the reign of William Rufus, who rebuilt London-bridge with wood, and first constructed the palace and hall of Westminster in 1087.

On the accession of Henry I. the lodges continued to assemble. From this prince, the first Magna Charta, or charter of liberties, was obtained by the Normans. Stephen succeeded Henry in 1135, and employed the fraternity in building a chapel at Westminster, now the House of Commons, and several other works. These were finished under the direction of Gilbert de Clare marquis of Pembroke, who at this time presided over the lodges.

During the reign of Henry II. the Grand Master of the Knights Templars superintended the masons, and employed them in building their Temple in Fleet-street, A. D. 1155. Masonry continued under the patronage of this Order till the year 1199, when John succeeded his brother Richard in the crown of England. Peter de Colechurch was then appointed Grand Master. He began to rebuild London-bridge with stone, which was afterwards finished by William Alcmain in 1209. Peter de Rupibus succeeded Peter de Colechurch in the office of Grand Master, and Geoffrey Fitz-Peter, chief surveyor of the king's works, acted as his deputy. Under the auspices of these two artists, masonry flourished during the remainder of this and the following reign.

Home Lectures of the Craft Lectures of the Holy Royal Arch Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite The Royal Order of Scotland York Rite Side Degrees English Knights Templar Order of Women Freemasons Walter Leslie Wilmshurst Preston Illustrations of Masonry Masonic Tutor Support

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