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. 3 - History of Masonry in England, during the Reigns of Edward I. Edward II. Edward III. Richard II. Henry V. and Henry VI.

On the accession of Edward I. A. D. 1272, the care of the masons was entrusted to Walter Giffard, archbishop of York; Gibert de Clare, earl of Gloucester; and Ralph, lord of Mount Hermer, the progenitor of the family of the Mantagues. These architects superintended the finishing of Westminster Abbey, which had been begun in 1220, during the minority of Henry III. In the reign of Edward II. the fraternity were employed in building Exeter and Oriel colleges, Oxford; Clare-hall, Cambridge; and many other structures; under the auspices of Walter Stapleton, bishop of Exeter, who had been appointed Grand Master in 1307.
Masonry flourished in England during the reign of Edward III. who became the patron of science, and the encourager of learning. He applied with indefatigable assiduity to the constitutions of the Order; revised and meliorated the ancient charges, and added several useful regulations to the original code of laws. He patronized the lodges, and appointed five deputies under him to inspect the proceedings of the fraternity; viz.

I. John de Spoulee, who rebuilt St. George's chapel at Windsor, where the order of the garter was first instituted, A. D .1350;

2. William a Wykeham, afterwards bishop of Winchester, who rebuilt the castle of Windsor at the head of 400 free-masons A. D. 1357;

3. Robert a Barnham, who finished St. George's hall at the head of 250 free-masons, with other works in the castle, A. D. 1375;

4. Henry Yeuele, (called in the old records, the King's free-mason,) who built the Charter-house in London; King's hall, Cambridge; Queensborough castle; and rebuilt St. Stephen's chapel, Westminster: and

5. Simon Langham, abbot of Westminster, who rebuilt the body of that cathedral as it now stands.

At this period, lodges were numerous, and communications of the fraternity held under the protection of the civil magistrate.

[ An old record of the Society runs thus:

'In the glorious reign of King Edward III. when lodges were more frequent, the Right Worshipful the Master and Fellows, with consent of the lords of the realm, (for most great men were then masons,) ordained,
'That for the future, at the making or admission of a brother, the constitution and the ancient charges should be read by the Master or Warden.
'That such as were to be admitted master-masons, or masters of work, should be examined whether they be able of cunning to serve their respective lords, as well the lowest as the highest, to the honour and worship of the aforesaid Art, and to the profit of their lords; for they be their lords that employ and pay them for their service and travel.'
The following particulars are also contained in a very old MS. of which a copy is said to have been in the possession of the late George Payne Esq. Grand Master in 1718.
'That when the Master and Wardens meet in a lodge, if need be, the sheriff of the county, or the mayor of the city, or alderman of the town, in which the congregation is held, should be made fellow and sociate to the Master, in help of him against rebels, and for upbearing the rights of the realm.
'That entered prentices, at their making, were charged not to be thieves or thieves maintainers; that they should travel honestly for their pay, and love their fellows as themselves, and be true to the king of England, and to the realm, and to the lodge.
'That, at such congregations, it shall be inquired, whether any master or fellow has broke any of the articles agreed to; and if the offender, being duly cited to appear, prove rebel, and will not attend, then the lodge shall determine against him, that he shall forswear (or renounce) his masonry, and shall no more us this craft; the which if he presume for to do, the sheriff of the county shall prison him, and take all his goods into the king's hands, till his grace be granted him and issued. For this cause principally have these congregations been ordained, that as well the lowest as the highest should be well and truly served in this Art aforesaid, throughout all the kingdom of England. Amen, so mote it be.']

Richard II. succeeded his grandfather Edward III. in 1377, and William a Wykeham was continued Grand Master. He rebuilt Westminster-hall as it now stands; and employed the fraternity in building New College, Oxford, and Winchester college, both of which he founded at his own expense.

Henry, duke of Lancaster, taking advantage of Richard's absence in Ireland, got the parliament to depose him, and next year caused him to be murdered. Having supplanted his cousin, he mounted the throne by the name of Henry IV. and appointed Thomas Fitz Allen, earl of Surrey, Grand Master. After the famous victory of Shrewsbury, he founded Battle-abbey and Fotheringay; and in this reign the Guildhall of London was built. The king die in 1413, and Henry V. succeeded to the crown; when Henry Chicheley, archbishop of Canterbury, obtained the direction of the fraternity, under whose auspices lodges and communications were frequent.

Henry VI. a minor, succeeding to the throne in 1422, the parliament endeavoured to disturb the masons, by passing the following act to prohibit their chapters and conventions:

3 Hen. VI. cap. 1. A. D. 1425.

Masons shall not confederate in Chapters or Congregations

'Whereas, by the yearly congregations and confederacies made by the masons in their general assemblies, the good course and effect of the statutes of labourers be openly violated and broken, in subversion of the law, and to the great damage of all the commons; our sovereign Lord the King, willing in this case to provide a remedy, by the advice and consent aforesaid, and at the special request of the commons, hath ordained and established that such chapters and congregations shall not be hereafter holden; and if any such be made, they that cause such chapters and congregations to be assembled and holden, if they thereof be convict, shall be judged for felons: and that the other masons, that come to such chapters or congregations, be punished by imprisonment of their bodies, and make find and ransom at the king's will.

[Judge Coke gives the following opinion on this statute:
'All the statutes concerning labourers before this act, and whereunto this act doth refer, are repealed by the statute of 5 Eliz. cap. 4. about A. D. 1562, whereby the cause and end of making this act is taken away, and consequently the act is become of no force; for cessante ratione legis, cessat ipsa lex: and the indictment of felony upon this statute must contain, That those chapters and congregations are to the violating and breaking of the good course and effect of the statutes of labourers; which now cannot be so alleged, because these statutes be repealed. Therefore this would be put out of the charge of justices of the peace.' INSTITUTES, Part III. fol. 19.
It is plain, from the above opinion, that this act, though never expressly repealed, can have no force at present. The masons may rest very quiet, continue to hold their assemblies, and propagate their mysteries, as long as a conformity to their professed principles entitles them to the sanction of government. Masonry is too well known in this country, to raise any suspicion in the legislature. The greatest personages have presided over the society, and under their auspicious government, at different times, an acquisition of patrons, both great and noble, has been made. It would therefore be absurd to imagine, that any legal attempt will ever be made to disturb the peace and harmony of a society so truly respectable, and so highly honoured.]

This act was never put in force, nor the fraternity deterred from assembling, as usual, under archbishop Chicheley, who still continued to preside over them.

[The Latin Register of William Molart, prior of Canterbury, in manuscript, pap. 88. entitled, 'Liveratio generalis domini Gulielmi Prioris Ecclesiae Christi Cantuariensis, erga Fastum Natalis Domini 1429,' informs us, that, in the year 1429, during the minority of this prince, a respectable lodge was held at Canterbury, under the patronage of Henry Chicheley, the archbishop; at which were present Thomas Stapylton, the Master; John Morris, cuftos de la lodge lathomorum, or warden of the lodge of masons; with fifteen fellow-crafts, and three entered apprentices, all of whom are particularly named.]

Notwithstanding this rigorous edict, the effect of prejudice and malevolence in an arbitrary set of men, lodges were formed in different parts of the kingdom; and tranquillity and felicity reigned among the fraternity.
As the attempt of parliament to suppress the lodges and communications of masons renders the transactions of this period worthy attention, it may not be improper to state the circumstances which are supposed to have given rise to this harsh edict.
The duke of Bedford, at that time regent of the kingdom, being in France, the regal power was vested in his brother Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who was styled protector and guardian of the kingdom.

[This prince is said to have received a more learned education than was usual in his age, to have founded one of the first public libraries in England, and to have been a great patron of learned men. If the records of the society may be relied on, we have reason to believe, that he was particularly attached to the masons, having been admitted into their Order, and assisted at the initiation of king Henry in 1442.]

The care of the young king's person and education was entrusted to Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, the capacity and experience, but of an intriguing and dangerous character. As he aspired to the sole government of affairs, he had continual disputes with his nephew the protector, and gained frequent advantages over the vehement and impolitic temper of that prince. Invested with power, he soon began to shew his pride and haughtiness, and wanted not followers and agents to augment his influence.

[In a parliament held at Westminster on the 17th of November 1423, to answer a particular end, it was ordained, 'That if any person committed for grand or petty treason, should wilfully break out of prison, and escape from the same, it should be deemed petty treason, and his goods be forfeited (Wolfe's Chronicle, published by Stowe.).' About this time, one William King, of Womolton in Yorkshire, servant of sir Robert Scott, lieutenant of the Tower, pretended, that he had been offered by sir John Mortimer, (cousin to the lately deceased Edward Mortimer, earl of March, the nearest in blood to the English crown, and then a prisoner in the Tower,) ten pounds to buy him clothes, with forty pounds a year, and to be made an earl, if he would assist Mortimer, in making his escape; that Mortimer said, he would raise 40,000 men on his enlargement, and would strike off the heads of the rich bishop of Winchester, the duke of Gloucester, and others. This fellow undertook to prove upon oath the truth of his assertion. A short time after, a scheme offered to carry it into execution. Mortimer being permitted one day to walk to the Tower wharf, was suddenly pursued, seized, brought back, accused of breaking out of prison and of attempting his escape. He was tried, and the evidence of King being admitted, was convicted, agreeably to the late statute, and afterwards beheaded.
The death of Mortimer occasioned great murmuring and discontent among the people, and threatened a speedy subversion of those in power. Many hints were thrown out, both in public and private assemblies, of the fatal consequences which were expected to succeed this commotion. The amazing progress it made, justly alarmed the suspicions of the ambitious prelate, who spared no pains to exert his power on the occasion.]

The animosity between the uncle and nephew daily increased, and the authority of parliament was obliged to interpose. On the last day of April 1425, the parliament met at Westminster. The servants and followers of the peers coming thither, armed with clubs and staves, occasioned its being named THE BATT PARLIAMENT. Several laws were made, and, among the rest, the act for abolishing the society of masons; at least, for preventing their assemblies and congregations.

[Dr. Anderson, in the first edition of the Book of Constitutions, in a note, makes the following observation on this act: 'This act was made in ignorant times, when true learning was a crime, and geometry condemned for conjuration; but it cannot derogate from the honour of the ancient fraternity, who, to be sure, would never encourage any such confederacy of their working brethren. By tradition, it is believed, that the parliament were then too much influenced by the illiterate clergy, who were not accepted masons, nor understood architecture, (as the clergy of some former ages,) and were generally thought unworthy of this brotherhood. Thinking they had an indefeasible right to know all secrets, by virtue of auricular confession, and the masons never confessing any thing thereof, the said clergy were highly offended, and at first suspecting them of wickedness, represented them as dangerous to the state during that minority, and soon influenced the parliament to lay hold of such supposed arguments of the working masons, for making an act that might seem to reflect dishonour upon even the whole fraternity, in whose favour several acts had been before and after that period made.']

Their meetings being secret, attracted the attention of the aspiring prelate, who determined to suppress them.

[The bishop was diverted from his persecution of the masons, by an affair in which he was more nearly concerned. On the morning of St. Simon and Jude's day, after the lord mayor of London had returned to the city from Westminster, where he had been taking the usual charges of his high office, he received a special message, while seated at dinner, from the duke of Gloucester, requiring his immediate attendance. He immediately repaired to the palace, and being introduced into the presence, the duke commanded his lordship to see that the city was properly watched the following night, as he expected his uncle would endeavor to make himself master of it by force, unless some effectual means were adopted to stop his progress. This command was strictly obeyed; and, at nine o'clock the next morning, the bishop of Winchester, with his servants and followers, attempting to enter the city by the bridge, were prevented by the vigilance of the citizens, who repelled them by force. This unexpected repulse enraged the haughty prelate, who immediately collected a numerous body of archers and other men at arms, and commanded them to assault the gate with shot. The citizens directly shut up their shops, and crowded to the bridge in great numbers, when a general massacre would certainly have ensued, had it not been for the timely interposition, and prudent administration, of the mayor and aldermen, who happily stopt all violent measures, and prevented a great effusion of blood.
The archbishop of Canterbury, and Peter, duke of Coimbra, eldest son of the king of Portugal, with several others, endeavoured to appease the fury of the two contending parties, and, if possible, to bring about a reconciliation between them; but to no purpose, as neither party would yield. They rode eight or ten times backward and forward, using every scheme they could devise to prevent further extremities; at last they succeeded in their mediation, and brought the parties to a conformity; when it was agreed, that all hostile proceedings should drop on both sides, and the matter be referred to the award of the duke of Bedford; on which peace was restored, and the city remained quiet.
The bishop lost no time in transmitting his case to the duke of Bedford; and in order to gloss it over with the best colours, he wrote the following letter:

'Right high and mighty prince, and my right noble, and after one leiuest  [earthly] lord; I recommend me unto your grace with all my heart. And as you desire the welfare of the king our sovereign lord, and of his realms of England and France, your own weal [health] with all yours, haste you hither: For by my troth, if you tarry long, we shall put this land in jeopardy [adventure] with a field, such a brother you have here; God make him a good man. For your wisdom well knoweth that the profit of France standeth in the welfare of England, &c. The blessed Trinity keep you. Written in great haste at London, on All-hallowen-even, the 31st of October, 1425.
          'By your servant, to my lives end,
                                        'HENRY, Winchester.'

This letter had the desired effect, and hastened the return of the duke of Bedford to London, where he arrived on the 10th of January 1425-6. On the 21st of February he held a great council at St. Albans, adjourned it to the 15th of March at Northampton, and to the 25th of June at Leicester. Batts and staves being now prohibited, the followers of the members of parliament attended with stones in a sling, and plummets of lead. The duke of Bedford employed the authority of parliament to reconcile the differences which had broke out between his brother and the bishop of Winchester; and obliged these rivals to promise before that assembly, that they would bury all quarrels in oblivion. Thus the long wished-for peace between these two great personages was, to all appearance, accomplished.
During the discussion of this matter before parliament, the duke of Gloucester exhibited the following charge, among five others, against the bishop of Winchester: 'That he had, in his letter to the duke of Bedford at France, plainly declared his malicious purpose of assembling the people, and stirring up a rebellion in the nation, contrary to the king's peace.'
The bishop's answer to this accusation was, 'That he never had any intention to disturb the peace of the nation, or raise a rebellion; but that he sent to the duke of Bedford, to solicit his seedy return to England, to settle all those differences which were so prejudicial to the peace of the kingdom: That though he had indeed written in the letter, That if he tarried, we should put the land in adventure by a field, such a brother you have here; he did not mean it of any design of his own, but concerning the seditious assemblies of masons, carpenters, tylers, and plaisterers; who, being distasted by the late act of parliament against the excessive wages of those trades, had given out many seditious speeches and menaces against certain great men, which tended much to rebellion: [The above particulars are extracted from one of Elias Ashmole's MSS. on the subject of Free-masonry.] That the duke of Gloucester did not use his endeavour, as he ought to have done in his place, to suppress such unlawful assemblies; so that he feared the king, and his good subjects, must have made a field to withstand them; to prevent which, he chiefly desired the duke of Bedford to come over.'
As the masons are unjustly suspected of having given rise to the above civil commotions, I thought it necessary to insert the foregoing particulars, in order to clear them from this false charge. Most of the circumstances here mentioned, are extracted from Wolfe's Chronicle published by Stowe.]

The sovereign authority being vested in the duke of Gloucester, as protector of the realm, the execution of the laws, and all that related to the civil magistrate, centered in him: a fortunate circumstance for the masons at this critical juncture. The duke, knowing them to be innocent of the accusations which the bishop of Winchester had laid against them, took them under his protection, and transferred the charge of rebellion, sedition, and treason, from them, to the bishop and his followers; who, he asserted, were the first violators of the public peace, and the most rigorous promoters of a civil discord.
The bishop, sensible that his conduct could not be justified by the laws of the land, prevailed on the king, through the intercession of the parliament, whose favour his riches had obtained, to grant letters of pardon for all offences committed by him, contrary to the statute of provisors, and other acts of praemunire; and five years afterward, procured another pardon, under the great seal, for all crimes whatever from the creation of the world to the 26th of July 1437.
Notwithstanding these precautions of the cardinal, the duke of Gloucester drew up, in 1442, fresh articles of impeachment against him, and presented them in person to the king; earnestly intreating that judgment might be passed upon him, according to his crimes. The king referred the matter to his council, at that time composed principally of ecclesiastics, who extended their favour to the cardinal, and made such a slow progress in the business, that the duke, wearied out with their tedious delays and fraudulent evasions, dropt the prosecution, and the cardinal escaped.
Nothing could now remove the inveteracy of the cardinal against the duke; he resolved to destroy a man whose popularity might become dangerous, and whose resentment he had reason to dread. The duke having always proved a strenuous friend to the public, and, by the authority of his birth and station, having hitherto prevented absolute power from being vested in the king's person, Winchester was enabled to gain many partisans, who were easily brought to concur in the ruin of the prince.

[The bishop planned the following scheme at this time to irritate the duke of Gloucester: His duchess, the daughter of Reginald lord Cobham, had been accused of the crime of witchcraft, and it was pretended that a waxen figure of the king was found in her possession; which she, and her associates, Sir Roger Bolingbroke, a priest, and one Margery Jordan of Eye, melted in a magical manner before a slow fire, with an intention of making Henry's force and vigour waste away by like insensible degrees. The accusation was well calculated to affect the weak and credulous mind of the king, and gain belief in an ignorant age. The duchess was brought to trial, with her confederates, and the prisoners were pronounced guilty: the duchess was condemned to do public penance in London for three days, and to supper perpetual imprisonment; the others were executed.
The protector, provoked at such repeated insults offered to his duchess, made a noble and stout resistance to these most abominable and shameful proceedings, but it unfortunately ended in his own destruction.]

To accomplish this purpose, the bishop and his party concerted a plan to murder the duke. A parliament was summoned to meet at St. Edmondsbury in 1447, where they expected he would lie entirely at their mercy. Having appeared on the second day of the session, he was accused of treason, and thrown into prison; where he was found, the next day, cruelly murdered. It was pretended that his death was natural; but though his body, which was exposed to public view, bore no marks of outward injury, there was little doubt of his having fallen a sacrifice to the vengeance of his enemies. After this dreadful catastrophe, five of his servants were tried for aiding him in his treasons, and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. They were hanged accordingly, cut down alive, stripped naked, and marked with a knife to be quartered; when the marquis of Suffolk, through a mean and pitiful affectation of popularity, produced their pardon, and saved their lives; the most barbarous kind of mercy that can possibly be imagined !
The duke of Gloucester's death was universally lamented throughout the kingdom. He had long obtained, and deserved, the sirname of GOOD. He was a lover of his country, the friend of good men, the protector of masons, the patron of the learned, and the encourager of every useful art. His inveterate persecutor, the hypocritical bishop, stung with remorse, scarcely survived him two months; when, after a long life spent in falsehood and politics, he sunk into oblivion, and ended his days in misery.

[The wickedness of the cardinal's life, and his mean, base, and unmanly death, will ever be a bar against any vindication of his memory, for the good which he did while alive, or which the money he had amassed could do after his death. When in his last moments, he was heard to utter these mean expressions: 'Why should I die, who am possessed of so much wealth? If the whole kingdom could save my life, I am able by my policy to preserve it, or by my money to purchase it. Will not death be bribed, and money do every thing?' The inimitable Shakespeare, after giving a most horrible picture of despair, and a tortured conscience, in the person of the cardinal, introduces king Henry to him with these sharp and piercing words:

'Lord Cardinal, if thou think'st on heaven's blis,
'Lift up thy hand, make signal of that hope.'
          - He dies, and makes no sign.

Hen. VI. Act 3.

'The memory of the wicked shall rot, but the unjustly persecuted shall be had in everlasting remembrance.']

After the death of the cardinal, the masons continued to hold their lodges without danger of interruption. Henry established various seats of erudition, which he enriched with ample endowments, and distinguished by peculiar immunities; thus inviting his subjects to rise above ignorance and barbarism, and reform their turbulent and licentious manners. In 1442, he was initiated into masonry, and, from that time, spared no pains to obtain a complete knowledge of the Art. He perused the ancient charges, revised the constitutions, and, with the consent of his council, honoured them with his sanction.

[A record in the reign of Edward IV. runs thus: 'The company of masons, being otherwise termed free-masons, of auntient staunding and good reckoninge, by means of affable and kind meetyngs dyverse tymes, and as a lovinge brotherhode use to doe, did frequent this mutual assembly in the tyme of Henry VI. in the twelfth yeare of his most gracious reign, A. D. 1434' The same record says farther, 'That the charges and laws of the free-masons have been seen and perused by our late soveraign king Henry VI. and by the lords of his most honourable council, who have allowed them, and declared, That they be right good and reasonable to be holden, as they have been drawn out and collected from the records of auntient tymes,' &c. &c. From this it appears, that before the troubles which happened in the reign of this unfortunate prince, free-masons were held in high estimation.]

Encouraged by the example of the sovereign, and allured by an ambition to excel, many lords and gentlemen of the court were initiated into masonry, and pursued the Art with diligence and assiduity.

[Remark - This censure only extends to those irregular lodges in London, which seceded from the rest of the fraternity in 1738m and cannot apply to the Grand Lodge in York city, or to any lodges under that truly ancient and respectable banner; whose independence and regular proceedings have been fully admitted and authenticated by the Grand Lodge in London, in the Book of Constitution printed under their sanction in 1738.]

The king in person presided over the lodges, and nominated William Wanefleet, bishop of Winchester, Grand Master; who built at his own expence Magdalene college, Oxford, and several pious houses. Eton college, near Windsor, and King's college, Cambridge, were founded in this reign, and finished under the direction of Wanefleet. Henry also founded Christ's college, Cambridge' and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, Queen's college, in the same university. In short, during the life of this prince, the arts flourished, and many sagacious statesmen, consummate orators, and admired writers, were supported by royal munificence.

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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