Food For Thought

We are constantly told, and most of us are also telling others that Freemasonry started in 1717, with the formation of the United Grand Lodge of England. There are arguable points in this belief. Negative people will find them and you must be able to answer their negative comments

Let us first deal with the name first

The United Grand Lodge of England seems a very grand title for 4 lodges combining their Freemasonry. The correct name that these four lodges used was Grand Lodge of London.

Their Book of Constitution was printed in 1723. That was also the year that a Grand secretary was appointed, and minutes started.

After Grand Lodge had been in existence for 9 years, i.e. 1726, there was a period of the formation of Provinces. The masonic historian Preston in writing his History uses the words

“This period was rendered remarkable, by the brethren of Wales first uniting under the banner of the Grand Lodge of London.”

In 1734/35 two lodges formed in York under the Grand Lodge in London, which alienated from that time on the Grand Lodge of York. It allowed the dissidents of the changes in ceremonial to take action.

There are claims that in 1738 with ever more provinces the name changed to Grand Lodge of England. However others claim it was in 1725.

In 1739 - Errant Lodges formed in opposition in London claiming unjustifiably to be under the Grand Lodge of York. This was the beginnings of the Grand Lodge of Ancients (Society of Free and Accepted Masons under the Constitution of England)

The United Grand Lodge of England was formed when the these Ancients and Moderns (Free and Accepted Masons of England) buried the hatchet and amalgamated. Thus in truth it could be claimed that the United Grand Lodge of England only goes back to 1813. Thus the claim of 1717 could be likened to that of Great Britain starting in 1602 with King James, rather than the actual parliamentary union in 1707.

A list of all the Grand Lodges formed in England can be found here, and it comes with interesting explanations - .

In English Freemasonry the situation was and still is further complicated by the Grand Lodge of All England at York.  This is the Grand Lodge at York that was alienated in 1734/35, and who had previously worked in conjunction with the Grand Lodge of London. Their current blog website header proudly proclaims

“Welcome to the official Blog of The Grand Lodge of All England at York, the Ancient and Honourable Society and Fraternity of Freemasons meeting since time immemorial in the City of York. The Grand Lodge at York is the original exponent of genuine Anglo-Saxon Freemasonry. In the year A.D. 926 the Grand Lodge at York was established by Royal warrant of King Athelstan, granted in perpetuity to the Grand Assembly of Masons at York. Prince Edwin of York was appointed its first Grand Master.”

The second question that one might ask is what is the history of Freemasonry before 1717. There is no doubt that York claims its formation in 926 A.D, and the notion that reports indicate that they worked in co-operation with the Grand Lodge of London from 1717 to 1734/5. Each tending their own geographical region.

As regards history, the Grand Lodge of London had employed Anderson to write its Book of Constitution, and in this he provided a quite detailed history, with detailed footnotes. He claims Freemasonry did not start suddenly in 1717. Unfortunately most of that history appeared as unwritten, and passed by word of mouth, and therefore fiction according to the masonic historian Gould.
When did modern Freemasonry begin?
John Barns Graham

History, Laws, Charges, Orders, Regulations, and Usages,
Right Worshipful FRATERNITY
Collected from their general RECORDS, and their faithful TRADITIONS of many Ages.
At the Admission of a NEW BROTHER, when the Master or Warden shall begin, or order some other Brother to read as follows:

ADAM, our first Parent, created after the Image of God, the great Architect of the Universe, must have had the Liberal Sciences, .........."

Ref: 1734 copy of 1723 Constitutions -

All but the history starting "ADAM, ..." on this page is a repeat of the first Title page of the 1723 Book of Constitution. The reader should note that the instruction is for it to be read to every new brother - not only the History but all the Book of Constitution.

During the early days of the craft there were few if any permanent Masonic Halls or Temples, and lodges were usually held in taverns or coffee houses. First, the candidate took an obligation on the Bible (VSL) to preserve the mysteries of the craft. The word and sign were then communicated and the ancient charges and legendary history were read, thus being passed on to each new initiate throughout the centuries. It would be reasonably assumed that the history would be expanded with recent events after they happened. In other words it was a living history being continually updated, and follows the norm for all passing of oral history from generation to generation.

This has not continued to today's Craft, and it is a great pity. There are claims that the history is imagination, Myths and fables. However Bro. Robert Freke Gould, 2nd Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076”. who is credited as debunking the History also debunked the “earliest entries in the (Grand Lodge of London's) existing minutes” and the standing or existence of all four lodges at that date.

It took  160 years and the publication of his 1883-87 book History of Freemasonry to provide the negative scholars the opportunity to convince those that rule the Craft that the history was wrong. Much of the reasoning was that is that there is no written evidence, though modern research has provided some in more recent times. However, those scholars should be careful of “cherry picking” the statements of Gould to satisfy their points of view.

The 1723 Constitution states “History, Laws, Charges, Orders, Regulations, and Usages” have been “Collected from their general RECORDS, and their faithful TRADITIONS of many Ages.” This gives considerable scope for embellishment and invention. Even in today's world discoveries continue to be made confirming old stories that have been considered myths. Oral history has been shown to be more accurate than was thought in the 19th century.

One can argue with some justification that events of the 1600s would still be well known to those in the early 1700s, and therefore almost certain to have merit. Instances such as Elias Ashmole's initiation into a Lodge which was almost completely composed of Free or Accepted masons and not operative would surely be conclusive re-inforcement to the belief that  Lodges of non-operative Freemasonry existed earlier than 1717. See, and others.

The instruction in the constitution was that this “history” was to be told to every new initiate. If one takes the opinion that it was a total figment of the imagination, then one must also be of the opinion that those who signed of the Constitution must be of dubious character to claim it as history. That runs counter to the opinions of early historians such as. Preston, and those of today, who have studied the lives and character of those early signatories.

Also in this 1723 Book of Constitution were the Ancient Charges, duly updated and extracted by John Payne in 1720, from manuscripts such as Regius 1390, Cooke 1450  etc. Only the first charge is reported to be substantially changed, and this was to make the Craft secular, though the prayers were not made so until some time later.

It is this rewritten first charge that provides the evidence that this 1723 document is the start of modern day Freemasonry.

"I. Concerning GOD and RELIGION.

A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine.
But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance."

Before 1717 Freemasons were of the religion of the country they were in. Even this was stretched a little bit as the official religion of England was Anglican Christianity but there were Roman Catholic Christian brothers. It may well be that the change was brought about to rectify this position.

The result of this change is envisaged in the charge with its ending ending
"whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance." This updated charge allowed Freemasonry to be disassociated from the religion of the country in which the brother was in, and eventually allowed the English constitution Freemasonry, and others adopting this charge, to spread over the world. But more especially it allowed the individual brother the right to practice his Freemasonry in lodges anywhere around the world. It is perhaps even more relevant today than it was 300 years ago.

So it is surely acceptable to claim that today's Freemasonry did start in 1717. It started with the founding Grand Lodge of those four Lodges which went on to amalgamate into the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. The first charge in their original 1723 Book of Constitution they had written and printed is the reason.

However there is no doubt that Freemasonry and Freemasons and their lodges existed well before that date in England, and especially in Scotland where written records exist. However, those Freemasons were under a different First Charge.