Rough Mason, Mason, Freemason, Accepted Mason
St. Hedwig and the new convent.
We do not know exactly how Freemasonry began despite the apparent wealth of material which suggests or hints otherwise. This lack of solid evidence—documentation—has caused historians to softly smile at the claims of many Masonic writers regarding the origins of the institution noting that few similar organizations have attempted to make comparable historical claims. But these Masonic writers were sincere in their contention that their craft had existed since time out of mind or had its beginnings in a period whereunto the memory of man reacheth not. J. G. A. Pocock notes that the purpose of an ancient constitution was to prove that the existing institution, or some part of it, was immemorial in nature and custom, and therefore its present status was legally derived. This utilitarian approach to an institution’s history also provides moral and practical support for current practices as well as examples of what should be imitated and should be avoided.
There are two approaches to Freemasonic history. There is a scientific, historical approach in which a theory of origin is developed using verifiable, documented facts which can be tested and the theory refined by diligent researchers as new material is discovered and new interpretations of existing material explored from a variety of perspectives. This approach includes a studied examination of the legends and myths regarding the origins of the fraternity prevalent since at least the fourteenth century and includes an analytical approach to Masonic custom, practice, esoteric tradition, ritual, psychology, governance, and ethics, as well as public opinion. A second approach is a less-authentic approach which focuses on myth, legend, and open-ended speculation.
One of these discarded purely speculative theories of origin, notes John Hamill, Librarian at the United Grand Lodge of England and concurred with by Robert Cooper, curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, is that Freemasonry is a direct descendant of the medieval Knights Templars of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Outremer or overseas as the Crusader states established after the First Crusade were known. These states included the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem; but more about the Templars at the end of the chapter. Part and parcel of this myth of direct association is Rosslyn Chapel, a medieval edifice abounding with carvings and sculptures and through which Dan Brown uses his vivid imagination to demonstrate the link. The chapel’s handbook published in 1774 “makes no mention of any Masonic connections.”
One fact remains, the history of any institution—and Freemasonry is an institution—which has existed for centuries in various places is that of both constancy and change. Freemasonry is no different from any institution currently in existence in that it was founded and it persisted, but, as with others, it has changed in form, scope, and purpose as well as reputation. To search the records of the past for a direct link between some ancient organization and that institution which arose in the seventeenth century and has evolved into twenty-first century Freemasonry is unreasonable. It is reasonable, however, to examine the records and other evidence of related institutions just as we examine human genealogy for answers about an individual’s origins. But the existence of a given institution, belief, or practice in the present day is not a sound indicator that it existed as it does now at any point in the past. It is the historian’s role through careful examination of the evidence to document past practices and to show how, if at all, they relate to the current institution.
Essential to any scientific or historical study of an institution is the establishment of clear, concise definitions. For this analysis, the original meaning of freemason is accepted as that found in the London Assize of Wages of 1212 as an individual who wrought in freestone. Freestone is so named because it is a fine-grained sandstone or limestone which is easily worked in any direction and lends itself to undercutting and carving. It was and is generally cut into window and door frames, vaults, and ornaments. Freemasons were thus differentiated from layers, wallers, pavers, dikers (“dykers” in some texts), hewers, scalpers, carriers, and rough masons although the term appears at times to have been used interchangeably with hard hewer. The term operative is accepted to mean stone masons who engaged directly in the construction trade. Speculative mason is accepted as those non-operative individuals who joined the fraternity to engage in thoughtful reflection and meditation. Freemasonry, from a Masonic historian’s perspective, is accepted to mean “the organization and practices which have from time to time prevailed among medieval working masons and their ’operative’ and ’speculative’ successors, from the earliest date from which such an organization is traceable down to the present time.” Finally, accepted mason is customarily agreed to mean a more general class of non-operatives who became guild members to fulfill certain administrative functions and to participate in fraternal relations, and later to engage in speculative endeavors.
An established part of Masonic history has been the attempt to demonstrate a connection between the medieval operative guild and the modern fraternity. A problem rises, however, when it becomes apparent that there was more than one such organization of masons and that not all masons were members of a guild. In France, we find the corps de meiters and compagonnages; the Comacines in Italy and Gaul; the steinmetzen in Germany; and other assorted lodges and guilds in Flanders, Scotland, and various European countries. While the Comacine masters give a point of departure for Masonic history and appear to relate to Bede’s reference to masons from Gaul, it is only the Scottish, English, and Irish lodges which can be shown to have had a connection to modern Freemasonry in the United States and other nations.
One singular problem when “connecting the dots” of masonic history is that of vocabulary. The most ancient records tend to be written in Latin with words such as cementarius, lathomus, lapicida, or the French masoun or mazon used interchangeably. The first reference to a free mason in England is found in the City of London Letter Book-H dated August 9, 1376, which shows Thomas Wrek and John Lesnes as fre masons. In the Constitutions of Masonry as well as the Regius and Cooke manuscripts, the term is always mason with freemason completely absent. Most building accounts of the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries use mason and freemason interchangeably, with the preponderant term being mason.
The surviving records of medieval construction in England indicate that masonry functioned under a direct labor system. The employer (usually the crown, church, or municipal government) appointed officials referred to as master, master or surveyor of the work, or clerk of the work who directed the complex operation of finding, quarrying, shaping, finishing, carrying, placing, laying, and finishing stonework in addition to the preparation work necessary such as the surveying of the site and the digging of foundations as well as housing, feeding, and clothing the workmen, providing their tools and, most importantly, paying their wages. This led to a dual administrative system at the quarry and the construction sites. One group of administrators provided financial and logistical management while a different group handled the technical aspects of the project. At a royal building site, the clerk of the works generally provided administrative supervision while the various masters oversaw different technical or construction aspects under the overall guidance of the master of the works. Most of the clerks in England were either king’s clerks or officials from the Exchequer. They were often given the title of keeper of the works or, as noted, surveyor of the works. These men were not operative or working masons. The rolls at Vale Royal Abby, Caernarvon Castle, and Magdalen College list the names of those given the title master of the works. Elizabeth, mother of Henry VIII and wife of Henry VII, notes in her privy purse account for 1502-1503 that she replaced the house of Nicholas Grey, clerk of the works at Richmond after it had burned.
A master mason was one who “has taken upon himself to be continually laboruing and diligent . . . and to do all care concerning the said work that accords to a master of work, both in labouring of his own person, in devising, and in supervising the masons and workmen under him.” The master mason tended to be one who had risen through the ranks much like Richard Beke who is listed as master mason at Canterbury Cathedral in 1435, but who had worked at London Bridge as a mason in 1409, and as Chief Bridge Mason in1417. Among the many duties of a master mason was the devising of plans for the work. It is clear from the record that kings, bishops, and abbots delighted in architecture and may have taken some part in the design process, but early building contracts often included details that imply that the master mason, mason contractor, or master of the works oversaw both design and the drawings necessary for the execution of the work as well as the contacting and subcontracting. The position of master mason was often a full-time appointment even though there were in many contracts provisions for masters to work at more than one site or to supervise more than one project.
Stone-workers tended by be classified thusly: fewers or freemasons dressed or finished the stones cut from the quarries by the quarrymen. They might also be listed as setters when engaged in placing the prepared stone into a vault or building a rose window. Layers or rough masons laid ashlar and “rockes”, rough dressed stones with an axe, and may have laid pavers. Quarriers uncovered the stone, broke or split it into ashlars (generally two feet in length, one foot in height, and one and a half feet in width or breadth), and did a rough dressing. Other stone workers included cutters, scalpers, and layers. Cartagemen transported the stone from the quarry to the construction site and, because they were paid by weight, were often at the top of the pay scale. Cowans were dry wallers or drydikers who built stone walls without mortar and usually of a limited height. In more general terms, a cowan was one who attempted to do the work of a mason but who had not been regularly prepared, apprenticed, or bred in the trade and is a term utilized by the modern Fraternity to indicate an interloper.
TRAINING AND CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
The medieval quarry tended to be the prime recruiting site for new masons. A study of building accounts shows the names of men working in the quarries with those same names appearing in later accounts at construction sites listing them as layers or, even, masons. At the same time, the excessive cost of cartage presupposed as much dressing and finishing at the quarries as possible. This offered ample opportunities for unskilled quarrymen to work their way to rough mason, mason, and freemason. In addition, by performing the finishing work at the quarry, if a piece was damaged or otherwise spoilt, it could be immediately replaced and considerable savings made in cartage fees. There is ample evidence of this practice to be found in the leavings at every quarry site.
The second method for training new masons was the promotion system whereby a servant, family member, or friend of a mason worked for the master for a set number of years or until the master considered him well as a sufficient mason. Under this method a father could teach his son or grandson, an uncle a nephew, or a friend a friend.
The third system for training new masons was the apprentice system common throughout the guild system. The records suggest, however, that this was not that common among masons since the term apprentice or its equivalent does not appear until 1382 in the fabric roll of Exeter Cathedral. Most masons listed in these early rolls are journeymen with no job security and only a daily or piece-rate wage. There are records, however, of monastic authorities apprenticing craftsmen both lay and ecclesiastical. Monastic apprentices appear in the rolls of various Cistercian Abbeys. If the construction trade had been required to utilize the apprentice system only, the pool of skilled workmen would have been extremely small and stone building would not have progressed as it did during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. It was, in fact, the various alternative methods that provided the bulk of the labor force.
Wages were generally paid on a daily basis, with more skilled freemasons being paid by the piece or project. Labor contracts tend to spell out the set daily wage; the number of holidays both paid and unpaid; and the length of the winter season when construction work was virtually impossible. The general wage was about four pence per day in the fourteenth century increasing to about six pence per day in the fifteenth century. Wages did not, however, match inflation or changing conditions. Using a base 100 as the average wage of a mason in 1501, by the year 1702 the base had increased to about 346 or about three and a half fold. At the same time, food prices increased from a base 100 in 1501 to 682 in 1702 or more than six fold. Winter rates were reduced in England by about a sixth while in Scotland the reduction was closer to thirty percent.
Working hours in the summer were usually 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. with several breaks during the day including an hour and a half for the midday meal. In the winter—November through February—labor generally commenced when the workmen could see and ended when the light had failed. During those months, there was a single noon or midday break. Saturdays received special treatment, however, with the work day ending at 4:00 p.m. to enable the mason to participate in vigils in preparation for Sunday. Many masons at Rochester Castle in 1368 were paid for 252 working days, but no layer was paid for more than 180 days which suggests interior work continued during the winter months with the those whose labor would suffer because of frost or extremely cold weather being paid for fewer days.
Impressment of laborers was common throughout the medieval period and masons were not exempt. Sheriffs throughout England were issued orders to produce from their counties a specified quota of skilled workmen for royal or government projects. This method was common during the construction of fortifications on the Welsh frontier and the construction of Windsor Castle. In other instances, master masons or clerks of the work were authorized to take masons wherever they could be found. Based on the surviving records, this was a more common method than utilizing the county sheriff. Finally, in London, the impressment responsibility fell directly on the London Masons’ Company. Impressment would continue as a customary practice well into the seventeenth century and in the British Navy it continued into the nineteenth century.
Holidays were common, especially for those engaged at ecclesiastical sites where it was necessary to honor the numerous saints’ days and church festivals, but workmen were not paid for all holidays with the average being about nine annually. The first records of what are now known popularly as “Monday holidays” come from this period. Generally, however, if two holidays fell within the same week, the mason received only one with pay, but some rolls indicate that at various sites there were no pay for holidays.
The two earliest accepted Masonic documents—the Regius and Cooke--do not use the term freemason instead simply using mason with no difference noted between operative and accepted. There are ample records, including the two immediately referenced, which indicate that masonic assemblies were not restricted to operative masons and were attended by a variety of people to include county sheriffs, mayors, and other elected officials as well as bishops and members of both the merchant class and the aristocracy. There is also evidence of royal support for and involvement in the various medieval guilds of which the masons were one. Marguerite, wife of Henry IV, lately named Queen, joined the London Skinners Fraternity, and Richard III and his wife were members of the Guild of Corpus Christi at York. Royal patronage and money were essential to guild existence and the exercise of their prerogatives. But where did the institution begin and how did it become what it is today?
A survey of the physical world indicates that for millennia mankind has engaged in organized activities which resulted in the erection of monumental structures. Such organization required a sophisticated level of communication; a strong organizational structure; and a purpose which could be visualized or understood by most of its members. The first villages appeared in the Neolithic age about 9,000 B.C.E. Still extant are stone structures from that period which, based upon the size and weight of the stones, indicate that they were constructed by numerous individuals who could plan; execute the plan; and who had a common goal. Gobelki Tepe, a ceremonial or ritual site in Turkey, was constructed more than 11,500 years ago and abandoned some 2,500 years later. Almost as soon as man settled into villages, he began to construct cities. The oldest continuously inhabited city is Jericho of Biblical fame dating also to about 9,000 B.C.E. Damascus, Syria, dates to about 4,300 B.C.E. And monumental structures went hand-in-hand with human civilization. By 4,000 B.C.E. mud-brick ziggurats were being constructed in Mesopotamia which may account for the Biblical story of the tower of Babel. Millions of mud bricks were stacked row upon row, terrace upon terrace to heights of a hundred feet or more. In pre-dynastic Egypt, similar structures were common prior to 3,000 B.C.E. and by the Old Kingdom (third millennium B.C.E.) mud brick mastabas were used for the internment of royalty. Mud brick quickly erodes and this building material was soon replaced with more durable stone as Egyptian religion began to focus on the afterlife with the ramifications of such a belief system noted in both construction techniques and materials.
This development of monumental architecture did not happen miraculously or overnight. The Egyptian dessert is dotted with unfinished, broken, and finished smaller mud-brick structures and stone pyramids. This suggests that the development from the earliest mud brick mastabas to the Great Pyramid at Giza was neither short nor smooth. It further suggests that the progress was not always one of contemplation or prior planning based on a thorough understanding of mathematics and engineering, but rather one of trial and error. The Bent Pyramid of Sneer, about twenty-five miles south of Cairo which is dated to the Old Kingdom, demonstrates the trial and error approach taken to these early construction efforts. On the other hand, the massive temples at Karnack (1500 B.C.E.) and Abu Sambal (1400 B.C.E.) indicate significant advancements in planning, organization, and engineering.
The Parthenon (447 B.C.E), the Colosseum (70 A.D.), and the Pantheon (126 A.D.) [from this point forward all dates unless otherwise noted are A.D.] demonstrate even more significant advances in engineering, but more especially in design, mathematics, structural analysis, art, and aesthetics—all elements of architecture. One of the best documented organizations of early architects is the Comacine Masters who appear, in both practice and organization, to have been forefathers of the master builders of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The very existence of the great cathedrals of Europe supports the contention that there existed, shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire, an organization for governing workers which operated under the approval of both church and state. It further supports, through the similarity of basic design elements, the existence of some form of brotherhood of architects, contractors, builders, and sculptors which maintained common aims, techniques, aesthetics, and knowledge. Since this great era of cathedral building flourished at the beginning of national governments as well as commerce, it further suggests that it did not spring forth as did the mythological Athena, full formed and fully clothed.
Pliny the Younger (61-112) in his letter to Mustio appears to confirm the existence of some form of guild structure in Rome in his time , and Theodor Mommsen and Gustv Haenei note in De collegiss et sodaliciis Romanorum that even though the Roman emperors prohibited guilds from meeting, architects and artists were permitted to continue to work prior to the fall of the empire with their guilds dedicated to the arts, mutual assistance, aid for the sick, and burial of the dead.
An edict found in the Roman archives issued by Rotharis, King of the Lombards, and dated to 643 specifically uses the title magistri comancini. Magister identifies the architect who designed and then executed his design. He is the operator ipse magister. To be called Magister, Cassiodorus writes, is “an honor to be coveted, for the word always stands for great skill.” The master was one who had completed his education and risen to that stage of perfection in which he was qualified to teach others. Rotharis decreed first that masters who sign contract to restore or build a building and that if the structure should fall killing a person, the owner of the structure shall not be cited because, having entered a contract, the master assumed full liability. Secondly, he decreed that if a laborer was killed during the construction phase, the owner of the building was not liable nor the master but rather the subcontractor who hired the workman.
During the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto (931-999), a writ issued in 962 exempts the inhabitants of the Comacine Island, specifically masons, from military service, taxes, and service on councils. For centuries prior to Otto’s reign, the Comacine islands were considered safe cities and it is there that Leader Scott [a.k.a. Lucy Baxter] suggests “the guild of Architects would fly for safety to almost the only free spot in Italy; and there, though they could no longer practice their craft, they preserved the legendary knowledge and precepts which, as history implies, came to them through Vitruvius from older sources, some say from Solomon’s builders themselves.” Scott goes on to note that Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards, converted the Frankish ruler Agilulf from the Arian heresy to orthodox Christianity and “it was under these Christianized invaders that the Comacine Masters became active and influential builders again.’
Such decrees and other laws suggest that by the seventh century the construction guild magistri comancini was both well organized and politically powerful. In the vestibule of the Chiesa dei Santissimi Apostoli in Florence, founded reportedly by Charlemagne in the year 800, and among the oldest churches in the city, a slab on the façade notes its foundation and another inscription uses the wording Magister Vassalecti denoting Master Vassalecti as master at this site. Similar inscriptions may be found to other magisgter in the Church of St. Clemente, the lowest level of which dates to before the fourth century, and in St. John Lateran which is the most ancient basilica in Rome dating to 324. The fresco in St. Clemente clearly shows a Roman master as well as workmen dragging a column and lifting it with a lever. The mason’s mark was common throughout Hellenistic Greece and Rome with its first appearance being at Knossos on Crete about 1900 B.C.E., but the designations in the churches noted above are the first recorded instances of the specific word magistri or master and often associated with a specific name.
Evidence that the guilds or colleges possessed some political power may be found not only in the edicts of Rotharis noted above, but also in edicts of the Emperor Otto who declared that they would not be called for military service; were not required to pay taxes on bridges, roads, beasts, land, ships, or land; nor were they required to attend to civic duties other than service on general councils. These master architects were active and significant builders. Christian philosophy had sharpened their minds and with that came a marked appreciation of the arts which enabled them to use the skills of the builder to glorify their religion and expound their faith. It is of note that the alpha and the omega so familiar in modern Freemasonry were also common in the art of this Roman guild. This does not indicate, however, a direct link to the modern Fraternity but only a commonality of focus and symbolic meaning. The guiding principle of ancient masonic law was, as with all Roman and Lombard architecture, the erection of strong and lasting edifices. Freemasons took this literal edict and transformed it into the symbolic language and teaching necessary to make strong and lasting men.
All early Roman guilds associated themselves with the mysteries of the various deities, a customary practice among the Greeks, as well. A mystery was a personal and secret introduction into a system of knowledge that promised some form of eternal reward and, according to the Tablet of Hipponion, a fourth century B.C.E. gold leaf tablet found in the Greek city of the same name, a sacred way to the afterlife. These mysteries required personal participation in set rituals, and involved both secrecy and a nocturnal setting, but there were no visible outward changes in those who experienced the mysteries. In the Christian era, the mysteries became highly allegorical ranging from the mass and baptism to the enormously-dramatized York Mystery Plays or York Corpus Christi Plays which consisted of forty-eight pageants beginning with creation and ending with the Last Judgment. They were performed in the city of York in May or June from the middle of the fourteenth century until 1569. The mysteries plays did not survive, however, and parts of them were subsumed into other institutional.
The mystery plays were most prevalent in England and other western Christian kingdoms. They first began inside the church or cathedral itself in those preliterate times when the congregation needed additional instruction beyond the Latin-language liturgy. The church provided everything needed for a dramatic presentation: narrative, dialogue, chanting, processions, a building with a fixed entry way, costumes (vestments), dramatic lighting, and symbolic structures such as altars and shrines. The plays first appeared when the priests acted out certain scenes from the liturgy in the vernacular language usually at the various stations within the cathedral as an instructional tool to enable the congregation to understand the lesson. In several situations, the congregation participated in the experience by responding to the priest as did the congregation in the Book of Amos. As their popularity grew and attendance increased, the plays were moved first to the cathedral steps, then to the courtyard or plaza, and finally to a larger venue such as at York. All of this dramatic activity had a liturgical foundation and though the Church for centuries endeavored to abolish what it deemed the pagan and unsavory dramatic practices of the late Roman empire, it was under the auspices of that very institution—the Church—that those practices were revitalized.
During the late Roman and early Christian eras, the guilds involved themselves in the mysteries by supplying the funds and manpower necessary. By the fourteenth century, the plays had become extraordinarily elaborate requiring both trained actors and substantial material support. To meet this need, each guild generally assumed the responsibility for producing one part of the cycle. For example, the carpenters or shipwright’s might perform the Noah mystery; the fishmongers and bakers might work together to perform the mystery of the loaves and fishes; and the goldsmiths many times performed as Magi. Each guild provided aid in parallel with its nature as a craft thus enabling the guild not only to demonstrate its support for the Church and community but also to showcase the skills of its members and advertise its abilities and wares.
Beginning in the early sixteenth century, these dramatic activities went into sharp decline and eventually were banned by the government. In 1542 Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, issued an edict forbidding “common plays, games, or interludes to be played” in or near the sanctuary. Further bans came during the reign of Henry VIII and an almost total ban was put in place during the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI. After Edward’s death and during the reign of Elizabeth I, some parish plays were revived, but the shift to Protestantism, and eventually Puritanism, ended even those small efforts. The last recorded performance of a mystery play was in Chester in 1575 though there is some evidence of a performance at Coventry in 1599. The influence of the tradition did not cease nor did guild involvement in mysteries stop completely. The guilds simply morphed themselves and their presentations into the friendly societies or fraternities that sprang up in force during the seventeenth century such as the Freemasons. One of the most popular of the mystery plays was that of Noah as found in Chapter I which was later subsumed into Masonic ritual.
LEGALITY AND AUTHORIZATION
Guilds, both craft and merchant, were a fixture in the medieval world well before the fourteenth century with some originating in pre-conquest England. And while they claimed in their poems and charters to have been created out of time, modern scholars recognize their establishment at various times in various countries based upon a combination of chronicles, guild account books and records, royal or Crown charters and regulations, and Church financial and building records. As noted in Chapter I, Bede writes about masons being brought to England as early as 675 and the Regius Manuscript, though apocryphal, dates the mason’s guild to 926. There is, however, a more solid basis for documenting the medieval trades such as masons in England.
Political developments and cultural changes brought about by the conquest of England in 1066 as well as older Saxon and Welsh laws required the population to provide suitable housing for their rulers. The same obligation was felt by the population in relation to the Church. Throughout the Middle Ages both government and Church required construction and repair of manors, castles, cathedrals, fortifications, store houses, and a variety of other public buildings. As time progressed, these structures became larger, more elaborate, and more solid. As Bede suggests, prior to the importation of masons to construct his priory, churches and other buildings were made of wood, and even during the first century after the Conquest, most fortifications were of the mote-and-bailey type constructed of wood and earth. It will not be until the reign of Henry II (1133-1189) that elaborate stone structures began to mark the countryside, and the efforts of Edward I (1239-1307) to refurbish Henry’s fortifications and further strengthen the Welsh border furthered the development.
During the reign of Henry III (1207-1272) and Edward III (1312-1377) vast expenditures were made on stone buildings such as Windsor Castle and a revitalization of the Tower of London. A fund of information about building activities during this period come from the Liberate Rolls of Henry III which contain orders to renew, alter, paint (white-wash), roof, wainscot, glaze, excavate, and furnish royal residences and government buildings. On the ecclesiastical side, still extant stone structures speak to the construction carried out across the land. At the same time, surviving and very detailed records kept by both Church and Crown provide documentation of the expenses incurred and the services rendered. Finally, as municipalities developed and expanded (in 1380 it is estimated that London had a population of thirty to forty thousand, York about eleven thousand, and Bristol about ten thousand), the need for accompanying government building grew. Town and guild halls originally constructed of wood were torn down and stone structures erected. Bridges were constructed and permanent markets established. City walls required strengthening. The city government at York in 1478 contracted with Robert Davyson, mason, to survey the city’s walls and report defects. He and his men were then paid “such wages as belongeth to a mason to take by day” along with a rent-free house and a gown. Davyson was succeeded by Thomas Briggs in 1485 as “common mason of the city.” As crown, church, and municipality led, the public followed. Wooden manor houses were reconstructed in stone with magister operacionum and custos fabricate or master masons listed in extant household accounts.
By 1388 the English Crown had required all guilds to set down their rules for approval by the civil authorities. Norfolk alone listed some 160 guilds. The most numerous were social guilds or friendly societies, but also on the list were parish guilds, poor guilds, and the more traditional trade and craft guilds. These men and women had banded together originally for security and support. Many of them maintained their own plot of land for the interment of their members. Each guild maintained strict rules about decorum, behavior, annual gatherings, church processions and attendance, feasting, and attendance at regular meetings. They also fined members for missing meetings; refusing to serve the guild as an officer; being foul-mouthed; dozing during meetings; drinking too much, and for taking another’s rope—appropriating the work of another. Each guild was associated with a church or parish and provided the wax or tapers or other aids for services. In the case of masons, the churches were usually dedicated to The Four Crowned Martyrs (see Chapter I). In turn, the Church provided the guild spiritual aid and guidance, medical care, help with writing, and in many instances the clerical assistance necessary to guild functions. Several guilds, among them masons, list ecclesiastics as what would now be secretaries and note that they were paid a wage for their duties.
One set of guilds particularly important to the English Crown was those associated with building: masons, carpenters, painters, plasterers, and the like. From Edward I to Henry VIII, the Crown conscripted laborers for some 1,500 royal building projects. At one time, Edward III employed more than 1,600 masons at Windsor Castle alone. Some of the more highly skilled journeymen masons moved about the country performing tasks at a piece or day rate for various masters, but life-spans coupled with difficulties in traveling great distances and the length of time necessary for the completion of a massive construction project suggest that most medieval masons ended their careers where they began them. By 1356, and possibly because of the labor shortages caused by the Black Death, the need was felt in London to establish a more stable institution and London masons petitioned the Mayor to allow them to establish a guild as other trades do. The Regius and Cooke manuscripts, dating from between 1390 and 1430, describe the rules established for the fellows and approved by authority. These old charges contain fanciful accounts of the creation and history of the craft, but the regulations accurately indicate the rules which governed the behavior of both masters and laborers, and stipulate the obligations each had to the other as well as to the customer. There is no documentation from this period, however, of any national organization, but it must be noted that in 1360 Parliament specifically banned alliances and covens of masons and carpenters, a ban that was repeated in 1425 under Henry VI.
Even though the Crown had banned the mason’s craft organization, it was compelled to utilize their skills and, in turn, assist them to organize at the local level by providing funds and patronage. Notable change took place after 1350 and the introduction of the Black Death into England. The people died wonderfully wrote the Holinshed chronicler, and as the plague hastened an already evident trend of falling population, agriculture production decreased and wages increased because, as the population fell, the number of skilled workers was significantly reduced. Government then acted. Statutes were enacted setting wages for specific tasks and to prevent the migration of competent workmen, but the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which many viewed as a direct result of these government restrictions, made it obvious that change was necessary.
Change came, but over time and in an uneven manner. The London Masons’ Company was officially chartered in 1481 with the Carpenters Company following in 1487. Between 1514 and 1516, the twelve major guilds or companies in London formed The Great Twelve. The Great Twelve were the Worshipful Companies of Mercers, Grocers, Drapers, Fishmongers, Goldsmiths, Skinners, Taylors, Haberdashers, Salters, Ironmongers, Vintners, and Clothworkers. The Court of Alderman of London established the order of precedence in 1515 based on economic and political power. The 1515 list includes sixty-one minor companies, many now extinct. The Worshipful Company of Masons was number thirty on the list immediately behind Curriers (tanners) and before Plumbers and Tavern Keepers. Some of the ancient companies still exist with several providing professional accreditations similar to the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association. The modern Scriveners’ Company recognizes senior legal professionals; the Apothecaries’ Company provides training and certification in medical specialties; and the Hackney Carriage Drivers’ Company licenses taxi drivers. Other modern versions of British guilds or companies restrict membership to designated professionals. The London Solicitor’s Company admits only attorneys and the Worshipful Company of Engineers is restricted to individuals with university degrees who are licensed in engineering.
In theory, the companies were chartered to regulate trade, prices, employment, and education. Craftsmen were to serve a set apprenticeship—usually seven years—and then be allowed to pay the company the upstart or upset fee which would allow them to take on apprentices and employ journeymen. The companies also generally established a fee to pass or repass into or out of a jurisdiction for work purposes: that fee usually being one penny. Further restrictions enacted by the companies included devices to prohibit a journeyman or apprentice from setting up as a master for three years after his servitude and establishing an age of responsibility. In the 1563 Statute of Artificers that age was twenty-four.
Further regulations imposed through the new charters limited the number of saints’ days as paid holidays commonly known as ’Saint Monday” holidays. By 1547, restrictions appeared that specifically addressed the employment of women. As the powers of the liveried companies were assumed by the state, the old fraternities began to disappear and, accompanied by the suppression of the monasteries, the guilds began to seek a new reason for being. Faced with these changes, the companies turned their attention to charity and security as well as fraternity. In London in 1677, “the ’operative’ masons used the last of the money from the ’acception lodge’ to buy themselves a banner, before the ’speculatives’ broke away to form their own lodge, the forerunner of freemasonry in the sense now understood.”
With these radical changes, especially after 1666, came even more initiative to travel. Masons, from the beginning, because of the nature of their craft, had been, to some extent, traveling men. Though some lodges were set in place at the quarry and did not move until the quarry played out, other lodges moved from construction site to construction site. These fellows or felaus made themselves known as they moved from town to town by passwords, signs, and handshakes. In Staffordshire, a perceptive observer noted in his diary that masons could identify themselves to the local lodge by “signs as potent as any document” and that a traveler’s sign could bring a “fellow mason down even from the top of a steeple.” And as the castle construction phase waned and the country house phase rose, the network grew. Based upon the old charges as well as the nature of the profession, it is probable that masons were the first to utilize the traveling system. They established rules for their craft which coped with rather than attempted to deny mobility. They learned to adapt, to innovate, and to change. The Statute of Apprentices was strengthened, and laborers, including artificers and freemasons, were required to show a certificate from a previous master establishing their skills and education. Masons established a search procedure to identify and exclude foreigners or cowans. The regulations also covered those who had been suspended or expelled from the trade. Finally, the crafts reserved the right to break and deface the work of an outsider.
The confusion and disorder of the English Civil War increased the number of traveling men, but the Great Fire of 1666 enabled King Charles II (1630-1685) to use his power of conscription to stimulate the reconstruction of the City and limit movement or traveling for a time. The reconstruction, supervised by Christopher Wren (who may or may not have been a Freemason) and other great architects, took decades rather than centuries and the fire, destructive though it was, destroyed only about one third of the London standing before 1666. Thus, by the early eighteenth century traveling men were again common. The marked difference during reconstruction and in the years that followed was that the new city was made of brick and only occasionally stone, while around it a larger area remained timber-framed awaiting future generations of layers and masons willing to travel to those sites. The need for highly skilled freemasons was significantly reduced with an accompanying marked increase in the demand for layers and pavers working mainly in brick. In turn, friendly societies began to appear throughout the cities and elsewhere as offshoots of the older guilds, and many of the journeymen migrated to the new world to provide the seed for the revolutionary ideas that would arise in America.
Modern Freemasonry arose, then, as the operative guilds eroded during the seventeenth century. Much speculation has been focused on this change from operative to speculative ranging from assertions of association with the Jacobean Rebellion (see Mackey’s The History of Freemasonry); the restoration of the British monarchy after the Commonwealth (for example, is the Legend of Noah used in early Freemasonic ritual an allegory of the death of Charles I and the restoration of Charles II); the rise of Deism; and other conspiracy theories. John Robinson (1739-1805) is often quoted in his contention that the rise of Freemasonry was for the expressed purpose of rooting out all religion and existing governments. While some authors appear to support Robinson’s contention, modern Freemasonry is not a government nor is it a religion. It is not a conspiracy to overthrow or subvert. It is good men gathered together supporting each other through brotherly love, relief, and truth. It is democracy at its perfection and spirituality at its best. It requires its members to be good, peaceful citizens, just to their governments and true to their countries. It is explicit that Freemasons should do unto others as they would have others do unto them.
The real Freemason is distinguished from the rest of Mankind by the uniform unrestrained rectitude of his conduct. Other men are honest in fear of punishment which the law might inflect; they are religious in expectation of being rewarded, or in dread of the devil, in the next world. A Freemason would be just if there were no laws, human or divine except those written in his heart by the finger of his Creator. In every climate, under every system of religion, he is the same. He kneels before the Universal Throne of God in gratitude for the blessings he has received and humble solicitation for his future protection. He venerates the good men of all religions. He disturbs not the religion of others. He restrains his passions, because they cannot be indulged without injuring his neighbor or himself. He gives no offense, because he does not choose to be offended. He contracts no debts which he is certain he cannot discharge, because he is honest upon principal.
Operative masons have been traveling men from time immemorial. But that travel was as much internal as it was external. They adjusted their craft to meet the ever-changing demands of culture, politics, economy, philosophy, and history. The operative builders’ unions survived into the nineteenth century and in the twentieth century adapted themselves to modern trade unionism. Speculative Freemasons separated themselves from their operative cousins in the seventeenth century but maintained their connection with the deep past through a shared history and some shared ritual. The question of continuity or connection between old and new forms, between craft guilds and modern fraternities, intrigues historians, but this history is as incomplete as is the historical record. Whatever its history may be, modern Freemasonry is entitled to its legends and allegories when understood as just that. It is their prehistory as surely as is Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur that of England.
THE TEMPLARS AND FREEMASONRY
John Hamill, Librarian and Curator for the United Grand Lodge of England, wrote “a long-standing, though now discarded, theory saw Freemasonry as the direct descendant of the medieval Knights Templars . . . [who] gathered at the mysterious Mount Heredom (or Heredon) near Kilwinning and, fearful of further persecution, transformed themselves into Freemasons, turning the supposed secrets of the Templars into those of Freemasonry.” Initially, concurs, Peter Partner, noted British historian, Freemasons claimed no link with the Templars but by the middle of the eighteenth century they introduced first in Germany then in England the idea that the Templars were a prime example of a secret society that was destroyed because it was rumored to possess secret wisdom and magical powers learned at the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem and handed down through a secret line to modern masons. Susan M. Sommers, professor of history at St. Vincent College and a noted historian of Freemasonry is explicit: “there is no historical connection between the Medieval Knights Templars or Knights Hospitallers, and the Masonic Degrees and orders of the same name.”
Both Malcolm Barber and Helen Nicholson, noted scholars of the Templar movement, as well as Masonic scholar Angel Millar, agree that the development of the Templar myth in association with Freemasonry is an eighteenth-century phenomenon which largely came from the writings of Andrew Ramsay (1696-1743) in his capacity as Grand Chancellor of the Grand Lodge in France. Ramsay, who styled himself the Chevalier Ramsay, was a Scottish-born writer who lived most of his adult life in France. He was a Baronet in the Jacobite Peerage even though his father was a baker. He converted to Roman Catholicism about 1710 and remained in France until 1724 writing political and theological essays. He was dedicated to the Jacobite claimant to the English and Scottish thrones and supported James Francis Edward Stuart known as The Old Pretender or James III. In January 1724, Ramsay was sent to Rome to tutor James' two sons, Charles Edward and Henry. He died in France in May 1743. Ramsay’s association with the Jacobean cause and the restoration of the Scottish monarchy has led some to attempt to associate Masonic ritual with that political movement, but there is no evidence to support that speculation.
Yet Barber notes also that there is a certain attractiveness to Ramsay’s explanation of the Templar/Freemasonry link which, when coupled with modern media (television and fiction), appears to provide clues about origins. He writes that “lack of evidence has never been a serious problem for such writers” who, during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and subsequent centuries, attempted to verify their theories by making seemingly miraculous discoveries of ancient documents and artifacts to support their contentions to include caskets, coins, medallions, and documents with attribution no earlier than their own period and which have not withstood the scrutiny of serious scholarship.
So, what became of The Order of the Temple? About 1340, Ludolph of Sudheim, a German priest traveling near the Dead Sea met two elderly men who informed him that they had been Templars captured at the battle of Acre by the Mamelukes. These two were a forgotten remnant of what at one time had been some seven thousand knights, sergeants, serving brothers, and priests who, by the end of the thirteenth century, had constructed about eight hundred and seventy castles in the East with members and pensioners living in France, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, and Mallorca. But their wealth and power was now long gone along with their archives. It is possible that those archives survived the fall of Acre in 1291 and were taken by the Order of St. John Hospitallers. Subsequently, it is possible that these archives were moved to Malta about 1530, but the existing Templar documents from those archives specifically addresses only Hospitaller business with the Templars not Templar history, ritual, or philosophy. The Ottoman Turks overran Cyprus in 1571 and with that the final destruction of whatever Templar records from the East probably occurred.
The Templars did have much to offer Freemasonry in terms of their history and their dedication to a cause. And while books about the organization tend to fall into two distinct categories--orthodox and speculative—with the former camp being represented by the works of Barber, Nicholson, and other historians, it is the speculative writers who have created a flourishing trade in books that contain theories ranging from the barely plausible to the humorous. The facts reveal that the Order was founded at some time prior to 1119 in Jerusalem by the French or Frankish knight Hugues de Payen. De Payen drew up what became known as the Latin Rule of the Templars based on the Rule of St Augustine which included seventy-three clauses and regulated every aspect of Templar life from dress, to food and lodging, to how many horses a knight might possess. These were celibate knight-monks similar to the Cistercians being sworn to poverty, chastity, and obedience. By the 1260s, The Rule had grown to six hundred and eighty-six clauses covering the minutiae of daily Templar life.
The Order of the Temple very early in its history developed a solid reputation for being reliable bankers. They were Europe's first international bank with a credit system that allowed money deposited in one Templar preceptory (or bank) to be withdrawn at any other upon producing a proper note. The funds deposited were demonstrably safe as the Templar castles were formidable buildings. Sadly, this financial expertise and the wealth it created contributed to the Order’s fall in the early fourteenth century.
Templar masons also built numerous churches throughout Outremer, as the Crusader states were then known, and were involved in the construction of a new Church of the Holy Sepulcher, dedicated in 1149, as well as the renovation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In addition, they erected an ornate tomb for Baldwin IV, the leper King of Jerusalem, who died in 1185. In the West, where most of their men were located, their churches and buildings were simpler except at the major preceptories in Paris and London with the London church adorned with the distinctive round Templar design.
It was probably the myth of the Templar secret or mystery that first attracted eighteenth century antiquarians to attempt to establish a link between the Order and then emerging Freemasonry with it similar focus on the mysteries of life. It is also possible that the Order’s concentration on building, the magnificence of the Templar castles and churches, and, above all, the Templar Rule provided then emerging Freemasonry with sound guides for ritual, symbolism, behavior, philosophy, and ethical decision making. Whatever the motivation, as Pocock suggests, such linkages to a historical past were often used to establish precedence for organizations and governments, and were motivated not to perpetuate a ruse but to indicate that what existed in the present had its legal and structural foundation in time immemorial.
THE TEMPLAR RULE
The statutes of the Order of the Temple included not only specific regulations governing daily life and religious practices to include charity; they also covered procedures for military action. Templars met at least weekly as a Chapter and dealt with Order or House business, corrected the faults of members, and assigned relatively rigorous punishments. This weekly meeting was restricted to Knights only, and did not include sergeants or serving brothers. The Rule required that the Knights live a life of obedience, silence, humility, and poverty, and that they participate in both daily observances and individual study. The Templar Day never really ended with Vigil all night then Matins after midnight followed by Prime at first light and Mass at 6:00 a.m.; Terce at 9:00 a.m.; Sext at noon; Nones with Vespers for the dead and vigils for the dead at 3:00 p.m.; Vespers at dusk; and Compline at dark.
The statutes, being those of a hierarchical order, gave explicit instructions on how a Knight or Brother should make camp; march in line; form a squadron; and charge the enemy (the modern Knights Templar drill manual is a dim vestige of this part of The Rule.) The cavalry charge was the prime feature of the Order’s military tactics so there is no indication in The Rule of how foot soldiers or archers were to be deployed. A squire’s duty was to assist his Knight, not to fight, but the very nature of medieval battle often required that the Knights dismount and engage in direct hand-to-hand combat. The question arises, then, why do the statutes place such extraordinary emphasis on mounted combat. The answer is that such combat was extremely complicated and required intense organization, coordination, discipline, planning, and practice or drill. This level of discipline, planning, and coordination was not seen again among western armies until the rise of the British army in the eighteenth century and Napoleon’s campaigns in the early nineteenth century.
This coordination, discipline, and dedication was attractive to the organized minds of the enlightenment and furnished modern Freemasonry something to emulate; and, along with the Order’s focus on charity, service to God, and to their fellow man, provided a solid foundation for proper conduct for future generations.
Amanda Ruggeri. “The Lost History of the Freemasons” located at http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20161209-secret-history-of-the-freemasons-in-scotland.
Douglas Knoop & G. P. Jones. An Introduction to Freemasonry. (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1937), p. 9.
Knoop & Jones. The Genesis of Freemasonry, p. 11.
Alison Weir. Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World. (New Work: Ballantine Books, 2013), p. 201.
Knoop & Jones, Genesis, p. 21.
, Knoop & Jones, Genesis, p. 116.
Sarah Gristwood. Blood Sisters: The Women behind the Wars of the Roses. (New York: Basic Books, 2013), pp. 113 & 136.
H. R. Heatley, A Selection of Pliny’s Letters with Notes, Maps, and Plates. (London: Rivingtone, 1889), p. 60.
Heatley , p. 15.
Leader Scott. The Cathedral Builders: The Story of a Great Masonic Guild., 2nd Edition. (New Orleans: Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2013), p. 29.
Scott, p. 33.
R. Beadle & A. Fletcher. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 21.
Douglas Knoop & G. P. Jones. The Mediaeval Mason. (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1933), p. 37.
R. A. Leeson. Traveling Brothers; The Six Centuries’ Road from Craft Fellowship to Trade Unionism. London” George Allen & Unsin Ltd., 1979, p. 68.
Edward Conder Junior, Master of the Masons Company of this present year. Records of the Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masons, with a Chronicle of the History of the Worshipful Company of Masons of the City of London. London: Swan Sonnenschien & Co., 1894, p. 4.
The Farmer’s Almanac for 1823 published at Andover, Mass.
John Hamill. The Craft: A History of English Freemasonry. (London: Crucible Press, 1986), p. 21.
Susan Mitchell Sommers. The Revival of a Patriotic Order: Knights Templars in England and New York. Located at http://www.knightstemplar.org/KnightTemplar/articles/patroits.htm.
Malcolm Barber. The New Knighthood: A History of the Order of the Temple, 12th Edition. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 320.
Ludolph of Suchem. Liber de Itinere Terrae Sanctae, ed. F. Deycks, Stuttgart, Germany, 1851.
Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood, p. 1.