There is a generally accepted story that the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717, a story I have often felt misled Masons into the false narrative that Masonry (Freemasonry) is only a few hundred years old. In fact, English Masonic history goes back more than a thousand years; and I believe that the history of Masonry in general goes back well before the time of Christ. But this post is about English Masonic history, so I will do my best to stay on topic.
Well, I did a little reading the other day and came across 33 Degree Mason C. L. Mitchell’s 1909 book, “The Early Introduction of Bogus Freemasonry in the United States of America and Texas Among Colored Masons.” In it, he mentioned the fact that King Athelstan organized the first Grand Lodge of England in York, England in 926 AD. After some time, and additional research, I discovered this to be true, which can be confirmed by William Preston, who wrote Illustrations of Masonry (originally published in 1772– p. 8). He claimed,
Edwin died in 924, and was succeeded by Athelstan his son, who appointed his brother Edwin as patron of the Masons. This prince procured a charter from Athelstan empowering them to meet annually in communications at York, where the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 926, at which Edwin presided as Grand Master (p. 107).
This quote from William Preston‘s book above can be confirmed by several of my other writings, including: Dating the Foundation of English Masonry to 557 AD, and Chronological List of English Grand Masters and Patrons from 557 AD to 1843 AD.
Furthermore, while conducting some additional research on the first Grand Lodge of England, I came across a book entitled, A speech Delivered to the Society of Free and Accepted Masons, at a Grand Lodge, Held at Merchants Hall, in the City of York, on St. John’s Day, December 27th, 1726. Within the book, author Francis Drake claimed King Edwin formed the first Grand Lodge of England in the 7th century:
Yet you know, we can boast that the first Grand Lodge, ever held in England, was held in this city, where Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers, about the Six Hundredth Year after Christ, and who laid the foundation of our Cathedral, sat as Grand Master (p. 13).
I recently completed a detailed blog post on this topic; it’s called, In a 1726 Speech, Francis Drake Claimed First Grand Lodge of England was Formed in the 7th Century.
Therefore, there is yet still another Grand Lodge in England, which predates the 1717 narrative. Why is Masonry ignoring these important facts? I like to call it the Christopher Columbus cultural complex. In essence, we still teach in our schools (USA) that Christopher Columbus discovered America, a narrative we know today as false. We continue to teach it as a fact, because it is much easier to believe than alternative narratives, like Europeans had actually been to the America’s going back to the bronze age. Yet again, this is a topic for another day.
This brings us to the Regius Poem, or the Halliwell Manuscript as it is sometimes called, which dates back to the same time period (926 AD). I wrote about the Regius Poem in a previous post. The Regius Poem is nothing but a Constitution, or orders, for Masons to follow.
The Halliwell Manuscript, also known as the Regius Poem, is the earliest of the Old Charges. It consists of 64 vellum pages of Middle English written in rhyming couplets. In this, it differs from the prose of all the later charges. The poem begins by describing how Euclid “counterfeited geometry” and called it masonry, for the employment of the children of the nobility in Ancient Egypt. It then recounts the spread of the art of geometry in “divers lands.” The document relates how the craft of masonry was brought to England during the reign of King Athelstan (924–939). It tells how all the masons of the land came to the King for direction as to their own good governance, and how Athelstan, together with the nobility and landed gentry, forged the fifteen articles and fifteen points for their rule. This is followed by fifteen articles for the master concerning both moral behaviour (do not harbour thieves, do not take bribes, attend church regularly, etc.) and the operation of work on a building site (do not make your masons labour at night, teach apprentices properly, do not take on jobs that you cannot do etc.). There are then fifteen points for craftsmen which follow a similar pattern. Warnings of punishment for those breaking the ordinances are followed by provision for annual assemblies. There follows the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs, a series of moral aphorisms, and finally a blessing.
And the 926 AD date for the Regius Poem can be confirmed by countless sources, including this Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania document.
In conclusion, we can safely assume the 1717 narrative is simply incorrect; and that there are alternative narratives to the generally accepted view that the first Grand Lodge of Masonry was formed in 1717. The fact that there were earlier Grand Lodge’s should no longer be dismissed, but is the Craft willing to accept the fact that English Masonry dates back more than a thousand years to 926 AD, and even perhaps to the 7th century? Only time will tell.
So Mote It Be!!!