I recently stumbled upon a book called, Illustrations of Masonry (originally published in 1772– p. 8), which was written by William Preston, with copious notes and additions added by George Oliver. I used the 1867 version of the book for this research; although, the information contained within is the basically same.
In essence, Preston and Oliver gave a detailed background of Masonry in England, from Druid and Roman influences to its transformation into a popular fraternity without direct political influence. You see, for much of British history, Masonry fell under the direct influence of a King (or Queen), which will be explained further down in this blog.
On page 105 Preston wrote about the departure of the Romans. and confirmed Masonry’s presence during the period, “After the departure of the Romans from Britain, Masonry made but a slow progress, and was almost totally neglected, on account of the irruptions of the Picts and Scots, which obliged the southern inhabitants of the island to solicit the assistance of the Saxons, on order to repel these invaders.”
In short, Preston wrote the Roman Empire was forced out by the Picts, Scots and Saxons about 407 AD. Thus a war took place, which hurt, but did not destroy, Masonry in England. You see, Masonry was in Britain while Rome ruled it, which would lead me to believe they brought it with them. We also know that Masonry (Mithraism, Collegia) was very popular within the ranks of the Roman Military. And the Druids were early Masons as well; although they battled Rome for years and were eventually defeated by them before their departure in 407. Thus, it makes more sense that Roman Masonry was the primary form in England during the 4th and 5th centuries AD.
Preston continued, “Masonry got into repute, and Lodges were again formed” (p. 105). Therefore, there were Lodges before and after the 407 AD departure of the Romans. He continued, “but these, being under the direction of foreigners, were seldom convened, and never attained to any degree of consideration or importance” (p. 105). So again, Masonic Lodges existed, but they were under the rule of foreigners, perhaps the Saxons from Germany, so most native Britain’s did not want to participate.
Now this is where the story gets most interesting, Preston wrote in the following paragraph, “Masonry continued in a declining state till the year 557, when Austin, with forty more monks, among whom the sciences had been preserved, came into England… Masonry flourished under the patronage of Austin…” who was the “first Archbishop of Canterbury” (p. 105). Thus, St. Austin, a religious leader, became the patriarch or father of English Masonry. You see, although Masonry existed in England before 557, it was not fully accepted until Archbishop Austin took over its control. This, according to Preston, was the start of a long line of either religious or Royal control of the Craft in England; it would not be until the 18th century before Masonry in England became independent. This statement is also confirmation that religion played an important part of the formation and establishment of English Masonry; and dismisses the idea that early English Masons were simply a bunch of stone workers. This important point was made by Preston on page 7, “Masonry passes under two denominations,-operative and speculative,” which confirmed Masonry during the period was both operative and speculative in nature. Unlike today, which is speculative only.
On page 106, we also read about Bennet, Abbot of Wirral in 680 AD, who would eventually become inspector of Lodges and superintendent of all Masons in England; an appointed position by the King. Masonry again stayed in a low state until about 924 AD when King Edward died, and Athelstane, his son, became King. Athelstane “appointed his brother Edwin patron of the Masons” in England (p. 107).
This resulted in the “first Grand Lodge of England” being established in 926 (p. 107); an issue I have discussed previously. These facts still support the previous statement that Masonry remained under the control of the King, this time through his brother Edwin. And yet still Royal control of the Craft remained through the 17th century, which led to its limited participation by the British population and the common man. But everything changed by the 18th century (1717).
I know there will be critics who will attack the authors as stating unsubstantiated facts; I would expect nothing less from deniers of ancient Masonic history. Nevertheless, authors William Preston and George Oliver’s credentials are of the highest Masonic order, and their written works reflect this important fact. Also, Preston was a member of the Grand Lodge of England during the period of publication, which helped his research greatly. I would also remind Masonry that much of what we teach in our Lodges cannot be substantiated, and has been passed down through Masonic traditions; like the building of King Solomon’s Temple and even the Holy Bible that sits in the middle of our Lodge rooms – where are the references for these one might ask as well (*Smile*)! You see, it is far easier to be a denier of Masonic history than it is to prove it; that is why we have so many Masonic deniers of our own history. These deniers throw their denials around with no other proof than claiming something is false – I must ask, where is their proof when they make their claims of denial? Get my point.
In conclusion, it becomes even clearer that English Masonry can be dated to 557 AD, and even before under Roman control through Mithraism or Collegia It also looked like English Masonry was controlled by political authorities for much of its history, which hindered its growth and acceptance; but once it become an independent body (after 1717), it truly thrived and followed the British Empire around the globe, as its power and influence also grew. I know this conclusion is a simplistic interpretation of the book, but I don’t see any other way to get my points across in such short order. If you don’t believe me, read the book, Illustrations of Masonry, yourself, which will prove my points conclusively.
So Mote It Be!!!