While conducting some research on the first Grand Lodge of England, I came across a book called, 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).

What did he just write? Up until the reading if this book, I was under the understanding that the first Grand Lodge of England was in 926 AD under the direction of King Athelstan. Now we read that the first Grand Lodge of England was under the direction of King Edwin, some three hundred years earlier.

I immediately went back to look to my blog post from April 19, 2015, Chronological List of English Grand Masters and Patrons from 557 AD to 1843 AD, to see if there was any mention of Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers; and interestingly enough, there was no mention of him. We see Austin the Monk in 557, followed by a lapse until 680 where we see Bennet, Abbot of Wirrall.

557 Austin the Monk.

680 Bennet, Abbot of Wirrall.

With this new information, I thought to myself, we might be able to add Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers to this list, which would help fill in a gap of over 100 years; but a little further research was needed before making this leap of faith. It did not take long to confirm the fact that Edwin was King between the years of 617 and 633 AD, which would fit the timeline very well.

557 Austin the Monk.

617-633? Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers

680 Bennet, Abbot of Wirrall.

To give further support to Drake’s claim, I found the following quote from a Wikipedia article entitled, Grand Lodge of All England:

On 27 December 1725, the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the York lodge claimed the status of a Grand Lodge. The burst of activity, which started earlier that year, may have been occasioned by the circulation of Anderson’s constitutions, and the formation of a lodge at Durham under the jurisdiction of the London Grand Lodge. The minutes of 10 August 1725 describe William Scourfield as Worshipful Master. On 27 December, however, Brother Charles Bathurst was elected as Grand Master. His wardens (they were never referred to as Grand Wardens) were Brother Pawson and Francis Drake, the antiquarian, both of whom had only been initiated in September of that year. This occurred after a procession to Merchants Hall, and a banquet. Meetings were transferred to inns, and they described themselves as a society and fraternity of free Masons. From 1722, visitors were admitted on examination. In 1725, Drake delivered a speech as Junior Warden, which went unrecorded. However, as the same persons were returned to office in 1726, his speech was written down. He characterised Freemasonry with the attributes of “Brotherly love, relief, and truth”, and claimed superiority over the Southern Grand Lodge. They were, he said, content that the London lodge have the title Grand Master of England, but York claimed Totius Angliae (All England). The master of 1724, (now the treasurer) Scourfield, was expelled for making masons irregularly. Drake’s speech used the York Legend to claim precedence over all other English lodges, as the first lodge was established under Edwin of Northumbria around the year 600. Here, Edwin was not the brother or son of Athelstan, and the first lodge thereby became over three centuries older. Drake refers to three classes of Freemasons, working masons, other trades, and Gentlemen. Nineteen rules were enacted as Constitutions, and meetings moved from private houses to taverns.

I don’t want to get into the applied specifics of the Old Lodge of York’s claim of being the legitimate Grand Lodge of England; rather, I want to fully understand Francis Drake’s claim that the first Grand Lodge of England can be dated to the 7th century. Therefore, a closer look at Drake is in order, which will perhaps establish credibility to his claim, which was found in the following quote:

Drake became a Freemason in September 1725, shortly before his election as Junior Warden in the old lodge in York, which had now decided to call itself the Grand Lodge of All England meeting since time immemorial in the City of York. He delivered an address, as he had heard that meetings of Freemasons contained a lecture on architecture or geometry. On re-election the following year, his words were better recorded. On that occasion he used his speech to claim the precedence of his own lodge over all other masonic lodges, since the old charges stated that the first lodge was held in York.

The York lodge disappears from history during the 1730s, but it enjoyed a revival in 1761, with Drake as the first Grand Master. Although ill health caused Drake to retire, the impetus he imparted to the lodge gave it life for the next thirty years. His real importance to historians of Freemasonry lies, however, in his 1726 address, giving a rare insight into the mind of an 18th-century mason.

xssrAs such, I found confirmation that Drake was a highly regarded Mason during this period of English Masonic history and its transformation, which I believe gives his statement credence. I know some will claim his statement cannot be proven; perhaps. However, it does line up with the establishment of English Masonic history, which Reverend George Oliver wrote about in his 1854 book, Masonic Library, the Antiquities of Freemasonry, and which I detailed in my blog post, Chronological List of English Grand Masters and Patrons from 557 AD to 1843 AD.


With that said, I also noticed several footnotes, which is rare for most Masonic publications from the period; so I decided to do some further research. This led me to Rapin de Thoyras, author of, The History of England, Volume 1 (originally published in French in 1689 -p.47, and English in 1724). Both Rapin references appear to be directed toward King Edwin building structures out of stone (free-stone), the first one was a castle, and the second was a church.

Notice the Mystical References Within the Drawing from Rapin de Thoyras Book.

But what of Bede? Well, a little more research discovered some very fascinating facts about the man, “Almost everything that is known of Bede’s life is contained in the last chapter of his Historia ecclesiastica, a history of the church in England. It was completed in about 731, and Bede implies that he was then in his fifty-ninth year, which would give a likely birth date of about 672–673.”

Within Bede’s book, Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 AD), he makes several references to stone churches built during the reign of Edwin. Yet, one of the more compelling statements within his 8th century book is where he mentioned the word mysteries, “Of the reign of King Edwin, and how Paulinus, coming to preach the Gospel, first converted his daughter and others to the mysteries of the faith of Christ [625-626 AD]” (p. 7). Really, did he use the word, “mysteries?” Yes, he did. In fact, Bede used the word “mysteries” no less than twenty eight times in his book, including, “admitted to the mysteries,” “celebrate the Divine Mysteries,” “celebration of the Sacred Mysteries,” “heavenly Mysteries,” “embrace the mysteries,” “initiated into the mysteries,” “mysteries of the truth,” “instruct them in the mysteries,” “neglecting the mysteries” and so forth and so on. One of the more interesting uses of the word mysteries was when Bede referenced Augustine – a man I had written about before – who is often referred to as Austin the monk from 557 AD – when he wrote, “Augustine’s Ninth Question… celebrate the Divine Mysteries?”

But wait, I found several words and word usages that can be directly related to Masonic teachings, which will blow your mind; read this from page 427-428; I highlighted and underlined relatable points:

I will only say thus much, that by the vernal equinox, it may always be found, without the chance of an error, which must be the first month of the year, according to the lunar computation, and which the last. But the equinox, according to the opinion of all the Eastern nations, and particularly of the Egyptians, who surpass all other learned men in calculation, falls on the twentyfirst day of March, as we also prove by horological observation. Whatsoever moon therefore is at the full before the equinox, being on the fourteenth or fifteenth day, the same belongs to the last month of the foregoing year, and consequently is not meet for the celebration of Easter; but that moon which is full after the equinox, or at the very time of the equinox, belongs to the first month, and on that day, without a doubt, we must understand that the ancients were wont to celebrate the Passover; and that we also ought to keep Easter when the Sunday comes. And that this must be so, there is this cogent reason. It is written in Genesis, And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.’ Or, as another edition has it, ‘The greater light to begin the day, and the lesser to begin the night.’ As, therefore, the sun, coming forth from the midst of the east, fixed the vernal equinox by his rising, and afterwards the moon at the full, when the sun set in the evening, followed from the midst of the east; so every year the same first lunar month must be observed in the like order, so that its full moon must not be before the equinox; but either on the very day of the equinox, as it was in the beginning, or after it is past. But if the full moon shall happen to be but one day before the time of the equinox, the aforesaid reason proves that such moon is not to be assigned to the first month of the new year, but rather to the last of the preceding, and that it is therefore not meet for the celebration of the Paschal festival.

“Now if it please you likewise to hear the mystical reason in this matter, we are commanded to keep Easter in the first month of the year, which is also called the month of new things, because we ought to celebrate the mysteries… that is, the passing from this world to the Father, by faith, hope, and charity. We are commanded to observe the full moon of the Paschal month after the vernal equinox… “

Or how about this from page 186, “whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.” There is, of course, more relatable language to the Craft within the book, but I will simply stop here; I think I have made my point!

Here is a recap of the relatable words and language Bede used above: “good works,” “mystery,” “faith, hope and charity,” “celebrate the mysteries,” “mystical reason,” “equinox,” “east,” “vernal equinox,” “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night,” “the sun” “ancients,” “moon,” “Egyptians” and most important phrase, “I will only say thus much“, which is a term a person would use who felt he was restricted in what he could write, like a Mason or a student of the ancient mysteries.

Therefore, Bede is indeed a source of information in which I need to explore further; for you see, it is a well known fact that many monks within the Church held mysterious teachings. Could Bede be one such source for future knowledge? We know Drake used him as a reference for his 1726 speech for a reason; I am sure there is more to the man, I just need time to study him further. In the meantime, I did discover the following text from John Yarker’s article entitled, Origin and Antiquity of the Free Masonry, who wrote about these British religious Monks and Bede:

Stowe says that in the 7th or 8th century the walls of London were rebuilt by Benedictine Monks brought from Birkenhead. The founder of this brotherhood was St. Benedict, born at Nursia in Umbria about A.D. 480; he went to Monte Cassino, 530, afterwards the centre of his order, and there composed his rule, which entered England between the 6th and 7th century. Archdeacon Prescott says: “The finest Abbeys, and nearly all the Cathedrals, belonged to the order.”

About the year 597 Augustine came over to England from the Church of the Quatuor Coronati at Rome. His instruction from Pope Gregory was: “Destroy the idols, never the temples; sprinkle them with holy water, place in them relics, and let the nations worship in the places accustomed.” He is said to have brought over Roman Masons, and a further number in the year 601; he died in 605. It has been supposed that he built the Church of the Four crowned Martyrs at Canterbury, which is mentioned casually by Bede in 619.

So there you have it, the most compelling anecdotal evidence yet discovered by your author. As such, I will now add Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers to the Grand Master’s of British Masonry timeline, as an Editorial Note:

557 Austin the Monk.

(Ed. Note: According to Francis Drake, Edwin, the first Christian King of the Nortbumbers formed Britain’s first Grand Lodge sometime between 617 and 633 AD?).

680 Bennet, Abbot of Wirrall.

In conclusion, thanks to Francis Drake’s 1726 speech, and the references he applied within it, we now know more about English Masonic history, and have several additional leads, which need to be researched.  Furthermore, it is obvious that Drake felt very comfortable making his statement (especially since he referenced his speech, an unusual act during the period), a belief I am more than certain he and other Masons held strongly during the period:

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).

So Mote It Be!!!

Hank Kraychir