Freemason who spends time reading about the history of the craft must eventually
ask himself the same questions. When and where did Freemasonry start? How is the
craft related to Operative Masons? What happened to the operative Masons? The
answers to these questions would require a few more pages than I have space for.
However, over the next several issues I will attempt to address these questions.
Many brothers are of the opinion that Freemasonry began in 1717 in
London. However, when viewed in the wider context of the history of the craft
this date has very little to do with anything other than the organization of
four lodges in London into a Grand Lodge. This concept being copied in various
other countries has resulted in some erroneous claims by my fellow Englishmen
that early Freemasonry was a wholly English experience.
The medieval guild of Masons to which Freemasonry was grafted did have a
long history in England to be sure. Even the word Freemason was first coined in
England. The Old Charges which were developed in England and which were later
incorporated into Freemasonry have long been used as an argument to support the
English claims. But they were not the origins of Freemasonry. No brothers, based
on my readings, Freemasonry came into being in Scotland sometime between the
death of Robert Cochrane in 1482 and the death of the Stuart King James I in 1625.
It is unfortunate that no documentary evidence has come to light so far
that would pinpoint the exact date that Freemasonry started. If there had, many
books on the subject would never have been written. That would include of course
this minor missive. There is however a significant list of firsts in Freemasonry
that point the way. The Schaw Statutes themselves show the earliest attempts at
organizing lodges at a national level. It is in Scotland that we find the first
non-operative (not actual stonemasons) joining the lodges. Even the Mason Word
was a Scottish institution.
When the eminent English Masonic Historian Robert F. Gould wrote his
first History of Freemasonry he first dealt with early Scottish Freemasonry
before turning to the English history of the craft. This apparently did not sit
too well with his readers as we see in his later
The Concise History of Freemasonry it is given a back seat being discussed
only after the Story of the Guild in England, Masons Marks and even The Legends
of the Craft.
1944, G. Knoop and G. P Jones two men from my home county of Lancashire England
in their book The Scope and Method of Masonic History did attempt to stress the
importance of the Scottish contribution to the making of Freemasonry. However,
they studied it from their decidedly English perspective and still regarded
Freemasonry as an English experience. So it is left to yet another Englishman to
set sail and point the bow of our little ship as close to the wind as I can, and
sail into yet another controversial storm.
The place to begin any story is at the beginning. In history however, you
must begin at a point where you can identify the thread of your topic and pick
it up from there. In this case, we start with a stone mason who became so
popular that a King honored him by making him a noble and on whom he conferred
the titles of 'The Earl of Mar' and 'Secretary of State'. The place was Scotland
the King was King James III and the time was 1482. The Mason was one Robert
Cochrane and he was already the King's Master Mason and might have been the
architect of the Great Hall in Stirling Castle. This act demonstrates that it
was a Mason who first moved up into upper class of society long before gentlemen
of distinction became curious about the craft. This elevation in rank incensed
the nobility since they were of the opinion that no man of such low birth should
ever be given a title, no matter how much he deserved it. In July 1482 King
James assembled his army on the Burgh Muir. When the army reached Lauder, a
small town south of Edinburgh, the nobles (led by Archibald Douglas, Earl of
Angus) rebelled and seized Cochrane and several others. They hanged Cochrane at
Lauder Bridge and, thereafter, imprisoned the King in Edinburgh Castle.
By hanging Cochrane, the very nobles who wanted to get rid of him, raised
him to the stature of a martyr. Had they left him alone he and the stonemasons
might never have attracted the interest and aroused the curiosity of future
generations of the upper classes in this craft that had produced such a man.
In life, Robert Cochrane built stately edifices. In death, he might have
laid the foundation stone of a worldwide fraternity. Of course, that is just my
sixteenth century is that period of history when man climbed out of the Middle
Ages and took his first tentative steps into what we call the Modern Age. It is
also the most probable starting point for Freemasonry to have begun. Most
researchers point to the Reformation as being the critical event. However, I
believe that the ideas behind Freemasonry started a lot earlier.
quote an old adage "Necessity is the mother of invention" and man
reaches his highest potential under times of greatest adversary. With this as a
premise, I direct your attention to the three inquisitions of the Catholic
Church against the spread of heresy.
Gregory IX instituted the papal inquisition back in 1231 AD. This was the one
that Philip "The Fair" used to get rid of the Knights Templar and
later in 1431 it is used to burn Joan of Arc at the stake.
Sixtus IV authorized the second inquisition, the infamous Spanish Inquisition,
in 1478. In 1521 only the protection of the German prince Kurfursten Friedrich
the III, saves a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther from suffering this
by the spread of Protestantism and especially by its penetration into Italy,
Pope Paul III in 1542 establishes in Rome the congregation of the Inquisition
also known as the Roman Inquisition. The venerable institution of "one man,
one vote" is still 330 years in the future and the common man is an
indentured servant in the last days of a feudal age.
Rome a new pope takes over the Catholic Church in 1492. His papal name is
Alexander VI. He is perhaps better known to many as Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous
patriarch of the Borgia clan. He turns the papacy into a brothel as the Church
hits a new low. The world is about to change drastically. The fire that Luther
will ignite in Western Europe had already been smoldering for hundreds of years.
The kindling already laid in place by another German 44 years previously. In
1456 Gutenberg issues the first edition of the Bible printed from movable type
those arch-enemies of tyranny, begin to disseminate ideas that awaken the long
submerged desires in man for personal freedom. These ideas are no strangers to
the Stone Masons. These highly skilled master builders had been working between
the two classes for hundreds of years. The nobility seek their skills and
expertise but keeps them oppressed and as historic records indicate, rarely pay
a fair price for their work. Generation after generation the ruling classes
enacts laws restricting the rights of the masons to charge a fair wage. The
Peasant Revolt in late 13th century is only one of many such uprisings led by
the building trades. Masons, men who can readily grasp the spatial concepts of
geometry and conceive designs of structures not yet built were ready
repositories for such radical beliefs. The stage is set. But how did
non-operative "Freemasons" develop out of this guild of Stonemasons?
are no records that identify this development. No written statement that on this
day "James A. Brown" joined the guild and became the first Freemason.
Why would there be? It was not important at that time and still has very little
significance today. History however, does give us some indication of how it
probably happened. Stonemasons were employed by the rich and powerful. They were
the only ones who could afford the services of a mason. Since we lower class
have a long history of sucking up to our bosses the following conversation is
not too hard to imagine.
Lad, By Gum, that (wall, castle, etc. .)
looks bloody marvelous. I wish I
could do that" The noble remarked whilst sitting on 'is 'orse quite proper
guv", replies yon Mason, flicking a lump of mortar off 'is trowel, "If
yer lordship likes, you can come down to Lodge and I can teach yer some of our
secrets, we'll throw in 'onorary Mason as well.' Course," He added with a
knowing smile, "It will cost you a few bob"
Mason eh!" The (earl, bishop, baron, king) said, "Now I do like
old boy, after attending a few meetings at the lodge, wastes no time in
impressing his fellow nobles with his new experience "'It's like bloody
could this be the birth of esoteric Masonry as well?
Perhaps, things did not happen
this way but next time we will look at what we do have records for and I will
propose my theory for exactly how Freemasonry began. Maybe, I might be able to
persuade you to my way of looking at the grafting of Freemasonry to the
Operating Stonemasons as a result of the kidnapping of a young King of Scotland.
Perhaps you might even see evidence
of an active, daring and very secret fraternity thriving in England and Scotland
long before the Grand Lodge opened in 1717.
Scotland became more sophisticated the lives of the Stuart Monarchs were still
beset with constant plots against their lives. By the time King James VI became
King James I of England he had survived the rule of four regents, the influence
of his cousin sent by the French to bring Scotland back to Catholicism, ten
months of imprisonment by Presbyterians led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of
Gowrie which led to a hatred between the king and the Presbyterian General
Assembly. Even his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, who had been forced into
abdication by her illegitimate half-brother Lord James Stewart, Earl of Moray
raised an army to dethrone him. After suffering a decisive loss she fled to
England only to be imprisoned by her Protestant relative Queen Elizabeth. In
true Stuart form Mary continued her involvement in plots and conspiracies now
adding Elizabeth to the list of crowns she plotted against.
escaping from his Presbyterian captors in 1583 King James began to assemble his
own shadow army of loyalists who were bound to the king by blood and long
standing allegiances. The Presbyterian Lord Gowrie paid the ultimate price for
his treason but the king was not strong enough to move against the other lords
who were allowed to escape with their lives. The king needed the nobles to
govern his unruly kingdom but he was now obsessed with the destruction of the
Presbyterians. He began by replacing Presbyterians holding prominent positions
with men bound to the throne by strong family ties. One of the first to be
replaced was the Master of Works Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock, on December 21st
1583 with William Schaw.
passes; King James IV or Scotland becomes King James I of England uniting the
two countries for the first time under a Scottish King. At this point there are
no extant records in England of any Non-operative stonemasons joining the
operative guilds. The earliest records begin in 1620 but in the very first year
that we do have records for six non-operatives do join the Worshipful Company of
Ffreemasons in London. We have no idea if these are the first ever to do this
but it interesting to note that several of these non-operative Masons rose to
become Masters of the company. This means that they participated for many years
in a company of operative stone masons. A detailed account of their names can be
found in Edward Conder’s book ‘Records
of the Hole Crafte and Fellowship of Masons’
but it is worthwhile noting that one of the six, John Hince served as
Warden in 1626 and in 1628 while he served as Master of the company, Thomas
Priestman, another of the six, served as one of his wardens. The kings’
architect, Nicholas Stone served with
a third member of this group,Timothy Townsend as a Warden in 1630. Thomas
Priestman would be elected Master of the company in 1636. The timing of all this
could of course be nothing more than coincidence.
However, The following is from a scan of a letter written in 1628 which I
obtained from the Library of Scotland some time ago.
noble fraternitie had our solemne meeting in London, being now (with your self
and Adam the Advocate) just forty in number. Wee have taken in sundrie of the
bedchamber and others of quality and worth, and haue forever hereafter excluded
and discharges to admit of any but his majesties servants; and they also to be
of the degree of esquire. Also wee have established laudable and good orders to
be observed, under the forfature of certain penalties, whereby wee shall avoyde
all manner of excesses, royat and disorder. Whereof my brother Ffullerton wil
informe you. Your self and the Advocate was very respectulie and solemnly
remembered by the whole companie. These enclosed badges of the noble brothered
is to be worne by you and the Advocate about your hatband, until our next
meeting which is to be every six months, whereof yu shall always haue notice
given yow to keep that day solemnly, at which tyme yee shall have our new badges
of favour. This much I was commanded to signifie unto you. “
Stevenson, in his book Origins of Freemasonry includes this same letter but says
it has nothing to do with Freemasonry since he found no other mentions when he
researched this same letter. However, if one of the goals of a secret society is
to remain secret, then there should not be any references at all to it and this
is just a fortunate find.
was sent by Sir
David Cunningham, an officer in the Court of King Charles, to his namesake in
Scotland David Cunningham of Robertland, telling him of a secret fraternity over
40 loyalist within the highest circle at the royal court in London dedicated to
the support of the Scottish king of England. The letter clearly shows that the
fraternity has direct ties to both the Royal house and the Edinburgh Lodge of
Masons. The Cunningham’s were cousins to the Hamilton’s. In fact, the
mother of James Hamilton first Duke of Hamilton was Anna Cunningham, daughter of
the 8th Earl of Glencairn.
is important to note that there were three powerful families all related by
blood or marriage to the king, the Cunningham’s of Robertsland, the Alexanders
of Stirling, and the Hamiltons. James the 1st Duke of Hamilton cousin to both
the Cunninghams and the king was also second in line to the throne should
anything happen to the Stewarts. Within a few months of Cunningham’s letter
the now Earl of Stirling, Sir William Alexander is appointed Secretary of State
for Charles I and James Hamilton was made a member of the Privy Council, a
Gentleman of the Bedchamber.
July 3rd 1634 the sons of William Alexander, Anthony and his brother,
(William the Younger, listed on the rolls of the lodge as Viscount Canada) along
with Sir Alexander Strachan of Thornton, Kincardineshire, who was one of the
Commissioners of the Exchequer, become the first non-operative members of the
Lodge. By 1636 Anthony Alexander is appointed Master of Works and the next
year is knighted by the king. These are the first recorded non-operative masons
to be admitted to a Scottish Lodge of Masons. Had this new secret society now
spread to both countries and would it survive a vicious civil war?
In 1612 James lost his oldest son Henry to illness. It was the fourth time he
had to bury a child. The other three had been infants but Henry was 18 years old
and the shock probably brought on the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Whatever the reason just two years later The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced
the king to George Villiers who used his own charm and the king’s condition to
become the power behind the throne. By 1618 Villiers controlled all of the
crowns patronage and was becoming as unpopular as his power grew.
In February 1623 Villiers accompanied Prince Charles to Spain for marriage negotations regarding the Infanta Maria. The negotiations had long been stalled but it is believed that Villiers' crassness was key to the total collapse of agreement. The Spanish ambassador asked Parliament to have Villiers executed for his behaviour in Madrid. Despite this he was made a Duke in his absence and gained popularity by calling for war with Spain on his return. He headed further marriage negotiations but when in 1624 the betrothal to Henrietta Maria of France was announced, the choice of a Catholic was widely condemned. When Charles became king Villiers was the only man to maintain his position from the court of James. When Parliament attempted to impeach him for the failure of the Cádiz expedition in 1625 Charles had the house dissolved in August before they could put Villiers on trial. Civil war was brewing in England. Then in 1628, the same year we hear of a secret society of men, sworn to support the Stewart monarchy Villiers, the most hated man in England, was assassinated by a naval officer John Felton. It is the only time that history records an assassin being cheered as he was led away to jail. A disaster is averted and the monarchy is saved. Is this just another coincidence?
what records we have of these early Freemasons they all share one commonality.
They were soldiers. Men willing to die for their beliefs to take whatever risks
were needed to keep a kingdom from descending into the tribal warfare that was
tearing at the heart of Europe.
one occasion with over 50,000 men facing each other war was averted due to the
actions of the fraternal brothers on both sides of the conflict. The place was
Newcastle and the time was 1641 and in the middle of it all, generals from both
sides met to initiate a Covenanter general into the fraternity. He was Sir
Robert Moray, professional soldier, spy, statesman, knight, Freemason and we
meet him next but before we do let’s examine another Scot who will be one of
the witnesses at Moray’s initiation,
his name is James Hamilton, and he is next in line for the throne should
anything happen to the Stewarts.
is no record of when Hamilton became a Mason. He was in France fighting in the
30 Years War while his relatives joined the Edinburgh Lodge in 1634, not
returning until 1638. Therefore he would have joined between the time he
returned to England and 1641 or before he left for France in 1633. What we know
for sure is that James the first Duke of Hamilton was one of the few men, along
with Moray, that King Charles trusted. When Hamilton returned to England in 1638
Charles made him Commissioner for Scotland. His first job was to try to stem the
riots caused by Charles forcing an Anglican prayer book upon the Scottish
churches. It was a disaster but with Hamilton away there had been no one
to stop the headstrong Charles from taking this provocative action.No amount of
work on Hamilton's part could stop the rebellion.
1640 Alexander Leslie advanced into England at the head of a covenanter army
defeating the Royalist at Newburn and holding Newcastle. In the spring of 1641
Hamilton traveled to Newcastle to attempt to reach a settlement with the
Covenanters. He found himself face to face with two other recently returned
veterans of the 30 Years War his friend Robert Moray and his cousin Alexander
Hamilton both of whom had been made Generals under Leslie. Alexander was
already a member of the Edinburgh lodge and sympathetic to retaining the
monarchy. Between them they convinced Moray that a Scot on the throne of
England was better than a religious Republic. In March he agreed to join the
secret fraternity and on May 20th joined the Lodge of Edinburgh while still at
Newcastle. The three Generals were able to convince Leslie to withdraw and the
first Bishops war ended.
One final fact to consider in
regards to this much maligned Royalist is that after his capture in 1648 during
a failed attempt to rescue his king Hamilton was given a chance to go free by
Lord Cromwell. All he had to do was to tell Cromwell who is allies were in
England and he could return to Scotland after paying a fine of
1500 pounds. Hamilton chose to lay down his life rather than forfeit his
integrity. He might have been the model for Hiram Abiff.
becoming a Freemason and Statesman, Robert Moray was first a professional
soldier of great ability. He served with the Scottish Foot Guards in France
during the most destructive religious war ever to engulf Europe. During the 30
Years War, he rose to the level of full Colonel before he was 30. Here amid the
carnage his ability to meet people on the level and gain their trust and
confidence drew men to him. A natural leader of men, he came to the notice of
the French Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu.
Moray, according to Alexander Robertson’s book The
Life and Times of Sir Robert Moray: Solder, Statesman and Man of Science,
became the Cardinal’s agent and after Richelieu’s death was an agent for the
Jesuit educated Cardinal Mazarin
who ruled France until his death in 1661.Was Moray a secret Catholic carrying
messages between the Catholic Cardinal and King Charles? Whatever his beliefs
were, he was able to subdue them to the higher cause of peace, harmony and
brotherly love. He seemed to have no enemies and many friends, a rare occurrence
in a savage time.
initiation of Moray into the Edinburgh Lodge is extraordinary not only in view
of time and place, a castle awaiting a battle, but in light of those who were
present. James Hamilton 1st Duke of Hamilton who had raised the army
of Scots that had gone to France. He was also privy councilor and in 1638 he was
the Crowns commissioner in Scotland trying to conciliate the Covenanters. At the
time of the initiation he was leading the kings army against them. Yet here he
is, miles way from his troops and in the company of two Covenanter Generals,
Moray and Alexander Hamilton and the son of the Master Mason to the Crown John
Mylne. These men separated by loyalty but united by masonry were a mix or
operative and non-operatives
masons. They were as Sir Robert Moray describes himself Freemasons
is also interesting to note that following this initiation the much anticipated
battle between the king and the Covenanters did not happen. It was resolved by
negotiation. All of which only strengthens the case for the
Fraternity being formed prior to 1628.
space does not permit an in-depth look at Sir Robert Moray. It would take me six
months of articles to cover the subject. I do recommend chapter 7 in
Stevenson’s The Origins of Freemasonry.
This chapter details some of his Freemason activities on behalf of the King. It
also gives the story behind his choosing the pentagram from his family crest as
his Mason’s Mark.
did not fare too well for the early Freemasons. The fraternity could not protect
King Charles from himself. His biggest error was in ignoring the right of the
Scottish people to have their own prayer book and worship in their own way. Had
he been less prideful and more realistic he would not have lost the Civil War.
Despite all of the hoopla, the war turned not on Cromwells model army, for
Prince Rupert had been victorious against Cromwell and beating him at almost
every turn. Charles only began to lose when the Covenants entered the war in
1644 on the side of Cromwell.
back to my argument that the secret Fraternity that surfaced in 1628 was indeed
Freemasonry let’s recap. In 1628 we
see connections of this secret fraternity to the masons of Scotland. In 1641 at
Newcastle we see even stronger evidence of a masonic based organization working
on both sides of the war (the same way we see them later in our own civil war).
In Moray’s own letters he talks of taking on spy missions in Scotland
“. . . playing the mason . . .” writing reports in invisible ink
under his masons mark.. In 1643 King Charles knights Moray a Covenanter general,
a man with no land to assist the king. Why? What was in it for the king unless
it was to reward a loyal subject for his secret work.
the King was defeated in 1645 and captured Moray and his brother William made
plans for his escape from Newcastle. The plan was for the king dress as a
commoner and escape via a boat that William Moray had brought to the castle
wall. The King however was more
concerned of being discovered in a disguise than in freedom. He returned to his
quarters and was executed in 1649. It was an act of loyalty that was not
forgotten by King Charles II and in 1661 William was also Knighted and later
became Master of Works. Of course, all of this may be the result of a great many
coincidences all coming together at this particular point in time. I choose to
there no English Freemasons in the 17th century? Obviously there
were. We know of the initiation of Elias Ashmole in 1646 at Warrington in
Lancashire but next time I will make a case for the recruitment of Freemasons in
a place you might not expect the Roundheads.
an in depth look at the Covenants read A
concise History of Scotland by Fitzroy Maclean I am also indebted to Richard
S. Westfall, Department of History and Philosophy of Science Indiana University
whose outline on Sir Robert Moray pointed me in the right direction.
problem with writing a book where the predetermined goal is to support one
position over another is that you usually paint yourself into a corner at some
point. Which is exactly what David Stevenson did in The
Origins of Freemasonry. He builds a case for Scottish Freemasonry’s
dominion over English Freemasonry by stating that entered apprentices existed
only in Scotland prior to 1700. Here he mixes operative masonry with speculative
Freemasonry and fails to take into consideration Queen Elizabeth’s Apprentice
Statute on 1563 which made it illegal for any person to enter a craft without
first becoming an apprentice.
because we do not have a written record of an event does not mean it did not
happen. It only means we do not
have documentation that it did. Sometimes it requires deductive reasoning and
thoughtful conclusions. Suppose you found coral jewelry in the artifacts of an
American Plains Indian tribe. You
have no documented proof of contact with coastal Indians but you can make a
reasonable assumption that the coral did not get there by itself. Let’s look
at the American Bill of Rights.
1776 we know at least one third of the framers of the American Bill of Rights
and Constitution were Freemasons. We also know that the following ideas were
included in these important documents.
to for all people to vote for their representatives
of religion and press
of all persons before the law
judgment touching life, liberty or property but by jury trial
of capital punishment except for murder
military conscription of conscientious objectors
monopolies, tithes, or excise taxes
proportionate to real or personal property
of punishments to fit the crime
of imprisonment for debt
But where did these ideas spring from? They came not from the Highlands
of Scotland but from the lowlands of England. The author was Lt. Colonel John
Lilbourne AKA “freeborn” John, a Roundhead officer in Cromwell’s army. He
is the only man in History to be put in the Tower of London not once but three
times and walk free on every occasion because the Lords of England could find no
Judge or jury to convict him. Read what he has to say for himself.
thus have we been misconceived and misrepresented to the world, under which we
must suffer till God sees it fitting in his good time to clear such harsh
mistakes, by which many, even good, men keep a distance from us . . .
it is said, we are atheists and antiscripturalists, we profess that we believe
there is one eternal and omnipotent God, the author and preserver of all things
in the world. To whose will and directions, written first in our hearts and
afterwards in his blessed Word, we ought to square our actions and
the execution of King Charles I “I
refused to be one of his (Charles I) judges... they were no better than murders
in taking away the King's life even though he was guilty of the crimes he was
charged with... it is murder because it was done by a hand that had no authority
to do it.”
of the amazing aspects of his struggle with Oliver Cromwell was that they were
once close friends and Cromwell actually believed in many of Lilburne’s ideas.
For his efforts against the egregious acts of the Nobility Lilburne was branded
a communists just as the Freemasons would be during the French Revolution. His
followers derided as “levelers”.
1637 when he was but twenty-three years old… until his death twenty years
later, he managed to keep his government in a hectic state. In successive order
he defied king, parliament, and protectorate, challenging each with libertarian
principles. Standing trial for his life four times, he spent most of his adult
years in prison and died in banishment. Yet he could easily have had positions
of high preferment if he had thrown in his lot with Parliament of Cromwell.
Instead, he sacrificed everything in order to be free to attack injustice from
any source. He once accurately described himself as ‘an honest true-bred,
freeborn Englishman that never in his life loved a tyrant or feared an
is no record of Lilburne ever becoming a Freemason but there is ample evidence
that he espoused the same kind of beliefs. His followers also met in reading
rooms and Taverns. Then of course you have to ask yourself, how did so much of
his manifesto for constitutional reform in Britain end up being so deeply
embodied in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights? They did not get there by
matter what you believe you must allow that England in the 17th
century was fertile ground for the growth of Freemasonry. Does Freemasonry
really have it’s roots in western Europe or has there been such an
organization existing under a
variety of names within civilization since the time of the Egyptians? Can we say
with any certainty when Freemasonry really began? Albert Pike in the lecture of
the 13th Degree of the
Scottish Rite states:
“But, by whatever name
it was known in this or the other country, Masonry has existed as it now exists,
the same in spirit and at heart, not only when Solomon built the temple, but
centuries before--before the first colonies emigrated into Southern India,
Persia, and Egypt, from the cradle of the human race.”
works for me.