Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XIII. Freemasonry in England and Scotland

427. Freemasonry in England.—The authentic history of Freemasonry, i.e. operative Masonry, in England dates from Athelstan, from whom his brother Edwin obtained a royal charter for the Masons, by which they were empowered to meet annually in a general assembly, and to have the right to regulate their own Order. And, according to this charter, the first Grand Lodge of England met at York in 926, when all the writings and records extant, in Greek, Latin, French, and other languages, were collected; and constitutions and charges in conformity with ancient usages, so far as they could be gathered therefrom, were drawn up and adopted. The Old York Masons were on that account held in especial respect, and Blue or genuine Masonry is still distinguished by the title of the York rite. After the decease of Edwin, Athelstan himself presided over the lodges; and after his death, the Masons in England were governed by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in 960, and Edward the Confessor in 1041. Down to the present time the grand masters have been persons of royal blood, sometimes the king himself. Till the beginning of the last century, as already stated (390), they were operative masons, and the monuments of their activity are still found all over the land in abbeys, monasteries, cathedrals, hospitals, and other buildings of note. There were, indeed, periods when the Order was persecuted by the State, but these were neither so frequent nor so long as in other countries.

428. Freemasonry in Scotland.—Tradition says that on the destruction of the Order of Templars, many of its members took refuge in Scotland, where they incorporated themselves with the Freemasons, under the protection of Robert Bruce, who established the chief seat of the Order at Kilwinning. There is a degree of Prince of Rose-Croix de Heroden, or Heredom, as it is called in French. This Heroden, says an old MS. of the ancient Scotch rite, is a mountain situated in the north-west of Scotland, where the fugitive Knights Templars found a safe retreat; and the modern Order of Rose-Croix claims the kingdom of Scotland and Abbey of Kilwinning as having once been its chief seat of government. By some writers, however, it is asserted that the word Heredom is simply a corruption of the Latin expression haeredium, signifying "an heritage," and alludes to the castle of St. Germain, the residence of Charles Stuart the Pretender, to further whose restoration the Order of Rose-Croix was invented. The subject is in a state of inextricable confusion, but scarcely worth the trouble of elucidation. King Robert Bruce endeavoured, like other princes before and after him, to secure for himself the supreme direction of those associations, which, though not hostile to the reigning power, could by their organisation become the foci of danger. It is the common opinion that this king reserved for himself and his successors the rank of grand master of the whole Order, and especially of the lodge of Heredom, which was afterwards transferred to Edinburgh.

429. Modern Freemasonry.—At the beginning of the last century the operative period of Masonry may be said to have come to an end. In 1716, there being then only four lodges existing in London, a proposition was made and agreed to that the privilege of Masonry should no longer be restricted to operative masons—we have seen that it had ere then been broken through (389)—but should extend to men of various professions, provided they were regularly initiated into the Order. Thus began the present era of Masonry, retaining the original constitutions, the ancient landmarks, symbols, and ceremonies. The society, proclaiming brotherly love, relief, and truth as their guiding principles, obtained a wider field for their operations, and more freedom in their mode of action. But to what does this action amount? To eating, drinking, and mummery. There is nothing in the history of modern Masonry, in this country at least, that deserves to be recorded. The petty squabbles between Lodges and Orders may help to fill masonic newspapers, but for the world at large they have no interest; and as to any useful knowledge to be propagated by Masons, that is pure delusion. Yet, considering that the Order reckons its members by hundreds of thousands, its pretensions and present condition and prospects merit some consideration; and it must be admitted that its charities, in England at least, are administered on a somewhat munificent scale. In that respect honour is due to the English craft. And Masons, at all events French Masons, object to their association being called a "Benevolent Society," for when in 1861 M. de Persigny qualified them as such, the Masons protested against it, saying that their charities were the outcome, and not the object, of their meetings. Moreover, their benevolence is not commensurate with their diffusion, and on the Continent is controlled by political considerations; thus the lodge Philadelphia, at Verviers, in 1874, declined to subscribe to the Red Cross Association, because in the Spanish war their succour would be extended to Carlists as well as to the Constitutionals.