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 the following, which was written by 33 Degree Mason C. L. Mitchell in his 1909 book, “The Early Introduction of Bogus Freemasonry in the United States of America and Texas Among Colored Masons,”
A. F. & A. Y. Masons means Ancient, Free and Accepted York Masons, the city of York is in the north part of England it is celebrated for its traditional connection with Freemasonry in England. The first charter granted in England to the Masons as a body was by authority and power of King Athelstan, in the year of 926 at York, England and the application was made by Prince Edwin and Prince Edwin summoned all the Masons in England to meet him in congregation at the City of York, England and from this assemblage of Masons at York the letter “Y” originated, Prince Edwin was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge that was organized at York England in 926. From the commencement of 926 of the assembly of Masons at York the letter “Y” commenced, and has been known among members of the Masonic fraternity and at the establishing of the Grand Lodge at York, England in the year 926 they adopted a constitution and general regulation for the craft. Prince Edwin, the brother of King Athlestan of England was an eminent and distinguished Mason and King Athlestan was the grandson of King Alfred the first anointed King of England who translated the Holy Bible into the Saxon language. The Grand Lodge that was established in York, England in 926 prospered and flourished. The City of York, England was the seat of Masonic government of the craft in England.
Therefore, there was another Grand Lodge in England, one that predates the 1717 narrative. Why is Masonry ignoring this important information? 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.
With this information in mind, a little more research discovered the following information about the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, which confirms C. L. Mitchell’s statement from above,
The Ancient Grand Lodge of England, as it is known today, or The Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons (according to the Old Constitutions granted by His Royal Highness Prince Edwin, at York, Anno Domini nine hundred and twenty six, and in the year of Masonry four thousand nine hundred and twenty six) as they described themselves on their warrants, was a rival Grand Lodge to the Premier Grand Lodge of England.
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.
In conclusion, we know now that there is an alternative narrative to the generally accepted view that the first Grand Lodge of Masonry was formed in 1717. The fact that there was an earlier Grand Lodge can 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 before? Only time will tell.
So Mote It Be!!!