The Old Charges of British Freemasons

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The Traditional History makes a bit of a leap forward in time, mentioning that a Greek artisan, who had descended from Greek masons working in Jerusalem, ended up in France. He educated the men of France in the craft, and caught the attention of Charles Martel. Martel was of royal lineage and loved the sciences. He became a keen student of Namus Grecus, and when eventually he ascended the throne of France, he became a patron of the craft.

In this manner Byzantine architecture made its way from Greece to France, and the masonic tradition continued with royal patronage. Later, we hear that masonry travelled to England and was governed by St Alban. According to the masonic legend, St. Alban was the steward of the household of Carausius. Carausius was the Roman naval commander who had revolted from the Emperor Maximilian, and declared himself emperor over Britain and northern Gaul.

He employed St Alban to build the town walls.


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Upon receiving the superintendence of the Craft, St. Alban responded in a similar manner to his predecessors. He treated masons with great kindness, increased their pay, and gave them a charter to hold a general assembly. He assisted them in making Masons, and framed a constitution for them. Soon after the death of St Alban, England was at war. The result of this was that masonry was stamped out in England until the time of King Athelstane. According to the legend, King Athelstane also loved masonry, and caused many buildings to be erected during his reign.

His son Edwin apparently loved the craft even more and became heavily involved with the institution itself. Edwin collected different versions of the history, science, and charges of the craft from many different nations and cultures, and compiled them into one document. In the year , Edwin called together a General Assembly of masons at York. There he shared his knowledge of the craft, read its history, and submitted all present to the charges he had collected. He also declared that from that day forth, at the making of a mason this work must be read. It is implied in the Manuscript Constitutions that the Traditional History that had just been read was a copy of the document put together by Edwin in Likewise, the charges that were to follow the retelling of the Traditional History were implied to be those laid down by Edwin.

Here we come across our first and only bit of rubric in the whole ritual. To distinguish it from the rest of the piece it was typically written in Latin. It roughly translates as:.

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Once the brethren have placed their hands upon the book, the orator gives a stern warning:. Then the charges were read out. The ones which frequently show up in the majority of the Manuscript Constitutions are along these lines:. Then the orator prompted the brethren being obligated to acknowledge their agreement with the following line:. From these manuscripts, the big picture we can put together looks like this:.

The charges our operative brethren submitted to were issued as a practical matter for the good of the construction industry at the time. Still, there are morals we can take from them in a purely speculative context, and apply them to our own lives.

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The Traditional History has often been scoffed at and ignored by many masonic students and researchers, merely because it is factually incorrect. The anachronistic sequence of events and confusion of names and locations have seen it deemed, quite unfairly, as a complete waste of time. To the contrary it is invaluable. Here we have our own mythology; our own romantic rendering of how things came to be.

Even if only for the quaint nature of the account, and the sort of character it presents of the craft as a whole, it is worth reading. For the more inquisitive brother there are two other avenues to explore with our Traditional History. You could become more familiar with each of the characters mentioned in the story, and gain a better insight of the nature of the craft as our ancient brethren tried to depict it.

There are enough people and events mentioned in the story, each with their own back story, to keep you reading for a long time. For the even more inquisitive brother, you could explore the scriptural and historical discrepancies in the story. The end result of such enquiry would be a wealth of historical knowledge, scriptural familiarity, as well as being introduced to some historically significant, but often unheard of literature.

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This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity individual or corporate has a copyright on the body of the work. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public.

Cooke introduces an elaborate story to explain the spread of the craft into France. It then pushes back the story of the introduction of the craft into England to the earliest days of Christianity in Britain.

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It claims that the Roman martyr St Alban was the first to make regulations for the trade. Cooke emphasises that St Alban enjoined that masons should be well paid for their work. This unnamed son became a mason himself, gave them charges, and ordained that they should have reasonable pay. He also purchased a patent from his father to allow the masons to hold an assembly. The regulations for masonry made by Edwin are then repeated. If Cooke is read, as it apparently should be, as having been composed after Regius, it can be seen as elaborating the legendary history of stonemasonry in order to strengthen the claims of stonemasons.

The central character of these claims is clear: that the masons should have reasonable pay and that they should be permitted to hold an annual assembly. In Regius, it is claimed that these demands were warranted by the charter of Athelstan. In Cooke, the first regulation that masons should be properly paid is extended back to the time of St Alban, and Athelstan is presented as confirming these ancient provisions and authorising the assembly. Almost certainly because the author of Cooke was anxious to claim another royal freemason and also to more firmly establish the right of masons to hold their own assembly.

In Regius, the assembly held by Athelstan consisted of the king and many nobleman. It becomes an assembly held by masons for their own regulation. Masonic historians since the time of Gould have harboured a sneaking hope that the stories in Regius and Cooke perhaps embody an ancient oral tradition among stonemasons and that there might be a germ of truth somewhere in their legendary stories.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to sustain this view confronted with the evident manipulation and elaboration of the stories between Regius and Cooke. Clearly, the stonemasons were seeking to claim greater and greater antiquity for their right to meet together to ask for better wages. We do not have to look very far to find reasons for this. Since , legislation had been introduced to control wages in the wake of the labour shortages produced by the Black Death.

In the parliament, the commons presented a petition complaining that the annual congregations and confederacies made by the masons in their general chapters and assemblies were publicly violating and undermining the statutes of labourers. The commons asked King Henry VI and the lords to ordain that the holding and gathering of such chapters should be utterly forbidden and judged a felony, and requested that the justices of the peace should be given authority to enquire into these chapters and assemblies.

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King Henry replied that such chapters and congregations should not be held, and declared that those who convene such chapters should be adjudged felons. A statute to this effect was duly enacted. The stories in Regius and Cooke were intended to authorise the continued holding of such assemblies notwithstanding the statutory provision. It is probable that the assemblies to which the statute refers consisted of wage-earning journeymen masons, who had completed their apprenticeship but were not yet masters.

The stress of Regius and Cooke on the social equality of masons and the claim that the craft was of noble origin were apparently a reaction to the rise of a distinct group of masters.

It was for this reason that both Regius and Cooke insisted almost certainly unsuccessfully that master masons were obliged to attend the assemblies. Regius and Cooke then are probably manuscripts compiled by gatherings of junior stonemasons held in Shropshire and elsewhere in the west of England to authorise the holding of gatherings which sought to improve their wages and conditions. The wages of building workers continued to be a prominent concern of labour legislation up to the early sixteenth century. However, the position of the freemasons was tenuous.

An act of stipulated that freemasons were to be paid the same as other building workers, namely no more than 6d a day when feeding themselves, with the only exception being master carpenters and masons who were in charge of more than six men. It is probably no coincidence that it is only after building workers began to agitate one more for better wages in the second half of the sixteenth century that manuscripts of the Old Charges start appearing once again.

Whether this is simply a coincidence, it is impossible to say.

The Old Charges of British Freemasons - William James Hughan - Google книги

Grand Lodge MS. He is also supposed to have given them a charter authorising them to hold a general council. According to the manuscript, after the time of St Alban came divers wars until the reign of Athelstan. Moreover, Grand Lodge MS. Again, these appear to be designed to improve the narrative consistency and credibility of the story, and to enhance the authority of the supposed charges. The author of the Cooke manuscript had claimed that the various charges promulgated by Nimrod, David, Solomon, Euclid, King Charles of France and so on had survived.

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