By Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, Past Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales & the Australian Capital Territory.
The general view is that modern Freemasonry began on the European Continent, underwent a re-shaping in England, spread to Scotland and was re-exported to the Continent. The connections to European cathedral-building are examined in another article of mine. This present article argues that the re-shaping took place not in England but in Scotland, and in time the Scottish connection was deliberately pushed under the carpet, allowing John Theophilus Desaguliers, James Anderson and others to deflect attention from the truth by inventing a history that never happened.
Of course there were builders in England in the Middle Ages. There needed to be, especially after 1066 when there was a need for castles and cathedrals, but it is highly doubtful whether there were masons’ guilds in England. (“There is no historical evidence whatever,” says Wor Bro ET Rylands, “to support the theory of Operative Masonry existing in Medieval England.”) Hence when speculative Lodges emerged, it was not at first in England. On the other hand, Rylands shows, “the development of Operative Masonry in Scotland is well documented”. Edinburgh Masons were incorporated as a guild in 1475, and the Schaw Statutes in the 1590s regulated the operation of Scottish Masonry. There are minutes extant from Scottish Operative Lodges. From about 1620 a rudimentary ritual began to emerge.
The 18th century saw considerable intellectual ferment in Edinburgh, leading to the formation of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783. Philosophical societies flourished. Some led into Freemasonry. For a time there were parallel Operative and Speculative groups until, after some tension, the Speculatives prevailed. Speculative Freemasonry, says Rylands, “filtered south by a kind of intellectual osmosis”, moving from the north of England down to the capital. There even appears to be evidence of Masons from Scotland demonstrating the degrees of Freemasonry in York in the early 17th century.
English Freemasonry had more than one agenda. Some Freemasons, we cannot be certain how many, were involved in the religious and political changes that stabilised England in the early years of the 18th century, but with the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 the Freemasons were accused of being too Jacobite and anti-Hanoverian. It therefore became necessary to downplay the movement’s ties with Scotland and to re-position English Freemasonry in a new, patriotic form. This meant creating a new, safe history independent of Scotland, linking it with the Continental building trade and claiming Biblical origins that antedated both the Greeks and the Romans.
Eventually the Duke of Sussex (who happened to be a Hebrew scholar) became the first Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge formed in 1813, removed any rituals that betrayed Stuart involvement, and led to the Masonic structure with which we are familiar. The Duke also became President of the Royal Society and disposed of Jacobite or Stuart material in the Society’s library. Thereafter the Society restricted itself to science, the Duke retired, and Freemasonry was set on the course we know today.
For more articles on Freemasonic issues by Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple, AO RFD, visit his Freemasonry webpage.
Rt. Wor. Bro. Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple’s book on the history, symbolism and teachings of Freemasonry, enlivened with personal reminiscences and humour.