ENGLAND AROUND 1717
The foundation of the first
Grand Lodge in context
Leon Zeldis, FPS
difficult to imagine the way of life of our early Masonic ancestors. It is
equally difficult to understand the social milieu in which the founders of the
premier Grand Lodge acted, but such understanding is essential if we want to
understand the motives that led to the creation of that body and its later
make an imaginary journey back in time to the London of 1717. That was a city
without sewers, the streets filled with dung from the thousands of horses and
wet with sewage thrown out of the window. The houses were black with the soot
blowing out of numberless chimneys. Some children died asphyxiated while being
used as live chimney brushes. It was dangerous to walk about in the streets
after dark (some street lamps were installed beginning in 1677, but public
lighting with gas started only in 1786). Criminality was rampant, punishment
brutal, prison for debt was common.
Witchcraft was still believed. The Scottish teenager Patrick Morton was
allegedly bewitched in 1704.
The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1712.
Autos-da-fe were still held in other countries, the public burning of
recanting Jews forcibly converted to Christianity. The last burnings in
Portugal took place in 1781 (17 persons in Coimbra and 8 in Evora).
industrial revolution had not yet started – that would come in the course of
the 18th and 19th centuries – but a numerous class of
have-nots already existed, homeless, beggars, criminals of every kind.
brings us to the marked class differences. The aristocracy and the land
owners, generally the same, whose wealth was based on the land, were on top.
Below them came the bourgeoisie, merchants, lawyers, doctors, educators,
shippers, men of arms. All these constituted a small minority. And then the
vast mass, those who would eventually be called the proletariat. There
were no factories as yet, but numerous workshops, craftsmen of many trades,
and many, masses of servants, butlers, footmen, cooks, housemaids, porters,
gardeners, and also farm workers, shepherds, miners, fishermen, all of them
completely separated from the upper classes by their lack of education, their
language, customs, with no possibility of moving up the social scale.
also the time when the increase of wealth of the upper classes created the
beginnings of what would later be known as the "consumer society".
was a parliament, and there were elections, but the vast majority of
Englishmen had no right to vote, that would take another hundred years to
become true for the men, and two centuries for women (only in 1918). Common
law allowed marriage at fourteen for boys and at twelve for girls. Only in
1929 legislation was introduced for the first time, prohibiting marriages
under the age of sixteen.
Christian religion, which had dominated the life of the people during the
Middle Ages, codifying to the least detail the way of life, the practice of
trades, the separation of classes, was only now recovering from the sanguinary
wars caused by its internal divisions. The various reformers, though rejecting
the dominion of Rome, were different, but no more liberal.
this stratified society, voices began to be heard proposing changes, making
appeal to reason instead of subservience to dogma; these thinkers regarded
society as a living organism, they were aware of its defects and wanted to
find solutions to improve it.
and philosophy, which were then almost indistinguishable, were the tools in
the hands of the intellectuals to implement their aspirations. The Rosicrucian
manifests, published a century earlier (1613-1615) had made a strong impact on
European intelligentsia, announcing the political and social revolution to
come. In 1690 John Locke published his Essay Concerning Human Understanding,
maintaining that all our knowledge is derived from what we receive through the
senses, that our will is determined by our mind, guided by the desire for
happiness, and defending the possibility of studying the world rationally,
without being shackled by dogmas or preconceived ideas.
the "Age of Reason". Rationalism and science would open the way to make a
perfect society. The 17th century had marked a turning point in the
interests of scholars, who now began to focus their attention on the natural
sciences and started researching nature, making experiments in all its areas.
Astrology gradually gave way to astronomy, alchemy to chemistry; the study of
anatomy and physiology revolutionized medicine, for long the province of
barbers and quack doctors. New fields of study opened every day.
reflected in the creation of numerous scientific academies which joined the
literary and philosophical ones, such as the French Academy, founded in 1635.
in 1621 Cósimo de Médici established in Florence the Platonic Academy, while
in Rome the Academia dei Lincei, dedicated to scientific research,
especially astronomy, was founded in 1603; one of its members was Galileo
Galilei. And in 1607 Florence saw the creation of the Academia del Cimento,
likewise destined to serve as forum for experimenters. Later, in 1666, the
Royal Academy of Sciences was created in Paris, while four years earlier, in
1662, the Royal Society had started meeting in London, providing a platform
for researchers and scholars. Some of the most prominent founders of the
premier Grand Lodge were also active in it.
Society of Antiquaries, which had been organized originally in 1572 by
Archbishop Parker, and had been disbanded in the reign of James I, was revived
in 1717 owing to the efforts of William Stukeley, a prominent Mason. The
Society received a charter in 1751.
remember, however, that sciences were in their early stages of development.
Robert Boyle died in 1691, Leibnitz in 1716 and Newton in 1727, but Priestly
was born only in 1733, Cavendish in 1731 and Faraday seventy years later.
Lavoisier was born in 1743 and Alexander Humboldt even later, in 1769.
still used the Julian calendar dating from the time of Julius Caesar. The
Gregorian calendar was adopted only in 1752, almost 200 years after being
established by Pope Gregory XIII.
thought was strongly influenced by esoteric thinking, the Rosicrucians, the
Cabbala, alchemy and tarot. Hebrew was highly regarded, as the sacred language
of the Bible, and also as the language spoken by God when addressing man. Some
scholars believed that all other languages were derived from Hebrew.
Knorr von Rosenroth published Kabbalah Denudata (Kabbalah Unveiled), a
translation of passages from the Zohar and essays on the meaning of
Kabbalah (including portions of Cordovero's Pardes Rimonim) examined
from a Christian point of view. Rosenroth's work was the most important
non-Hebrew reference book on the Kabbalah until the end of the 19th
century and it became the major source on this subject for non-Jewish
Cromwell allowed – unofficially - the return of Jews, a small community began
to assemble in England, integrated almost exclusively by Sephardic Jews,
mainly immigrants from the Netherlands, where many Jews expelled from Spain
and Portugal had found refuge and freedom to practice their religion openly.
The strength of the Jewish community in Amsterdam can be judged by the fact
that the first Hebrew newspaper appeared in that city in 1728 (5488), edited
by a Sephardic Rabbi, Shlomo Salem. It was a religious newspaper called Pri
Etz Hayim (Fruit of the Tree of Life). British lodges, too, opened their
doors and Jewish Masons appear in lodge registers as soon as the Grand Lodge
was founded, and it is almost certain that some Jews were accepted in the
lodges even earlier.
study of nature was still based on the treatises of the Greek philosophers,
which began to be translated. The evolution to more scientific studies was
driven by the development of technology and changes in the economic structure
of the country. The beginnings of the industrial revolution are linked with
the mechanization of the textile industry. For centuries, spinners and weavers
worked together at home. Four spinners were required to keep a weaver supplied
with cotton yarn, and ten spinners were required to keep a wool weaver busy.
In 1733 John Kay patented his "flying shuttle" and suddenly the productivity
of each weaver was multiplied several-fold, creating unprecedented demand for
more yarn. The first spinning machine was invented as early as in 1738, but it
was unsuccessful. In 1764 Hargreaves patented his "spinning jenny" (named,
according to legend, for his daughter), a machine based on the spinning wheel
but with several spindles working in tandem; the machine, however, was slow
and inefficient. Only in 1769 Arkwright built his roller-spinning machine (the
"water frame") and the first industrial spinning mill was established, using
horses for power, and in 1779 Samuel Crompton patented his "spinning mule"
combining the principles of the water frame and the spinning jenny, a ten-yard
long machine with hundreds of spindles working simultaneously. These machines,
with some improvements, were still in use until the middle of the 20th
Thomas Newcomen patented the atmospheric steam engine, designed to pump water
from the coal mines. James Watt, the inventor of the double-action steam
engine, was born in 1736, when the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster (its
original name) was less than 20 years old.
can see, the principal discoveries and inventions of science and technology
were unknown in 1717, and only in the course of that century and the next were
the developments made which set the foundation for modern science. Explorers,
too, were still operating at full sail. Easter Island was discovered only in
1722, by Dutch seamen. Africa was largely unexplored.
now examine other aspects of society at the time we are studying, starting
with the situation of arts and letters.
music, string orchestras began to be formed. Stradivarius (1644-1737) was
building his famous violins. The clarinet had been invented in 1690, and in
1709 the Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. The Englishman John
Shore invented the tuning fork in 1711. Dance masters still played the
pochette, the miniature fiddle that could be held in a pocket while not in
had died in 1695, but Bach, Haendel, and Domenico Scarlatti were 32 years old
in 1717 (all three had been born in the same year: 1685). Haendel's Water
Music, was played for the first time on July 17, 1717, celebrating the
sail of George I's royal barge on the Thames, only a few weeks after the
foundation of the Grand Lodge. Corelli wrote his 12 Concerti Grossi in
1712, and died a year later.
theater, Congreve and Racine were the current star playwrights. Molière had
died in 1673 and Corneille in 1684. In Japan, the Kabuki theatre was in its
infancy, replacing the more conservative No.
literature, John Dryden had died in 1700, but the satirist Jonathan Swift, the
novelist Daniel Defoe and the poet Alexander Pope were well known and
productive. Defoe's Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719. A few years
later, some thirty unsigned pamphlets, ballads, plays and other pieces were
published about the lives of a criminal called John Sheppard and his nemesis,
Jonathan Wild, which can be considered the first popular biographies written
about contemporary subjects. Five of the pamphlets were attributed to Defoe,
published between 1724 and 1725.
and artist William Blake was 60 years old in 1717. The novelist Henry Fielding
and Dr. Samuel Johnson on the other hand, were only 10 years old.
All the great
Russian novelists belong to a later age. In Spain, Calderón de la Barca had
died in 1681, and then Spanish letters, after its brilliant Golden Age (17th
century), became strangely poor.
D'Alembert, the immortal creator of the Encyclopedia, was born in the same
year as the Grand Lodge, 1717.
painting, Gainsborough was born only in 1727, but Hogarth was in his most
productive epoch. His etching "Night", published in 1727, is justly famous for
showing the tipsy Master of the lodge walking on the street supported by the
Tyler while a disgruntled housewife throws water or some other liquid (!) from
an upper floor window.
Rembrandt had died in 1669, closing a brilliant era of Flemish painters. In
France, Watteau (1684-1721) and Boucher (1703-1770) enchanted the court of the
Sun King, while in Venice, Canaletto (20 years old) and Tiepolo (21) would
achieve fame later. Spain, after a 17th century plethoric of great
artists had an 18th devoid of masters. An artistic disaster took
place in 1718, when a fire destroyed all thirty-nine ceiling paintings by Van
Dyck in the Jesuit church in Antwerp. Those were "the only secure touchstone
for Van Dyck's work in collaboration with Rubens"
now turn to the political developments in England. The 17th century
was a time of endless struggles and tragedies. The Turks had failed to conquer
Vienna in 1683, but the memory of that siege and the threat of Moslem advances
in Europe were still fresh in 1717. London had suffered the scourge of the
Black Death, the bubonic plague, which reached its peak in 1665; a year later
the great fire devastated the city, but at the same time extirpated most of
the rats that transmitted the plague. Reconstructing the capital city gave
great impulse to the building trades, and was perhaps one of the antecedents
for the development of masons' lodges.
religious wars between Catholics and Protestants which desolated Europe for a
century resulted in England's civil war, the execution of Charles I (in 1649)
and the Commonwealth presided by Oliver Cromwell, the "Protector". England
then had its single period as a republic, which lasted only 11 years. And
then, in 1660, the Stuart king Charles II, son of Charles I, returned to
power. He was followed by his brother James II until Parliament, fearing that
the Catholicism of the king would result in renewed warfare, deposed him in
the Glorious Revolution of 1688, offering the British throne to protestant
William, Prince of Orange, born in Holland, but grandson of King Charles I.
did not accept his dethronement with grace. He continued plotting his return,
gaining the support of Catholic Spain. His military aspirations, however,
suffered a dramatic defeat at the battle of the Boyne, in Ireland, on July 12,
1690. James fled back to France putting an end to the Stuart dynasty. William
III reigned together with his wife Mary II until her death in 1694, and
continued ruling alone until 1702.
Stuart king and his son, in exile in Europe, continued dreaming of recovering
their lost kingdom. In fact, a Spanish force supporting the Stuarts landed in
Scotland in 1719 (two years after the foundation of Grand Lodge), but the
invaders were roundly defeated in the battle of Glenshiel. That was not the
end of Stuart ambitions, which continued plotting throughout the period that
Stuart supporters, mainly Scots, followed him in exile and were involved in
the creation of the first Masonic lodges in the continent. Here they received
the influence of the mystic trends current in Europe, and they created the
additional degrees which, not surprisingly, were called "Scottish". In later
years, after a long evolution, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was
William was not much loved by his subjects. He was a Dutchman at heart, and
his willful character did not win him popularity. However, he accepted the Act
of Consent, which banned any Catholic from ever becoming king. During his
reign the first insurance company was formed (1699). At his death was crowned
Anne, the second daughter of James II, who ruled only from 1702 to 1714. Her
short reign was marked, however, by several important developments. During her
reign Scotland and England became finally united in 1707, which for the Scots
meant the loss of their Parliament. This situation continued until a few years
ago, when Scotland recovered a measure of autonomy. Anne's reign also marked
the issue of the Copyright Act (1708-09) which gave absolute control on all
printed matter to the Stationers' Company in England, later extended to
Scotland, Ireland and the American Colonies, thus abolishing in fact freedom
of the press. However, this also gave limited-term protection on the "literary
property", for the first time anywhere in Europe.
system was instituted in England in her time, and a Prime Minister was
appointed for the first time (1710).
the "golden age" of piracy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
Roughly between 1716 and 1726 there would be between 1,000 and 2,000 pirates
in the Atlantic at any time. "Nearly half of them were English by origin,
about a tenth Irish, and another tenth combined from Scotland and Wales. The
remainder came from British North America or the West Indies, with a
scattering from Holland, France, Portugal and other European countries, and
Africa…. Over the ten years on which Rediker focuses, pirates probably
captured and plundered about 2,400 vessels…"
radical change in the British throne came about in 1714, when George I,
ascended the throne. Although he was the son of a German princess, and had
only a distant relationship with the English royal line, he was the closest
I, founder of the House of Hanover, was a stolid German soldier without
imagination, who never learned to speak English and preferred to continue
living in Hanover rather than London. He allowed his English ministers to run
the country, while he devoted himself to hunting and ruling with iron hand his
British government was left in the hands of ministers like Robert Walpole, the
first Prime Minister of England. During his term of office the financial
scandal known as the South Sea Bubble broke out. A stock company
established in 1710 called the South Sea Company engaged in triangular trade,
sending ships with English merchandise (mainly whiskey, weapons and textiles)
to western Africa, buying there African slaves, transporting them to America,
and returning home with goods like sugar and tobacco. This commerce was so
profitable that the company could give its stockholders enormous dividends,
reaching 100% in a year. Frenzied speculation followed, the company issued
additional shares without any control, and many copycat companies were formed,
some of them existing only on paper. Finally, the soap bubble burst in 1720,
the price of the stock dropped 98.5% and the unfortunate investors were left
penniless. It is said that Dr. James Anderson, the author of The
Constitutions of the Freemasons (1723, 1738) also invested in the Bubble
and lost heavily. The memory of this scandal lasted for many decades.
too, had been rocked by scandal, the rash of accusation and convictions for
poisoning which gripped Versailles in 1679-80, culminating in suspicion that
the king's mistress, Mme. De Montespan, had made at attempt to poison Luis
George I died of a stroke in 1727, his son George II succeeded him. The young
king was a soldier like his father, his morals were uncertain, but his reign
lasted longer, until 1760. Canada was conquered during this period, the last
rebellion of the Stuart pretender was suppressed, and the foundations of the
Indian empire (later developed by Disraeli) were established. These also were
the years when Freemasonry flourished amazingly both in Great Britain and in
the European continent, especially in France and Germany. A second Grand Lodge
was formed in London, known as the "Antients", founded mainly by Irish
immigrants who disliked the innovations introduced by the older Grand Lodge,
which they designated disrespectfully as the "Moderns". Possibly, another
factor leading to the creating of a competing Grand Lodge was the poor
reception given by the British to the Irish Masons.
conclude this survey, I'll broaden the scope to look at the world in general
at the beginning of the 18th century. In France, King Louis XIV,
the Roi Soleil governed until 1715. During his reign he revoked the
Edict of Nantes (1685), leading to the emigration of many Huguenots, some of
whom became active in the creation of the Grand Lodge of London, and in
formulating its principles of tolerance. His attempt to annex Spain to create
a joint Bourbon kingdom led to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713),
in which France fought the armies of the Grand Alliance (England, the United
Provinces and the Habsburg empire), finally being defeated. He was succeeded
by his great-grandson, who was only 5 years old, so France was governed for
many years by a regent, starting with the Duke of Orleans.
Russia, Peter the Great was building Saint Petersburg (which celebrated the
third centenary of its foundation in 2003). The Turks declared war on Russia
in 1711, defeating the Tsar. King Phillip IV, the first Hapsburg, reigned in
Spain, while in India the Mogul rulers (descendants from Tamerlan) completed
their conquest and Mohammed Shah was the Grand Mogul. In 1722, Pathan
tribesmen under Mahmud Ghilzai destroyed the Safavid Empire. In China, Emperor
Kangxi was nearing the end of his reign (1662-1722). He was the first of the
Three Emperors of the Qing dynasty (1662-1795) of Manchu invaders, who had
overthrown the Ming dynasty of Han Chinese.
the great wars of religion of the 17th century had concluded,
military spending did not drop; on the contrary, about 1700, countries like
France, Austria and Sweden devoted between 75 and 90 percent of total
government expenditure for military purposes. Britain became the most highly
taxed nation; between 1688 and 1815, taxes increased sixteen-fold and
borrowing 240 fold.
now return to the way of life of London citizens at that time, the early 18th
century. Their world lacked any fast means of communication. The fastest
transport was by horse. No daily newspapers existed – the first English papers
were weeklies, and the first daily was born only in 1769, and had very small
circulation. Mass journalism came about only in 1811 when the rotary press was
society met at home, of rather, in their mansions. The well-to-do gentry lived
mostly in the country, and came to the capital only for the "season" of balls
and soirées, focused on the royal court. Garden design was the newest fashion
in all Europe. Germans were building Chinese pavilions in 1707, before the
English did the same.
Kent, born in 1685, was an interior designer and architect. In the 1720's he
made popular the Palladian style for the houses of the rich, later he invented
the "Gothick", and then caused a revolution in the design of English gardens,
freeing them from the straightjacket of formality.
were the public meeting places? The word public indicates it: the pub
(from "public house"), an inn where people gathered to drink, eat, sing, and
exchange ideas. It was at the same time hostel, restaurant and club.
The clubs played
an important role in the social life of the upper classes. One of the most
famous, or infamous, was the Hellfire Club, widely believed to be a secluded
heaven for secret rituals and orgiastic sex. The club was officially known as
The Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe, the Monks of Medmenham or The Order of
the Knights of West Wycombe. It was organized by Sir Francis Dashwood
(1708-1781), who was initiated in a Masonic lodge while sojourning in
first London lodges logically met in pubs, in a separate room or a second
floor, where they conducted their ceremonies between one course and another or
else, as practiced in some lodges to this day, had dinner after the ceremony.
According to what we know of the manner of operating the lodges in that
period, we can infer that the ceremonial part of the meeting was very brief,
symbolism was limited to the lodge panel, the brethren wore gloves and – a
very important point –were armed with swords.
where the ceremony was conducted had no special furniture. The symbols of our
tools and other lodge implements were drawn on a panel or board, the
well-known Tracing Board, or else they were drawn on the floor with chalk and
coal, to be erased after the ceremony using bucket and mop. Hogarth's
engraving mentioned earlier shows a mop being carried by one of the lodge
meetings were marked by conviviality. As stated, dinner was an important, in
fact an integral part of the ceremony. Music and singing were in order. It is
only necessary to open the first book of Anderson's Constitutions (1723) to
confirm this fact. Sixteen of its 90 pages are dedicated to the songs of the
Master, the Wardens, the Fellow-Craft and the Apprentices, all of them with
the corresponding music scores.
second edition of the Constitutions, of 1738, much more extensive, also has 16
pages of songs, more numerous but only with the words. Apparently the music
was too well knows to waste good paper reproducing it.
impressive in this connection is the Book of Constitutions of the "Ancients"
Grand Lodge, Ahiman Rezon, written by its Grand Secretary Lawrence
Dermott; the volume contains almost 100 pages of songs; and probably the most
popular Masonic book of the 18th century, William Preston's
Illustrations of Masonry – a work that enjoyed numerous printings from the
70's of the 18th until the first decades of the 19th
centuries – held no less than 44 pages of odes, hymns and songs.
remark concerning the songs; when mentioning the Master's Song in the first
edition of the Constitutions, that of 1723, this refers to the Master of the
Lodge, not a Master Mason. As we know, the split of the Second Degree creating
the two degrees known today dates from a few years later.
Masonic lodge was a refuge of peace and tranquility at a time of political
uncertainty, when the memory of religious warfare was fresh in the memory of
all men, when the first discoveries and inventions were transforming the
economy, and opening new perspectives of progress, when the hope that
rationality and humanism would banish from the hearts of men the evils of
fanaticism and intolerance. This was the fertile ground on which early
speculative Freemasonry germinated and grew, spreading its branches throughout
the western world.
P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, Witch Hunters,
Stroud: Tempus, 2003.
In fact, the term was used only around 1950,
and only came into general use in the 1960's.
Stephen Cretney, Family Law in the
Twentieth Century, quoted in a review by Justin Warshaw, Times
Literary Supplement, January 23, 2004.
Stuart Piggott, Ancient Britons, and the
Antiquarian Imagination, Historians and Archeologists in Victorian
England, 1838-1886 (Cambridge University Preess, 1986), p. 33.
Susan J. Barnes, Noora de Poorter, Horst
Vey and Oliver Millar, Van Dyck – a complete catalogue of the paintings,
Yale University Press, 2005.
Ronan Deazley, On the Origin of the
Right to Copy, Oxford:Hart.
See Marcus Rediker, Villains of all
Nations, Verso, 2004.
James Sharpe, reviewing Marcus Rediker,
op. cit., Times Literary Supplement, August 27, 2004.
Review of "The Three Emperors" exhibition
at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Times Literary Supplement,
Leandro Prados de la Escosura, editor,
Exceptionalism and Industrialisation,- Russian and its European
rivals, 1688-1815, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
first Grand Lodge building was started only in 1775 and consecrated on May