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History Of Masonry In England, During The Reigns Of Edward I. Edward II. Edward III. Richard II. Henry V. and Henry VI.


BOOK Iv - The History of Masonry in England

illustrations of masonry
william preston

On the accession of Edward I. A. D. 1272, the care of the masons was entrusted to Walter Giffard, archbishop of York; Gibert de Clare, earl of Gloucester; and Ralph, lord of Mount Hermer, the progenitor of the family of the Mantagues. These architects superintended the finishing of Westminster Abbey, which had been begun in 1220, during the minority of Henry III. In the reign of Edward II. the fraternity were employed in building Exeter and Oriel colleges, Oxford; Clare-hall, Cambridge; and many other structures; under the auspices of Walter Stapleton, bishop of Exeter, who had been appointed Grand Master in 1307.

Masonry flourished in England during the reign of Edward III. who became the patron of science, and the encourager of learning. He applied with indefatigable assiduity to the constitutions of the Order; revised and meliorated the ancient charges, and added several useful regulations to the original code of laws. He patronized the lodges, and appointed five deputies under him to inspect the proceedings of the fraternity; viz. I. John de Spoulee, who rebuilt St. George's chapel at Windsor, where the order of the garter was first instituted, A. D .1350; 2. William a Wykeham, afterwards bishop of Winchester, who rebuilt the castle of Windsor at the head of 400 free-masons A. D. 1357; 3. Robert a Barnham, who finished St. George's hall at the head of 250 free-masons, with other works in the castle, A. D. 1375; 4. Henry Yeuele, (called in the old records, the King's free-mason,) who built the Charter-house in London; King's hall, Cambridge; Queensborough castle; and rebuilt St. Stephen's chapel, Westminster: and 5. Simon Langham, abbot of Westminster, who rebuilt the body of that cathedral as it now stands. At this period, lodges were numerous, and communications of the fraternity held under the protection of the civil magistrate.

Richard II. succeeded his grandfather Edward III. in 1377, and William a Wykeham was continued Grand Master. He rebuilt Westminster-hall as it now stands; and employed the fraternity in building New College, Oxford, and Winchester college, both of which he founded at his own expense.

Henry, duke of Lancaster, taking advantage of Richard's absence in Ireland, got the parliament to depose him, and next year caused him to be murdered. Having supplanted his cousin, he mounted the throne by the name of Henry IV. and appointed Thomas Fitz Allen, earl of Surrey, Grand Master. After the famous victory of Shrewsbury, he founded Battle-abbey and Fotheringay; and in this reign the Guildhall of London was built. The king die in 1413, and Henry V. succeeded to the crown; when Henry Chicheley, archbishop of Canterbury, obtained the direction of the fraternity, under whose auspices lodges and communications were frequent.

Henry VI. a minor, succeeding to the throne in 1422, the parliament endeavoured to disturb the masons, by passing the following act to prohibit their chapters and conventions:

3 Hen. VI. cap. 1. A. D. 1425.

Masons shall not confederate in Chapters or Congregations

'Whereas, by the yearly congregations and confederacies made by the masons in their general assemblies, the good course and effect of the statutes of labourers be openly violated and broken, in subversion of the law, and to the great damage of all the commons; our sovereign Lord the King, willing in this case to provide a remedy, by the advice and consent aforesaid, and at the special request of the commons, hath ordained and established that such chapters and congregations shall not be hereafter holden; and if any such be made, they that cause such chapters and congregations to be assembled and holden, if they thereof be convict, shall be judged for felons: and that the other masons, that come to such chapters or congregations, be punished by imprisonment of their bodies, and make find and ransom at the king's will.'

This act was never put in force, nor the fraternity deterred from assembling, as usual, under archbishop Chicheley, who still continued to preside over them. Notwithstanding this rigorous edict, the effect of prejudice and malevolence in an arbitrary set of men, lodges were formed in different parts of the kingdom; and tranquillity and felicity reigned among the fraternity.

As the attempt of parliament to suppress the lodges and communications of masons renders the transactions of this period worthy attention, it may not be improper to state the circumstances which are supposed to have given rise to this harsh edict.

The duke of Bedford, at that time regent of the kingdom, being in France, the regal power was vested in his brother Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, who was styled protector and guardian of the kingdom. The care of the young king's person and education was entrusted to Henry Beaufort, bishop of Winchester, the capacity and experience, but of an intriguing and dangerous character. As he aspired to the sole government of affairs, he had continual disputes with his nephew the protector, and gained frequent advantages over the vehement and impolitic temper of that prince. Invested with power, he soon began to shew his pride and haughtiness, and wanted not followers and agents to augment his influence.

The animosity between the uncle and nephew daily increased, and the authority of parliament was obliged to interpose. On the last day of April 1425, the parliament met at Westminster. The servants and followers of the peers coming thither, armed with clubs and staves, occasioned its being named THE BATT PARLIAMENT. Several laws were made, and, among the rest, the act for abolishing the society of masons; at least, for preventing their assemblies and congregations. Their meetings being secret, attracted the attention of the aspiring prelate, who determined to suppress them.

The sovereign authority being vested in the duke of Gloucester, as protector of the realm, the execution of the laws, and all that related to the civil magistrate, centered in him: a fortunate circumstance for the masons at this critical juncture. The duke, knowing them to be innocent of the accusations which the bishop of Winchester had laid against them, took them under his protection, and transferred the charge of rebellion, sedition, and treason, from them, to the bishop and his followers; who, he asserted, were the first violators of the public peace, and the most rigorous promoters of a civil discord.

The bishop, sensible that his conduct could not be justified by the laws of the land, prevailed on the king, through the intercession of the parliament, whose favour his riches had obtained, to grant letters of pardon for all offences committed by him, contrary to the statute of provisors, and other acts of prĉmunire; and five years afterward, procured another pardon, under the great seal, for all crimes whatever from the creation of the world to the 26th of July 1437.

Notwithstanding these precautions of the cardinal, the duke of Gloucester drew up, in 1442, fresh articles of impeachment against him, and presented them in person to the king; earnestly intreating that judgment might be passed upon him, according to his crimes. The king referred the matter to his council, at that time composed principally of ecclesiastics, who extended their favour to the cardinal, and made such a slow progress in the business, that the duke, wearied out with their tedious delays and fraudulent evasions, dropt the prosecution, and the cardinal escaped.

Nothing could now remove the inveteracy of the cardinal against the duke; he resolved to destroy a man whose popularity might become dangerous, and whose resentment he had reason to dread. The duke having always proved a strenuous friend to the public, and, by the authority of his birth and station, having hitherto prevented absolute power from being vested in the king's person, Winchester was enabled to gain many partisans, who were easily brought to concur in the ruin of the prince.

To accomplish this purpose, the bishop and his party concerted a plan to murder the duke. A parliament was summoned to meet at St. Edmondsbury in 1447, where they expected he would lie entirely at their mercy. Having appeared on the second day of the session, he was accused of treason, and thrown into prison; where he was found, the next day, cruelly murdered. It was pretended that his death was natural; but though his body, which was exposed to public view, bore no marks of outward injury, there was little doubt of his having fallen a sacrifice to the vengeance of his enemies. After this dreadful catastrophe, five of his servants were tried for aiding him in his treasons, and condemned to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. They were hanged accordingly, cut down alive, stripped naked, and marked with a knife to be quartered; when the marquis of Suffolk, through a mean and pitiful affectation of popularity, produced their pardon, and saved their lives; the most barbarous kind of mercy that can possibly be imagined !

The duke of Gloucester's death was universally lamented throughout the kingdom. He had long obtained, and deserved, the sirname of GOOD. He was a lover of his country, the friend of good men, the protector of masons, the patron of the learned, and the encourager of every useful art. His inveterate persecutor, the hypocritical bishop, stung with remorse, scarcely survived him two months; when, after a long life spent in falsehood and politics, he sunk into oblivion, and ended his days in misery.

After the death of the cardinal, the masons continued to hold their lodges without danger of interruption. Henry established various seats of erudition, which he enriched with ample endowments, and distinguished by peculiar immunities; thus inviting his subjects to rise above ignorance and barbarism, and reform their turbulent and licentious manners. In 1442, he was initiated into masonry, and, from that time, spared no pains to obtain a complete knowledge of the Art. He perused the ancient charges, revised the constitutions, and, with the consent of his council, honoured them with his sanction.

Encouraged by the example of the sovereign, and allured by an ambition to excel, many lords and gentlemen of the court were initiated into masonry, and pursued the Art with diligence and assiduity. The king in person presided over the lodges, and nominated William Wanefleet, bishop of Winchester, Grand Master; who built at his own expence Magdalene college, Oxford, and several pious houses. Eton college, near Windsor, and King's college, Cambridge, were founded in this reign, and finished under the direction of Wanefleet. Henry also founded Christ's college, Cambridge' and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, Queen's college, in the same university. In short, during the life of this prince, the arts flourished, and many sagacious statesmen, consummate orators, and admired writers, were supported by royal munificence.

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