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History Of Masonry In The South Of England From 1471 To 1567


BOOK Iv - The History of Masonry in England

illustrations of masonry
william preston

Masonry continued to flourish in England till the peace of the kingdom was interrupted by the civil wars between the two royal houses of York and Lancaster; during which it fell into an almost total neglect, that continued till 1471, when it again revived under the auspices of Richard Beauchamp, bishop of Sarum; who had been appointed Grand Master by Edward IV. and had been honoured with the title of chancellor of the garter, for repairing the castle and chapel of Windsor.

During the short reigns of Edward V. and Richard III. masonry was on the decline; but on the accession of Henry VII. A. D. 1485, it rose again into esteem, under the patronage of the Master and fellows of the order of St. John at Rhodes, (now Malta,) who assembled their grand lodge in 1500, and chose Henry their protector. Under the royal auspices the fraternity once more revived their assemblies, and masonry resumed its pristine splendor.

On the 24th of June 1502, a lodge of masters was formed in the palace, at which the king presided in person as Grand Master; and having appointed John Islip, abbot of Westminster, and Sir Reginald Bray, knight of the garter, his wardens for the occasion, proceeded in ample form to the east end of Westminster Abbey, where he laid the foundation stone of that rich masterpiece of Gothic architecture, known by the name of Henry the seventh's chapel. This chapel is supported by fourteen Gothic buttresses, all beautifully ornamented, and projecting from the building in different angles; it is enlightened by a double range of windows, which throw the light into such a happy disposition, as at once to please the eye, and afford a kind of solemn gloom. These buttresses extend to the roof, and are made to strengthen it, by being crowned with Gothic arches. The entrance is from the east end of the abbey, by a flight of black marble steps, under a noble arch, leading to the body of the chapel. The gates are of brass. The stalls on each side are of oak, as are also the seats, and the pavement is black and white marble. The capestone of this building was celebrated in 1507.

Under the direction of Sir Reginald Bray, the palace of Richmond was afterwards built, and many other stately works. Brazen-nose college, Oxford, and Jesus and St. Jon's colleges, Cambridge, were all finished in this reign.

Henry VIII. succeeded his father in 1509, and appointed cardinal Wolsey, Grand Master. This prelate built Hampton court, Whitehall, Christ church college, Oxford, and several other noble edifices; all of which, upon his disgrace, were forfeited to the crown, A. D. 1530. Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, succeeded the cardinal in the office of Grand Master; and employed the fraternity in building St. James's palace, Christ's hospital, and Greenwich castle. In 1534, the king and parliament threw off allegiance to the pope of Rome, and the King being declared supreme head of the church, no less than 926 pious houses were suppressed; many of which were afterwards converted into stately mansions for the nobility and gentry. Under the direction of John Touchet lord Audley, who, on Cromwell's being beheaded in 1540, had succeeded to the office of Grand Master, the fraternity were employed in building Magdalene college, Cambridge, and several other structures.

Edward VI. a minor, succeeded to the throne in 1547, and his guardian and regent, Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, undertook the management of the masons, and built Somerset house in the Strand; which, on his being beheaded, was forfeited to the crown in 1552. John Poynet, bishop of Winchester, then became the patron of the fraternity, and presided over the lodges till the death of the king in 1553.

The masons remained without any nominal patron till the reign of Elizabeth, when Sir Thomas Sackville accepted the office of Grand Master. Lodges were held, during this period, in different parts of England; but the General or Grand Lodge assembled in York, where the fraternity were numerous and respectable.

The following circumstance is recorded of Elizabeth: Hearing that the masons were in possession of secrets which they would not reveal, and being jealous of all secret assemblies, she sent an armed force to York, with intent to break up their annual grand lodge. This design, however, was happily frustrated by the interposition of Sir Thomas Sackville; who took care to initiate some of the chief officers which she had sent on this duty. They joined in communication with the masons, and made so favourable a report to the queen on their return, that she countermanded her orders, and never afterwards attempted to disturb the meetings of the fraternity.

Sir Thomas Sackville held the office of Grand Master till 1567, when he resigned in favour of Francis Russel, earl of Bedford, and Sir Thomas Gresham, an eminent merchant, distinguished by his abilities, and great success in trade. To the former, the care of the brethren in the northern part of the kingdom was assigned, while the latter was appointed to superintended the meetings in the south, where the society had considerably increased, in consequence of the honourable report which had been made to the queen. Notwithstanding this new appointment of a Grand Master for the fourth, the General Assembly continued to meet in the city of York as heretofore, where all the records were kept; and to this assembly, appeals were made on every important occasion.

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