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Progress Of Masonry In The South Of England From The Reign Of Elizabeth To The Fire Of London In 1666


BOOK Iv - The History of Masonry in England

illustrations of masonry
william preston

The queen being assured that the fraternity were composed of skilful architects, and lovers of the Arts, and that state affairs were points in which they never interfered, was perfectly reconciled to their assemblies, and masonry made a great progress at this period. During her reign, lodges were held in different places of the kingdom, particularly in London, and its environs, where the brethren increased considerably, and several great works were carried on, under the auspices of Sir Thomas Gresham, from whom the fraternity received every encouragement.

Charles Howard, earl of Essingham, succeeded Sir Thomas in the office of Grand Master, and continued to preside over the lodges in the fourth till the year 1588, when George Hastings, earl of Huntingdon, was chosen, who remained in that office till the death of the queen in 1603.
On the demise of Elizabeth, the crowns of England and Scotland were united in here successor James VI. of Scotland, who was proclaimed king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, on the 25th of March 1603. At this period, masonry flourished in both kingdoms, and lodges were convened under the royal patronage. Several gentlemen of fine taste returned from their travels, full of laudable emulation to revive the old Roman and Grecian masonry. These ingenious travellers brought home fragments of old columns, curious drawings, and books of architecture. Among the number was the celebrated Inigo Jones, son of Inigo Jones, a citizen of London, who was put apprentice to a joiner, and had a natural taste for the art of designing. He was first renowned for his skill in landscape painting, and was patronized by the learned William Herbert, afterward earl of Pembroke. He made the tour of Italy at his lordship's expence, and improved under some of the best disciples of the famous Andrea Palladio. On his return to England, having laid aside the pencil and confined his study to architecture, he became the Vitruvius of Britain, and the rival of Palladio.

This celebrated artist was appointed general surveyor to king James I. under whose auspices the science of masonry flourished. He was nominated Grand Master of England, and was deputized by his sovereign to preside over the lodges. During his administration, several learned men were initiated into masonry, and the society considerably increased in reputation and consequence. Ingenious artists daily resorted to England, where they met with great encouragement. Lodges were constituted as seminaries of instruction in the sciences and polite arts, after the model of the Italian schools; the communications of the fraternity were established, and the annual festivals regularly observed.

Many curious and magnificent structures were finished under the direction of this accomplished architect; and, among the rest, he was employed, by command of the sovereign, to plan a new palace at Whitehall, worthy the residence of the kings of England, which he accordingly executed; but for want of a parliamentary fund, no more of the plan than the present Banqueting-house was ever finished. In 1607, the foundation stone of this elegant piece of true masonry was laid by king James, in presence of Grand Master Jones, and his wardens, William Herbert earl of Pembroke, and Nicholas Stone esq. master-mason of England, who were attended by many brothers, clothed in form, and other eminent persons, invited on the occasion. The ceremony was conducted with the greatest pomp and splendor, and a purse of broad pieces of gold laid upon the stone, to enable the masons to regale. This building is said to contain the finest single room of its extent since the days of Augustus, and was intended for the reception of ambassadors, and other audiences of state. The whole is a regular and stately building, of three stories; the lowest has a rustic wall, with small square windows, and by its strength happily serves as a basis for the orders. Upon this is raised the Ionic, with columns and pilasters; and between the columns, are well-proportioned windows, with arched and pointed pediments: over these, is placed the proper entablature: on which is raised a second series of the Corinthian order, consisting of columns and pilasters, like the other, column being placed over column, and pilaster over pilaster. From the capitals are carried festoons, which meet with masks, and other ornaments, in the middle. This series is also crowned with its proper entablature, on which is raised the balustrade, with attic pedestals between, which crown the work. The whole is finely proportioned, and happily executed. The projection of the columns from the wall, has a fine effect in the entablatures; which being brought forward in the same proportion, yields that happy diversity of light and shade so essential to true architecture. The internal decorations are also striking. The cieling of the grand room, in particular, which is now used as a chapel, is richly painted by the celebrated Sir Peter Paul Rubens, who was ambassador in England in the time of Charles I. The subject is, the entrance, inauguration, and coronation of king James, represented by pagan emblems; and it is justly esteemed one of the most capital performances of this eminent master. It has been pronounced one of the finest cielings in the world.

Inigo Jones continued in the office of Grand Master till the year 1618, when he was succeeded by the earl of Pembroke; under whose auspices many eminent , wealthy, and learned men were initiated, and the mysteries of the Order held in high estimation.

On the death of king James in 1625, Charles ascended the throne. The earl of Pembroke presided over the fraternity till 1630, when he resigned in favour of Henry Danvers, earl of Danby; who was succeeded in 1633 by Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, the progenitor of the Norfolk family. In 1635, Francis Russel, earl of Bedford, accepted the government of the society; but Inigo Jones having, with indefatigable assiduity, continued to patronize the lodges during his lordship's administration, he was re-elected the following year and continued in office till his death in 1646.

The taste of this celebrated architect was displayed in many curious and elegant structures, both in London and the country; particularly in designing the magnificent row of Great Queen-street, and the west side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, with Lindsey-house in the centre; the late Chirurgions's hall and theatre, now Barbers-hall, in Monkwell-street; Shaftesbury-house, late the London lying-in hospital for married women, in Aldersgate-street; Bedford-house in Bloomsbury-square; Berkley-house, Piccadilly, lately burnt, and rebuilt, now in the possession of the duke of Devonshire; and York-stairs, at Thames, &c. Beside these, he designed Gunnersbury-house near Brentford; Wilton-house in Wiltshire; Castle-abbey in Northampton-shire; Stoke-park; part of the quadrangle at St. John's, Oxford; Charlton-house, and Cobham-hall, in Kent; Coles-hill in Berkshire; and the Grange, in Hampshire.

The breaking out of the civil wars obstructed the progress of masonry in England for some time. After the Restoration, however, it began to revive under the patronage of Charles II. who had been received into the Order during his exile.

On the 27th December 1663, a general assembly was held, at which Henry Jermyn, earl of St. Alban's, was elected Grand Master; who appointed Sir John Denham knt. his deputy, and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Christopher Wren, and John Webb his wardens. Several useful regulations were made at this assembly, for the better government of the lodges, and the greatest harmony prevailed among the whole fraternity.
Thomas Savage, earl of Rivers, having succeeded the earl of St. Alban's in the office of Grand Master in June 1666, Sir Christopher Wren was appointed Deputy under his lordship, and distinguished himself more than any of his predecessors in office, in promoting the prosperity of the few lodges which occasionally met at this time; particularly the old lodge of St. Paul's, now the lodge of Antiquity, which he patronized upwards of 18 years. The honours which this celebrated character afterwards received in the society, are evident proofs of the unfeigned attachment of the fraternity toward him.

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