England Around 1717

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Oct 8, 2009.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    Leon Zeldis, FPS, 33°

    It is 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 development.

    Let us 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 debts was common.

    Witchcraft was still believed. The Scottish teenager Patrick Morton was allegedly bewitched in 1704.1 The last execution for witchcraft in England took place in 1712.

    The industrial revolution had not started yet — that would come in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries — but a class of have-nots already existed, homeless, beggars, criminals of every kind.

    This 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, many servants, butlers, footmen, cooks, housemaids, porters, gardeners, and farm workers, shepherds, fishermen, all of them completely separated form the upper classes by their lack of education, the language, the customs, with no possibility to move up the social scale.

    This was also the time when the increase of wealth in the upper classes led to the beginnings of what would later be called the "consumer society."2 There 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 the 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.3

    The 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.

    Inside 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.

    Science 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 to study the world rationally, without being shackled by dogmas or preconceived ideas.

    This was 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.

    This is reflected in the creation of numerous scientific academies which joined the literary and philosophical ones, such as the French Academy, founded in 1635.

    Already 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, and four years before that, in 1662, the Royal Society had started operating in London, providing a platform for researchers and scholars. Some of the most prominent founders of the premier Grand Lodge were active in it.

    The 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 1751.4

    We must 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.

    England still used the Julian calendar dating from the time of Julius Caesar. The Gregorian calendar established by Pope Gregory XIII was adopted only in 1752, almost 200 years after being established by Pope Gregory XIII.

    European 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 G-d when addressing man. Some scholars believed that all other languages were derived from Hebrew.

    In 1684, 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 of this subject for non-Jewish scholars.

    The 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 the 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 unison; 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 in use until the middle of the 20th century.

    In 1712 Thomas Newcomen patented the atmospheric steam engine, designed to pump water from the 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.

    As we an 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 in full force. Easter Island was discovered only in 1722, by Dutch seamen. Africa was largely unexplored.

    Let us now examine other aspects of society at the time we are studying, starting with the situation of arts and letters.

    In 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 Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. The Englishman John Shore invented the tuning fork in 1711.

    Purcell 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 trip 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.

    In the 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.

    In 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. The novelist Henry Fielding and Dr. Samuel Johnson on the other hand, were only 10 years old in 1717. All the great Russian novelists were of 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.

    In 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 18 th devoid of masters.

    Let us turn now 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.

    The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants which desolated Europe for a century resulted in England in the civil war, the execution of Charles I (1649) and the Commonwealth presided by Oliver Cromwell, the "Protector." England had then its single period as a republic, which lasted only 11 years. 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.

    James II did not accept his dethronement with grace. He continued plotting his return, gaining the support of Catholic Spain. His military aspirations, however, came to an end with 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.

    The 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 throughout the period that interests us.

    Some 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." Thus, after a long evolution, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was born.

    King 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 of 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. A postal system was instituted in England in her time, and a First Minister was appointed for the first time (1710).

    This was the "golden age" of piracy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.5 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 by origin English, 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 ..."6

    A 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 Protestant candidate.

    George 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 German subjects.

    The British government was left in the hands of ministers like Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England. During his term of office erupted the financial scandal known as the South Sea Bubble. 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.

    France, 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 XIV.

    When 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 doubtful, 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 were also 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.

    To 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), being finally 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.

    In 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.

    Although 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.7

    Let us 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 invented.

    High 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.

    Which 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 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.8

    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.

    The room 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 brothers.

    Masonic 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.

    The second edition of the Constitutions, of 1738, much more extensive, also has 16 pages of songs, only with the words. Apparently the music was too well knows to waste good paper reproducing it.

    More 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.

    A last 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.

    The 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.
  2. Brother JC

    Brother JC Vigilant Staff Member

    Actually, it's the anniversary of the founding of the first grand lodge. Freemasonry existed long before that.
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  3. crono782

    crono782 Premium Member

    Well the oldest known Manuscript is the Regius Poem which is best dated around 1390. So quite a bit further back than 1717. Even then, that was a mature writing so it's likely it was around long before that.

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  4. BryanMaloney

    BryanMaloney Premium Member

    That depends on whose stories you believe. There are those who will cling like death to the tale that Adam was the first Freemason, not just metaphorically but literally. Others will claim unbroken continuity to Tubal-Cain, instead. Then there are claims of unbroken continuity from the Babylonians and/or the ancient Egyptians. Of course, there is also the claim that Freemasonry has unbroken continuity from the building of the First Temple at Jerusalem.

    None of these claims have the slightest bit of verification, just repetition. Saying and writing something many times in no way changes how true or false it might be.

    If one looks at the social and cultural status of the Master Mason, one sees little to no evidence that they approached anything like what Freemasonry ascribes to them until the Middle Ages, particularly once the cathedral building got going. From that point, for centuries, the Master Mason didn't just supervise building. He was architect, head contractor, project supervisor, etc. Master Masons were also hired to be building and bridge inspectors. The Greeks and Romans had no respect at all for stonemasons. Both of those cultures looked down on craftsmen. They might be necessary, but they weren't respectable. This echoed the ancient world in general.

    So, if we are to look for anything resembling forebears for Freemasonry, it would be in the Middle Ages, which would make the Regius Poem as a "late document" quite legitimate. However, the Regius Poem and all other medieval documents, as far as any actual evidence can show, were not for anything resembling modern Freemasonry. They were for actual working ("operative") masons, not gatherings of men who used masonic-themed symbols for non-masonry purposes ("speculative masons"). As far as can be determined, the first speculative masons occurred in the 17th century, when the influential and wealthy local masonic guilds in England and Scotland began to accept what we would call in the present day "associate members"--non-Masons as if they were Masons.

    These associate members eventually became more common as the guilds essentially died as an economic force. Perhaps accepting the "speculative" members was an attempt to stave off irrelevancy in the face of social and economic change. By 1717, there were enough purely speculative "lodges" that it seemed to be a good idea for them to formally recognize each other.

    Here's another way of looking at it. What is the origin of the USA? We could say 1787, when the US government was formed; 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed; 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed; 1775, when the Revolutionary War started; or several other dates, and some would have us go all the way back to Achaean Athens.
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  5. Keith Carpenter

    Keith Carpenter Registered User

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  6. Keith Carpenter

    Keith Carpenter Registered User

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  7. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    Will probably be celebrations in 2017 anyway.

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