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The City of York, in the North of England, is celebrated for its traditional connection with Freemasonry in that kingdom. No topic in the history of Freemasonry has so much engaged the attention of modern Masonic Scholars, or given occasion to more discussion, than the alleged facts of the existence of Freemasonry in the tenth century at the City of York as a prominent point, of the calling of a Congregation of the Craft there ia the year 926, of the organization of a General Assembly and the adoption of a Constitution.
During the whole of the eighteenth and the greater part of the nineteenth century, the Fraternity in general have accepted all of these statements as genuine portions of authentic history; and the adversaries of the Order have, with the same want of discrimination, rejected them all as myths; while a few earDest seekers for truth have been at a loss to determine what part was historical and what part legendary.
More recently, the discovery of many old manuscripts directed the labors of such Scholars as Hughan, Woodford, Lyon, and others, to the critical examination of the early history of Freemasonry, and that of York has particularly engaged their attention. For a thorough comprehension of the true merits of this question, it will be necessary that the student should first acquaint himself with what was, until recently, the recognized theory as to the origin of Freemasonry at York, and then that he should examine the newer hypotheses advanced by the writers of the present day.
In other words, he must read both the tradition and the history. In pursuance of this plan, we propose to commence with the legends of York Freemasonry, as found in the old manuscript Constitutions, and then proceed to a review of what has been the result of recent investigations. It may be premised that, of all those who have Subjected these legends to the crucible of historical criticism, Brother William James Hughan of Cornwall, in England, must unhesitatingly be acknowledged as Facile Pr7nceps, the ablest, the most laborious, and the most trustworthy investigator. He was the first and the most successful remover of the cloud of tradition which so long had obscured the sunlight of history.
The legend which connects the origin of English Freemasonry at York in 926 is sometimes called the York Legend, sometimes the AtheZstane Legend, because the General Assembly, said to have been held there, occurred during the reign of that king; and sometimes the Edunn Legend, because that Prinee is supposed to have been at the head of the Craft, and to have convoked them together to form a Constitution. The earliest extant of the old manuscript Constitution's is the ancient poem commonly known as the Halliwell or Regius Manuscrz pt. and the date of which is conjectured, on good grounds, to be about the year 1390. In that work we find the following version of the legend:
This craft came into England, as I tell you, in the time of good king Athelstan's reign; he made then both hall, and also bower and lofty temples of great honor, to take his recreation in both day and night and to worship his God with all his might. This good lord loved this craft full well, and purposed to strengthen it in every part on account of various defects that he discovered in the craft. He sent about into all the land, after all the masons of the craft, to come straight to him, to amend all these defeets by good counsel, if it might so happen. He then permitted an assembly to be made of divers lords in their rank, dukes, earls, and barons, also knights, squires, and many more, and the great burgesses of that city, they were all there in their degree; these were there, each one in every way to make laws for the estate of these masons. There they sought by their wisdom how they might govern it; there they found out fifteen articles, and there they made fifteen points.
The next document in which we find this legend recited is that known as the Cooke Manuscript, whose date is placed at 1490. The details are here much more full than those contained in the Halliwell Manuscript. The passage referring to the legend is as follows:
And after that was a worthy kynge in Englond, that was callyd Athelstone, and his yongest son lovyd well the seiens of Gemetry, and he wyst well that hand craft had the praetyke of the seiens of Gemetry so well as masons; wherefore he drew him to eonsell and lernyd [the] practyke of that scions to his speculatyf. For of speculatyfe he was a master, and he lovyd well masonry and masons. And he bicome a mason hymselfe. And he gaf hem [gave theml charges and names as it is now usyd in Englond and in other countries. And he ordevned that they sehulde have resonabull pay. And purehesed [obtained] a fre patent of the kyng that they sehulde make a sembly when thei sawe resonably tvme a [to] eum togedir to her [their] eounsell of the whiehe charges, manors & semble as is write and taught in the boke of our charges wherefor I leve hit at this tyme.
This much is contained in the manuscript from lines 611 to 642. Subsequently, in lines 688-719, which appear to hasc been taken from what is above called the Boke of Charges, the legend is repeated in these words: In this manner was the forsayde art begunne in the land of Egypt bi the forsayd maister Euglat (Euelid), & so, it went fro lond to londe and fro kyngdome to kyngdome. After that, many yeris, in the tyme of Kyng Atdhelstone, whiche was sum tyme kynge of Englande, bi his counsell and other gret lordys of the land bi comin (common) assent for grete defaut y-fennde (found) among masons thei ordeyned a certayne reule amongys hem (them). on (one) tyme of the yere or in iii yere, as nede were to the kyng and gret lordys of the londe and all the eomente (community), fro provynce to provynce and fro countre to countre congregations scholde be made by maisters, of all maimers masons and felaus in the forsayd art. And so at such congregations they that be made masters schold be examined of the articulls after written, & be ransacked (thoroughly examined) whether thei be abull and kunnyng (able and skilful) to the profyte of the lordys hem to serve (to serve theru), and to the honor of the forsayd art.
Seventy years later, in 1560, the Lansdowne Manuscript was written, and in it we find the legend still further developed, and Prince Edwin for the first time introduced by name. That manuscript reads thus: Soone after the Decease of St. Albones, there came Diverse Warrs into England out of Diverse Nations, so that the good rule of Masons was dishired (disturbed) and put down lentil the tonne of King Adilston. In his tyme there was a worthy King in England, that brought this Land into good rest, and he builded many great workes and buildings therefore he loved well Masons, for he had a sone called Edwin, the which Loved Masons much more than his Father did, and he was soe practized in Geometry, that he delighted much to come and talke with Masons and to learne of them the Craft. And after, for the love he had to Masons and to the Craft, he was made Mason at Windsor, and he gott of the King, his Fathers a Charter and commission onee everv yeare to have Assembley, within the Realme where they would within England, and to correct within themselves Faults it Tresspasses that were done ads touching the Craft, and he held them an Assermbley, and there he made Masons and gave them Charges, and taught them the Manners and Comands the same to be kept ever afterwards. And tootle them the Charter and commission to keep their Assembly. and Ordained that it should he renewed from King to King, and when the Assembly were gathered togeather he made a Crv, that 311 old Masons or Young, that had any Writings or Understanding of the charges and manners that weer made before their Kings, wheresoever they were made Masons, that they should shew them forth, there were found some in French, some in Greek, some in Hebrew, and some in English, and some in other Languages, and when they were read and over seen well the intent of them was understood to be allone, and then he caused a Book to he made thereof how this worthy Craft of Masonric was first founded, and he himselfe comandecl, and also then caused. that it should be read at any tyme when it should happen any Mason or Masons to be made to give him or then1 their Charges, and from that, until this Day, Manners of Masons have been kept in this Manner and fonne, as well as Men might Governe it, and Furthermore at diverse Assemblyes have been put and Ordained diverse Charges by the best advice of Masters and Fellows.
All the subsequent manuscripts contain the legend substantially as it is in the Lansdowne; and most of them appear to be mere copies of it, or, most probably of some original one of which both they and it are copies.
In 1793 Doctor Anderson published the first edition of the Book of Constitutions, in which the history of the Fraternity of Freemasons is, he Save, "collected from their general records and their faithful traditions of many ages." He gives the legend taken, as he says, from "a certain record of freemasons written in the reign of King Edward IV," which manuscript, Preston asserts, "is said to have been in the possession or the famous Elias Ashmole."
As the old manuscripts were generally inaccessible to the Fraternity, and, indeed, until comparatively recently but few of them have been discovered, it is to the publication of the legend by Anderson, and subsequently by Preston, that we are to attribute its general adoption by the Craft for more than a century and a half.
Tile form of the legend, as given by Anderson in his first edition, varies slightly from that in his second. In the former, he places the date of the occurrence at 930; in his second, at 926: in the fortner, he styles the Congregation at York a General Lodge; in his second, a Grand Lodge. Now, as the modern and universally accepted form of the legend agrees in both respects with the latter statement, and not with the former, it must be concluded that the second edition, and the subsequent ones by Entick and Noorthouck, who only repeat Anderson, furnished the form of the legend as now popular.
In the second edition of the Constitutions (page 63), published in 1738, Anderson gives the legend in the following words:
In all the Old Constitutions it is written to this purpose, viz.:
That though the antient reeords of the Brotherhood in England were most of them destroycl or lost in the war with the Danes, who burnt the Monasteries where the Records were kept- yet King Athelstan (the Grandson of King Alfred), the first annointed King of England who translated the Holy Bible into the Saxon language when he had brought the land into rest and peace, built many great works, and encouraged many Masons from Franee and elsewhere, whom he appointed overseers thereof: they brought with them the Charges and Regulations of the foreign Lodges, and prevail'd with the King to increase the wages.
That Prince Edwin, the King's Brother, being taught Geometry and Masonry, for the love he had to the said Craft, and to the honorable principles whereon it is grounded, purchased a Free Charter of King Athelstan his Brothor, for the Free Masons having among themselves a Connection or a power and freedom to regulate themselves to amend what might happen amiss and to hold an yearly Communication in a Genernl Assembly.
That accordingly Prince Edwin summon 'd all the Free and Accepted Masons in the Realm, to meet him in the Congregation at York, who came and form'd the Grand Lodge under him as their Grand Master, AD. 926.
That they brought with them many old Writings and Records of the Craft, some in Greek, some in Latin some in French, and other languages; and from the contents thereof, they framed the Constitutions of the English Lodges, and made a Law for themselves, to preserve and observe the same in all Time coming, etc., etc., etc.
Preston accepted the legend, and gave it in his second edition (page 198) in the following words:
Edward died in 924, and was succeeded by Athelstane his son, who appointed his brother Edwin patron of the Masons. This prince procured a Charter from Athelstane empowering them to meet annually in cosmmunieation at York. In this city, the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 926 at which Edwin presided as Grand Master. Here many oid writings were produced in Greek, Latin, and other languages, from which it is said the Constitutions of the English Lodge have been extracted.
Such is the York Legend, as it has been accepted by the Craft, contained in all the old manuscripts from at least the end of the fourteenth century to the present day; officially sanctioned by Anderson, the historiographer of the Grand Lodge in 1723, and repeated by Preston, by Oliver, and by altnost all succeeding Masonic writers. Only recently has anyone thought of doubting its authenticity; and now the important question in Masonic literature is whether X it is a myth or a history—whether it is all or in any part fiction or truth—and if so, what portion belongs to the former and what to the latter category. In coming to a conclusion on this subject, the question necessarily divides itself into three forms:
1. Was there an Assembly of Freemasons held in or about the year 926, at York, under the patronage or by the permission of King Athelstan? There is nothing in the personal character or the political conduct of Athelstan that forbids such a possibility or even probability. He was liberal in his ideal, like his grandfather the great Alfred; he was a promoter of civilization; he patronized learning, built many churehes and monasteries, encouraged the translation of the Scriptures, and gave charters to many operative companies. In his reign, thefrith-giklan, free gilds or sodalities, were incorporated by law. There is, therefore, nothing improbable in supposing that he extended his protection to the Operative Masons.
The uninterrupted existence for several centuries of a tradition that such an Assembly was held, requires that those who deny it should furnish some more Satisfactory reason for their opinion than has yet been produced. Incredulity," says Voltaire, "is the foundation of history." But it must be confessed that, while an exeess of credulity often mistakes fable for reality, an obstinacy of incredulity as frequently leads to the rejection of truth as fiction.
The Reverend Brother Moodford, in an essay on ache connection of forts with, the History of Freemasonry in England, inserted in Brother Hughan's Unpublished Records of the Craft, has critically discussed this subject, and comes to this conclusion: "I see no reason, therefore, to rejeet so old a tradition, that under Athelstan the Operative Masons obtained his patronage, and met in General Assembly." To that verdict Doctor Mackey subseribed.
2. Was Edwin, the brother of Athelstan, the person who convoked that Assembly? This question has already been discussed in the article Edwin, where the suggestion is made that the Edwin alluded to in the legend was not the son or brother of Athelstan, but Edwin, King of Northumbria. Francis Drake, in his speech before the Grand Lodge of York in 1726, was, Doctor Mackey believed, the first who publicly advanced this opinion; but he does so in a way that shows that the view must have been generally accepted by his auditors, and not advanced by him as something new. He says: "You know we can boast that the first Grand Lodge ever held in England was held in this city, where Edwin, the first Christian King of Northumbria, about the six hundredth year after Christ, and who laid the foundation of our Cathedral, sat as Grand Master."
Edwin, who was born in 586, ascended the throne in 617, and died in 633. He was pre-eminent, among the Anglo-Saxon Kings who were his contemporaries, for military genius and statesmanship. So inflexible was his administration of justice, that it was said that in his reign a woman or child might carry everywhere a purse of gold without danger of robbery—high commendation in those days of almost unbridled rapine.
The chief event of the reign of Edwin was the illtroduction of Christianity into the kingdom of Northumbria. Previous to his reign, the northern metropolis of the Church had been placed at York, and the King patronized Paulinus the Bishop, giving him a house and other possessions in that city. The only objection to this theory is its date, which is three hundred years before the reign of Athelstan and the supposed meeting at York in 926.
3. Are the Constitutions which were adopted by that General Assembly now extant? It is not to be doubted, that if a General Assembly was held, it must have adopted Constitutions or regulations for the government of the Craft. Such would mainly be the object of the meeting.
But there is no sufficient eviden( e that the Regulations now called the Yort Constitutions. or the Gothic Constitutions, are those that were adopted in 926. It is more probable that the original document and all genuine copies of it are lost, and that it formed the type from which all the more modern manuscript Constitutions have been formed. There is the strongest internal evidence that all the manuscripts, from the Hallfwell to the PapltJorth, havd a common original, from which they were copied with more or less accuracy, or on which thev were framed with more or less modification. And this original Doctor Mackey supposed to be the Constitutions which must have been adopted at the General Assembly at York.
The theory, then, which Doctor Mackey in preparing this article concluded may safely be advanced on this subject, and which in his judgment must be maintained until there are better reasons than we now have to reject it, is, that about the vear 926 a General Assembly of Freemasons was held at Yorl;, under the patronage of Edwin, brother of Athelstan, at which Assembly a code of laws was adopted, whieh became the basis on which all subsequent Masonic Constitutions were framed.
Originally there were six manuscripts elf the Old Constitutions bearing this title, because they were deposited in the Archives of the now extinct Grand Lodge of All England, whose seat was at the City of York. But the manuscript No. 3 became missing, although it is mentioned in the inventory made at York in 1779. Nos. 2, 4, and 5 came into possession of the York Lodge. Brother Hughan discovered Nos. 2 and 6 in the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England, at London. The dates of these manuscripts, which do not correspond with the number of their titles, are as follows: No. l has the date of 1600; No. 2, 1704; No.3, 1630; No. 4,1693; No. 5, is undated, but is supposed to be about 1670, and No. 6 also is undated, but is considered to be about 1680.
Of these manuscripts all but No. 3 have been published by the late Brother W. J. Hughan in his Ancient York Masonic Rolls, 1894. Brother Hughan deems No. 4 of some importance because it contains the following sentence:
"The one of the elders takeing the Booke, and that See or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall bee given." This, he thought, affords some presumption that women were admitted as members of the old Masonic Gilds, although he admits that we possess no other evidence confirmatory or this theory.
The truth is, that the sentence was a translation of the same clause written in other Old constituttions in Latin. In the York Manuscript, No. 1, the sentenee is thus: "Tunc unus ex senioribus teneat librum et ille vel illi," etc., that is, "he or they." The writer of No. 4 copied, most probably, from No. 1, and his translation of "hee or sheen from "ille vel illi," instead of "he or they," was either the result of ignorance in mistaking illi, they, for illa, she, or of carelessness in writing shee for they.
It is evident that the charges thus to be sworn to, and which immediately follow, were of such a nature as made most of them physically impossible for women to perform; nor are females alluded to in any other of the manuscripts. All Freemasons there are Fellows, and are so to be addressed.
There are two other York Manuscripts of the Operative Masons, which have been published in the Fabric Rolls of York Minster, an invaluable work, edited by the Rev. James Raine, and issued under the patronage and at the expense of the Surtees Society.
The reference to these words by Laurence Dermott, Brother W. J. Chetwode Crawley has pointed out, is really to Prince Edwin at York and those associated with him in the meeting said to have been there. In Caementaria Hibernica (Fasciculus ii) Brother Crawley goes on to say: In these passages Laurence Dermott, whose accuracy might well be imitated by his crities, makes a point of employing the compound word, York-Masons, thus indieating that the expression was to be taken in its ethical not in its geographical sense.
This distinctive meaning was clearly understood by the Antients, and studiously maintained after Dermott's death. In the circular March 2 1802, here mentioned, we find "York-Masons" distinguished by inverted commas; a typographical expedient of similar import.
See Ahiman Rezon, London, 1807 (page 127) and Ahiman Rezon, 1764 (page 87).
This is the oldest of all the Rites, and consisted originally of only three Degrees:
1. Entered Apprentice;
2. Fellow Craft;
3. Master Mason.
The last included a part which contained the True Word, but which in Brother Mackey's opinion was disrupted from it by Dunckerley in the latter part of the eighteenth century, and has never been restored. The Rite in its purity does not now exist Id anywhere. The nearest approach to it is the Saint w John's Freemasonry of Seotland, but the Master's Degree of the Grand Lodge of Scotland is not the Master's Degree of the York Rite.
When Dunckerley dismembered the Third Degree, as Brother Mackey believed, he destroyed the identity of the Rite. In 1813, it was apparently recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, when it defined the "pure Ancient Masonry to consist of three degrees, and no more: namely, those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft, and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch" Had Grand Lodge abolished the Royal Arch Degree, which was then practised as an independent Order in England, and reincorporated its secrets in the Degree of Master Mason, the York Rite would have been revived. But by recognizing the Royal Arch as a separate Degree, and retaining the Master's Dcgree in its mutilated form, they to that extent repudiated the York Rite.
In the United States it has been the almost universal usage to call the Freemasonry there practiced the York Rite. But Brother Mackey believed it has no better claim to this designation than it has to be called the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, or the French Rite, or the Rite of Schröder. It has no pretensions to the York Rite. Of its first three Degrees, the Master's is the mutilated one which took the Freemasonry of England out of the York Rite, and it has added to these three Degrees six others which were never known to the Ancient York Rite, or that which was practised in England, in the earlier half of the eighteenth century, by the legitimate Grand Lodge.
"In all my writings," asserts Doctor Mackey, "for years past, I have ventured to distinguish the Masonry practised in the United States, consisting of nine Degrees, as the American Rite, a title to which it is clearly and justly entitled, as the system is peculiar to America, and is practised in no other country." Brother Hughan, speaking of the York Rite (Unpublished Records of the Craft, page 148) says "there is no such Rite, and what it was no one now knows." Doctor Mackey thought that this declaration was too sweeping in its language. Brother Hughan was correct, as Doctor Mackey frankly admits, in saying that there is at this time no such Rite. Doctor Mackey proceeds, I have just described its decadence; but he is wrong in asserting that we are now ignorant of its character. In using the title, there is no reference to the Grand Lodge of all England, which met for some years during the last century, but rather to the York legend, and to the hypothesis that York was the cradle of English Freemasonry.
The York Rite was that Rite which was most probably organized or modified at the Revival in 1717, and practised for fifty years by the Constitutional Grand Lodge of England. It consisted of only the three Symbolic Degrees, the last one, or the Master's, containing within itself the secrets now transferred to the Royal Arch. This Rite was carried in its purity to Franee in 1725, and into Ameriea at a later period. About the middle of the eighteenth century the Continental Freemasons, and abo'ut the end of it the Amerieans, began to superimpose upon it those high Degrees which, with the necessary mutilation of the Third, have given rise to numerous other Rites. But the Ancient York Rite though no longer eultivated, must remain on the records of history as the oldest and purest of all the Rites.
or YUGA. One of the ages, according to Hindu mythology, into which the Hindus divide the duration or existence of the world.
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