The Origin of Freemasonry
The origins and early development of Freemasonry are a matter of some debate and conjecture as there is little documentary evidence available. A poem known as the “Regius Manuscript” has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text. There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic Lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late 16th century and there are clear references to the existence of Lodges in England by the mid-17th century.
The most recent research by Dr Ric Berman indicates speculative Freemasonry grew out of traditional stone masonry largely as a result of the changes in society in the 17th and early 18th centuries. Those changes were, to a significant extent, a result of the Age of Reformation and it is no co-incidence the Royal Society was founded in the same period. Indeed many prominent early members of the Royal Society were also Freemasons.
The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded on 24 June 1717, by four existing London Lodges. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which many existing English Lodges joined and which formed many new Lodges.
Some freemasons were uncomfortable with the direction taken by the new Grand Lodge and formed their own Grand Lodge on 17 July 1751, which they called the “Antient Grand Lodge of England.” The two competing Grand Lodges – the “Moderns” and the “Antients”– vied for supremacy – until they united on 25 November 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively. Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s – with both the “Antients” and the “Moderns” (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) issuing warrants for new Lodges and developing an administrative structure to support those Lodges.
Since then Freemasonry has spread throughout the world with an estimated 150 Grand Lodges and 2 million Freemasons world wide.
It is believed that the originators of Freemasonry were men who wished to promote tolerance and build a better world in which men of differing opinions could peacefully co-exist and work together for the betterment of mankind.