Origins of Freemasonry
(A brief summary)
There is little doubt that in the 15th century craftsmen had real grievances
with merchants, who hired their services, and the local town councils. With
differing success they formed associations of their own which sometimes appeared
to be so menacing that laws were passed restricting their activities.
Notwithstanding these laws, by 1475, the Masons and Wrights of Edinburgh were
strong enough to secure a 'Seal of Cause' or Charter from the city of Edinburgh
This created an Incorporation, roughly equivalent to an English Trade Guild,
which laid down rules for the governance of the Craft. In 1489, Coopers were
included and later other groups of tradesmen joined. These incorporations framed
rules, resolved trade differences, dispensed charity and controlled entry to the
trade. Such incorporations were not unusual in Scottish Burghs and most of the
larger trades and crafts had an incorporation. Examples of such 'incorporated
trades' include: Wabsters (weavers), Cordiners (shoemakers), Baxters (bakers),
and Hammermen (metal workers). The essential difference between the craft of
stone masonry and these other crafts and trades was that stones masons had
another level of organisation - the Lodge. Thus we find, in 1491, that the
Edinburgh authorities granted the masons the right 'to gett a recreation in the
commoun luge'. This shows that masons used the Lodge for something much more
than storing their working tools. The existence of Lodges in Scotland is known,
therefore, from at least the 15th century but little can be said regarding the
activities of masons. It is likely that Lodges were not organised on a rigid,
formal, basis but that meetings were called as and when necessary. The reasons
why another level of organisation was required raises many interesting
In 1583, William Schaw was appointed by King James VI as Master of the Work and
Warden General with the Commission of re-organising the Masonic craft.
In 1598, he issued the first of the now famous Schaw Statutes which set out the
duties of all members to the Lodge and to the public. It also imposed penalties
for unsatisfactory work and inadequate safety during work. More importantly, for
Freemasons today, Schaw drew up a second Statute in 1599. The importance of this
document lies in the fact that it makes the first, veiled, reference to the
existence of esoteric knowledge within the craft of stone masonry. It also
reveals that The Mother Lodge of Scotland, Lodge Mother Kilwinning, No.0, was in
existence, and active, at that time. The impact of these statutes was dramatic.
His instructions, to all LODGES (not incorporations), that they must begin to
keep written records, meet at specific times, test, annually, members in the
'Art of Memory' and enter apprentices in the Lodge records meant that Lodges
became fixed, permanent, institutions.
It is also why the earliest known masonic records date from this time. It can safely be said, therefore, that William Schaw was the
founding father of modern Freemasonry. In the late 16th and early 17th Centuries
important men, who were not Masons to trade, were admitted to Scottish Lodges.
Exactly why such men were attracted to Scottish Freemasonry is not known. It may
have been simple curiosity. In any event their social position gave Lodges an
element of legitimacy and status. Others joined as literacy and education spread
throughout the country which assisted Lodges to maintain funds. It is often said
that Sir Robert Moray was the first known non-operative member of a Lodge.
Whilst important, (he was the first to be recorded as being initiated on English
soil) his initiation, in 1641, was not the first initiation of a non-stonemason
into a Lodge. Others who preceded him probably include: William Schaw himself,
and his assistant, James Boswell of Auchinleck. They are believed to have been
initiated in 1598.
William, Lord Alexander, his brother, Anthony Alexander and Sir Alexander
Strachen of Thornton were initiated in The Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel),
No.1. These men were some of the first non-operative stone masons to join
From Schaw to the early 18th Century, masonry underwent a change. Schaw had
legislated for operative masons but by the early 18th Century Freemasonry was
being led, mainly, by the new non-operative masons and it was this group which
was to develop and expand within the Lodges. It seems that only the degrees of
Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft were worked in Scotland during the 16th,
17th and early 18th centuries.
The earliest known record of the degree of Master Mason, being conferred in a
Lodge, is to be found in the minutes, dated 29th January 1726, of Dumbarton
Kilwinning Lodge, No.18.
The Mark degree is recorded as early as 7th July 1778 in the minutes of Lodge St
John Operative, No.92.
The Ceremony of
Installed Master is of recent origin being introduced in 1858 and in 1872
revised to the form used today.
In 1717, the Grand Lodge of England was formed and three years later the Grand
Lodge of Ireland. In 1735, four Scottish Lodges discussed the possibility of
forming a Grand Lodge of Scotland. On the 30th November of the following year
representatives from thirty three Lodges met in Edinburgh. Grand Lodge was
formed and William St Clair of Roslin was elected the first Grand Master Mason.
The St Clair family had had long connection with Masons having in earlier days
been Patrons of the Craft.
From 1736, Grand Lodge chartered a steady stream of Lodges and even in 1745, the
year 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' attempted to regain the throne of his ancestors,
five charters were issued despite the unsettled conditions.
In 1747, Grand Lodge issued the first charter to an overseas Lodge situated in
Aleppo in Syria. With a large number of Lodge members serving in the overseas
army, Grand Lodge issued a few (England and Ireland issued many) 'travelling'
Charters to military regiments and these must be given credit for spreading
Freemasonry in the countries where the army served. Some of these Lodges exist
still although they are now 'stationary'.
Kilwinning, an old and independent Lodge, along with the Lodges it had chartered
and which were still operating, returned to Grand Lodge following the 1807
Agreement. The numbering of Lodges was first undertaken in 1737, it was revised
in 1771, 1816, 1822 and finally in 1826 after the admission of the Mother
Kilwinning Lodges, and these are the numbers used today. A few independent
Lodges joining up since have had a number inserted without altering the basic
number of the other Lodges. The last being in 1891 when the Lodge of Melrose St
John joined the Grand Lodge of Scotland and was numbered as 12
Membership and the number of Lodges increased in the 19th and early 20th
centuries, especially during or after war or unsettled times. The increase in
the number of Lodges placed a heavy supervisory role on Grand Lodge.
Geographical groupings of Lodges were made and Provincial Grand Lodges formed in
Scotland and District Grand Lodges overseas to supervise all the Lodges in their
Following the granting of independence to countries such as Egypt, the United
States of America, Canada, and Australia, the Lodges in these areas formed Grand
Lodges of their own and were joined by many Scottish Lodges already established
in those countries.
From 1598, benevolence was the responsibility of local Lodges but in 1846 Grand
Lodge established the Fund of Scottish Masonic Benevolence, primarily for
Scottish Freemasons and their dependants. Heavy demands on the Fund, due to the
recession in 1875, led to the establishment of the General Annuity Fund in 1888.
This was boosted by the proceeds of the Grand Bazaar of 1891 amounting to £14,400,
a very large sum in those days.
In 1899, Grand Lodge decided that the collection taken at the Annual
Installation Meeting of each Lodge would be added to this Fund. To celebrate the
centenary of the Fund of Scottish Benevolence in 1946, it was decided to have a
Home, initially for elderly Freemasons and their wives, and Ault Wharrie in
Dunblane was purchased in 1950. Since then, further homes have been built with
an emphasis on smaller homes in convenient parts of the country to meet the
demand from our older brethren and their wives who wish to continue to live near
their friends, relatives and their Lodges. While these are homes administered
and maintained by Grand Lodge, there are homes also financed by the Provincial
Grand Lodge of Ayrshire and our District Grand Lodges abroad. Those who have
visited these homes report very favourably upon the facilities they provide.
Scottish Freemasonry is in good heart. At the last count there were 665 active
Lodges in Scotland and 499 overseas.
This page has been reproduced from the pages of the website of the Grand Lodge
of Scotland. www.grandlodgescotland.com