"To preserve the reputation of the fraternity unsullied must be your constant care..."

Welcome * Blog * Books * Calendar * Chris Hodapp * Alice Von Kannon * Photos * Contact

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Is the Official Date of Our Founding Wrong?

The joint Conference on the history of Freemasonry held by Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and Queens’ College at the University of Cambridge in England concluded Sunday. The Conference was dedicated especially to the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717.

Mark Tabbert reports that a paper was presented by Drs. Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers that, in his words, "conclusively proved that the Grand Lodge of England was NOT founded in 1717, but in 1721."

The researchers have apparently discovered detailed minutes pertaining to the creation of the Grand Lodge of of London and Westminster (precursor to the Grand Lodge of England, and finally the UGLE) in 1721 at the back of one of London's Lodge of Antiquity No. 2's minute books. The minutes of that gathering describe a large and well organized event. 

The Lodge of Antiquity is the descendant of the lodge that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's churchyard, and one of the four original founding lodges that formed the Grand Lodge.

In addition, the minutes apparently state that the founding Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge of England was actually John Montagu, the 2nd Duke of Montagu, and not Antony Sayer, as was stated in Rev. Anderson's 1738 Constitutions. Montagu has long been known as the first member of the nobility to serve as Grand Master, in 1721. But this paper upsets a rather substantial applecart of accepted Masonic history.

These newly discovered documents reportedly eliminate Sayer, George Payne, and John Theophilus Desaguliers from the lineup of first successive grand masters, along with moving the official founding date of speculative Freemasonry forward by four years.  

There has always been very little written record of that early period, aside from Anderson's account. So this discovery is of major importance. 

At the very least, UGLE may have to move their big banquet next year forward by four years...

There were some 160 delegates and guests in attendance at the Conference from around the world. The papers presented will be published next year, and members of the Q.C. Correspondence Circle will be able to purchase the book from Lewis Masonic at a substantial discount.

UPDATE 9/15/16:

Prof. Prescott presented sort of a prequel to this paper earlier this year in Ontario -  Searching For the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716? 

Some of my takeaways from  the Sankey Lecture: Apple Tree Tavern was established in 1728, not 1716. It just wasn't there. So, the first meeting described by Anderson in 1716 simply could not have happened then or in that way. But there's LOTS to digest, including the lives of men mentioned by Anderson in 1738. Prescott doesn't say Anderson simply "made it up," but that he was charged by the GL to piece together a founding story from the records available in 1738.

It's a fascinating presentation. It's about an hour long.

But then I went and looked at Pine's engraved lists of lodges. Pine's list of lodges as early as 1725 lists 8 active lodges (with two already notably missing numerically). By 1729, there are 12. While the dates and people and places probably were reverse-engineered by Anderson in 1738, there were nonetheless 8 years after Anderson's claim of GL's formal founding at least 8 active lodges working. SOMETHING was happening to spread them. And George Payne obviously held SOME kind of position of importance at the time of Anderson's first edition in 1723, because Payne was said to have drafted the regulations in the book.

So THIS first paper presents obviously way more questions than it answers. Once the more recent paper given last weekend can be read and considered with this earlier lecture, it will be interesting to see the whole picture it presents.


  1. Thanks Chris! Wow, bet only a few saw this coming. This is fascinating and (if true) would mean English Freemasonry started out as a Royal Institution. But the question remains; was Rev. Anderson aware of this history and decided not to include it in the 1723 Constitutions for some reason? Why? And who could grant him the permission to do so? Looking forward to the Q.C. book.

    Well, provided the tri-centennial celebration is still held next year, brethren who are visiting at that time for the first time can stop by the Prince of Wales Pub for drink, good food, and socializing. The Covent Garden (Prince of Wales) Pub is located on the corner of Great Queen Street within walking distance of UGLE and is popular with male and female Masons. Join the Pub's email Club for a discount and birthday gift. WWW.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/Prince-of-wales-covent-garden/

    Tom- member Q.C. Correspondence Circle.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "Royal Institution." If you are referring to John, Duke of Montagu, the first Grand Master in this new version of history, then you are mistaken. He was not "royalty," but was a member of the nobility. Big difference. In any event, this is only important to those interested in the history of the Grand Lodge at London and Westminster. Many grand lodges, like my own, do not descend from that grand lodge, but only descend from the Ancients' grand lodge of 1751, or from the grand lodges of Scotland or Ireland. We often place too much importance on the happenings in London during the period 1717 to 1723.

  2. I find it quite surprising that William Preston himself, that's the infamous Master of the Lodge of Antiquity that convinced its membership to secede from Grand Lodge and found the breakaway Grand Lodge of All England South of the River Trent in 1779, didn't notice and publicise this information back then.

  3. Drs. Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers

    ​"conclusively proved that the Grand Lodge of England was NOT founded in 1717, but in 1721."

    Experts​ have been arguing about the date of creation (see Arch Bishop Usher), the date of the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai and the date of the birth of Christ for hundreds and thousands of years.
    ​Masonic historians ​have been arguing for centuries about the True Origins of the Craft without unanimous conclusion. There are at least 20 theories and combinations of them.

    The faithful among us say "so what" to those disputes. Whether it was 1717 or 1721 that the Premier Grand Lodge was inaugurated or whether Anthony Sayer or John Montegu was the first Grand Master should not detract from our celebrating our 300th in the "Traditional Year".
    Traditions count for a lot and we should delight in and celebrate to the fullest the long accepted Anderson story. This is not to discount the ​discoveries and ​concerns of the the forensic historians of QCC​, the Prestonian lecturers and other​ researchers ​ who certainly have their place in the Craft ​​in helping us to understand a more accurate scenario.
    In Toronto we have plans for an enthusiastic and meaningful large scale celebration in November ​2017
    Stephen Maizels

  4. "The minutes of that gathering describe a large and well organized event."
    Sounds as if the 1721 meeting could have been simply a formalizing of a workgroup begun 4 years earlier.


Kindly sign your comment posts. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers, as far as I am concerned, and may be deleted if I don't recognize you or if I'm in a grumpy mood.