Was Sir Christopher Wren a Mason?

Was Sir Christopher Wren a Mason?

Bro. The Rev. F. De P. Castells, A.K.C.


This paper is the outcome of some correspondence by the writer with Bro. the Rev. Canon Horsley in the columns of The Guardian, which began by Canon Horsley telling the clergy of the Established Church that the belief that Wren was a Freemason was "a popular delusion," without an atom of proof. He suggested that possibly the delusion originated by confusing our Order with the Masons' Company.

THE EVIDENCE FOR THE AFFIRMATIVE RE-STATED AND CRITICALLY EXAMINED

In the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738, it is distinctly asserted that Wren was a Freemason, and the Grand Master of the Fraternity. As the title of "Grand Master" began with the Grand Lodge of 1717, all that it could mean when ascribed to Wren was that he had been the acknowledged Head, President or Leading Spirit of the Masons in the South of England, or, at least, of those in and around London. There was indisputably a Masonic Brotherhood, and it must have had a Leader of some sort.
Now, the late Bro. R. F. Gould in his "History of Freemasonry," has disputed the statement of the Book of Constitutions, devoting no less than fifty-four pages to his attempt to disprove it. We all admire Gould's erudition; his "History" is a monumental work. But in this matter he has shown himself more learned than wise; for he has placed himself in a false light, in which we see him as a carping critic, cavilling, parrying with facts, and casting doubt upon everything suggesting the thought of Wren being a Mason.
This tradition about Wren can be traced back to his lifetime; and, better still, it was accepted as true by all Masonic writers until 1887, when Gould tried to upset it. Still, in reaffirming the unbroken tradition of the last two hundred years, my object is not merely to vindicate the memory of a worthy Brother, but to throw some light on the period of Masonic history immediately preceding the formation of the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717. [1]
As to Anderson's veracity, which some have called in question, we ought to consider the following facts:
  1. That Anderson was the official historian of the first Grand Lodge.
  2. That the high position he occupied entitles him to some respect.
  3. That he was on terms of intimacy with the leading members of at least the four lodges that brought the Grand Lodge into being.
  4. That although not connected with the lodge that claimed Wren, he must have had access to most of the documents available for the compilation of a Masonic history.
  5. That in preparing this history he had the assistance of two excellent Masonic scholars, Dr. Desaguliers, D.G.M., and George Payne, the antiquary.
  6. That while some documents used in the compilation have perished or gone astray, there remains collateral evidence for all the main facts.
  7. That the two editions of the Constitutions, 1723 and 1738, were submitted for examination and at length approved and authorised by Grand Lodge.
Gould was not satisfied with these weighty considerations, but insisted on absolute demonstration; and yet, on the other hand, when arguing for the negative, he often assumed things which could not be proved. Much of his reasoning turned on the silence of certain writers. If Wren was a Freemason, he asked, how is it that in the Book of Constitutions of 1723 he was not so designated? Why was it necessary to wait till the second edition, in 1738, to have the fact officially put before the Brethren? The question is a fair one; but generally speaking, the gaps in a narrative, the omission of specific facts, the seeming want of knowledge on the part of those who ought to know, mere silence and analogous circumstances, although they may sometimes justify suspicion, make a very poor foundation for positive arguments.
Gould felt that Anderson's silence in 1723 was fatal, and persuaded himself that what he wrote about Wren in 1738 must be untrue. How, then, are we to explain that silence? First of all, we should note that no declaration on the subject was then expected or called for. At the close of the Book of 1723 stress is laid on the fact that the Fraternity had enjoyed the patronage of many kings, some of whom were Masons. But surely no one could expect to find Wren's name among those of the crowned heads of England! The explanation of that silence should be sought for in the circumstances attending the formation of the Grand Lodge. For years Wren had many hostile critics, and they subjected him to cruel attacks. Finding that some of his old friends became cold and distant, he himself avoided company. His troubles did not reach their culminating point until 1718, when he was dismissed from the office of "Surveyor-General of the Royal Buildings," which he had held for forty-nine years. He was then eighty-six years old, but he lived five years longer. If then he neglected Freemasonry, as his contemporaries say, we may see that there was a predisposing cause. It was that neglect, together with the crisis in the building trade which followed the rebuilding of London, which accounts for the period of comparative inactivity in the sphere of Freemasonry. But that inactivity had its reaction in the demand that arose for a National Grand Lodge. Wren was as highly thought of as ever, but he was a spent force; his last few years were passed (as he himself expressed it) "in the shaded", that is, in comparative obscurity. Thus arose the revolutionary movement whereby four out of the twenty or more lodges in existence — a very small minority — undertook to organise the desired Grand Lodge, the aged Architect being altogether ignored. Need we wonder, then, if those innovators failed to call attention to the disagreeable facts underlying the movement, and said nothing about Wren? The first Book of Constitutions was prepared while Wren was still living, an old man of ninety-one years of age; it was in print since January 17th, when submitted to Grand Lodge; and it was on sale when he died, on February 25th.
It was undesirable to refer to the then recent past, and Anderson was wisely silent. But yet even the guarded statements he made in 1723 imply much of what I have said. Thus, the organization of a Grand Lodge is represented as a revival of "the drooping lodges of London," and he speaks of King Charles II as "a great encourager of the craftsmen," because he "founded the present St. Paul's Cathedral ... conducted by the ingenious architect, Sir Christopher Wren." Gould seems to take the words "ingenious architect" as excluding the thought of Wren as a Brother: but how could the appointment of Wren have been an encouragement of the craftsmen, if Wren was not of the craft at all? The idea underlying the Book of 1723 is that there has been a revival of the Freemasonry of Wren's time, who was still remembered by many; hence the passage: "This fair Metropolis flourisheth, as well as other Parts, with several worthy Particular lodges that have quarterly communications, and an annual Grand Assembly wherein the forms and usages of the most ancient and worshipful Fraternity are wisely propagated, etc."
Then, as to Wren's Grand Mastership, we may see how it was that Anderson referred to it in 1738. It was not motu proprio. On February 24th, 1738, the Grand Lodge appointed a Committee to revise the Book of 1723, ordering that the work, when finished, should be submitted for approval. And on March 31st Anderson was officially requested "to print the names (in his new Book of Constitutions) of all the Grand Masters that could be collected." This would make it necessary to mention Wren; but now, the extraordinary proceedings by which the Grand Lodge was established, had been vindicated by the results; and as nothing succeeds like success, and Wren had been dead many years, the reference to the past could scarcely provoke any disturbance. When, therefore, the new Book came out, in 1738, it contained this explicit declaration: "Wren continued as Grand Master until 1708, when his neglect of the office 'caused the Lodges to be more and more disused.'"
Having advanced some of my reasons for relying on the veracity of Anderson, I now proceed to present such evidence as there is of Wren's connection with the craft. In affirming that he was a Mason, however, I do not depend on any particular witness, but rather on the fact that the evidence comes from three separate sources, none of which is connected with the others, or with Anderson.
The first of these sources of information is a London newspaper, the Postboy. In its second issue (No. 5245) after Wren's death, when announcing that he was to be interred on March 5th, he is described as "that worthy Freemason." A few days later, on March 9th, another newspaper, the British Journal, in reporting that the interment had taken place, describes him in those identical words. Gould dismisses this latter witness by saying that the phrase must have been copied from the Postboy. It is an unwarranted assumption, but we need not haggle over it. He also speculates on the silence of the rest of the British press. But it suffices for our purpose that one single newspaper used the phrase in 1723; for, if Wren was said to be a Freemason in 1723, the notion did not originate with Anderson in 1738. Moreover, if what was said thus publicly was not true, how are we to account for the fact that it was not contradicted? It is idle to ask whence had the editor derived his information. Gould has cut the knot by making the astounding suggestion that the editor was deliberately lying with a mercenary purpose. But on what grounds? Simply because the number of the Postboy which referred to Wren as "that worthy Freemason," contained also an advertisement of the newly — published Book of Constitutions. The suggestion is that the editor, being interested in the sale of that Book, was resorting to a vulgar dodge which he thought would create a demand for the publication. Is it not a thousand pities that Gould descended to the point of making such imputations? And is it not absurd to imagine that there was any desire to sell that Book to outsiders? My explanation of the matter is as follows: The Postboy had apparently some Freemasons on its staff, and was on that account favoured by the Brethren in London; hence, while the publishers of the Book of Constitutions patronised the paper by supplying an advertisement, the editor was ready to insert any news that might be of interest to Masons. This implies that the reference to Wren as a Mason was addressed to a circle of readers comprising some men who were in a position either to confirm it, if true, or to contradict it, if false. The fact that no effort to substantiate the reference was made reflects the confidence of the editor. And the words "that worthy Freemason," must mean not merely that he was a Brother, but that all Freemasons were aware of it, and that he had ranked high in the Fraternity.
Our second source of information is to be found in the statement made by Aubrey in 1691 on the MS. of his "Natural History of Wiltshire," according to which Sir Christopher was to undergo some Ceremony in a Masonic Convention, arranged for the day when he wrote — viz. May 18th. The original MS. is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and in addition, there is preserved at Burlington House a transcript which was made by Aubrey himself for the Royal Society. The statement referred to consists of two paragraphs, which read as follows:
1691 after Rogation Sunday "Mdm, this day [May the 18th being Monday] is a great convention at St. Paul's Church of the Fraternity of Accepted the Free Masons: where Sr Christopher Wren is to be adopted a Brother: and Sr Henry Goodric ... of ye Tower, and divers others. There has been Kings, that were of this sodalitie. — Sr William Dugdale told me many years since, that about Henry the third's time, the Patents Pope gave a Bull or diploma to a Company of Italian Freemasons Architects to travell up and downe over all Europe to build Churches. From those are derived the Fraternity of Adopted-Masons.
Free-Masons. They are known to one another by certayn Signes & Marks and Watchwords; it continues to this day. They have severall Lodges in severall Counties for their reception: and when any of them fall into decay, the brotherhood is to relieve him, etc. The manner of their Adoption is very formall, and with an Oath of Secrecy."
It is impossible to tell how Aubrey heard of the Convention; but what he knew about the Brotherhood was obtained from Sir William Dugdale, who had died five years before, in 1686. Dugdale had good reason to be interested in the subject because, in 1668, a daughter of his had married Elias Ashmole, of whom there is positive information that he was initiated in Speculative Freemasonry as early as October 16th, 1646.
Now, if Wren was known to have taken part in a Masonic Convention in 1691, the notion of his being a Freemason could not have been invented by the Postboy at the time of his death, still less by Anderson in 1738. But to what has Gould to object? He argues that Aubrey was somewhat superstitious and therefore unreliable; and he calls his words a mere prognostication, assuming of course that it did not come off. On the other hand he allows that the memorandum is a bit of real evidence — "the sole shred of evidence," he calls it. But the evidential value of that memorandum lies in the fact that it was written without any ulterior motive, at the back of a page of a MS. which was private property and remained so for the following 153 years. The MS. was not published until 1847, and the Memorandum did not come under public notice until 1844, when printed by the late Mr. Halliwell. Gould has admitted that before 1844 it had not been printed "or in any way alluded to." It is, therefore, a distinct strand in the threefold cord.
Gould goes on to say: "Several members of the Royal Society became Masons; but none of them is known to have left behind any written reference to Aubrey's memorandum; therefore it could have made no deep impression on them, and if this be so, we may disregard it." But he has yet to prove that any of the men he has in mind ever saw the memorandum. Aubrey's MS. was indeed in the library of the Royal Society, but why should any particular member single out that particular MS. out of the piles of other volumes? Not all were keen about Wiltshire, and not all were naturalists. It is just because the MS. lay neglected and unnoticed until the year 1844 that its witness is so important. For, obviously, neither Anderson nor the Postboy could have been influenced by it they must have derived their information from other sources. True, Aubrey merely says that Wren was "to be adopted." But we cannot call that a prophecy, any more than the agenda paper on the chairman's table would be called a prophecy. For Aubrey scribbled his memorandum on the selfsame day, when all the arrangements must have been made, the sort of arrangements which are seldom cancelled, and in a few hours the Convention would be a thing of the past. Subsequently, Aubrey made his copy of the MS. for the Royal Society, and reproduced the memorandum word for word; if the Convention had not been held, would he have allowed his statement to remain unaltered?
Our third source of information is the Lodge of Antiquity, through the medium of Preston's book "Illustrations of Masonry," the fountain from which the Masons of two continents have been drinking freely for 140 years and more. Preston has come in for very rough treatment at Gould's hands, who has quoted all that his detractors have to say. In the columns of The Guardian, too, Canon Horsley remarked that in 1797 Prof. John Robison (who regarded Anderson's writings as "a heap of rubbish") wrote about Preston, that he "displayed a capacity of belief and a capability of assertion which are hardly paralleled at the present day by the utterances of the company promoter, or even of the mining engineer." It may be well to remember, however, that the Professor was a bigoted anti-masonic writer who in 1797 published a book entitled "Proofs of a Conspiracy by Freemasons," which in Chambers's Biographical Dictionary has been described as "a monument of credulity." Woodford's Masonic Cyclopedia says of Preston that he was "a painstaking and accurate writer." And even Gould in a footnote, said: "I readily admit that, at the period of original publication, the 'Illustrations of Masonry' was, by a long way, the best book of its kind."
The chief objection brought against Preston is that in each successive edition of his work he gave some additional details. This was really so; but does it justify the charge of romancing? What it proves is that Preston was eager to embody in his history every bit of information which he gleaned by study. The first edition, in 1772, followed Anderson, because at the time Preston knew no more. But in the edition of 1775, being W.M. of Wren's lodge, he added that "Wren presided over the old Lodge of St. Paul's during the building of the cathedral," and that the said lodge owned the mallet used in laying the foundation stone. Again, in the edition of 1792, Preston stated that the said mallet was a gift of Sir Christopher Wren himself, and that "during his presidency he presented to the lodge three mahogany candlesticks," which were still in use at the time of writing.
We see, then, that the additions, far from being objectionable, assist our inquiry. For they are no mere repetitions of what others had said, but are derived from documents in the possession of the oldest of the lodges which united to organise the Grand Lodge of 1717. The three men who worked on the Book of Constitutions belonged to a different lodge, No. 4, and it is quite possible that they may not have seen those documents. Lodge No. 4, the Lodge of Anderson, Desaguliers and Payne, had more members than the other three put together, and all of them noblemen or professional gentlemen; whereas Lodge No. 1, the Lodge of Antiquity (formerly called of Old St. Paul's) consisted of humble folk, not one being of sufficient rank to be described as Esqgire. But this lodge was the Senior Lodge, and an important link with the past. The mallet preserved there, was an interesting historic relic. The candlesticks, given by Wren, too, were of value as proving that the internal arrangement of a lodge prior to 1717 was practically the same as now. But "the records of the Lodge of Antiquity," said to go back to 1663, have a decisive effect on the question under discussion. For there are but two alternatives: either they existed or they did not. If not, Preston was lying flagrantly — which is untenable because of what Gould himself says: " It is irrational to suppose that Preston ... would have cited the authority of writings which did not exist. Some members, at least, of the Lodge of Antiquity might have been in a position to contradict him, and an appeal to imaginary or lost documents would have been as senseless an insult to their understandings as it would to those of readers of these pages, were I to appeal to the 'Book of Merlin,' etc." But if the records did exist, then there really was contemporary documentary evidence of Wren's connection with the Fraternity, and Preston was surely using that evidence to confirm what was then generally believed. Preston says that "according to the records of the Lodge of Antiquity," in 1663 and after, Wren "attended the meetings of the Lodge," and also that he patronized the said lodge" for eighteen years" — by which he may mean that he was W.M.
What I have said so far shows, then, that there are three independent but concurrent lines of evidence. And the testimony thence derived goes to prove that at some period of his life the world-famous architect of St. Paul's Cathedral had become a Mason. Our witnesses may not agree in every detail, but probably their discrepancies are more apparent than real, and our inability to reconcile them may mean, not that they are wrong in what they say, but that there is a deficiency on our part, because of course we do not know all the circumstances of the case. Generally speaking, it is possible that what has been reported may be substantially true, while some details may have to be corrected. In the present case, all our witnesses agree in one thing — viz., that Wren was a Freemason; and therefore not only is the cumulative effect of their testimony overwhelming, but I feel that the conclusion reached is as well established as any of the facts depending on external testimony for their credibility.
The matter might be left to rest here; but there is a serious objection which calls for consideration, and which must not be shirked. According to Aubrey, Wren was "to be adopted a Brother" in 1691; but the other witnesses declare that he was Grand Master long before that year. The conflicting dates do create a problem; but is this problem really insoluble? Let us see. According to Preston and Anderson, Wren was a principal officer of the Fraternity since 1663; in the language of a later day, too, he was made Senior Grand Warden. The two authorities quoted agree also in making Wren Grand Master in 1685, when fifty-three years old. But now, as Aubrey says that Wren was to be "adopted" in 1691, Gould argues that the statements of Anderson and Aubrey are "mutually destructive." This is on the supposition that "adopted" means "initiated." But what if Aubrey was referring to some other Masonic ceremony? Naturally, if he was not a Mason, he would scarcely know the difference between "initiating" and "installing."
Gould, in his eagerness to show that others were at fault, has made a slip, saying: "If he presided over the Society in 1663...." As a matter of fact no one has said this. In 1663 Wren was made S.G.W., and this statement accords with the circumstances as we know them. For although in 1663 Wren was only thirty-one years of age, he had already achieved great distinction. He had been Assistant to the Surveyor General since 1661. In 1662, the fabric of Old St. Paul's was shaky, and the Dean and Chapter asked him to examine it; this led to the King appointing a Commission in 1663, and soon after, Wren himself became a Commissioner, The project for a new cathedral was now set on foot, and as Wren was regarded as the fittest man for such a work, in 1666 (just before the London Fire) he was asked for a design. But why should he have been made S.G.W. then? Let us consider the facts.
  1. Anderson in 1723 wrote that the King was "a great Encourager of the Craftsmen," and set Wren to build the new Cathedral on that account.
  2. Wren's own son, speaking of the "Free and Accepted Masons," says that they were "chiefly employed in the execution of the work."
  3. There was a Masonic Lodge which actually took its name from Old St. Paul's, which met at the GOOSE AND GRIDIRON in St. Paul's Churchyard.
  4. This lodge had had a former Surveyor-General, Inigo Jones, for its W.M. This statement does not rest merely on Anderson's second Book of Constitutions, for it appeared in the Dublin Constitutions in 1730, having been made in both cases on the authority of the MS. of Nicholas Stone, which was destroyed by fire in 1720.
  5. It is with that lodge that Aubrey and others have connected Wren.
The corrections which Aubrey made in his memorandum suggest that he was in doubt as to whether he used the right words. He perhaps knew, or he suspected, that the Masons had a phraseology of their own. Therefore all that his memorandum can prove is, that Wren was to be received at the Convention of 1691 in some capacity, leaving it to us to find out what the character of that reception was. The ceremony, whatever it was, could not have been an initiation. If a man like Wren had any inclination towards Freemasonry, it is incredible that he would have put off his initiation till he was sixty-one years old. And it is most unlikely that any outsider would have known of a candidate before his admission, seeing that the Brethren were bound by "an oath of secrecy" and had signs and watchwords. The term "adopted" could have the sense of "initiated," but it was capable of other meanings; while the phrase "a great Convention of the Fraternity" could scarcely refer to the working of a private lodge at its regular meeting. Again, in 1691, while the new cathedral was in building, the old St. Paul's Lodge must have consisted largely of the men employed in the work. (The statement made by Wren's own son as to the Freemasons being "chiefly employed" implies as much.) Can we then imagine the architect being a stranger to such a lodge? If so, how could the mysterious Brotherhood have obtained the use of the building for their Convention? This fact alone implies, at least, that Wren was a patron of the craft.
It is evident that a Masonic function of some sort took place in 1691, and that Wren took a conspicuous part in it. Aubrey heard of it some hours before, but not being a Mason he could have had no clear idea of its nature naturally he formed the idea that it was a case of the quaint Brotherhood receiving new members; and this brought to mind what Dugdale told him " many years since" about the Freemasons. The problem centres, therefore, in the expression "to be adopted," which is ambiguous. After 225 years, we can merely conjecture what happened, but there are a few facts to guide us Let us see what interpretations the expression will bear.
  1. In the list appearing in the official Masonic Calendar of 1729, the old St. Paul's Lodge is entered as founded in 1691, the year of Aubrey's Convention; but that fact is misleading. What happened in 1691 was (as Gould points out) that the said lodge, "from being an occasional, became a stated lodge." And this implies that not only Wren, but all the old Masons who had been meeting more or less informally, were now to be "adopted" in the reconstituted lodge, in which there may, or there may not have been, the distinction between subscribing and honorary members. Preston says that Wren attended that lodge in earlier days, but does not explain in what capacity, whether as an ordinary member, or as a visitor, or as S.G.W.; but he uses the word "patronised," which suggests an honorary position; this may have been his position before, but by his "adoption" or reception into the reconstituted lodge, he may have become a full subscribing member.
  2. Or, it may be, that the members of the reconstituted lodge had arranged to give a welcome or reception to the eminent Brother — in which case the expression "to be adopted" would simply mean his election, reselection, or recognition as an honorary member, to be done probably by acclamation. We adopt distinguished Masons now, and our ancient Brethren were equally free to do it. Obviously, if the lodge consisted of brethren employed in the cathedral, the directing architect would be a privileged member, while any other Brother of rank coming with him (like Sir Henry Goodric, expressly mentioned by Aubrey) would be sure of being honoured in a similar way.
  3. Again, there is the possibility that the ceremony which Wren had to undergo was not merely a reception, but his reselection and installation as W.M. of the reorganised lodge. For even if he was already recognised as President of the Fraternity, he would not be debarred from taking the office of W.M. in a private lodge; indeed, we must suppose that he was serving in that capacity somewhere, the lower position qualifying him for the higher. Our ancient Brethren were much freer than we are, and they did not always act in what we should now think the right mode of procedure.
  4. 4. But apparently the "great Convention" was not the meeting of any private lodge at all; it was rather a general assembly of the whole "Fraternity of the Accepted Masons"; and the work done was such as to affect other lodges besides that of St. Paul's. This is fully borne out by one of our bitterest enemies, Samuel Pritchard, who, in his book "Masonry Dissected " (1730), while arguing that Freemasonry cannot be very ancient, makes this remark: "No constituted Lodges or Quarterly communications were heard of till 1691, when lords, dukes, lawyers and shopkeepers and other inferior tradesmen, porters not excepted, were admitted in this mystery or no mystery." Here is collateral evidence for Aubrey's testimony; clearly the Convention did take place. And presumably the adoption of Wren was his re-adoption, or reselection, as Grand Master, when he would be installed and proclaimed and saluted as such. "Sir Henry Goodric ... of ye Tower, and divers others" may have been the officers who were to be appointed or invested on the same occasion. Nor is there anything forced in this idea of a reselection; for, according to the Stone MS., Inigo Jones, who, like Wren, had once combined the two offices of Surveyor-General and President of the Masonic Fraternity, ceased to hold the second title in 1618, but was subsequently "reselected." Certainly the Freemasons never appointed their Grand Masters for life.
The year 1764 saw the publication of "The Compleat Freemason, or Multa Paucis for Lovers of Secrets," a book which deserves looking into. Here is one very important extract: "In 1710, in the eighth year of the reign of Queen Anne, our worthy Grand Master Wren, who had drawn the Design of St. Paul's, had the honour to see it finished in a magnificent taste, and to celebrate with the Fraternity, the Capestone of so noble and large a Temple." Gould passes this over as quite unimportant; but the clause "to celebrate with the Fraternity," is in perfect agreement with what Wren's own son said in his book "Parentalia," for there he wrote as follows: "The highest or last stone on the top of the lantern, was laid by the hand of the Surveyor's son, Christopher Wren, deputed by his Father, in the presence of that excellent Artificer, Mr. Strong, his son, and other Free and Accepted Masons, chiefly employed in the execution of the work." As by that time Wren was already seventy-eight years of age, he had a good reason for deputing his son to climb up to the top of the lantern above the cupola of St. Paul's. It is true (as Gould keeps reminding us) that the son said nothing of his father's activities as a Mason, but why should he tell publicly of what his father did in connection with a secret society? Still, this reference to the "Free and Accepted Masons," in which he gives them "chiefly" the credit for "the execution" of his father's designs, is significant, for it gives us to understand that they had come to celebrate the capestone in an official capacity, and so their "presence" involves the idea of a Masonic function. The elder Wren was clearly heart and soul with the Brethren, although he could not get up to the lantern. The son does not state in so many words that his father was a Mason, but the connection is hinted at, and his silence is obviously the silence of discreetness. Many other eminent men of the period were Freemasons; the writers who denounced Freemasonry two hundred years ago, like Samuel Pritchard, admitted the fact; but yet, for the most part, those titled Freemasons of the seventeenth century went to their graves without the fact of their Masonic affiliation being divulged. The Brethren were bound by "an oath of secrecy," and had signs and watchwords; why wonder, therefore, at the silence about Wren?
The book "Multa Pages" has yet another bit of information; it says: "Our good old Grand Master Wren, being struck with age and infirmity, did from this time [1710] forward, retire from all manner of Business, and, on account of his Disability, could no more attend the Lodges in visiting and regulating their meetings as usual. This occasioned the number of regular Lodges to be greatly reduced; but they regularly assembled in Hopes of having again a noble Patron at their Head."
There is no need to examine the writers later than Preston, because they have nothing new to tell us. But I may recall the fact that the Browne MS., which was once in the possession of the late Bro. W. J. Hughan, author of "Old Charges of British Freemasons" (1872), bears a note by an anonymous hand which is to the effect that the original (of which the said MS. was a transcript) was found among the papers of Sir Christopher Wren. If this were an isolated statement, we might disregard it altogether; but it accords with the information derived from other quarters, and we must, therefore, assume that it is true.
Having carefully examined such scraps of information as have been handed down, of the Masonic career of the distinguished man to whose talent and energy we owe England's chief sanctuary, I must now reaffirm my conviction that our tradition about him is historically sound, and that he really presided over the Fraternity before there was a National Grand Lodge as we know it. The combined testimony of the various witnesses is irresistible. And forasmuch as we cannot imagine the possibility of collusion between such witnesses (who lived in different periods and were actuated by deferent motives) the conclusion reached appears to me to be absolutely and incontestably proved.

POSTSCRIPT

What precedes was delivered as a Lecture. Since then, however, having seen the records of the Lodge of Antiquity which Bro Rylands has brought to light, I feel that the question is absolutely settled. The Lodge had once records that went back to 1663. But when an Inventory was made in 1778, everything anterior to 1721 had disappeared. This is referred to in a Memorandum as "the outrage," because it was a case of misappropriation. Still, the few records now extant are ample to satisfy any one. Thus, the Minutes of a Meeting held on June 3, 1723, give the substance of what the Brethren had decided: "The set of Mahogany Candlesticks presented to this Lodge by its worthy old Master, Sir Christopher Wren, ordered to be carefully deposited in a wooden case lin'd with cloth to be Immediately purchased for the purpose." The reason for this was that as "the worthy old Master" of the Lodge had died, they were anxious to preserve the candlesticks as precious mementos of his connection with the Lodge. There is also a Memorandum about a "General Assembly of a greate Number of Free Masons Held on the 24th of June, 1721," which is remarkable for including among those present "Christopher Wren, Esq.," the only son of the architect, whose name reappears in a similar way eight years later. Obviously the son was one of those who helped to bring the premier Grand Lodge into existence; thus we can understand that the father should have appointed him as his deputy when the Fraternity celebrated the Capestone in 1710. And yet Gould, when he wrote his History, did not know that anyone had ever claimed the son as a member of our Order! The question has been raised whether the original Lodge of Antiquity was one of Speculative Freemasons. The three Candlesticks afford good ground for presumption, but let the Members of the Lodge speak for themselves. In the Minutes of a Meeting on November 3, 1722, we read: "The Master reported the proceedings of the Grand Lodge and Bro. Anderson's appointment to revise the old Constitutions. It was the Opinion of the Lodge that the Master and his Wardens do attend every Committee during the revisal of the Constitutions that no variation may be made in the Antient Establishment." This zeal to maintain the old order enables us to affirm positively that the Grand Lodge of 1717 did not create Freemasonry, but simply reorganised the Fraternity.

NOTE

  1. This designation is used to conform to our way of speaking. In reality that Grand Lodge did not claim the exclusive territorial jurisdiction which it now exercises.

Source: Transactions of the Authors Lodge Vol. 11. (2017)

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