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On the Foundations and Legacy of Quatuor Coronati Lodge of Research

by Bro. Bob James
Discovery Lodge of Research
UGL of NSW & ACT, Australia



This essay is concerned with Masonic historical research and with one particular research lodge. My reasons for closely examining the first years of this lodge, Quatuor Coronati or ‘Four Crowned Martyrs’ [QC], relate to its accumulated status as exemplar within English Masonry, and the light its story can throw on the tribulations of  fraternal studies. I use the term ‘fraternal’ studies deliberately, but these issues have particular significance for the current generation of Freemasons.     Also of importance to ‘modern’ Freemasons is a debate taking place within the pages of The Transactions of AQC, [AQC] about the nature and function of Masonic history. To assist clarity, I begin with what are my basic premises:

*The word ’History’ can refer to what happened, or to the records of what happened, or to interpretations of what happened. While what happened, the event, remains ‘true’, it remains un-knowable because, afterwards, we no longer have it to use as evidence, we have only record/s, and interpretation/s of records, which can never be true in the way the event itself was, and they may be partial, or partisan or totally in error, or all three. We will never know for sure how near to or how far from the truth of the event we are.

*A record or collection of records, or an interpretation can achieve such status as may cause it/them to be known as ‘the historical truth.’

*An interpretation or collection of interpretations may achieve ‘official’ status and may be imposed as ‘the necessary truth’ as long as ‘the authority’ retains credibility.

*More important than the claims to truth, are the tests of truth. Any interpretation claiming to be ‘the historical truth’ can be tested for legitimacy, for logical error, or factually. Any interpretation claiming to be ‘the scientific truth’ can be tested experimentally. Any interpretation claiming to have or to be ‘the divine truth’ cannot be tested and removes itself, by definition, from history.

Correlation of Freemasonry with Creation and with every worthwhile event or personality since has been a well-known blight on Masonic learning, and many attempts have been made to counter or altogether remove it. It is often claimed that from its inception in 1717 Freemasonry embodied Enlightenment values, and in 1797, one of the first English-language periodicals emphasising Freemasonry was published with the title, The Scientific Magazine and Freemason’s Repository. Yet, in 1867, a letter writer, ‘Historicus’, wrote to the Editor of Freemasons Magazine and Masonic Mirror, (London) in the following terms:

…Masonic archaeology is at the present a standing reproach to our Order, and we seem to grow no wiser by the lapse of time, but parrot-like to repeat those time-honored, if mythic, claims to antiquity which are valueless, and worse than valueless, if not based on historical evidence.[i]

This writer was responding to Masonic spokespeople citing scientific principles while simultaneously asserting that Freemasonry must be true because it was ‘the word of God’:

I had formed a plan in my own mind, which was intended to demonstrate the capabilities of Freemasonry as a literary institution…to convince the reading public that Freemasonry…actually contained the rudiments of all worldly science and spiritual edification…The first step was to show the Antiquity of the Order; for this was the only basis on which all subsequent reasoning could be safely founded…I therefore published a work on the Early History and Antiquities of Masonry from the Creation to the building of  Solomon’s Temple.[ii]

In 1894, the Reverend Sayce, a founding member of the Palestine Exploration Fund, experienced archaeologist and stalwart of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, observed in his musings about disputes over ‘Biblical archaeology’:

(Let) us not forget that in one important respect at least, both the “Higher Critics” and the archaeologist are agreed. Both alike are seeking for the truth, and this truth is historical not theological. It is as historians and not as theologians that we must investigate the records of the Old Testament…[iii]

QC has garnered the reputation of having been the first, serious attempt in the English-language to remove the blight, and, by surviving for a century plus, has apparently succeeded. Bro Beresiner asserted in 2007:

With the formation of (QC) express effort was made to establish a scientific or authentic school of masonic research and history. The founding members…were all recognised masonic scholars and from the start, the Lodge was able to contribute toward reliable and factual masonic research.[iv]

Bro Dyer, a member of QC since 1971, evaluated the achievements of its first century, 1886-1986:

…By (their stated objectives the founders) established a new style of research into Freemasonry. It ignored baseless conclusions…of earlier authors and…became known as the ‘authentic school’ of Masonic students.

Through the members’ efforts the work of previous historians came under close scrutiny and much that had formerly been accepted as reliable was rejected.[v]

Variations on this theme are easily found. In the 1972 discussion on a paper I intend to look at below, Bro Spurr asserted that the foundation of QC came about because there was perceived to be a need for a lodge where:

Masonic matters could be discussed and all theories carefully examined, to sift the wheat from the chaff, the fact from the fiction. Quatuor Coronati Lodge established itself as the place where bubbles were pricked and if anything was put forward as a fact it had to be proved by independent authorities.[vi]

In the Masonic diaspora heavily influenced by UGLE and, in research matters, by QC, the belief that the struggle for ‘scientific and authentic’ history was fought and won by QC long ago has had to struggle with 20th century claims of the following sort:

…In order to gain a true conception of the origin and evolution of Freemasonry, its Signs, Symbols, and all its Rituals and Ceremonies, one must have also a knowledge of the origin and evolution of the Human Race, with all the Totemic Mysteries performed in Sign Language by Primitive Man…

…All the facts I have herein set forth can be verified as the truth by any Brother who will devote sufficient study and scientific research to the subject matter…[vii]

Similarly de-contextualised statements continue to be made by Freemasonry’s elders along the lines that:

…(Guided) by our Masonic principles…we can face the future with every confidence, firmly believing that truth and justice will always prevail, and that Freemasonry is truth and justice in all things.[viii]

Most recently, in 2012, a major report sponsored by UGLE on ‘The Future of Freemasonry’, based its conclusions on a-historical readings of the past three centuries, as for example:

…The ‘modern’ Freemasonry that was established by the UGLE, in which the ‘Antients’ who had initially rejected its authority were soon to be integrated…[ix]

and on equally-erroneous, supposedly-supportive statements such as:

…Looking at the past as a useful guide to explaining the present, the (Roosevelt Center for the study of Civil Society and Freemasonry) points out that:

‘Freemasonry was there at the origins of modern civil society often as the only organization where there could be free discussion without fear of censorship and authoritarian control’.

Assertions of this kind add to the confusion and the sense of unreality felt by otherwise sympathetic observers. Within QC there are clear signs of renewed debate about weaknesses, even failures in Masonic historical research, and into whether or not QC has succeeded in its mission. This is admirable, positive and long overdue. To achieve results, it seems to this researcher, that the issues at stake need to be more clearly defined, the root cause better-understood, and the debate conducted much more overtly.

Quatuor Coronati Lodge, London, No 2076, EC

– Towards an Alternative Appraisal:

A defence will be mounted that QC cannot be held accountable for every fantasy that sees the light of day, that there will always be individuals who will interpret ‘the evidence’ in strange ways. This is true, but Masons need to ask how has QC, among other Masonic authorities, created and sustained the atmosphere in which the fantasies continue to be published, read and believed?

The free-wheeling attitude continues, it seems to me, because the atmosphere in which it can survive and thrive, created initially by Anderson’s mythical account in 1723, remains in place. Not only was Andersonian-history not challenged, it was adopted as ‘official’.

A number of authors in recent issues of AQC have assayed the part played by esoteric ‘evidence’ in QC’s early work and the ways in which such interests can, today, be kept within useful boundaries.[x] A few others, such as Cooper, Prescott and Hamill, self-described as ‘a professional Masonic historian’, and currently engaged in writing the ter-centennial history of UGLE, have looked more quizzically:

The founders of (QC) coined the phrase ‘authentic or scientific school’ of Masonic research…(After) one hundred years…(have) they lived up to their claim?[xi]

The answer he gave was qualified:

In their voracious appetite for searching out evidence, the answer is yes. In their treatment of that evidence, I think the answer can only be a very qualified yes, particularly in their work on the origins of Freemasonry.

What bothered him most was

the basic premise…that Freemasonry developed directly out of operative masonry…In this they were behaving most unscientifically, seeking for evidence to prove their theory rather than seeking evidence and analysing it to see what could be deduced from it.

Even here, the emphasis continues to be on the ‘what?’, ‘who?’, ‘how?’ and ‘when? rather than on the ‘why?’ – for example, ‘why has Masonry not changed?’

The 2009 ‘inaugural address’ by WM Wade[xii] represents the latest ‘insider’ re-appraisal of QC. In it, the challenges facing QC[xiii] in the context of the debate between ‘academic historians’ and Masonic scholars were emphasised. A 2008 Conference convened specifically to discuss the Lodge, he reported, saw AQC’s role as ‘to communicate the latest research’, but made no mention of any need to critique. No-where does Wade consider that past practices within QC may have been flawed, even contradictory. He asserts that the latest fall in numbers in the ‘Outer Circle’ is due to QC being ‘subjected to the underlying trend in the total numbers of Freemasons’, in other words, the fall has nothing to do with anything QC may have done, or not done. He repeated the call of the conference:

(The) papers presented in the Lodge and published in AQC should endeavour to demonstrate the same standard of research and presentation as those required by academic journals.

How is QC going to demonstrate an academic standard’? How is the ‘Editorial Committee’ to be assessed as qualified? In 1886, QC members assessed incoming work themselves. Academic journals have external readers to do this. No-where in his analysis is there a mention of ‘truth’ or any analogous term – integrity? proof of statements? and no-where is there any concern for the accumulation of findings, so that ignorance or mis-understanding might over time diminish.

He notes that Knoop and Jones in the 1930’s and ‘40’s ‘startled’ academic reviewers with the quality of their studies. He also notes that Knoop’s last paper submitted to QC in 1948 was blocked, ‘for fear of causing offence’ and that no reason was given. How is such an affront to be prevented in the future?

There are trite, ‘official’ answers to these questions but I had less-anxious views in mind. If Masonic research was already being conducted with the claimed principles foremost, a recent formal declaration prohibiting Masonic discussion of ‘the esoteric’ might be dismissed as the last growl of an irrational past.[xiv] But then it would not have been necessary for Jan Snoek at the First Edinburgh International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in 2007 to assert:

(We) have now entered a new phase in the historiography of Freemasonry, one in which much of its history needs to be re-written.[xv]

Andrew Prescott, scholar of Masonry as social history, worried in 2002:

If we are at the beginning of a struggle to protect and restate the secular values of the Enlightenment, it is inevitable that the study of freemasonry, so much bound up with the creation of those values, will become of new relevance.[xvi] [My emphasis]

He was thinking of recent attacks on Freemasonry by Islamic extremists but clearly, they are not the only enemies of enlightened views. Prescott has opined that in contrast to the lively and outward-looking early work of QC, ‘the productions of modern masonic scholarship look tired and lacklustre’. He has labelled the recent past of QC as one of ‘ossification’, not because he sees that mistakes have been made but rather because there has been ‘a clash of historiographical traditions.’ I cannot be so circumspect or so abstract, if only because it is the ‘historiographical traditions’ which need unpacking.

Masonic engagement with context, with ‘academic standards’ and with the idea that not all Masonic research need to centre on Freemasonry is apparent in the program for a one-day conference in 2012 at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, in Massachusetts, USA, introduced as follows:

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past through the present day…The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for fresh interpretations of American society and culture.

It then lists the intended speakers and their topics:

·Jeffrey Tyssens, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, “The Goatee’s Revenge: A Founding Myth and a Founder’s Cult in American Fraternalism”

·Yoni Appelbaum, Brandeis University, “The Great Brotherhood of Toil: The Knights of Labor as a Fraternal Order”

·Adam G. Kendall, Henry W. Coil Library and Museum, “The Shadow of the Pope: Anti-Catholicism, Freemasonry, and the Knights of Columbus in 1910s California”

·Samuel Biagetti, Columbia University, “A Prehistoric Lodge in Rhode Island? – Masonry and the Messianic Moment”

·Alyce Graham, University of Delaware, “Secrecy and Democracy: Masonic Aprons, 1750-1830”

·Bradley Kime, Brigham Young University, “Masonic Motifs in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

·Kristofer Allerfeldt, Exeter University, “The Significance of Fraternalism in Three Criminal Organizations of Late Nineteenth Century America: The Mollie Maguires, the Ku Klux Klan and the Mafia”.

Freemasonry is the only fraternal ‘strand’[xvii] which has utilised lodges of research to attempt clarification of its origins and development, and QC, as a pathfinder, has achieved much. But my reading of the history of Freemasonry has made me fearful that Snoek’s 2007 call may prove yet another false dawn, and that the prohibition on ‘the esoteric’ is a sign of a continuing problem powerful enough to frustrate attempts at necessary change. Even the Snoek articulation, which leaves Speculative Freemasonry at the centre of the fraternal dynamic, is being opposed by some Masonic ‘insiders’, as too radical or as un-necessary. Before going to the detail of QC, I turn to another Masonic ‘beginning’ for further illustration.

The ostensible date for Masonry’s formal birth as an organisation, 1717, has been under largely-unproductive scrutiny for many years. Take the following, typically de-contextualised account of the events of 1717 given by Brother Edward Schultz in 1912:

On St John the Baptist’s Day, June 24, 1717, an assemblage of Masons was held at the ‘Goose and Gridiron’ tavern in the city of London, in compliance with a resolution adopted by the four old lodges of London and some other old brethren, to revive Masonry which had fallen into great disorder, to revive the quarterly communications of the offices of Lodges, to hold an annual assemblage and feast, and to choose a Grand Master among themselves.[xviii]

In 1939, Brother George Maine interpreted the same events differently:

On June 24th, 1717, as a strategic move in the political game of chess between the Houses of Hanover and Stuart, the Hanoverians, just to accomplish their own selfish ends, gathered together four comparatively unimportant Masonic Lodges lying in the outskirts of London to form the Grand Lodge of London, the first Grand Lodge of Masonry. It was on that day that Freemasonry, all unexpectedly started on its world mission.[xix]

The date, 1939, is a clue to why Maine was making his particular ‘refinement’, and speaking of a ‘world mission’. His suggestion that Freemasons might have acted strategically no doubt shook his audience, but the necessity for home-grown propaganda in the years 1939-45 helped to change perceptions both inside and outside the ranks of Freemasons. That Masonic ‘insiders’ would be influenced, however slowly, by material circulating on the ‘outside’ is to be expected, but for the most recent historians of Freemasonry who are increasingly not ‘insiders’ there is interest in just how and why some ‘insider’ accounts of this and other key Masonic events have changed over time – in other words what is the context?

In 2002, MK Schuchard was invited to address QC. Not only not a Mason, Schuchard was a woman so this might have been a breakthrough for tolerance or a recognition that their control of the Masonic record had slipped and QC needed to come to grips with the ‘outsiders’. Bro Beresiner in 2007 applauded the invitation, seeing it as part of, in my terms, a re-contextualisation. Her approach to that pivotal event of June 24, 1717 can be imagined from her publisher’s description of  a foreigner who may or may not have been involved:

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) won fame and infamy as a natural scientist and visionary theosopher, but he was also a master intelligencer, who served as a secret agent for the French king, Louis XV, and the pro-French, pro-Jacobite party of “Hats” in Sweden. This study draws upon unpublished diplomatic and Masonic archives to place his financial and political activities within their national and international contexts.[xx]

Her reception by the members of QC included cries of ‘balderdash’ and ‘rubbish’.[xxi] Published comments on her presentation included much of what one member described as ‘righteous ire and indignation.’[xxii] Her views are challenging but for this reason alone might have been warmly welcomed rather than warmly dismissed – on just what rational basis was anger justified? The generally-negative response was not a one-off – David Stevenson, also a non-Mason with challenging views, had received similar treatment from the members of QC, a little earlier, in 1994:

Stevenson was the first non-mason to be invited to address the lodge, the lodge meeting having been closed so that he could be admitted. (He) presented a… paper…emphasising the significance of the Scottish evidence and reflecting on the methodological implications of his work. His paper was very poorly received. The… tone of …comments was at best cool, at worst positively hostile…(All) the comments…evinced an unwillingness on the part of the lodge’s members to engage with primary evidence.[xxiii]

Struggles over an official narrative are not new and not confined to fraternalism, of course. Eighteenth century Scottish philosopher, David Hume ‘sought to change fundamentally the practice of history.’[xxiv] In a letter to a friend, he wrote: ‘…Style, judgement, impartiality, care – everything is wanting to our historians…’ He was in the midst of the creation of what has come to be called the Whig theory of history, an interpretation only seriously questioned in the 20th century. But had ‘history’ suddenly become a prize to be fought over, and manipulated? Answer: No, but the potential rewards for the group or individual in control of ‘history’ were growing exponentially.

It was the outside world which first appreciated that Speculative Freemasons were but one grouping involved in the 18th century’s largely covert manoeuvrings between the Hanoverians and those with alternative ideas of monarchy, but the process of inter-action is neither simple nor all one way. Objective ‘truth’ is not necessarily to be found in academe, nor only there. Non-Mason, Noam Chomsky risked a great deal during the Vietnam War by reminding us of the crucial role being played by intellectuals in the creation and maintenance of mythic histories, especially, at that time, by the apparently ‘liberal and objective experts’. These ‘new mandarins’ included many well-known historians, for example, Arthur Schlesinger who had described the bombing of North Vietnam and the massive escalation of US military commitment in early 1965 as based on a “perfectly rational argument”.[xxv] Linking an earlier conflict involving US oil interests, the 1930’s Spanish Civil War, with more recent history, Chomsky showed the combination of forces driving the allegedly ‘scientific, value-free language’ in schools and universities, parliaments and think-tanks:

I have concentrated on one theme – the interpretation of the social revolution in Spain – in one work of history, a work that is an excellent example of liberal scholarship…to show that a deep bias against social revolution and a commitment to the values and social order of liberal bourgeois democracy has led the author to misrepresent crucial events…to overlook major historical currents…and to a striking failure of objectivity.[xxvi]

At the time, his insights into the involvement of intellectuals in the creation of history were little appreciated. Today, they are much closer to being commonly-held, at least by professionals trained to allow evidence to lead.


Aims and Personnel:

Quatuor Coronati [QC] met formally for the first time in January 1886 and quickly gained a positive, wide-spread reputation throughout the English-speaking world. The major vehicle for that global reputation, its transactions, Ars Quatuor Coronati, began almost immediately and has continued to the present day, whereby QC continues to claim for itself the mantle of “Premier Lodge of Research.”[xxvii]

If they had been intending only to change the way that Masonic research was done, as has been claimed, the founders had no need of a physical presence, an actual Lodge. They could have mailed their findings to one another, or had them published in journals, or if in need of immediate comment, they might have made presentations to any of the historical associations with which many of them were already involved.

In 1880, an editorial in The Freemason observed:

There are many German writers, and one or two Americans, who might be mentioned, but all have faults of deficient criticism. Bros D Murray Lyon, WJ Hughan, Gould, Woodford and Whytehead may all be cited in England as seeking to establish an English Masonic critical school, which endeavors to demonstrate that English Masons can carefully collate evidence, verify authorities, and write correctly and dispassionately…[xxviii]

Personal details go some way towards explaining why they chose the lodge format – six had been initiated by their 25th year, both Warren and Gould before they were 20:

Warren                 b. 1840         Mason at 19           Aged 46 in 1886

WH Rylands         b. 1847         Mason at 25                     39 in 1886

Gould                   b. 1836         Mason at 19                     50 in 1886

Woodford             b. 1821         Mason at 21                     65 in 1886

Besant                   b. 1836        Mason at 26                      50 in 1886

JP Rylands            b. 1846        Mason at 26                      40 in 1886

Pratt                      b. 1844        Mason at 32                      42 in 1886

Hughan                 b. 1841        Mason at 22                      45 in 1886

Speth                     b. 1847        Mason at 25                      39 in 1886


Simpson (born 1823, initiated 1871), Bywater (b.1825, initiated 1846), Irwin (b.1829, initiated 1857) and Whytehead (b.1840, initiated 1872) were all very nearly founding members, and early in 1886 were given Member No’s 9, 10, 11 and 12, respectively. JP Rylands had resigned early in 1886 for unexplained reasons, an exchange of correspondence between himself and Speth having not survived.[xxix]

The resumes published in QC at the time show ‘numerous contributions’ to Masonic and/or other journals, and considerable involvement in researching, writing and editing. However, three of the nine, Besant, JP Rylands and Pratt, were not noticeably active in a lodge, while Speth, the youngest, had only recently been introduced to Masonic research, as we will see. He and JP Rylands appear to have only become involved with the others in the early 1880’s.

The lodge name came about ‘because of its connection with the craft of the operative stonemasons. The ‘Four Crowned Ones’ were allegedly martyred on 8 November, 302 AD, and had since been regarded throughout Europe as the patron saints of stonemasons. Installation meetings of QC still take place on the second Thursday in November, ‘this being the nearest practicable date to that of their martyrdom.’[xxx]

The first draft of the lodge bye-laws/objects, drawn up in 1884 when QC’s warrant was applied for and received, and attributed to WH Rylands,[xxxi] had only 3 clauses, none of which make any reference to ‘a new approach’ to research:

1. This lodge of Antient, Free and Accepted masons shall be called the ‘Quatuor Coronati’ in honor and perpetuation of the memory of ‘these holy martyres foure’…“(that) in this craft were of great honoure”.

2. The following nine brethren as named in the Warrant of Constitution, dated 28 November, 1884, viz Bro Sir Charles Warren, WH Rylands, Walter Besant, JP Rylands, Revd AFA Woodford, RF Gould, SC Pratt, WJ Hughan and JW Speth, shall in future and for all time to be known as the founders of the lodge. They correspond in number to the five sculptors, Claudius, Castorious, Nicostratus, Symphorianus, and Simplicimus, who was by command of the Emperor Diocletian enclosed alive in leaden coffins and thrown into the sea, AD 287 for refusing to sculpture and idol; and to the four martyrs, Severus, Severianus, Carpropherus and Victorinus, who had shortly before been scourged to death with whips armed with lead for refusing to worship at the throne of Aesculapius. These nine saints were collectively known to our mediaeval brethren as the ‘four crowned martyrs.’

3. The immediate object and purpose of the lodge is declared to be the pursuit and encouragement of archeological research, more especially as connected with Freemasonry and cognate subjects.[xxxii]

Honouring the martyrs so emphatically put them at the heart of the enterprise but invited critical reaction – just what was the connection between the name and this 3rd bye-law? As an attempt to explain the reasoning behind the choice of name, the second clause still succeeds only to further mystify – how can nine become four? – and what is implied about QC’s approach to evidence in this emphasis on legend? Why is the research purpose of the Lodge, specifically ‘archeological research’, last in the list? And where has the issue of the martyr’s Catholicism gone?

The first meeting did not happen until January, 1886 because Warren, the WM-to be, had been despatched to South Africa at short notice by the British Government and the others chose to wait on his return. It would appear a great deal of discussion occurred in the interregnum. When published in 1887, QC’s greatly altered and extended ‘Aims’ had nine points.

The first was:

1. To provide a centre and bond of union for Masonic students.

The emphasis on the martyrs has been replaced with an aspiration for ‘brotherhood’. The word ‘centre’ suggests that a physical ‘coming together’ was considered of equal importance to a symbolic ‘bond of union’.

The second Aim was:

2. To attract intelligent Masons to its meetings, in order to imbue them with a love for Masonic research.

Aims 3-7 were more outward-looking:

3. To submit the discoveries or conclusions of students to the judgement and criticism of their fellows by means of papers read in Lodge.

4. To submit these communications and the discussions arising thereon to the general body of the Craft by publishing, at proper intervals, the Transactions of the Lodge, in their entirety.

5. To tabulate concisely, in the printed Transactions of the Lodge, the progress of the Craft throughout the world.

6. To make the English-speaking Craft acquainted with the progress of Masonic study abroad, by translations (in whole or in part) of foreign works.

7. To reprint scarce and valuable works on Freemasonry, and to publish Manuscripts, etc.

The last two returned to the idea of a strong centre:

8. To form a Masonic Library and Museum.

9. To acquire permanent London premises, and open a reading-room for the members.

Again, there is no reference to a new approach. The use of ‘intelligent’ is significant. No-one was to be admitted if they could not show ‘a high literary, artistic or scientific qualification’. The founders had decided they each possessed this attribute, and were therefore qualified to be the bench-mark and to judge whether others met their standards. ‘Culling from the best material only’, newcomers were to submit an assessable ‘masterpiece’ before being admitted,[xxxiii] all of which implies that a new approach was not intended, rather, that Lodge QC was to continue doing what its senior founders had been doing for some time. There was no need for any change in approach because theirs was the best available.

The group was, however, shaken immediately by the demands generated simply by its coming together. Bro Fenn of the Lodge of Emulation which supplied the jewels and the furniture used at the installation ceremony in January 1886, said at the time that he believed that QC had been formed ‘to settle knotty points in Masonic history’ but he noted that:

Bro Gould has (concluded) that these four martyrs, or five, or nine martyrs compressed into four had nothing whatever to do with Masonry…I notice from what fell from Brother Woodford before in his address that there is a difference of opinion between himself and Bro Gould…(but let us hope) in a satisfactory solution of some of those doubts which have lately disturbed the Craft.[xxxiv][my emphasis]

The published version of the Reverend Woodford’s address as Immediate Past Master, [IPM] contained his summation of the collective intentions:

(It) is proposed…to have papers read on subjects far-off or near, recondite or common place, to invite discussions…and to issue ‘Transactions.’ We trust that by this means we may help forward the important cause of Masonic study and investigation, may induce a more scholarly and critical consideration of our evidences, a greater relish for historical facts, and subserve at the same time the increasing and healthy movement for the extension of libraries and museums in all lodges.[xxxv]

Woodford was not advocating either a new approach or even the degree of rigour that Dyer has assumed. He was arguing that Freemasons needed to change their ways, certainly, but was hoping rather than asserting – ‘may help forward’, ‘may induce’ and so on – and not because previous research had been flawed but, as has been argued many times before and since:

…For thus it may chance that we shall be enabled to rescue contemporary Freemasonry from the charge frequently brought against it, that it sacrifices an intellectual study of Freemasonry proper to the more pervading requirements of the social circle, and that it is too easily contented with a routine of ritual on the one hand, and the pleasing exercise of hospitality on the other…[my emphasis]

Whatever the aspirations, and whether a result of the late disturbances or not, only five of the founding nine attended the lodge consecration in January, 1886, to mingle with what was only a handful of others. From the second meeting the minutes differentiated attendees into ‘Members’ and ‘Visitors’. On 7 April, 1886, the first at which a paper was to be presented, 4 ‘founders’ and 1 ‘visitor’ attended.[xxxvi] Woodford, acting WM in Warren’s absence, postponed the paper to June ‘(on) account of the small attendance and the amount of business before the lodge.’ On 3 June, Gould gave the first paper, ‘On Some Old Scottish Masonic Symbols’ to 10 members and 5 visitors. At the 4th meeting, in September, 6 members attended with 9 visitors.

In October, 1886, the Secretary, Speth, advised all members that the next meeting, in November, was special for more than one reason:

..The day in question has been kept by the Church for upwards of one thousand years as the Feast of the Four Crowned Martyrs, the earliest Patron Saints of the Craft and has been appropriately selected as the Annual Festival and Installation day of our Lodge…[xxxvii]

Beside the Installation the meeting would include the announcement of an ‘important and startling discovery’:

So far everything points to a meeting of exceptional interest…(In addition to Grand Lodge officers being in attendance)..a Paper for the occasion is in course of preparation by Prof T Hayter Lewis and though short, as his discovery is only in its initial stage, will be of surpassing interest. He has found in some ancient writings a distinct and unmistakeable allusion to the Hiramic Legend which carries us back several centuries beyond any pre-existing record of it.

He expressed the opinion that:

It is probable that much of the discussion on the Paper will be of too esoteric a nature to print, for which reason it is considered that members will like to attend and take part in it – also to invite Brother students to be present on an occasion so noteworthy in the history of the lodge…

For this November meeting, by which time the total of ‘members’ stood at 14, 8 members and 23 visitors attended. In hindsight, the ‘paper’ by Hayter-Lewis appears an act of desperation by Speth. He later wrote:

…The only unsatisfactory feature of our past history is the small number of London Lodge members…if…one or two of (these) fail us, the Lodge is reduced to very small dimensions. Were it not for the attendance of Correspondence Members and visitors the audience assembled would often be most discouraging…[xxxviii]

The published version has the speaker, who had joined in June, 1886 to become the 14th member, describing his very brief contribution as the ‘mere outcome of some casual observations’ made to him some years before in a university Common Room by a fellow academic about a Jewish/Arabic manuscript, possibly of 14th century origin, but which neither could now adequately identify. In response to his suggestion that the ms displayed a clear reference to the Hiramic Legend, Gould pointed to more recent evidence which made it most unlikely that that element of ceremonial was introduced into English Freemasonry before the 1720’s. Speth bristled and asserted that ‘Brother Gould had failed to argue with his usual cogency’. He thought:

we might fairly conclude that if in the 14th century the Legend existed and was connected with the building art…our working ancestors probably knew something about it. But when in 1724 we found a similar idea pervading masonry, it was only fair to believe that it had descended in direct line and was not a new importation.[xxxix]

For the December meeting, 8 members and 2 visitors attended. At the first 1887 meeting, with Westcott having become the 15th ‘full member’, 8 members and 7 visitors saw the first batch of applicants elected to the ‘Correspondence Circle’ [CC], 37 in all. Despite this new blood supply, the same meeting pattern continued – founding members rarely in attendance, a trickle of newly-elected ‘full members’, and an unpredictable number of ‘visitors’. A ‘Record of Attendance’ drawn up in mid-1887, when the member’s list had reached 17, shows that Gould and Speth were the only founders with 100% record, 8/8, while Warren had managed 3/8, and Besant only 1/8.[xl] Dyer notes that at this stage, before the Correspondence Circle was fully operational, neither Hughan nor Simpson, member No 9, thought QC could survive.

As time went on, generation of a warm camaraderie within QC, and by extension within a new, and growing research community around the world was left increasingly to just Speth. Lodge Secretary for its first 15 years, he apparently answered every enquiry personally and at length, and instituted what were called ‘St John’s Cards’. Designed by Simpson and akin to Xmas cards these were sent to all members, including to all CC subscribers after it began operating, until the early 1890’s. He was Secretary of all the one-off efforts the group determined upon from time to time. Dyer’s list of his day-to-day work is itself substantial:

(The) organisation of meetings, with suitable papers to be presented; the actual running  of the lodge as a Masonic lodge; within a short time, the arrangement for the editing, printing and publishing of our Transactions, and the getting together of a group of semi-interested people who would buy and even read (them)…The lodge had no money…all the things I have mentioned cost money. A hundred years ago a lodge Treasurer [initially Besant] took no part in the mundane affairs of raising money and spending it. His duty was the actual custody of the funds…(The) raising and collection of the money, the accounting and book-keeping, and such financial planning as was done, all fell on the lodge secretary……And in case he should fiddle, they engaged a professional accountant as auditor, but neglected to take any concrete decisions on important matters, like engaging a room in London for the books, and to act as an office.

Even this was not everything. In his acceptance speech, January 1888, Gould celebrated the newly-established ‘Outer Circle’ for more distant ‘searchers after Masonic truth’ and because its numbers had rapidly outstripped those of the ‘Inner Circle’ he asserted that students of all nationalities regarded QC as ‘the centre of Masonic light’. The responsibility ‘voluntarily assumed’ by QC was, he said, ‘as a general school of instruction’:

My ideal of such a lodge as ours is, is that it should represent an educational ladder in Masonry, reaching from the abyss of Masonic ignorance to the zenith to which we all aspire.[xli]

Speth’s motion for a ‘Literary Society under the guidance and protection of the Lodge’,[xlii] had become in the hands of the committee a new class of members, the ‘Correspondence Circle.’ On Speth’s death in 1901, Gould credited his friend with ‘the cape stone of our present structure’ and ‘the most brilliant inspiration which has ever occurred to any votary of Masonic research’.[xliii] The usual commercial processes of book production and distribution were to be spurned in favour of the lodge network and again, Speth was left to sort out the practicalities. With no permanent premises he was forced to store at his house all unsold and donated publications. The Library alone had reached 3,000 volumes before he was able to relinquish it.

Dyer commented on the consequences of Speth’s sudden demise in 1901:

…His death caused chaos…The life of the lodge depended on finding a paragon as nearly as possible in the mould of Speth…[xliv]

Speth’s willingness to be the QC work horse may have shortened his life,[xlv] although his post-mortem in 1901 disclosed a heavily diseased heart, probably from his long involvement with smoking and the tobacco industry. In 1894 when presented with a handsome watch and chain for his decade of effort, he had responded:

…I have since the first, devoted myself heart and soul, body and mind to the welfare of our lodge; it has become the labour of my prime, the love of my manhood, and, I trust will prove my joy in old age.[xlvi]

His was not the first loss. Woodford died in December, 1887, Irwin in 1893, Hayter-Lewis in 1898, and Simpson in 1899. Eight other non-founding members preceded him, while Besant and one other also died in 1901.


RF Gould and the Writing of Masonic History:

Gould was responsible for some of the sharpest, published disputation within QC, yet he it was who delivered the first paper, and who was elected Worshipful Master [WM] when Warren stood down, after two terms. After his death in 1915 a colleague claimed:

…No member of the Fraternity has ever earned such widespread reputation; no member of the Craft has ever more thoroughly deserved the esteem in which his brethren held him…[xlvii]

His Masonic fame rested principally on the success of the History of Freemasonry, published in separate volumes from 1882 to 1887, and subsequently revised and re-printed numerous times.[xlviii] The work was universally celebrated outside QC, within QC its reception appears muted but this may only be because later observers have not read enough of the fine print in the transactions. Tension might have originated in the fact that in 1882, in seeking permission to dedicate ‘the work’ to the Prince of Wales, Gould  acknowledged ‘the assistance of Bros DM Lyon, Grand Secretary, Scotland; the Rev AFA Woodford, PGC; and WJ Hughan, PGD’.[xlix] He again noted these three in a pre-publication flyer, ie before the 1st volume appeared in 1883. When published, however, the books carried only his name.

Long-archived manuscripts in Speth’s handwriting were found in 1982 to be identical to chapters in The History on ‘The Steinmetzen’ and ‘The Craft Guilds of France’, whereupon the finder, UGLE Asst Librarian Hamill, wrote to QC’s Secretary:

…From documents I have recently re-discovered it would seem that Gould was guilty of more than mere discourtesy for evidence has come to light that he was not the author of at least two important early chapters, facts which beg the question of how much of the work was his own original research and writing.[l]

He was referring to a partial biography of Gould whose author, in 1980, had commented that Gould had seemed tardy in ‘acknowledging the great assistance afforded him by his friends’. Hamill disclosed:

…(I) was not aware that Speth had produced any major work apart from his papers to the Lodge. By a process of elimination I was drawn to Gould’s History, and there was the answer…(All) Gould had done was to alter Speth’s style to his own.

Hamill then, rhetorically, asked whether Gould’s actions were the reason The History was not awarded the Belgian Peeters-Baertson Prize in 1889, an award seemingly tailor-made for it.

It is doubtful whether anyone close to QC would have been unaware of the co-authorship or of Gould’s appreciation. In the last pages of The History, written perhaps in 1886, among others who were not QC members, he specifically thanked Hughan ‘for his judicious counsel’, and Speth:

whose co-operation …was not circumscribed within these limits [the ‘foreign’ chapters] but extended to other chapters, and to the perusal of the latter half of the proofs. To this friend I stand under a peculiar weight of obligation, from his familiarity with several modern languages…[li]

He also specifically thanked Rylands, and Woodford:

the Doyen of British Masonic students, whose wise counsel, so often sought, has never been withheld, and whose ample library was placed freely at my disposal.

Elsewhere his acknowledgments were equally clear. In an 1898 review of work by Speth he wrote:

I shall premise that the excellent paper read by Bro Speth [to QC], has no warmer admirer than myself. It is in every respect an ornament to the columns of [AQC] and one hardly knows whether to pay the greater tribute of respect to the patient industry of the writer, or to the masterly manner in which his arguments are arranged.[lii]

At the time of Speth’s death in 1901, Rylands spoke plainly:

(It) is…some slight consolation to us to think that to Speth’s labours Brother Gould was indebted for much of the lengthy chapters devoted to the French Trade Guilds, and Continental Freemasonry, included in the later volume of his monumental History.[liii]

Gould, at the same service, recorded his thanks for the ‘great’ services rendered by the Secretary in the writing of The History. [liv] In 1915, a letter writer not of QC but claiming to have been ‘Gould’s closest Craft correspondent’ referred, inter alia, to ‘the notebooks and memoranda used by him and Brother Speth in compiling the great History’.[lv]

Speth in 1881 and not long back from Cuba, had recorded his first tentative steps in research:[lvi]

When some months back, finding myself master of much spare time, I began to investigate the old Minutes of our Lodge, with a view to writing its history, my intention was merely to jot down a short summary of the principal events connected therewith – such as might perhaps cover a couple of sheets of foolscap, and would form a short paper to be read in Lodge, if deemed worthy of that honour.

He told how his curiosity had then taken hold:

As, however, my interest in our doings gradually increased, so did I find more and more difficulty in rejecting this fact and the other, until my notes alone formed quite a bulky paper. I then determined to make my history as exhaustive as in me lay, and soon discovered that this required the acquisition of more information than could be supplied from our own annals, involving me in researches for which my previous experience had hardly fitted me. The work, however, fascinated me…

Newly inspired, Speth was, I believe, recruited to explore some foreign-language material but provided Gould with more complete accounts than were expected and Gould found himself only having to make minor adjustments. Perhaps the publisher was also pressing and he had insufficient time to adjust Speth’s texts, even had he wanted to.

When awarding the Belgian prize, the trustees singled out The History for special mention. They explained it was ruled out of contention, with other works of ‘pure history’, by the wording in the prize-giver’s will appearing to refer to ‘books only which should explain and illustrate Masonic doctrines and principles.’ Their reference to Gould and The History concluded with:

Of all these works (submitted) the most important, without doubt, is the grand History of Freemasonry by RF Gould. But this work…although presenting the most complete picture of the external history of our institution, is dumb, or nearly so, respecting its internal history…We have thus been forced, in spite of well-merited admiration, to leave Bro. Gould’s History to gather the laurels which are its due, in some competition differing from our own.[Emphases in original][lvii]

Although The History can be read in its entirety as a dissertation on research best practice, Gould himself was ambiguous. In Volume 1, published in 1883, in what amounts to his ‘Introduction’ he considered and dismissed guidelines provided by other scholars. He then says:

In the main, however, while carefully discarding the plainly fabulous narrations with which our Masonic system is encumbered, I am of opinion that the view to which Schlegel has given expression is the one we shall do well to adopt. He says:

“I have laid it down as an invariable maxim to follow historical tradition, and to hold fast by that clue, even when many things in the testimony and declarations of tradition appear strange and almost inexplicable, or at least enigmatical; for as soon as, in the investigations of ancient history, we let slip that thread of Ariadne, we can find no outlet from the labyrinth of fanciful theories and the chaos of clashing opinions.”[lviii]

In his memoirs Gould praised none of his co-founders, instead celebrating as ‘leading scholars’, Begemann (joined CC 1887) Klein (joined QC 1889), Crawley (joined QC 1887) and D’Alviola (joined QC 1909):

(Each) of the four has not only greatly distinguished himself in the general highway of Masonic research, but has also in a manner peculiarly his own struck out for himself some new pathway or side track of enquiry, which if diligently pursued cannot but result in the recovery of a portion of the long lost learning of the Fraternity…

Gould appears to have been a tough but fair critic and much more concerned with debates over Masonic history than with authorship, and it is in the clash of ideas within QC that explanations of the Lodge’s early internal dynamic are to be found. In The History, Gould made clear he believed that organised Freemasonry, in 1717, was already less than it might have been due to important knowledge having been lost, rejected or suppressed. This crucial point appears to have been his alone and is unlikely to have survived if the work was not principally his. In Volume 1 of The History he wrote:

For the sake of convenience…the mythico-historical period of Freemasonry will be held to have extended to 1717…[lix]

Since Speth’s voluminous correspondence appears to have been jettisoned, it is impossible to judge the level and magnitude of un-published disputation between the members. Insights into what applications for membership were made, which accepted, which rejected and why, would have been useful.


Gould’s Founder Colleagues:

His ‘English Freemasonry Before the Era of Grand Lodges, 1717’, his first attempt at Woodford’s ‘common place papers’, shows the depth of difference over even the most basic of ‘facts’. Delivered to QC in September, 1887, it began with ‘Oral Traditions’ from the time of St Albans, the first Christian martyr in Britain’,[lx] but even that ‘evidence’ he thought too ‘ancient’ and too speculative. Woodford begged to differ, saying he

was a heretic on a great many points laid down by (Gould) as law. He was a freemason who believed in the traditional teachings (and)..the many old legends…

Neither was he as ‘despondent’ as Gould

of the present state of Masonic knowledge. He could remember the time when Masonic lectures were very infrequent and unpopular affairs, when a syllabus of lectures was a thing unknown…[lxi]

The St Johns cards issued each year from 1889 to sometime in the 1890’s reflect the presence of a fanciful, idealistic atmosphere within QC rather than a rigorously, historical one, something the decision of the Peeters-Baertsoen trustees underlined. In 1972, an approach typical of ‘insiders’’ struggles with these realities, repeatedly distanced ‘lunatics’ from ‘Freemasonry’, while simultaneously re-connecting them:

This paper’s subject matter is outside the main stream of the history of Freemasonry…However, it concerns an obscure area which nobody else has hitherto wanted to describe. And that, perhaps, is its only justification.

The QC member explained that:

The term ‘fringe Masonry’ is used here for want of a better alternative. It was not ‘irregular’ Masonry because those who promoted the rites did not initiate Masons, ie confer the three Craft Degrees or the Holy Royal Arch. Hence they did not encroach upon Grand Lodge’s and Grand Chapter’s exclusive preserve.[lxii]

In his last paragraph Howe no longer relied on a distancing qualifier, his research was simply into ‘recent Masonic history’:

Finally, once again I cannot too strongly emphasise that this paper’s subject matter deals with an essentially obscure sector of recent Masonic history.

‘Fringe Masonry’, whether legitimately labelled ‘lunatic’, ‘absurd’, and ‘unscientific’ or not, was popular in the decades before and after the founding of QC, and it is significant that a number of the Masons Howe views in this way were full members, Woodford, for example, while others were in the ‘Outer Circle’. His material, obscure or not, clarifies Gould’s minority position within QC.

There were far more enthusiasts for ‘fringe masonry’ within QC than for the position Gould was attempting to elucidate. As well, there were others whose views could not claim to have been ‘scientific and authentic’ or verified by independent authorities yet went unchallenged because they were unremarkable at the time. Warren, who is not in Howe’s material said in his only paper to QC, ‘On the Orientation of Temples’, March, 1887:

…I am of opinion that the arrangements for the Lodge are derived from the worship in the temples which existed in Phoenicia before the building of Solomon’s Temple…Any persons elaborating a Masonic temple in the Middle Ages would never dream of putting the Master in the east…but it so happens that in the older temples the great image or symbol of the sun was placed in the East…[lxiii]

He acknowledged he had only opinions for many claims, but quoted from the Bible as though it was a primary, unimpeachable source and proof of Freemasonry’s antiquity:

…I put forward…that modern masonry is a combination of the mysteries of the Hebrews, the Phoenicians (including the Greeks) and the Egyptians, that it thus forms the chief of the triads running so remarkably through all Masonic lore…In a word I think there is not a doubt that in our order we are the direct descendants from the Phoenicians, who first moulded Masonry into its present form…[lxiv]

…If it were not so, I would not be here tonight to speak, for if we cannot trace our descent from the Phoenician craftsmen who worked on the Temple of Solomon, and if it be only an allegory, then our position descends from the sublime to the ridiculous…

Responses were muted from his fellow-founders. A visitor, Bro SL MacGregor Mathers, declaimed at length:

(inter alia)…(Surely) our Masonic Ritual is a type and symbol of the progress of each human soul, pressing ever onward, ever upward, till at last it soars aloft, and in that full and glorious Light of the East which shines on it, it finds that long-lost Master’s Word whereby it is united to its God; raised by that Great Grand Master’s Grip to an eternal life with Him.[lxv]

This brother does feature in Howe’s account:

During the (Order of the Golden Dawn’s) early period, (1888-92) it was a perfectly innocent little secret society which worked half a dozen rituals composed by MacGregor Mathers, and whose members studied the elements of so-called occultism. In 1892 Mathers began to teach the theory and practice of Ritual Magic to a carefully selected minority.[lxvi]

The founder Gould regarded so highly, Woodford, had been editor of the London Freemason, and of The Masonic Magazine from 1873 to 1886. In December of that year he delivered a paper to QC, ‘Freemasonry and Hermeticism’, in which he discussed his interest in ‘Hermetic and Rosicrucian influences’. He concluded with:

(This) present theory…may not lead to the results some of us anticipate from it, when we have mastered the essential and imperative conditions of fact, evidence, and certainty. [My emphasis]

When ‘fact, evidence and certainty’ are emphasised any approach will sound rational, even legalistic. Gould thought the paper ‘valuable’, and Woodford’s further conclusion is neither ‘lunatic’ nor ‘absurd’:

…Freemasons especially are bound to be honest seekers after truth, and though the ascent to its great Temple may be difficult and tedious, approached by devious paths or fenced about by serious obstacles, we are bound to persevere…(Our) motto should ever be that of Hermeticism and Freemasonry alike in its high import and abiding obligation –

“Let Light and Truth prevail.”

Contrasted with Warren’s faith in the Bible which results in his placing the conclusions before the examination, Woodford is, just marginally, emphasising the search over the hoped-for results. For him it was necessary to keep searching, and his preferred location for digging was not a secret. Shortly before his death in December, 1887, he sent a letter to close friend and fellow Mason:

Dear Brother Westcott,

With this I send MSS under seal, which I promised, in cipher. It confers upon the possessor who understands the meaning to grant the old Rosicrucian secrets and the grades of Heoos chruse, or Golden Dawn. Try to see old Soror ‘Sapiens dominabitur astris’ in Germany. She did live at Ulm. Hockley now being dead I know of no-one else who could help you.

Yours sincerely,

AFA Woodford.[lxvii]


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