THE PRESTONIAN THEORY
THE Legend given by Preston in his Illustrations of Masonry, which details the origin and early progress of the Institution, is more valuable and more interesting than that of Anderson, because it is more succinct, and although
founded like it on the Legend of the Craft, it treats each detail with an appearance of historical accuracy that almost removes from the narrative the legendary character which, after all, really attaches to it. In accepting the Legend of the Craft as the basis of his story, Preston rejects, or at least omits to mention, all the earlier part of it, and
begins his story with the supposed introduction of Masonry into England.
Commencing with a reference to the Druids, who, he says, it has been suggested, derived their system of government from Pythagoras he thinks
that there is no doubt that the science of Masonry was not unknown to them.
Yet he does not say that there was an affinity between their rites and those of the Freemasons, which, as an open question, he leaves everyone
to determine for himself.
Masonry, according to this theory, was certainly first introduced into England at the time of its conquest by Julius Caesar, who, with several of the Roman generals that succeeded him, were patrons and protectors of the Craft.
The fraternity were engaged in the creation of walls, forts, bridges, cities, temples, and other stately edifices, and their Lodges or Conventions were regularly held.
Obstructed by the wars which broke out between the Romans and the natives, Masonry was at length revived in the time of the Emperor Carausius. He, having shaken off the Roman yoke, sought to improve his country in the civil arts, and brought into his dominions the best workmen and artificers from all parts. Among the first class of his
favourites he enroled the Masons, for whose tenets he professed the highest veneration, and appointed his steward, Albanus, the superintendent of their Assemblies. He gave them a charter, and commanded Albanus to preside over them in person as Grand Master. He assisted in the initiation of many persons into the mysteries of the Order.
In 680 some expert brethren arrived from France and formed a Lodge under the direction of Bennet, Abbot of Wirral, who was soon afterward appointed by Kenred, King of Mercia, inspector of the Lodges and general superintendent of the Masons.
Masonry was in a low state during the Heptarchy, but in 856 it was revived under St. Swithin, who was employed by Ethelwolf, the Saxon king, to repair some pious houses; and it gradually improved until the reign of Alfred, who was its zealous protector and who maintained a number of workmen in repairing the desolations of the Danes.
In the reign of Edward, his successor, the Masons continued to hold their Lodges under the sanction of Ethred, his sister's husband, and Ethelward, his brother.
Athelstan succeeded his father in 924 and appointed his brother Edwin, patron of Masons.
The latter procured a charter from Athelstan for the Masons to meet annually in communication at York where the first Grand Lodge of England was formed in 926, at which Edwin presided as Grand Master. The Legend of the Craft, in reference to the collection of old writings, is here repeated.
On the death of Edwin, Athelstan undertook in person the direction of the Lodges, and under his sanction the art of Masonry was propagated in peace and security.
On the death of Athelstan, the Masons dispersed and continued in a very unsettled state until the reign of Edgar, in 960, when they were again collected by St. Dunstan, but did not meet with permanent encouragement.
For fifty years after Edgar's death Masonry remained in a low condition, but was revived in 1041 under the patronage of Edward the Confessor, who appointed Leofric, Earl of Coventry, to superintend the Craft, William the Conqueror, who acquired the crown in 1066, appointed Gundulph, Bishop of Rochester, and Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, joint patrons of the Masons. The labours of the fraternity were employed, during the reign of William Rufus, in the construction of various edifices.
The Lodges continued to assemble under Henry I. and Stephen. In the reign of the latter, Gilbert de Clare, Marquis of Pembroke, presided over the Lodges.
In the reign of Henry II., the Grand Master of the Knights Templars employed the Craft in 1135 in building their Temple. Masonry continued under the patronage of this Order until 1199, when John succeeded to the throne and Peter de Colechurch was appointed Grand Master. Peter de Rupibus succeeded him, and Masonry continued to flourish during this and the following reign.
Preston's traditionary narrative, or his theory founded on Legends, may be considered as ending here.
The rest of his work assumes a purely historical form, although many of his statements need for authenticity the support of other authorities.
These will be subjects of consideration when we come to the next part of this work.
At present, before dismissing the theory of Preston, a few comments are required which have been suggested by portions of the narrative. As to the Legend of Carausius, to whom Preston ascribes the patronage of the British craft in the latter part of the 3d century, it must be remarked that it was first made known to the fraternity by Dr. Anderson in the 2d edition of his Constitutions. He says that the tradition is contained in all the old Constitutions and was firmly believed by the old English Masons. But the fact is that it is to be found in none of the old
records that have as yet been discovered. They speak only of a king who patronized St. Alban and who made him the steward of his household and his Master of Works. Anderson designated this until then unnamed king as Carausius, forgetting that the Saint was martyred in the same year that the monarch assumed the throne. This was a strange error to be committed by one who had made genealogy his special study and had written a voluminous work on the subject of royal successions.
From Anderson, Preston appears to have borrowed the Legend, developing it into a minuter narrative, by the insertion of several additional circumstances, a prerogative which the compilers of Masonic as well as monastic Legends have always thought proper to exercise.
The advent of French Masons into England toward the end of the 7th century, brought thither by the Abbot Bennet or Benedict, which is recorded by Preston, is undoubtedly an historical fact. Lacroix says that England from the 7th century had called to it the best workmen among the French Masons, the Maitres de pierre. The Venerable Bede, who was contemporary with that period, says that
the famous Abbot Benedictus Biscopius (the Bennet of Preston) went over to France in 675 to engage workmen to build his church, and brought them over to England for that purpose Richard of Cirencester makes the same statement. He says that "Bennet collected Masons (coementarios) and all kinds of industrious artisans from Rome, Italy, France, and other countries where he could find them, and, bringing them to England, employed them in his works."
Preston is, however, in error as to the reign in which this event occurred. Kenred, or rather Coenred, did not succeed as King of Mercia until 704, and the Abbot Benedict had died the year before. Our Masonic writers of the last century, like their predecessors, the Legendists, when giving the substance of a statement, were very apt to get confused in their dates.
Of the Legend of the "weeping St. Swithin," to whom Preston ascribes the revival of Masonry in the middle of the 9th century, it may be remarked that as to the character of the Saint as a celebrated architect, the Legend is supported by the testimony of the Anglo-Saxon chroniclers.
Roger of Wendover, who is followed by Matthew of Westminster, records his custom of personally superintending the workmen when engaged in the construction of any building, "that his presence might stimulate them to diligence in their labours."
But the consideration of the condition of Masonry at that period, in England, belongs rather to the historical than to the legendary portion of this work.
On the whole, it may be said of Preston that he has made a considerable improvement on Anderson in his method of treating the early progress of Masonry. Still his narrative contains so many assumptions which are not proved to be facts, that his theory must, like that of his predecessor, be still considered as founded on legends rather than on authentic history.