The Historical Origins of Freemasonry


The Legend, now approaching the domain of authentic history, but still retaining its traditional character, proceeds to narrate, but in a very few words, the entrance of Masonry into France.

This account is given in the following language in the Dowland manuscript.

"And soe it befell that there was one curious Mason that height MAYMUS GRECUS, that had been at the making of Solomon's temple, and he came into France, and there he taught the science of Masonrys to men of France.

And there was one of the Regal lyne of Fraunce, that height CHARLES MARTELL; and he was a man that loved well such a science, and drew to this MAYMUS GRECUS that is above said, and learned of him the science, and tooke upon him the charges and manners; and afterwards, by the grace of God, he was elect to be Kinge of France. And whan he was in his estate, he tooke Masons and did helpe to make men Masons that were none; and he set them to worke, and gave them both the charge and the manners and good pale, as he had learned of other Masons; and confirmed them a Charter from yeare to yeare, to holde their semble wher they would; and cherished them right much; and thus came the science into France."

This Legend is repeated, almost word for word, in all the later manuscripts up to the year 1714. It is not even alluded to in the earliest of all the manuscripts - the Halliwell poem - which is another proof that that document is of German origin.

The Cooke MS. has the Legend in the following words:

"Sumtyme ther was a worthye kyng in Frauns, that was clepyd Carolus secundus that ys to sey Charlys the secunde. And this Charlys was elyte [elected] kyng of Frauns by the grace of God and by lynage [lineage] also. And sume men sey that he was elite [elected] by fortune the whiche is fals as by cronycle he was of the kynges blode Royal.</em

And this same kyng Charlys was a mason bifor that he was kyng. And after that he was kyng he lovyd masons and cherschid them and gaf them chargys and mannerys at his devise the whiche sum ben yet used in fraunce and he ordeynyd that they scholde have a semly [assembly] onys in the yere and come and speke togedyr and for to be rculed by masters and felows of thynges amysse." [i]

The absence of all allusion to Namus Grecus (a personage who will directly occupy our attention) in the Cooke document is worthy of notice.

When Dr. Anderson was putting the Legend of the Craft into a modern shape, he also omitted any reference to Namus Grecus but he preserved the spirit of the Legend, so far as to say, that according to the old records of Masons, Charles Martel "sent over several expert craftsmen and learned architects into England at the desire of the Saxon kings." [ii]

I think it will be proved, when in the course of this work the authentic history of Masonry comes to be treated, that the statement in the Legend of the Craft in relation to the condition of the art in France during the administration of Charles Martel is simply a historical fact. In claiming for the "Hammerer" the title of King of France, while he assumed only the humble rank of Duke of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace, the legendists have only committed a historical error of which more experienced writers might be guilty.

The introduction of the name of Namus Grecus, an unknown Mason, who is described as being the contemporary of both Solomon and of Charles Martel, is certainly an apparent anachronism that requires explanation.

This Namus Grecus has been a veritable sphinx to Masonic antiquaries, and no CEdipus has yet appeared who could resolve the riddle. Without assuming the sagacity of the ancient expounder of enigmas, I can only offer a suggestion for what it may be considered worth.

I suppose Grecuis to be merely an appellative indicating the fact that this personage was a Greek. Now, the knowledge of his existence at the court of Charles Martel was most probably derived by the English legendist from a German or French source, because the Legend of the Craft is candid in admitting that the English Masons had collected the writings and charges from other countries.

Prince Edwin is said to have made a proclamation that any Masons who "had any writing or understanding of the charges and the manners that were made before in this land [England] or in any other, that they should shew them forth." And there were found "some in French, some in Greek, some in English, and some in other languages."

Now, if the account and the name of this Greek architect had been taken from the German, the text would most probably have been "ein Maurer Namens Grecus"; or, if from the French, it would have been "un Macon nomme Grecus." The English legendist would, probably, mistake the words Namens Grecus, or nomme Grecus, each of which means "he was named Grecus," or, literally, "a Mason by the name of Grecus," for the full name, and write him down as Namus Grecus. The Maymus in the Dowland MS. is evidently a clerical error. In the other manuscripts it is Namus. The corrected reading, then, would be - "there was a Mason named (or called) a Greek."

It can not be said that it is not probable that any legendist would have fallen into such an error when we remember how many others as great, if not greater, have been perpetrated in these Old Records. See, for instance, in these manuscripts such orthographical mistakes as Hermarines for Hermes, and Englet for Euclid; to say nothing of the rather ridiculous blunder in the Leland MS., where Pythagore, the French form of Pythagoras, has suffered transmutation into Peter Gower. So it is not at all unlikely that Namens Grecus, or nomme Grecus, should be changed into Namus Grecus.

The original Legend, in all probability meant to say merely that in the time of Charles Martel, a Greek artist, who had been to Jerusalem, introduced the principles of Byzantine architecture into France.

Now, history attests that in the 8th century there was an influx of Grecian architects and artificers into Southern and Western Europe, in consequence of persecutions that were inflicted on them by the Byzantine Emperors. The Legend, therefore, indulges in no spirit of fiction in referring to the advent in France, at that period, of one of these architects.

It is also a historical fact that Charles the Great of France was a liberal encourager of the arts and sciences, and that he especially promoted the cultivation of architecture on the Byzantine or Greek model in his dominions.

Dr. Oliver, in the second edition of the Constitutions, repeats the Legend with a slight variation. He says that

"Ethelbert, King of Mercia, and general monarch, sent to Charles Martel, the Right Worshipful Grand Master of France (father of King Pippin), who had been educated by Brother Nimus Graecus, he sent over from France (about A.D. 710) some expert Masons to teach the Saxons those laws and usages of the ancient fraternity, that had been happily preserved from the havock of the Goths."

Pritchard, in his Masonry Dissected, gives, upon what authority I know not, the Legend in the following form:

Euclid "communicated the art and mystery of Masonry to Hiram, the Master Mason concerned in the building of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem, where was an excellent and curious Mason, whose name was Mannon Grecus, who taught the art of Masonry to one Carolus Marcil in France, who was afterwards elected King of Flance."

Upon this change of the name to Mannon Grecus, Krause suggests a derivation as follows: In using this name he thinks that Pritchard intended to refer to the celebrated scholastic philosopher Mannon, or Nannon, who was probably celebrated in his time for his proficiency in the language and literature of Greece. Nannon lived in the reign of Charles the Bold, and was the successor of Erigena in the direction of the schools of France.

I think the derivation of the name offered by Dr. Krause is wholly untenable though ingenious, for it depends upon a name not found in any of the old manuscripts, and besides, the philosopher did not live in the time of Charles Martel, but long afterward.

Between his derivation and mine, the reader may select, and probably will be inclined to reject both. As far as the Legend regards Charles Martel as the patron of architecture or Masonry in France, one observation remains to be made.

If there has been an error of the legendists in attributing to Charles Martel the honor that really belonged to his successor, Charles the Great, it is not surprising when we consider how great was the ignorance of the science of chronology that prevaded in those days. However, it must be remarked, that at the present day the French Masonic writers speak of Charles Martel as the founder of Masonry in France.

The error of making the Greek architect a contemporary both of Solomon and of Charles Martel is one which may be explained, either as the expression of a symbolic idea, alluding to the close connection that had existed between Oriental and Byzantine architecture, or may be excused as an instance of blundering chronology for which the spirit of the age, more than the writer of the Legend, is to be blamed. This objection will not, however, lie if we assume that Namus Grecus meant simply a Greek architect.

But this whole subject is so closely connected with the authentic history of Masonry, having really passed out of the prehistoric period, that it claims a future and more elaborate consideration in its proper place.


[i] Cooke MS., lines 576 - 601.

[ii] "Constitutions," ed. 1723, p. 30,.

"If I have seen further than
others, it is by standing
upon the shoulders of giants."


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