Laborers, Statutes Of
Toward the middle of the fourteenth century, a plague of excessive virulence, known in history as the Black Death, invaded Europe, and swept off fully one-half of the inhabitants. The death of 80 many workmen had the effect of advancing the price of all kinds of labor to double the former rate. In England, the Parliament, in 1350, enacted a Statute, which was soon followed by others, the object of which was to regulate the rate of wages and the price of the necessaries of life. Against these enactments, which were called the Statutes of Laborers, the artisans of all kinds rebelled; but the most active opposition was found among the Masons, whose organization, Doctor Mackey asserts, being better regulated, was more effective (see Freemason). In 1360, Statutes were passed forbidding their "Congregations, Chapters, Regulations, and Oaths," which were from time to time repeated, until the third year of the reign of Henry VI, 1425 A.D., when the celebrated Statute entitled "Masons shall not confederate themselves in Chapters and Congregations," was enacted in the following words:
Whereas, by yearly Congregations and Confederacies made by the Masons in their General Assemblies, the good course and effect of the Statutes for Laborers be openly violated and broken, in subversion of the law, and to the great damage of all the Commons, our said sovereign lord and King, willing in this case to provide a remedy, by the advice and assent aforesaid, and at the speei31 rev quest of the Commons, hath ordained and established that such chapters and congregations shall not be hereafter holden; and if any such be made, they that cause such Chapters and Congregations to be assembled and holden, if they thereof be convicted, shall be judged for felons. and that the other Masons that come to such Chapters and Congregations be punished by imprisonment of their bodies and make fine and ransom at the king's will.
All the Statutes of Laborers were repealed in the fifth year of Elizabeth; and Lord Coke gave the opinion that this act of Henry VI became, in consequence, "of no force or effect"; a decision which led Anderson, very absurdly, says Brother Mackey, to suppose that "this most learned judge really belonged to the ancient Lodge, and was a faithful Brother" (Constitutions, 1723, page 57); as if it required a judge to be a Freemason to give a just judgment concerning the interests of Freemasonry.
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