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Combination of Freemasons

The combination of the Freemasons in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to demand a higher rate of wages, which eventually gave rise to the enactment of the Statutes of Laborers, is thus described by a writer in the Gentleman's Magazine (January, 1740, page 17): "King Edward III took so great an affection to Windsor, the place of his birth, that he instituted the Order of the Garter there, and rebuilt and enlarged the castle, with the church and chapel of Saint George. This was a great work and required a great many hands ; and for the carrying of it on writs were directed to the sheriffs of several counties to send thither, under the penalty of 100 each, such a number of Masons by a day appointed. London sent forty, so did Devon, Somerset, and several other counties; but several dying of the plague, and others deserting the service, new writs were issued to send up supplies. Yorkshire sent sixty, and other counties proportionably, and orders were given that no one should entertain any of these runaway Masons, under pain of forfeiture of all their goods. Hereupon, the Masons entered into a combination not to work, unless at higher wages. They agreed upon tokens, etc., to know one another by, and to assist one another against being impressed, and not to work unless free and on their own terms. Hence they called themselves Freemasons; and this combination continued during the carrying on of these buildings for several years. The wars between the two Houses coming on in the next reign, the discontented herded together in the same manner, and the gentry also underhand supporting the malcontents, occasioned several Acts of Parliament against the combination of Masons and other persons under that denomination the titles of which Acts are still to be seen in the printed statutes of those reigns.''

Ashmole, in his History of the Order of the Garter (page 80), confirms the fact of the impressment of workmen by King Edward ; and the combination that followed seems but a natural consequence of this oppressive act; but the assertion that the origin of Freemasonry as an organized institutions of builders is to be traced to such a combination, is not supported by the facts of history, and, indeed, the writer himself admits that the Freemasons denied its truth.

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