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Chaucer and Freemasonry

For some centuries the Kings of England had a general overseer to manage and to supervise their own many and often very large building operations, and to act in the King's name when Royal supervision of any other building enterprise might be called for, such officials being called at times Commissioner, Supervisor, Chief Clerk, etc. Elias de Dereham and William of Wykeham were two of the more famous ''surveyors''; as also were, at a later time, Inigo Jones, who introduced the Palladian style from Italy into England, and Christopher Wren.

Geoffrey Chaucer, the poet, held the office late in the Fourteenth Century. On page 67, of the Transactions of the Manchester Association for Masonic Research, Vol. 19-21 (for 1928-31) was quoted a document which Chaucer issued and signed:

(3) Bill of Geodffrey Chaucer, Clerk of the King's Works, to be Chancellor, for the issue of a commission under the Great Seal to Hugh Swayn to purvey stone, timber, tiles, shingles, &c. and to take masons, carpenters, and others for the works at Westminster, Sheen, Kennington, Charing Mews, Byfleet, Coldkennington, Clarendon and Hathebergh Lodge; and of similar commissions to three others for the works of the Tower of London, Berkhampstead, Childeme Langley, and Eltham. (A.D.1389. French. Probably holograph.) Signed :- Par GeoEray Chaucer, clerc des cevereines du roy nostre seignur.

Traces of signet. (Chancery Warrants 1. 1660 a No. 26)

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales also establish a link, though a less obvious one, between the poet and the Craft of Masons. The Masons' Company in London, with which Chaucer had official connections, sustained the St. Thomas Hospital there, left it many bequests, and often visited it in livery. Masons' Companies in two, and possibly three, other cities also helped to support local hospitals of their own named for St. Thomas and it is possible that they looked on St. Thomas as their Patron Saint. This Saint Thomas was the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Thomas Becket, who was murdered in his own cathedral in 1170. The fact that three knights, described at the time as "the three ruffians," murdered the fifty-three year old prelate by beating him over the head after demanding that he "give them his word," threatened to bury him in the rubbish, and that his body was buried in a spot between a memorial to John the Baptist on one side and John the Evangelist on the other, the two forming parallel lines, must have held a peculiar interest to men in the Masons' Companies, and may account for their support of St. Thomas Hospitals; and it is possible that Chauser, connected with the Mason Company in London as he was, may from that association have had his interest in Canterbury first aroused, and as a result of which he wrote in rhyme the Canterbury (St. Thomas' church) Tales.

It belongs to the in curable romanticism of Medieval England 'that this St. Thomas, England's "favorite saint,'' her most "glorious martyr," "the most English of the Saints," was by blood only half English, and half Christian. Gilbert Becket was a member of the Mercers Company, or gild, but as a young man went off on one of the Crusades to war on the infidel Saracens, was captured, was released by "a fair Saracen," a Mohammedan lady ; they fell in love, she followed him to London, professed conversion, and Thomas was their son.

Thomas learned reading and writing, went to work in the Sheriff's office, and then was employed by the King, upon whose wish, and against Thomas' own desires, he took Holy Orders expressly in order to be named Archbishop of Canterbury, where the King purposed to have a friend and supporter in that highest of ecclesiastica1offices, but discovered to his chagrin, and too late, that "he had a Tartar there."

The Mercers Company afterwards was given the land which had belonged to the senior Becket; and in the Charter given it by Henry IV in 1406 its members were named "Brothers of St. Thomas Becket." St. Thomas was for centuries a favorite Patron Saint among the gilds and companies.

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