ISSUE 11, October 2004
Elias Ashmole: Masonic Icon
Travel: The magical beauty of Scotland
Honoured: By the Glovers' livery company
The Theatre: Strong links between Craft and stage
Quarterly Communication: Address of the Pro Grand Master and, Report of the Board of General Purposes
Mauritius: Fascinating Masonic history
Rochester Cathedral: Kent Masons' magnificent fresco
Clerkenwell: 25 years of Masonry
  Bravery award: One Mason's heroism is honoured
Christmas shopping: What to buy in London's West End
High flight: Helping terminally ill children
Jewels of the Craft: An essential part of Masonry
Library & Museum: John Pine exhibition and Library & Museum Trust report
Masonic education: Events for Masons; Quatuor Coronati Lodge; Mentors for new Masons
Charities: Masons provide emergency aid for flood victims; Charity news; Demelza gives voice
Letters, Book reviews, Gardening

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Featured Masons

The Duke of Wellington
Neal Arden
Elias Ashmole
Richard Eve
John Pine
Cyril Spackman


The historical importance of this early record does not lie in what Ashmole did. He did, after all, nothing more than record his initiation. The importance lies in this being the first evidence of the initiation of an English speculative mason. That is notwithstanding the fact that those present and listed would have certainly have been initiated at an earlier date.
     Yet, because of the very limited detail in the entry, there have been as many questions raised, as have been resolved, by this historic event. The most interesting argument still extant is the exact nature of the Lodge in which Ashmole was initiated.
     There is little dispute that, with the possible exception of Richard Ellom (sic) who styled himself a ‘Freemason’ in his will, those present did not belong to the stonemasons trade. The Lodge, however, will have consisted of several additional members not present at the initiation and who may well have been working operative stonemasons.
     This may be read in the context of the London Masons Company, which Ashmole was to attend in 1682 and which is discussed in further detail below. There are also interesting hints at the nature of Masonic activity at the time.
     Colonel Henry Mainwaring, with whom Ashmole was initiated, was a Roundhead parliamentarian friend, related to Peter Mainwaring, Ashmole’s father-in-law and Warrington was at this time a parliamentary stronghold. The implication is that Freemasonry, from these very early days, recognised no political boundaries.
     The structure of the Lodge is also hinted at by the signifi- cant reference to Richard Penkett as a Warden (if one overlooks the unsubstantiated suggestion that Warden was Richard Penkett’s last name). Furthermore, the conclusion has been reached that Ashmole took his obligation not on a bible, but on what is now known as the Sloane Manuscript No. 3438. The text to the manuscript was written by an Edward Sankey, related to the Richard Sankey mentioned by Ashmole, who signed and dated the ancient charge ‘16 October 1646’. It was probably expressly composed for the ceremony of Ashmole’s initiation.
     An interesting problem arose with the first printed edition of his diaries in 1717, published to coincide with the formation of the first Grand Lodge. The printed text differs from the manuscript version in a minor detail. It reads: ‘The names of those that were then at the Lodge’ instead of ‘then of the lodge’ as written by Ashmole.
     The difference is significant, the former version implying that those present were not members of the Lodge. There are two perennial questions raised with regard to Ashmole’s initiation. Why did he join? And why is there no other mention of Freemasonry in his extensive diaries until his visit to London in 1682?
     The answer may lie in that Freemasonry was not an organisation of consequence. Ashmole joined because by nature he was a joiner. He could not have resisted the temptation to discover the nature of what even then was a mysterious association, and he may well have found nothing of consequence in the fraternity. It is also possible that he may have attended meetings unrecorded in his annotations until the summons to the Masons Company in London.
     Ashmole was an extraordinarily accomplished man. By 1648 he had extended his studies in astrology and anatomy to botany and alchemy. This last subject, which was to occupy him considerably, culminated in several publications, the first in 1650 under the pseudonym of James Hasolle.
     This was followed by two further well-known works: Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum in 1652 and The Way to Bliss in 1658. Much has been written of Ashmole’s undoubted fascination with esoteric and hermetic studies. He often consulted oracles and chose Mercury as his personal sign.
     He also became the spiritual son of William Backhouse who, in 1653, bequeathed him the secret of ‘the true Matter of the Philosopher’s Stone’. Yet Ashmole made a point of not allowing his enthusiasm for alchemy to obscure his factual historical research, and he never saw himself as a practicing alchemist.
     He specifically stated that he never went past the stage of speculative enquiry. Ashmole’s many lawsuits – as he says in preface to The Way to Bliss – deprived him of the tranquillity of mind he wanted in order to pursue alchemy. There is no evidence that Ashmole’s hermetic and esoteric interests extended into his restricted involvement with Freemasonry.
     Ashmole’s loyalty to the King paid off with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. A year later he was nominated Windsor Herald, where he was registrar and treasurer 1688-1671. It is here that he wrote the monumental publication The Institution, Laws & Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, completed in 1672.
     It was also as Windsor Herald that he saw himself qualified to propose the design for the coat of Arms of the Royal Society, of which he was elected a member in January 1661, a few months after the Society’s foundation. His submission, inspired by the biblical reference in Amos 7, vv. 7&8 had, in the use of the plumb rule, also Masonic connotations of which Ashmole would no doubt have been aware.
     The drawing shows a shield divided into two, the upper half with the Royal coat of arms on the top lefthand side. A hand protruding from a folded sleeve holds a plumb rule between thumb and index finger descending into the lower half of the arms.
     At the base the legend Rerum Cognoscere Causas, abbreviated from Virgil’s full sentence: felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas which translates: happy the man who could learn the causes of things.