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C.2.13 The York Legend

Here the Legend of the Craft deals with the reintroduction in the tenth century, after a long period of time, of architectural art and enterprise in Britain. During the reign of Athelstan, his son, Edwin called a General Assembly of the Masons at York in 926 reviving the Craft with a new code of laws, (but some scholars believe that it was Athelstan himself who called the assembly). This event has been accepted as being a historical fact by the Operative Masons who preceded the revival and the Speculative Masons who came later. The Halliwell poem and the later manuscripts agree too, even if there are at least three slightly different versions. The variations are not important enough to be mentioned here.

From this legend we see that York was the city where the first General Masonic Assembly took place in 926 at the request of Prince Edwin, the King Athelstan’s son. However there is no historical record showing that King Athelstan had any son, but he had a brother of this name who died two years before him, drowned by order of the king.

Historically speaking it is more probable that it was King Athelstan who called the General Assembly of the Masons at York in 926. Athelstan liked the Masons and Architecture, and he had many public buildings constructed during hid reign, whereas nothing of the sort was recorded in relation to Prince Edwin. If this is true, then the Halliwell poem that does not mention Edwin was right, and the name of Edwin was introduced later on by the copiers of the older documents who also made the mistake to state that he was the son of King Athelstan. Anderson tried to correct the old legend by saying that Edwin was the King’s brother, and not his son. It is also possible that the Edwin of this legend was King Edwin of Northumbria who died in 633. This king was interested in the Arts and Sciences, including Architecture, which made him liked by the early English Masons. Edwin also introduced Christianity in his land, and became a Christian himself. The legend, once more, associated two men who lived at different period of time.

In conclusion, it is probable that it was King Athelstan, and not Prince Edwin, who organised the first General Assembly of Masons in 926. If it was in York, or elsewhere, is not really known. Edwin, King of Northumbria who lived in the seventh century was also a patron of the Masons and introduced the art of building into his kingdom. If he organised an Assembly in York, or if he gave a Charter to the masons, is not known. Obviously the author, or authors, of the Halliwell poem did not know the legend of King Edwin of Northumbria, and this would explains why he is not mentioned in it. The authors of the following manuscripts knew the story of King Edwin but the two stories became one assumed to have taken place in 926 and, if only for this reason, King Edwin of Northumbria was confounded with Prince Edwin, the so-called Athelstan’s brother. This means that there were two legends of York. The first one saying that Masonry was revived in England by King Edwin in York in the seventh century, and the later describing this event as taking place again in York under the reign of King Athelstan in the tenth century. These two legends were confounded into one in the sixteenth century.

It is probable that King Edwin of Northumbria organised a General Assembly in York in the seventh century that revived the old Masonry. It declined again later on, and it was revived once more by King Athelstan in the tenth century, again in York.