In the early medieval days the Freemason was the head of a few operative mason. In this part we will deal only with operative masons and Freemasons, unless the word symbolic or speculative is used. The mason became a Freemason in the fourteenth century, and this title was used until the beginning of the eighteenth century, that is after that the Company of Freemasons of the City of London had changed its name in 1655-56 into “The Company of Masons”. Before that date, some of the Provincial Companies called their members, Freemasons, and other masons. The earliest of the manuscript Charges that reached us (from the fourteenth century) does not mention the name “Freemason”, although it was of common use one century later. The more qualified “masons” of the early medieval days were those cutting stones in the quarry, or directly on the building sites, to give them the required shape. It is this class of masons that became the Freemasons. Those erecting buildings were considered of a lower level, even if their qualifications were often the same.
After the Norman Conquest, that is around 1077, the mason was known by the Latin word “cementarius or coementarius, plural cementarii”; the Master Mason as “Magister cementarii” and his assistants “sociis” or fellows. During the fourteenth century another term was used “latomus or lathomus”. The word “mason” was known in the fourteenth century; it was a French word that was used during the next two centuries and it meant that this worker could cut or hew stones. The word “Freemason” was not used until the end of the fourteenth century and meant, “man of subtle Craft”.
The word “free” as used in relation to masons has many meanings. It could mean that the early medieval mason was free, or not bound, by the restrictions imposed by the laws and rules. In other words, he was not tied to a land, although it does not mean that he had won freedom from serfdom, or bondage. It could also refer to the medieval practice of ” emancipating skilled artisans to allow them to travel and offer their services where big buildings were constructed”. Another possible explanation is that Freemasons were masons working for monasteries and ecclesiastical orders, and not under the control of mason guilds; they were “free” from these guilds. There were however no mason Craft guilds in this period. It could also mean that, as “freeman”, they were exempt from the toll, or taxes, levied on “foreign” workers. Some experts believe that Freemasons were a guild of chapel and church builders, controlled by the Church, and free from the controls of the building trade. The word “free”, in this case, would also apply to other Craftsmen working for religious bodies.
It could also be that some masons were “free” by papal Bull. The story would then go more or less like this: masons joined together to form a fraternity of Architects, calling themselves “Freemasons” and travelling under the authority of a papal Bull. A German legend tells us that Byzantine builders, in the sixth and seventh centuries, formed themselves into guilds, travelled under the authority of a papal Bull, and called themselves Freemasons. Was the mason made “free” by secret instruction? In other words, does it mean that the Craftsman had special knowledge and skill, and had received special teaching and training of a secret nature? The word could also come from the French “frère maçon” that has been deformed in “free mason”. Was the mason “free” because he worked in freestone (also known as broadstone), the trade of the most skilled masons of that time?
It is known that in London, and in some other towns in England, a mason (as well as other Craftsmen) could become “free” by achieving freedom, that is membership of his company. However, most medieval masons were not living in towns, like other Craftsmen did, but in the country, and it is difficult to imagine an organised body able to control and impose regulations on them. As a result, the membership of the London Company of masons was small compared with the membership of the Craft guilds, and this makes it difficult to believe that a mason became a “Freemason” because he was “free” of a company. It is moreover strange that only the masons, among all the Craftsmen, when achieving “freedom”, would incorporate the word free into the name of their job, Freemasons. No such appellation as Free Butchers, Free Sewers, etc. are recorded. This reinforces the opinion that masons became Freemasons because they were made free of a livery company. It is more probable that the masons, already known as a Freemason for about two century for the fact of working freestones, saw their freedom confirmed by becoming members of a town or City Company. And this again confirms that the Freemason was regarded as more skilled than the mason was. The freedom -membership- of a Company helped to confirm the title of Freemason.
At the time of the Acceptation in the London Company of Masons, and when the first Grand lodge was formed, the word “free” was associated with the freedom of a guild, company or city. Members of the lodge of the London Company of Masons were generally freemen of the Company and of the City of London, while their associates in the provinces were freemen of other companies. The London Company accepted Freemasons and masons in its membership but, in its peak years, it called itself a Company of Freemasons, the change of name to “Masons” being made later on in 1655-56.
The term “Freemason” does not seem to appear in Scotland before the Melrose version of the Old Charges (1581) from which we only have a copy dated 1674; the exact words used were “frie masons”. This means that they became free men of their lodges, trades, or cities after following an apprenticeship, and having earned their right to practise freely their trade. In conclusion, early Scotland did not have “Freemasons” as in England but their “frie masons” were the same thing as their qualifications also made them free of their Craft or fraternity. In other words, “frie masons” means “freeman masons”. When the term “Freemason” came to be used in Scotland, it was the English form of the Scots title.