A feast for eyes and mind
From the homemade to the exquisite, this is the history of Freemasonry made vividly alive
Nothing draws together the many facets of Freemasonry as well as the masonic jewel. The current exhibition at the Library and Museum at Great Queen Street illustrates three centuries of the Craft through its outstanding collection of jewels and reminds us how much lies behind each one of them, with their fascinating stories being told in detail.
There is everything from simple jewels handmade by prisoners of war to glorious pieces crafted in gold for Grand Masters. It exemplifies every aspect of masonic history and how Freemasonry became – and remains – crucial to the countries which formed the British Empire.
As well as lodge jewels from around the world, there are charity and consecration jewels, as well as those made for Past Masters and founders and many other artefacts. Some are exquisitely hand-painted or enamelled and are complemented by excellent accompanying notes.
The exhibition has rare items of masonic history, from Elias Ashmole, through the merger of the Antients and Moderns, to modern jewels. It is astonishing to see the initiate’s apron worn by the Prince of Wales in 1919, an improvised apron worn at the Siege of Ladysmith and Sir Winston Churchill’s apron.
For Freemasons, this exhibition illustrates the remarkable depth and range of the Craft, while for the non-mason it helps to connect three centuries of British history and explains the significance of Freemasonry with remarkable clarity. It would, if it were possible, make for a wonderful permanent exhibition.
Review by Richard Jaffa
Bejewelled: Badges, Brotherhood and Identity, at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, until 24 August 2019, free admission
Benevolence at its best
A look the First World War’s impact on Freemasonry and its charitable activity
Written by staff at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, English Freemasonry and the First World War gives a glimpse into the rich history of Freemasonry during the period of the ‘Great War’, as it was known before 1939. This is not a history of the war itself, but contains an illustrated synopsis of its impact on English Freemasonry, the deeds of various Freemasons and their unwavering desire to help those in need, in spite of the ongoing conflict.
The book is full of images taken from the extensive Library collections. Together with illustrations of jewels and paper artefacts, they show how war changed the relationship between international Grand Lodges and jurisdictions, as well as between individual lodges and Freemasons. With many English lodges having members from across Europe, the outbreak of war had very real consequences.
CHARITY IN HARD TIMES
The book provides wonderful examples of the charity and sheer generosity of lodges and brethren, matched with pictorial evidence of hospitals, ambulances, concerts and festivals, and how injured brethren, their families and communities were supported.
With this year marking the centenary of Armistice Day, the history set out in the book feels even more poignant. Hopefully the book will be a basis for other volumes which further explore the history of Freemasonry against the background of the First World War.
This is an excellent addition to any Freemason’s library, or to that of anyone with an interest in the history of the Craft. With so many lodges mentioned by name, this book should be popular with lodge historians too.
Review by Jonathan Lowe
English Freemasonry and the First World War, by the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, published by Lewis Masonic, 96 pages, £14.99
Whetting the appetite for learning
Researching Freemasonry can sometimes be daunting. For busy new members, this book provides a useful starting point
As Freemasons, we are encouraged to make a daily advancement in masonic knowledge, so that we can review the tenets and teachings of Freemasonry in order to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and ideally build a better world for all.
This book seeks to promote daily study and has been laid out in the form of a calendar, with brief nuggets of masonic knowledge for each day of the year. The aim is to encourage active research, and the short paragraphs are well-suited to stimulating just that.
The quality of masonic learning depends on quality sources, and the book is well-researched. Readers are introduced to a wide variety of masonic facts, covering practical, philosophical and historical aspects of Freemasonry, including degrees beyond the Craft.
Thought-provoking and occasionally humorous, the book provides good material for daily advancement, but also gives useful suggestions on how to explain Freemasonry to non-members. For example, calling the temple a ‘lodge room’ can make it easier to explain where Freemasons conduct the core of what they do. By making masonic language less complicated and mysterious, the book can also help break down some of the prejudices within the wider community.
Anyone who only wants to have a brief masonic daily reading and cannot spare the time for full-on research can now make an advancement in masonic knowledge without it impacting on their work or family life. Making A Daily Advancement could make an ideal gift for new initiates.
Review by Sergio Prezioso
Making A Daily Advancement, Mike Lawrence, published by Lewis Masonic, 270 pages, £19
A royal tragedy
Henry II was a titan of the 12th century, but his legacy today is almost forgotten
An image in the chronicle of Matthew Paris, monk of St Albans, shows Henry IIin conversation with a group of stonemasons. Five hundred years later, in his Constitutions of 1738, author James Anderson did not make much of Henry II in his history of Freemasonry. Yet masons remain fascinated by this image of Henry talking to a man holding a level.
King of the North Wind provides a fascinating portrait of a king who used ambition, determination, charisma and blitzkrieg warfare to forge a kingdom that stretched from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees. Living on near to no sleep, he spent his life on the road, criss-crossing his realm to hold together the largest empire England would rule until the 17th century.
Gold draws a portrait of a philosopher king: a platonic prince raised by scholars with an interest in everything around him. At Henry’s court, every day was a school day, according to contemporary French cleric Peter of Blois. The 12th-century historian Gerald of Wales called Henry the ‘Alexander of the West’ – the sort of man who would have stopped at a building site to ask his master builder and masons about their work.
THE BATTLE WITHIN
The book’s dramatic structure carries the reader towards the great battle in Henry’s life – the one against himself. And just as with many other great heros, Henry fails.
The young prince started life hungry, ambitious and confident but ended it an exhausted man, with his wife and children repeatedly striving to arrange his death.
Anyone interested in medieval Anglo-French history will appreciate the vast amount of detail in the book, which is a timely and welcome addition to the growing popular literature on the Plantagenets.
Review by DKS
King of the North Wind: The Life of Henry II in Five Acts, by Claudia Gold, published by William Collins, 352 pages, £25