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Although not a masonic reference the earliest reference to secret societies was the Decree XXXVII, columns 763-4, vol. 25 of the "Concilium Avenionense" of 1326, in which the Church attacks secret societies, describing them with such terms as: fraternal assistance, signs, tokens, obligations and election of Masters. [AQC Vol. 106, p. 41.]
The first attack on Freemasonry can be found in a London fly-sheet of 1698, addressed 'to all Godly people', which warned believers that membership of the Craft might endanger their salvation, 'For this devillish sect are Meeters in secret which swere against all without their Following. They are the Anti-Christ which was to come leading them from Fear of God. For how should they meet in secret places and with secret Signs taking care that none observe them to do the Work of God; are not these the Ways of Evil-dom?"
[Early Masonic Pamphlets, ed. D. Knoop, G.P. Jones and D. Hamer. Manchester: 1945, p. 34.]
Early anti-masonic attacks

From the Picture Gallery, Oxford. 4
Plot, Robert, L.L.D.— Born in 1640, and died April 30, 1696. Fellow of the Royal Society, first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and one-time professor of chemistry, his interest for freemasons consists in his Natural History of Staffordshire, published in 1686.
In it he alludes to the existence of masonic lodges in Staffordshire very like our present system; some of his words seem traceable in the Sloane MS. 3848.1 and the William Watson MS. Unfortunately Plot’s credulity lead him to attack the masonic institution. An able defense against this attack will be found in the third volume of Oliver’s Golden Remains of the Early Masonic Writers.2
Plot 1686 Epitome in Nat. Hist. Staffordshire
§ 85. "To these add the Customs relating to the County, whereof they have one, of admitting Men into the Society of Freemasons, that in the moorelands of this County seems to be of greater request, than any where else, though I find the Custom spread more or less, all over the Nation; for here I found persons of the most eminent quality, that did not disdain to be of this Fellowship. Nor indeed need they, were it of that Antiquity and honor, that is pretended in a large parchment volum they have amongst them, containing the History and Rules of the craft of masonry. Which is there deduced not only from sacred writ, but profane story, particularly that it was brought into England by St. Amphibal, and first communicated to S. Alban, who set down the Charges of masonry, and was made paymaster and Governor of the Kings works, and gave them charges and manners as St. Amphibal had taught him. Which were after confirmed by King Athelstan, whose youngest son Edwyn loved well masonry, took upon him the charges and learned the manners, and obtained for them of his Father a free-Charter. Whereupon he caused them to assemble at York, and to bring all the old Books of their craft, and out of them ordained such charges and manners, as they then thought fit: which charges in the said Schrole or Parchment volum, are in part declared: and thus was the craft of masonry grounded and confirmed in England. It is also there declared that these charges and manners were after perused and approved by King Hen. 6. and his council, both as to Masters and Fellows of this right Worshipfull craft."
§ 86. "Into which Society when any are admitted, they call a meeting (or Lodg as they term it in some places) which must consist at lest of 5 or 6 of the Ancients of the Order, whom the candidats present with gloves, and so likewise to their wives, and entertain with a collation according to the Custom of the place: This ended, they proceed to the admission of them, which cheifly consists in the communication of certain secret signes, whereby they are known to one another all over the Nation, by which means they have maintenance whither ever they travel: for if any man appear though altogether unknown that can shew any of these signes to a Fellow of the Society, whom they otherwise call an accepted mason, he is obliged presently to come to him, from what company or place soever he be in, nay tho' from the top of a Steeple, (what hazard or inconvenience soever he run) to know his pleasure, and assist him; viz., if he want work he is bound to find him some; or if he cannot doe that, to give him mony, or otherwise support him till work can be had ; which is one of their Articles; and it is another, that they advise the Masters they work for, according to the best of their skill, acquainting them with the goodness or badness of their materials; and if they be any way out in the contrivance of their buildings modestly to rectify them in it; that masonry be not dishonoured : and many such like that are commonly known : but some others they have (to which they are sworn after their fashion) that none know but themselves, which I have reason to suspect are much worse than these, perhaps as bad as this History of the craft it self ; than which there is nothing I ever met with more false or incoherent." § 87. "Far not to mention that St. Amphibalus by judicious persons, is thought rather to be the cloak, then master of St. Alban; or how unlikely it is that St. Alban himself in such a barbarous Age, and in times of persecution, should be supervisor of any works; it is plain that King Athelstan was never marryed, or ever had so much as any natural issue; (unless we give way to the fabulous History of Guy Earl of Warwick, whose eldest son Reynburn is said indeed to have been marryed to Leoneat the supposed daughter of Athelstan, which will not serve the turn neither) much less ever had he a lawfull son Edwyn, of whom I find not the least umbrage in History. He had indeed a Brother of that name, of whom he was so jealouse though very young when he came to the crown, that he sent him to Sea in a pinnace without tackle or oar, only in company with a page, that his death might be imputed to the waves and not him; whence the Young Prince (not able to master his passions) cast himself headlong into the Sea and there dyed. Who how unlikely to learn their manners; to get them a Charter; or call them together at York; let the Reader judg."
§ 88. "Yet more improbable is it still, that Hen. the 6. and his Council, should ever peruse or approve their charges and manners, and so confirm these right Worshipfull Masters and Fellows as they are call'd in the Scrole: for in the third of his reigne (when he could not be 4 years old) I find an act of Parliament quite abolishing this Society. It being therein ordained, that no Congregations and Confederacies should be made by masons, in their general Chapters and Assemblies, whereby the good course and effect of the Statutes of Labourers, were violated and broken in subversion of Law: and that those who caused such Chapters or Congregations to be holden, should be adjudged Felons; and those masons that came to them should be punish't by imprisonment, and make fine and ransom at the King’s will. So very much out was the Compiler of this History of the craft of masonry, and so little skill had he in our Chronicles and Laws. Which Statute though repealed by a subsequent act in the 5 of Eliz. whereby Servants and Labourers are compellable to serve, and their wages limited; and all masters made punishable for giving more wages than what is taxed by the Justices, and the servants if they take it &c. Yet this act too being but little observed, 'tis still to be feared these Chapters of Free-masons do as much mischeif as before, which if one may estimate by the penalty, was anciently so great, that perhaps it might be usefull to examine them now."

1. Kenning’s Masonic Cyclopaedia and Handbook of Masonic Archaeology, History and Biography. A.F.A. Woodford, ed. George Kenning, London: 1878. p. 562.
2. Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. Albert G. Mackey. Vol. 2. Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, Inc., Richmond, Virginia: 1966. p. 783.
3. Natural History of Staffordshire. Robert Plot. 1686. chapter viii, page 316. [See Robert Freke Gould, The History of Freemasonry. vol. 1. The John C. Yorstan Publishing Co., Philadelphia: 1902. pp. 350-51. or Edinburgh : T. C. & E. C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works edition, vol. iii, pp. 163-66.]
4. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Vol. 6 "Dr. Robert Plot." R.F. Gould, W. Begemann. [pp. 120-124]. London: 1893


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