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John Aubrey
The Natural History of Wiltshire
Antiquarian, biographer, historian, and Fellow of the Royal Society, John Aubrey (1626-1697) was an all but forgotten figure until many of his unpublished writings were discovered in the twentieth century. In 1656 he began writing The Natural History of Wiltshire which was not published until 1847. In it he provided two of the earliest reports of Freemasonry.
He records one of the popular myths of Freemasonry's origins but—unlike Robert Plot—presents an otherwise balanced report.
Sir William Dugdale told me many years since, that about Henry the Third's time, the Pope gave a bull or patents to a company of Italian Freemasons to travell up and down and over all Europe to build churches. From those are derived the fraternity of adopted Masons. They are known to one another by certain signes and watch-words: it continues to this day. They have severall lodges in severall counties for their reception, and when any of them fall into decay the brotherhood is to relieve him &c. The manner of their adoption is very formall, and with an oath of secrecy.
On the same page, he made the uncorroborated claim that architect Christopher Wren was a freemason. Aubrey was a close friend of Wren, and would have been in a position to know about his adoption into the fraternity, and a copy of his manuscript was transcribed by the clerk of the Royal Society in 1691 when Wren was still alive and active in the society. If Aubrey was mistaken there would have been ample opportunity to correct the record. But there are no other reports or records of this event so Wren's membership remains an open question to masonic authors such as John Hamill and others.
Memorendum. This day, May the 18th, being Munday, 1691, after Rogation Sunday, is a great convention at St. Paul's Church of the fraternity of the adopted Masons, where Sir Christopher Wren is to be adopted a brother, and Sir Henry Goodric of the tower, and divers others. There have been kings of this sodality.
The text has been frequently quoted with variant spelling and capitalization depending on whether the source was the 1847 book, the original manuscript, or the copy held by the Royal Society incorporating additional notes in Aubrey's handwriting such as "adopted masons" replacing "Free Masons".

The natural history of Wiltshire by John Aubrey F.R.S. (Written between 1656 and 1691.) Edited and Elucidated by notes, John Britton F.S.A. [1771-1857] &c. &c. &c. Published by the Wiltshire Topographical society, London : Printed by J.B. Nichols and Son, MDCCCXLVII. [1847]. p. 99.


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