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Masonic Bios

Charles Martel Legend of Freemasonry


By Bro. O.D. Street, Alabama

As is well known to students of Masonic history, (though not to all Masons by any means), there is in existence a class of MSS. known as the "Old Charges" of Freemasons, but which would more appropriately be termed "Legendary Histories of the Craft of Masonry." The known copies of these number about eighty and are to be found in the possession of Lodges, individuals, libraries and museums. Until a comparatively recent date they were unpublished, but now nearly all are obtainable in printed form. The earliest of them, the "Halliwell" or "Regius" MS., dates from about 1390 A.D.; the next oldest, the "Cooke," from about 1450 A.D.; while the others originated at irregular intervals extending down well into the last century. The extreme value of these documents in relation to the Craft is universally recognized.

One of the oldest traditions of Freemasonry recorded in these MSS. histories, is that which connects with the fraternity Charles Martel, who, at the battle of Tours, in A. D. 732, turned back the tide of Saracenic invasion of Europe. In its earliest form it read thus:--

"And thus was that woorthy Crafte of Massonrey Confirmed in the Countrey of Jerusalem And in many other Kyngdomes. "Curious Craftes men walked aboute full wyde in Dyu's Countries soome to Learne more Crafte and conning and some to teache them that had but litle conning and so yt befell that their was on' Curious Masson that height Naymus grecus that had byn at the making of Sollomon's Temple and he came into ffrance and there he taught the Science of Massonrey to men of ffraunce And there was one of the Regall lyne of ffraunce that height Charles Martell And he was A man that Loved well suche A Crafte and Drewe to this Naymus grecus and Learned of him the Crafte And to vppon him the Chardges and ye mann's. And afterward by the grace of god he was elect to be Kyng of ffraunce. And when he was in his Estate he tooke Massons and did help to make men Massons yt weare none and sett them A woorke and gave them bothe the Chargs and mann's and good paye that he had learned of other Massons And confirmed them A Charter from yere to yeare to holde their assembly wheare they woulde, And churrishe them right much And thus came the Crafte into ffraunce." (1)

More than seventy later versions of the "Old Charges" repeat the story in much the same language. Three, the Cooke, the William Watson, and the Henery Heade MSS., (one older and two later than the Grand Lodge No. 1), denominate this legendary patron of the Craft "Carolus Secundus." Not one mentions Charlemagne and yet in recent years the attempt has been made, with some success, to substitute Charlemagne for both Charles Martel and "Carolus Secundus" in this legend. The leading advocate of this theory is Bro. Edmund H. Dring, the distinguished head of Quaritch's famous book store in London, who in two papers read before the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, for which he is enargued powerfully in favor of this view. (2)

Since the publication of these papers in 1905 and 1906, Bro. Dring- -and others--have apparently assumed on occasion that he had indubitably proved his contention. Not only does no copy of the "Old Charges" connect Charlemagne with Freemasonry, but no other Masonic document or publication of early date does so. A result so surprising should certainly have something very tangible to support it. I, for one, do not think that Bro. Dring has by any means proved his contention. I do not think he has produced a single fragment of evidence to sustain it. His argument throughout is, in my judgment, essentially fallacious. It rests entirely on two assumptions of which there is not the slightest proof.

He accounts for the introduction of the name Charles Martel into our written legends by supposing (not proving) two historical blunders, (1) that the author of the Cooke MS., misconstruing a passage in Matthew Paris' Chronica Majora, wrote "Carolus Secundus" where he should have written Charlemagne, and (2) that a later editor or copyist of the MS., "seeing a discrepancy and not being able to reconcile it with his own knowledge of history, boldly altered the word 'Secundus' to Martel." This involves several other suppositions, that the Cooke MS. is the original of all others, a thing by no means agreed among Masonic scholars; that the author or compiler of the Cooke was familiar with Paris' work, of which there is no proof; that he committed an absurd mistake and that a later editor or copyist made a still more absurd correction.

Bro. Dring skillfully prepares the way for this kind of argument by citing other instances of similar alterations, not to say forgeries. By interesting facsimiles of portions of old documents he shows how easily an honest mistake of this sort might be made. That such things have been done through inadvertence and by design is not denied. Considerations like these force us to admit the possibility of Bro. Dring's theory, but are mere possibilities to outweigh the positive statements of documents of respectable age, to say the least, although it is not yet known precisely what degree of credit these documents are entitled to? That an error has been made in one case or in many cases, or that forgeries are committed does not prove or have any legitimate tendency to prove either in a court or in the domain of history that a particular case is an error or a forgery. While it shows the possibility and hence prepares the way for less evidence to produce conviction than would otherwise be requisite, it does not dispense with the necessity of producing some evidence of a character having a legitimate and direct tendency to prove that in fact there was an error or a forgery.

Because the Cooke MS., (supposed to date from about A. D. 1150), says "Carolus Secundus," Bro. Dring holds it as entitled to more weight than the numerous later MSS. which have it "Charles Martel," and as therefore proving that Charles Martel could not have been the person referred to. If we knew (as Bro. Dring seems to assume) that all later versions of the "Old Charges" were derived from the Cooke, this would be a logical conclusion. But we do not know this; Masonic scholars are by no means agreed that this is a fact. On the contrary, it is just as likely that some, if not all, of our later versions are derived from a MS. or MSS. as old or older than the Cooke. But having used the Cooke MSS. to discredit the Charles Martel theory, Bro. Dring with strange inconsistency immediately proceeds to argue that the Cooke in saying "Carolus Secundus" is itself in error. In fact, it was pointed out at the time by the Worshipful Master of the Lodge before which Bro. Dring's theory was advanced that a remarkable feature of his argument was that "Charles the Second was not Charles the Second, that Charles Martel was not Charles Martel, that Naimus was not Naimus, and Grecus not Grecus."

The fact is the genealogies or origins of these MSS. have not been traced, if in truth they ever can be. But until this is done, it is folly to talk of their respective probative values. Bro. Robert F. Gould devised a classification by which he thought this might be determined, but a no less distinguished authority--Bro. William J. Hughan--in a letter to the writer, pronounces Bro. Gould's scheme as "not workable" and "useless for practical purposes." In such a state, we can do no better than to regard the general concensus of the evidences afforded by these documents. The fact stands out that three of them say "Carolus Secundus," more than seventy say "Charles Martel," not one says "Charlemagne." It is to say the least a remarkable result when from the MSS. themselves the conclusion is deduced that Charlemagne is meant. If such an error as Bro. Dring supposes could produce such an abundant crop of "Martels," is it not remarkable, yea incredible, that not a single example of the correct reading has been preserved ?

Another line of argument advanced by Bro. Dring is to show that Charlemagne was a patron of architecture and building. I do not question that he was as much so as Charles Martel; doubtless he was more so. But it could be shown that many monarchs, both before and after Charlemagne, were likewise patrons of this art. That all of them were such is no proof that Charles Martel was not.

When Brother Dring first propounded his theory of the identity of the "Carolus Secundus" and "Charles Martel" of our MSS. with Charlemagne so eminent authority as Bro. W. Begemann, of Germany, promptly and powerfully dissented, (3) insisting that the evidence was stronger that the personage meant was the Emperor Charles II, surnamed the Bald, who was certainly one of the earliest Royal patrons of architecture and building in Germany. (4)

Summarizing, we learn from about sixty copies of the "Old Charges" accessible to us that Charles Martel (or Secundus (5)) was of the regular, (6) regal, (7) or royal (8) line of France; or that he was of the King's blood royal, (9) or of the King's lineage, (10) or that he was a worthy King, (11) (or merely a King (12)) of France, or that he was a worthy Knight, (13) or simply that he was a man in (14) or of (15) France. At the same time we are assured that he was no Frenchman. (16) We learn also that he was a Mason before he was King; (17) that he loved well the Craft, (18) learned it of Naymus Grecus, (19) took uhimself the charges and manners (20) of Masons, became one of the Fraternity; (21) that afterwards he was elected King of France but whether by the Grace (22) or Providence (23) of God, or by lineage, (24) or by fortune only seems to have been a disputed question. (25) It was even denied that he was of the blood royal.

After he became king he cherished the Masons, confirmed them a charter to hold their assemblies from year to year, set them to work on great works, and ordained for them good pay.

Thus we see that the Charles referred to was one of whose royal blood there was question but who was nevertheless in fact of the regal line of France; that he was elected King of France, but that there was dispute whether his election was due to his royal blood or to the fortune he had achieved for himself; finally that he was no Frenchman.

This accurately describes Charles Martel, certainly as much so as it does Charlemagne. Charles Martel was the illegitimate son of Pepin d'Heristal, Duke of Austrasia and Mayor of the Palace of the King of France, and was upon the death of his father excluded from any share in the government and thrown into prison. The Austrasians, however, despising the rule of a woman and a child, to whom Pepin had left the governrnent, revolted; Charles made his escape, was elected Duke of the Austrasians and soon made himself master of Neustria also.

We have here narrated just such a condition of affairs as would beget the doubt and uncertainty which seem to have troubled our Masonic chroniclers.

On the other hand, Charlemagne's title to his kingdom partly by descent from his father Pepin, the Short, A. D. 768, and partly by death of his brother Karloman, A. D. 771, was never doubted, and while Charlemagne too was born out of wedlock, he was fully recognized and legitimated by the subsequent marriage of his mother and father. There was never the least question as to his ancestry or as to his being of the royal family.

The objection made by Bro. Dring to the Charles Martel theory (26) that he was not in fact of the royal or regal line of France is more specious than sound. It is true that neither he nor his father was ever formally crowned king, but his son, Pepin the Short, father of Charlemagne, was. It is true that Charles Martel never assumed the title of King; during his entire reign his official title continued to be "Mayor of the Palace." The nominal kings of the French had, however, at this period long ceased to be king in fact; they are known to us as the "puppet kings," to the French as "les rois faineants" (the lazy kings). The real ruler had long been the Mayor of the Palace, an official who began as a sort of confidential servant, or, as we might now say, Private Secretary to the great old Clovis, but who ended with usurping all the kingly authority and finally in deposing the king and confining him in a monastery. This shadowy line of royalty came to an end with the death of Thierry IV in A. D. 737; Charles neglected to place another on the throne and from then until his own death in 741, though retaining the old title of Mayor of the Palace, Charles Martel wielded an authority which even in theory was unshared with any other. The transparent fiction of governing in the name of a king who had no existence should certainly deceive no one of this day; doubtless most of his own generation recognized in him the real king. In the annals of the year A. D. 717 it is written "Carolus regnare coepit." So very obvious is this that at least two recent encyclopaedic works of high authority denominate him "King of the Franks." (27)

I do not mean to imply that these works are technically accurate in denominating him "King"; but admitting that the encyclopedic writers in question are uncritical, I ask might not the same facts that lead uncritical writers of the XXth Century to call Martel "King of the Franks" have led the same class of writers, (such as the compilers of our "Old Charges" undoubtedly were), to do the same thing, say, in the Xth, or XIth, or XIIth, or XVIth Century? The mere fact that the personage (whoever he be) that is referred to in our manuscripts, is called "King of the Franks" does not prove that Martel is not that personage, because forsooth while practically, he was never technically their king.

In a very real sense Charles Martel was of the "Regal" or "Royal" line of France, though his illegitimacy and apparent repudiation by his father would naturally give rise to the charge by the adherents of his stepmother and nephew, (to whom Pepin had left the Kingdom), that he was not of the royal blood at all, thus rationally accounting for just such discrepancies all contradictions as we find in our Masonic MSS.

Accrediting Charles Martel with doings of Charlemagne is quite unlikely for two reasons, it is a tendency of the human mind to ascribe an act (1) to a later rather than an earlier hero and (2) to the more noted rather than the less noted individual. In every age since his day, Charlemagne has been a better known personage than Charles Martel. We should, therefore, rather expect deeds of Charles Martel to be attributed to Charlemagne than the converse. And are not those who advocate Bro. Dring's theory doing this very thing ?

It has never been satisfactorily shown, so far as I am aware, whence or how Charles acquired his cognomen of Martel (the hammer). Our legends say hc was a Mason before he was King, a thing which, owing to his early precarious fortunes, was far more likely with him than with Charlemagne. As a Mason he would, of course, wield the hammer; when he was become king some reminiscence of his old Craft would naturally cling to him; history affords many such instances. The idea that his name was given him because he beat the Saracens so unmercifully, as with a hammer, sounds quite apocryphal; more likely it was but a new application of a name by which he had been previously known.

Charles Martel was first a man of or in France, though not a Frenchman; he was elected King of the French, if not by a regular show of hands, by the silent suffrage of his people; his elevation he achieved by his own fortune, powerfully aided, no doubt, by the fact that he was a son (though only natural) of Pepin d'Heristal; hence, of the lineage of the real king; so that it may then have well been, as it is now, a matter of doubt which contributed the more to his success. These well authenticated historical facts fulfill every requirement of our MS. traditions, except that Charles Martel was a Mason before he was king. But on this point history is not so silent in his case as in that of Charlemagne. On the other hand, his name, Martel, lends, as we have seen, some corroboration, which is wholly lacking in the name of Charlemagne. While it must be confessed that the evidence outside of our MSS. is meager, yet what there is and all that there is tends to support the Martel theory.

Nor is there anything inherently improbable in it; it is a mistake to suppose that architecture was unknown during and before Charles Martel's day. Omitting all consideration of the classic architecture of Greece and Rome, for nearly two centuries prior to his birth, the Magistri Comacini, the famous brotherhood or guild of Masons, having their center at Como, in Northern Italy, (and hence not remote from France) had under the patronage of the Lombard Kings (and even before their time) been engaged in the erection of splendid churches and palaces, remains of which exhibit a high degree of skill. Evidences are not wanting of the very early introduction of Comacine architecture into France. Bro. Gould says that at the present day splendid ruins dating long before the invasion of the barbarians still testify to the opulence of the French people. History vol. 1, p. 179.

Having by the battle of Tours in A. D. 732, freed Europe from the threatened inundation of the Saracens and thus become the recognized defender of Christianity against the Infidel, nothing is more natural than that Charles Martel should have evidenced his piety and gratitude by the erection of churches. It was a common custom from the days of the earliest Christian kings thus to give expression to their religious enthusiasm and it should excite no surprise if Charles Martel followed their example. All the probabilities are on the side of the conclusion that he, like so many of his predecessors and successors, was a church builder. Indeed, it need cause no wonder if Martel, as our MSS. declare, himself became a member of and practiced the Craft, an example which finds imitation in Peter the Great becoming a shipwright.

If, as therefore appears probable, Charles Martel was either a member or a patron of the Craft of Masonry, he might reasonably be expected to grant them privileges not conferred upon the other crafts generally. Our MSS. say that he did; likewise in France, according to Boileau's Code of the usages and customs of the Masons, the Stone Masons, the Plasterers, and the Mortarers, compiled about A. D. 1260, "All Stone Masons are free of watch duty since the time of Charles Martel, as the wardens have heard tell from father to son." Commenting upon this, Bro. Gould, in his History of Freemasonry (vol. I, p. 200) says "The Prud'hommes (wardens) inform Boileau that it has been traditional from father to son that they (stone masons) have been exempt ever since the time of Charles Martel. We thus see that as early as the thirteenth century, a tradition was current in France that Charles Martel had conferred special favors upon the stonemasons, and that this tradition was sufficiently well established to ensure very valuable privileges to the craftsmen claiming under it. With but one (28) exception, all the Old Charges of British Freemasons also pointedly allude to the same distinguished soldier as a great patron and protector of Masonry." This "community of tradition," as Bro. Gould calls it, "which pervaded the minds of the medieval Masons in Gaul and Britain," and which is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of the Charlemagne theory, Bro. Dring does not so much as allude to, much less attempt to reconcile. It is thus indisputably proved that the Charles Martel tradition was thoroughly established in France certainly a hundred and fifty years before the Cooke MS. had any existence and hence before its author could have made his supposed mistake, and a much longer period before Bro. Dring's supposed editor or copyist could have made his supposed correction, or mis-correction, if the term may be allowed. By Bro. Dring's rule that, when a document does not accord with one's theory, one has only to suppose that its author or editor had mistakenly or deliberately made it read differently from the way it should read, anything can be either proved or disproved. If two documents stand in the way, it is only necessary to suppose that the writer of one had the other before him, and thus any number of authorities may be gotten rid of. In this manner, Bro. Dring has brushed aside more than seventy documents.

The name of Charles Martel first appears in our known MSS. in Grand Lodge No. 1, of A. D. 1583, or as we have seen, more than three hundred years after a similar tradition concerning him was current among the French Stonemasons. Those who would overthrow this concensus of Masonic tradition both in France and England and would dethrone Charles Martel from the proud position he occupies in our legendary history and put in his place the greater Charles, must produce evidence more convincing than any yet brought forward. Until stronger evidence is adduced, Charles Martel is quite good enough a hero for us.

  1. 1 - Quoted from the Grand Lodge MS. No. 1 of the "old charges." This MS. bears date A.D. 1583 and is printed in Hughan's "Old Charges" (1872), p. 41, Sadler's "Masonic Facts and Fictions" (1887), p. 199; Quatuor Coronati Antigrapha, Vol.

  2. 2- A.Q.C. vol. XVIII, p. 179; Ib. vol. XIX, p. 45.

  3. 3- A.Q.C. vol. XIX, p. 55.

  4. 4- Bryce Holy Roman Empire; A.Q.C. vol. III, p. 166.

  5. 5- Cooke, William Watson, Henery Heade MSS. The Stanley MS. says he was named "Charles" simply.

  6. 6- Cama MS. Levander-York MS. says "regulator of France."

  7. 7- Grand Lodge No. 1, Phillipps No. 1, Phillipps No. 2, Bain, Dowland, Col. Clerke, Wood, Melrose, York No. 6, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 1, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 4 MSS., Papworth MS. says a "regalion of France." John T. Thorp MS. says "reall Lyne of France." The Stanley MS. says "of Regalme in ffrance."

  8. 8- Edinburgh-Kilwinning, Lansdowne, Antiquity, York No. 1, York No. 2, York No. 4, York No. 5, Harris No. 2, Probity, Hope, Alnwick, Wren, Waistell, John Strachan, New Castle College, Scarborough MSS. Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 3 calls him "a prince of the Royal line of France."

  9. 9- Cooke, William Watson, Henery Heade, Carmick MSS.

  10. 10-Acheson-Haven, Thos. W. Tew MSS.

  11. 11-Cooke, Henery Heade MSS.

  12. 12-Grand Lodge No. 2, Harleian No. 1942, Rawlinson, John Macnab MSS.

  13. 13- William Watson MS.

  14. 14-Buchanon, H. F. Beaumont MSS.

  15. 15-Phillips No. 3, Sloane No. 3848; Sloane No. 3323 "men." Lechmere Briscoe MSS.

  16. 16-Dumfries-Kiiwinning No. 4 MS.

  17. 17-Cooke, William Watson, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 3, Henery Heade MSS.

  18. 18-Grand Lodge No. 1, Col. Clerke, Edinburgh-Kilwinning, Probity, Phillips No. 1, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 1 and No. 3, New Castle College, Phillips No. 2, Cama, Carmick, Bain, Lansdowne, H. F. Beaumont, Antiquity, Thos. W. Tew, York No. 1 York No. 2, York No. 5, Wood, Melrose No. 2, Harris No. 2, Alnwick, Wren, John T. Thorp, John Strachan, Scarborough, Grand Lodge No. 2, Harleian No. 1942, John Macnab, Buchanan, Acheson-Haven, York No. 6, Papworth, Phillipps No. 3, Dowland, Levander-York, Sloane No. 3848, Sloane No. 3323, Harleian No. 2054, Lechmere, Briscoe MSS. Stanley MS. "he says loved well such advice."
  19. 19-Grand Lodge No. 1, Edinburgh-Kilwinning, Phillips No. 1, Thos. W. Tew, Phillipps No. 2, Cama, Carmick. Bain, York No. 1, York No. 2, York No. 5, Stanley, Wood, Alnwick, John T. Thorp, H. F. Beaumont, John Strachan, Col. Clerke, Scarborough, Grand Lodge No. 2, Harleian No. 1942, Rawlinson, John Macnab, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 1 and No. 3, Lechmere, Briscoe, Sloane No. 3323, New Castle College, Harleian No. 2054, Levander-York, Sloane No. 3848, Buchanan Acheson-Haven, York No. 6, Papworth, Phillipps No. 3, Dowiand MSS.

  20. 20-Grand Lodge No. 1, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 1 and No. 3 Edinburgh-Kilwinning, Thos. W. Tew, Phillipps No. 1, Phillips No. 2, Waistell, Cama, Col. Clerke, Bain, Lansdowne, Probity, Antiquity, York No. 1, York No. 2, York No. 5, Wood, H. F. Beaumont, Melrose No. 2, New Castle College, Harris No. 2, Hope, Alnwick, Wren, John Strachan, John T. Thorp, Scarborough, Dumfries-Kilwinning, Buchanan, Acheson-Haven, York No. 6, Papworth, Phillipps No. 3, Dowland, Levander-York, Sloane No. 3848, Sloane No. 3323, Harleian No. 2054, Lechmere MSS.

  21. 21-Grand Lodge No. 2, Harleian No. 1942, Rawlinson, John Macnab MSS.

  22. 22-Grand Lodge No. 1, Edinburgh-Kilwinning, Phillipps No. 1, Col. Clerke, Phillipps No. 2, Waistell, Cama, Bain, Lansdowne, Antiquity, Thos. W. Tew, Wood, Melrose No. 2, Stanley, Harris No. 2, Hope, Probity, Alnwick, Wren, H. F. Beaumont, AchesonHaven, York No. 4, York No. 6, Phillipps No. 3, Dumfries-Kilwinning No. 1 and No. 3, Dowland, Levander-York, Sloane No. 3848, Sloane No. 3323, Harleian No. 2054, Lechmere, John T. Thorp, John Strachan, Scarborough, Cooke, William Watson, Henery Heade, Buchanan MSS.

  23. 23-York No. 1, York No. 2, York No. 5, New Castle College MSS.

  24. 24-Cooke, William Watson, Henery Heade MSS.

  25. 25-Cooke, William Watson, Henery Heade MSS.

  26. 26-A.Q.C. vol. XVIII p. 179.

  27. 27-Universal Encyclopaedia; Encyclopaedia Americana; The Encyclopaedia Brittanica (11th ed.) with a nicer discrimination denominates him a "Frankish Ruler," between which and "King of the Franks" it must be admitted there is little difference.

  28. 28-Cooke MS. Two others have since been discovered, William Watson and Henery Heade MSS.

-Source: The Builder October 1915

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