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The Origins of Freemasonry: Scotland's Century, 1590 to 1710 Paperback – September 28, 1990


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition (September 28, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521396549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521396547
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,599 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"...a work of creative scholarship flavoured by exceptional candour and gusto...makes an important contribution to the movement among historians which is rescuing pre-Union Scotland from its reputation for near-savage backwardness, and showing how deep were the roots of Enlightenment in the country's culture. London Review of Books

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 17 customer reviews
A highly recommendable book.
Pohl Michael
There is an interesting and illustrative biography of an early gentleman Freemason, Robert de Moray.
Bernhard W. Hoff
I suspect they are very correct.
D. Mosier

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

120 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Bernhard W. Hoff on May 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
The question of Freemasonry's origins and history prior to the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 is such a morass of speculation, supposition, and wishful thinking that professional historians - Stevenson included - feel the need to justify their researches in this subject lest they be tainted by its disrepute among their fellows. Against such a background this book really stands out. Stevenson bases his research on actual records of almost a hundred Scottish Masonic lodges that date from the 1600's, along with municipal records, other guilds' records, diaries, and royal statutes.
What emerges from this mass of information is a compelling story of the origin of Scottish Lodges as trade associations established by royal decree in the late 1590's and their development by 1710 into mutual benefit and social societies involving a broader range of members. Stevenson's most important finding, established early in the book, is that both before and after the establishment of the Lodges, masons were also members of municipally chartered, or incorporated, building trades guilds along with carpenters, wrights, and the detested cowans or unskilled laborers. The Lodges, in essence, were parallel and competing organizations with the municipal "Incorporations", of which the masons were also members. Stevenson illustrates the power struggles between the Lodges and the "Incorporations", as well as the search for influence on the part of various noble patrons. Along the way we get a good look at the frequently theorized, but never well documented transition from operative to speculative membership (it did not happen the way you might think!).
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56 of 58 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is the only work on the origins of Freemasonry I have ever seen that ignores the movement's vast myth-making literature and focuses instead on the surviving records of the earliest known masonic lodges. Stevenson--who teaches history at the University of St. Andrews--paints a solid, sober, believable portrait of Freemasonry's rather prosaic origins in the operative masonic lodges of early 17th-century Scotland.
His study is a welcome and refreshing antidote to all the junk that has been written about Freemasonry in the past three centuries. It explodes Masonic authors' extravagant claims for an origin in ancient civilizations and possession of powerful supernatural secrets. It also undermines anti-Masonic authors' equally bizarre accusations of pacts with supernatural forces of evil. It replaces these fanciful images with the story of a remarkable human institution whose recent, humble, workaday origins are far more interesting than its myths.
If you only read one book about Freemasonry in your lifetime, this is the book to read.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Pohl Michael on March 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
Prof. Stevenson, a non-mason, has stumbled upon freemasonry while specialising in the history of the Scottish covenanters. He adds academic structure and his formidable historic knowledge to the unwritten part of Scottish masonry, - an oral tradition of memorized texts and a rich variety of lodge rituals, -way before George I's (a Hanoverian who spoke no English) attempt in 1717 to create a system of control by establishing the Grand Lodge of England. Mr. Stevenson may be forgiven for not understanding masonic imagery, however he has given us a well presented insight into Scottish masonry. His impressive work sets new standards in masonic history, based on verifiable and reproducable evidence rather than on wishful thinking. A highly recommendable book.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 27, 1998
Format: Paperback
This book is the real deal. Stevenson looks for and reports his work regarding the history of Fremasonry. Very scholarly and very interesting. I would like to spend time with this author as this book is very thought provoking. I agree with Stevenson, his work has made me appriciate Masonry all the more. Well done.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Crazy Fox on May 16, 2008
Format: Paperback
There are about as many explanations of Freemasonry's origins as there are explainers. From Freemasonry's own dramatic and fascinating legends to paranoid conspiracy theories, along with overly fanciful New Age yarns, unsupported armchair guesswork, bestselling thrillers, and careful historical investigations. This book is an exemplary model of the latter. David Stevenson has brought his scholarly acumen and disciplined historical expertise to bear on a much muddled subject, arriving at conclusions as plausible and modest as they are interesting and original--not to mention refreshingly clear.

The first seventy pages or so are extremely dry, and after a while started to wear on my patience. My advice: bear with Stevenson as he lays out the facts here, grounding Freemasonry's murky prehistory firmly in the socioeconomic facts of Medieval Scotland. From this he can demonstrate convincingly how Renaissance elements of Hermeticism, Neo-Platonism, the Art of Memory, and Vitruvian valorizations of architecture came to inform the self-characterizations and common practices of these prior craft guilds, gradually transforming the latter in the process. He sticks closely to previously unconsidered primary sources of the time in question rather than later reconstructions so as to uncover the unfolding of this complicated process, mining fragmentary manuscripts, local records, and other such often overlooked sources tucked away in the shadowy corners of old archives for what they have to tell us--cautiously and painstakingly distinguishing certain fact from plausible but ultimately unverified speculation based on those facts as he goes along.
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