Masonic lodges were arguably more visible in Scotland than England and Ireland in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Many Scottish lodges point to well-documented histories, with some thirty lodges present in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Dunfermline, Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth, Dunblane and Inverness. Their members were working masons, part of the fabric of Scottish towns whose councils regulated such trades and issued charters of incorporation, known as ‘Seals of Cause’. The Incorporation of Wrights and Masons of Edinburgh, for example, received a Seal of Cause in October 1475; known later as ‘Mary’s Chapel’, it is one of Scotland’s earliest Lodges. The position was similar in England, although documentation is less well ordered.

Formal regulation of the stonemasons’ trade and operative lodges in Scotland began at the end of the sixteenth century when the King’s Master of Works, William Schaw of Sauchie, promulgated statutes and regulations. Around a half century later (perhaps earlier), Scottish lodges began to admit notaries to serve as clerks and non-operative members of the local gentry and merchants who acted as patrons to subsidise the expense of running the Lodge. A similar pattern is found in England.

The 1707 Acts of Union which bound Scotland to England to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain brought about wholesale changes to Scotland and shifted the centre of power from Edinburgh to London. One effect was to advance the spread of ideas emanating from London, in particular the Enlightenment principles and Newtonian science of the Royal Society. There was also a tendency to emulate London Society in other ways, especially among the mainly Protestant pro-Hanoverian landowners and aristocrats of the Lowlands and West Coast, many of whom had residences in Edinburgh and London.

Iain McIntosh has written that there is evidence within Scottish Lodge records that a more recognisable form of ‘Modern Freemasonry’ emerged after the 1715 Jacobite Rising through to the creation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736. This form of ‘gentlemanly freemasonry’ emulated that which was emerging in London. That Scotland did not form its own Grand Lodge until 1736, after England (1717) and Ireland (1725), may highlight the relatively independent (and predominantly operative) nature of Scottish Lodges. This is substantiated by the process by which the Grand Lodge of Scotland was formed.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland was initially a venture promoted by four fashionable Edinburgh-based gentlemen’s Lodges: the Lodge of Edinburgh, No.1; Canongate Kilwinning, No.2; Leith Kilwinning; and Kilwinning Scots Arms.

Invitations went out to 100 Scottish lodges, of which thirty-three were represented at the inaugural meeting of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The majority of Scottish Lodges were not supportive and preferred to remain independent. This began to change when Lodges were assigned numbers to reflect their relative age, a process that commenced in 1737 based on ‘proofs’: documents and artefacts that established lineage and antiquity. McIntosh comments that ‘following the publication of the Roll, there was a rush from the other Scottish Lodges to join, each producing documents etc., of the age of the Lodge, and there resulted a jostle to prove an early foundation and claim a lower, more senior number’.

Scottish Lodges at this time recognised a two-degree system, Apprentice and Fellow Craft, and the ‘Mason Word’ was the principal secret alluded. The first mention of a Third Degree does not occur until 1726, when it is recorded in the minutes of Lodge Dumbarton Kilwinning. It spread fairly quickly but not universally thereafter, mentioned in 1728 in Lodge Greenock Kilwinning, Lodge Kilwinning in 1735, Canongate Kilwinning in 1736, and the Lodge of Edinburgh in 1738.

Although there appear to have been no formal relationship between the Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Scotland, there were many personal connections between Scottish aristocrats, politicians and academics, and their counterparts in England, and many Scottish noblemen were Members of Parliament with properties in London. They were also part of London Society and active in London clubs and societies, including the Royal Society and fashionable Masonic Lodges.

A plethora of Scottish aristocrats became Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of England prior to 1750. They include Francis Scott, 5th Earl of Dalkeith, 2nd Duke of Buccleuch, GM of England in 1723, a Scottish representative peer and FRS; James Hamilton, 7th Earl of Abercorn, GM of England in 1725 and FRS; James Lyon, 7th Earl of Strathmore, GM of England 1733 and FRS; John Lindsay, 20th Earl of Crawford, GM of England 1734 and FRS; John Keith, 3rd Earl of Kintore, GM of England 1740, GM of Scotland 1738-1739; James Douglas, 14th Earl of Morton, GM of England 1741 and GM of Scotland 1739-40, President of the Royal Society; Thomas Lyon, 8th Earl of Strathmore, GM of England 1744 and GM of Scotland 1740-41.

An interesting perspective on the Scottish debate can be found in a paper delivered by Prof. David Stevenson to Quatuor Coronati Lodge in 1994, together with the responses to that paper and Prof. Stevenson’s replies:

David Stevenson, ‘Confessions of a Cowan: A non-Mason and Early Masonic History’, AQC 107 (1994)