A poem known as the “Regius Manuscript” has been dated to approximately 1390 and is the oldest known Masonic text. There is evidence to suggest that there were Masonic lodges in existence in Scotland as early as the late sixteenth century (for example the Lodge at Kilwinning, Scotland, has records that date to the late 1500s, and is mentioned in the Second Schaw Statutes (1599) which specified that “ye warden of ye lug of Kilwynning […] tak tryall of ye airt of memorie and science yrof, of everie fellowe of craft and everie prenteiss according to ayr of yr vocations”). There are clear references to the existence of lodges in England by the mid-seventeenth century.
The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded on 24 June 1717, when four existing London Lodges met for a joint dinner. This rapidly expanded into a regulatory body, which most English Lodges joined. However, a few lodges resented some of the modernisations that GLE endorsed, such as the creation of the Third Degree, and formed a rival Grand Lodge on 17 July 1751, which they called the “Antient Grand Lodge of England“. The two competing Grand Lodges vied for supremacy – the “Moderns” (GLE) and the “Antients” (or “Ancients”) – until they united on 25 November 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).
The Grand Lodge of Ireland and The Grand Lodge of Scotland were formed in 1725 and 1736 respectively. Freemasonry was exported to the British Colonies in North America by the 1730s – with both the “Antients” and the “Moderns” (as well as the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland) chartering offspring, or “daughter”, Lodges, and organising various Provincial Grand Lodges. After the American Revolution, independent U.S. Grand Lodges formed themselves within each State. Some thought was briefly given to organising an over-arching “Grand Lodge of the United States“, with George Washington (who was a member of a Virginian lodge) as the first Grand Master, but the idea was short-lived. The various State Grand Lodges did not wish to diminish their own authority by agreeing to such a body.