Since the middle of the 19th century, Masonic historians have sought the origins of the movement in a series of similar documents known as the Old Charges, dating from the Regius Poem in about 1425 to the beginning of the 18th century. Alluding to the membership of a lodge of operative masons, they relate a mythologized history of the craft, the duties of its grades, and the manner in which oaths of fidelity are to be taken on joining. The 15th century also sees the first evidence of ceremonial regalia.
There is no clear mechanism by which these local trade organizations became today's Masonic Lodges, but the earliest rituals and passwords known, from operative lodges around the turn of the 17th–18th centuries, show continuity with the rituals developed in the later 18th century by accepted or speculative Masons, as those members who did not practice the physical craft came to be known. The minutes of the Lodge of Edinburgh (Mary's Chapel) No. 1 in Scotland show a continuity from an operative lodge in 1598 to a modern speculative Lodge. It is reputed to be the oldest Masonic Lodge in the world.
Alternatively, Thomas De Quincey in his work titled, Rosicrucians and Freemasonry, put forward the theory which suggested that Freemasonry was possibly an outgrowth of Rosicrucianism. The theory had also been postulated in 1803 by German professor, J. G. Buhle.
The first Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, later called the Grand Lodge of England (GLE), was founded on 24, June 1717, when four existing London Lodges met for a joint dinner. Many English Lodges joined the new regulatory body, which itself entered a period of self-publicity and expansion. However, many Lodges could not endorse changes which some Lodges of the GLE made to the ritual (they came to be known as the Moderns), and a few of these formed a rival Grand Lodge on July 17, 1751, which they called the "Antient Grand Lodge of England." These two Grand Lodges vied for supremacy until the Moderns promised to return to the ancient ritual. They united on December 27, 1813 to form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).