Layland Lack manuscript c. 1436 Bodleian Library

Of interest here, as a kind of bridge between old legend and the early history of the order in England, and also as a different version of the legend itself, is another document dating far back. There was a MS discovered in the Bodleian Library at Oxford about 1696, supposed to have been written in the year 1436, which purports to be an examination of a Mason by King Henry VI, and is allowed by all to be genuine. Its title runs as follows: “Certain questions with answers to the same concerning the mystery of masonry written by King Henry the Sixth and faithfully copied by me, John Laylande, antiquarian, by command of his highness.”

Written in quaint old English, it would doubtless be unintelligible to all but antiquarians, but it reads after this fashion:  What mote it be?—It is the knowledge of nature, and the power of its various operations; particularly the skill of reckoning, of weights and measures, of constructing buildings and dwellings of all kinds, and the true manner of forming all things for the use of man.

Where did it begin?—It began with the first men of the East, who were before the first men of the West, and coming with it, it hath brought all comforts to the wild and comfortless.

Who brought it to the West?—The Phoenicians who, being great merchants, came first from the East into Phoenicia, for the convenience of commerce, both East and West by the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

How came it into England?—Pythagoras, a Grecian, traveled to acquire knowledge in Egypt and Syria, and in every other land where the Phoenicians had planted Masonry; and gaining admittance into all lodges of Masons, he learned much, and returned and dwelt in Grecia Magna, growing and becoming mighty wise and greatly renowned. Here he formed a great lodge at Crotona, and made many Masons, some of whom traveled into France, and there made many more, from whence, in process of time, the art passed into England.

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