Origins to English Freemasonry Part 2

The Origins and Links to English Freemasonry – Part 2


The Regius Manuscript


The oldest of the known manuscript charges of Freemasonry, written about 1390, is in the old English of Chaucer’s time, and is difficult to read.

This old manuscript contains 15 articles and 15 points, of which the following is a free transcript, care being taken to convey the spirit of the thought rather than literary accuracy:




     (1) The Master must be a trusty man, an honourable and impartial medium between the lords who hire and the operatives who labour.


     (2) He must be punctual in his attendance at the assemblies.


     (3) He must take no apprentice for a term of less than seven years.


     (4) He must take no apprentices, save the free and well born.


     (5) He must take no mutilated person for an apprentice.


     (6) He must not take Craftsman’s wages for apprentices’ labour.


     (7) He must take no immoral or depraved person for an apprentice.


     (8) Finding an employee incompetent, he must immediately discharge him.


     (9) He must undertake no work that he cannot finish.


     (10) No master shall supplant another in his business.


     (11) He shall not require his workmen to work by night, except in search of knowledge.


     (12) He shall speak no evil of his fellows’ work.


     (13) He must instruct his apprentices in the Masonic science.


     (14) The Master shall take no apprentices for whom he has not sufficient labour.


     (15) He shall not compromise with his fellows in their sins for any profit.




     (1) The Mason must love God and his brethren.


     (2) He must work diligently in working hours that he may lawfully refresh himself in the hours of rest.


     (3) He must keep the secrets of the brethren with fidelity.


     (4) He must be true to the Craft.


     (5) He shall receive his wages without murmuring.


     (6) He shall not turn a working day into a holiday.


     (7) He shall not carnally lie with a brother’s wife.


     (8) He must be just and true to his Master and brethren in every capacity.


     (9) He shall treat his brethren with equity and in the spirit of brotherly love.


     (10) He must live peacefully and without contention with his brethren.


     (11) Seeing a brother about to err he must admonish him with kindness.


     (12) He must maintain the general regulations of the Craft.


     (13) He shall commit no theft or succour a thief.


     (14) He must be steadfast to these laws and to the laws of his country.


     (15) He shall submit to the lawful penalty for whatever offences he may commit.

Fyftene artyculus þey þer sowȝton, and fyftene poyntys þer þey wroȝton. (Fifteen articles they there sought and fifteen points there they wrought.) —Regius MS, ca. 1425–50.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

It has been suggested that Masonic symbols existed to maintain our secrecy, however it is much more likely they were employed at the time because very few people were literate. 

It should be remembered that in general only the clergy could read and write and many of them were employed in printing the Bible. 

This was usually carried out in the crypt of a church and even in recent times the shop steward in the print is referred to as the ‘Father of the Chapel’.

In earliest times ritual would have been learnt by recitation and handed down from one to another as the ‘indict, carve, mark, engrave or otherwise them delineate’ rules would have been strictly adhered to. 

Gradually symbolism would have been employed and eventually of course, ritual books.

The practice of remuneration according to skills, and the recognition tokens and words employed during the building of King Solomon’s Temple, applied in exactly the same manner by our operative Brothers who built churches and cathedrals during the Middle Ages here in Britain and Lodges were in many ways the forerunners of today’s Unions.

As I concluded in my other talk on the ‘History of German Freemasonry’, Masons were a nomadic lot; travelling around wherever their work took them, and many thousands were employed in the building of any given cathedral.

As such, it would have been impossible to identify who was entitled to what so the system of recognition would have been the only fair way of ensuring they received their correct remuneration. I assume there must have been many overseers, or Friday pay day would have run into Monday!


Incidentally – one piece of useless information: The next time you are in the Grand Temple looking from the East to the West, up in the coving there are depicted the figures of Euclid and Pythagoras. Euclid is holding a scroll on which are depicted, or so I thought, symbols or hieroglyphics – wrong! They are the obtuse, equilateral, and acute angles. I asked the question of one of the knowledgeable guides – he didn’t know but two hours later after trawling through the library he came back and informed me. So now you know!


The Regius, or Halliwell, Manuscript
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

A brief history of the Regius MS


The Regius Manuscript, or Poem, also known as ‘The Halliwell Manuscript’, was part of a collection of 12,000 volumes presented to the British Museum [Treatise on Geometry and Masonry] in 1757, by King George II, which came to be known as the Royal Library. It was written by hand on 64 pages of vellum an was entered under in the catalogue as:

No. 17 A-1 under the title, ‘A Poem of Moral Duties: here entitled Constitutiones Artis Gemetrie Secundem’.



James Orchard Halliwell – Lovell Reeve, Portraits of Men of Eminence in Literature, Science and Art, vol. I, London, 1863.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The earliest of the old Constitutions. It is in poetic form, and was probably transcribed in 1390 from an earlier copy.

It was published in 1840 by James 0. Halliwell-Phillipps, and again in 1844, under the title of The Early History of Freemasonry in England.

The Masonic character of the poem remained unknown until its discovery by Halliwell, who was not a Freemason, because it was catalogued as ‘A Poem of Moral Duties’.

It is now more commonly known as the Regius Manuscript because it formed part of the Royal Library commenced by Henry VII and presented to the British Museum by George II.

The contents were mistaken until Halliwell-Phillipps mentioned it in his paper on the Introduction of Freemasonry into England, read before the Society of Antiquaries during the session of 1838 to 1839.

Two small editions of the transcript of the poem were published. The first edition contained a facsimile reproduction of four lines of the manuscript, the second similarly reproduced the first page, and he also gave a glossary which with the transcript was published in a veritable gem of a work in 1889, Spencer and Company with an introduction by Brother H. J. Whymper.

Halliwell-Phillipps pointed out that the writer was probable a priest, this evidently from the allusions in line 699 (page LI).

He also calls attention to line 143 (page XI), as intimating that a still older manuscript was in existence when the poem was written.

The writing is done in a neat but characteristic style of the early period and in these modern days far from familiar to us, the English of that generation was also very different from that of our time.


Photograph of Sir w:Edward Augustus Bond – circa 1890
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

The manuscript was dated to 1390, which was supported in the by such authorities as Masonic researcher and Editor of the Freemason magazine Adolphus Woodford, and William James Hughan.

The dating of Edward Augustus Bond, the principal librarian and curator of manuscripts at the British Museum, to fifty years later was largely side-lined at the time.

However, modern analysis confirmed Bond’s dating to the second quarter of the fifteenth century, and placed its composition in Shropshire.

This dating leads to the hypothesis that the document’s composition, and especially its narrative of a royal authority for annual assemblies, was intended as a counterblast to the statute of 1425 banning such meetings [see Andrew Prescott, The Old Charges Revisited, 2006] Hughan believed that the manuscript had been written by a priest.

This manuscript itself is an anonymous treatise in Middle English prose which recounts the history of geometry citing Euclid, and thus equates this with masonry, through the Bible down to King Æthelstan.

Foot Notes

[Text sources: Mackay’s Encyclopaedia | ‘The Old Charges and What They Mean to Us’, Bro. H.L. Haywood, AQC vol. VII]

<Image of James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps by Ernest Edwards – Lovell Reeve, Portraits of Men of Eminence in Literature, Science and Art, vol. I, London, 1863. Public Domain.>

Read the full translation of the Regius Poem, with parallel text, here: Pietre-Stones, The Regius Poem, Parallel text with introduction


See the digitised manuscript at the British Museum,_or_Regius_Poem


Andrew Prescott, The Old Charges Revisited, from Transactions of the Lodge of Research No. 2429 (Leicester), 2006, Pietre-Stones Masonic Papers



continue reading next chapter
Origins and Links to English Freemasonry - Part 3

Article by: Barry Stedman


Barry was initiated into Freemasonry in Tudor Lodge 6947 UGLE, and was Master in 1995 and served as Master in other craft lodges and PZ in HRA.  He is also a member of the Essex Provincial Oration team (based in England).  

Barry works in TV and shot a video with Jim Davidson OBE ,Chelsea Lodge 3098, promoting for the RMBI Prince Edward, Duke of Kent Court at Stisted (Essex, England).

The Regius Poem
or Halliwell Manuscript

The Regius Poem, also known as the Halliwell Manuscript, is a long series of rhyming couplets that make up what is thought to be the earliest of the Old Charges of Masonry.

It was discovered in the British Museum by James O. Halliwell in 1838. While sometimes thought to have been written during the reign of King Athelstan (924-940 A.D.), the document actually dates to the late 14th century.

Whether it is a derivative work based on a separate manuscript from Athelstan’s time is unknown. However, the Regius Poem is the cornerstone of the Legend of York, which is important in Masonry even today.

This manuscript also outlines how Masons should act toward each other and toward the civil magistrate. It also talks about the history and philosophy of the order of Masons.

Any Mason interested in the history of the Art should read this document and see how it compares to the various rules their grand lodges lay out for government of a lodge.



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