Museum of Freemasonry - Masonic Library
Extracted from 'Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia'

These old documents are also known under several other names. Some prefer York Constitutions and that is fairly descriptive, since some of them state that the first Annual Assembly of Masons was held at York, England, and those which do not name York invariably ascribe the first Assembly to the authority and patronage of King Athelstan whose seat was at York.

Others refer to them simply as Old Manuscripts, but that is misleading, there being many old manuscripts which are not Gothic Constitutions. Some call them Manuscript Constitutions of the British Freemasons, but they are not all in manuscript, some being printed. Sometimes they are called Ancient Charges but this may overreach the truth in the matter of antiquity, none of them being traceable beyond the Middle Ages, while, on the other hand, they contain more than Charges, the Legends both in substance and volume being quite as important. The name, Gothic Constitutions, was first applied to the old documents in question by Dr. James Anderson in his Constitutions of 1738. They are what in Masonic terminology have usually been called constitutions, and the oldest specimens were written in or at the latter end of the period of Gothic construction, which extended approximately from 1150 to 1550 A. D. The name is descriptive, it was the first name applied and there seems no good reason for any other.

Regius MS:

The oldest of these documents is known as the Regius MS., sometimes called the Halliwell MS. for the reason that its Masonic character was first discovered and announced by Mr. Halliwell-Phillips, a non-Mason. It is written on vellum, 4 by 5 inches in size and bound in Russia leather. It is lodged in the British Museum, where for many years it was cataloged as A Poem of Moral Duties, which aided in hiding its Masonic character until 1839. It bears no date, but antiquaries have placed its date at somewhere between 1350 and 1450 A. D., with the preponderance of authority at about 1390. It is in the form of a rude epic poem and was probably the work of a priest or monk who had access to older Masonic documents. The title, which is Latin, is translated: Here begins the Constitutlons of fhe Art of Geometry according to Euclid. This MS. is not a true Gothic Constitution, none of which is in verse, but is a rhymed copy of such a document, together with certain non-Masonic matter as follows:

(1) The legendary history of Geometry or Masonry in substance similar to that found in the Gothic Constitutions; (2) Fifteen Articles for the Master and Fifteen Points for the Craftsmen, (3) An ordinance relating to assemblies; (4) The legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs; (5) Rules of Behavior in Church; and (6) Some rules of deportment or etiquette. Parts (1), (2), and (3) are purely Masonic, (4) relates to the Freemasons but is not found in any of the Gothic Constitutions, while (5) and (6) are not Masonic at all. The poem contains 794 lines, of which the following, beginning at line 55, is a small sample:

"The Clerk Euclid in this wise founded
This Craft of geometry in Egyptian land,
In Egypt he taught it full wide,
In divers lands on every side;
Many years afterward, I understand
Before the Craft came into this land.
This Craft came into England, as I now say,
In the time of good King Athelstan's day;
He made them both hall and likewise bower
And high temples of great honour,
To disport him in both day and night,
And to worship his God with all his might."

It then proceeds to relate how Athelstan sent about after Masons and called an assembly of lords, dukes, earls, barons, knights, squires and many more and gave them charges, of which the following is a complete list, partly modernized:

Fifteen Articles for the Master Mason:

1. He must be "stedefast, trusty and trewe."
2. He must be at the general congregation to know where it shall be held.
3. He must take apprentices for seven years "hys craft to lurn."
4. He must take no bondman for apprentice.
5. The apprentice must be of lawful blood and "have his lymes hole."
6. To take the Lord for his apprentice as much as his fellows.
7. He shall accept no thief for an apprentice "lest hyt wolde turne the craft to schame."
8. "Any mon of crafte, be not also perfyt, he may hym change."
9. He must undertake no work, "but he conne bothe hyt ende and make."
10. No master must supplant another but "be as syster and brother."
11. He must be both "fayr and fre" and teach by his might.
12. He shall not disparage his fellow's work but "hyt amende."
13. He must teach his apprentice.
14. So that he, "withynne hys terme, of hym dyvers poyntes may lurne."
15. Do nothing that "wolde turne the craft to schame."

Fifteen Points for the Craftmen:

1. "Must love wel God and holy churche and his mayster and felows."
2. Work truly for "huyres apon werk and halydays."
3. Must keep his master's counsel in chamber and "yn logge."
4. "No mon to hys craft be false."
5. Must accept their pay meekly from the master and not strive.
6. Must "stond wel yn Goddes lawe."
7. Respect the chastity of his master's wife and "his felows concubyne."
8. Be a true mediator and act fairly to all.
9. To pay well and truly to man and woman.
10. Disobedient masons to be dealt with by the assembly and forfeit membership in the craft.
11. Help one another by instructing those deficient in knowledge and skill.
12. Imprisonment for disobedience to the assembly.
13. He shall "swere never to be no thef" and never to help any of false craft.
14. Swear to be true to the King.
15. Must obey the assembly on pain of having to forsake the craft and suffer mprisonment.
The poem ends with: "Amen! Amen! so mote hyt be! Say we so alle per charyte."

The Legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs (Quatuor Coronati) was not a legend of the British Freemasons and is found in none of the Gothic Constitutions (except the Regius MS.), but it was a legend of the German Steinmetzen and, since these Christian Martyrs had been honored by the Popes, the legend was familiar to monastic literature.  Other Old Manuscripts. Up to about the time of World War II, there had been brought to light 99 copies of the Gothic Constitutions, all similar to one another but no two identical, even those known to be direct copies of some other specimen showing inevitable errors in copying. None of these contains the parts of the Regius MS. above referred to as (3) (4), (5), and (6). A list of these MSS. with the date or estimated date of each and its location or custody is as follows:



Regius             Circa 1390  British Museum

Cooke              15th Cent.     "      "

Grand Lodge          1583      United Grand Lodge of England

Wood                 1610      Worcester

Thorp                1629      Leicester

Sloane No. 3848      1646      British Museum (see gen. text, SLOAN13 MS

Sloane No. 3323      1659        "       "      "   "     "      "

Aitchison Haven      1666      Grand Lodge of Scotland

Aberdeen             1670      Aberdeen Lodge No. 1 (ter)

Henery Heade         1675      Inner Temple, London

Melrose No. 2        1675      Melrose St. John Lodge No. 1 (bis)

Stanley              1677      West Yorkshire Library

Carson               1677      Cincinnati, Ohio

Plot                 1686      Epitome in Nat. Hist. Staffordshire

Clerke               1686      United Grand Lodge of England

Antiquity            1686      Lodge of Antiquity No. 2

William Watson       1687      West Yorkshire Library

Beaumont             1690       "      "        "

Waistell             1693       "      "        "

York No. 4           1693      York Lodge No. 236

Foxcroft             1699      United Grand Lodge of England

Buchanan           17th Cent     "      "     "    "    "

Phillips No. 1      "     "    Cheltenham

Phillips No. 2      "     "        "

Kilwinning          "     "    Kilwinning Lodge No. 0

York No. 1          "     "    York Lodge No. 236

York No. 5          "     "      "    "    "   "

York No. 6          "     "      "    "    "   "

Lansdowne           "     "    British Museum

Harleian No. 1942   "     "       "      "

Harleian No. 2054   "     "       "      "

Grand Lodge No. 2   "     "    United Grand Lodge of England

Colne No. 1         "     "    Royal Lancashire Lodge No. 116, Colne

Harris No. 1        "     "    Bedford Lodge No. 157, London

Dumfries No. 1      "     "    Dumfries Kilwinning Lodge No. 53

Dumfries No. 2      "     "       "         "        "    "   "

Dumfries No. 3      "     "       "         "        "    "   "

Stirling            "     "    Ancient Lodge No. 30, Stirling

Hope                "     "    Benevolent Lodge No. 303, Teignmouth

Bain                "     "    London

Dring-Gale          "     "      "

Langdale            "     "    Rochdale

Clapham             "     "    West Yorkshire Library

Dauntesey           "     "    Manchester

Taylor              "     "    West Yorkshire Library

Lechmere            "     "    Worcester

Beswicke-Royde      "     "    Prov. G. L. East Lancashire

David Ramsay        "     "    Hamburg

Embleton            "     "    West Yorkshire Library

Drinkwater No. 1   Circa 1700  Manchester Association

Drinkwater No. 2    "     "       "          "

Boyden              "     "    So. Jur. Scottish Rite, Washington, D.C.

Strachan            "     "    Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Alnwick              1701      Newcastle

York No. 2           1704      York Lodge No. 236

Heaton             Circa 1705  United Grand Lodge of England

Scarborough          1705      Grand Lodge of Canada

Talents             1700-20    United Grand Lodge of England

Brooks Hill            "         "      "     "    "    "

Roberts              1722      Printed

Macnab                 "       West Yorkshire Library

Haddon               1723      United Grand Lodge of England

Briscoe              1724      Printed

Cama               Circa 1705  Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Inigo Jones          "     "   Worcester

Spencer              1726      Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

Songhurst          Circa 1726  Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Fisher               "     "   United Grand Lodge of England

Tho. Carmick         1727      Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania

Supreme Council      1728      London

Woodford               "       Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Bolt-Coleraine         "       Unknown

Cole                 1728-9    Engraved in Cole's Constifutions

Langley              1738      Printed

Dodd                 1739         "

Levander-York      Circa 1740  Port Sunlight

Holywell             1748      Prov. Grand Lodge of Lancashire

Fortitude          Circa 1750  Fortitude Lodge No. 281, Lancaster

Thistle              1756      Thistle Lodge No. 62, Dumfries

Melrose No. 3        1762      Melrose St. John Lodge No. 1 (bis)

Tew                18th Cent.  West Yorkshire Library

Portland             "    "    Wilbick Abbey

Hughan               "    "    West Yorkshire.Library

Papworth             "    "    London

Phillips No. 3       "    "    Cheltenham

Newcastle College    "    "    Newcastle

Probity              "    "    Probity Lodge No. 61, Halifax

Colne No. 2          "    "    Royal Lancashire Lodge No. 116, Colne

Harris No. 2         "    "    British Museum

Rawlinson            "    "    Bodleian Library

Dumfries No. 4       "    "    Dumfries Kilwinning Lodge No. 53

Gateshead            "    "    Lodge of Industry No. 48

Crane No. 1          "    "    Unknown

Crane No. 2          "    "       "

Krause               1806      Printed

Dowland              1815         "

Hargrove             1818         "

Tunnah               1828      Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076

Wren               Circa 1852  Unknown

Other MSS. known or supposed to have existed are now missing as follows: Melrose No. 1; Baker's; Morgan's; Dermott's; Wilson's; York No. 3; Masons Company; Newcastle Lodge; T. Lamb Smith; Anchor and Hope; and Drake.

Cooke MS. The Matthew Cooke MS. is almost as old as the Regius MS. and also has some peculiarities, one being that it opens with an invocation which is not Christian or Trinitarian as practically every other one is and that it is made up of copies of two older MSS., the copyist having started to copy one and then switched to the other.

Grand Lodge MS. This MS. is the third oldest and is so-called because it possession of the United Grand Lodge of England. It states on its face that it was "Scriptum Anno Domini 1583 Die Decembris 25." Phillips No. 1 and No. 2, Kilwinning, and Cama closely resemble it. This MS. will be here presented in greatly abbreviated form and, from the Invocation (which is given verbatim), the reason for using the modern English equivalent for the rest of it will be apparent. The Invocation is typically Trinitarian as follows:

"The mighte of the Father of Heaven and ye wysdome of ye glorious Soone through ye grace & ye goodness of ye holly ghoste yt bee three psons & one God, be wh vs at or beginning and give vs grace so to govrne us here in or lyving that we maye come to his blisse that nevr shall have ending. Amen."

The legends which follow recite that:

The worthy Craft of Masonry was begun and kept by worthy kings and princes and other worshipful men, for it is a worthy Craft and curious science, being one of the Seven Liberal Sciences which are Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, and Astronomy. These are all found by Geometry which is the most worthy. Before Noah's Flood, there was a man called Lamech, who had two wives, Adah and Sella. By the first, he had two sons, Jabell and Juball, and by the other wife a son and daughter. These four founded all the crafts in the world. Jabell founded Geometry; Juball, Music; Tubal Cain, the smith's craft; and the daughter weaving. Knowing that God would take vengeance on the world, they wrote these sciences on two pillars of stone, one of marble that would not burn in fire and the other called Laterno that would not drown in water. Hermes, the father of wisdom, found one of these pillars after the Flood and taught the Sciences to others. At the Tower of Babylon, Masonry was made much of, Nemroth, King of Babylon, being a Mason and loving the Craft. He sent 40 Masons to build Ninevah and other cities and gave them charges that they should be true to one another, live truly, and serve their lords. Abraham and Sarah went into Egypt and taught the Seven Sciences to the Egyptians, including Euclid, who became a master of all seven sciences. Egypt was suffering from overpopulation and unemployment. In answer to the king's entreaty made at a great council, Euclid undertook to teach the young men Geometry, whereby they could earn their living and live honestly by building churches, temples, castles, towers, and manors. Euclid gave them charges to be true to the king, to the lords they served, and to each other, and to call one another fellow or brother, and many other charges. King David began the Temple at Jerusalem and paid the Masons well and gave them charges. His son, Solomon, finished the Temple and sent for Masons in divers countries so that he had 24,000 workmen in stone, 3000 of whom were Masters. King Iram loved King Solomon and sent him timber. He had a son called Aynom who was master of Geometry and chief Master Mason and Master of all graving and carving as stated in the Bible. Solomon confirmed the charges of King David. The craftsmen walked into divers countries and one of them, Naymus Grecus, came to France, where he taught Masonry. Charles Martel loved the Craft and learned the Craft from Naymus Grecus and thereafter became King of France, after which he helped make Masons and gave them charges and a chapter to hold their assembly. England was void of Masonry until St. Alban's time, when the King, who was a pagan, walled the town of St. Albans. St. Alban was a knight and steward of the King's household. He loved masons and paid them well, two shillings, six pence a week and three pence for cheer, for before that, a mason received but a penny a day. He gave them a charter to hold a general assembly and helped to make masons and gave them charges. After St. Alban's death, divers wars destroyed the good rule of Masonry until the time of King Athelstan, who brought all the land to rest and peace and built many great works, abbeys, and towers. He loved Masons and had a son called Edwin, who loved Masons even more. He was a great practitioner of Geometry and talked with Masons and learned the Craft and was made a Mason. He got a charter from the King for the Masons to hold an assembly once a year, wherever they would, to correct faults within the Craft, and he himself held an assembly at York and made Masons and gave them charges, and made a cry that all old Masons or young that had any writings or understandings of the charges or manners of Masons should bring them forth. And some were found in French, some in Greek, some in English, and some in other languages. And he made a book of them and commanded that it be read when a Mason should be made.

The manner of taking the oath was in Latin reading as follows: "Then one of the elders holds the book, and he or they, place the hand under the book and these precepts ought to be read &."

The Charges, also abbreviated, were as follows:

First, that you shall be true men of God and holy Church and that you use no error nor heresy but be discreet and wise men;

Also that you should be true liege men to the king of England without treason or falsehood and that you know no treason unless you amend it or warn the king or his counsel;

Also that you be true to one another, that is to say to every Mason of the Craft you shall do unto them as they should do unto you;

Also that you keep the counsel of your fellows truly, in lodge and in chamber or in other councils that ought to be kept by way of Masonhood;

Also that no Mason shall be a thief in Company so far as he may know and that he shall be true each to the other and to the lord or master and truly see to his profits and advantages;

Also you shall call Masons fellows or brethren and no foul names;

Also you shall not take your fellow's wife in villany nor desire ungodly his daughter or his servant or put him to disworship;

Also you shall truly pay for his meat and drink where you go to board;

Also you shall do no villany where you go to board whereby the Craft might be slandered;

These are the charges in general that belong to every true Mason, both Masters and Fellows. Other charges singular for Masters and Fellows are:

First, that no Master or Fellow take upon himself any lord's work nor any other man's work unless he knows himself able and sufficient of cunning to perform the same;

That no Master take no work but that he take it reasonably so that the lord may be well served and that the Master live honestly and pay his Fellows truly;

Also that no Master or Fellow supplant any other of their work. He shall put him out, except he be unable of cunning to end the work;

Also that no Master or Fellow take a prentice but for the term of seven years and the prentice be of able birth, that is, free born, and whole of limbs, as a man ought to be:

Also that no Master or Fellows take allowance to be made Mason without counsel of his Fellows and that he take him for no less than six or seven years and that he who would be a Mason be able m all degrees, that is, free born, come of good kindred, true and no Bondsman. Also that he have his right limbs as a man ought to have;

Also that no man take a prentice unless he have sufflcient work for him or to set three of his Fellows or two at least to work;

Also that no Master or Fellow take a man's work to task that was wont to go on journey:

Also that every Master shall pay his Fellows as they deserve so that he be not deceived with false workmen Also that no Mason slander any other behind his back;

Also that no Fellow within the Lodge or without may answer another ungodly nor reproachfully without reasonable cause;

Also that every Mason shall reverence his elder and put him to worship;

Also that no Mason shall be a common player at hazzard or at dice or at other unlawful plays whereby the Craft might be slandered Also that no Mason shall use leachery or be a baude whereby the Craft might be slandered;

Also that no Fellow go into the town at night time unless there is a lodge of Fellows, without he have a Fellow with him to bear witness that he was in an honest place;

Also that every Master and Fellow shall come to the Assembly if it be within fifty miles if he have warning, and if he has trespassed against the Craft then he shall abide the award of his Masters and Fellows, and shall stand to the award of the Masters and Fellows to make them accord if they can, and if they may not accord then to go to the common law;

Also that no Master or Fellow make a moulde stone or square or rule to a layer or set a layer within the lodge or without to hew moulde stones;

Also that every Mason receive and cherish strange Fellows when they come over the country and set them at work if they will as the manner is, that is to say, if they have mould stones in his place, or else refresh him with money to the next lodging;

Also that every Mason truly serve the lord for his pay and every Master truly make an end of his work be it task or journey.

The MS. concluded as follows: "These charges that we have now rehearsed unto yu all and all others that belong to Masons, ye shall keepe, so healpe you God, and your hallydome, and by this booke in yor hande unto yr power. Amen, so be it."

The old Constitutions are alike in these respects: they virtually all begin with an invocation, generally Christian; relate substantially the same legends; give a list of charges; and provide for an oath or obligation. They all reflect religious, moral, and ethical precepts and contemplate a brotherhood for mutual helpfulness, designed to benefit the lord or owner of the work no less than the workmen. They exhibit many peculiarities and differences, the main ones of which are as follows:

(1) The invocation (except the Regius and the Cooke) is Trinitarian Christian, in conformity with Roman Catholic Church creed, though there is no indication that such belief was necessary for admittance to the Craft.

(2) The legends are fanciful, abound in errors and anachronisms and are brief and unfinished in literary workmanship. There is much variation in the spelling of names of leading characters and some are named who cannot be identified, for examples, St. Alban and Naymus Grecus, the latter of whom Fort says was Naymus the Greek. Peter Gower is supposed to mean Pythagoras. These English legends tell a story of greater antiquity than the legends of the German Steinmetzen or the French Compagnonnage. The Regius omits all the antediluvian and postdiluvian details and begins with the legend of Euclid. Most of the MSS. mention the patronage of the Craft by Charles Martel of Prance, though the Cooke MS. refers to Charles II, a different character. The French legends also asserted the patronage of Charles Martel. Some of the English MSS. omit his name completely, because, it is supposed, that he subsequently incurred the ill will of the Church for confiscating Church property.

(3) The point of chief interest is the legendary advent of the Craft into England, the inauguration of General Assemblies, and the institution of the English Charges by Athelstan or Edwin, described as the King's son, though Athelstan had no son and it is suggested that Edwin of Northumberland was intended, though he lived about 300 years earlier. Such anachronisms are common in the legends; for another example, the tale that Abraham, who lived 2000 B. C. communicated the Seven Sciences to Euclid, who lived 300 A. D. There is nothing inherently improbable about the advent of Masonry or Geometry into England in the 10th century or even the 7th, though it is quite likely that the author chose King Athelstan, because he was the first English sovereign to claim jurisdiction over the whole nation. Also, it is worthy of note that Edwin of the Northumbers did have some reputation as a church builder independently of the Masonic Legends. Some of the MSS. name York as the place of first Assembly, others infer it simply from the fact that York was the seat of Athelstan's government. The date is not definitely stated by any of the MSS. prior to the Inigo Jones MS. of about 1725 which fixes the date as A. D. 932. Dr. Anderson, in his Constitutions of 1738, gave the date as A. D. 926, without explanation, but it seems to have carried the most weight.

(4) The Charges vary in number and arrangement though little in substance. The Regius sets forth 15 Articles for the Master and 15 Points for the Craftsmen; the Cooke, 9 for the Master and 9 for the Craft; the Grand Lodge, 9 General and 18 special Charges although they are both addressed to the Masters and Fellows. There are a great variety of other variations. Harleian MS. No. 1942 of about A. D. 1670, and a few in the same family, set forth 25 Charges and add 6 New Articles, not found in any prior specimens. In brief, these required that a lodge consist of at least 5 Freemasons, that a traveling Mason bring with him a certificate from the lodge that accepted him, showing the time of his accepcon; that the names of all Masons be enrolled on parchment, and that an oath of secrecy be exacted, the form of which was set forth. These New Articles reflect the changes that were taking place in the English Fraternity by the increase of the non-operative element, there being more difficulty in detecting the regularity of a nonoperative than an operative Mason, the latter having his skill to prove him. It also indicates increasing imposition on the lodges by irregularly made Masons. This new certificate was the forerunner of the modern receipt for dues. Another striking change made by Harleian MS. No. 1942 was the addition of Charges for the Apprentice, which had not appeared before that time and this same peculiarity attached to Melrose MS. No. 2 of 1676, Watson MS. of 1687, York MS. No. 4 of 1693, Hope and Colne No. 1 MSS. both of the 17th century, Roberts MS. of 1722, and Gateshead MS. of the 18th century.

(5) The oath or obligation usually terminated with: So help you Cod and his holy Doome, some copies using holydome, hallydom, or holydome. It has never been determined what this expression denotes though it is claimed to be a Saxon word meaning holy judgment and that by my halidom was a solemn oath among the rural population of early England. The New Articles add the oath of secrecy which concludes with: Soe help me God & the holy contents of this booke. One MS. uses: Holy Scriptures; another, by God's Grace; and still a third, by one or more laying his hand on the Book and swear by one command and oath.

There will be observed in the Gothic Constitutions three chief elements or trends: the religious, the scientific, and the regal, and all of these have been more or less emphasized in Freemasonry ever since. Many of the Charges form the direct basis or pattern for Charges and Regulations adopted in 1723 and, hence, for modern constitutions, regulations, and obligations. The Temple Legend forming the main theme of the ritual comes directly from the like item in the Gothic legends.