The Halliwell Manuscript – Regius Poem
The Halliwell Manuscript, also known as The Regius Poem, is the first known Masonic text. It consists of 64 written pages in poetic form. The poem begins by evoking Euclid and his invention of geometry in ancient Egypt and then the
spreading of the art of geometry in “divers lands.” This is followed by fifteen points for the master concerning both moral behavior (do not harbor thieves, do not take bribes, attend church regularly, etc.) and the operation of work on a building site (do not make your masons labour at night, teach apprentices properly, do not take on jobs that you cannot do etc.). There are then fifteen points for craftsmen which follow a similar pattern.
The general consensus on the age of the document dates its writing to between the late 1300s and the middle of the 15th century, and from internal evidence its author appears to have been a West of England clergyman. The manuscript was recorded in various personal inventories as it changed hands until it came into possession of the Royal Library, which was donated to the British Museum in 1757 by King George II to form the nucleus of the present British Library.
During this time, the document was generally described as a poem of moral duties. The significance of the document as relating to Freemasonry was not realized until it was featured in an article on Freemasonry by James Halliwell in 1840.
The text of the document states that Freemasonry was brought to England during the reign of King Athelstan from 924 to 939.
The manuscript is presently held by the British Library in the Royal Manuscript Collection, catalogue reference 17 A. I.
The Regius Poem Broken Down and Translated
The Fifteen Articles
- The Master must be steadfast, trusty and true; provide victuals for his men, and pay their wages punctually.
- Every Master shall attend the Grand Lodge when duly summoned, unless he have a good and reasonable excuse.
- No Master shall take an Apprentice for less than seven years.
- The son of a bondman shall not be admitted as an Apprentice, lest, when he is introduced into the Lodge, any of the brethren should be offended.
- A candidate must be without blemish, and have the full and proper use of his limbs; for a maimed man can do the craft no good.
- The Master shall take especial care, in the admission of an Apprentice, that he do his lord no prejudice.
- He shall harbor no thief or thief’s retainer, lest the craft should come to shame.
- If he unknowingly employ an imperfect man, he shall discharge him from the work when his inability is discovered.
- No Master shall undertake a work that he is not able to finish to his lord’s profit and the credit of his Lodge.
- A brother shall not supplant his fellow in the work, unless he be incapable of doing it himself; for then he may lawfully finish it, that pleasure and profit may be the mutual result.
- A Mason shall not be obliged to work after the sun has set in the west.
- Nor shall he decry the work of a brother or fellow, but shall deal honestly and truly by him, under a penalty of not less than ten pounds.
- The Master shall instruct his Apprentice faithfully, and make him a perfect workman.
- He shall teach him all the secrets of his trade.
- And shall guard him against the commission of perjury, and all other offences by which the craft may be brought to shame.
The Fifteen Points
- Every Mason shall cultivate brotherly love and the love of God, and frequent holy church.
- The workman shall labor diligently on work days, that he may deserve his holidays.
- Every Apprentice shall keep his Master’s counsel, and not betray the secrets of his Lodge.
- No man shall be false to the craft, or entertain a prejudice against his Master or Fellows.
- Every workman shall receive his wages meekly, and without scruple; and should the Master think proper to dismiss him from the work, he shall have due notice of the same before H. xii.
- If any dispute arise among the brethren, it shall be settled on a holiday, that the work be not neglected, and God’s law fulfilled.
- No Mason shall debauch, or have carnal knowledge of the wife, daughter, or concubine of his Master or Fellows.
- He shall be true to his Master, and a just mediator in all disputes or quarrels.
- The Steward shall provide good cheer against the hour of refreshment, and each Fellow shall punctually defray his share of the reckoning, the Steward rendering a true and correct account.
- If a Mason live amiss, or slander his Brother, so as to bring the craft to shame, he shall have no further maintenance among the brethren, but shall be summoned to the next Grand Lodge; and if he refuse to appear, he shall be expelled.
- If a Brother see his Fellow hewing a stone, and likely to spoil it by unskillful workmanship, he shall teach him to amend it, with fair words and brotherly speeches.
- The General Assembly, or Grand Lodge, shall consist of Masters and Fellows, Lords, Knights and Squires, Mayor and Sheriff, to make new laws, and to confirm old ones when necessary.
- Every Brother shall swear fealty, and if he violate his oath, he shall not be succored or assisted by any of the Fraternity.
- He shall make oath to keep secrets, to be steadfast and true to all the ordinances of the Grand Lodge, to the King and Holy Church, and to all the several Points herein specified.
- And if any Brother break his oath, he shall be committed to prison, and forfeit his goods and chattels to the King.