© 2008 Provincial Grand Court of Wessex
“The Haliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem” A Paper Presented by W.Bro. David R. Attwater, ProvGOrganist
When we are initiated into Freemasonry, the Charge to the Initiate urges us “to endeavour to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge”. This paper has been put together with this in mind and to give us an insight into the origins of English Freemasonry and the historical relevance of this to our Order. The “Old Charges” of Masons’ Lodges were the documents describing the duties of the members, part of which, the Charges, every Mason had to swear on admission. For this reason, every Lodge had a copy of its Charges, occasionally written into the beginning of the minute book, but usually as a separate manuscript roll of parchment. With the coming of Grand Lodges, these were largely superceded by printed constitutions, but the Grand Lodge of All England at York, and the few Lodges that remained independent in Scotland and Ireland, retained the hand-written Charges as their authority to meet as a Lodge. From the reign of Henry VI to the Elizabethan period, about 1425 – 1550, surviving documents show the evolution of a legend of Masonry, starting before the flood, and culminating in the re- establishment of the Craft of Masonry in York during the reign of King Æthelstan. King Æthelstan reigned from 924 to 939 AD and was the grandson of Alfred the Great. William of Malmesbury, who is considered to be the foremost historian of the 12th century, wrote that Alfred the Great honoured his young grandson with a ceremony in which he gave him a scarlet cloak, a belt set with gems, and a sword with a gilded scabbard. Ninth-century West Saxon Kings, before Alfred the Great, are generally described by historians as Kings of Wessex, or of the West Saxons. In the 880s, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, accepted West Saxon Lordship, and Alfred then adopted a new title, King of the Anglo-Saxons, representing his conception of a new polity of all the English people who were not under Viking rule. This endured until 927, when Æthelstan conquered Viking York and adopted the title “Rex Anglorum”, King of the English, in recognition of his rule over the whole of England. New coinage was issued advertising his newly exalted status with the inscription “Rex Totius Britanniae”, King of All Britain. Historians regard Æthelstan as the first King of England and one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon Kings. The Halliwell Manuscript, also known as the Regius Poem, is the earliest of the English “Old Charges” and is unique as it is set in verse. It is made up of 64 vellum pages consisting of 794 lines written in rhymed couplets. It is significantly different from all other “Old Charges” and was still lost when the modern constitutions were drawn up in the 1700s. The main text is written in Middle English, which describes the dialects of the English language used between the High and Late Middle Ages and was spoken throughout the Plantagenet era (1154 – 1485). The text on the manuscript is barely recognizable today because it is in a Gothic or Germanic lettering style, and the alphabet and spellings have changed, but if sounded phonetically, most of the words are still understandable in our language today. There are also 34 lines of headings with no spacings around them, but they are set apart by being in red ink rather than black, by being in Latin instead of Middle English, and by not participating in the rhyming. Whilst the scribe may have been a literate Mason, he was more likely to have been a priest or monk commissioned by a local Operative Masonic Lodge. Whoever he was, it has long been assumed that he was paraphrasing and extending an even earlier Masonic document that was then still in existence. The origins of the document are obscure and it was recorded in various personal inventories as it changed hands until it came into possession of the Royal Library. King George II had no interest in reading, or in the arts and sciences, and he donated the Royal Library to the British museum in 1757, four years after its foundation. In 1854, genealogist Richard Sims’s Handbook to the Library of the British Museum states: “In the year 1757, King George II, under an instrument that passed the Great Seal, presented the Library to the nation. At that time it was deposited in the Old Dormitory at Westminster, at which place it had been removed from Ashburnham House, at the time of the lamentable fire which broke out in that building on 23rd October, 1731 from which it fortunately sustained but slight injury.” The manuscript came to the attention of Freemasonry much later, this oversight being mainly due to librarian David Casley who described it, in his Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Old Royal Library, as “a Poem of Moral Duties” when he recorded it in 1734. It is currently held by the British Library in the Royal Manuscript Collection, catalogue reference 17 AI. The significance of the document, as relating to Freemasonry, was not realized until James Halliwell drew attention to it in a paper “On the introduction of Freemasonry into England,” which he read before the Society of Antiquaries in the 1838-39 session. He thereafter published two small editions of a work entitled “The Early History of Freemasonry in England”. James Orchard Halliwell-Phillips was born in London, in 1820, and was educated privately and at Jesus College, Cambridge. He devoted himself to antiquarian research and particularly into early English literature. He was not a Freemason himself and was only eighteen years old when he brought the manuscript to the attention of The Society of Antiquaries of London. This Fellowship is charged, by its Royal Charter of 1751, with “the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries”. The manuscript was bound in its present cover in or about the year 1838, probably soon after Halliwell had drawn attention to its significance, and bears the Royal Arms of King George II, stamped on front and back, and the date 1757. It was given the title of “Regius Poem”, Regius meaning, “of or belonging to a King”, by the historian of Freemasonry Robert Freke Gould, in an essay in 1889, to replace the less enticing names of “17 AI”, “Poem of Moral Duties”, and “Halliwell Manuscript”. It was named the Regius Poem not only because it was presented to the British Museum by King George II, but also because Gould considered it to be the “King” of the Old Charges.
The age of the manuscript has been variously estimated. Halliwell supposed it to have been written about 1390, or earlier. Masonic scholar, Rev. Adolphus Frederick Alexander Woodford, supported this view. Rev. Woodford became Grand Chaplain in 1863. The curator of manuscripts at the British Museum, Edward Augustus Bond, dated it to be 50 years later, but this was largely dismissed. It was long accepted that the document dates from 1390, but, after research, circa 1425 is now considered a more likely date and it is believed that it was composed 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 a statute of 1425 banning such meetings. The poem begins by evoking Euclid and his re-invention of geometry in ancient Egypt, and then the spreading of the art in “divers lands”. As in all the “Old Charges”’ Masonry is made synonymous with Geometry, a thing very different in those days from the abstract science over which we laboured during our school days. The opening Latin heading reads, “Hic Incipiunt Constituciones Artis Gemetriae Secundem Euclydem” and translates as, “Here begin the constitutions of the Art of Geometry according to Euclid”. Euclid was a Greek mathematician, around 300 BC, often referred to as the “Father of Geometry”. He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I, 323 - 283 BC. Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system that he described in his set of textbooks entitled “Elements”. Although many of Euclid’s results had been stated by earlier mathematicians, Euclid was the first to show how these propositions could fit into a comprehensive, deductive and logical system. The Halliwell Manuscript relates how the Craft of Masonry was brought to England, from Egypt, during the reign of King Æthelstan. It tells how all the Masons of the land came to the King for direction as to their own good governance, and how, together with the nobility and landed gentry, forged the fifteen articles and fifteen points for their rule. This is followed by fifteen articles for the Master concerning both moral behaviour and the operation of work on a building site. There are then fifteen points for Craftsmen, which follow a similar pattern. Warnings of punishment for those breaking the ordinances are followed by provision for annual assemblies. There then follows the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs that, according to Roman Catholic tradition, actually relates to two groups of martyrs. The first group of four, whose names could not be authentically established and after whom the legend is named, were thought to have been soldiers who refused to sacrifice to Æsclepius, who was god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion and associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. They were killed by order of Diocletian who was Roman Emperor from 284 – 305 AD. The second group of five, that have since been linked with the first four, were, according to tradition, sculpters from Sirmium, which was a city in Roman Pannonia, the location of which is now in modern Serbia, who refused to fashion a pagan statue of Æsclepius, for the Emperor Diocletian, and were put to death as Christians. A series of moral aphorisms follow. Aphorisms being original thoughts written in a concise and memorable form. And finally, the manuscript finishes with a blessing. Halliwell originally transcribed the document into modern alphabet, but retained the Middle English words. A slightly corrected version was edited and published in 1889, by George William Speth, Secretary and a founder member of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. The Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 is the Premier Lodge of Masonic Research based at Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, London. Its Latin title meaning “Four Crowned Ones”. Medieval writing had a number of characters we no longer use, which Halliwell and Speth translated into their modern equivalents. It has had several amendments made since, particularly as our language, and the meaning of certain words, has changed over the years. The genealogist Richard Sims carried out the first Modern English translation in 1874, and the most recent version was in 1914 by Brother Roderick H. Baxter, who became Worshipful Master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge some four years later. At the end of the Instruction of a Candidate in our Order, and before the “circle of nine”, the Master recites “let me congratulate you on taking this day a very important step on your Masonic journey. It is hoped and intended that it will stimulate your mind to further Masonic research.” The Halliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem states that Masonry was brought to England in the reign of King Æthelstan and asserts that the King was a supporter of the Craft and assisted in the composition of its earliest Charges. The last lines of the manuscript are transcribed as: “Well this book to know and read, Heaven to have for your mede. Amen! Amen! So mote it be! So say we all for charity.” “Mede” is the original Middle English word and is retained so that the verse scans poetically. It translates as “reward” Thus: “Heaven to have for your reward”. Amen! Amen! So mote it be! Paper researched and prepared by W Bro David Robert Attwater Provincial Grand Organist for the Province of Wessex, Master and Acting Secretary of Ædelred Court No. 66 Presented in Open Court at Installation as Master of the Court of Ædelred No. 66, 20 October 2014 Also presented at the Province of Wessex Annual Assembly at Perranporth, 16 May 2015 LINK TO THE TOP OF THE PAGE
© 2008 Provincial Grand Court of Wessex
“The Haliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem” A Paper Presented by W.Bro. David R. Attwater, ProvGOrganist
When we are initiated into Freemasonry, the Charge to the Initiate urges us “to endeavour to make a daily advancement in Masonic knowledge”. This paper has been put together with this in mind and to give us an insight into the origins of English Freemasonry and the historical relevance of this to our Order. The “Old Charges” of Masons’ Lodges were the documents describing the duties of the members, part of which, the Charges, every Mason had to swear on admission. For this reason, every Lodge had a copy of its Charges, occasionally written into the beginning of the minute book, but usually as a separate manuscript roll of parchment. With the coming of Grand Lodges, these were largely superceded by printed constitutions, but the Grand Lodge of All England at York, and the few Lodges that remained independent in Scotland and Ireland, retained the hand-written Charges as their authority to meet as a Lodge. From the reign of Henry VI to the Elizabethan period, about 1425 – 1550, surviving documents show the evolution of a legend of Masonry, starting before the flood, and culminating in the re- establishment of the Craft of Masonry in York during the reign of King Æthelstan. King Æthelstan reigned from 924 to 939 AD and was the grandson of Alfred the Great. William of Malmesbury, who is considered to be the foremost historian of the 12th century, wrote that Alfred the Great honoured his young grandson with a ceremony in which he gave him a scarlet cloak, a belt set with gems, and a sword with a gilded scabbard. Ninth-century West Saxon Kings, before Alfred the Great, are generally described by historians as Kings of Wessex, or of the West Saxons. In the 880s, Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians, accepted West Saxon Lordship, and Alfred then adopted a new title, King of the Anglo-Saxons, representing his conception of a new polity of all the English people who were not under Viking rule. This endured until 927, when Æthelstan conquered Viking York and adopted the title “Rex Anglorum”, King of the English, in recognition of his rule over the whole of England. New coinage was issued advertising his newly exalted status with the inscription “Rex Totius Britanniae”, King of All Britain. Historians regard Æthelstan as the first King of England and one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon Kings. The Halliwell Manuscript, also known as the Regius Poem, is the earliest of the English “Old Charges” and is unique as it is set in verse. It is made up of 64 vellum pages consisting of 794 lines written in rhymed couplets. It is significantly different from all other “Old Charges” and was still lost when the modern constitutions were drawn up in the 1700s. The main text is written in Middle English, which describes the dialects of the English language used between the High and Late Middle Ages and was spoken throughout the Plantagenet era (1154 – 1485). The text on the manuscript is barely recognizable today because it is in a Gothic or Germanic lettering style, and the alphabet and spellings have changed, but if sounded phonetically, most of the words are still understandable in our language today. There are also 34 lines of headings with no spacings around them, but they are set apart by being in red ink rather than black, by being in Latin instead of Middle English, and by not participating in the rhyming. Whilst the scribe may have been a literate Mason, he was more likely to have been a priest or monk commissioned by a local Operative Masonic Lodge. Whoever he was, it has long been assumed that he was paraphrasing and extending an even earlier Masonic document that was then still in existence. The origins of the document are obscure and it was recorded in various personal inventories as it changed hands until it came into possession of the Royal Library. King George II had no interest in reading, or in the arts and sciences, and he donated the Royal Library to the British museum in 1757, four years after its foundation. In 1854, genealogist Richard Sims’s Handbook to the Library of the British Museum states: “In the year 1757, King George II, under an instrument that passed the Great Seal, presented the Library to the nation. At that time it was deposited in the Old Dormitory at Westminster, at which place it had been removed from Ashburnham House, at the time of the lamentable fire which broke out in that building on 23rd October, 1731 from which it fortunately sustained but slight injury.” The manuscript came to the attention of Freemasonry much later, this oversight being mainly due to librarian David Casley who described it, in his Catalogue of the Manuscripts of the Old Royal Library, as “a Poem of Moral Duties” when he recorded it in 1734. It is currently held by the British Library in the Royal Manuscript Collection, catalogue reference 17 AI. The significance of the document, as relating to Freemasonry, was not realized until James Halliwell drew attention to it in a paper “On the introduction of Freemasonry into England,” which he read before the Society of Antiquaries in the 1838-39 session. He thereafter published two small editions of a work entitled “The Early History of Freemasonry in England”. James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps was born in London, in 1820, and was educated privately and at Jesus College, Cambridge. He devoted himself to antiquarian research and particularly into early English literature. He was not a Freemason himself and was only eighteen years old when he brought the manuscript to the attention of The Society of Antiquaries of London. This Fellowship is charged, by its Royal Charter of 1751, with “the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries”. The manuscript was bound in its present cover in or about the year 1838, probably soon after Halliwell had drawn attention to its significance, and bears the Royal Arms of King George II, stamped on front and back, and the date 1757. It was given the title of “Regius Poem”, Regius meaning, “of or belonging to a King”, by the historian of Freemasonry Robert Freke Gould, in an essay in 1889, to replace the less enticing names of “17 AI”, “Poem of Moral Duties”, and “Halliwell Manuscript”. It was named the Regius Poem not only because it was presented to the British Museum by King George II, but also because Gould considered it to be the “King” of the Old Charges. The age of the manuscript has been variously estimated. Halliwell supposed it to have been written about 1390, or earlier. Masonic scholar, Rev. Adolphus Frederick Alexander Woodford, supported this view. Rev. Woodford became Grand Chaplain in 1863. The curator of manuscripts at the British Museum, Edward Augustus Bond, dated it to be 50 years later, but this was largely dismissed. It was long accepted that the document dates from 1390, but, after research, circa 1425 is now considered a more likely date and it is believed that it was composed 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 a statute of 1425 banning such meetings. The poem begins by evoking Euclid and his re-invention of geometry in ancient Egypt, and then the spreading of the art in “divers lands”. As in all the “Old Charges”’ Masonry is made synonymous with Geometry, a thing very different in those days from the abstract science over which we laboured during our school days. The opening Latin heading reads, “Hic Incipiunt Constituciones Artis Gemetriae Secundem Euclydem” and translates as, “Here begin the constitutions of the Art of Geometry according to Euclid”. Euclid was a Greek mathematician, around 300 BC, often referred to as the “Father of Geometry”. He was active in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy I, 323 - 283 BC. Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system that he described in his set of textbooks entitled “Elements”. Although many of Euclid’s results had been stated by earlier mathematicians, Euclid was the first to show how these propositions could fit into a comprehensive, deductive and logical system. The Halliwell Manuscript relates how the Craft of Masonry was brought to England, from Egypt, during the reign of King Æthelstan. It tells how all the Masons of the land came to the King for direction as to their own good governance, and how, together with the nobility and landed gentry, forged the fifteen articles and fifteen points for their rule. This is followed by fifteen articles for the Master concerning both moral behaviour and the operation of work on a building site. There are then fifteen points for Craftsmen, which follow a similar pattern. Warnings of punishment for those breaking the ordinances are followed by provision for annual assemblies. There then follows the legend of the Four Crowned Martyrs that, according to Roman Catholic tradition, actually relates to two groups of martyrs. The first group of four, whose names could not be authentically established and after whom the legend is named, were thought to have been soldiers who refused to sacrifice to Æsclepius, who was god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion and associated with the Roman/Etruscan god Vediovis. They were killed by order of Diocletian who was Roman Emperor from 284 305 AD. The second group of five, that have since been linked with the first four, were, according to tradition, sculpters from Sirmium, which was a city in Roman Pannonia, the location of which is now in modern Serbia, who refused to fashion a pagan statue of Æsclepius, for the Emperor Diocletian, and were put to death as Christians. A series of moral aphorisms follow. Aphorisms being original thoughts written in a concise and memorable form. And finally, the manuscript finishes with a blessing. Halliwell originally transcribed the document into modern alphabet, but retained the Middle English words. A slightly corrected version was edited and published in 1889, by George William Speth, Secretary and a founder member of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. The Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 is the Premier Lodge of Masonic Research based at Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street, London. Its Latin title meaning “Four Crowned Ones”. Medieval writing had a number of characters we no longer use, which Halliwell and Speth translated into their modern equivalents. It has had several amendments made since, particularly as our language, and the meaning of certain words, has changed over the years. The genealogist Richard Sims carried out the first Modern English translation in 1874, and the most recent version was in 1914 by Brother Roderick H. Baxter, who became Worshipful Master of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge some four years later. At the end of the Instruction of a Candidate in our Order, and before the “circle of nine”, the Master recites “let me congratulate you on taking this day a very important step on your Masonic journey. It is hoped and intended that it will stimulate your mind to further Masonic research.” The Halliwell Manuscript or Regius Poem states that Masonry was brought to England in the reign of King Æthelstan and asserts that the King was a supporter of the Craft and assisted in the composition of its earliest Charges. The last lines of the manuscript are transcribed as: “Well this book to know and read, Heaven to have for your mede. Amen! Amen! So mote it be! So say we all for charity.” “Mede” is the original Middle English word and is retained so that the verse scans poetically. It translates as “reward” Thus: “Heaven to have for your reward”. Amen! Amen! So mote it be! Paper researched and prepared by W Bro David Robert Attwater Provincial Grand Organist for the Province of Wessex, Master and Acting Secretary of Ædelred Court No. 66 Presented in Open Court at Installation as Master of the Court of Ædelred No. 66, 20 October 2014 Also presented at the Province of Wessex Annual Assembly at Perranporth, 16 May 2015 LINK TO THE TOP OF THE PAGE