It is believed that the Old Charges were used in making a Mason in the old,
operative stonemason days. They are called by many names: "Antient" (archaic word for "Ancient") Manuscripts,
Old Masonic Manuscripts, Ancient (or Antient) Constitutions, Old Constitutions, Legends of
the Craft, Gothic Manuscripts and Old Records.
The Old Charges are ancient documents that have come down to us from the 14th
century and their legends, rules and regulations are now incorporated within our
The physical makeup of these documents are found in
the form of handwritten paper and parchment rolls, each unit having been either
sewn or pasted together or are comprised of hand-written sheets stitched
together in book form, as well as in the more familiar, modern, printed book
Some of these Old Manuscripts have been found to have been incorporated into
the Minute Books of lodges. They range in estimated date from 1390 until
1714. A few of them are specimens of Gothic script. Most of them are
in the safekeeping of the British Museum and the Masonic Library of West
Freemasonry's Old Charges - 1390 through
These Old Charges (or Old Masonic Manuscripts) form the basis of modern
Masonic Constitutions, and therefore, each Grand Lodge's jurisprudence. They
establish the continuity of the Masonic Institution through a period of more
than six centuries, and it is believed to be much longer. They prove the
great antiquity of Masonry by written documents, which is a thing no other Craft
in existence is able to do.
These Old Charges are traditional and legendary in format and are not
normally read by the amateur or layman due to their arcane Olde Englishe
wording. Also, many of the words written 600 years ago mean something
quite different in our language of today, so,...even in your excitement to read
more about their Masonic antiquity, after reading a couple pages, you would soon
tire of trying to understand the archaic meaning of many of their words, unless
you were a true language historian.
Happily, for us, after discovering the
Old Manuscripts, our Masonic historians through the years have studied them and
written much about them in laymen's language that we can understand.
Historians have carefully and critically studied them and there is evidence
that these old Legends of the Craft were used in making
a Mason during the old Operative days. Some even served as the
constitution of lodges during that time.
There are 19 major and many minor Old Charges
or old records and approximately 100 in total, which have come down to us
through the centuries. Those not housed in the British Museum are housed
in well known, reputable and old libraries, in the archives of Masonic Lodges
and have been published by those who discovered them.
These Old Constitutions are all very
similar in content and historians presume that they are copies of some earlier
documents which were, apparently, lost through wars, holocaust, required
book-burnings and the chaos and destruction through the ages' so it is truly
amazing that any of them are still available to us!
The Halliwell Manuscript has 794 lines of rhymed verse and is believed to be
the oldest Masonic document in existence at approximately 600 years old.
It is also known as the Regius Manuscript,
as it was found within a group of other documents and renamed at a later date.
Of special note is the fact that each of these Old Constitutions begin with
an invocation to the "Mighty Father of Heaven".
The Halliwell Manuscript is written in poetic meter and has 794 lines of
rhymed verse. At over 600 years old, it is believed to be the oldest
Masonic document among the Old Records in existence.
Freemasonry's Old Manuscripts
The following excerpt is from the Halliwell Manuscript,
also known as the Halliwell Poem or Regius Manuscript. It is believed to
have been written during the operative stone mason times during the late Middle
Line Ordinacio (Constitution)
Ordinacio In Today's English
70: He sende about ynto the londe...(He send about into
71: After alle the masonus of the crafte...(After all
the Mason, us of the craft)
72: To come to hym ful eene stragfte...(To come to him
full and straight)
73: For to amende these defaultys alle...(For to amend
these defaults all)
74: By good counsel gef it hyt mytgh falle...(By good
counsel give it the name of mightiful)
Freemasons are quite proud of our ancient and documented heritage and of our
being a member of the oldest fraternity in the world.
19 of the Old Masonic
Below, are 19 of the approximately 100 Old Charges,
(also called the Old Records), their
approximate date of origin (to the best of our historian's abilities) and where
they currently reside.
Halliwell Manuscript - Supposed - 1390
Housed in the King's Library, British Museum
Cooke Manuscript - Supposed 1490
Dowland Manuscript - Supposed 1500
Landsdowne Manuscript - Supposed 1560
York Manuscript, No. 1 - Supposed 1600
Harleian Manuscript, No. 2054 - Supposed
Housed in the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England
Grand Lodge Manuscript - Supposed 1583
Housed in the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England.
Sloane Manuscript, No. 3848 - Certain
Housed in the British Museum
Sloane Manuscript, No. 3323 - Certain
Harleian Manuscript, No. 1942 -
Aitcheson-Haven Manuscript - Supposed
Housed in the Grand Lodge of Scotland
Edinburgh-Kilwinning Manuscript -
Housed in the Mother Lodge Kilwinning, No. 0, Scotland
York Manuscript, No. 5 - Supposed 1670
York Manuscript, No. 6 - Supposed 1670
Lodge of Antiquity Manuscript - Certain
York Manuscript, No. 2 - Certain 1693
Alnwick Manuscript - Certain 1701
In possession of the Newcastle College of Rosicrucians
York Manuscript No. 4 - Certain 1704
Papworth Manuscript - Supposed 1714
For more in-depth information and a more complete list of the
Old Charges with dates and owners, see the Mackey-Hughan-Hawkins Encyclopedia of
Freemasonry and Hughan's Old Charges.
If you believe that these Old Charges,...these ancient Masonic Charters, found
on the dark and musty shelves in ancient libraries are simply old and
interesting pieces of Masonic history and information that have nothing to do
with Freemasonry, today, you would be perceived among knowledgeable Brethren as
Every single Masonic constitution, law, statute, rule,
Grand Lodge By-Laws, Blue Lodge By-Laws, regulation, as well as each of our
current Masonic Charters in some way contains what is written in these Old
The Old Charges are built into most Grand Lodge Constitution and
By-Laws books as the foundation of Masonic jurisprudence, ...which are our Grand
Lodge's methods of governing and regulating the legal affairs of the Craft.