The Regius Manuscript

Summary of Material - David M Peter (

The Regius Manuscript is one of the oldest Masonic Documents or Constitution to be discovered. It was written between 1350 and 1450 A.D. with the preponderance of authority dating it at about 1390. It is in the form of a rude epic poem and probably the work of a priest or monk who had access to older Masonic documents. (; Henry W. Coil and others, Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, Macoy Publishing Company and Masonic Supply Company, Inc., New York, NY., published in 1961, page 285; Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, Incorporated, Volume I, page 110.)

Dating the content of the manuscript becomes difficult. There are mentions of Athelstan, grandson of the great Alfred, who ascended the throne of England in 924 and died in 940. (Albert G. Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, Incorporated, Volume I, page 110.) Athelstan becomes King of Wessex 924 A. D. ( and is the first monarch to take the title of king of England ( The AngloSaxon Chronicle ( outlines the reign of Athelstan.

The manuscript mentions Athelstan in lines 61-66,

Thys craft com ynto Englond, as y [g]ow say,
Yn tyme of good kynge Adelstonus day;
He made tho bothe halle and eke bowre,
And hye templus of gret honowre,
To sportyn hym yn bothe day and ny[g]th,
An to worschepe hys God with alle hys my[g]th.

And in 486, "That ben y-ordeynt by kynge Aldelston;" and 495 "To conferme the statutes of kynge Adelston". Surely, the manuscript would have been written during the reign of Athelstan.

The MS is a very small quarto on vellum, and is No. 17, A1. in the Bibl. Reg., British Museum. It is described in David Casley's Catalogue of the MSS. of the Old Royal Library, 1734, page 259, as "A Poem of Moral Duties: here entitled, Constitutiones Artis Gemetrie secundem Euclidem. -'Whoso wol bothe wel rede and loke.'"(

The existence of this MS. has been known for a long time, but its contents were mistaken until Mr. Halliwell-Phillips drew attention to it in a paper "On the introduction of Freemasonry into England," read before the Society of Antiquaries ( in the 1838-9 session. He thereafter published two small editions of a work entitled "The Early History of Freemasonry in England," giving a transcript of the poem. (

According to a philosophical study undertaken by British Museum experts, the Manuscript dates from approximately 1390. Published by James O. Halliwell in 1840, it was mentioned in an inventory of John Theyer’s library in 1670. The latter was sold to Robert Scott, with a new inventory dated 1678. The Manuscript then became the property of the Royal Library until 1757 (hence its name Regius), at which time it was donated to the British Museum by King George II. (

"In the year 1757, King George II., under an instrument that passed the Great Seal, presented [the old Royal] Library to the nation. At that time it was deposited in the old Dormitory at Westminster, to which place it had been removed from Ashburnham House, at the time of the lamentable fire which broke out in that building on the 23rd October, 1731 from which it fortunately sustained but slight injury." [Sims's Handbook to Library of Brit. Mus., 1854. p. 35.] (

The age of the MS. has been variously estimated. Mr. Halliwell and the late Rev. A.F.A. Woodford supposed it to have been written about 1390, or earlier. (

The MS. is admitted to be the oldest genuine record of the Craft of Masonry known. Mr. Halliwell pointed out that the writer of the poem was evidently a priest, from the words," And when the gospel me rede schal," on line 629. He also drew attention to line 143, "By olde tyme wryten y fynde ", which intimates a still older MS. must have existed when the poem was written. (

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