The Old Records of the Fraternity of Operative Freemasons, under the general name of Old Constitutions, or Old Charges, were written in the fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. The Dowland Manuscript, as reproduced in Hughan’s Old Charges (1872) is believed to be a copy of an older one from the beginning of the sixteenth century; the rather modernized spelling makes it more intelligible to the general reader.
THE LEGEND OF THE CRAFT
Before Noyes floode there was a man called Lameche as it is written in the Byble, in the iiijth chapter of Genesis; and this Lameche had two wives, and the one height Ada and the other height Sella; by his first wife Ada he gott two sonns, and that one Jahell, and thother Tuball, and by that other wife Sella he gott a son and a daughter. And these four children founden the beginning of all the sciences in the world. And this elder son Jahell found the science of Geometrie, and he departed flocks of sheepe and lambs in the field, and first wrought house of stone and tree, as is noted in the chapter above said. And his brother Tuball found the science of Musicke, songe of tonge, harpe, and orgaine. And the third brother Tuball Cain found smithcraft of gold, silver, copper, iron, and steele; and the daughter found the craft of Weavinge. And these children knew well that God would take vengeance for synn, either by fire or by water; wherefore they writt their science that they had found in two pillars of stone, that they might be found after Noyes flood. And that one stone was marble, for that would not bren with fire; and that other stone was clepped laterns, and would not drown in noe water.
Our intent is to tell you trulie how and in what manner these stones were found, that thise sciences were written in. The great Hermarynes that was Cubys son, the which Cub was Sem’s son, that was Noye’s son. This Hermarynes, afterwards was called Harmes the father of wise men: he found one of the two pillars of stone, and found the science written there, and he taught it to other men. And at the making of the Tower of Babylon there was Masonrye first made much of. And the Kinge of Babylon that height Nemrothe, was a mason himself, and loved well the science, as it is said with masters of histories. And when the City of Nyneve, and other cities of the East should be made, Nemrothe, the Kinge of Babilon, sent thither three-score Masons at the rogation of the Kinge of Nyneve his cosen. And when he sent them forth, he gave them a charge on this manner: That they should be true each of them to other, and that they should love truly together, and that they should serve their lord truly for their pay; so that the master may have worshipp, and all that long to him. And other moe charges he gave them. And this was the first tyme that ever Masons had any charge of his science.
Moreover, when Abraham and Sara his wife went into Egipt, there he taught the Seaven Sciences to the Egiptians; and he had a worthy Scoller that height Ewclyde, and he learned right well, and was a master of all the vij Sciences liberall. And in his dayes it befell that the lord and the estates of the realme had soe many sonns that they had gotten some by their wifes and some by other ladyes of the realme; for that land is a hott land and a plentious of generacion. And they had not competent livelode to find with their children: wherefore they made much care. And then the King of the land made a great Counsell and a parliament, to witt, how they might find their children honestly as gentle-men. And they could find noe manner of good way. And then they did crye through all the realme, if there was any man that could informe them, that he should come to them, and he should be soe rewarded for his travail, that he should hold him pleased.
After that this cry was made, then came this worthy clarke Ewclyde, and said to the king and to all his great lords: ‘If yee will, take me your children to governe, and to teache them one of the Sevean Scyences, wherewith they may live honestly as gentle-men should, under a condicion that yee will grant me and them a commission that I may have power to rule them after the manner that the science ought to be ruled.’ And that the Kinge and all his Counsell granted to him anone, and sealed their commission. And then this worthy Doctor tooke to him these lords’ sonns, and taught them the scyence of Geometrie in practice, for to work in stones all manner of worthy worke that belongeth to buildinge churches, temples, castells, towres, and mannors, and all other manner of buildings; and he gave them a charge on this manner:
The first was, that they should be true to the Kinge, and to the lord that they owe. And that they should love well together, and be true each one to other. And that they should call each other his fellowe, or else brother, and not by servant, nor his knave, nor none other foule name. And that they should deserve their paie of the lord, or of the master that they serve. And that they should ordain the wisest of them to be master of the worke; and neither for love nor great lynneage, ne ritches ne for noe favour to lett another that hath little conning for to be master of the lord’s worke, wherethrough the lord should be evill served and they ashamed. And also that they should call their governors of the worke, Master, in the time that they worke with him. And other many moe charges that longe to tell. And to all these charges he made them to sweare a great oath that men used in that time; and ordayned them for reasonable wages, that they might live honestly by. And also that they should come and semble together every yeare once, how they might worke best to serve the lord for his profitt, and to their own worshipp; and to correct within themselves him that had trespassed against the science. And thus was the scyence grounded there; and that worthy Mr. Ewclyde gave it the name of Geometrie. And now it is called through all this land Masonrye.
Sythen long after, when the Children of Israell were coming into the Land of Beheast, that is now called amongst us the Country of Jhrim, King David began the Temple that they called Templum D’ni and it is named with us the Temple of Jerusalem. And the same King David loved Masons well and cherished them much, and gave them good paie. And he gave charges and the manners as he had learned of Egipt given by Ewclyde, and other charges moe that ye shall hear afterwards. And after the decease of Kinge David, Salamon, that was David’s sonn, performed out the Temple that his father begonne; and sent after Masons into divers countries and of divers lands; and gathered them together, so that he had four-score thousand workers of stone, and were all named Masons. And he chose out of them three thousand that were ordayned to be maisters and governors of his worke. And furthermore, there was a Kinge of another region that men called Iram, and loved well Kinge Solomon, and he gave him tymber to his worke. And he had a son that height Aynon, and he was a Master of Geometrie, and was chiefe Maister of all his Masons, and was Master of all his gravings and carvinge, and of all other manner of masonrye that longed to the Temple; and this is witnessed by the Bible in libro Regum the third chapter. And this Solomon confirmed both charges and the manners that his father had given to Masons. And thus was that worthy science of Masonrye confirmed in the country of Jerusalem, and in many other kingdomes.
Curious craftsmen walked about full wide into divers countryes, some because of learning more craft and cunninge, and some to teach them that had but little conynge. And soe it befell that there was one curious Mason that height Maymus Grecus, that had been at the making of Solomon’s Temple, and he came into France, and there he taught the science of Masonrye to men of France. And there was one of the Regal lyne of France, that height Charles Martell; and he was a man that loved well such a science, and drew to this Maymus Grecus that is above said, and learned of him the science, and tooke upon him the charges and manners; and afterwards, by the grace of God, he was elect to be Kinge of France. And when he was in his estate he tooke Masons, and did help to make men Masons that were none, and set them to worke, and gave them both the charge and the manners and good paie, as he had learned of other Masons; and confirmed them a Chartor from yeare to yeare, to hold their semble wher they would; and cherished them right much; And thus came the science into France.
England in all this season stood voyd as for any charge of Masonrye unto St. Albones tyme. And in his days the King of England that was a Pagan, he did wall the towne about that is called Sainct Albones. And Sainct Albones was a worthy Knight, and steward with the Kinge of his Household, and had governance of the realme, and also of the makinge of the town walls; and loved well Masons and cherished them much. And he made their paie right good, standinge as the realm did, for he gave them ijs. vjd. a week, and iijd. to their nonesynches. And before that time, through all this land, a Mason took but a penny a day and his meate, till Sainct Albone amended it, and gave them a chartour of the Kinge and his Counsell for to hold a general councell, and gave it the name of Assemble; and thereat he was himselfe, and helped to make Masons, and gave them charges as yee shall heare afterward.
Right soone after the decease of Sainct Albone, there came divers warrs into the realm of England of divers Nations, soe that the good rule of Masonrye was destroyed unto the time of Kinge Athelstone; that was a worthy Kinge of England and brought this land into good rest and peace; and builded many great workes of Abbyes and Towres, and other many divers buldings; and loved well Masons. And he had a son that height Edwinne, and he loved Masons much more than his father did. And he was a great practiser in Geometrie; and he drew him much to talke and to commune with Masons, and to learne of them science; and afterward, for love that he had to Masons, and to the science, he was made a Mason, and he gatt of the Kinge his father a Chartour and Commission to hold every yeare once an Assemble, wher that ever they would within the realme of England; and to correct within themselves defaults and trespasses that were done within the science. and he held himself an Assemble at Yorke, and there he made Masons, and gave them charges, and taught them manners, and commanded that rule to be kept ever after, and tooke then the Chartour and Commission to keepe, and made ordinance that it should be renewed from Kinge to Kinge.
And when the assemble was gathered he made a cry that all old Masons and young that had any writeinge or understanding of the charges and manners that were made before in this land or in any other, that they should show them forth. And when it was proved, there were founden some in Frenche, and some in Greek, and some in English, and some in other languages; and the intent of them all was founden all one. And he did make a booke thereof, and how the science was founded. And he himself bad and commanded that it should be readd or tould, when that any Mason should be made, for to give him his Charge. And fro that day unto this tyme manners of Masons have beene kept in that forme as well as men might governe it. And furthermore diverse Assembles have beene put and ordayned certaine charges by the best advice of Masters and fellowes.
If anyone carefully examines this legend, he will find that it is really a history of the rise and progress of architecture, with which is mixed allusions to the ancient guilds of the Operative Masons. Geometry also, as a science essentially necessary to the proper cultivation of architecture, receives a due share of attention. In thus confounding architecture, geometry, and Freemasonry, the workmen of the Middle Ages were but obeying a natural instinct which leads every man to seek to elevate the character of his profession, and to give it an authentic claim to antiquity.
This has been carefully copied from the Encyclopedia of Freemasonry (1918 The Masonic History Company). The illustration is from Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture on the Comparative Method (sixteenth edition 1968 Scribner’s), the last page of which is an advertisement for 40 x 27 sheets of the plates by B. T. Batsford, Ltd. London. As of my last inquiry, Batsford has no available copies of the illustrations. ML