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The Gnostics and Their Remains, by Charles William King, [1887], at

The Earliest Masonic Document

The language of this Act is sufficiently conclusive, but for accumulation of proofs, I shall proceed to establish the same position by giving a summary of the oldest, and only genuine document extant on the subject of Masonry. This document is a MS. Bib. Reg. 17. A. I. ff. 32, written in a hand that cannot be later than the close of the 13th century, and of which a copy has been published by J. O. Halliwell. It commences with a history of Architecture from the beginning, and of the introduction of the art into England, and then proceeds to give, in rhyme, the Rules of the Craft, conceived in precisely the same business-like spirit as those of a Trades-Union. The preamble is: "Hic incipiunt Constitutiones Artis Geometricae secundum Euclydem."  Once upon a time a certain king and his nobles had such large families as to be unable to maintain them decently, and taking counsel together devised they should be

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taught some trade whereby to live. A great clerk Euclyde proposed teaching them geometry, called Masonry, the most honest craft of all. He ordered that the most advanced of his scholars should be styled Master by the rest, but that he should call none of his inferiors either subject or servant, but always my dear brother.

"In this manner by good wit and Geometry,
 Began first the Craft of Masonry."

Euclyde invented and taught the same in Egypt: many years afterwards it was brought into England in King Athelstan's time. This good king loved the Craft and built many towers, halls, bowers, and temples. But finding out many defects in the Craft he determined to reform the same and summoned an Assembly of all the masons in England together with all his lords and commons, and,

"Fifteen Articles there they brought,
 And Fifteen Points there they wrote."

Art. I. The master must be just and true, and pay his fellows according to the price of provisions: neither exact more from his employer than he pays his men; nor take bribes from either side.

II. Every master-mason must attend the general congregation or Assembly, wherever it shall be held, unless hindered by sickness, else shall he be accounted disobedient to the Craft and full of falseness.

III. No prentice to be taken for less than seven years, for in less time he cannot learn his business either to his employer's profit or to his own.

IV. No bondsman may be taken for prentice. Otherwise it might so happen that his lord might take him out of the lodge itself, and so occasion great tumult, for all the masons would stand together by their fellow. The prentice must therefore be taken of the master's own degree; but of old times it was ordained he should be of gentle blood, and even great lords' sons took to this geometry.

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V. The prentice must be of lawful birth, and sound both in mind and body:

"For an imperfect man of such blood,
 Should do the Craft but little good.
 A maimed man he hath no might,
 Ye may it knowen long ere night."

VI. The master must not take from his employer the same pay for the prentice as for the perfect workman. Nevertheless, before the prentice's time is out, as he increases in knowledge, so may his wages be proportionably raised.

VII. The master must neither for love nor money clothe, feed, or harbour a thief, nor a homicide, nor one of bad fame, all which would bring the Craft to shame.

VIII. If the master finds any of his men incompetent he must turn him off, and take another in his place, "as such a hand would do the Craft short worship."

IX. The master must undertake no job that he is unable to finish, and must see that he lays the foundation so that it will neither give nor crack.

X. No master-mason must supplant another under penalty of ten pounds unless where the work has tumbled down through the incompetence of the first builder. In all points of this "curious Craft" masons must live together like brethren.

XI. No mason is to work by night unless for the sake of trying experiments for amending errors.

XII. No mason must disparage the work of another, but rather must praise the same, and if wrong, privately advise him how to aright it.

XIII. The prentice must be taught every branch of the business, and be put upon work suitable to his ability.

XIV. The master must take no prentices, unless he have divers jobs in hand, in order to teach them the trade.

XV. The prentice must be a friend to his master, never deceive him for the sake of another; neither stand by his fellows in a wrong cause, nor take a false oath.

These Fifteen Points were likewise ordained at the aforesaid Assembly:--

I. The mason must love God, Holy Church, and his fellow-masons, wheresoever he may go.

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II. The mason must work as truly as he can upon the workday, and so deserve his pay upon the holy day.

III. The prentice is on no account to divulge any trade secrets.

"This Third Point it must be special,
 Let the prentice know it well,
 His master's counsel he keep and close,
 And his fellows’, by good purpose;
 The secrets of the chamber he tell to none,
 Nor in the lodge whatever is done.
 Whatever thou seest or hearest them do,
 Tell it no man wherever thou go.
 The counsel of hall and eke of bower,
 Keep it well in great honour,
 Lest it should bring thyself to blame,
 And bring the Craft into great shame."

IV. That no mason be false to the Craft nor maintain his cause against it: neither do prejudice to master nor fellow, and that the prentice stand in awe.

V. The master must take his wages, whatever ordained him, without disputing. The master, if unable to find them work as before, to give them warning in the forenoon.

VI. If any dispute or quarrel arise amongst the masons, the master must make them put off the settlement thereof until the next holy day; and not allow it to be settled upon a workday, lest it should hinder the work in hand.

VII. Not to lie with thy master's or fellow's wife or concubine under penalty of serving another seven years of prenticeship.

VIII. If thou hast taken any job under thy master, be a faithful middleman between thy master and thy fellows.

IX. When the fellows have a common chamber then they must take the stewardship in turns, week by week. All victuals to be paid for as received, and regular accounts to be kept of the common expenses.

"Of thy fellows' goods that thou hast spent,
 When, and how, and to what end,
 Such accounts thou must come to
 When thy fellows would thou do."

X. If a mason lives amiss and is false to his work, he must, without favour, be convened before the Assembly, and punished

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according to the law of old ordained: or, in case he refuses to appear, he must forswear the profession.

XI. If a skilled mason observe his fellow cutting a stone and likely to spoil it through his own ignorance, he must advise him in fair words, and teach him how to amend it, not to bring shame upon the whole work.

XII. That whatever shall be ordained in the Assembly, being present the master and fellows, noble's, burghers, and the sheriff of the county, and the mayor of the town, that thou shall maintain against all thy fellows, if disposed to dispute the same.

XIII. The mason must swear never to be a thief himself, nor for any fee or reward to abet one that is.

XIV. Before the Assembly breaks up, each must be sworn unto his master and fellows, to the king, and to all these present. Also they must seek out every one that hath contravened any one law thereof, and bring them up before the Assembly.

XV. And if found guilty, they must forswear the Craft:

"And so mason's craft they must refuse,
 And swear it never more to use,"

unless they consent to make amends. If refractory, the sheriff is to cast them into prison during the king's good pleasure, and take their goods and chattels for the king's use. The Assembly must be held every year, or at least every third year. Unto the same must come every man of the Craft, and all the great nobles, to amend all infractions, and to swear obedience to the Constitutions of King Athelstan; and especially to make bold petition to the king that he stand by the masons everywhere and enforce the same statutes.

Next follows 'Ars Quattuor Coronatorum,' a manual of religious and moral duties, and also of good manners in company.

                 "The Four Masters--
Who were as good Masons as on earth could go,
Gravers and image-makers they were also,"

were commanded by the Emperor to make an idol to be worshipped. On their refusal he first imprisoned and tortured them, and at last put them to death. These be the "Quattuori

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[paragraph continues] Coronati," and their festival falls on the eighth day after All Saints. Many years after Noah's Flood, was begun the Tower of Babylon. It was built up to the height of seven miles, by order of Nebuchadnezzar, for a refuge in case of another deluge. But an angel, in order to punish his pride, smote all the builders with confusion of tongues. After this Euclid taught geometry, and gave his scholars the following rules.

Behaviour in Church.--To use the holy-water on going in: to kneel down, never sit nor stand, make no noise nor talk, but pray all the time, saying certain prayers given in the text. To attend mass daily, but if at work to repeat a certain prayer upon hearing the mass-bell.

In Company.--On coming before a lord, to doff cap or hood nor put in on again until bid; make two or three bows with the right leg, hold up thy chin, look him sweetly in the face; do not scrape the foot, nor spit or blow thy nose. On entering a hall amongst the gentelles, be not presumptuous on account of thy birth or skill:

"In hall or chamber where thou dost gan,
 Good manners make the man."

When sitting down to meat, see thy hands be clean and knife sharp: cut the bread and meat ready for eating. If sitting by a worshipful man, suffer him to help himself first. Keep thy hands clean, smudge not the napkin, on which thou must not blow thy nose: nor pick thy teeth at table; neither drink with anything in the mouth, nor dip thy chin too deep in the cup, nor talk to thy neighbour when drinking.

"In chamber among the ladies bright,
 Spare thy tongue, and spend thy sight."

Talk not of thine own matters, neither for mirth nor for mede. Play only with thine equals. On meeting a man of worship be sure to cap him; walk a little way behind him; never interrupt his speech; be brief and fair in thy replies, &c.

"Christ then, of his grace,
 Give you both the wit and space
 Well this book to con and read,
 Heaven to have for your mede.
 Amen! Amen! So mote it bee!
 So say we all par charité."

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Any reader of common intelligence will perceive that the good priest, author of this the oldest extant document upon Masonry, had not the remotest idea of the same as being the possession of a secret society, established for some hidden end, whether religious or political. The very rules which he professes to transcribe from the Constitutions of Athelstan, are as plain-spoken, matter-of-fact as these of a modern Trades-Union, differing only from the latter in the larger admixture of common sense and honesty that they display, the whole winding up with directions for behaviour in good society, as laid down by some anticipatory Chesterfield. The "secrets of the lodge" are manifestly nothing more than matters pertaining to the trade discussed amongst the masons at their lodgings after work, and very inexpedient for them to be divulged to outsiders. And to come to the most essential point of the question which these Constitutions fully establish, "the Assembly" is, so far from being a secret chapter, held by the Free and Accepted Brethren only, that it must actually be presided over by the sheriff of the county, and the mayor of the town where it is held! for the purpose of settling all matters connected with the building-trade; being in fact nothing more than what was called in those times an "Assize of Labour."


377:† What follows is a much condensed summary of the sense of the old Mason's rhymes.

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