Caroline Baker, from whom it was purchased in by the Curators of the Museum. The date of this manuscript is supposed to be about All the English Masonic antiquarians concur in the opinion that this manuscript is next in antiquity to the Halliwell poem, though there is a difference of about one hundred years in their respective dates. It is, however, mere guesswork to say that there were not other manuscripts in the intervening period. But as none have been discovered, they must be considered as non-existent, and it is impossible even to conjecture, from any groundwork on which we can stand, whether, if such manuscripts did ever exist, they partook more of the features of the Halliwell or of the Cooke document, or whether they presented the form of a gradual transmission from the one to the other.
The Cooke MS. In the absence of any other earlier document of the same kind, it must be considered as the matrix, as it were, in which that Legend, in the form in which it appears in all the later manuscripts, was moulded. In the year , Mr. James Dowland published, in the Gentleman's Magazine, [iii] the copy of an old manuscript which had lately come into his possession, and which he described as being "written on a long roll of parchment, in a very clear hand, apparently early in the 17th century, and very probably is copied from a manuscript of an earlier date.
It is evidently based on the Cooke MS. But the later manuscripts comprising that series, at the head of which it stands, so much resemble it in details, and even in phraseology, that they must either have been copies made from it, or, what is far more probable, copies of some older and common original, of which it also is a copy. The original manuscript which was used by Dowland for the publication in the Gentleman's Magazine is lost, or can not now be found.
The Old Charges of British Freemasons
But Mr. Woodford and other competent authorities ascribe the year as being about its date. Several other manuscript Constitutions, whose dates vary from the middle of the 16th to the beginning of the 18th century, have since been discovered and published, principally by the industrious labors of Brothers Hughan and Woodford in England, and Brother Lyon in Scotland. The following list gives the titles and conjectural dates of the most important of these manuscripts: [iv]. All of these manuscripts begin, except the Halliwell poem, with an invocation to the Trinity.
Then follows a descant on the seven liberal arts and sciences, of which the fifth, or Geometry, is said to be Masonry. This is succeeded by a traditional history of Masonry, from the days of Lamech to the reign of King Athelstan of England. The manuscripts conclude with a series of "charges," or regulations, for the government of the Craft while they were of a purely operative character.
The traditional history which constitutes the first part of these "Old Records" is replete with historical inaccuracies, with anachronisms, and even with absurdities.
The Old Charges Revisited | FREEMASONRY
And yet it is valuable, because it forms the germ of that system of Masonic history which was afterward developed by such writers as Anderson, Preston, and Oliver, and from whose errors the iconoclasts of the present day are successfully striving to free the Institution, so as to give its history a more rational and methodic form.
This traditional history is presented to us in all the manuscripts, in an identity of form, or, at least, with very slight verbal differences. These differences are, indeed, so slight that they suggest the strong probability of a common source for all these documents, either in the oral teaching of the older Masons, or in some earlier record that has not yet been recovered. These ancient documents are in the form of parchment rolls and handwritten paper that have been stitched together in book form, pasted together or sewn together.
Some are also in printed, modern book form. These manuscripts have ages that range from to Some Old Manuscripts are now incorporated into Lodges Minute books.
They show the continuity of the Masonic Institution for over years and even more. They show valid proof through documents of the antiquity of Masonry. No other Craft have this same proof.
The Historical Origins of Freemasonry
These Masonic Old Charges have a legendary and traditional format. They are written in arcane or Olde Englishe which makes them difficult to read by laymen or amateurs. So many of these words were written years ago, so they mean something different today. A lot of people will have problems reading them. Only true language historians will be able to read the wordings clearly. These Old Manuscripts have been studied and understood by Masonic historians all through the years.
They have translated lots of them into laymen language that can be understood by almost anyone. After studying and understanding these Old Manuscripts carefully, proof has emerged that these Old documents were used to make a Mason in the Old days of Operative Freemasonry. Some of the documents were used for the constitution of Lodges in the old days.
There are about 19 major Old Charges and several minor Old Charges which make up to in total. They have been sent down all through the centuries.
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Some are in British Museums while others are in well established, old libraries in the archives of Masonic Lodges. Some have been published by those who discovered them. The Old Constitutions are quite similar in content, and Historians assume that they are copies of earlier documents that had been lost to book burnings, holocausts, wars and other chaotic circumstances. We must be grateful that some parchments still exist till date.
One of these manuscripts is the Halliwell manuscript that was written in poetic meter and has about lines of rhymed verse. At about years old, it is the oldest Masonic document in existence. The Halliwell manuscript is also known as the Regius manuscript as it was found with other documents and renamed later.