Chapter 15

The York No.1 Manuscript (1600)


Having been written nearly twenty years after the Grand Lodge No. 1 Manuscript (1583), the The York No. 1 Manuscript, that we reproduce below, shows many similarities with it, and only few differences with the Watson Manuscript written some 65 years earlier.

Its architecture is similar, starting with a presentation of the Liberal Sciences, continuing with a history of Masonry, ending with a long list of obligations to be observed.

The structure of the writing is comparable. It differs only in some ways as to facts and events. As an example we may notice that it refers to the tower of Babel, and not that of Babylon. 

It is appropriate in reading this manuscript to remember that many English Old Charges are copies, more or less faithful, of texts previously written and released. Materially, it presents itself as four sheets of parchment, stitched together, forming a roll, 84 inches long and 7 inches wide.

The context - When the manuscript was written in York, England was living the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603); the end of the sixteenth century was marked by a conspiracy to overthrow her; the Virgin Queen had yet to face a rebellion led by the Irish Grand Count Hugh O’Neill. 

A few months later, France was to be celebrating the birth of the future King Louis XIII (1601-1643) and his future wife, Anne of Austria (1601-1666).

Transcription from Old English.

The Text

The might of the Father of heaven, with the wisdom of the blessed Son, through the grace of God, and the goodness of the Holy Ghost, that be three persons in one Godhead, be with us at our beginning, and give us grace so to govern us here in this life, that we may come to His blessing, that never shall have ending.

Good Brethren and Fellows, our purpose is to tell you how and in what manner this worthy Science of Masonry was first begun and afterwards how it was found and maintained by worthy Kings and princes, and many other worshipful men. And also, to those that are here, we will declare the Charges that belong to every Free Mason (1) to keep sure in good faith; and therefore take good heed to this, for it is an ancient Science that is worthy of being kept, for it is a worthy Craft; and is one of the seven liberal Sciences.

The names of the seven liberal Sciences are these:

• The first is Grammar that teaches a man to speak and write truly; 

• The second is Rhetoric that teaches a man to speak well, in subtle terms;

• The third is Dialectic, or Logic, that teaches a man to discern truth from falsehood; 

• The fourth is Arithmetic, that teaches a man to reckon and count all kinds of numbers; 

• The fifth is Geometry that teaches a man to ascertain and measure the earth and all other things, on which Science Masonry is grounded; 

• The sixth is Music that teaches a man the craft of song and voice of tongue, organ, harp, and trumpet; 

• The seventh is Astronomy that teaches a man to know the course of the sun, moon, and stars.

These are the seven liberal Sciences, which are all grounded upon one, that is to say Geometry. And by this may a man prove that the Science of all work is grounded upon Geometry, for it teaches mete, measure, ponderation, and weight of all manner of things on earth; for there are none that work any Science, but he works by some measure or weight, and all this is Geometry. Merchants and all Craftsmen, and others who use the Sciences, and especially the plowmen and tillers of all manner of grains and seeds, planters of vineyards and sellers of fruit, none can till without Geometry; for neither in Grammar, Rhetoric, or Astronomy, nor in any other of the liberal Sciences, can any man find mete or measure without Geometry. 

And so I think this this Science may well be called the most worthy Science, for it is the foundation all others.

How those Sciences were first begun I will now tell you. Before Noah’s flood there was a man called Lamech, as it is written in the Bible in the 4th chapter of Genesis. And this Lamech had two wives, the one called Adah by whom he had two sons, one called Jabell [Jabal] and the other Jubell [Jubal]. And his other wife was called Zillah, by whom he had one son Tubalcaine [Tubal-Cain], and one daughter named Naamah; and these four children founded the beginning of all the Sciences in the world. Jabal, the eldest son, found out the Science of Geometry; he kept flocks of sheep and lambs in the fields, as it is noted in the chapter aforesaid. 

His brother Jubal founded the Science of Music, in song of tongue, harp, and organ. And the third brother Tubal-Cain found the Science of smith’s craft, in gold, silver, iron, copper, and iron. And their sister Naamah found the craft of weaving. 

And these persons knowing right well that God would take vengeance for sin, either by fire or water, therefore they wrote their several Sciences that they had found in two pillars of stone, that they might be found after Noah’s flood. The one stone was marble that would not burn with fire, and the other called Lternes [Lateres] because it would not drown with water. Our intent is now to tell you, how and in what manner these stones were found in which were written these Sciences. The ancient Hermarines [Hermes], who was Cub’s [Cush’s] son, who was Sem’s [Shem’s] son, who was Noah’s son, and who was later called the Father of wise men, found one of the two pillars on which the Sciences were written, and taught them to other men.

And at the making of the Tower of Babell Masonry was much esteemed. And the King of Babylon that was named Nimrod was a Mason himself, and he loved well Masons and their Science, as it is said by Masters of Histories (2). And when the city of Ninevie [Nineveh], and other cities of eastern Asia, were to be built Nimrod, the King of Babylon, sent thither [there] sy [sixties ?] masons (3) at the request of the King of Nineveh, his cousin. And when he sent them forth he gave them a Charge in this manner: That they should each one be true to the other; that they should love well one another; that they should serve their lord truly for their pay, that the Master may have honor and all that belong to him. And other Charges he also gave them, and this was the first time that a Mason had any Charges of his Craft.

Moreover Abraham and Sarah his wife went into Egypt, and there he taught the seven Sciences to the Egyptians; and he had a worthy scholar named Euclide [Euclid] who learned right well and was Master of all the seven several Sciences; and in his days it happened that the lords and states of the land had so many sons, some by their wives and some by their concubines, for that land is hot and plenteous of generation; and they did not have enough estates on which to maintain their said children, which caused them much care; and the King of that land summoned a great Council to consult how they might provide for their children to live honestly as gentlemen; and they could find no good way. 

And then they made a proclamation throughout all the realm, that if there was anyone that could inform them on this matter he should come to them and would be well rewarded for his labors. After this proclamation was made the worthy Clerk Euclid came and said to the King and the nobles: 

“If you will accept me to teach, instruct, and govern your children, I will teach them the seven liberal Sciences whereby they may live honestly as gentlemen. I will do it upon condition that you will grant me and them a commission, that I may have power to rule them, after the manner the Science ought to be ruled.” 

The King and all the Council granted him this and sealed the Commission; and then this worthy Doctor took to himself these Lords’ sons and taught them the Science of Geometry, and to practice work in stones, of all manner of work that belongs to building churches, temples, castles, towers, manors, and all other sorts of buildings, and gave them a Charge in this manner: 

First, that they should be true to the lord that they serve; that they should love well one another; that they should call each other fellow or Brother, and not servant, knave, or other foul name; that they should truly deserve their pay of their lord, or the Master that they serve; and that they should ordain the wisest of them to be Master of the work, and not to choose for love, nor affection, nor greatness, nor richness, to set any in the work that has not sufficient knowledge or cunning to be Master of the work, whereby the Master should be evilly served and they dishonored or ashamed; and also that they should call the governor of the work Master, during the time that they work with him, and other Charges which are too long to tell here. 

And to all these Charges he made them swear a great oath, that men used at that time; and he ordained for them reasonable pay that they might live honestly thereby; also that they should assemble themselves together once every year, and consult how they might best work for their lord’s profit and their own credit; and correct within themselves him that had trespassed against the Science. And thus was the Science grounded in Egypt, and that worthy Master Euclid was the first that gave it the name of Geometry, which is now called Masonry.

And, after that, when the children of Israel had come into the land of Behest which is now called by us the country of Jerusalem, King David began the temple named Templum Dei, and called by us the Temple of Jerusalem, and the said King David loved well Masons and cherished them much, and he gave them good wages, and also Charges and manners [customary practices] as he had learned them, formerly given in Egypt by Euclid, and other Charges that you shall hear afterwards. 

After the decease of King David, Solomon his son finished the said temple that his father had begun, and he sent for Masons out of many countries and many lands, and gathered them together so that he had four score thousand [80,000] workers of stone who were Masons, and he chose out of them three thousand that were ordained to be Masters and governors of the work. 

And furthermore, there was a King of another region that men called Hieram [Hiram], and he loved King Solomon well, and he gave him timber for his work. And he had a son named Amon (4) and he was a Master of Geometry, and chief Master of all his gravings, carvings, and all his masons and masonry, as appears in Scripture, in Libro primo Regum and chapter 5th. And Solomon confirmed both the Charges and manners that his father had given to Masons, and thus was the worthy Science of Masonry confirmed in the city of Jerusalem, and in many other kingdoms.

Curious Craftsmen walked about full wide and spread themselves into other countries, some to learn more craft, and some to teach others that had little skill and cunning. And it befell that there was one curious Mason named Namus Grecas [Naymus Graecus] that had been at the building of Solomon’s temple and he came into France and there he taught the Science of Masonry to men of that land. 

And there was one of the royal line of France called Charles Martall [Martel], and he was a man that loved well such a craft, and he went to this Naymus Graecus and learned from him the Craft, and took upon him Charges and manners, and afterwards by the providence of God, he was elected King of France, and when he was in his estate he took and helped to make men Masons which before were not; and he gave them both their Charge and manners, and good pay as he had learned from other Masons, and also confirmed a Charter from year to year to hold their assembly wherever they would, and cherished them right well, and thus came this famous Craft into France.

England in all this time stood void of any Charge of Masonry until St. Albon’s [Alban’s] time, and in his days the King of England, then a pagan walled the town (that is now called) St. Albons [Albans] about. And St. Alban was a worthy Knight and Steward of the King’s household, and had the government of the realm, and had also the ordering of the walls of the said town, and he loved and cherished Masons right well, and made their pay right good, for he gave them two shillings six pence a week and three pence for meal expenses; before that time, throughout all the land, a Mason took but a penny a day, until St. Alban amended it; and he procured them a Charter from the King and his council, for to hold counsel together, and gave it the name of Assembly, and he was there himself, and helped to make men Masons, and gave them a Charge, as you shall hear later.

But it happened soon after the death of St. Alban that there arose great wars in England, which came out of various nations, so that the goodly rule of Masonry was nearly destroyed until the days of King Athelston [Athelstan] who was a worthy King of England, and he brought the land into good rest and peace, and built many great works, such as abbeys, castles, towns, and other buildings, and loved well Masons; and he had a son named Edwin that loved Masons, much more than his father, and he was a great practitioner in geometry, and delighted much to talk and commune with Masons and to learn from them skill and cunning, and afterwards for the love he bore to Masons and to their Science, he was made a Mason, and he procured for them from the King his father a Charter and Commission to hold every year an Assembly, wherever they would within the realm of England, and to correct within themselves all defaults and trespasses that were done within the Craft. 

And he [Edwin] himself held an Assembly at York, and there he made Masons and gave them the Charges and taught them the manners and commanded that rule to be kept ever after, and also gave them the Charter to keep, and also gave orders that it should be renewed from King to King. 

And when the Assembly was gathered together he made proclamation, that all Masons, old or young, who had any writings or understanding of the Charges and manners concerning the said Science, that was made before in this land or any other, that they should bring them forth, and when they were viewed and examined, there were found some in French, some in Greek, some in English, and other languages, and the intent and meaning was all found out. 

He [Edwin] had a book made from this, about how the Craft was founded and he himself gave command that it should be read or told whenever any Masons should be made, and to give them the Charge, and from that day to this, the manners of Masons have been kept in that form as well as men might observe and govern it. Furthermore, at diverse assemblies, an addition was made to the Charges ordained on the best advice of Masters and fellows.

Tunc unus ex senioribus teneat librum ut ille vel illi potiat vel potiant manus sup librum et tunc precepta deberent Legi (5).

Every man that is a Mason, take right good heed to these Charges, and if any man find himself guilty of any of them, let him amend himself before God. And in particular, you that are to be charged, take good heed to keep them right well, for it is perilous and great danger for a man to forswear himself upon the Holy Scriptures.

1. - The first Charge is that you be true man to God, and the Holy Church, and that you use neither error nor heresy, according to your own understanding, or discreet and wise men’s teaching.

2. - You shall be true liegemen and bear true allegiance to the King of England, without any treason or falsehood, and if you know of any that you amend it privately, if you can, or else warn the King and his Council of it by declaring it to his officers.

3. - You shall be true to one another, that is to say to every Mason of the Craft of Masonry that are allowed Masons (6), and do unto them as you would they should do unto you.

4. - You shall keep truly all the counsel of Lodge and Chamber (7), and all other counsel, that ought to be kept by way of Masonry.

5. - Also, that you use no thievery, but keep yourselves true.

6. - Also, you shall be true to the lord, or Master, that you serve, and truly see that his profit and advantage be promoted and furthered.

7. - And also, you shall call Masons your Brethren, or fellows, and no foul name.

8. - And you shall not take in villainy your fellow’s wife, nor unlawfully desire his daughter, nor servant, nor put him to any discredit.

9. - And also, that you pay truly for your meat and drink where you go to table, and that you not do anything whereby the Craft may be scandalized, or receive disgrace.

These are the Charges in general that belong to every Mason to keep both Masters and fellows. I will now repeat certain other Charges that are particularly for Masters and fellows:

First, that no Master take upon him any lord’s work, or any other man’s work, unless he knows himself to be of sufficient skill and cunning to perform and finish the same; so that the Craft receive no slander or dishonor thereby, but that the lord be well served, and have his work truly done.

2. - Also, that no Master [will] take any work at unreasonable rates, but so that the lord, or owner, may be truly served with his own goods, and the Master [is] to live honestly thereby and pay his fellows truly their wages, as the manner is.

3. - And also, that no Master nor fellow shall supplant any other of their work; that is to say, if a Master or fellow has taken a work in hand and therefore stands as Master of the Lord’s work, he shall not put him out of it unless he lacks the skill and cunning to perform the same to the end.

4. - Also, that no Master nor fellow, take any apprentice for less than the term of seven years, and that such apprentice is sufficiently able of body and sound of limbs, also of good birth, free-born, no alien, but descended from a true and honest kindred, and no bondsman.

5. - Also, that no Mason take any apprentice unless he has sufficient work in which to employ two or three fellows at the least.

6. - Also, that no Master or fellow [shall] put anyone to take any Lord’s  work [as task work] who was accustomed to work journey work (8).

7. - Also, that every Master shall give wages to his fellows according as his work deserves, that he be not deceived by false work.

8. - Also, that none shall slander another behind his back, whereby he may lose his good name, or worldly riches.

9. - Also, that no fellow, within the lodge or without it, shall misanswer or reprove another, without cause.

10. - Also, that every Mason shall reverence his elder Brother, and put him to honor.

11. - Also, that no Mason shall be a common player at cards or dice, or any other unlawful game, or games, whereby the Science may be slandered and disgraced.

12. - Also, that no fellow shall at any time go from the Lodge to any town adjoining, unless he has a fellow with him to witness that he was in an honest place, and civil company.

13. - Also, that every Master and fellow shall come to the Assembly of Masons, if it is within fifty miles (9) about him, if he has any warning of the same.

14. - And if he or they have trespassed or offended against the Craft, all such trespass shall stand there, at the award and arbitration of the Masters and fellows there (present); they to make them accord if they can, or may, and if they cannot agree then to go to the common law.

15. - Also, that no Master, nor fellow, shall make any mould, rule, or square for the use of any layer (10), nor set any layer or anyone else outside [the Fraternity] to work on hewing any mould stones.

16. - And that every Mason shall cherish strange fellows, when they come out of other countries and set them on work if he can, as the manner is, viz. – if he have no stones, nor moulds, in that place, he shall refresh him with money to supply his necessities until he come to the next Lodge.

17. - Also, that every Mason shall perform his work truly and not slig­htly, for his pay, and serve his lord truly for his wages.

18. - Also, that every Master shall truly make an end of his work, whether it be by task or journey, viz., by measure or by days, and if he have his pay and all other covenants performed to him by the lord of the work according to the bargain.

These Charges that we have now rehearsed to you and to all others present who belong to Masons, you shall well and truly keep to your power, 

So help you God and by the contents of this Book. 



1. - First encounter with the term Free (of birth and of serfdom) Mason; the term Free-Mason or Freemason will come later on.

2. - Masters of Stories - Same confusion as the one noted in the Grand Lodge manuscript; see chapter 12, note 3.

3. - See Chapter 12, note 4.

4. - King Hiram has a son named Amon when, in the Grand Lodge Manuscript (Chapter 12), he was called: Aynone.

5. - Translation: Then let one of the elders hold the book out to him or them who is taking the oath, and let him place his hand on the book or on top of the book, while the Articles and Precepts are read.

6. - Allowed Mason - See Chapter 12, note 9.

7. - Lodge and Chamber - A clear distinction is made here between the different meanings of the word “lodge”: the lodge (building site) and the lodge (meeting room).

8. - The author of the York Manuscript distinguishes clearly between “task work” and “journey work” as “by measure” or “by day” respectively; this seems to imply work that is paid by the job, and work that is paid by the day (“journey” is derived from the French word “jour,” day). Presumably, the task work is at a lower rate of pay than journey work.

9. - A curious difference: In the Grand Lodge Manuscript” (Chapter 12), it is reported with a radius of 50 miles, which is reduced here to ... one mile or 1609 meters...

10 - Layer - Laying mason, bricklayer; see chapter 12, note 10.

© Guy Chassagnard 2016