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Regius Ms. on Good Manners

Since it is the oldest of known manuscript versions of the Old Charges (or Old MSS., or Old Constitutions), written about 1390 A.D., or possibly 1400 A.D., the Regius MS. would be everywhere known among Freemasons were it not written in an English so nearly obsolete that it may almost as well be a foreign tongue. Bro. Roderiek H. Baxter, a Past Master of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, has put Masons in his debt, and American Masons especially so-- for they are farther from the Middle Ages than are their Brethren in England--by making a careful transliteration of it into modern English, beautifully done, and as close to the original as any transliteration can be. It is in a brochure entitled The Masonic Poem of l.q90, Circa (a poem because the original is in rhymed verse; Wallasey; Wallasey Printers Ltd.; 1927.)

But to American Masons a further difficulty in understanding the Regius MS. is the last section of it, because the contents of that section, or any mention of it, are never heard in a Masonic Lodge, and appear to have only a remote connection with Speculative Freemasonry. It is a disquisition on the theme, "Good manners make the man." In Bro. Baxter's transliteration it begins with line 694: "When thou comest before a lord," etc. This section was lifted bodily from an anonymous poem written about 1460 which usually is entitled Urbanitatis, but which Professor F. J. Furnivall edited for the Early English Text Society as Reprint: The Babees Book. The whole section is a set of instructions issued to a young man on how to behave with manners and grace when at table, when in a fine house, when meeting persons of quality, etc.

According to tables and statistics included here and there in a number of works on Medieval population, on population in country, villages, towns, etc., and as applied to the Mason Craft, the supposition is that some ninety per cent of the boys of twelve to fourteen who came as Masonic apprentices were from the country, many of them from peasants' homes.

Such boys had never been in fine houses, had never associated with persons of quality, possessed no etiquette or table manners, had handled no silver, or ever sat in hall or bower. But the Freemasons who worked for years on cathedrals, abbeys, priories, etc. were associated with persons of the highest rank, with barons and prelates and clerics, and at the same time had to work in a brotherhood with other workmen of education, often of eminence, and perhaps famous, and who would not tolerate uncouthness, vulgarity, gaucheries, and profanity from those about them. Therefore along with being taught his art the boy had to be taught and polished in speech, clothing, manners, and etiquette. In effect, the last section of the Regius was a stern injunction to such apprentices and a warning to them that the severe rules of the Craft which governed the etiquette of Masons would be enforced upon them.

NOTE. As bearing on a question concerning Degrees and ceremonies in Operative Lodges the inclusion of these admonitions would suggest that the Old Charges in part were read, or at least addressed to the apprentices. On the other hand, other Rules, Regulations, Points are evidently addressed to Master Masons. If the oath or pledge was taken "on" the Old Charges perhaps the Lodge's copy was used twice over, once for Apprenticed once at the end of apprenticeship, seven, or so, years afterwards.

The Remus .MS. and the Cooke M S. are printed together, compared, and annotated in The Two Earliest Masonic MSS., by Douglas Knoop, G. P. Jones, and Douglas Hamer, Manchester University Press; 1938; cloth; index; glossary; 216 pages.

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