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York Manuscripts

Originally there were six manuscripts elf the Old Constitutions bearing this title, because they were deposited in the Archives of the now extinct Grand Lodge of All England, whose seat was at the City of York. But the manuscript No. 3 became missing, although it is mentioned in the inventory made at York in 1779. Nos. 2, 4, and 5 came into possession of the York Lodge. Brother Hughan discovered Nos. 2 and 6 in the Archives of the Grand Lodge of England, at London. The dates of these manuscripts, which do not correspond with the number of their titles, are as follows: No. l has the date of 1600; No. 2, 1704; No.3, 1630; No. 4,1693; No. 5, is undated, but is supposed to be about 1670, and No. 6 also is undated, but is considered to be about 1680.

Of these manuscripts all but No. 3 have been published by the late Brother W. J. Hughan in his Ancient York Masonic Rolls, 1894. Brother Hughan deems No. 4 of some importance because it contains the following sentence:

"The one of the elders taking the Booke, and that See or shee that is to be made mason shall lay their hands thereon, and the charge shall bee given." This, he thought, affords some presumption that women were admitted as members of the old Masonic Gilds, although he admits that we possess no other evidence confirmatory or this theory.

The truth is, that the sentence was a translation of the same clause written in other Old constitutions in Latin. In the York Manuscript, No. 1, the sentence is thus: "Tunc unus ex senioribus teneat librum et ille vel illi," etc., that is, "he or they." The writer of No. 4 copied, most probably, from No. 1, and his translation of "hee or sheen from "ille vel illi," instead of "he or they," was either the result of ignorance in mistaking illi, they, for illa, she, or of carelessness in writing shee for they.

It is evident that the charges thus to be sworn to, and which immediately follow, were of such a nature as made most of them physically impossible for women to perform; nor are females alluded to in any other of the manuscripts. All Freemasons there are Fellows, and are so to be addressed. There are two other York Manuscripts of the Operative Masons, which have been published in the Fabric Rolls of York Minster, an invaluable work, edited by the Rev. James Raine, and issued under the patronage and at the expense of the Surtees Society.

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