King Athelstan: Who he was is not in doubt. Son of Alfred the Great, first King of all Britain, reigned from 924-939 AD. What is in doubt is how his name is spelt. He's mentioned 3 times during the course of the Regius Poem. You can see how the various transcribers and translators handled it in this chart:
Six different variations between the three modern-alphabet versions. The numbers after each name are the number of Google hits each one generated. (A couple had to be searched for as "King A" because they matched an unrelated entity.) Against this, we have the spelling used by some modern historians, Aethelstan or Æthelstan (Google treats these two interchangably), with 23,100 hits. But even that's tiny compared to King Athelstan, with an overwhelming 98,500 hits!
Line Lorion Halliwell Baxter Church
62 ağelton9 Adelstonus 46
486 Alğelton Aldelston 26 Althelston 17 Aethelstane 42
495 Ağelton Adelston 6 Athelstane 2070 Aethelstane 42
Before the printing press finally led to standardized fonts, writing was understandably a very individual art. There were no dictionaries, punctuation was inconsistant, and even letter shapes were in flux. The writer of this poem had his own style, and at times in interpreting it, it helped to take that style into consideration.
As you can see, Medieval writing had letters and abbreviation symbols[*] we no longer use. Regius was written late enough in the period that only a handful were still in use, and those more predictably than they had been in earlier periods. Halliwell and Speth translated all but one of these into their modern equivalents, rather than transcribing them accurately. The letter thorn Þ / þ always became th. The long s became s. The tittle ~ became er, or re if it was reversed ¬. And there were symbols, not all with individual names (represented in the Lorion transcription by 9 and ^ and ¿) for us and ra and ry and the Latin suffix um. The exception to Halliwell's transformations was yogh (sounded as y, j, z, g, or gh). In Halliwell and Speth inkprint versions this letter appeared, looking like a cursive z; but it doesn't have any equivalent in ASCII, and few fonts have in Unicode. On the Internet, some websites used [G]/[g] as a substitute for yogh, others used Z / z (a letter which doesn't appear in Middle English, and eventually supplanted yogh in many words). This site follows the latter convention.
First, a bunch of technical details. If I could have typed an 'i' without a dot, I would have put in 'ii' in place of probably 75% of the 'u's and 'n's, and 'iii' for most of the 'm's. (The 'i' with a dot I'd save for the few places that really did call for an 'i', although it didn't have a dot there, either.) If you try reading my transcript, consider the 'u's and 'n's largely interchangable. Many times, words that Halliwell transcribed as 'thou' looked more like 'thon', and I transcribed them that way, even if 'thou' fit the context, and 'then' or 'than' didn't. But if I absolutely couldn't tell when a letter was an 'n' or 'u' I gave in and followed Halliwell's choice. The first two shapes for 'r' mentioned above I made no distinction between, since which one was used was clearly dependent on the shape of the preceeding letter; but the third one [*] I indicated with a subscript 'r'. The letter eth Ð / ð, which translates as th, was indistinguishable from d, though it sometimes[*] was apparently meant. I used 'ğ' only a few times[*] when the modern cognate of a word used 'th' instead of 'd'. The 'w', being so large, I seriously considered using 'W' for it, just as I did use 'ı' for all instances of 'y'. Thorn looked more like 'y' than 'ş' in any font I have available, but I resisted the urge to make that substitution. '' isn't really identical to the 'long s', but seemed a reasonable approximation; however in most fonts it's not kerned correctly, so it looks like it has a space after it, especially when used in a double ''.
Halliwell capitalized words that would be capitalized in Modern English, I left them all as lower-case. For the capitals at the start of lines I found no reason to second-guess Halliwell in most cases. The red highlighting seemed more indicative of capitalization than the letters themselves. [H, K, M, V, W, X, İ, Z] were unchanged or only slightly larger when used as capitals, and may have had a slight tail added as a flourish, [A, Ş] were much larger but still nearly identical in appearance, and [B, C, D, E, F, G, I, J, L, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T] were significantly different in shape. The only disagreements I had with Halliwell and Speth on capital letters were over I versus J. "J" was only used a few times, and while "I" appeared often in Roman numerals and the Latin section headings, it also was infrequent in the English text. Halliwell used J for lines 531 and 605 and I for line 643, which fit the context better, while I used the opposite based on the appearance of the text.
Then there were the symbols above letters, and those without spaces after them when they ended a word. Since I couldn't indicate when an apostrophe or tittle '~' was above a letter, I always placed it after, and put a space following it if it was at the end of a word, whether there was a space in the manuscript or not. Also used only at the end of words, 's' and '9' didn't always have a space between them and the following words, but I always used one for them. Contractions with superscripts were also usually written in the manuscript without a space following them, but they were never part of larger words, not even 'without', so with them I tried to be more accurate on depicting spacing, though it was sometimes a close judgement call.
The only punctuation was a dot which usually appeared both mid-line and at the end of a line, and guided the rhythm of the poem. Sometimes there was a space after it, sometimes the following word was tight against it. This may have sometimes been an indication if it was a comma or a period, but most of the time I think it had no significance. Nonetheless, I tried to keep spacing the same, just in case, but it was often a very subjective decision.
In making my transcription, I had both the photocopies from Hunter's book and the calligraphy from the Masonic Book Club book available, and I couldn't have done it without both of them together. The former was my primary source, since although the calligraphed version was clearer, that was itself a problem. The original had smudges, occasionally making letters difficult to read. When that happened, Price either extrapolated what the missing letters looked like, or left a blank spot with no indication that it wasn't blank on the original as well. Since he could examine the original better than I could with black & white photocopies, I had confidence that his extrapolations were probably accurate; but the blanks could be deceptive. Thanks to computer technology, it was a simple matter for me to put smudged areas into a lighter colored print to indicate areas of less certain transcriptions. In deciphering these areas, I consulted first the photocopies, then the calligraphy, then the Halliwell/Speth transcription, and finally my own conception of what word might best fit poetically.
Let us consider for a moment James Orchard Halliwell. He was a prodigy, and some articles he wrote on number theory gained him the distinction, at 18, of being the youngest member ever admitted to the Royal Society; that elite group of such men in previous generations as Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, Robert Moray, Elias Ashmole, and John Theophilus Desaguliers; and whose origins are tangled with those of Speculative Freemasonry. But in 1838, when James discovered and translated the Regius Poem, he was still only 18, and trying to make a name for himself in the different field that would be his lifelong career. This was the why and how of his finding the manuscript. The lecture he gave on it was his entrance into the Antiquarian Society. But he wasn't a Mason. He was still too young to be one. Was it too much to expect this boy, with no initiatory experience or vested interest except his own self-promotion, to give the translation the same care as someone more experienced and concerned? Even when he published his book on it four years later, The Early History of Freemasonry in England, he was barely over the minimum age for admittance to the Craft. One would expect a social-climber so involved in Masonic research to have become a Mason. But Halliwell was apparently a caustic and headstrong person with a questionable grasp of ethics, embroiled in controversy and subject to accusations throughout his life. He was an aggressive self-aggrandizer, which led to further animosities. It's not known if he ever petitioned a Lodge for membership, but one can imagine him doing so in 1839, thinking he merited the same special treatment as he had received from the Royal Society, but being rejected for being under age, thus beginning to develop a grudge against the Craft. And trying again in 1842, but being rejected for the scandal caused when he eloped against his noble father-in-law's consent. Trying again in 1844 after the second edition of his book on Freemasonry was published, and rejected because of the cloud of suspicion around him for stealing rare books from Cambridge and trying to sell them to the British Museum. It was one of these controversies that forced him to change his name to Halliwell-Phillips, but that was in 1872, near to 30 years after he had done with the Regius Manuscript and Freemasonry.
I've been asked why I made a new transcript. Partly it was as a method of studying the poem in depth for myself. Partly it was a way to check the webpage for additional errors (I found several). But mainly it was the hubris to think that I could do a better job than those who had tried in the past. Halliwell didn't really transcribe the manuscript, but he didn't translate it, either. He left most words in the Middle English of the turn of the 15th century, but he changed it as he transposed it into our modern alphabet. He changed any thorn 'ş' into 'th', but not all 'th's had been 'ş's, so that one couldn't work backwards to find which form the original had used. Ditto tittles '~' and 'er'. He expanded contractions. He changed spellings to make them more consistant (though he didn't do it consistantly). He used accented 'é's 36 times through the poem perhaps he had a better understanding of how the words were pronounced 400 years before his day than I do but those accents weren't there in the manuscript. Perhaps worst of all, he ignored the punctuation in the poem which guided the rhythm of it, and imposed his own. And he made errors. Speth found and corrected a few, and I corrected many more in my transcription. But my version probably isn't perfect either, so I hope someone else will improve mine, just as I feel I improved on Halliwell.
Owen Lorion, February, 2008.
The following charts are the result of surveying 23 websites which had the Baxter translation of the Regius Poem, and 9 websites which had the Halliwell/Speth transcription. They were compared based on content alone, so any formatting was ignored, and as much as possible was stripped off before comparing them.
Differences that only affected Halliwell/Speth
Differences that only affected Baxter
Once stripped to the essential text, duplicates and derivations were identified, narrowing the field to 3 Halliwell/Speth and 5 Baxter groupings.
The history of the Halliwell/Speth version online is fairly clear. Someone from one of the generation I sites typed it in by hand (the errors are of a different sort than an optical character reader (OCR) would make). Whether this ur-copy included numbering which was stripped, or didn't and had it added, is unknown. If it was numbered first, it was probably GLBCY which entered it, and Pemberville copied that since the only difference between them was a typo in Pemberville at line 446 which didn't get carried on to any other site. Pietre or Wasatch copied from GLBCY, stripping the numbers, and the other of those two copied that. In the generation II group, Hope copied one of the unnumbered gen-I sites and tried to revise it, in process correcting some errors, adding others, and leaving many the same. They also elided some lines, leaving them out entirely. They also changed the yoghs from '[g]' to 'z' and the accented 'é's to 'e's. GLNC copied Hope, adding only a single comma on line 779, to mark the direction of copying. Then Torreone came along and copied GLNC, adding only one new typo at line 643, but changing rounded parenthesis to square brackets, stripping the periods off headings, and tried to add numbering. Unfortunantly, they also numbered the 5 half-lines that had wrapped[*]. These numbering errors were irregularly offset by the lines missing from the the gen-II copies, so the numbering was off by one or two throughout most of the poem. Next came Minchin, which copied Torrione, strightened out the wrapped lines, but now left out those 5 line numbers. Finally, the only gen-III website, Hawthorne, came along and copied Minchin. They stripped off the bogus numbering, found and corrected some of the errors, and filled in some of the missing lines with the corresponding passages from Baxter.
With more sites involved, the tracing the Baxter version involves a bit more guesswork. There seem to be at least 4 different web sources, from at least two different print sources, with errors already present in the print versions. The largest group of identical sets of errors is A, with 11 identical, 1 (SoCal) identical until it cuts off at line 511 in the middle of the Quatour Coronati story, and 1 (GLMN) that corrected a couple of erroneous words, but remains essentially the same. Groups B and C are those based on A, but significantly different from it. Possibly Masonic Dictionary copied first, then Graveworm from that, adding extra headings and footnotes, then About copied from Graveworm (these two are identical, I just think Graveworm was more likely to edit than About). The only one in Group C (just as it had been the only Gen-III site for Halliwell/Speth), Hawthorne also copied from an A-lister, and tried to patch up the errors, not always with total success. Groups A through C are the ones that used modern words throughout. The first one of them copied from the same source as the MSA booklet, which also used just the modern words, and has some of the same errors. The MBC book copied from the MSA booklet or its same source, since it has the same errors, plus a few that aren't on any websites. Groups D, E and F all followed Baxter's format of using the ancient words when needed to rhyme, and noting the modern equivalent in parenthesis following. Group D, someone in GLBCY used an OCR program to read in the text, a much more painless method than typing it in, but one which creates a distinctive set of typographical errors; and then Pemberville copied it from there, correcting a handful of the OCR errors, mostly involving the archaic words or their translations, while adding a couple new ones of their own. Group E, Phoenix Masonry used an OCR program to read in the text from Mackey's Encyclopedia; Bet-El copied Phoenix identically, errors and all. Group F, someone in Seattle probably typed it in from the same error-ridden print source as the A-list used, and MasonicPedia copied it from there, adding some strange typos by having the first letters of several lines cut off, or the last character of a line wrapping to the start of the next one.
The Halliwell table has 154 rows, the Baxter table has 212 rows. When compilation began with the Baxter, punctuation differences were also tabulated, and resulted in an additional 200 rows before it was decided to eliminate them as being not worth the clutter. The original Manuscript was written before modern punctuation had been standardized, so it has only one all-purpose mark to serve as period, comma, colon, semicolon, bang, or dash. And sometimes just to mark metric feet. Modern punctuation was substituted by Halliwell, and adjusted by his successors at interpreting the MS.; Speth, Baxter, the editor of Mackey, and the many who first copied it onto the Internet, and then recopied it again from site to site, including even myself. An early edition copy of Baxter was not available to compare these to; the print copies that were at hand (the MSA booklet, the MBC book, and Hodapp's Freemasonry for Dummies) suffered from the same copied-from-a-copy syndrome as the Internet copies, and while not searched as assiduously as the Internet copies, errors were found in each. The latter of those three probably was itself taken from the Internet (it matches Group A). However, a copy of Hunter's 1952 book was available (thanks to Inter-Library Loan and the University of Utah), which included black and white photos of the original manuscript. And a copy of the facsimile from the MBC book, thanks to the library of Montezuma Lodge #1, Santa Fe, New Mexico. These were consulted often when in doubt about which choice of words was most correct, though as noted they were no help with punctuation.
|Key:||Probably correct||Acceptable alternative||Typographical error||Word or line missing||Extra word or line added|
|Line||M.P.S.||Gen. I||Gen. II||Gen. III||comments|
|10||stryfe||stryfe||stryge||stryge||Ms. has stry(smudge)|
|140||ze myzth||ge mygth||ze myzth||ze myzth|
|168||hys hure,||hys, hure||hys, hure||hys, hure|
|183||Ny thylke||Wy thylike||Wy thylike||Wy thylike|
|201||thenthe||then the||then the||then the|
|252||mayster he||mayster he||maysterhe||maysterhe|
|308||Amonge||Amonge||Am nge||Am nge|
|339||A trwe||A trwe||Atrwe||Atrwe|
|345||Zef that ze||Gef that ge||Zef that ze||Zef that ze|
|366||presentyth||presentyeth||presentyeth||presentyeth||error in print source|
|392||craft||crafte||crafte||crafte||error in print source|
|400||hyt sone, zef||hyt sone, zef||hyt sone, zef||it soon if|
|402||l(ordys)||l(ordys)||lordys||lordys||word obliterated in Ms. except for initial upright.|
Halliwell guessed hole (whole) Speth guessed lordys (employer's),
|426+||Xiiijus punctus||Xiiijus punctus||Xiijus punctus||Xiijus punctus|
|446||semblé||sembl&3233;||semble||semble||the ASCII code for é is &0233; [error in Pemberville only]|
|496||ordeynt||ordeydnt||ordeydnt||ordeydnt||Error in print source|
|498||swete||Error in print source|
|600||thou||thow||thow||thow||Error in print source|
|643||"Jhesu||"Jhesu||"Jhesu||Jhesu||Quote mark also missing from Torreone and Minchin|
|660||wroght||wrought||wrought||wrought||Ms. has wroght|
|702||Thyn owne||Thyn owne||Thynowne||Thynowne|
|720||norter||norther||norther||norther||Error in print source|
|777||yn the gate||yn the gate||yn gate||yn gate|
|778||revera(n)s||revera(n)s||reverans||reverans||Ms. has reueras|
|781||sewe hys backe||sewe hys backe||sewe backe||sewe backe|
|Total errors||0||105||124||125||A missing line is worse than a mistyped letter, so this raw number may not be meaningful.|
|66||An to worschepe hys God with alle hys myzth.|
|replaced with||And to worship his God with all his might.|
|94-96|| What that they deserven may;
And to her hure take no more,
But what that they mowe serve fore;
|replaced with||What that they mowe serve fore;
And to their hire take no more,
But what that they may serve for;
|Yn thys curyus craft, alle and som,
That longuth to a maystur mason.
Ny thys curyus craft, alle and som,
That longuth to a maystur mason.
Ny he schal not supplante non other mon,
|399||And ys yn poynt to spylle that ston,|
|replaced with||And is in poynt to y-schende that ston|
|458-459||Thenne most they nede the craft forsake;
And so masonus craft they schul refuse,
|529||Whose wol of here lyf zet mor knowe,|
|Original word||Translation||Line Numbers|
|degré (7)||degree||38, 80, 142, 360, 567, 727, 758|
|semblé (12)||assembly||75, 110, 111, 118, 261, 389, 408, 446, 449, 456, 471, 491 (missed 478)|
|syté (2)||city||79, 412|
|onesté / honesté (4)||honest||31, 141, 231, 234|
|ryolté / rygolté (2)||royalty||407, 489|
|gemetré (2)||geometry||552, 573|
|These words had an 'e' added to the end in a very different hand than the original writer, and using a much finer-pointed pen. Generally, Halliwell accepted these in his transcription, Lorion did not. This hand may have also been responsible for some of the s, particularly on lines with three dots instead of just two.|
|Original word||Translation||Line Numbers|
|kyng (5)||king||62, 433, 434, 486, 495|
|nowş||neither (?)||98 (this one had a '~' added rather than an 'e')|
|strong (3)||strong||115, 209, 547|
|a mong (7)||among||116, 202, 308, 474, 569, 716, 765|
|noşıng (2)||nothing||589, 717|
|Key:||Lines ending with archaic words||Probably correct||Acceptable alternative||Typographical error||Word or line missing||Extra word or line added|
|Line #||Group A||Group B||Group C||M.P.S.||Group D||Group E||Group F||comments________|
|8||children's sake,||children's sake,||children's sake,||children's sake,||children's sake,||children s sake||children's sake,|
|10||disease||disease||disease||dis-ease||dis-ease||disease||disease||[*] + [*]|
|31||He||He||He||He that||He||He that||He that|
|35||was||was||was||was called||was||was called||was called|
|37||clerk||clerk||clerk||clerk more||clerk||clerk more||clerk more|
|72||straghfte, (straight)||straghfte, (straight)||straghfte, Straight)||straghtfte, (straight)|
|75||then could||then could||then could||then he could||then he could||then he could||then he could|
|125||profit, nor||profit, nor||profit, nor||profit, nor||profit, nor||profit, nor||profit not||[*]|
|128||besee||be see||besee||besee||besee||be see||besee||[*]|
|130||for no||for no||for no||for no||for no||for no||for|
|134||disease||disease||disease||dis-ease||dis-ease||disease||dis-ease||[*] + [*]|
|140||disease||disease||disease||dis-eases||dis-eases||dis-eases||dis-eases||[*] + [*]|
|151||is mean||is mean||is mean||is to mean||is to mean||is to mean||is to mean|
|152||have all his||have all his||have all his||have his||have all his||have his||have his|
|163||take the||take the||take the||take of the||take the||take the||take of the|
|170||his prentice||his prentice||his prentice||his 'prentice||his prentice||his prentice||his 'prentice||[*]|
|207||shall he||shall he||shall he||he shall not||shall he||he shall not||he shall not|
|210||pounds, (ponge)||pounds.||ponge, (pounds)||pounds, (ponge)||[*]|
|229||if be||if be||if be||if it be||if be||if it be||if it be|
|236||wit God||wit God||wit God||wit that God||wit God||wit that God||wit that God|
|240||if that the||if that the||if that the||if that the||if that the||if that the||if the|
|269||as I you||as I you||as I you||as I you||as I you||as I you||as you|
|291||shall no||shall no||shall no||shall not||shall not||shall not||shall not|
|292||his master||his master||his master||his master||his master||his master||hi smaster||[*]|
|306||even low||even low||even low||even to low||even to low||even to low||even to low|
|315||Till that the work-day||Upon the holy-day||Upon the holy-day||Upon the holy-day||Upon the holy-day|
|317||it would||it would||it would||ll would||it would|
|317||on a work day||the work-day||the work-day||the work-day||the work-day|
|345||chamber y-fere||chamber y-fere||chambery-fere||chamber y-fere|
|389||you him||you him||you him||you shall him||you shall him||you shall him||you shall him|
|431||be steadfast be||be steadfast be||be steadfast be||be steadfast||be steadfast||be steadfast||be steadfast|
|431||true also||true also||true also||true also||also true||true also||true also|
|447||is full good||is full good||is full good||is of full good||is of full good||is of full||is of full good|
|481||the he||the he||the he||that be||that he||that he||that he||[*]|
|493||his grace||his grace||his grace||his high grace||his high grace||his high grace||his grace|
|496+||Ars quatuor||ARS Quatuor||[*] + [**]|
|496+||four crowned||Four-Crowned||four crowned||four crowned||four crowned||four crowned||Four Crowned||No hyphen![*] + [*]|
|497||almight, (almighty)||almight, (almighty)||almight, (almighty)||almighty,|
|531||In the||In the||In the||In the||In the||In the||In|
|532||four-crowned||four-crowned||four-crowned||four crowned||four crowned||four-crowned||No hyphen!|
|534||Hallow-e'en||Hallow-e'en||Hallow-e'en||Hallow-e'en the||Hallow-e'en the||Hallow-eten the||Hallow-e'en|
|558||I have I||I have I||I have I||have I||I have I||have I||I have I|
|574||y-wis||I know||y-wis||I know||[*]|
|599 -600||come ...nome (take)||come ...nome (take)||come ...nome (take)||nome (come) ...take|
|635||knees||knees||knees||thy knees||knees||thy knees||knees|
|764||"had-y-wiste." ("had I known")||"had I known"||"had-y-wiste." ("had known")||"had-y-wiste. (had I known)||[*]|
|765||In the chamber||In chamber,||In chamber,||In chamber,|
|778||reverance||reverance||reverance||reverence||reverence||reverence||reverance||Alt. spelling[*] + [*]|
|781||his back,||his back,||his back,||his back,||his back,||his||his back,|
|Total errors||61||56||54||0||37||87||82||A missing line is worse than a mistyped letter, so this raw number may not be meaningful. Does not include green or light blue.|