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THE KING'S BISHOP - WILLIAM ST.CLAIR, BISHOP OF DUNKELD 1312-1332

[From Hay's Chartulary; Scottish Wars and Tytler]

NOTE - The King's Bishop: Master [Dominus] William de St.Clair and other Scottish prisoners taken in Dunbar Castle were committed to Gloucester Castle, 16th May 1296. A writ issued 13th August 1297, allowing money for expenses in the matter of same to Walter de Beauchamp the castellan, from 1st May 1296, to 30th June 1297. On 11th March 1302-3 pardon issued to Beauchamp's heirs and executors for all action in connection with the escape of Master William de St.Clair, a Scottish rebel.

This militant prelate was a son of Sir William St.Clair of Roslin. He was elected Bishop of Dunkeld in the seventh pontifical year of Clemens V apud Vienne 1312 (7 Ides May) On the 10th July 1321, he attests a national document (Number 84). In a certain semi-historical work, I have also come across the notice, referring to William Sinclair, "The Bishop of Dunkeld, who had fought against the enemies of the Cross on the plains of Hungary, and was as brave a soldier as ever drew a sword", etc. Henry the Minstrel refers to him thus: -

A prelate next unto Ardchattan came
Who of his lordship nought had but the name
He worthy was, both prudent, grave and sage,
Of Sinclair blood, not forty years of age.
The pope, to save poor sinful souls from hell,
Did him create lord bishop of Dunkell.
But Englishmen, through greed and avarice,
Deprived him basely of his benefice:
Not knowing then to whom to make his suit,
To save his life dwelt three full years in Bute,
During which space he was kept safe and sound,
And under the Lord Stewart shelter found.
Till Wallace who won Scotland back with pain,
Restored him to his livings an again:

Good Bishop Sinclair, without longer stay,
Met him on Glammis, and travelled on the way
To Brechin, where they lodged all that night;
and unto Perth repaired,
There Bishop Sinclair met him in a trice,
And wisely gave to Wallace his advice.
Good Bishop Sinclair is in Bute also,
Who, when he hears the news, will not be slow
To come and take his fate with cheerful heart;
He never yet did fail to act his part.

Where Bishop Sinclair came to him on sight,
With clever lads from Bute, all young and tight (!)
The southron bishop that fled from Dunkeld,
To London rode, and told all that befell.

Thus in defence the Hero ends his days,
Of Scotland's right, to his immortal praise:
Whose valiant acts were all recorded fair,
Wrillen in Latin by the famous Blair;
Who at that time the champion did attend,
Was an eye-witness and his chaplain there:
And after that, as history does tell,
Confirmed by Sinclair, Bishop of Dunkel'

There are two episodes In Scottish history in which he occupies an honourable prominence.

During the absence of King Robert Bruce in Ireland to assist his brother Edward in the conquest of that country, the English, who made several attempts to disturb the tranquility of Scotland, appeared with an armament in the Firth of Forth, and anchored off Inverkeithing. The panic created by the English was so great that the Earl of Fife and Sheriff of the County with difficulty assembled 500 cavalry with which to oppose the landing. These, intimidated by the superior numbers of the English, were afraid to encounter them, and consulted their safety by flight. Fortunately, however, the spirited Bishop of Dunkeld, who had in him more of the warrior than the ecclesiastic, received timely notice of the desertion. Putting himself at the head of 60 of his servants, and with nothing clerical about him except a linen frock or rochet cast over his armour, he threw himself on horseback, and succeeded in rallying the fugitives, telling their leaders that they were recreant knights, and deserved to have their gilt spurs hacked off. "Turn", said he, seizing a spear from the nearest soldier, "turn, for shame, and let all who love Scotland follow me". With this, he furiously charged the English, who were driven back to their ships with the loss of 500 men, besides many who were drowned by the swamping of one of the vessels. On his return from Ireland, Bruce highly commended his intrepidity, declaring that St.Clair should be his own bishop; and by the name of the King’s Bishop this martial prelate, who is described as "right hardy, meikle, and stark", was long remembered in Scotland.

When Edward Balliol won Scotland by the disastrous battle of Dupplin in 1332, secure from all opposition, he repaired to Scone, and in the presence of many of the gentry from Fife, Gowrie, and Stratherne, was crowned King of Scotland by his two prisoners, Duncan, Earl of Fife, and William St.Clair, the stout Bishop of Dunkeld. "The King's Bishop" was the founder of the old Cathedral of Dunkeld. He is gracefully introduced by Lithgow alluding to the motto of the Earls of Caithness:

"Commit thy work to God,
O sacred motto ! Bishop Sinclair's strain
Who turned Fyte's lord on Scotland's foes again"

NOTE - The Dunkeld Register gives the death of Bishop Sinclair as 27th June 1337.

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