Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page

THE FIRST GRAND MASTER WILLIAM ST.CLAIR, LAST OF ROSSLYN (1778)

[From Murray Lyon; Maidment's Notes; Sir Walter Scott; etc.]

NOTE - In 1635 Sir William St.Clair of Roslin claimed hereditary charge of the Scottish Masonic Craft.

To the success attendant upon the erection of an English Grand Lodge is attributed the movement for a Scottish Grand Lodge; and the minutes of Canongate Kilwinning furnish the earliest record of the election of a Grand Master having formed the subject of consideration by a Scottish lodge. They also contain data in illustration of "the last Rosslyn's" Masonic career. On 29th September, 1735, the duty of "framing proposals to be laid before the several lodges, in order to the chosing of a Grand Master for Scotland", was remitted to a committee of the brethren, who were again (October 15th) instructed to "take under consideration proposals for a Grand Master". In the interval between this and the next mention of the Grand Mastership, William St. Clair was (May 18th 1736), on payment of the usual fee, made a "brother of the Antient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons", and on the 2nd of the following month was "advanced to the degree of fellow craft", he paying into the box as usual. On the 4th of August 1736, John Douglas, surgeon, a member of the Lodge of Kircaldy, was, in consideration of "proofs done and to be done", affiliated into the Canongate Kilwinning, and was at the same sederunt appointed "Secretary for the time, with power to appoint his own deputy, in order to his making out a scheme for bringing about a Grand Master for Scotland". On the 20th of the next month the Lodge was visited by brethren "from the Lodge kept at William Gray's Edinburgh (Kilwinning Scots' Arms), who made some proposals anent a Grand Master for Scotland". Again, the Lodge having (October 6th, 1736) met in "order to the concerting proper measures for electing a Grand Master for Scotland, being duly formed, heard proposals for that purpose, which were agreed to, and gave it as an instruction to their representatives, at the first meeting of the four lodges in and about Edinburgh, in the first place to insist that a proper Secretary should be appointed to the meetings of the said lodges, who should be invested with the powers mentioned in said proposals, or such as then should be agreed on, which Secretary was then named". Eight days previous to the Grand Election, St.Clair was advanced to "the degree of Master Mason". Two days afterwards he signed the document that was to facilitate the election of a Grand Master, which was written and attested by three of the more prominent of the brethren belonging to St.Clair's mother, or, to use the phraseology of the time, "original" lodge - a circumstance which adds to the presumptive evidence upon which it is considered that Canongate Kilwinning was the originator of the scheme for his advancement to the Grand Orient.

The delegates from the four lodges - Mary’s Chapel, Canongate Kilwinning, Kilwinning Scots' Arms, and Leith Kilwinning - met at Edinburgh on the 15th of October 1736, when certain regulations were framed for the "good and prosperity of Masonry in general", and provision made for the election of a Grand Master. The methods and regulations arrived at unanimously by these four lodges were to be printed, and copies transmitted to all known regular lodges in Scotland, accompanied with a letter explaining the object of the proposals submitted by the convening lodges. St.Mary's Chapel thereon nominated the Earl of Home but Canongate Kilwinning had three weeks earlier issued its deliverance upon the "Method and Regulations anent the Election of Grand Master", and was unanimously of opinion that Br. William Sinclair of Roslin was the most worthy person, and recommended to the Brotherhood his interest in a very earnest manner; and likewise were of opinion that in case Br. Sinclair should not succeed in the election of Grand Master, that the following persons (all of Canongate Kilwinning) were proper officers to be named for the Grand Lodge, and hereby recommend their interest to the several brethren. viz.: Mr. Hew Murray, S.W.; John Douglas, J.W.; Thomas Trotter, Treasurer; Da. Maule, Secretary". The lodge "thereafter appointed a committee to meet on the 15th of the month (November 1736) in order to their concerting any further matters anent the said election of Grand Master"

After several meetings of the convening lodges, it was on 25th November 1736, appointed that the election of Grand Master should take place in St.Mary's Chapel on Tuesday 30th of November at half-past two p.m. According to this arrangement, then, the first General Assembly of Scottish Symbolical Masons was convened at Edinburgh 30th November 1736. On completing the sederunt 33 of the 100 or so lodges that had been invited were found to be represented, each by a Master and two Wardens; and to prevent jealousies in the matter of precedency, always a rallying point for Masonic asperities, each lodge was placed on the roll in the order of its entrance to the hall. Upon the final adjustment of the roll, and no amendments having been offered to the form of procedure, or to the draft of the constitution of Grand Lodge that had been submitted to the several lodges, the document known as the "Deed of Resignation" was tendered by the Laird of Roslin and read to the meeting. By this celebrated instrument he resigns the Hereditary Protectorate of the Craft which had been vested in his ancestors since 1600 or earlier. He renounces all right, jurisdiction, etc, which may be vested in him, "in virtue of any deed or deeds made and granted by the said Masons, or of any grant or charter made by any of the Kings of Scotland to and in favour of the said William and Sir William St.Clairs of Roslin, OR ANY OTHERS OF MY PREDECESSORS, etc." Edinburgh, 24th November 1736.

Though some of the representatives present had been instructed to vote for another than Mr. St.Clair, so fascinated do the brethren seem to have been with the apparent magnanimity, disinterestedness, and zeal for the Order, displayed in his "Resignation", that the success of the scheme for his election was complete, the Deed was accepted, and with a unanimity that must have been grateful to the lodge at whose instance it had been drawn, the abdication of an obsolete office in Operative Masonry was made the ground of St.Clair’s being chosen to fill the post of first Grand Master in the Scottish Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons.

A report by the Master of the proceedings of the Grand Lodge was presented to St.Mary's Chapel at its communication on St.John's Day, 1736, "of which proceedings the Brethren of the Lodge unanimously approved". The recommendation by Mary’s Chapel of the Earl of Home for the Grand Mastership, and its subsequent approval of the conduct of its representatives in unanimously supporting the nomination of St.Clair, would seem to imply that up to the time of election that Lodge had been ignorant of the grounds upon which the latter gentleman's claims to the honour were to be urged, a circumstance which affords presumptive proof that the leading Scottish Masons of the time were entirely oblivious of any constituted authority in trade matters apart from Lodges and Incorporations. St.Clair was a member of neither when the question of a Grand Mastership was first propounded, nor in his subsequent admission and advancement as an Accepted Mason was he introduced to the brethren in any other character than that of a private gentleman.

The whole facts seem to show that the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning took the initiative in the agitation for a Grand Lodge for Scotland, and the circumstances connected with the affiliation of Dr. Douglas render it probable that he had been introduced for the purpose of perfecting a previously concerted plan whereby the election of a Grand Master might be made to contribute to the aggrandisement of the Lodge receiving him. His subsequent advancement and frequent re-election to the chair of Substitute Grand Master would indicate the possession of high Masonic qualifications, and to these the Craft may have been indebted for the resuscitation of the St.Clair charters and the dramatic effect which their identification with the successful aspirant to the Grand Mastership gave to the institution of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Whatever may have been the immediate motive of the originators of the scheme, the setting up a Grand Lodge ostensibly upon the ruins of an institution that had ceased to be of practical benefit, but which in former times had been closely allied to the guild of the mason craft, gave to the new organisation an air of antiquity as the lineal representative of the ancient courts of Operative Masonry; while the so-called resignation of St.Clair was, if not too closely criticised, calculated to give to the whole affair a sort of legal aspect that was wanting at the institution of the Grand Lodge of England. In December of the same year (1736) he made a grand visitation to Canongate Kilwinning, accompanied by Lord Kintore, the Acting Junior Grand Warden.

Although he only filled the Grand Throne during the first year of Grand Lodge's existence, he continued to take an active interest in its affairs, and through his influence with the nobility and gentry of Scotland, secured as his successors in the Throne craftsmen of high repute. Forty-two years elapsed between his retirement from the chair and his death. During that long period he was almost always present at the annual festival of St. Andrew, and was at the one immediately preceding his death, which occurred on 4th January 1778, in the 78th year of his age. A solemn Funeral Grand Lodge was held in honour of his memory. "On this occasion the masters, officers, and brethren of all the lodges in Edinburgh, to the number of near 400, appeared in deep mourning. The lodge was opened by Sir William Forbes, Baronet, Grand Master Mason of Scotland, with a funeral oration, after which the Resurrection Hymn, the Hallelujah, and other select pieces of solemn vocal music were performed with great taste and execution by gentlemen, brethren of the Order. The whole ceremony was conducted with a degree of solemnity and propriety highly suitable to the occasion, and which exhibited in a very striking point of view the true spirit and principles of Masonry".

[Maidments Notes]

The following elegy, composed for the event, was sung to the tune of Rosslyn Castle:

Frail man, how like the meteor's blaze !
How evanescent are thy days!
Protracted to its longest date,
How short the time indulged by Fate!
Nor force Death’s potent arm can brave,
Nor Wisdom’s self elude the grave.

Where e'er our various journies tend,
To this we soon or late descend.
Thither from mortal eye retired,
Though oft beheld and still admired,
St.Clair to dust its claim resigns.
And in sublimer regions shines.

Let us, whom ties fraternal bind,
Like St.Clair live, like St.Clair die,
Beyond the rest of human kind,
Then join the Eternal Lodge on high.

[Scots' Magazine, February 1778]

An Edinburgh lodge has been named St.Clair in commemoration of the first Grand Master, and the prominence of the Rosslyns in connection with the craft doubtless explains the popular perpetuation of St.Clair as a Christian name in so many families unrelated to the gens.

"The last Rosslyn", says Sir Walter Scott, "(for he was uniformly known by his patrimonial designation, and would probably have deemed it an insult in any who might have termed him Mr. Sinclair) was a man considerably above six feet, with dark grey locks, a form upright, but gracefully so, thin-flanked and broad shouldered, built, it would seem, for the business of the war or chase, a noble eye of chastened pride and undoubted authority, and features handsome and striking in their general effect, though somewhat harsh and exaggerated when considered in detail. His complexion was dark and grizzled, and as we schoolboys, who crowded to see him perform feats of strength and skill in the old Scottish games of golf and archery, used to think and say amongst ourselves, the whole figure resembled the famous founder of the Douglas race, pointed out, it is pretended, to the Scottish monarch on a conquered field of battle, as the man whose arm had achieved the victory by the expressive words: Sholto Dhuglass, "behold the dark grey man". In all the manly sports which require strength and dexterity Roslin was unrivalled; but his particular delight was in archery". He was proprietor and occupant of a house near the bottom of Liberton Wynd, Edinburgh. It was a small self-contained edifice, adjoining the east side of the alley, and having a southerly exposure to the Cowgate, from which street the front was visible. He married Cordelia, daughter of Sir George Wishart of Cliftonhall, by whom he had three sons and five daughters, who all died young except his daughter Sarah. He sold what remained of the family estates to General Saint Clair, second son of Henry Lord Sinclair, the heir-of-line of William St.Clair, last Earl of Orkney, and they were until recently in possession of the Erskines, Earls of Rosslyn. The representation of the family is claimed by the Chevalier Enrico Ciccopieri, a major in the Italian service, who has been served by the Sheriff of Chancery as heir-of-line to Colonel James St.Clair, who died in 1807.

The last Rosslyn was captain of the Honourable Company of Gentlemen Golfers. These enthusiasts resolved, on 11th March 1771, "to have the picture of their present captain (William St.Clair) in full length in his golfing dress in their large room", and "requested him to sit for the same, which, he having agreed to, Sir George Chalmers is appointed to paint the same, which is to be done at the Golfers' expense as soon as conveniently the same can be done". The linkmen of Leith becoming embarrassed pecuniarily, their effects were exposed for sale in 1831, when this portrait passed into the possession of the Royal Company of Archers, of which incorporation the last Rosslin had been President of Council during the years 1768-1778. It now hangs on the walls of their hall at Edinburgh, Rosslyn is in the costume of a golfer, with a round blue Scottish bonnet, and a very fine scarlet swallow-tail coat, and stands in the act of driving a ball from the tee. There is another portrait in the possession of Canongate Kilwinning, where he was initiated a Mason, the genuineness of which is disputed. It is known to have been in the lodge from about 1793 (only fifteen years after his death), and the artist is thought to be Allan Ramsay, a son of the poet. In it St.Clair is in Masonic costume, in his hand a scroll, and bears the level suspended from his sash, it being the badge at that time general among the craft".

[Laws and Constitutions Scot. Con. 1848]

Back to Fiona's Finding Service
Back to Index | Previous page | Next page


e-mail to:fnsnclr@btinternet.com