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Masonic Bios

William St. Clair


One of the most curious episodes in the history of Freemasonry occurred at the time of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1736 when William St. Clair of Rosslyn (or Rossline, or Roslin) tendered his "resignation of the office of hereditary Grand Master" in order that in the future no confusions would arise as between his family and any Grand Master. The "resignation" begins by saying "that the Masons in Scotland did, by several deeds, constitute and appoint William and Sir William St. Clair of Rossline, my ancestors and their heirs, to be their patrons, protectors, judges, or masters," etc. (See page 899.)

Historians have doubted that any family ever held a suzerainty over the Craft in Scotland. Yet it is not impossible that it should have been true, for similar things occurred elsewhere. During the later Middle Ages and early in the Modern Age, it was not uncommon for a family to organize itself (as Japanese families still do), with a head, ruless and penalties, somewhat like a modern business corporation. Until about the Sixteenth Century France, at least lid its government, army, and church, was little more than a network of such families -the "200 families" still claim ancient and hereditary privileges. The most extraordinary of such families in any country was the Hapsburgs (or Habsburgs) which as early as 1291 became a kind of hansa, or gild, and went into the business of supplying (by contract or agreement) kings, queens, princes, etc., to any country in the market for one, and are still at it. The Fuggers were another, except that they were financiers.

One of these families, the most notorious, has a link with the history of Freemasonry through a link it itself had with the gild system in Florence, Italy. This was the Medici Family (it began as Medici and Sons). The founder of the family was a worker in a gild of weavers and carders in the Fourteenth Century, and became a petty but successful gild politician. Gradually, decade after decade, one Medici after another became "boss" of a gild, then of a number of gilds, got a monopoly of the silk gild, became wealthy and established a bank, and by a deft manipulation of gild funds and politics became ruler of Florence.

Once in power they produced a line of Popes, beginning with the famous Leo X; they produced the noted Cosimo, the famous Lorenzo, patron of the arts, and finally sent a weakling daughter of the house, Katherine, to be Queen of France, where she helped defeat the Protestant Reformation. The Medici history brought to light a fundamental weakness of the gild system; workers' gilds could by manipulation be brought under control by merchant gilds; a group of these latter could be brought under control by one of their own gilds; one man, with money enough, could control that gild. A gild had in its own organization no means to fight off that form of monopolization. Once the Medici had learned how it could be done, the capitalist system was invented, and the gild system was doomed; the emphasis passed from work and things to be made to money and wealth to be gained.

The St. Clair family made no such use of the Mason gilds in Scotland; but a case like that of the Medici, and the history of organized families in general, makes the St. Clair tradition more intelligible, and at the same time more credible; they may even have found it an economic advantage to be "judges and masters" of the Masons.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry



William Sinclair


The Saint Clairs of Roslin, or, as it is often spelled, of Rosslyn, held for more than three hundred years an intimate connection with the history of Freemasonry in Scotland. William Saint Clair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, was, in 1441, appointed by King James II the Patron anal Protector of the Freemasons of Scotland, and the office was made hereditary in his family. Charles Mackie says of him (Preernasen, May, 1851, page 166) that "he was considered one of the best and greatest Masons of the age."

He planned the construction of a most magnificent collegiate church at his palace of Roslin, of which, however, only the chancel and part of the transept were completed. To take part in this design, he invited the most skilful Freemasons from foreign countries; and in order that they might be conveniently lodged and carry on the work with ease and despatch, he ordered them to erect the neighboring town of Roslin, and gave to each of the most worthy a house and lands. After his death, whieh occurred about 1480, the office of hereditary Patron was transmitted to his descendants, who, says Lawrie (History of Freemasonry, page 100), "held their principal annual meetings at Kilwinning."

The prerogative of nominating the office-bearers of the Craft, which had always been exercised by the kings of Scotland, appears to have been neglected by James VI after his accession to the throne of England.

Hence the Freemasons, finding themselves embarrassed for want of a Protector, about the year 1600, if that be the real date of the first of the Saint Clair Manuscripts, appointed William Saint Clair of Roslin, for himself and his heirs, their "Patrons and Judges." After presiding over the Order for many years, says Lawrie, William Saint Clair went to Ireland, and in 1630 a second Charter was issued, granting to his son, Sir William Saint Clair, the same power with which his father had been invested. This Charter having been signed by the Masters and Wardens of the principal Lodges of Scotland, Sir William Saint Clair assumed the active administration of the affairs of the Craft, and appointed his Deputies and Wardens, as had been customary with his ancestors. For more than a century after this renewal of the compact between the Laird of Roslin and the Freemasons of Scotland, the Craft continued to flourish under the successive heads of the family.

But in the year 1736, William Saint Clair, to whom the Hereditary Protectorship had descended in due course of succession, having no children of his own, became anxious that the office of Grand Master should not become vacant at his death. Accordingly, he assembled the members of the Lodges of Edinburgh and its vicinity, and represented to them the good effects that would accrue to them if they should in future have at their head a Grand Master of their own choice, and declared his intention to resign into the hands of the Craft his hereditary right to the office. It was agreed by the assembly that all the Lodges of Scotland should be summoned to appear by themselves, or proxies, on the approaching Saint Andrew's Day, at Edinburgh, to take the necessary steps for the election of a Grand Master.

In compliance with the call, the representatives of thirty-two Lodges met at Edinburgh on the 30th of November 1736, when William Saint Clair tendered the following resignation of his hereditary office:

I, William Saint Clair, of Roslin, Esq., taking into my consideration that the Masons in Scotland did, by several deeds, constitute and appoint trillium and Sir William Saint Clairs of Roslin, my ancestors and their heirs, to be their patrons, protectors judges, or masters, and that my holding or claiming any such jurisdiction, right, or privilege might be prejudicial to the Craft and creation of Masonry, whereof I am a member; and I, being desirous to advance and promote the good and utility of the said Craft of Masonry to the utmost of my power, do therefore hereby, for me and my heirs, renounce quit claim over give, and discharge all right, claim, or pretense that I, or my heirs, had, have, or any ways may have, pretend to, or claim to be, patron, protector, judge, or master of the Masons in Scotland, 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 favor of the said William and sir William saint Clairs of Roslin, my predecessors, or any other manner or way whatsoever, for now and ever; and I bind and oblige me and my heirs to warrant this present renunciation and discharge at all hands. And I consent to the registration hereof in the books of council and session, or any other judges' books competent, therein to remain for preservation.

Then follows the usual formal and technical termination of a deed (Lawrie's History of Freemasonry, page 148).

The deed of resignation having been accepted, the Grand Lodge proceeded to the election of its office bearers, when William Saint Clair, as was to be expected, was unanimously chosen as Grand Master; an office which, however, he held but for one year, being succeeded in 1737 by the Earl of Cromarty. He lived, however, for more than half a century afterward, and died in January, 1778, in the seventy-eight year of his age.

The Grand Lodge of Scotland was not unmindful of his services to the Craft, and on the announcement of his death a funeral Lodge was convened, when four hundred Brethren, dressed in deep mourning, being present, Sir William Forbes, who was then the Grand Master, delivered an impressive address, in the course of which he paid the following tribute to the character of Saint Clair. After alluding to his voluntary resignation of his high office for the good of the Order, he had fled:

"His zeal, however, to promote the welfare of our Society was not confined to this single instance; for he continued almost to the very close of life, on all occasions where his influence or his example could prevail, to extend the spirit of Masonry and to increase the number of the Brethren.... To these more conspicuous and public parts of his character I am happy to be able to add, that he possessed in an eminent degree the virtues of a benevolent and good heart-virtues which ought ever to be the distinguishing marks of a true brother" (Lawrie's History of Freemasonry page 224). Brother Charles Mackie, in the London Freemasons Quarterly Retried (1831, page 167), thus described the last day of this venerable patron of the Order:

"William Saint Clair of Roslin, the last of that noble family, was one of the most remarkable personages of his time; although stripped of his paternal title an(l possessions, he walked abroad respected and reverenced. He moved in the first society; and if he did not carry the purse, he was stamped with the impress of nobility. He did not require a cubit to be addled to his stature, for he was considered the stateliest man of his age."

The preceding account by Doctor Mackey of the connection of the Saint Clairs with Seoteh Freemasonry is based almost entirely on Lawrie's History of Freemasonry, 1804, but a later anal more critical writer-D. Murray Lyon (History of the Lodge of Edinburgh, 1873, page 3)-considers the statement that James II invested the Earl of Orkney and Cattiness with the dignity of Grand Master and subsequently made the office hereditary to be "altogether apocryphal." The real fact appears to be, continues Brother Hawkins, that the Operative Masons of Scotland by the Saint Clair Charters did confer upon the Saint Clair family the office of Patron and Protector of the Craft, and that William Saint Clair was made a Freemason in 1735 in order to resign this office, and in return for such apparent magnanimity to be elected in 1736 the first Grand Master of Scotland.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry

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