William St Clair
William St. Clair of Rosslyn, 19th Baron of Roslin was the 1st Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, elected and installed into that office at the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland of St. Andrew’s day, 30th of November 1736.
Earlier that year on the 18th of May, William St. Clair had been initiated into Lodge Canongate Kilwinning, as recorded in the minutes;
"The Lodge, having occasionally met, admitted WILLIAM St. Clair of Rosline, Esqr., a Brother of the Antient & Hon., Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, he paying into the Box as usuall, William Montgomery being appointed J. Warden pro tempore, and Richard Cooper S. Warden."
Two weeks later St. Clair was advanced to the Fellowcraft degree and then on the 22nd of November he was raised to the degree of Master Mason. That same evening St. Clair was elected to the office of Master of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning and signed himself as such.
William St. Clair 19th Baron of Rosslyn, who became the first Grand Master Mason at the founding of the Grand Lodge of Scotland came from a family that were traditionally the hereditary Grand Masters of the Masons of Scotland. King James II in 1441 appointed William Saint Clair, Earl of Orkney and Caithness, his heirs and successors for all time coming to be the patrons and protectors of the Masons in Scotland. It was this ancient deed that William St. Clair of Rosslyn resigned his title when becoming the first Grand Master in 1736.
The year before in 1735 at a meeting of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning on the 25th September, the first mention of the office of Grand Master of Scotland appears. A committee was formed consisting of a number of Brethren in order to ‘frame’ proposals to present to several Lodges regarding the choosing of a Grand Master of Scotland. The Committee for the next few months discussed the proposal, they contacted William St. Clair of Rosslyn regarding his becoming the first Grand Master and consequently he was admitted a member of the Lodge Canongate Kilwinning on May 18th 1736.
During the year 1736 the Committee met frequently, and then at the monthly meeting of the Lodge in August, a Secretary was appointed along with his deputy in order “to his making out a scheme for bringing about a Grand Master in Scotland.” Meetings continued to be held in conjunction with other Edinburgh Lodges regarding this topic, and then at a special meeting held on the 11th October, the minute states;
“The Lodge, having mett in order to' the concerting proper measures for electing a Grand Master for Scotland, being duly form'dr 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 said Lodges, who should be invested with the powers mentioned in said proposals, or such as should be then agreed on, which Secretary was then named,”
This historic meeting of the four Lodges, Mary’s Chapel, Canongate Kilwinning, Kilwinning Scots' Arms, and Leith Kilwinning was held on the 15th October, when it was agreed that a letter be sent out to all the known Lodges throughout Scotland, this momentous letter in the History of the Grand Lodge of Scotland deserves to be quoted in full;
“Brethren,—The four Lodges in and about Edinburgh having taken to their serious consideration, the great loss that Masonry has sustained through the want of a Grand Master, authorized us to signify to you, our good and worthy brethren, our hearty desire and firm intention to chuse a Grand Master for Scotland ; and, in order the same may be done with the greatest harmony, we hereby invite you (as we have done all the other regular lodges known by us) to concur in such a great and good work, whereby it's hoped Masonry may be restored to its antient lustre in this kingdome ; and for effectuating this laudable designe, we humbly desire, that betwixt and Martinmass day next, you will be pleased to give us a brotherly answer in relation to the election of a Grand Master; which we propose to be on St. Andrew's day for the first time, and ever thereafter to be on St. John the Baptist's day, or as the Grand Lodge shall appoint by the majority of voices, which are to be collected from the Masters and Wardens of all the regular Lodges then present, or by proxy to any Master-mason or Fellow-craft in any Lodge in Scotland ; and the election is to be in St. Mary's Chappell. All that is hereby proposed is for the advancement and prosperity of Masonrie, in its greatest and most charitable perfection. We hope and expect a suitable return ; wherein if any Lodges are defective, they have themselves only to blame. We heartily wish you all manner of success and prosperity, and we are, with great respect, your affectionate and loving brethren, &c.”
Events pertaining to this began to pick up speed, meetings continued to be held, and resolutions formed that would see the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the election of a Grand Master on 30th November 1736.
Then on the 3rd November, Lodge Canongate Kilwinning unanimously recommended that Brother William Sinclair (sic) be elected to that office, however St. Clair was not a Master Mason, and there was also some confusion from the other Edinburgh Lodges regarding his office of hereditary Grand Master and the fact that he had no heirs to inherit the title. This was resolved by William St. Clair of Rosslyn who declared that he would resign any rights to the ancient office, and that in future the Lodges would have at their head a Grand Master of their own choosing. Then on 22nd November only eight days before the formation of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and the election of the Grand Master he was raised to Master Mason. Two days later on the 24th he signed the document – the Deed of Resignation – which made it possible for the election of a Grand Master of Scotland.
On the 30th of November 1736, the representatives of thirty-three Lodges met at Edinburgh, when at the beginning of the proceedings, William St. Clair of Rosslyn tendered his 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; and thereto I constitute my Procurators, &c. In witness whereof I have subscribed these presents (written by David Maul, Writer to the Signet) at Edinburgh, the Twenty-fourth day of November, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty-six years, before these witnesses, George Frazer, Deputy Auditor of the Excise in Scotland, Master of the Canongate Lodge, and William Montgomery, Merchant in Leith, Master of the Leith Lodge
" Geo: Frazer, Canongate Kilwinning, witness.
" W- Montgomery, Leith Kilwinning, witness.''
The deed of resignation being accepted, the Grand Lodge then proceeded to the election the Grand Master, when William St. Clair was unanimously chosen as the first Grand Master of Scotland. William St. Clair only held the office for one year, when he proposed that the Earl of Cromarty succeed him as Grand Master.
Although he only filled the office of Grand Master for one year, he continued to take an active role in the affairs of the Grand Lodge. He died in January 1778 aged 78, and from the time he retired as Grand Master in 1737 until his death, he was present at the annual festival of St. Andrew on most occasions, in fact he was present at the year preceding his death in November 1777. When his death was announced, the Grand Lodge of Scotland held a funeral Lodge at which four hundred Brethren were present. The then Grand Master Sir William Forbes paid a tribute to William St. Clair’s memory;
“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 and 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.”
William St. Clair of Rosslyn, whom as Sir Walter Scott recalls was known as ‘The Last Rossyln’ was above six foot tall, with dark grey hair, stood upright and broad shouldered, his complexion dark and grizzled. He was an accomplished golfer being the Captain of the Honourable Company of Gentlemen Golfers on four occasions, who would draw huge crowds to see him play. The Company of Golfers in 1771 commissioned a full length painting portraying Rosslyn is in the costume of a golfer, with a round blue Scottish bonnet, and a very fine scarlet swallow-tail coat, and standing in the act of driving a ball from the tee. The portrait later passed into the possession of the Royal Company of Archers of which Rosslyn had been president during the years 1768-1778, and is at present hung in their hall in Edinburgh. Incidentally, St. Clair laid the foundation stone of the Archer’s hall in 1776, as well as the foundation stone of the world’s first golf clubhouse in Leith in 1768. The only other known portrait of the last Rosslyn is a life sized portrait which hangs on the North Wall in the Chapel of St. John at St. John’s Street, Edinburgh, believed to have been painted by Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, showing St. Clair in Masonic dress with a scroll in his hand and a level suspended from his sash.
William St. Clair, the last Hereditary Grand Master of Scotland lies buried within Rosslyn Chapel. His funeral oration contained these lines;
‘Descended from an illustrious house, whose heroes have often bled in their country’s cause, he inherited their intrepid spirit, united with the milder virtue of humanity and polished manners of a gentleman… non sibi sed societati vixit (he did not live for himself but for his community).
Stewart Donaldson HM Sources;
Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No.2
History of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2. – Allan MacKenzie, 1888.
The History of Freemasonry – Alex. Lawrie, 1804.
The History of Freemasonry – William Alexander Laurie, 1859.
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and ..., 1823 – Volume 12 – page 661.
Mackey's Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry
Scots' Magazine. – February 1778
Rosslyn Chapel website.