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St. Clair of Rosslyn

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 deeade, 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.



In the Advocates' Library, of Edinburgh, is a manuscript entitled Hay's Memoirs, which is, says Lawrie, "a collection of several things relating to the historical account of the most famed families of Scotland. Done by Richard Augustine Hay, Canon Regular of Sainte Genevefs of Paris, Prior of Sainte Pierremont, etc., Anno Domini 1700." Among this collection are two manuscripts, supposed to have been copied from the originals by Canon Hay, and which are known to Masonic scholars as the Saint Clair Charters. These copies, which it seems were alone known in the eighteenth century, were first published by Lawrie, in his History of Freemasonry, where they constitute Appendices I and II. But it appears that the originals have since been discovered, and they have been printed by Brother W. J. Hughan, in his Unpublished Records of the Craft, with the following introductory account of them by Brother D. Murray Lyon:

These manuscripts were several years ago accidentally discovered by David Lang, Esq., of the Signet Library, who gave them to the late Brother Aytoun Professor of Belles-Lettres in the University of Edinburgh, in exchange for some antique documents he had. The Professor presented them to the Grand Lodge of Scotland, in whose repositories they now are. There can be no doubt of their identity as originals. We have compared several of the signatures with autographs in other manuscripts of the time.

The Charters are in scrolls of paper-- the one 15 by 1l inches the other 26 by 11 inches,-- and for their better preservation have been affixed to cloth. The calligraphy is beautiful; and though the edges of the paper haste been frayed, and holes worn in one or two places where the sheets had been folded, there is no difficulty in supplying the few words that have been obliterated and making out the whole of the text. About three inches in depth at the bottom of No. 1, in the right hand corner, is entirely wanting, which may have contained some signatures in addition to those given. The left hand bottom Corner of No. 2 has been similarly torn away, and the same remark with regard to signatures may apply to it. The first document is a letter of jurisdiction, granted by the Freemen Masons of Scotland to William Saint Clair of Roslin. The second purports to have been granted by the Freemen Masons and Hammermen of Scotland to Sir William Saint Clair of Roslin.

Facsimiles and transcripts of these manuscripts are given by D. M. Lyon in his History of the Lodge of Edinburgh. The letter of jurisdiction is probably of a date 1600-1, and the seeund document, probably May 1, 1628.

However difficult it may be to decide as to the precise date of these Charters, there are no Masonic manuscripts whose claim to authenticity is more indisputable; for the statements which they contain tally not only with the uniformly accepted traditions of Scotch Freemasonry, but with the written records of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, both of which show the intimate connection that existed between the Freemasonry of that kingdom and the once powerful but now extinct family of Saint Clair.

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