Chapter 16

The First Sinclair Charter (1601)


Before describing and transcribing the Sinclair Charter, it is tempting and useful to discuss – briefly – first the Sinclair (or St. Clair) family history and secondly Rosslyn Chapel, both being Scottish. The Sinclair family, of Norman origin, achieved fame in medieval times. William, Sheriff of Edinburgh, was made Baron of Rosslyn by the King of Scotland: his son, Henry, fought in the historic Battle of Bannockburn, his grandson William died during the Arab fighting of Andalusia.

The Sinclairs became later the Earls of Orkney, and then Caithness and Orkney. It is a member of the clan Sinclair who, in the middle of the 15th century, drew plans of the famous Rosslyn Chapel and had it built as the first part of a larger building never completed; a chapel in which there are many esoteric symbols (1) and two carved columns, one called the Apprentice’s Pillar and the other the Master’s Pillar. 

Of William Sinclair of Mey, in whose favor a Charter was established in 1601, making him the protector of Scottish Masons, there is little to say, except that he was the youngest son of George Sinclair, fourth Earl of Caithness, and was knighted in 1592 by King James VI. Another member of the clan Sinclair, also named William, later became the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, founded in 1736.

The document - It can be summed up in four points: 

- Firstly, that the lords of Rosslyn have long been associated with the Trade and the Masons;

- Secondly that for writing such a text, the said Masons must have used a profane notary (which is to understand that most Masons could neither read nor write);

- Thirdly that if the Masons did not compose a Scottish Grand Lodge, they did belong nevertheless to a well structured network of tradespeople; 

- And finally that this charter was written a year before the death of William Schaw. 

Modern transcription from Scottish English.

The Text

Be it known to all men by these present letters, 

We Deacons, Masters, and Freemen of the Masons within the realm of Scotland, with express consent and assent of William Schaw (2) Master of the Work, to our Sovereign Lord, whereas from age to age it has been observed among us, that the Lords of Roslin have ever been Patrons and Protectors of us and our privileges; so that our predecessors have obeyed and acknowledged them as Patrons and Protectors, 

Although within these few years through negligence and slothfulness the same has passed forth from us, whereby not only has the Lord of Roslin been out of his just right, but also our whole Craft has been destitute of a patron and protector and overseer, which has caused many corruptions and imperfections, both among ourselves and in our Craft, 

And has given occasion to many persons to conceive evil opinion of us and our Craft, and to leave off great enterprises of policy by reason of our great misbehavior, without correction, whereby not only the committers of the faults but also the honest men are disappointed with their Craft and profit. 

Likewise, when various controversies break out among us, there follow many and great inconveniences through want of a patron and protector, we not being able to wait upon the ordinary judges and judgement of this realm through the occasion of our poverty and slowness of the process for the remedy whereof, and for the keeping of good order among us in all times to come, and for advancement of our Craft and vocation within this realm and furthering of policy within the same. 

We, for ourselves and in name of our dear brethren and craftsmen, with consent aforesaid, agree and consent that William Sinclair, now of Roslin, for himself and his heirs, purchase and obtain at the hands of our Sovereign Lord liberty, freedom, and jurisdiction upon us and our successors in all times coming, as patrons and judges to us and the Grand Masters (3) of our Craft within this realm, from whom we have power and commission, so that hereafter we may acknowledge him and his heirs as our patrons and judge under our Sovereign Lord, without any kind of appeal or declining from his judgement, with power to the said William and his heirs to appoint judges, one or more, under him and to use such ample and large jurisdiction upon us and our successors, as well in boroughs as land, as it shall please our Sovereign Lord to grant to him and his heirs.

William Schaw,

Master of the Work.


• Edinburgh - Andrew Simson, John Robson.

 • St Andrews - ...u

• Hadington - P. Campbell, taking the burden for Jon.Saw, J. Vallance, William Aittoun.

• Achieson Heaven - George Aittoun, Jo.Fwsetter, Thomas Petticrif.

• Dumfermlin - Robert Pest.

• Thomas Weir Mason in Edinburgh, Thomas Robertson warden of the Lodge of Dumferling and Saint Andrews and taking the burden upon him for the brethren of the Mason Craft, within their Lodges,

And for the Commissioners, after mentioned vizt. David Skougall, Alexander Gilbert, and David Spens for the Lodge of Saint Andrews, Andrew Alisone and Archibald Angone, Commissiary for the Lodge of Dumfermlin, 

And Robert Baize of Haddington with our hands laid on the pen by the notary underwritten at our commands, because we can not write.

• Ita est Laurentius Robertson, notarius publicus ad praemissa requisitus de specialibus mandatis dict. Personarum schribere nescien. Ut aseruerunt testan. Manu mea propria. 

Ita est.

Hen­ricus Banna (Tyne) connotarius ad premissa (de mandatis) antedicatarum personarum (schribere nescientium ut aseruerunt teste) manu mea propria.

(Laurentius Robertson, notary public, with special powers given by people who can not write, so they bear witness by my own hand. Henricus Banna (Tyne), notary assistant in charge of the above persons, who can not write, so they bear witness by my own hand.)


1. - The symbolism of Rosslyn Chapel was challenged by Robert L. D. Cooper, in his recent book: Rosslyn - Splendors, Myths, Realities.

2. - The Sinclair Charter does not call into question the Statutes of William Schaw. It seems plausible that it follows from it, for the sole purpose of imposing the rule of William Sinclair of Rosslyn on Scottish Masons. 52 years old, and Master Works of James VI, he will die the following year.

3. - We have translated, freely, Haill fessoris (dear professors, according to modern English) as Grand Masters, rather than Dear Masters or Dear Guides.

© Guy Chassagnard 2016