MIRELA ELENA ENE
Editor in Chief, MASONIC FORUM Magazine
“This humble structure of stones covers a man of excellent skill, notable probity, singular integrity of life, adorned with the greatest of virtues – William Schaw, Master of the King’s Works, President of the Sacred Ceremonies, and the Queen’s Chamberlain. He died 18th April, 1602.
Among the living he dwelt fifty‑two years; he had travelled in France and many other kingdoms, for the improvement of his mind; he wanted no liberal training; was most skilful in architecture; was early recommended to great persons for the singular gifts of his mind; and was not only unwearied and tireless in labours and business, but constantly active and vigorous, and was most dear to every good man who knew him. He was born to do good offices, and thereby to gain the hearts of men; now he lives eternally with God“.
“Queen Anne ordered this monument to be erected to the memory of this most excellent and most upright man, lest his virtues, worthy of eternal commendation, should pass away with the death of his body.”
The inscription on William Schaw’s tomb in Dunfermline Abbey is the most certain source of biographical information and bears what might well be the oldest mason’s mark, a complex sculpture of all the letters of the name S‑C‑H‑A‑W. Each stone used for his tomb bears an inscribed mark.
On a separate panel on his tomb it says: “To his most upright Friend, William Schaw, Live with the Gods, and live for ever, most excellent man; This life to thee was labour, death was deep repose. Alexander Seton.”
William Schaw was born, according to his epitaph, around the year 1550. He was a member of a branch of cadets of a laird’s family, the Schaws of Sauchie, near Stirling, the shire of Clackmannan, a family that had close ties to the court, as they owned the king’s wine cellar. That is why, it seems, William Schaw received a job at court ever since his youth.
References to a certain number of Schaw’s activities appear in several documents of the time. In 1581, when the Reformed Church in Scotland feared that King James VI would fall under Catholic influence, both the king and his courtiers had to sign what became known as the “Negative Confession”, a systematic denunciation of Catholicism – among the signatures, William Schaw’s.
On 17th January 1584, records of the time mention William Schaw’s departure to France with Lord Seton, an experienced diplomat whose mission had been to renew the treatises between Scotland and France. William Schaw’s inclusion in the mission appears to be owed to the fact that he had managed to obtain the support of the Seton family, especially due to Alexander Seton’s – the youngest of Lord Seton’s sons – passion for architecture. The name Alexander Seton – who at the time was the first Earl of Dunfermline) – is the one mentioned on William Schaw’s tomb in Dunfermline Abbey.
In 1585, William Schaw appears in a group of three men chosen by the king to entertain the Danish ambassadors who had just arrived, in the hope of obtaining the Orkney and Shetland Islands that had been given back to Denmark. After 1585 William Schaw seems to have worked for Lord Seton.
In 1588, the Edinburgh Presbytery called all “papist and apostates”, William Schaw among them. In 1593, when a list was made of those at court who were supporting the English interests, Schaw was also included and described as “a suspicious Jesuit”, and several years later a Latin work meant to prove that James VI was favouring the Catholics mentioned that Schaw was the King’s “praefectum architecturae”, even though he was a Catholic.
William Schaw’s passion seems to have been architecture, but the fact that he was appointed to entertain the Danish ambassadors indicates that he also had the qualities of a diplomat, which would be of use to him in his later activities. The closeness to the Danish ambassadors could also explain why he was included in the group of King James VI, who at the end of 1589 went to Denmark to bring back Anne of Denmark, who would become his wife. Delayed by the storms in Norway, it would seem that Schaw remained with James VI in Denmark over the winter.
In the beginning of 1590 he came back to Scotland, sent before the others to finish the necessary preparations for the arrival of the King and his bride, and especially the repairs at Holyroodhouse Palace and the residence given to the Queen in Dunfermline.
He later became close to Anne of Denmark and was named Chamberlain of the Dunfermline domain, a position he held until 1593.
Records show no mention of marriage or possible heirs for William Schaw. Furthermore, the fact that he was once suspected to be a Jesuit might even be proof that he remained single.
James VI named William Schaw as Master of Works in Scotland for life, holding responsibility for all royal castles and palaces, on 21st December 1583. The moment of his investment as Master suggests that the event was tied to the political developments of the time. James VI had just escaped from an extremist Protestant faction, the Ruthven Raiders, who had kidnapped him the year before, and his reaction brought to power several conservatives. Therefore the investment, which involved replacing his predecessor (Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock) from a life‑long office, suggests that Shaw was associated with conservative interests.
The fact that William Schaw, although a Catholic, from this perspective even being a concern for the English, held the position given to him by King James in a Protestant country proves his diplomatic abilities of maintaining a balance. Records mentions other Scots at court who, although Catholic, avoided actions that could generate persecutions and probably even attended Protestant services from time to time. One of Schaw’s closest friends, Alexander Seton, practiced such an “act of religious equilibrium” for many years, all the while holding high public positions.
On 28th of December 1598, as Master of Works and Director of Master Masons, Schaw released the “Status and Ordonance must be observed by all Master Masons in the realm” – the First Schaw Statute.
The introduction states that the Statutes were released with the agreement of a convention of artisans, mentioned only as “all the Master Masons assembled that day”. It seems that William Schaw summoned a meeting of master masons on 27th December, the most important day in the masonic calendar, and that, following the day’s talks, the first Schaw Statutes were elaborated and issued the next day.
The first Schaw Statutes are based on Old Texts, but also bring additional information to describe a hierarchy of Wardens, Deacons and Masters. This gives a clear indication that these ancient Texts were known in Scotland long before the middle of the 17th century, after which point we have clear evidence of that. The material taken from the Old Texts was modified and extended in the Statutes, so that it covered specific Scottish conditions. In other words, William Schaw did not found the lodges, but he introduced standard regulations, partially derived from the Old Texts.
I will not present the texts of the Statutes here, as they can be read separately, but it must be noted that they bring many new elements regarding various rules regarding the functioning of the lodge, choosing the head of the lodge, overseeing the work and imposed fines for not taking part in the lodge’s meetings or for taking on a work without having the necessary competence to execute it, regarding the employment of apprentices, access in the Lodge etc. The Statutes were agreed upon by all present Master Mason and copies were sent to every Lodge in Scotland.
William Schaw’s first Statutes offer new evidence about the masonic organization in Scotland, while at the same time introducing new aspects. The masonic organization outlined in the First Statute is based on lodges. The name is ancient, but the lodges described now are very different from the ones in earlier sources. Medieval lodges were either temporary buildings (places for work, eating and sleeping on the site), either semi‑permanent institutions that functioned affiliated to great ecclesiastic buildings, but limited to the masons who were working on these buildings. There is no evidence that such lodges had jurisdiction over all the masons working in an area or if they had general control over people who could enter lodges, or if individual lodges had connections with other lodges in order to extend their jurisdiction, although The Second Schaw Statute indicates that Lodge Kilwinning claimed to have had such rights in the past.
All these characteristics appear for the first time in the First Schaw Statute. They mention the need to establish a coherent system of Lodges in all of Scotland, with a General Warden that should have jurisdiction over all lodges. It also mentions (vaguely, however) meetings and gatherings above the level of a lodge and, although the relationship between lodge and County is not defined, it appears that the lodges in a county had to work together.
Of course, these new lodges have their resemblance with earlier ones. The name itself had been accepted for a long time for a group or organization of masons, and earlier lodges certainly tried to regulate the entry in the trade and the working practices just as the Schaw Lodges did. However, be they temporary or semi‑permanent, the late medieval lodges had concerned themselves only with masons that were working on a single building, or maybe at the most, on all public buildings in a certain borough. If there was a form of organization above this level, it was either informal – with masons going from one building to another (with the same regulations of the craft, thus introducing an element of uniformity) –, or based on the fact that in certain areas masons occasionally frequented the meetings held by the regional wardens, thus creating a sort of masons’ assembly. Also, without a doubt, earlier lodges had rituals and ceremonies, because it would have been hard to conceive a medieval organization of craftsmen with no rituals. Nothing indicates, however, that these rituals were identical to those of the new Schaw Lodges.
The name of the chief official in the new lodges was undoubtedly a legacy of the past. There is a reference to the Warden of a lodge in England in the 14th century, and the 1427 Act of the Scottish Parliament referred to the Artisans’ Wardens. Again, however, the similarity in name must not be taken as a proof that the medieval official was the same as the one described in the Schaw Statutes and that he presided over an identical institution. The office of Warden of the Work over an on‑site cabin had nothing to do with the lodges in the Schaw Statutes or their wardens, and the fact that medieval‑style construction site lodges could exist alongside the new Schaw Lodges, but completely separate from them, underlined the fact that they were very different, even though they bared the same name.
Both in the Ritual and in the organization, William Schaw seems to have built upon the fragmentary traditions of the Craft, but the central theme is innovation, rather than continuity.
The system of lodges in the First Schaw Statute offered a solution to the problem of the time regarding one person’s membership both in an autonomous “corporate” organization (there were a lot) and in a lodge. With the diplomatic expertise gained at court, William Schaw solved this difficulty, allowing masons to both keep their membership in “corporations” (under the control of the boroughs) for the advantages this brought within the boroughs, and to be Lodge members (outside the control of the borough’s council).
This interpretation of the reason why both lodges and “corporations” were considered necessary by masons states that, although the mason wanted to benefit from the privileges offered by their membership in the boroughs organizations, they also wanted to avoid complete control of the borough over their craft. This suggestion is supported by the strong tradition according to which the lodges should not meet inside the boroughs. Early masonic records underline that his was put in practice sometimes. The Melrose Masons met outside the Newstead Borough; the masons in Aberdeen crossed the Dee to meet outside the jurisdiction of the borough; the Elgin Masons met at the Kilmolymock Lodge, the Perth Masons at the Scone Lodge. Although these lodges were named after places outside the boroughs, it seems that the members met inside them and that their names were a sort of symbolic declaration that the lodges did not consider themselves institutions of the borough. Other lodges were not associated with a single borough: Kilwinning attracted members from Irvine, Ayr and other cities, while Aitchison’s Heaven had members from several boroughs around Edinburgh.
The fact that Shaw accepted “incorporation” deacons to preside over the lodges of the borough could be the price he had to pay in order to convince “incorporations” to accept what they might have seen as a threat to the associations of craftsmen. It is said that the early lost records about the “Mary’s Chapel incorporation” contained many examples of Schaw’s signatures, which suggests he had a key role in these matters, thus allowing him to convince some of the members to accept the creation of a lodge.
Of course the lodges would have liked to be the only ones exercising authority over the craft of masonry, but the circumspection with which they acted in practice shows they realized the existence of “incorporations” and borough councils, the need to avoid challenging them, as well as the need of attracting new members, so that they strengthen over time.
In the First Schaw Statute there is mention of masonic marks, as well as the need to record them in the minutes of the lodge. However, there is no evidence that they were given symbolic meaning. They evolved over the Middle Ages as ways of identifying the works done by individual masons and, as such, they might not have been essentially different from the methods of identification registered in the 17th century, but rather only monograms of the masons’ initials, and as such clearly lacking any esoteric meaning. The only exception from this general rule is Sir Robert Moray’s remarkable obsession with his mason’s mark, but with him being such an extraordinary and atypical mason we cannot base our conclusions by comparing his attitudes with those of other masons.
A novelty introduced by Schaw in the Statutes was the interdiction imposed on masons for working with the cowans. According to evidence from the minutes of the lodges, they were “semi‑qualified people” meant to undertake only certain works. It would appear that they lacked not the skill, but the initiation in the esoteric tradition. William Schaw thus wanted for masons to be an exclusive corps of qualified men, both through their education and skills, as well as through their initiation in the esoteric tradition of the craft.
The Schaw Statutes were not implemented in every detail because local practices varied a lot. However, the Statutes have defined the base character of the lodge during the 17th century.
The Second Schaw Statute was signed on 28th December 1599 at Holyroodhouse. Within it are named three lodges that apparently had a dispute over priority. Therefore, as a compromise, the Lodge of Edinburgh was recognized as the main lodge in Scotland, Kilwinning as the second and Sterling as the third. Furthermore, Lodge Kilwinning was given jurisdiction over other lodges in the west of Scotland, and lodge officials were tasked with making sure that all the members master “the art of memory”.
Rules were established for the correct record‑keeping of the lodges and for the solving of health and safety problems when working at considerable heights. We can say that the Schaw lodges were reorganizing as long‑term institutions.
Just as the First Statute began from the Old Texts upon which innovative elements were added, so in the Second Statute William Schaw underlines the importance of maintaining the traditions of the craft. There is direct reference to the most skilled masters who must test and initiate the others in the art of the craft, of science and of ancient memory, and that those who wish to join the lodges must show they master “the art of memory”, among other necessary qualifications. The “art of memory” was a technique of memorizing things that had its roots in Ancient Greece. Initially a purely utilitarian method – although remarkably complex – of helping memory, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the art of memory took on more complex nuances, gaining symbolic, even occult, connotations. The ancient Egyptian wise man Hermes Trismegistus underlined the fact that the most valuable wisdom is secret, knowledge about it being limited to those who are initiated. In his Statutes, Schaw advises the masons to study the art of memory and science, techniques derived from the ancient world to memorize speeches.
There isn’t enough evidence to support the theory that William Schaw introduced the “art of memory” in the masonic organization as an innovative practice or if he only continued it, given that in Scottish society, where customs and practices of the past were dominant and important, continuity is more acceptable than innovation. Nevertheless, the reference to the “art of memory” can be evidence that the Schaw lodges were inclined towards the mystic thought of the Renaissance, of reviving esotericism.
The Statutes have even more historic value through the fact that Schaw ordered the lodges to name secretaries and keep track of meetings. As such, the first minutes of the Aitchison’s Heaven and Edinburgh Mary’s Chapel lodges are in 1599, making them the oldest masonic minutes in the world. These minutes reveal that the Schaw lodges were very different from the other forms of organization of masons at the time. There still were construction site “cabins”, each one under the authority of the master of works responsible for the individual projects, but the Schaw lodges, that appeared in 1598‑1599, had jurisdiction upon all the masons in a city or area – thus justifying the name “territorial lodges”.
The reason why lodges functioned parallel to the “incorporations” (where usually other professions were affiliated as well: carpenters, plumbers etc.) is justified, first of all by the fact that the masons had their own traditions, rituals and secrets they did not want to share with other artisans. For these esoteric functions they needed exclusivist organisations where only the initiated could be members.
A second reason why the masons insisted on having lodges around the “incorporations” is dictated by the fact the “incorporations” had their headquarters in cities where the artisans activated, but the majority would move in search of work and they needed an organisation that was recognized not only in the city, but also in the areas outside it where the construction projects where they worked would be developed. Of course, for a time, the construction site “cabins” addressed this need to some extent, but there was the disadvantage of being right under the control of the commissioner’s representatives or of a borough council. This is why, right before 1600, the Scottish masons had begun developing their own autonomous lodges, distancing themselves from the authority of the city or the employer, often times meeting outside the city.
Therefore, on the backdrop of the masons’ sound motives for developing lodges independent from the “incorporations”, outside the borough’s control, William Schaw began the reorganization and standardization of lodges which, apparently, were at that time in disarray. Furthermore, as the King’s Master of Works, William Schaw considered that this reform was his duty.
A problem of standardizing the lodges was their extremely vast territorial spread, which William Schaw tried to solve by requesting King James VI’s protection. Two letters were drafted from lodges Dunfermline, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Aitchison’s Heaven and Haddington, signed by Schaw as Master of Works. It is assumed that they confirm the Baron of Roslin’s role as patron and protector of the masons. The letters also suggest that the reorganization proposed by Schaw faced a series of problems, telling about confusion and decline among the masons and about how potential employers had abandoned the rules established before, especially after losing the Church’s patronage after the Reform and the number of projects and constructions.
William Schaw thus intended to win royal authority for the protection of the lodges, given how close he was to the King. But awarding such a special privilege to one craft instead of another, going over the authority of the cities or of other local authorities, could start many controversies, even one of religious nature, which is why this recognition was late in being awarded.
No matter their localization in time or space, the masons have always sought to be “special” in comparison to the rest of society, which is possible with a pragmatic selection of applications and a true requirement of moral probity, character, life experience and knowledge.