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William Schaw

Master of Works to James VI of Scotland and an important figure in the development of freemasonry.


The family had links to the Royal Court, principally through being keepers of the King's wine. On 21 December 1583, James VI appointed him principal Master of Works in Scotland for life, with responsibility for all royal castles and palaces. In 1588 Schaw was amongst a group of Roman Catholics ordered to appear before the Edinburgh Presbytery, and English agents reported him as being a suspected Jesuit.

He was amongst the courtiers who accompanied James VI to Denmark to fetch his new queen Anne of Denmark. He was responsible for the elaborate ceremony greeting her arrival at Leith, and he subsequently became master of ceremonies to the court.

The 1598 Statute written by William Schaw gives a code of rules governing the activities of Operative Masons in Scotland. His second Statute, written in 1599, addressed the issue of local organisation of Lodges.

The tomb of William Shaw lies within Dumferline Abbey. Each stone used in its construction bears an incised mark. Scholars have long specualated whether this may be the mark of William Schaw himself or the mark of the stonemason, who was responsible for the construction of the tomb. Those familiar with ancient Hebrew letters will immediately recognise this mark as an arrangement of the letters representing "an ear of corn near a fall of water". This mark could also be formed from the letters for pomegranate

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