Ancient Rosslyn Charters
in Guelph Ontario

Articles from the Winter 1998 and Winter 1999 issues (Vol 3 No 10 and 14) of Roslin O Roslin, by Rory Sinclair. The accompanying photographs are presently not available online.

Your editor restrained his impulse to write the Headline above as  Found in Guelph  but as the academic world already knew they were there, he figures that he cannot take credit for the archaeological find of the decade for Clan Sinclair.

The facts briefly are these: your editor met with Dr. Elizabeth Ewan of the School of Scottish Studies last year at the Celtic Celebration at the Royal Ontario Museum. He was there representing Clan Sinclair and she was there representing the University of Guelph and the School of Scottish Studies.

Through casual conversation on Sincliariana and Rosslyn, she mentioned that the School owned 9( ! ) Rosslyn charters, some with seals. After your editor recovered from having fallen through the floor, Dr. Ewan, whose specialty is Mediaeval Scottish history, promised to set up a time for him to view them.

This December past, that viewing took place at the climate controlled and secure stacks area of the U. of Guelph Library and it was more than could have been hoped for.

The oldest document (1416) is signed by Henry, second Sinclair Earl of Orkney, son of Prince Henry and father of Earl William, builder of Rosslyn. In this document, Henry appoints David Menzies as Tutor Testamentary to his son William.

There are 8 other charters: two have seals with that most wonderful of symbols, our engrailed cross. Another has the Royal Seal of James V but there is space only to say that a full report with photos will appear in the next issue of Roslin O Roslin.


Exactly one year ago, we reported the exciting discovery that there were sevenancient Rosslyn charters (three with seals) in the collection at the University of Guelph here in Ontario. Of course, it was no secret to the academic world which, unfortunately, is sometimes all too opaque to the lay world. Whatever the case, they are now known to us. Your editor journeyed to Guelph and was greatly assisted by Professor Elizabeth Ewan of the School of Scottish Studies and Ms. Darlene Wiltsie of the Special Collections Department.

The earliest charter of this collection is dated 20 March 1491, and deals with the transfer of the barony of Pentland from Oliver Sinclair (son of Earl William, builder of Rosslyn) to his son George who married Agnes, daughter of Robert, Lord Chrichton of Sanquar. George died without issue and the estate passed to his brother William (d. 1554)

The next charter, dated 8 November 1513, transfers the Barony from George to William (see above). William who was knighted by James V married Alison Hume and was succeeded by his son William (d. after 1602)

The next charter is dated 25 August 1542 and is from James V to this William (d. 1554) and confirms him in the Barony of Pentland. This charter has attached to it the Great Seal of James V (1512-1542) which is in excellent condition. According to the History of Scottish Seals by Walter deGray Birch, James V used two Seals during his reign. The seal attached to this charter is probably the second seal since the author states that the first was used only for a few months and gives the death of James V as 14 December 1542.

William of Rosslyn married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Walter Kerr of Cessford, and had two sons. Edward and William, plus three daughters. The last four charters of the collection are from William to his sons Edward and William. And are dated 1542, 1554, 1574, and 1574. The first, dated 1542 has a small red seal with the legend in Gaelic. The third, dated 1574, bears the seal of Sir William Sinclair which is reproduced on page 8 and is signed: "W. Santclair of Roislin, Knecht". Add more variations to your collection for the spellings of "Sinclair" and "Roslin".

Edward Sinclair married Christian, daughter of George Douglas of Parkhead, but died without heirs and was succeeded by his brother William who married Jean, daughter of Edmonston. It was this William who built the vaults and great turnpike of Roslin Castle as well as one of the arches of the drawbridge, a fine house near the Milne and the Tower of the Dungeon where the clock was kept. (Father A. Hay, Genealogie of the Sainteclaires of Rosslyn)

This collection was purchased for two reasons: first, it provides examples of seals of the time and period and second, they relate to other items already in the collection. In this respect, the oldest item in the whole Guelph Collection (acquired previous to the purchase of the seven Rosslyn Charters) is a letter of Henry Sinclair, 2nd Sinclair Earl of Orkney.

Below is a literal transliteration of that charter, the original of which appears in full on the opposite page. [These items are not presently available online. It is in Scots and still it is understandable. It is a letter of Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, Lord Sinclair, and Nithsdale (and also Baron of Rosslyn inter alia) and in it he appoints David Menzies as Tutor Testamentary to his son William Sinclair. This Henry is, in the first place, the son of Prince Henry Sinclair, the man we honoured this year in Guysborough and Westford, and, in the second place, he is the father of Earl William Sinclair, last Sinclair Earl of Orkney and designer-builder of Rosslyn Chapel. The spotted area at the bottom is the remains of what was his seal.

Photo [ not presently available online ]: The Seal of Sir William Sinclair of Rosslyn (d. 1602). (Note the clarity of our venerable engrailed cross). Photo courtesy University of Guelph.



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