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"The Dirge of Rossabelle"

To: Rob Cohn Subject: The Lay of the Last Minstrel of which the Dirge of Rosabelle is part by Sir Walter Scott. Cc:
"The Last Rosslyn" says Sir Walter Scott (for he was universally known by his patrimonial
designation and would probably have considered it an insult to be called Mr Sinclair) "was a
man considerably above six feet with dark grey locks, a form upright, but gracefully so, thin-
flanked and broad-shouldered, built, it would seem, for the business of war or for the chase,
of noble eye, of chastened pride and undoubted authority and features handsome and striking
in their general effect, although somewhat harsh and exaggerated when considered in detail.
His complexion was dark and grizzled and, as we schoolboys, who crowded to see him perform
feats of strength and skill in the old Scottish games of golf and archery*, used to think and say
amongst ourselves, the whole figure resembled the famous founder of the Douglas Race**
* At the material time, "golf" and "archery" were confined to certain groups of people and were
even described as 'secret societies'. Some golf clubs still have this method of selecting their
Sir William was the hereditary Grand Master of the Guilds and Crafts of Scotland but resigned this position
in order to allow for an election of a Grandmaster
The representatives of the Crafts and Guilds of Scotland met to consider Sir William Sinclair's "Deed
of Resignation" which had ben signed in Edinburgh on 24th November, 1736.
The meeting was convened on 30th November, 1736 and unanimously elected Sir William Sinclair of
Rosslyn to be their Grandmaster in the Scottish Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons.
The Sinclairs were deemed to have the "Judgment of Solomon". Their word was final when any
disputes arose. They sat at Canongate Kilwinning, a Lodge in Ayrshire.
As Sir William had no son to succeed him, the Estate passed to Major General Sir James St Clair
of Ravenscraig who also died without male issue so the lands eventually passed to the Erskines
who added St Clair to their name to become the St Clair Erskines who own Rosslyn to this day.
** It is not surprising that the schoolboys likened Sir William to the Douglases because the
Douglases and the Sinclairs were inextricably interwoven. Indeed, Earl William Sinclair's marriage
to a Douglas had been annulled on the grounds of consanguinity but it was re-instated when he
paid the Pope 4,000 English florins - thus legitimising his children. His father had also married
a Douglas. Similarily, we find Beatrix Sinclair marrying the Earl of Douglas. She was eventually
known as the "Mother of Earls" because no fewer than five of her children became Earls. No
wonder successive Kings did their best to limit the power of the Sinclairs and the Douglases
because, between them, they could make or break a king. Earl William Sinclair was eventually
required to divide his Estate into three. This eventually gave rise to the Sinclairs of Orkney, the Sinclairs
of Caithness, the Sinclairs of Rosslyn, the Sinclairs of Ravenscraig and the Sinclairs of
Hermanston and these groups were further sub-divided into Baronies.
"The Dirge of Rosabelle"
"O listen! listen ladies gay
No haughty feat of arms I tell;
Sift is the note, and sad the lay,
That mourns the lovely Rosabelle.
"Moor, moor the barge, ye gallant crew!
And, gentle lady, deign to stay!
Rest thee in Castle Ravensheuch
Nor tempt the stormy firth today.
"The blackening wave is edged with white;
To inch and rock the sea-mews fly;
The fishers have heard the Water-Sprite,
Whose screams forbode that wreck is nigh.
"Last night the gifted Seer did view
A wet shroud swathed around ladye gay;
Then stay thee, Fair, in Ravensheuch;
Why cross the gloomy firth today?
"'Tis not because Lord Lindesay's heir
Tonight at Roslin leads the ball,
But that my ladye-mother there
Sits lonely in her Castle-hall.
"'Tis not because the ring they ride,
And Lindesay at the ring rides well;
But that my sire the wine will chide
If 'tis not filled by Rosabelle.
"O'er Roslin all that dreary night
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
'Twas broader than the watch fire's light
And redder than the bright moon-beam.
"It glared on Roslin's castled rock,
It ruddied all the copse-wood glen;
Twas seen from Dryden's groves of oak,
And seen from caverned Hawthornden.

"Seemed all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Roslin's chiefs uncoffined lie,
Each baron, for a sable shroud
Sheathed in his iron panoply.

"Seemed all on fire, within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar's pale;
Shone very pillar foliage bound,
And glimmered all the dead men's mail.

"Blazed battlement and pinnet high
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair -
So still they blaze, when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St.Clair.

"There are twenty of Roslin's barons bold
Lie buried within that proud chapelle
Each one the holy vault does hold -
But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle!

"And each Saint Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell;
But the sea-caves rung, and the wild winds
The dirge of lovely Rosabelle".

Perhaps, a few of the terms require explaining for overseas friends:

Inch = island
Knell = the sound of a bell being rung at a funeral
Mew = any sea gull especially the common gull
Dirge = a lamentation for the dead
Sprite = a nimble elf-like creature, especially one associated with water | Seer = a person who can supposedly see into the future
Pinnet = a small flag or standard, an ensign, a streamer.

Ravensheuch is an early name for Ravenscraig. A heuch is a precipice, crag or cliff
which is essentially the same as craig
Hawthornden is adjacent to Rosslyn and was the home of William Drummond (1585-1649)
the Scottish poet who wrote, like Burns, in Lowland Scots.
Dryden was the home of Sir Patrick Sinclair who was a confidant of Henry VIII - so much
so that, when they were in conference, Cardinal Wolsey was required to
leave the King's chamber. Dryden is also adjacent to Rosslyn.
Today, Roslin is only used as the name of the village. Rosslyn is the spelling used for
the Chapel, the Castle and the Earldom. In Scott's time, Roslin was used
to describe them all.

If I have omitted any term which requires elucidation, I will be happy to consult my Scots Thesaurus.

As some of this information may be of more general interest, I am taking the opportunity of copying it to the
general list.