In the comments on an earlier post there has been discussion of an alleged “secret” shown to Mary of Guise, the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, sometime between the death of her husband, King James V of Scotland, in 1542 and her assumption of the regency in 1554 when she visited Rosslyn to confer with Sir William Sinclair. This story is best known from an article by Philip Coppens.
Now, this letter is not obscure, hidden, or unknown. It has been in print for two hundred years, and the full text is below with the relevant passage in bold:
Be it kend till all men be thir present letres, ws Marie Queen Dowarere of Scotland, to be bundin and oblist, and be thir present letres bindiss and oblisses us, to ane honourable man and our well belovit Sir William Sinclar of Roflin, knyt: Forasmeikle as the said Sir William is bundin and oblist to us, in specials service and manrent, for all the days of his life, to gang and ryde with us, and to tak our sauld part with his kyn, servandis, and freyndis, that will do for him contrare and against all that leiff or denay his allegiance to the crowne of Scotland, and authority thereof allenarly exceptit, as at mare'length is containit in the said Sir William's band made to us thereupon; herfor we bind and obliss us to the said Sir William, in likwis that we sall be leill and true maistres to him, his counsell and secret shewen to us we sall keip secret, and in all mattres gif to him the best and trewest counsell we can, as we sall be requirt therto, and fall not witt his stealth nor damnage, but we sall stop it att our power, and sall tak his aiked and plain part, maintain and defend him be ourself, our penssionaris, servandis, partaikers and assistants, that will do for us, in all his actions, cauiles and querrils, contraire and against all men that leive, or denay the crowne of Scotland and authority thereof, being allenarly except, and we sall be readie att all time to maintain and defend him, as said is, als aft as we sall be requirt thereto, be ourself, our men, freyndis, assistants, and partakaris with us, and all that we may parches, wytbout dissimulation, fraude or gile, and generallie we sall do all that pertens, or is knawne to pertane to ane Maistres in the manteyning and defending of hir men and servandys; and attour, for the gud, faithfull, trew and thankfull service done and to be done to us be the said Sir William, we have given and grantit, and be thir our present letres gewis and grantis to the said Sir William, ane yeirlie pensioun of the soume of three hundreth mark is, usual money of Scotland, to be payit to him yeirlie, dureing his and our lifetyme, att twa termis in the year, that is to say, Whitsunday and Mertimes in winter, be equale portions, begynand the sirst payment att the fest of Whitsunday, in the year of God 1546 yeire, and binds and obliss us, that within the space of ane yeir next to cum we sall gif the said Sir William, assignation of the males or ferms of our landis in competent place, whereof he may get yerely thankfull payment of his said pension of three hundredth markis att the termis above written. In wittness of the quhilk thing, to thir present letres subscrivit with our hand, our signet is affix it, att Striveling the third day of June, the yeir of God 1546 yeirs.
The earliest version of the story that this represents an esoteric mystery is in (who else but) Richard Leigh and Michael Bagent’s 1989 book The Temple and the Lodge. There they quote the letter as follows, omitting all else: “We bind us to the said Sir William, in likwis that we shall be leill and true maistres to him, his counseil and secret shewen to us we sail keep secret.”
From this they spin a tale of esoteric secrets, ignoring the clear context of the letter, which is a standard feudal obligation and grant of pension.
This is repeated in in Carol Schaefer’s 2002 biography Mary, Queen of Scots: A Spiritual Biography, where the author imagines that the Scottish royals were intimately involved in anti-Catholic esoterica.
Philip Coppens, in The Stone Puzzle of Rosslyn Chapel (2004, p. 23) wrote that Mary of Guise, promised to be loyal to William Sinclair after seeing “a great secret within Rosslyn,” which he placed in quotation marks and attributed to a “1545” letter from Mary to William. It was obvious that Coppens never read the letter; nevertheless, his words were repeated as fact in the 2004 book Guardians of the Holy Grail by Mark Amaru Pinkham and the 2006 novel Edinburgh Knights by Elaine Pomm, as well as the 2012 nonfiction book Da Vinci’s Last Commission by Fiona McLaren.
When Alan Butler and John Ritchie quoted it in this year Rosslyn Chapel Decoded, it had moved back to 1546 and read quite differently:
We bind and oblige ourselves to the said Sir William, and shall be a loyal and true mistress to him. His counsel and secret shown to us we shall keep secret, and in all manners give to him the best and truest counsel we can, as we shall be required thereto.
Butler, incapable of understanding the history he claims to explain, expresses shock that the queen mother would place herself beneath William: “Obviously the term mistress did not carry its modern connotation, but it still suggests a position of humility that sounds unusual in the case of a monarch talking to a subject.” Butler borrowed the line, almost wholesale, from the 1999 book Rosslyn: Guardians of the Secret of the Holy Grail by Tim Wallace-Murphy and Mary Hopkins, who wrote that the letter was “more like that of a subservient person to a superior lord than of a sovereign to her vassal.” Obviously none of these people had read the whole thing, or if they did, understood it. If it seems more excessive than other letters of its era, it was also written during a time when Mary was working to consolidate power for herself and to take over the regency. She needed all the friends she could find.
Let’s take the quotation part by part.
First, “bind and oblige” is a legal term in use down to the modern era in the British Isles, and is also found in early American documents. It was the common form of writing a contract. It is neither special nor bizarre. In this case, it is used as part of a fealty oath. Consider, for example, the letter of fealty provided in the opposite direction from James Earle Douglas to James II: “I bind and oblige me till our said soverayne lord…” Feudal bonds worked in two directions, and the king provided a similar pledge to oblige himself as master and protector of the vassal. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, for example, told his vassals “now you shall be mine.” Such oaths were nearly a thousand years old.
Do I even have to explain that “mistress” is not a term of “submission” but is rather the feminine form of master? Would anyone accuse a man who said he was master of another of being subservient? Mary pledged to be a loyal and true mistress (i.e. female master) to William. This is an assertion of supremacy entirely in keeping with feudal oaths of obligation and fealty.
In the next line the word “secret” is the key element causing trouble for Sinclair speculators. Here Mary is using “secret” in the older sense, derived from Middle English usage, whereby it means “a confidence.” In other words, the “secret” is part of the “counsel” and refers to confidential advice that Mary promises not to make public, and also promises to repay his counsel with that of her own. It cannot, given the context, refer to the Holy Bloodline of Jesus or the Holy Grail, in which case it could not logically fit in a sentence devoted to legal obligations and pension payments—you know, the boring stuff of government. After all, if it was an esoteric secret, why write it in a formal letter of state entered into the Scottish royal archives?
9/30/2013 01:28:37 pm
::Banging head against the desk::
9/30/2013 01:34:57 pm
You hit upon the key problem: having even a basic understanding of the era they pretend to be experts on.
The Other J.
9/30/2013 06:17:24 pm
Having a basic understanding of the language and its context seems like a consistent issue with alternative history -- Middle English, Ogham, runes, Phoenician, Sumerian, hieroglyphs, etc.
10/1/2013 03:42:31 am
We recall that in Newfoundland, just north of the St. Lawrence Seaway, a short-lived spectrum of a past culture could not adequately speak for itself, and needed to be spoken about, re-interpreted. In this case, something was added to, not taken away from. It works both ways very well.
10/1/2013 03:49:16 am
But that required context and an understanding of history, which you deny in the case of this letter, which has a very clear context.
10/1/2013 04:37:14 am
I'm not denying anything...I'm just saying that we don't know what confidences may have been involved. Esoteric Sinclair knowledge could have been involved. The historical context is vitally important, I agree, but this is not a good way of saying Sinclair shared no esoteric knowledge. He could have, quite easily, and that would have been part of any number or types of confidences. We can't be certain about what we don't know....
10/1/2013 09:57:49 am
But in this case, given the context of the letter and the culture of the time, the power relationships, the norms of communication, etc...the letter does not indicate anything more than what it appears to be. There is no evidence of it being otherwise.
10/1/2013 01:38:39 pm
Well, there's the lesson of the Ugly Duckling. Look what he turned into.
1/1/2016 09:48:09 pm
This was just out of the time frame of our recently published book The Enigmatic Sinclairs' based purely on primary source evidence, not the sort of sources quoted in the posting, but I did have a look at this point and corresponded by email with a number supporting the 'secrets' at Rosslyn theory and pointed out to them this was simply a standard letter sent to all those Mary was asking to support her, which obviously in the circumstances was initially at least to be kept secret.
9/30/2013 02:00:57 pm
9/30/2013 02:18:01 pm
9/30/2013 03:07:37 pm
Very good Jason,and as I have said many times,old storys make books,and books make Money
9/30/2013 05:21:56 pm
The problem is that, reading between the lines or otherwise, an oath of confidence (secrecy) is being given, and no one really knows the details of such confidence...so there is room for speculation. It can be read more than one way, too, if one is determined enough. In other words, some of the confidences could have involved, not a Jesus Bloodline or Holy Grail, but something else of value...a confidence to protect something perceived as being of value, whether tangible valuables or valuable knowledge.
9/30/2013 06:42:20 pm
Well, yes. Something of value, like "here are the names of some of your enemies, now that you have promised not to betray that I'm the one who told you." Frankly, that's just as likely--if not MORE likely--to be a "confidence" than Templar secrets, since we don't have any conclusive proof there WERE such things, but EVERY head of state has enemies. The language is vague enough that we can't even be sure that there was an actual secret; in the way that whole thing is phrased, it could easily have meant, "in the event that Sir William shares a secret with the Crown..." Council, for instance, is generally an ongoing thing. I can't swear that all fealty oaths involved pledges of secrecy, but generally it IS pretty standard even today. The modern version is called "confidentiality agreement," and you even have to sign them to work at McDonald's these days.
9/30/2013 08:41:33 pm
It seems that this letter is, to use a modern legal slang term, boilerplate. The only difference between this letter and any other Oath of Fealty letter would have been the name and location. Instead of Sir William Sinclar of Roslyn it would have been something like Sir Thomas Richard Harrison of Newhere. There may have been some other minor differences depending on what Mary had to promise in order to gain fealty from a lord. You know, minor things like "I hearby promise the hand of my second born daughter in marriage to the first born son of Sir Thomas of Newhere in exchange for his fealty, and a suitable dowry..."
I guess it depends, too, on if Sinclair had esoteric knowledge relating to the Knights Templar. Of course, this is where the "evidence" of Rosslyn Chapel comes in, suggesting that there is a direct link between Templars and Freemasonry. I've beat around the bush on this before, but the best evidence I see, personally, is the carving depicting two men riding a single horse, which is the very iconic symbol of the Knights Templar. Here is a website I stumbled upon while looking for a photo of the image. There's a lot of information that's interesting, like that the founder of the order had married into the French St. Clair line, at the very beginning. There's discussion about the engrailed cross use at the chapel, which the Templars apparently used extensively.
10/1/2013 04:40:12 pm
Gun, I drew a picture of a fairy today. I have lots of pictures of fairies that I've drawn. Does that mean I have some esoteric knowledge of Underhill that no one else does? Not at all. Nor does a carving of two people riding one horse mean that the carver had esoteric knowledge. Hollywood uses "iconic" images all the time, and to be frankly honest, they don't know SHIT about pretty much anything they make a movie about.
1/1/2016 10:09:48 pm
That is simply conjecture and waffle, what ever else may have passed between Mary and William this letter does not represent it, It is a standard letter all any historian worth his/her salt has to do is check if anyone else received a similar letter who was a non Sinclair, and they did.
10/1/2013 08:36:48 am
Here's some food for thought on the subject, from a somewhat rare Jewish viewpoint:
10/1/2013 01:18:55 pm
Gunn, let me try to explain some of your mentioned Templar carvings within Rosslyn Chapal, If you look more closely the two men riding one horse actually is one man riding while the other is clearly not on the horse but on the other side of the animal.
10/1/2013 01:53:03 pm
Yes, I can see that you are correct about the horsemanship imagery. I wondered about that before, but the accompanying text mentioned two riders, stylized. But obviously, one man is a soldier and the other seems, in my opinion, to be a monk. I think this signifies the relationship between the Cistercians and the Templars, as seen riding or at least working together. To me, this may be as important as the image being of two Templars riding together.
10/1/2013 04:21:42 pm
Document 1/51/1 (Foedera, i, II, 781)
10/1/2013 04:29:39 pm
Sorry this was supposed to be with the last post, This is just one record showing the importance of Sir William StClare back in the day. He if any Sinclair may very well have been a Templar, He was well known and was in the service of the King and Im sure privilaged to many Secrets lol
10/2/2013 08:59:52 am
Why a last post?
4/18/2020 12:01:06 am
Can you tell me whether Sir William Sinclair mentioned in this agreement with Marie Guise is William Sinclair, 4th Lord of Sinclair, son of Henry 3rd Lord of Sinclair, as this is never mentioned. Looking at the time frame, it appears to be correct?
4/19/2020 01:04:03 am
The Sir William Sinclair in question was Sir William Sinclair of Roslin who died before 1555. This Sir William was the younger son of Sir Oliver Sinclair who inherited Roslin from his father, William Earl of Orkney.
Steve St Clair
10/2/2013 05:23:40 pm
Drako said, "…the importance of Sir William StClare back in the day. He if any Sinclair may very well have been a Templar…"
Sir Gunn Sinclair
10/3/2013 06:50:07 am
Thanks, the photo is great, very close-up and angled to clearly see the 2nd person. He looks like a monk with a cross in his hand, except I thought most monks had peculiar hair-styles? Also, no sign of a robe, or hooded robe. I wonder what the figure is supposed to represent, precisely? Obviously, Christianity, but in what form? It shows military strength and Christianity combined, an obvious Templar trait.
1/1/2016 10:15:24 pm
There is also wording in one of their charters explicitly guaranteeing them protection from any Templar claims on the land.
10/2/2013 10:21:07 pm
I was amused by the reference to the "modern connotation" of mistress. I guess he's referring to mistress in the sense of 'bit on the side'; which is at least 500 years old. If mistress has a modern connotation, it's definitely something to do with BDSM.
10/3/2013 04:46:57 pm
10/3/2013 06:15:10 pm
Well, Joe, you didn't explain your complaint very well. I find it odd that you think it preposterous for me to recognize that the second figure, possibly being a monk, would be as important as if it were two soldiers. After all, again, it is this linking of strength and faith that I see in the KRS, all things considered. What's wrong with seeing the combination of faith and strength, rather than the acknowledged symbol of Templars, that of two soldiers on a single horse? When I saw my error and the correction, I also saw an opportunity to make lemonade out of a tart lemon, and you're complaining? How delightful that image is, now that we're that much closer to realizing what it actually is, and what it probably means. You trivialize this gain of personal insight, yet it is my delight. In fact, thank you again, Sinclair, for bringing it to my attention. The image means something more to me now, and it also fits nicely into my KRS speculations...in this case, the image in question reinforces in my mind the perceived necessity of both force and faith in those medieval explorations. Well, for Columbus later, too....
10/3/2013 06:25:20 pm
...Unlike the later fearless Jesuits, who ventured forth unarmed. I think of Father Hennepin, who was captured by Native Americans and held for several months, not far from where I now live...in Hennepin County, MN.
10/4/2013 03:57:55 pm
Allow me to try to clarify what he meant. Originally, you believed the image to be a Templar icon. That allowed you to speculate a Templar-St. Clair connection. When it was clarified to be the image of one man on horseback, with another standing to the side, you opined that the one standing was a Cistercian monk. Therefore, the mounted figure was a Templar, and once again, a Templar-St. Clair connection.
10/5/2013 01:16:26 pm
Only Me, the image still contained a Templar, so my original speculation didn't change. The connection I was making was between Sinclair and Rosslyn Castle, which contains the image. It is still a Templar in the image. In other words, my changed interpretation did not affect the basis of my original speculation. I rearranged my speculation, but the image always supported it in the first place...the image being of a Templar, though not the iconic image of two Templars. My original point of drawing a connection between Sinclair and Templar imagery at Rosslyn Chapel didn't change, just the exact meaning of the horse and men. So Bill's complaint is baseless, as is your support of his supposition. Sorry. It's pretty hard to catch ole Gunn asleep in the wheelhouse, but nice try.
Steve St Clair
10/5/2013 03:17:11 pm
Gunn, what evidence is there that the one man in armor on a horse is a Templar Knight? I know of no verifiable Templar symbols in Rosslyn.
10/5/2013 05:37:41 pm
First I would like thank “Only Me” for clarifying my original point. I am sorry that my argument was not stated more clearly. To follow up on Gunn's response it appears that Steve responded before I could get to it. Gunn at every piece of your argument you take some information and again add your own narrative or speculation to that article or information. This time you are taking a man on a horse and declaring it a templar, and another man standing near the horse as a monk. How do you assume these roles for these characters? On most of your arguments or responses you create an explanation that is based on nothing else but your opinion. How do you expect anyone to take your stories as a serious look at history when you admit it is based on your own speculation?
10/5/2013 07:16:17 pm
"See, my new clarity about the image extended to my imaginary blog friends." LOL. Fair enough.
10/7/2013 07:34:16 am
"How do you expect anyone to take your stories as a serious look at history when you admit it is based on your own speculation?"
10/7/2013 06:13:51 pm
I know I shouldn't respond based on your last post. But I guess I can not help myself when someone comes back with utter honesty about their point but at the same time seem to be pointless in their argument. First I do appreciate the honest response in stating the below.
10/8/2013 11:33:33 am
Well, for one thing, I like to incite conversation. You have a lot of this wrong though, still, Joe. I want there to be Scandinavian expeditions into the upper Mid-west in medieval times, but I don't care that they have Templar connections. I suppose it would be nice since there's so much conjecture about it, but the Templar angle isn't important to me. The evidences I see up here indicate a Swedish thing, possibly a Viking Swedish thing even earlier. If nothing else, you may have read here that I take the KRS for what it says, and it says nothing concrete about Templars or Templar-remnants. Wolter thinks the hooked X indicates a Templar influence. He may be right or not. My interest is strong in the subject of the KRS, even without considering a Templar angle.
10/8/2013 11:51:54 am
"If Freemasonry derived from Templar doctrine..."
10/5/2013 06:33:18 am
Henry Sinclair and Hugh de Rydale expressing their good opinion of the late Commander of Balantrodock ( Temple )
10/6/2013 08:20:19 pm
I will leave the Kight Templar discussion to Steve except to say there are no primary source documents that show Sinclairs bequeathing land to the Knights Templar, in fact the charter from William De Lisours to Stephen Melville re the so called Templar lands at Gouerton includes "and I and my heirs will guarantee, quit and defend forever the said lands with all the above liberties and easements, ....against all templar men and women."
5/16/2016 06:07:21 am
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1/15/2017 04:46:17 pm
Thanks for the very good explanation of the letter sent by Mary of Guise to Sir William Sinclair. I agree with your findings and to cement your line of thinking, it would be great if you have a similar type of oath written from that period, particularly by Mary of Guise to anyone els. I feel that would really close other people's misinterpretations off completely.
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