Master of Work to the Crown of Scotland

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Sir William Bruce

The Master of Works to the Crown of Scotland was responsible for the construction, repair and maintenance of royal palaces, castles and other crown property in Scotland. The main buildings were; Holyroodhouse; Edinburgh Castle; Stirling Castle; Linlithgow Palace; and Falkland Palace. The position was roughly equivalent to that of Surveyor of the King's Works in the English Royal Household.[1] The emergence of the position reflected a shift in responsibility from the masons, or administrators in holy orders, to designers with little hands-on knowledge of stonemasonry. Earlier holders of the office were often courtiers: James Hamilton of Finnart was the king's kinsman; John Scrymgeour was a heraldic expert; while William Schaw, an administrator, was a key figure in the development of Freemasonry, itself a 'craft' having little to do with building.[2] Later holders filled a role similar to that of architects in the modern sense. Some Masters were craftsmen; Robert Robertson, who was master of work at Stirling Castle after the execution of the aristocrat Hamilton of Finnart, was a carpenter. During the reign of James V there was also a Principal Master Wright or carpenter, John Drummond of Milnab, and as well as building works he was concerned with the artillery and its logistics.

In the 15th century, a Master of Works would be appointed to oversee an individual construction project, such as a new palace, or a rebuilding of an old one. Thus the exchequer records identify several postholders who might be regarded as accountants rather than architects. In the 16th century, during the reign of James V, the appointment of a Principal Master of Works began, with overall responsibility for all the king's works. The appointment was usually for life. Following the death of James Smith in 1714, the post became a sinecure, with a salary of £400,[1] and the post declined in importance. In 1808 Robert Reid was named Architect and Surveyor to the King in Scotland, and he became Master of Works following the death of James Brodie in 1824. However, in 1831 the Scottish Office of Works was merged with the English Office of Works, and when Reid retired in 1840, he was not replaced.[1] The Office of Works was later reconstituted as the Ministry of Works.

Accounts of the Masters of Work[edit]

The royal masters of work prepared financial accounts of their expenditure for audit by the Scottish exchequer. Accounts survive for the 16th and 17th centuries and are held by the National Records of Scotland. These records, and some of the treasury vouchers relating to building work, were published in two volumes in 1957 and 1982 by Her Majesty's Stationery Office as the Accounts of the Masters of Works for building and repairing Royal Palaces and Castles.[3]

The accounts, written the Scots Language, record the names of structures and rooms, the components of doors and windows, joinery, and roofs, detail supplies including pigments, glue, and stone, and name craftsmen including the glazier Thomas Peebles,[4] the mason Nicholas Roy,[5] and the carver and metal worker Andrew Mansioun.[6] Details of wages and some contracts made by the Masters of Work are included, notably for the work of the painter Valentine Jenkin at Stirling Castle.[7]

Principal Masters of Works to the Crown of Scotland[edit]

The dates given are those of their appointment. These appointments were made by the issue of a warrant recorded in the Register of the Privy Seal. William MacDowall, though acting as master of work never had a warrant, and some appointments ran concurrently.

  • 1615: Walter Murray (Assistant Master of Works)
  • 1629–1637: Sir Anthony Alexander
  • 1632: William Govane of Cardrona and James Murray Jr. (Assistant Masters of Works)

The office was unoccupied from 1668–1671.


  1. ^ a b c Colvin, p1155
  2. ^ Glendinning & McKechnie, p.66
  3. ^ Henry Paton, Accounts of the Masters of Work, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1957), p. viii.
  4. ^ Henry Paton, Accounts of the Master of Work, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1957), pp. 166, 227.
  5. ^ Henry Paton, Accounts of the Masters of Work, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1957), pp. 254-5, 277-8.
  6. ^ Michael Pearce, 'A French Furniture Maker and the 'Courtly Style' in Sixteenth-Century Scotland', Regional Furniture, XXXII (2018), pp. 129–30.
  7. ^ John Imrie & John Dunbar, Accounts of the Masters of Works, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1982), pp. 255–7, 291-2.
  8. ^ McKean, Charles (2001). The Scottish Chateau. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-2323-7. p.158.