Roslin, pp.601-604.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   ROSLIN, a quoad sacra parish and a village, a little south of the centre of Edinburghshire. The parish was disjoined, in 1835, from Lasswade by the presbytery of Dalkeith. Its greatest length is 5¼ miles; its greatest breadth is 3¾ miles; and its superficial extent is about 10 square miles. The parishioners are for the most part agricultural labourers, handicraftsmen, and operatives at coal-works, paper-mills, a gunpowder manufactory, and a bleachfield; and are, to a considerable amount, congregated into villages. Population, according to ecclesiastical survey, in 1835, 1,611; of whom 964 were churchmen, 534 were dissenters, and 113 were nondescripts. The parish-church was built as a chapel-of-ease, in 1827, at a cost of £978 15s. 5½d. Sittings 444. Stipend £150. – A United Secession chapel at Bridge-end, in the vicinity of Penicuick, but within the parish of Roslin, was built in 1782. Sittings 481. Stipend not known; but there are a manse and a small glebe. – The parish has four Sabbath-schools. 

   ROSLIN, or ROSSLYN, a village 2½ miles south-west of Lasswade; 3½ north-east of Penicuick; and 7 south of Edinburgh. It stands on a bank about 1¼ furlong west of the North Esk, and about a mile east of the turnpike from Edinburgh to Peebles and Dumfries. Roslin-castle is replete with historical reminiscence, and possesses some interesting features in its site, and vestiges; Roslin-chapel is one of the most elegantly designed, the most elaborately and exquisitely adorned, and the least damaged, the most proximately entire specimens of Gothic ecclesiastical architecture in Scotland; the vale of Roslin constitutes one of the richest links in the concatenation of scenic beauty and romance which lies along the North Esk, and which was briefly noticed in our article on LASSWADE; – and these three attractions, singly great and aggregately conquering, draw, during all the sunny parts of the year, numerous visiters from the brilliant and tasteful metropolis. About the year 1440, the village or town was next in importance in the east to Edinburgh and Haddington; and enjoying the fostering protection of William St. Clair, who lived in its castle in the style of a prince, and threw over it an importance second only to that of the seat of a royal court, it became very populous by the great concourse to it of all ranks and degrees of visiters. In 1456 it received, from James II., a charter erecting it into a burgh-of-barony, with the rights of a market-cross, a weekly market on Saturday, and an annual fair on the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude; and respectively in 1622 and 1650, it obtained confirmations of its charter from James VI. and Charles I. In modern times it has subsided into the retreat of rural and unpretending quietness, – the home of cultivators of the soil, and of workmen in establishments for bleaching linen and manufacturing gunpowder. An inn at the village – in rather close and inappropriate juxtaposition with the chapel – receives visiters, and furnishes them with a cicerone to point out the admired or the storied features of castle, chapel, and landscape. – The battle of Roslin, in 1303, which gave to Scottish arms ‘Three triumphs in a day,’ has been noticed in our article on the parish: see LASSWADE

   Roslin-castle stands on an almost insulated rock, overhanging the picturesque glen of the Esk. A path winds down to it from the village, and speedily conducts the visiter among deep thickets and precipitous rocks, tangling or walling up the margin of the river. The original and only access to the castle was along a one-arched bridge, across a deep gulley – now nearly filled up – which quite insulated the rocky site. The entrance was defended by a gate of great strength. The site, though in the highest degree pleasant and romantic, is very ill chosen for a fortalice; and while it finely overlooks the playful meanderings of the sylvan stream below, is itself commanded by heights which press closely on its precincts, and look almost right down upon the tops of its chimneys. The structure must, in early times, have been large and massive; but it has lost nearly all its antique appearance and more ancient parts; and it now consists principally of a tremendous triple tier of vaults, some huge fragments of walls and battlements, and a comparatively modern mansion reared on the under-vaulted stories of extinct parts of the ancient edifice. A descent of a great number of stone-stairs conducts through part of the existing structure to the bottom, and leads into a large kitchen, whence a door opens into a once famous garden. The comparatively modern part seems to have been erected in 1563; and in its lower apartments it is ill-lighted and confined, and possesses far more of the coldness and inconvenience and dungeon-properties of a prison than the cheering and comfortable characteristics of a modern residence. Such fragments of the more ancient castle as remain stand opposite this erection on the right hand of the entrance to the rock, and consist of some arches, buttresses, and pieces of walls. A view of the whole, as they appeared in 1788, is given by Grose; – haggard, and utterly dilapidated, – the mere wreck of a great pile riding on a little sea of forest, and not far from contact with commanding rocks, – a rueful apology for the once grand fabric, whose name of ‘Roslin-castle’ is so intimately associated with melody and song. – When or by whom the original castle was built is not known. About the year 1100, William de St. Clair, son of Waldernus, compte de St. Clair, who came from Normandy to England with William the Conqueror, obtained from Malcolm Canmore a great part of the lands of the barony of Roslin; and as the building of castles by barons or land-owners was the fashion of the age, he probably erected some fortalice on his possessions, and possibly was the constructor of the oldest fragments of the surviving ruins. He was called, in allusion to his fair deportment, the seemly St. Clair. His descendants – indifferently named St. Clair and Sinclair – received from the liberality of successive monarchs such accessions to the original demesne as made them masters of all the baronies of Roslin, Cousland, Pentland, Cardaine, and other lands. The early barons lived at their castle in the splendour and sumptuousness of a rude age, and acquired personal importance and increase of their possessions by methods which would be little dreamed of in modern times.1 The St. Clairs stood at the head of the baronage of Mid-Lothian; and about the middle of the 13th century, they acquired, in addition to their vast territories and honours in Lothian, the inheritance of the wealth and power of the earldom of Orkney. The 8th chief of the family, a Sir William St. Clair, having married Isabel, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Caithness, and Orkney, Henry, his son, succeeded to the earldom of Orkney, and, in 1379, obtained a recognition of his title from Haco VI., king of Norway. In 1470, however, William St. Clair, the 3d Earl of Orkney of his family, resigned his earldom to the Scottish Crown; received, in compensation, the castle of Ravenscraig in Fife, and the lands of Wilstown, Dubbo, and Carberry; and soon after was created Earl of Caithness and Baron Berriedale. Three sons of this nobleman conveyed the concentrated honours of the louse into three divergent channels, and poured them along in separate streams of family dignity and descent. William, the eldest, whose mother was the Lady Margaret Douglas, eldest daughter of Archibald, 4th Earl of Douglas, inherited the title of Baron Sinclair, which was created in 1489, and was the ancestor of the St. Clairs, Lords Sinclair, whose seats are Herdmanstone in Haddingtonshire, and Nesbitt-house in Berwickshire. The second son, also called William, whose mother was Marjory, daughter of Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath, continued the line of the Earls of Caithness. The third son, Oliver, the full brother of the second, founded the modern respectable family, and connected it with the ancient one of St. Clair of Roslin. William St. Clair, the last heir in the direct male-line, died in 1778. A collateral branch, the family of St. Clair Erskine, were, in 1795, created Barons Loughborough of Loughborough, and were, in 1801, raised to the dignity of Earls of Rosslyn, in the peerage of the United Kingdom. James Alexander, the 2d Earl, succeeded to the title in 1837, and has his Scottish seat at Dysart-house in Fifeshire. The St. Clairs of Roslin, from the time of James II., till they resigned the office in last century, were grand-masters of masonry in Scotland. See KILWINNING. – In 1455, Sir James Hamilton was confined in Roslin-castle, under the ward of the Earl of Orkney, by order of James II.; but, after some time, he was released, and taken into favour. In 1554, the castle, with that of Craigmillar and the town of Leith, was burnt by the English army sent by Henry VIII. to castigate Scotland for refusing a matrimonial affiance between Prince Edward of England and the Scottish Queen. In 1650 it was besieged and taken by General Monk; and, in 1681, it was plundered by a furious mob, chiefly tenants of the barony. 

   Roslin chapel is situated in an enclosed ground on the brow of an eminence between the castle and the village; and occupies physical vantage-ground which would have been as suitable for the site of a fortalice, as the site of the actual castle is unsuitable. The rising ground which it crowns is named the college-hill, and is beautifully decorated, in its environs, with wood and water, – the river Esk running in a deep rocky bed on its west and south fronts; and it is said to have been originally called Roskelyn, a Gaelic or Erse word which signifies ‘a hill in a glen,’ exactly describes its position, and is easily recognisable in the modern Rosslyn or Roslin. The chapel was founded in 1446, by William St. Clair, the 7th of his name, Lord of Roslin, and Earl of Orkney; and though called a chapel, was really, even from the outset, a collegiate church. It was dedicated to St. Matthew the apostle, and founded for a provost, six prebendaries, and two choristers, or singing boys. Sir William, the founder, was the 3d Earl of Orkney of his name; he had the foreign title of Duke of Oldenburg; he was admiral of the fleet in 1436, and, in that capacity, conveyed the princess Margaret to France; and he was chancellor of Scotland from 1454 to 1458. Tradition says, that he procured the architectural design of the church from artists at Rome, that he built houses for the workmen to be employed in constructing it, that he gave to each mason ten pounds a-year, to each master-mason twenty pounds, to both an extent of land, proportionate to the reward of the ability which they displayed, and to other artificers a commensurate extent of compensation and encouragement, and that, in consequence, he attracted all the best architects and sculptors from various parts of Scotland, and of neighbouring kingdoms. He endowed it with various lands and revenues, and saw it rising in profuse magnificence of architecture; yet, after vast efforts and great expense, he left it unfinished. A crypt at the east end, which shall be noticed in the description of the pile, was founded by the Earl’s first lady, the daughter of the Earl of Douglas. Such parts of the whole fabric as were in an advanced state toward completion, Sir Oliver St. Clair of Roslin, the third son of the Earl of Orkney, carried on and completed. But the originally designed edifice was, in many of its parts, never commenced; and what was finished, and now in nearly an entire state, remains to refresh the eye of taste, is a comparatively small building, and consists only of the nave. Various barons of Roslin made additions to the church’s endowments. In 1523, Sir William St. Clair granted some lands in the vicinity for dwelling-houses and gardens, and other accommodations, to the provost and prebendaries; and, in his charter, he speaks of four altars as existing in the church, and as dedicated respectively to St. Matthew, the Virgin Mary, St. Andrew, and St. Peter. At the Reformation, the provost and prebendaries felt the effects of the movement spirit which was abroad against their craft; and, in 1572, after having been virtually denuded of their possessions for a series of years, they were obliged to relinquish, by a formal deed of resignation, the whole of their revenues and property. At the Revolution, a mob, partly raised in Edinburgh, but consisting chiefly of the tenants of the barony, and the same that attacked the castle, and robbed it of its furniture, did some damage to the chapel, and carried away some of its ornaments. The edifice was in great danger, during the early part of last century, of becoming quite ruinous; but it was repaired at much expense by General St. Clair, who put wooden casements with glass into all the windows, new laid the floor with flag-stones, placed new flag-stones all over the roof, and built a high wall round the cemetery; and it was again repaired by the 1st Earl of Rosslyn, who roofed it with blue slate, and partially renovated its architecture, without impairing any of its antique or distinctive features. – The chapel is entered by two doors, respectively on the north and on the south. Its height within, from the floor to the top of the high arched roof, is 40 feet 8 inches; its breadth is 34 feet 8 inches; and its length is 68 feet. A descent from the south-east corner, leads, by a flight of 20 steps, to a crypt or chapel, which is supposed to have served also as a sacristy and vestry. This appendage measures 15 feet in height, 14 in breadth, and 36 in length; it is partly subterranean, but, owing to the sudden declivity of the hill, looks out from the surface at the east end; and it is lighted by a single window. The whole chapel is profusely decorated with sculpture, both within and without; nor is it less interesting from the mouldings in the exterior being worn and rounded by the weather. A number of niches for statues appear on the outside; but whether they were ever tenanted by these chiselled resemblances of men is not known. The interior is divided into a central, and two side aisles, by 14 clustered pillars, disposed in two rows, and supporting Saxo-Gothic arches. The pillars are only 8 feet high; but they are exquisitely rich in workmanship, and have capitals adorned with foliage and curiously wrought figures, and produce a very imposing effect. The central aisle is higher than the side aisles, and has along its middle, and over its arches, a row of windows; and, owing to the breadth and exuberance of its adornings, after springing from the pillars, it looks to be one continued arch. The roof, the key-stones, the capitals, the architraves, of the whole interior, are all covered with sculptures representing flowers, foliage, passages of sacred history, texts of scripture, and grotesque figures, all executed with astonishing neatness. Like other celebrated structures, such as Melrose abbey, with some of its finest sculpturing; and Rouen cathedral, with its famous rose window, Roslin chapel has a chef-d’œuvre, which wonder-making tradition asserts to have been the work of an apprentice during the absence of his master, and the occasion of the master’s killing the apprentice through jealousy. Legend even gossips so lustily as to point out among the sculptures the heads of the slain, the slayer, and the former’s mother weeping for his fate; and, quite in the characteristic style of monkish fiction, it appeals to a daub with ochre as a memento of the apprentice’s wound, and blunderingly identifies his whole figure with that of a bearded old man. But, apart from this stupid romancing, “the Prentice’s pillar” is a mass of superb sculpturing, and justly excites general admiration. “This pillar,” says the author of a pamphlet which minutely describes the chapel, “has on the base of it several dragons in the strongest or first kind of basso relievo; as one can easily thrust a finger or two between some parts of the dragon and the base. The dragons are chained by the heads, and twisted into one another. This beautiful pillar has round it, from base to capital, waving in the spiral way, four wreaths of the most curious sculpture of flower-work and foliage; the workmanship of each being different, and the centre of each wreath distant from that of the neighbouring one a foot and a-half. So exquisitely fine are these wreathings, that I can resemble them to nothing else but Brussels lace. The ornaments upon the capital of this pillar are the story of Abraham offering up Isaac; a man blowing on a Highland bagpipe, with another man lying by him; and on the architrave joining it to the smaller one on the south wall, with your face to the east, and to the entry of the sacristy, you read the following inscription in old Gothic characters: ‘Forto est vinum, fortior est rex, fortiores sunt mulieres, super omnia vincet veritas.’ ” Britton, in his ‘Architectural Antiquities’ of Great Britain, says respecting Roslin chapel:- “This building, I believe, may be pronounced unique, and I am confident it will be found curious, elaborate, and singularly interesting. The chapels of King’s College, St. George, and Henry the Seventh, are all conformable to the styles of the respective ages when they were erected; and these styles display a gradual advancement in lightness and profusion of ornament; but the chapel at Rosslyn combines the solidity of the Norman with the minute decoration of the latest species of the Tudor age. It is impossible to designate the architecture of this building by any given or familiar term; for the variety and eccentricity of its parts are not to be defined by any words of common acceptation. I ask some of our obstinate antiquaries, how they would apply either the term Roman, Saxon, Norman, Gothic, Saracenic, English, or Grecian, to this building.” There were formerly in the chapel several monuments; and two which remain are remarkable, that of the hunting knight, who won the match against King Robert Bruce, and that of George, Earl of Caithness, who died in 1582. The family vault lies beneath the pavement of the chapel; and is entered by an aperture at the front of the third and fourth pillars, between them and the north wall, where a large flag-stone covers the ingress. This vault contained before the Revolution the remains of ten barons of Roslin, and is so dry that the bodies were found entire after 80 years, and as fresh as immediately after entombment. The barons were anciently buried in their armour, without any coffin. The first who was buried in the modern style was he who died a little before the demise of Charles II., and, contrary to the advice of the Duke of York, the subsequent James VII., who was then in Scotland, and of several other persons well versed in antiquities, he was assigned a coffin by his widow, Archbishop Spottiswood’s grand-niece, who thought it beggarly to be buried without one. The vastness of the expense which she threw away upon the obsequies other husband, occasioned the sumptuary acts which were passed in the following parliaments. The burying vault was damaged in 1688, by the same mob who rioted against the chapel and the castle. Various persons collaterally connected with the barons were interred in the vault. A superstitious belief prevailed, amid the dark ages, that on the night before the death of any of the barons, the chapel, by supernatural means, appeared to be in flames. Sir Walter Scott makes a fine poetical use of this belief, and at the same time graphically alludes to the ancient manner of the barons’ sepulture, in his ballad of 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 moonbeam. 

It glared on Roslin’s castled rock, 

It ruddied all the copsewood glen; 

‘Twas seen from Dryden’s groves of oak, 

And seen from cavern’d Hawthornden. 

Seem’d all on fire that chapel proud, 

Where Roslin’s chiefs uncoffin’d lie; 

Each baron, for a sable shroud, 

Sheathed in his iron panoply. 

Seem’d all on fire, within, around, 

Deep sacristy and altar’s pale; 

Shone every pillar foliage-bound, 

And glimmer’d 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 doth hold – 

But the sea holds lovely Rosabelle! 

And each St. Clair was buried there, 

With candle, with book, and with knell; 

But the sea-caves rung, and the wild waves sung, 

The dirge of lovely Rosabelle!” 

1  A story is told of a hunting-match between King Robert Bruce and Sir William St. Clair, which throws some interesting light upon both the practices of the age, and the proprietorial history of the family. The king had been repeatedly baulked by a fleet white deer which he had started in his hunts among the Pentlands; and having asked an assembled body of his nobles whether any dogs in their possession could seize the game which had escaped the royal hounds, Sir William St. Clair promptly offered to pledge his head that two favourite dogs of his, called ‘Help and Hold,’ would kill the deer before she crossed the March-burn. The king instantly accepted the knight’s bold and reckless offer, and pledged himself to give the forest of Pentland-moor in guerdon of success. A few slow hounds having been let loose to beat up the deer, and the king having taken post on the best vantage-ground for commanding a view of the chase, Sir William stationed himself in the fittest position for slipping his dogs, and – in the true style of a Romanist, who asks a blessing upon a sin, and supposes the giver of a blessing to be a creature – earnestly prayed to St. Katherine to give the life of the deer to his dogs. Away now came the raised deer, and away in full chase went Sir William on a fleet-footed steed; and hind and hunter arrived neck and neck at the critical ‘March-burn,’ Sir William threw himself in a desperate fling from his horse into the stream; ‘Hold.’ just at the crisis of fate, stopped the deer in the brook; and ‘Help’ the next instant came up, drove back the chase, and killed her on the winning side of the stream. The king, who had witnessed the nicely-poised result, came speedily down from his vantage-ground, embraced Sir William, and granted him in free forestry the lands of Logan-house, Kirkton, and Carncraig. Sir William, in gratitude for the fancied interference of St. Katherine in his favour, built the chapel of St. Katherine in the Hopes: see PENICUICK. The tomb of the wildly adventurous knight, who was so canine in his nature as to reckon his life not too high a pledge for the fleetness and truculency of a pair of dogs, is still to be seen in Roslin-chapel; and it very appropriately represents the sculpture of his armed person to be attended by a greyhound, as a joint claimant of the honour and the fame of his exploits. – A descendant of this knight, another Sir William St. Clair, became not a little distinguished by the baronial magnificence of his festivities, and the rude princeliness of his mode of life. Father Hay, a member of the St. Clair family, speaks of him as a ‘prince,’ who maintained his state ‘at his palace of the castle of Roslin;’ and he says, “He kept a great court, and was royally served at his own table in vessels of gold and silver; Lord Dirleton being his master-household, Lord Borthwick his cup-bearer, and Lord Fleming his carver; in whose absence they had deputies to attend, – viz., Stewart, laird of Drumlanrig; Tweedie, laird of Drumferline; and Sandilands, laird of Calder. He had his halls and other apartments richly adorned with embroidered hangings. He flourished in the reigns of James I. and II. His princess, Elizabeth Douglas, was served by 75 gentlewomen, whereof 53 were daughters of noblemen, all clothed in velvet and silks, with their chains of gold and other ornaments, and was attended by 200 riding gentlemen in all journies; and if it happened to be dark when she went to Edinburgh, where her lodgings were at the foot of Black-Fryar’s-wynd, 80 lighted torches were carried before her.” 

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