William MacDowall

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William MacDowall (died 1580) was a Scottish priest and Master of Works to Mary, Queen of Scots and her mother Mary of Guise. The title 'sir' was used in Scotland by a priest without a master's degree. The name appears variously as McDowgall, McDougall, McDowall etc., in printed records, he signed accounts MAKDOUELL.[1]


He was first employed by John Scrimgeour of Myres in 1535, managing the stone quarry during the building of Holyroodhouse.[2] During the Rough Wooings he was involved in the fabrication of arms at Edinburgh Castle.[3] Later he worked on the building of fortifications against the English for Mary of Guise, 1554–56, and collecting taxes to fund these defensive works.[4] In Spring 1558 he worked on repairs to the forewall of Edinburgh Castle and the parapet of David's Tower, and Holyroodhouse, and from August to October he was busy directing works on the fortress Island of Inchkeith, including the construction of a munition house.[5]

As master of work for Edinburgh burgh council, MacDowall measured quantities and made contracts with masons, including works at Newhaven.[6] For St. Giles he procured timber for roofing the Consistory in 1555 and wainscot in 1557 for the seating of Our Lady's Aisle.[7] After the death of Mary of Guise he remained in Edinburgh Castle and was charged with neglecting his duties as a warden and Master of St. Pauls Work,[8] and after the reformation of 1560, MacDowall was excluded from the town works, which recommenced with the conversion of a part of St Giles Kirk into a new Tollbooth.[9]

Although MacDowall was not again employed by the town, he worked for Mary, Queen of Scots, and repaired a pair of organs at Holroodhouse,[10] MacDowall was working at Stirling Castle in October 1566, on an archery range at Holyroodhouse in February 1567, and other projects at Linlithgow Palace and Edinburgh Castle.[11] Works continued in Edinburgh from August 1567 to February 1568, and with repairs at Blackness Castle to December.[12] As master of work he surveyed the work of craftsmen appointed by the crown to look after the palaces; such as William Robertson, the slater, and Steven Loch, glass-wright, both appointed by Mary, Queen of Scots 28 April 1562.[13]

In September 1570 he began work at Stirling Castle, and the Edinburgh mint at Holyrood, and the stables there in March 1573. In April 1574 he began supervising the construction of the iconic half moon battery at Edinburgh Castle. His yearly salary was by now £150 Scots.[14] As master of work for Regent Morton, he built a gallery at Holyroodhouse, and in 1579 completed works in preparation for the entry of James VI into Edinburgh.[15] By this time, his successor Robert Drummond of Carnock had already been appointed. At the end of December 1579, MacDowall delivered the foundation deeds of St. Paul's hospital to the burgh council. He died soon after. On 10 February 1580, burgh officials distibruted money amongst the poor of St. Paul's Hospital from a box found in his possession, and the town council appointed his successor at St. Paul's Hospital on 3 June 1580.[16]

Church appointments

The historian Gordon Donaldson noted MacDowall as an example of a pluralist since in addition to wages and fees for his royal building work, as a priest MacDowall not only gained by royal patronage the incomes from several altars and churches but also exemption from paying dues back to the crown.[17] MacDowall gained the vicarage of the parish of Leswalt in Whithorn diocese on the 1 January 1559.[18] After William's death, in March 1580, his vicarages of Leswalt and Inch, were given to Richard Waus, a natural son of Patrick Waus (or Vans) of Barnbarroch. Drummany (Dalmeny) was given to its Minister, George Lundy, after James, son of James Stewart of Craigiehall, was found inadequate to be appointed Reader.[19]

Bannatyne's Memoriall Buik

George Bannatyne (1545–1608), an Edinburgh merchant who made a collection of Scottish poetry, compiled a family 'memoriall buik' in which he recorded the names of the godparents of his siblings. The list includes William (1557), and another priest who served as a master of work, sir Robert Danielstoun or Denniston, Parson of Dysart (1551).[20]


  1. Paton ed. (1957), 302, 303, 305, 306, 307.
  2. HM Paton ed., The Accounts of the Masters of Work for building Scottish Royal Castles and Palaces, vol.i, HMSO (1957), 147-9, and xxvii.
  3. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 9, (1911), 336, 347, 401, 444.
  4. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 10 (1913), 240, 296-7: Extracts from the Council Register of Aberdeen, Spalding Club (1844), 297.
  5. Accounts of the Lord High Tresurer of Scotland, vol. 10 (1913), 49-410, 418, 434.
  6. Edinburgh Records - The Burgh Accounts, vol. 1, (1899), see McDougall in index.
  7. Edinburgh Records - The Burgh Accounts, vol. 2, (1899), 74.
  8. Extracts from the records of the burgh of Edinburgh, 1557-1571, Scottish Burgh Records Society (1875), 67-8: cf. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 1, (1898), 429, priests retained.
  9. Alan R. MacDonald, The Burghs and Parliament in Scotland, c1550-1661, (2007), 140-3.
  10. RS. Mylne, Master Masons to the Crown of Scotland, (1893), 53.
  11. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 12 (1970), 30, 47, 58
  12. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 12, (1970), 95, 177.
  13. Register of the Privy Seal of Scotland, vol. 5, part 1, Edinburgh (1957), p263 nos. 1018, 1019.
  14. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 12 (1970), 216, 255, 340, 348, 381, 383, 387, 392.
  15. Paton ed. (1957), 302-307: Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 13, 166.
  16. Marwick, James, Trinity Church and Hospital, Burgh Record Society (1891), 109 note.
  17. Gordon Donaldson, The Scottish Reformation: ed., Accounts of the Thirds of Benefices, SHS
  18. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 5, part 1, HMSO (1957), 160, no. 725.
  19. Register of the Privy Seal, vol.7 (1966), p.370 no.2241-2, 2312
  20. Theo Van Heijnsbergen, 'Literature and History in Queen Mary's Edinburgh', in Renaissance in Scotland, Brill (1994), p.225
Preceded by
John Scrimgeour of Myres
Master of Work to the Crown of Scotland
Succeeded by
Robert Drummond of Carnock