Anthony Alexander, Master of Works

With the death of Sir James Murray of Kilbaberton on this day in 1634, Anthony Alexander became general surveyor and principal Master of Works in Scotland.[1]Anthony (second son of Sir William Alexander, who was later Earl of Stirling) belonged to the Menstrie branch of the Clan Alister. He had attended the University of Glasgow before spending three years on the Continent studying languages and architecture. When he returned he was appointed jointly Master of Works with Sir James, who had held the title since 1607. 

The position of Master of Works was an ancient one, involving responsibilities that seem to have varied over time. Originally concerned mostly with the financial aspects of building projects, it later became somewhat confused with the job of master mason or project overseer. By the seventeenth-century, the principal Master of Works was responsible not only for the financing of building projects, but also for the quality (and possibly design) of new construction, for keeping track of necessary repairs to older structures, and for ensuring that workmen were appropriately qualified.

Although there were a number of other Masters of Works in Scotland at this time, none of the others had the power of Anthony and Sir James, whose authority apparently covered any profession even remotely connected to construction of any sort: buildings, bridges, even ships. Kilbaberton’s death therefore left Anthony Alexander in a position of considerable importance and prestige.
[2] He was knighted the following year. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2011


[1]General works almost inevitably give Sir James Murray a death date in December. In his book The Origins of Freemasonry, Scottish historian David Stevenson writes: “According to his testament . . . Murray died in December, but this is an error; a contemporary diary records his death the previous month” (p. 61, note 24). That diary belonged to Sir Thomas Hope of Craighill and is available on-line; on Monday the 1st of December 1634, Hope noted that Murray had died the previous Saturday. 
[2]In fact, with his father, who tutored both of James VI’s crown princes and founded the Nova Scotia colony; his elder brother, Lord Alexander, who governed the new colony; and his younger brother, Henry, who succeeded him as Master of Works in Scotland and eventually became the 3rd Earl of Stirling, Anthony Alexander was part of perhaps the most widely influential single family in Macalister history.
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