William Schaw, born sometime around 1550, is best known as the Great Master of Works to James VI of Scotland. As such he was responsible for overseeing all royal castles and palaces. Having the complete trust of the King, he also served him in several other capacities, including accompanying him to Denmark to return with the new queen, Anna of Denmark.
Within Freemasonry Schaw is best known for setting forth the first and second set of Schaw Statutes to be observed by all the Master Masons within the realm. He issued the first set in 1598. Written as a part of his responsibility as Master of works, he directed both statutes primarily to operative Masons; however, these are among the first documents alluding to the esoteric and speculative aspects of the craft.
The first set of statutes specifies 22 rules and regulations designed to govern the work and behavior of Master Masons and their apprentices. Many of the rules set forth a penalty for disobedience. These regulations call on all Masons to "observe and keep all the good ordinances established before... to be true to one another and live charitably together... and be honest, faithful, and diligent in their calling." In it he admonishes masons never to undertake work they can't perform nor take away another master's work. He limits the number of apprentices in a lifetime to three and prohibits the selling of apprentices to other masters. Schaw also outlines rules governing the resolution of grievances and stipulates penalties collected shall go to charity.
The Second Schaw Statute, written in 1599, establishes in order, Edinburgh, Kilwinning and Stirling as the principal lodges in Scotland. It establishes the election of the wardens, deacons and secretaries and some of their duties. It reaffirms the use of fines for charity and dictates exclusion of all who fail to live up to the statutes. It requires every fellow of the craft and apprentice to demonstrate their skills annually and forbids association with cowens.
The inscription on his tomb bears the most reliable source of his biographical information and reads:
"This humble structure of stones covers a man of excellent skill, notable probity, singular integrity of life, adorned with the greatest of virtues – William Schaw, Master of the King's Works, President of the Sacred Ceremonies, and the Queen's Chamberlain. He died 18th April, 1602.