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The Watson Mazer

Scott Watson, one of our group experts, presents the Watson Mazer, a rather esquisite artifact from the early days of the Watsons of Saughton.

What is a Mazer?

The Watson Mazer, side viewA mazer is a medieval communal drinking cup, designed to be passed around at feasts to symbolically emphasise either a specific arrangement between the individuals drinking from it or a more general bond of friendship. "Friendship" in medieval times was a much more formal affair than it is nowadays, and a formal banquet in which people shared a drink from a mazer would have been a public display of allegiance.

Mazers are usually made of hardwood, are wide and shallow, and can have intricate ornamentation. There are multiple examples in Scotland, with the Bute Mazer being the most commonly referred to - both as the oldest surviving example in Scotland and because of its connection to Robert the Bruce, the 14th-century king of Scotland.

The Watson Mazer

Based on a possible maker's mark, the Watson Mazer has been attributed very tentatively to goldsmith Adam Leys of Edinburgh. Although not as old as the Bute Mazer, analysis of the silver dates the Watson Mazer to around 1540 to 1550. This makes it the earliest known example in the sequence of Scottish standing mazers, and places it at the end of the reign of King James V of Scotland and the beginning of that of his infant daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as making it contemporary with the creation of the Scottish crown and sceptre. Stylistically quite unique, it is considered an important piece historically and is currently on display in the Silver Treasury of the Scotland Galleries in Edinburgh. Spectrographic analysis of the various parts of the mazer shows that it was built pretty much as it stands today without being added to or modified over time. It was, however, badly damaged at one stage and crudely repaired, which is why there are some anomalies in it today.

On the foot of mazer is the inscription "TYNE GEIR TYNE LITIL TYNE HONOVR TYNE MUCKIL TYNE HART TYNE AL", which translates beautifully to "Money lost little lost, honour lost much lost, heart lost all lost". Twice on the rim of The Watson Mazer is a fleur-de-lys inscribed on the silver band. The significance of this is unknown, but it is rare for pieces from this time with one of the only other examples like it in Scotland on the the silver seal-case of the Earl of Montrose that dates from the early 1600s.

The Watson Mazer, showing engraved armsAccording to the National Museum of Scotland, the Watson Mazer has a providence of belonging to the Watsons of Saughton. This would mean it was most likely initially owned by either James Watson, 2nd of Saughton (1529 - 1573) or by his son James, 3rd of Saughton (1556 - 1620). It has been attributed to the Watsons of Saughton because it has an engraving of the coat of arms of the Watsons of Saughton and the initials DV (for David Watson of Saughton) in the middle of the cup. This is interesting, as the earliest David Watson of Saughton of whom we are aware was the 5th Watson of Saughton, born in 1637 - nearly 100 years after the mazer was made. This raises a few questions: Did the earlier Watsons of Saughton commission the mazer and David later added his arms? Did David buy a 100 year-old mazer and add his arms to it? Or is there an earlier David Watson in the family tree that we are yet to discover?

The final thing that is worth noting is regarding the arms themselves. They have some notable differences from the arms that David Watson of Saughton had matriculated by the Court of the Lord Lyon in 1673. The most obvious difference is the acorns; in the matriculated arms, a single acorn appears on the blue fess (the stripe across the middle of the arms), whereas in the engraved arms we see the oak tree itself heavily loaded with acorns. We also see the oak tree growing from a green mount in the matriculated arms, whereas the roots appear to be exposed and unsupported in the engraved arms. What is especially interesting is that the engraved arms bear a striking resemblance to the arms of prominent Watsons in other parts of Scotland, at least some of whom we suspect are related to the Watsons of Saughton. Could it be that these Watsons took their own variation of the family arms with them when they relocated as part of the expansion of the Watsons' trading empire, or is it mere coincidence that all of their arms are variations on a common theme? As a counterpoint, it should be noted that once the Lord Lyon established the public register of arms in 1672, it was generally assumed that all people of the same surname who matriculated arms were of the same family, and so many Watson arms matriculated after this would have incorporated an oak (or acorn) theme whether or not they were directly related to the Watsons of Saughton; it is unlikely that such uniformity would have been a feature of the arms of unrelated people of the same name before the register was established, however.

We have made enquiries with bespoke mazer craftsmen about building a replica, but the £10,000 estimated cost means that it will have to remain on the wishlist for the forseeable future!

References & Notes

All content on this page was put together by Scott Watson following discussions with the National Museum of Scotland, to whom we are grateful for the pictures. Head over to Scott's Substack site for more info, including details of some of the engravings, plus other articles on the Watsons.

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