The Monasteries in Scotland.

From ca 1100 to the end of the thirteenth century Scotland, that is  the lands outside the Highland Line, were ruled by the Norman dynasty of Malcolm Canmore who introduced Southern and European ways to the Court when he acceded to the throne in 1057. A major contribution to the establishment of the Roman church at this time was made by his pious wife, Margaret. She was the daughter of the West Saxon king, Atheling, whom Canmore married in the spring of 1069.  Margaret is credited with introducing ceremonial as benefited the status of the king and with it brought improvements in dress and manners, and the use of silver and gold vessels for the royal table. Importantly the Norman - French connection led to trade with the continent which in time would give impetus to a merchant trading class, increased knowledge, new skills and manufactures. She was especially conspicuous in raising and restoring churches and in reforming the church which had fallen into ignorance and corruption. She saw that the monastic church, largely consisting of cloistered hermits, had run its course and there was a need to place the church on a level with other Catholic churches in Europe. With her husband as translator ( from Anglo Saxon into Gaelic) she summoned the ecclesiastics and discussed with them what seemed to be wrong and endeavoured to wean them from the traditional Celtic faith. This she did with great success, bringing order and regularity of form to the rites. With her husband, she was a liberal benefactor to the church and became known as St. Margaret.

King David I (1124 - 1153) carried the work forward. He was responsible for creating a structure for the church based on the parishes and created 12 bishop`s sees covering the kingdom. Each had a bishop, with a specific designated area and was supported by an archdeacon and rural deans. The consequence of this structure was that it gave a unified system to the people with a common religious service and doctrines, and created common habits of worship. David I was also a great supporter of the church and many abbeys were endowed under his rule. Following his example many of his nobles also supported and patronised the churches within their fiefdom. Thus there was in Scotland a solid base on which to build religion.

David I had spent nearly forty years in the Court of England, was Earl of Huntingdon and held considerable lands. He brought to Scotland further enthusiasm for Norman French ways and the concept of a structure for his kingdom as a whole - feudalism, church reform, construction of burghs, and personal control over government. Of these feudalism with all land belonging to the king, created units of land ownership that had nothing to do with the clans, tribes or kinship. All authority rested with the king and if he chose to make a grant of land to his nobles the ` lord` granted his ` vassal` a `fief`. The vassal could then sub fief to others. But in each case there were strict conditions of loyalty and service imposed down the line so that the peasant at the bottom possibly received no rights other than the protection of his lord. New ideas, especially those impacting on traditional rights of  local lords and chieftains took time to introduce and not until Malcolm IV (1153 - 1165) and William the Lion (1165-1214) was it begun in earnest. Malcolm IV colonised Strathclyde region with Norman and Flemish knights while William the Lion did the same in Angus and Perth with some fiefs stretching to Aberdeen and Moray. William was responsible for the foundation of the great Benedictine monastery at Arbroath which was dedicated to Thomas  Becket in 1178.This Norman influence gave rise to the incorporation of the Celtic earls into a feudal arrangement and their marriages into Norman families.

 There had been considerable donations of land and money to monasteries and the like in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries which became a considerable source of income when the land was rented out. King David was a strong promoter of the monasteries and especially favoured the Cistercian, Tironian and Premonstratensian orders which laid emphasis on hard work and withdrawal from the Lincluden Abbeyworld. Lincluden Collegiate Church in Nithsdale was a Benedictine nunnery or convent until dissolved in 1389.  Sometimes, however, things did not work out as planned.  In 1485 King James III  resolved to found the Chapel Royal at Stirling, and to pay for it he decided to suppress Coldingham Priory and reduce it to the rank of a collegiate church. However, the Home family had long been the  usurpers of the Priory and gave determined opposition. They joined with other barons in the Borders and defeated the King at Sauchie, where the King was treacherously put to death.

As late as 1596 the monks were still opposing the Reformation such as Abbott Gilbert Brown of New Abbey who had a public correspondence with John Welch of Ayr and was eventually deported in 1605 after a short stay in Blackness and Edinburgh castles. The monks at New Abbey, also known as SweetheartNew (Sweetheart) Abbey Abbey, foresaw the way the Reformation would end and placed their property in the hands of the powerful Maxwell family and appointed them heritable baillies. So long as the monks stayed at the Abbey the Maxwells paid them the revenues and when they were driven away the Maxwells retained the church lands. With the support of such an influential family the departure of the monks was delayed by quite a few years.

On the eve of the Reformation. The variety of Orders that the monks represented were many with Templars or Red Monks; Trinity Monks of Aberdeen; Cistercian Monks (White Monks); Carmelite; Dominicans (Black Friars); Franciscans (Grey Friars ) ; Jacobines and Benedictines. There were over a hundred and fifty convents, monasteries and convents in Scotland with monks in their cloisters and friars wandering preaching and begging. They were derived mainly from the two great orders of St Augustine and St Benedict, whose respective rules they adopted to varying degrees.  Over time the Orders were themselves reformed as more zealous leaders emerged such that the Benedictines for example, gave rise to the reformed Cluniac order and they in turn to the Cistercian order, each seeking a very simple and dedicated way  that avoided personal prosperity and opulence. This contrasted greatly with others who became lax and worldly.

The principal monasteries of Medieval Scotland were to be found mainly in a line that followed the east coast from Berwick on Tweed to Inverness, outside the Highland Line. In the far West was Iona in splendid isolation and three monasteries in the Dumfries and Galloway region. The four monasteries of Melrose, Kelso, Jedburgh and Dryburgh for example,  exercised a vast influence over the districts in which  were placed and their Abbots ranked as high as any prelate in the land. They were admitted to all the Councils and involved in the weightiest considerations of State. A common feature of the monasteries was the wide variety and location of their endowments made to call heavenly blessings down on the benefactor. Thus Melrose held great estates not only in Teviotdale but  in East Lothian, Eskdale, Galloway and Ayrshire.

By the sixteenth century the monastic houses had  acquired many of the characteristics of large property owning  corporations. Not only had they been endowed with extensive lands  but  many had gained the teinds  appropriated from parish churches. At their head in each case  was an abbot or prior who was essentially a great landlord and usually an influential politician. At the other extreme they might be just a figurehead or even a minor installed by a kinsman. It was often the object  of a noble family to obtain the prize of an abbacy through  a commendatorship where the nominee assumed the role of a regular abbot. Among these were  Quentin Kennedy son of the 2nd Earl of Cassillis at Crossraguel; and Donald Campbell son of the 2nd Earl of Argyll at Coupar Angus; Malcolm Fleming Dean of Dunblane  was prior of Whithorn; Walter Reid, a cleric of St Andrews was abbot of Kinloss, and Thomas Hay, canon of Moray and Ross was abbot of Glenluce. Bishops also acquired comendatorships such as Patrick Hepburn bishop of Moray, was commendator of Scone abbey. On the eve of the Reformation there were commendators at Arbroath, Coldingham, Culross, Deer, Dryburgh, Dundrennan, Dunfermline, Holyroodhouse, Holywood, Inchaffray, Inchcolm, Inchmahome, Kelso, Kilwinning, Melrose, Newbattle, Paisley, St Andrews, Scone, and Soulseat. The common feature to all was that the `family` concerned ensured the disposal of properties, rentals and other benefits to their kin. Very little filtered down to the common man.

The role of the monasteries

The Officers of a monastery

Monastic Buildings

Monastic Orders

Monasteries and the people.

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