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The decline of Scottish monasticism in the fifteenth century

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of History
University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Alastair MacDonald Taylor
September 1959
UMI Number: EP59471
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Dissertation PfcMishSng
UMI EP59471
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T h i s t hesis, w r i t t e n by
Alastair Macdonald Taylor
u n d e r t h e d i r e c t i o n o f h.^-.S F a c u l t y C o m m i t t e e ,
a n d a p p r o v e d b y a l l i t s m e m b e r s , h as b e e n
p r e s e n t e d to a n d a c c e p t e d by t he C o u n c i l on
G r a d u a t e S t u d y a n d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m e n t o f the re q u ir e m e n ts f o r the d egree o f
Master of Arts
S ecretary
September 1939
D a te
F a c u lty C o m m itte e
n (A
v ,
: : : : :
The writer at this time would like to- acknowledge
his indebtedness to the members of his Committee for the
assistance which they rendered him throughout this study.
To Dr. &. C. Benjamin, the Chairman, his warmest thanks
are due, not only because of the constructive criticism
which the writer received from him, but also because of
the invaluable instruction given by Dr. Benjamin while
he was a student under his guidance.
From Dr. Hill, the
writer received his initial love of Chaucer and medieval
literature; for this reason, his debt to Dr. Hill is
And Dr. Wallbank has always been both a teacher
and a warm personal ffriend.
A special debt of gratitude is due Professor R. K.
Hannay of Edinburgh University, Historiographer Royal for
Scotland., who suggested the topic and whose criticisms
and suggestions have largely formed the basis of the entire
What merit lies in this research problem must be
tendered in no small measure to Dr. Hannay— the defects
must be reserved to the writer.
Special thahks are also due the staff of the Henry
E. Huntington Library who placed so many important sources
at the writer's disposal, and whose unfailing courtesy was
a source of pleasure and strength.
The staffs of the
Doheny Memorial Library and the Library of the University
of California at Los Angeles likewise deserve appreciation.
I N T R O D U C T I O N .................
The p r o b l e m ............... . .................
Definition of terms • • « • • • • • • • • • •
Resume of Scottish monasticism
. . . . . . .
Celtic Church . • ...............
Contributions of David I ............ « « •
Recognition of Scottish Church
« . . . « «
Statutes of the Scottish Church . . * • • •
Monastic relations
• • . « • • • • . • «
Pre-fifteenth century abuses
. . . . . .
. . . . .
Growth of friction between Crown and Curia
Problem of reservation and provision
. . . .
Examples of papal provision • • • • • « . .
The Crown and provision • • • « • • .........
Martin V. and reservations
. . • • « . « • •
Reign of James I . . . . . . .......... « . . .
Reign of James II • • « • • • « • • • • • • •
Reign of James III. . . . • • • • « • • . . .
Commendam abuses
• • • • • • • • •
St. Andrews an archbishopric
• • « « • • • •
Indult of 1487................................
, ■
* 31
Reign of Janies IV ♦
Reign of James V.
. * . • • • •
* . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Crown and "right of nomination" * • • .
(I) . * , .
Resume of general economic status of Church
Division of Scottish Church wealth
. « • •
Derivation of Church revenues
The monk as a "capitalist". •
The Church in the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries • . • • • • • • « • • • • • • • •
Growth of papal absolutism
Increase of purchasable offices at Rome •
Characteristics of a " b e n e f i c e " .......... «
Economic aspects of papal reservations
The Camera and Scottish monasteries . ♦ ♦ •
Monastery-bishop relations
Procuration problems
• • « . « • • • «
. . • • • . « . . • •
Monastery-parish relations
Appropriation abuses
• • • • • • . • •
. . . . . .
. . . . . .
Evolution of appropriation system . . . . .
Analysis of appropriation examples
. . . .
Monastery-laity relations ...................
Vicar-monk quarrels . ........
Tithe abuses
. ♦ ...................
. . . .............
Monastic tenants
Eviction e x a m p l e s ...........• . . •
Eeu-farming . . . . . .
Monastery-townspeople relations • • . •
Evolution of commendam system . . . . .
Pluralism •
Pluralism evils . ........... ..
• • «
"Resignationcum pensione" . . . . . .
Pensions and collusion
Abbatial financial abuses .............
Alienation of monastic property . . «
Examples of abbatial abuse
• • • • •
• • • • • • . • • • • • • « .
MORAL D E C L I N E ................... .. . . .
. • ,
. • • <
Examples of sexual immorality . . . . .
Defect of birth
Pre-fifteenth century immorality
Criticism of Church immorality
,fCommon Informer”
Prevalence of system
Evils of s y s t e m .........* .................
Irregularity of Monks* lives • • • • • • • • •
, 148
Homicide ♦ . . ♦ ............. ' • ...........
• • • • .......... • ...........
Improper dress •
Lack of reverence
Contempt of excommunication
• • • « • • • • •
Confession abuses
Defect of canonical age
• . « • • • • • • • •
The exaggerated tradition
. . .
. . • • • • • • « •
Lack of proper a l m s g i v i n g ..........
Decay of hospitals • • • • • • • •
Bridge and road problems • • • • • • • • • • •
Monk-peasant social relations
The monk as a farmer
• • • • • • • •
The monk as an e d u c a t o r ................
Abbatial hindrances.
. . • • • • • . « • •
• • • • • • • • • • • •
The universities and the monks
Criticism of monastic ignorance
The monk as a scribe
.......... • • • • •
The monk
as a chronicler
The monk
as an architect and artisan
The monk
and medicine • • • • • • • • • • • «
and' law
-The monk
« . • • • • • • « .
• . . •
• • • • « • • • • • • • . .
The monk and banking
. . . . . . ...
The monk and other secular professions
•• •
General condition of the fifteenth century
•* • • • « • • . . . « •
Ideological position of themonasteries . . .
Decrease in numbers of monastic inmates
Decay of orders and priories
Dilapidation of buildings • • • • • • • • • •
Poverty of monasteries
. . • • • • • • • « .
Complexity of the problem of decline
. . . .
The forming of "conclusions” . • • « • • • • •
"Causae Totius Religionis Ruinae" . . . . . .
Medieval and modern monastic!sm contrasted
BIBLIOGRAPHY............ ...... .......................
Scholars have devoted much study to the many problems
underlying the Scottish Reformation.
The momentous issues
of the sixteenth century, culminating in events of a
dramatic and oftimes poignant nature, have been the natural
field of enquiry for scores of historians.
But, while the
importance of the sixteenth century drama has never been
overlooked, the deep-rooted forces of previous decades have
too often been neglected.
Such sins of omission are now
being rectified by modern students who have become better
versed in the antecedents of the age of Mary and Knox.
Historical causation demands a new and broader perspective,
and scientific research is making this perspective possible.
The problem.
This study intends to make a brief
investigation into the causes underlying the decline of
Scottish monasticism in the fifteenth century.
With the
gathering momentum of historical events in the following
century, this decline becomes more and more evident.
But it
should prove of value to attempt to trace the symptoms of
monastic disease in its more incipient stages.
It is true
that signs of decadence can be traced to a period antedating
the fifteenth century by several hundred years, but, inasmuch
as such decadence was not checked hut rather accentuated
during the years immediately under investigation, these
centuries-old problems take on an added importance at this
The writer is all too aware of the many deficiencies,
both of personal preparation and of access to source
materials, in undertaking an analysis of this nature.
he hopes in the near future to handle the problem in as
definitive a fashion as possible.
In the meantime, this
cursory examination can at least make clear what further
research remains to be done, and such a clarification of
issues should in itself prove valuable.
Definition of terms.
It would be well to obtain at
the outset a clear concept of what is meant by monasticism.
Dorn Berliere, the eminent Benedictine scholar, has penned a
succinct definition which bears repeating:
La vie monastique est 1 #expression sociale des
aspirations relieieuses/d tun groupement d ’hommes qui^
professent les metoies idees et veulent atteindre un meme
but. L*aspiration d ’une ame ve^s Dieu, en vue7de se
rapprocher de lui et de s ’unir a lui par une serie de
moyensj, appropries a yce but, constitue ce que I ’on appelle
l ’ascetisme. L fascetisme est de tous les temps, de tous
les pays;/ il est universel comme la religion.
L ’^scetisme est individuel; le monachisme est social.
L ’ascjetisme se presente sous diverses formes dans les
differentes religions; dans plusieurs 11 aboutit au
monachisme. /La tradition catholique declare que le
monachisme, evolution naburelle de l'ascetisme individuel
des premiers temps de l ’Eglise,7 et <^ui est comme lui la
mise en/pratique des conseils evangel^ques, a sa racine
dans l ’Eivangile, puisque sa raison d ’etre, c ’est
1*imitation aussi/parfaite que possible de la vie du
Christ dans 1 ’abnegation de sol-metae et dans le serviee
de Dieu et du prochain pour 1*amour de Dieu. La vie
monastique n fest pas #/ . . la vie chretienne, comme si
elle etait le seul ideal{ la seule perfection de la
vie chretienne. Non, mais la tradition chretienne . . •
connaTt une double elasse de fideles, dont les uns
suivent les preceptes du Christ dans la vie d^ famille
ou des affaires, et les autrgs se vouent entierement au
service du Seigneur et de 1 ’iSglise. La tradition
eatholique se justi£ie-t-elle par l ’histoire, a plus
forte raison par l'Evangile?1
If monasticism is in truth "I1imitation aussi parfaite
que possible de la vie du Christ,” the abuses which are so
discernible in monastic decline are likely to result in a
vehement denunciation of the entire institution.
But the
words of such an outstanding scholar as Professor Coulton
should have a sobering effect.
He reminds us to bear
constantly in mind two considerations:
first, that human
nature changes very little from age to age;
secondly, that
circumstances change very radically, and, therefore, social
history demands an appreciation of actions different from
our own.
I would say, then, that I regard monasticism as one
of the great formative forces in the social life of the
Middle Ages; and that, at certain times and in certain
places, I would call it even the greatest and most
beneficent force. Moreover, even at the times o ^ w o r s t
decay, the average monk was leading a more regular life
than the average outsider.2
Resume of Scottish monasticism.
Even as a study of
D. Ursmer Berliere, L*Ordre Monastique des Origines
au XIIe Siecle, p. 10.
Gr# G. Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social Life, p. 2.
monastic history is essential to a clear interpretation of
sixteenth century ecclesiastical conditions in general, so
a resume of the genesis and growth of monasticism from
early times is necessary for an appreciation of fifteenth
century problems.
The earliest monastery of which there is record in
Scotland is that which was probably founded by St. Ninian at
Whithorn about 400 A.D.
Although it seems to have been
Celtic in character, this monastery has neither the definite
history nor the outstanding interest which Iona (founded in
563 A.D.) affords.
After G o l u m b a ^ death, Iona became the
acknowledged head of all monasteries and churches which he
had established, and, through the succeeding decades, Iona
served as a capital for a Church which was quite distinct
from that of Rome.
It was but- natural that important differences should
arise bet¥/een the two widely-separated Churches.
First of
all, the Celtic Church was "so entirely monastic in its
character that its whole clergy were embraced within its
whereas the Roman Church, although it also possessed
the monastic institution, maintained a hierarchy of secular
Secondly, there were differences of custom existing
Coulton, o£. oit.. pp. 11-12.
^ William F. Skene, Celtic Scotland. II, p. 148.
5 Ibid., II, p. 227.
between the two Churches, such as the observance of Easter
and the style of tonsure.
But, as this is important for
our purposes, Celtic monasticism was unique in regard to
three interesting characteristics.
Eirst, it was founded on a tribal or family principle.
The monastery with its endowments was the possession of a
particular family, and hence became hereditary.
for example, named his own cousin as his successor, and
120 years passed before there was any free election of an
abbot to Iona.
Secondly, the Celtic Church contained double
monasteries, in which monks and nuns each inhabited their
own half, and the superior of the whole community might be
an abbess.
Vi/hile this situation existed elsewhere, in no
other place did it exist in the same proportion as in the
Celtic Church.
Thirdly, the bishops were in a curious position, for
the heads of the monasteries were oftimes merely priests (as
in the case of the Abbot of Iona).
It was this situation
which led certain imaginative writers of the last century
r,to see in Columba a forerunner of Presbyterianism.n
According to Skene, the causes which combined to bring
the old Celtic Church to an end may be classed under two
® Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social Life, p. 17*
heads, internal decay and external change.
Under the first
head, this writer lists secular encroachment and the damage
caused hy the Danish invasions, which "completed the total
disorganisation of the Monastic Church."
The external
change was brought about by royal policy, such as the placing
of the Church upon a territorial rather than a tribal basis,
the substitution of a parochial system and a diocesan
episcopacy for the old tribal churches with their monastic
jurisdiction, the introduction of the religious orders of
Rome and the founding of great monasteries as centres of
counter influence to the native church, and, lastly, "in
absorbing the Culdees, now the only clerical element left
in the Geltic Church, into the Roman system, by converting
them from secular into regular canons, and merging them in
the latter order."
In 634 the Church of the Southern Scots of Ireland
conformed to Rome, changing the observance of Easter;
664, at Whitby, the termination of the Golumban Church in
Northumbria took place;
in 717, the Columban monks were
expelled from the kingdom of the Piets;9
and in 908 A.D.,
the Primacy was transferred to St. Andrews.
A new order was arising when Malcolm Canmore (1057-
7 Skene, on. cit., II, pp. 365-66.
8 Ibid.. II, pp. 159-61.
9 Ibid.. II, pp. 177-78.
1093) brought the saintly Margaret back to Scotland (or
rather Lothian), for she gave a tremendous impetus to the
Church of Rome’s power in her new home*
During the period
from the marriage of. Malcolm and Margaret in 1070 to the
death in 1153 of their son David I, changes occurred in the
Church ih Scotland which were of vast importance.
In fact,
with the exception of the period of the Reformation, the
years of the half century which include the reigns of
Alexander I and David I (his brother) witnessed greater
changes than any other period in the history of the Scottish
The radical reformation in church begun under Malcolm
Canmore and St. Margaret was completed in its main
outlines under their sons, and by the end of the twelfth
century had transformed the schismatic Ecclesia
Scoticana of the eleventh century, the isolated church
of Celtic Scotia beyond the Forth, into the all but
fully equipped Church of Scotland, to which as to an
indisputable branch of the Church Catholic the bull of
Pope Honorius III. was addressed.11
It should be pointed out here that David I owed his
crown to his Fnglish and Anglo-Norman subjects largely, and
to them he looked for aid to help him in the taming of the
Celts (who, in turn, looked upon him as a southern alien).
It was in his reign that active war against Culdee establish­
ments began; in 1144, a priory for Augustinian monks was
ioJohn Dowden, The Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 9.
^ D a v i d Patrick, "Introduction,”
Scottish Church. 1225-1559. p. ix.
Statutes of the
founded at St. Andrews.
"The object of this foundation
evidently was that it should in time supersede the Ouldees.”^
The Celtic Church was already dying because of internal decay,
but the aggressive policy of the King, which included the
establishment of numerous Roman monastic houses all over his
kingdom, accelerated the decline of Columban foundations.
In 1205, the Benedictine monks founded a monastery at Iona
itself, and the Celtic community disappeared.
With the introduction by David of an Anglo-Catholic
Church and institutions, it was but natural that the abbeys
should be tfbut colonies from English houses, abbots and
monks being transplanted in whole communities from the south.
The Church of Scotland was organized essentially like that of
there were three bishoprics when David came to the
throne— St. Andrews, Dunkeld, and Moray;
when he died, there
were nine— he had added Glasgow, Aberdeen, Ross, Caithness,
Brechin, and Dunblane.
All that was lacking was a Scottish
metropolitan, but this was a deficiency which was to last
until 1472.
But the most important innovation in David’sJreign,
in all likelihood, was the prolific founding of monastic
Skene, Celtic Scotland. II, p. 384.
ii, p. 415.
Patrick, "Introduction,” Scottish Statutes, p. xx.
In his time were founded the greatest monasteries—
Kelso, Holyrood, Melrose, Eewbattle, Kinloss, the Isle
of May, Jedburgh, St Andrews, Gambuskenneth and
Dryburgh. By the middle of the thirteenth century,
nearly all of Scotland’s sixty-nine Benedictine or
Augustinian houses had been founded and endowed. That
would probably be about the high-water mark of the
monastic population; for, though most of the friaries
were founded later, their numbers would not have counter­
balanced the decrease of numbers in the older houses; a
decrease which is practically universal throughout
Europe during_the last three centuries before the
The benefactions of the Scottish kings to the new
monasteries were probably much more generous than in England
or most of the other European countries*
There are reasons
for the generosity of David and his successors: the church­
men supported the prerogatives of the crown against the
turbulent nobles; the clergy were peaceable and wealthproducing subjects; and David was by nature a most devout
Whatever may be the reasons to which to ascribe
the many monastic endowments, there is no doubt that the
more important religious houses, at least, had much for
which to be thankful.
Dunfermline, for instance, received twenty-three
gifts of land, and Scone had thirty-three ploughgates in
eight different localities. According to figures, as
early as 1274 declared to be out of date and very much
below the actual wealth of the Church, the value of the
lands of the Church in Scotland were 1.18,662; at this
time the whole royal revenue only amounted to 1.5413 per
Coulton, op. cit.. p. 35.
I. F. Gr^nt, The Social and Economic Development
of Scotland before 1603, p. 87.
Dr. Grant, in The Economic History of Scotland.
considers this great influx of religious orders into
Scotland important for two reasons:
it formed a channel
through which the culture, manners, and knowledge of the
outside world flowed into the nation; and the large extent
of the grants of land and such other economic privileges
as fishings, salt pans, tithes, dues on ships, etc., which
the Church received at this time had a tremendous hearing
on the later economic evolution of this institution, and
made eventually for a situation which culminated in the
John Major, the famous sixteenth century historian,
maintains that had the pious monarch foreseen "the kind of
life which the religious would come to lead, never would he
have enfeebled the royal revenues . . . beyond what was wise."18
And Wyntoun sums up David’s reign succinctly:
He illumynd in his dayis
His landys wyth Kirkis & wyth abbayis.19
This ecclesiastical transformation of Scotland— the
development of the episcopate, the growth of monastic
I. F. Grant, The Economic History of Scotland,
pp. 17-18. For examples of monastic endowments of the part
of nobles, see The Charters of Inchaffray. pp. 1-40, and
the Chartulary of Lindores Abbey, pp. xl-xlii, 1-43.
John Major, A History of Greater Britain, p. 136#
Wyntoun, Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland. I, p. 292.
houses, the rise of a parochial clergy, and the erection of
great cathedrals and abbeys— had come about by a patterning
of the Scottish Church along English lines.
A study of the
Statutes of the Scottish Church will show how this debt was
carried over even into the realm of canon law.
But, although the Church in Scotland was dependent
upon the English ChurOh in regard to structure, the northern
body from the very outset strove to be completely independent
in jurisdiction.
Until 1472, however, the Scottish bishops
possessed no metropolitan.
The anomalous position of the Scottish church in the
Christian world was not due to indifference at home,
but to the persistent claim of the English church to
treat all the Scottish sees as dependent on it, and to
the opposition made by the English crown and the
archiepiscopal sees of York and Canterbury to the
concession of metropolitan dignity or anything that
might imply it to the Scottish church.*31
Finally, in 1179, as a result of two enquiries into
the problem, the Pope summoned the Scottish prelates to attend
the Third Lateran Council, showing by this movement that he
recognized the Scottish Church as an autonomous member of
the Catholic Church. Then, in 1188,
Clement III issued
a bull declaring the Scottish Church to be subject only to
the Apostolic See, of which it was ”the special daughter,”
Of* Scottish Church Statutes. No. 108.
Patrick, ”Introduction,” Scottish Church Statutes.
pp. xxvii.
Regarding date of Filia Specialis, cf. R. K. Hannay1s
article in the Scottish Historical Review. 1925, XXIII, pp.171-77.
and only the pope or his legate could pronounce sentence of
interdict against the kingdom of Scotland.
This bull has
been termed the Magna Charta of the liberty of the Scottish
Church, and was later confirmed by Celestine III, Innocent
III, and Honorius III.
It was completed by the granting
by the last-named pontiff in 1225 of the right to hold
Provincial Councils.
The Scottish bishops used the Council
as a means of governing the Church better by the passage
of statutes therein.
As finally evolved, it consisted not only of the
bishops, abbots, and priors, but of deans, archdeacons,
and representatives of collegiate churches and other
clergy, together with certain doctors of theology and
canon law, and doctors of civil law as the king’s
commissioners. . ♦ . The president was to*be no more
than primus inter pares. and the office was to pass
from one to another according as the choice of the
members should decide. 3
An analysis of the Statutes of the Scottish Church,
both provincial and diocesan, throwsmuch illumination upon
the state of the Church for the three hundred years preceding
the Reformation.
First of all, the study will show (as
stated above) the direct borrowing of much of Scottish canon
law from England*
Secondly, the majority of the Statutes do
not deal with questions of theology or religion, or even
with the supervision of congregations, but with legislation
directed at the clergy’s rights and duties, the obligations
James Maekinnon, The Constitutional History of
Scotland, pp* 178-79*
of laymen, spiritual censures, and church finances*
the paucity of numbers demonstrates a lamentable laxity
regarding the enactment of statutes which were designed to
maintain the Church in a pure and dynamic state*
more, of the 167 Statutes which were enacted between the
years 1225 and 1459, 139 occurred in the thirteenth
century, 25 in the fourteenth, and only 3 in the fifteenth*
Herein lies a most eloquent reason for the decline of the
medieval Church in Scotland*
A fourth point of illumination
is the numerous indirect allusions to peculiarities of
medieval life— lepers (No. 73$, the excommunication of
usurers, witches, and sorcerers (69, 122, 163), the defence
of Crusaders (31), the excommunication of all succourers of
Saracens (163), pilgrimage penances (51), sanctuaries (94),
and the forbidding of such ”low pastimes” as the Feast of
Fools (108).
The Statutes can be roughly divided into three main
those pertaining to the organization and
administration of the Church as a whole;
to the lives and functions of the clergy;
thpse pertaining
and those which
deal with the privileges and obligations of the laity.
It is a sad commentary on the life of the medieval
clergy that the largest single group of Statutes refer to
Church tithes and finances.
In the words of Dr. Patrick
(who has made an excellent analysis of these Statutes):
The painfully numerous, precise, and inquisitorial
arrangements as to tithes from all and sundry, not
omitting even day labourers at wages of 6s.8d. per
annum, argue unseemly controversies between priests
and people from the very beginnings of an organised
church (34, 42); and the mortuaries relaxed as
extortionate and cruel to the poor in the sixteenth
century were exigible to the utmost penny by statute
in the thirteenth (88).24r
The excommunication formulas are interesting, and
include punishments directed at wall who plot against
their own bishops or the other bishops of the realm or
other prelates” (47),lords of fiefs who prevent dependents
from buying tithes (78), false coiners, those who lay
violent hands on parents or clergy, those who hold back
tiends, and simonaics (163).
The Statutes pertaining to the clergy’s life and
activities contain twelve items distinctly condemning the
prevalence of clerical immorality.
"Incest of clergy”
demands a twelve year penance for the priest and a penance
of fifteen years for the bishop.
But the depth of '
hypocrirsy-is reached by the further induction that the
abbve are to be deposed only ”if the thing come to the
knowledge of the people” (54).
Clergy must send away their
24 Patrick, "Introduction,” op,. cit., p. lxix. Although
some of the Statutes pertain to more than one matter (and vary
in importance), the writer has classified them as follows:
Tithes,revenues, finances (32 statutes); Administrative rules
(25); Services and sacraments (19); Excommunication announce­
ments (11); Clergy regulations (30); Clerical immorality (12);
Clerical cupidity (10); Clerical salaries (5); Clerical
attire (3); Obligations and privileges of laymen (25).
concubines, keep from surfeiting and drunkenness, be
tonsured properly, abstain from secular business, and
"wholly avoid taverns" '(63) .
In Statute 108 priest^ are
not to play at dice, nor keep women in their houses, nor
are they .to "frequent the convents of nuns without reasonable
Clerics are admonished not to mix in business, for
it i-B none of their affair, and it brings scandal to the
Church (22).
Nor are they to buy houses and property for
their concubines or children (23).
The dangers resulting
from trafficking with pardoners, the simonaical corruption
attending penance, and the selling of sacraments for money
are pointed out in Statutes 49, 119, and 77.
Statute forbids the admitting of religious for a stipulated
sum (126), while priests are not to celebrate several masses
a day, an act (146) designed to stop those who look "more
to gain than to piety."
Ghureh-livings are not to be
directly or indirectly leased to laymen (153).
are to receive stipends worth at least "ten merks" (9), a
problem which involved the monasteries in the fifteenth
century in much difficulty.
Other Statutes stipulate that clerics are to wear
proper garb (10), celebrate mass in long tunics (150), and
abstain from wearing long knives (hangaris) except when
equipped for a journpy, "under the fine of half a merk” (152).
Because so many of them were borrowed from foreign
sources, the Statute Ecclesiae Scoticanae prove that the
Church abuses which they were designed to correct largely
were not confined to the Scottish Church, but were quite
However, it is certain that no Statute would
have been borrowed had there been no need of it in Scotland.
Nevertheless, caution must be exercised in evaluating these
acts and in drawing generalizations from them.
In so many
eases, they'give only a negative picture of the Church,
even as modern criminal law gives only a one-sided picture
of :ouf society.
Again, they were designed to hold in check
not all who had taken priestly vows, but those malcontents
(and they are to be found in every age and circumstance) who
chafed under the strict regulations to which they had bound
Furthermore, most of the Statutes were enacted,
not in the decadent days immediately preceding the
Reformation, but in those centuries when the medieval Church
was in its proudest strength, and when evangelical fervour
blazed most brightly.
Therefore, when abuses are discovered
in the fifteenth century, they are neither to be interpreted
as novel nor as completely damning evidence of irrevocable
Church decay.
1/Shat light do the Statutes throw on the state of
Scottish monasticism prior to 1400
. D.?
There are few
specific references to this institution, since most of the
acts pertain to the Church as a whole.
However, as monachism
was inextricably bound up with the greater institution, the
same general conclusions may be made for both.
Some hints
are forthcoming from what few Statutes were passed
specifically regarding monasticism.
J*n enactment passed in
the thirteenth century in regard to testaments and last
wills (25) is interesting.
It was obligatory that a precise
account be rendered to the ordinary of the goods bequeathed
by the testament of every one dying.
But since the religious
as a rule were exempt as to property and the observance of
their conventual rule (from the jurisdiction of the bishop
of the diocese), while non-exempt in regard to preaching
and the sacraments, it meant that the Cistercians "and other
exempt orders” were in no wise compelled to give such accounts.
Therefore (since cupidity was not unknown on the part of the
monks), the Church forbade the appointment of any religious
as executors or administrators of the effects of deceased
Statute 102 ordered any priest having committed
adultery to do penance in pilgrimage for fifteen years, and
thereafter "let him pass to a monastery and there serve Cod
all the days of his life.”
Clerics thus compelled to turn
monk undoubtedly exercised an unhealthy influence among
their new-found brethren.
It was further enacted that monks who were fugitives
from their houses should return upon penalty of definitely
suffering excommunication (185).
The next statute
condemned the evil practice of religious being admitted
for a stipulated sum (186).
The problem of money is also
dealt with in Statute 145, wherein it was forbidden to
engage any religious for a fee to celebrate or serve a cure
without the special license of the bishop (Synodal
Statutes of St, Andrews, fourteenth century).
While it is not appropriate at this point to deal
with the contents of the Statutes passed in 1549 and 1559,
the Prologue to the proceedings of the Provincial Council
of 1549 should be mentioned because of its double condemnation,
-according to this Prologue, the special failings of the
Scottish clergy consisted of corruption of morals and
ignorance of literature and the liberal arts.
That these
were grievances of long standing has been already proven in
regard to the first indictment;
the truth of the second
charge can be found in statutes 136 (which demands the
presence of qualified priests) and 140 (in which fourteenth
century priests in the diocese of St, Andrews who could not
read and understand the synodal decrees were to be fined),
/Prior to the fifteenth century, Scotland possessed no
universities, and hence it is scarcely likely that the
Scottish monks or priests would be better educated before
these colleges were founded than afterwards.
In conclusion, it can be said without fear of
contradiction that the monasteries and Scottish Church
alike stood in need of definite reform even before the
advent of the fifteenth century.
But in that century,
when practically no serious effort was made by churchmen
to correct the growing abuses, when numerous quarrels arose
between Crown and Curia over jurisdiction of Church affairs,
and when an awakening Renaissance in Scotland came to blows
with a medieval ecclesiastical ideology which was fast
losing its former vitality, it was inevitable that the
Church of Innocent III and the monasteries of David I should
plunge more inextricably into the limbo of lost causes*
The political and administrative decline of the
Scottish monasteries in the fifteenth century is largely
hound up with the struggle of the Scottish Crown and the
Roman Curia over such problems and difficulties as Professor
Hannay describes below:
No account of the Reformation can be intelligible
unless it goes back to the time of James I. and the
end of the great schism*
From that period it is easy
to detect a growing assertion of the power of the
Crown, and an increasing sense of nationality in
opposition to the claims of the Papacy. A desire to
prevent the flow of money to Rome, to control the
appointments and important benefices and attach the
prelates to the Crown, to recover some of the wealth
alienated by the ancient piety of David I.— these,are
some of the familiar features of the development*
Despite a papacy which was growing more and more
secularized, Scottish ecclesiastical allegiance was not
seriously questioned in the fifteenth century.
But there
was a growing sense of friction which existing conditions
made inevitable.
The abuse of the papal regime in the matter of
Scottish ecclesiastical patronage led to farther friction
between the papacy, the king, and Parliament throughout
the second half of the century, comparable to some
extent to that which had rasped the relation of the
R. E. Hannay, "On the Church Lands at the
Reformation,11 Scottish Historical Review, X V l f 1919, p* 52*
English crown and pop© in the fourteenth*
One of the major points of conflict was over the
matter of papal reservation and provision*
From the time of
John XXII (1316), the popes claimed to have "reserved” to
their own appointment (provision) all the bishoprics and
elective offices and dignities of value, such as the
headships of monastic houses*
In England, in 1351, the
Statute of Provisors was passed in which it was stated that
if the Pope collated to any archbishopric, bishopric, dignity,
or benefice to the prejudice of free elections, or
presentations, the patronage was to be forfeited to the
But it was not until the late fifteenth century in
Scotland that parliamentary action was declared against
papal provisions to benefices which were regarded as
belonging to the patronage of the king during the vacancy of
a bishopric.
The problem of lay investiture was centuries-old; it
had brought Henry IV to Canossa in 1077.
As feudal superior,
the king claimed the right to dispose of the temporalities
during an episcopal vacancy, as in the case of the land of a
lay holder of the crown who was a minor.
James Mackinnon, The Constitutional History of
Scotland, p. 309.
John Bowden, The Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 29.
Ibid.. p. 26.
5 Ibia.. p. 27.
Moreover, he claimed the right, "based on ancient
custom, to confer all benefices during the same period
in the gift of the bishop, and before the fourteenth
century the right seems to have been unchallenged♦
It was really impossible under a feudal arrangement
for the Church and State not to clash; the prelates were
an integral part of the king's parliament; they had feudal
obligations inherent in the tenure of their temporalities;
the Crown directly or indirectly always claimed a voice in
the filling of benefice vacancies.
And now, with the Popes
claiming full provision in regard to all important bishoprics
and dignities of value, the powers of the Grown were
The monasteries were likewise affected by this
matter of papal provision, even as were the bishoprics.
Professor Coulton states:
At least as early as 1351, popes had begun to ignore
the monks' legal right of election in Scotland, and to
"provide” their own nominees . . . In 1351, Clement VI
set aside the election at Dunfermline in favour of a
nominee of his own; and Dr Dowden quotes ten cases
between 1422 and 1450.7
These ten cases which Dr. Dowden found of papal
provision are: Newbattle in 1422, Deer in 1423, Paisley in
1423, Holyrood in 1424, Iona in 1426, Dunfermline in 1427,
Inchaffray in 1429, Kinloss in 1431, Arbroath in 1449, and
6 Mackinnon, op. cit.. p. 167.
^ G. G, Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social Life,
p. 253.
Incheolm in 1450*
But this writer, in perusing the Calendar of Papal
Registers, has found many other references to papal
provision and reservation.
In the Petitions, the Pope is
asked to make provision in the case of Whithorn in 1413
(Vol. I, p. 600), St. Andrews in 1418 (I, 608-09), Urquhart
in 1418 (I, 610).
In the Letters, references to papal
reservation or provision can be found regarding St. M a r y ’s
Isle in 1424 (VII, 346), Monimusk in 1427 (VII, 513), Cupar
in 1429 (VIII, 110), Inchmahome in 1429 (VIII, 143), Scone in
1432 (VIII, 427), Urquhart in 1433 (VIII, 467), Crossraguel
and Paisley in 1433 (VIII, 486), Deer in 1435 (VIII, 543-44),
Holyrood in 1435 (VIII, 551), Pluscardine in 1435 (VIII, 568,
609), Culross in 1436 (VIII, 613, 639), Kinloss in 1439
(VIII, 295; IX, 48), Deer in 1439 (IX, 47), St. Andrews in
1443 (VIII, 269-70), Culross in 1441 (IX, 207-08, 349-50),
Dunfermline in 1442 (IX, 271), Kilwinning in 1443 (IX, 342),
Scone in 1443 (VIII, 270), Newbattle in 1443 (IX, 343), St.
Andrews in 1443 (IX, 350-51, 455,- 56), Kinloss in 1444 (3X,
419), Paisley in 1444 (IX, 417, 421-22, 432-33, 435-36),
Incheolm in 1445 (IX, 526-27), Holyrood in 1446 (IX, 569),
St. Anthony’s Hospital near Leith in 1446 (IX, 570-71),
Scone in 1447 (X, 296-97, 350-51), Monimusk in 1450 (X, 463),
John Dowden, ”Introduction,” Chartulary of Lindores.
p. Ixxviii.
Balmerino in 1450 (X, 508-09), Holyrood in 1450 {X, 509),
Pluscardine in 1453 (X, 253-54, 552-53), Paisley in 1459
(XI, 388), Cupar in 1460 (XI, 416, 422-23), Deer in 1460
(XI, 585), Coldingham in 1461 (XI, 425-26), and Kelso in
1462 (XI, 445).
Dr. Dowden*s words are appropriate at this point:
It is reasonable to conclude that the gradual
processes by which the appointments to the headships of
the religious houses passed in practice from the
chapters of the monasteries to the Pope followed the
same lines which mark the transfer to the Pope of the
appointment to bishoprics fromthe capitular bodies of
the cathedrals.
In the earlier period the chapters
elected, and the Pope, as a rule, confirmed. At a later
time, the Pope claimed to ’reserve* the appointments to
his own ’provision’; but ordinarily gave effect to the
wishes of the chapters as manifested by de facto
elections* Lastly, appointments both to monasteries and
bishoprics came to allQintents and purposes to be mere
nominations from Rome*
Naturally, when the monks were unable to elect freely
one of their own choice to the most important monastic post
(the popes, when they claimed ’’reservation,” would declare
capitular elections to be de .jure null and void), the
administration of the monastery was bound to suffer, for the
person provided had to play politics.
The fifteenth century
is a battleground between the Crown and the Curia over this
question, with both forces unfortunately all too willing to
cast aside all freedom of capitular election*
Ibid.. p. lxxviii.
Sine© early times "in Scotland the license to elect
had first to be obtained from the king*"
Furthermore, "the
k i n g ’s assent to the result of the election was also sought
before confirmation from the Pope was a s k e d * T h e
had thus always exercised a measure of power, and had been
able to exert some degree of pressure in the electing of men
who would be favourable towards the carrying out of royal
When the popes introduced their system of
reservation and provision, the kings felt their loss over
the control of elections.
Therefore, throughout the century,
they strove to have their wishes heeded at Rome.
And, as
we shall discover, before the end of the century, the king
was "directly nominating persons to the Pope, and the Pope
(was) giving effect to the nomination. "'*■**' Then, with the
Crown and Papacy having reached an agreement, capitular
elections became a sham*
Not only did they reach an agreement
over the nomination and confirmation of persons "as is
thankfull to his hienes," but they made a settlement regarding
the claim of the Crown to have the patronage, during a
vacancy, of all benefices to which an office-holder would be
entitled to collate.
The path was thus cleared for the
perpetration of the most serious monastic abuses without any
John Dowden, The Medieval Church in Scotland. p # 46.
Cf. also his "Scottish Grown and Episcopate in the Medieval
Period," Scottish Historical Review, ¥TI, 1909, p. 155.
Dowden, The Medieval Church ip Scotland, p* 50*
real check being imposed.
Trafficking in benefices had been one of the curses
of the papacy in the fourteenth century.
The Council of
Constance attempted to outlaw reservation and provision,
but failed.
Meanwhile, this same council was witnessing
a change on the part of Scotland, which had supported the
Avignon anti-popes.
Benedict XIII was deposed in July 1417
and Martin V was elected in the following November;
October 1418 the Scottish Estates formally transferred
obedience to Rome from Peniscola, and nine months later their
ambassadors came to the Curia.
Then, on August 31, 1419,
Martin renewed the constitutions of Benedict concerning
Scottish reservations.
To remove all doubt the Pope therefore claims for
himself all reservations of cathedral churches,
That the loss of capitular freedom in the fifteenth
century was not confined to Scotland may be found in the
following lines:
"Long before the sixteenth century the
elections of abbots and priors of royal foundation were to all
intents and purposes in the hands of the King, that is to say
of his chief minister. Wolsey and Cromwell followed the
example of many others before them in taking bribes from
candidates for promotion, a matter of comparative ease, since
the convents by this time almost invariably *compromitted9
the election to the Crown. . • . The only stipulation that
the monks ever seemed to make was that the Crown should
appoint one of their own number and not a stranger.”
(Geoffrey Baskerville,
English Monks and the Suppression of .
the Monasteries, p. 70).
^ Alexander C. Flick, Decline of the Medieval
Church. II, pp. 114, 119, 124.
monasteries, priories, canonries and prebends, dignities,
personatus and other ecclesiastical offices with cure
and without cure, secular and regular, whatsoever and
wheresoever in the realm of Scotland, void from the
morrow of his elevation until the day of the presentation
he decrees to be null and void
Gn February 5, 1420, in answer to the supplication
that elections might be confirmed without recourse to the
Apostolic See by the ordinaries and that such confirmations
be considered firm and stable "as if made by the Apostolic
the Pope replied that he was intending to provide
anew all churches, monasteries, etc., to those persons which
had been provided by Benedict "after his deposition up till
the general obedience tendered by Scotland."^5
However, the
above supplication had been made because of the "distance
and the dangers of the roads," together with the costs of
having to travel to Home for confirmation— hence the
desire to have confirmation by the ordinary.
The answer of
the Curia shows the desire of the popes to keep strict
control over the wealthier monasteries;
"Granted as to
monasteries not exceeding 150 florins; and let them be
confirmed by apostolic authority, and this at the pleasure
of the Apostolic See."^*^
When James I returned from England in 1424, he was
E.E.Lindsay and A.I.Cameron, eds., Calendar of
Scottish Supplications to Rome. 1418-1422. p. 116.
15 Ibid. ,, p. 164.
L o o . clt.
fully aware of
* * .the evils of papal centralisation, evils which
were economic as well as administrative, which were
felt by Scotland as by the other nations of Western
Europe, and which led to the abortive attempts to
reform the Curia by means of Councils. 7
Ear from contemplating abandonment of the reservation
system, whereby patronage and its.profits had been
drawn to the Roman court, he (Martin V] was about to
attack anti-papal statutes in England and France,
James faced a domestic situation which required strong
vindication of royal authority, and eontrol in the
Church was one condition of success; but his attitude
to the Papacy seems to have been determined mainly by
considerations of finance. His patrimony had been
impaired under lax government:
large sums were owing
to England:
the good money of churchmen was diverted
to the undue enrichment of the Roman treasury*18
The following pages, based largely on Professor’s
Hannay*s illuminating study of Crown-Curia relations from
1424 to 1560, must be understood if the political and
economic situation of the Scottish monasteries in the
fifteenth century is to be at all intelligible.
As papal patronage powers increased, the development
of promotion taxes— exacted from prelates "provided” in
consistory-— also grew apace.
James I did not disagree
seriously over the personnel of the prelacy or the
"progressive inclusion of Scottish monasteries among the
elective benefices reserved for consistorial provision.”
R. K. Hannay, ”A Letter to Scotland from the Council
of Basel,” Scottish Historical Review. XX, 1922, p. 50.
R. K. Hannay. The Scottish Crown and the Papacy.
1424-1560. pp. 3-4.
19 For a discussion of promotion taxes, cf. Ill, pp.
20 Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, p. 4*
He attempted to counter the growth of papal patronage (the
lesser benefices had become also the "property” of the popes
by virtue of general reservations made in papal constitutions)
and its financial consequences by restricting the export of
money and forbidding any cleric to pass overseas, or send
procurators for him,
to Rome without leave of the king.
"His ordinances created the offence of "barratry," all un­
authorized pursuit of benefices or pensions by "purchase,"
which was to be punishable by deprivation and exile."
There now ensued a bitter quarrel between lames and
the Pope.
The King was aided by his secretary, John
Cameron, who became Bishop of Glasgow in 1426 (being provided
by Martin V only after having given a solemn promise not to
aid further in legislation deemed objectionable by the
papacy), and Chancellor in 1427.
When Cameron ignored
papal mandates based on reservation and was summoned to Rome,
James would not let him go.
Instead, he cited William
Croyser, archdeacon of Teviotdale and bearer of the papal,
summons, on a charge of barratry.
Martin V at length
pardoned Cameron after having been assured that the latter
would help abolish the statutes passed by James*
Martin V died in 1431, and the succeeding Pope,
Eugenius IV, resolved to settle the question once for all by
21 Ibid.« p. 4.
fol. 2-3, 13, 17.
Acts of Parliament (1597 edition),
compelling James to repeal his anti-papal restrictions.
Croyser was deliberately placed in the position of a
barrator, and Cameron was again summoned to Borne.
instead, replied to the challenge by citing Croyser before
a secular court (condemning him in absence for treason), and
by supporting the Council of Basel.
Cameron appeared at
Basel on February 8 , 1434, thus showing that James was ready
to obey that Council’s enactments.
This body discussed
such papal abuses as reservation and provision,22
of freedom of capitular elections, and annates.
the loss
The same
Council later deposed Eugenius and elected Felix V, who was
crowned in 1440.
"This drastic action, reviving schism
instead of promoting reform, decisively alienated support
and diminished conciliar authority."23
But Cameron failed James, making his peace with
Eugenius, and was later striving for the restoration of
Croyser to his rights and benefices in Scotland.
(James was
unquestionably irritated, and the visit of Aeneas Sylvius to
Scotland may have been the result of Eugenius* wish for a
reconciliation between Cameron and the King— but the
reconciliation never took place, and, when James was
murdered, Croyser still lay under condemnation.
Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church. II, 154, 173,
182, 186, 187.
23 Hannay, nA Letter to Scotland, etc.,” pp. 53-54.
24 Ibid., p. 52.
This condemnation of Croyser before a secular court
must have brought serious misgivings even to those church­
men who had formerly sided with James in his anti-papal
certainly, "it is plain that ecclesiastical
affairs fell into such a confusion that James was forced to
seek papal aid, and ask for a legate."^®
The Pope now took
advantage of the weakness of the King*s position, declaring
the proceedings against Croyser null and void, and undoubtedly
telling the nuncio sent to Scotland (his mission was
interrupted by the assassination of the King) to demand that
all the barratry acts should be repealed.
Eugenius also
passed a consistorial decree "refusing consideration to
royal supplications for the promotion of churchmen who
counselled the restrictive ordinances.”
With the death of James I, the anti-papal cause
received a heavy setback.
At the time, Scotland*was involved
in one of its many periods of regency; papalist views were
prevailing; and
For twenty years there is no record of anti-papal
sentiment in the Acts of Parliament.
It was not until
the middle of the century, when James II began his
active rule, that there were any signs of fresh
trouble. 7
Hannay, Scott. Crown and the Papacy, p. 5*
p. 6 .
p. 6 «
The Crown had claimed from ancient days the right to
exercise episcopal patronage during the vacancy of a see.
The vacancies of episcopal sees were often prolonged,
and there may have been temptations in Scotland, as
there certainly were in England, for the monarch not to
hasten appointments. The basis of this practice of
taking possession of the temporalities seems to have
been the feudal conception that the bishops’ lands and
other temporalities were of the nature of an estate
held in capite of the Grown, which in default of an
heir reverted to the Crown, or as a fief, which because
of the minority of the vassal, wasfisubject to the
lord’s administration and profit.
The papacy always refused to admit this claim, and
David II, as a means of obtaining assent from the bishops
that it was a customary right, "agreed to abandon confiscation
of their movables at decease, and grant a power of
Robert II and Robert III did not continue
to observe this bargain, and, as James I was not able to
make his barratry ordinances effective as a means of
protecting the royal interest, the reign of James II still
found the bishops without indubitable testamentary right.
Negotiations were now entered into at this time,
despite the difficulty involved in the prosecution of
clerics in secular courts for treason because of differences
with the Roman Curia> over dispositions during an episcopal
Dowden, "The Scottish Crown and the Episcopate in
the Medieval Period," Scottish Historical Review. VII, p.139.
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, p. 6 .
Loc. cit.
At length, after protracted discussions, the hishops
accepted a charter (1430) from the Crown which committed
them to a recognition of the casualty of patronage and
laid down definitely the practice to be followed sede
vacante. They had free disposition of movables: the
Crown did not meddle with the spiritualities, the teinds,
and other fruits of churches annexed to the see, for
which the vicar general must account to the canonical
successor, but it was to enjoy the temporalities, the
profits of lands and-jurisdictions, including the
episcopal patronage* 1
Although Rome did not allow this domestic arrangement
to interfere with its own views on dispositions by
reservation, the King received confirmation twice from the
Provincial Council (in 1457 and 1459) on the justice of his
• • .our most illustrious king aforesaid possessed by
ancient and primitive use the right of presenting to
all benefices within the realm of Scotland appertaining
to ecclesiastical patronage and ordinaries* collation
falling void in any manner of way from the time that
sees become vacant till bishops are admitted to their
temporality, and of presenting to benefices bestowed
by election, even though they be the greater benefices
next after episcopal sees, and to other benefices
generally or specially reserved in any manner whatever.
And we attest this in the lord to all whom it concerns,
or whom it shall at all concern in the future by the
tenor of these presents.32
In 1462, Parliament ordained that any clerk who had
infringed on-this royal claim by impetration at Rome must
relinquish his acquisition or cease to hold any benefice in
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, p. 7.
Statutes of the Scottish Church
(1459), p. 83.
The papacy ignored nthe pretended customary
right” of the Crown;
however, fear of offending the King
discouraged too much contravention.
In the meantime, more serious questions were arising
in regard to the monasteries*
Eugenius IV and Nicholas V
adopted a rule of chancery whereby not only the bishoprics
but all monasteries above a certain value were reserved for
eonsistorial provision*
The practice affected monasteries which had hitherto
enjoyed what the Scots described as ’"free election,” and
had never required more than the ordinary*s confirmation.
It was specially in the case of the exempt orders,
Cluniac, Cistercian, and Premonstratensian, that the
Papal intervention caused disturbance, by suspending
the confirmatory rights vested in the mother houses.
The general effect was to exclude the royal and
baronial influence, formerly exerted with some ease over
the confinning authority, to take more money out of the
country in promotion taxes, and to enable Rome to jbnpose
higher assessmeniscthrough competitive bargaining.35
This interfering on the part of the papacy had other
consequences of an unwelcome nature, such as the granting of
monastic benefices in commend am to bishops
and the dis­
memberment of benefices by the granting of pensions to buy
off rivals or to secure the eonsistorial provision.
Legislation was passed in 1466 prohibiting the holding or
purchasing of benefices in commendam. or buying pensions out
Hannay, Scott. Crown and*Papacy, pp. 7-8.
For evils of the commendam system, cf. Ghapt. XV, p. 98.
For evils of the pension system, cf. Ghapt. IV, p. 105.
of a benefice without consent of its holder.
of benefice was the penalty for disobedience.*^®
These practices continued, nevertheless, and the
evil was aggravated by the papal claim to appoint to
any benefice and not merely to those reserved to the
pope. These appointments had, of course, to be paid
for, and in view of *the inestimable scaith and damage”
to the realm, in consequence of the draining of its
wealth for this illegal purpose, Parliament is again
found in 1471 legislating against the purchase of
abbeys and other benefices at the Court of Rome and
against the additional drain on the national wealth
involved in the extortions of the papal tax collectors,
which exceed the old ecclesiastical valuation known as
Bal&mundfs Roll, dating from the thirteenth century.
The Act likewise strikes at another objectionable
practice— that of the union of annexation of the
endowments of benefices to bishoprics and abbeys, to
the destruction of the churches and the detriment of
the common good of the realm,
Eugenius IV had granted Scone to Bishop Kennedy of
St. Andrews in commendam.
When lames II came to the throne,
Kennedy anticipated difficulty by procuring from Nicholas V
a faculty to confirm elections in houses in his diocese
which were not exempt.
diocese of Glasgow.
The trouble actually began in the
Pius II reserved the Gluniac monastery
of Paisley and provided Henry Crichton to the abbacy on
condition that he should pay a pension to an Italian cardinal.
Later, Crichton refused to pay this pension, was excommunicated,
and the monastery was bestowed in commendam to Kennedy’s
Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 47.
Mackinnon, The Constitutional History of Scotland,
pp. 525-26; Acts of Parliament. fol. 56-57.
successor at St* Andrews, Patrick Graham,
Parliament at once prohibited the purchase of
commendations, and also made regulations about the export
of money (acts which James I had passed),
Graham was forced
to resign Paisley, and in 1469 Crichton is again provided to
In the act of 1471 (already alluded to), Parliament
stipulated that any who impetrated abbeys Mquilkis was nevir
at the court of Rome of befor,” or contravened the acts,
, ..
were traitors,
Graham became metropolitan in 1472,
He had lost
Paisley, but was given Arbroath, the richest monastery in
Scotland, to administer for five y e a r s , ^
Bitter antagonism
was aroused when St, Andrews became an archbishopric, and
opposition was forthcoming from such various sources as
the archbishops of York and Trondhjem, the Scottish bishops,
and the King (who had not been consulted).
In January,
1478, the Pope deposed Patrick Graham and confined him to
an abbey.
But his successors at St, Andrews kept the
metropolitan title;
Glasgow rebelled, and it was made into
38 Cf. Ghapt. IV, p. 103.
Cf. Chapt. IV, p. 103.
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, p. 8 ; Acts of
Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 56-57,
“ Cf. Chapt. IV, p. 103.
Dowden, Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 15,
an archbishopric in 1492 with Dunkeld, Dunblane, Galloway,
and Argyll as its suffragans, but without primatial or
legatine rank.
As previously stated, the predecessor of Graham,
Kennedy, had (during the reign of James II) procured from
Nicholas V a faculty to confirm elections in religious
houses within the diocese of St. Andrews which were not
Now, with the fall of papal prestige in the St.
Andrews controversy, the Crown
. . .again asserted the confirmation rights of St.
Andrews, and were bold enough to order the retention
in the other dioceses of similar powers where these
had been customarily exercised.44
By the act of 1471, in which the purchase of monastic
benefices at Home was prohibited, it was ordered that "the
saidis places have free election of the samin.”45
within a year or two the King himself had over-ridden the
choice of the: monks at Dunfermline and secured the papal
confirmation for his own nominee to the abbacy.
authorities believe that this was a turning point in the
ecclesiastical history of Scotland.
According to W. Law
Mathieson, writing of the year 1473:
From this year down to the Reformation, a period of
Mackinnon, Constitutional History of Scotland, p.516.
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, p. 9.
Acts of Parliament
(1597 edition), fol. 56-57.
nearly ninety years, the wealth of the Church was at
the mercy of the king and of all who could obtain his
favour. The worst features of the new system, for
James* innovation soon became the regular usage, was
not the mere extinction of electoral freedom, though
the clergy loudly complained of this, but the bringing
in of a new race of prelates, men of merely secular
ambition, whose manner of life savoured little of the
clerical calling. Henceforward the court, and not
the chapter or the cloister, was the true centre of
ecclesiastical life.^6
But if the Crown’s power was now in the ascendency,
this does not mean that the conflict with the Curia over
benefice vacancies had been finally settled.
Sixtus IV
(1471-1484) took advantage of the troublous internal
conditions of the country to assert his authority more
fully again.
There were many contested episcopal provisions
at this time, together with many eases of intrusion in
regard to the monasteries.
Intrusion arises from a clash
of provisions and involves the occupation of a benefice de
facto, or by insufficient authority.
Illegal occupation
is charged frequently by both the Crown and Curia;
Dr. Cameron’s The Apostolic Camera and Scottish Benefices.
1418-1488, one finds under Obligationes et Solutiones cases
of alleged intrusion for the years 1466, 1467, 1468, 1471,
1481, and 1484 (2).47
And under Libri Annatarum examples
occur for 1465, 1470 (2), 1471, 1472, 1477, 1478, and 1483.48
Quoted by I. F. Grant, The
Development of Scotland before 1603.
Pp. 58-59, 62, 63, 6 6 , 81,
48 Pp. 150, 159-60, 161, 166,
Social and Economic
p. 220.
83, 83.
171, 188, 192, 205-06.
In 1481 Parliament was repeating the royal position
regarding the right of the King to present at all times to
benefices while the see is vacant*49
In the same year,
Parliament also repeats its injunctions against any person
purchasing benefices at R o m e . ^
A prop os of this particular
act, Dr, Dowden has the following comment to make:
It is plain that in the second half of the fifteenth
century, quite apart from the infringement of the
ancient rights of the Crown, the system of papal
provisions and their purchase, was exciting a strong
feeling of repugnance.
Scotland, which had long been
a most submissive child of the apostolic see, and far
more subservient than England, was beginning to rebel.
Before there was the slightest breath of suspicion in
respect to doctrinal differences, Scotsmen were stirred
by the venality and corruption of the Roman Court.
In 1485 James III in strong language complained to
the Pope regarding a recent appointment by the latter to
the bishopric of Dunkeld.
The King eventually yielded the
point— being bribed, it is said— -but there was no doubt as
to the tone of the royal complaint.
Capitular elections were now a sham. What Gascoigne
in the fifteenth century said of England is equally
true of Scotland. An election was such only in name.
The concurrence of the king and the Pope and a payment-^
(certa millia pecuniarum) to the latter made a bishop.0
In 1487 Innocent Till granted an important indult
which affected both the bishoprics and those abbeys which
Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol, 64.
Ibid., fol. 64.
Dowden, Medieval Church, p. 194.
52 Ibid.,
p. 52.
were of such value as to he eonsistorial.
According to
Professor Hannay, this indult was based upon a compromise in
which finance played a large role.
The shorter the vacancies in eonsistorial benefices,
the sooner were the "services11 levied by the Camera ana
the bulls forwarded to Scotland: the sooner the bulls
arrived and the new prelate claimed admission to his
temporalities, the smaller the feudal casualty exigible.
Innocent promised to await supplications during eight
months and give them full consideration, so that the
Crown was thus assured of its profits and an appreciable
share in the destination of the prelacies. Probably the
Pope expected that the financial consideration shown
would prevent further agitation against his interventions
in providing for_the monastic houses and levying the
promotion taxes. °
Certainly there was little or no freedom of capitular
election after this indult had been granted.
The struggle
between Crown and Curia had been over the disposal of benefices
and the attending struggle for power.
While Parliament had a
strong case in wanting to abolish the corrupt trafficking in
benefices at Rome, it was interested almost entirely in the
economic aspects.
"There is nothing in its enactments in the
fifteenth century to suggest antagonism to the papacy on
religious or moral grounds,"
while Dr. Cameron sums up
the economic implications of the concordat of 1487 thus:
From the financial aspect it was a division of the
spoils between the principals:
the Grown enjoyed the
temporalities during the vacancy of the see, while the
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, pp. 9-10.
Mackinnon, o p . clt.. pp. 328-29.
Papacy received the common and little services and
attendant dues.55
The indult applied only to monasteries of greater
value than 200 florins.
With the popes waiting for eight
months before making appointments, it was felt by the Curia
that in return for this concession (assuring the Crown a
profit out of vacancies and a controlling voice in the
destination of all prelacies), less opposition would be
offered for the levying at Home of higher taxes for promotion*56
The only possible justification for the indult of 1487
is that most of the disputes were likely to be between Curia
and Crown rather than between Curia and chapter.
The frequency of rival provisions is sufficient
evidence of external interference, and offers justification
of the agreement of 1487 in so far as it sought to put an
end to the chaos which resulted from disputed succession*58
It can not be gainsaid that a tremendous change had
come into the picture with the elapse of the centuries.
was the old rivalry between king and nobles (as in the days
of David I) to show their devotion by showering the Church
with munificent endowments.
Now, envious eyes were cast on
these same endowments by the successors of the devout patrons,
until the time is reached when king, nobles,
(and pope)
55 A.I. Cameron, introduction,” Apost. Camera,etc.,p.xx.
56 Herkless and Hannay, Archbishops of S t . Andrews. I,
pp. 157-58 (quoted by Duke, History of Church of Scotland. 120)
Cameron, o£. cit.. p. xxi.
5® Loc. cit.
scrambled madly after the financial profits involved in these
(The lords temporal had once been spiritual— -now
even the lords spiritual had become veritably temporal!)
When Alexander VI became Pope (Innocent VIII died in
1492), lames IV and his government told the new pontiff that
the indult would be observed.
The indult of 1487 had applied
to benefices only of such value as to be consistorial
(monasteries worth more than 200 florins).
The Scottish
government now held the indult f,to grant a right of
recommendation for all elective benefices.”
There was a special reason for emphatic legislation
on this point and indeed upon the whole tendency towards
usurpation of patronage by Borne. A device, which
developed alarmingly in the late fifteenth century,
threatened the rights of all patrons, affecting Grown
and baronage alike. Besignation ”in favour,” made in
the hands of the Pope, enabled the holder to transfer
his title and reserve liferent, so that the succession
was determined, and on his decease there was no vacancy.
To meet this danger, James reverted to the measures which
James I had sought to enforce. He reintroduced permanently
the system of licence, in order to place every clerical
resort to Borne in benefice transactions under royal
The Parliaments of James XV attest to the vigour with
which he sought to maintain his powers.
In 1488 an act was
passed forbidding any person from purchasing or accepting r,ony
benefice, perteining to our Soveraine Lordis presentation,
the sege vacand, in the court of Bome.”6’** In 1493 one reads
59 Hannay, Scott; Grown and Papacy, p. 10.
L o c . cit.
Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 76.
"That all Prelacies, Abbacies, Priories, & uther benefices
remains and be disponed in all times to-eum, within the realm
lik as they wer in the time of the said king lames the ilr&t.1^ 2
At the same time Scotsmen were forbidden to pay any promotion
taxes at Rome higher than those prescribed in b a g imond^
R oll.65
And in 1494, it was prohibited for any person to
"passe foorth of the Realm to purchase ony benefices without
leaue of our Soveraine I*ord.M
Professor Hannay points out that as yet no one has
ascertained what success attended the Crown*s attempts to
restrict the traffic in lesser benefices at Rome, but that
the situation in respect of the prelacies is more clear*
Though chapter election persisted, the really
effective transaction in Scotland came to be the royal
nomination with advice of council:
at Rome it was not
counted a nomination but a desire which agreed happily
with the consistorial choice.
The initiative thus
reserved was not boldly used by the Popes in the interest
of the Scottish Church,
The administration of the
primatial see, as is well known, was granted to the
King*s brother and then to his son, while a man like
Alphinstone was passed over:
some leading abbacies
were turned by commendation, now no longer offensive
when directed according to royal wish, to the financial
profit of the Crown or to reward the political services
of bishops,65
Acts of Parliament
(1597 edition), fol. 84.
Ibid.. fol. 84-85.
64 Ibid.. fol. 89.
Hannay, Scott. Crown and Papacy, pp. 10-11. In 1497,
the Priory of Beauly (below the papal tax), hasianeatteftpt by
Alexander VI to dispose of "all conventual priories whenever
vacant, of whatever order.” He ordered the new prior to swear
to increase the authority and power of the Holy See* ”and
obey its commands,"(Charters of beauly. pp, 110-12 ).
While our study is confined at present to the
fifteenth century, it would be well to note what occurred
during the reign of James V.
Paul II was the first pope
to aooept the phrase "right of nomination" from the Grown,
The result was disastrous for some of the great monasteries,
five of which furnished livings for the K i n g ’s illegitimate
sons, and two of which were administered by a layman on
terms of lease.
The Crown had now succeeded in its policy of
absorbing Church patronage*
A suggestion from Rome that Robert Wauchope of the
Niddrie family, a blind theologian of wide repute, should
become abbot of Bryburgh was peremptorily declined. More
than thirty years before the Reformation the practice
of leasing abbeys had begun. . , . The monasteries had
passed out of papal control.
The bishops and abbots were utterly secularized with
few exceptions;
they obtained charters of alienation of
Church lands for the benefit of their illegitimate children
and for others.
The King was bent, not on increasing the
spiritual strength of the Church, but on adding to the
temporal power of the Crown through the bestowal of rich
benefices on his favourites and bastard children*
And the
popes of the period were churchmen notorious for their
worldliness and financial abuses.
Under such circumstances,
a religious revolution and the annihilation of monasticism
in Scotland in the sixteenth century are not. surprising*
Hannay, Scott* Crown and Papacy, pp. 11-12*
Ibid*. pp. 11-12.
The purpose of this chapter is to take up examples of
'economic abuse which arise out of the relations existing
between the monasteries and other contemporary groups, such
as the Roman Curia, the bishops, the parish clergy and
laity within the monastery’s jurisdiction, and the neighbours
(outride monastic jurisdiction) with whom the convents came
in contact— i*e*, townspeople, etc.
The succeeding chapter
attempts to cope with the economic abuses of the internal
administration of the monastery— the cupidity of abbot and
monk, the encroachments of commendators and pluralists, and
such evils as simony, collusion, and the granting of pensions
to rivals, etc*
This division of economic abuses into
categories of an "external” and "internal” nature may appear
at times artificial, but some sort of differentiation seems
necessary when attempting to put order into such a complicated
problem as the economic decline of Scottish monastic!sm*
The thirteenth century has been classified as
Scotland’s Golden Age, but as the country depended upon the
rather unproductive soil for its chief sources of wealth,
the nation even at this time can scarcely be said to have
enjoyed any considerable degree of prosperity**^
Grant, The Social and Economic Development of
Scotland before 1603, p* 120*
Furthermore, the economic "development of the country
was, indeed, carried little, if any further during the next
four hundred years.”
This situation is to be explained in
large measure by the fact that Scotland was faced with
political problems which virtually prevented it from
attaining that state of 3a w and order necessary for the
pursuit of the arts of peace and progress.
reasons are eloquent enough:
The following
between 1360 and 1502 ”no
real peace was made” between Scotland and England; between
1406 and 1528 there existed some sixty years of virtual
minority in the ruling house; from this last reason there
was given to the nobles an undue power which resulted in
an "almost unmanageable country” and kept Scotland devoid of
a strongly centralized authority and perpetuated feudalism
after it had begun to decline elsewhere.
Meanwhile, what was the economic status of the Scottish
Church at this time? * According to Professor Coulton:
The wealth and privileges were enormous.
Even in
1556, when there had been so much waste and decay, the
p o pe’s envoy wrote to him that the clergy far surpassed
the laity in wealth. The Church lands were assessed at
half of the whole national taxation; and more than half
of those lands belonged to the monasteries.
This wealth
was under almost complete control of a comparatively
small number of persons.
2 Grant, oj). cit., p. 120.
3 I M S * . PP* 172-73, 200.
G. G. Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social Life.
p. 47.
And, according to Dr. Grant:
It has been estimated that this great wealth was
divided in the following proportions:
Income of 200 abbeys,monasteries, and
£.220,618 15 0
” the archbishops, bishoprics,
and cathedral chapters.
53,765 11 0
” collegiate churches
5,350 0 0
” hospitals, etc*
18,000 0 0
" tithes, dues, etc*
50,000 0 0
Another estimate puts the total wealth of the Chureh
at £.250,000. There were about 3000 clergy and members
of religious communities in Scotland*5
Professor Coulton states that while the monastic
revenues in Europe as a whole constituted a third of the
total, in Scotland and Switzerland, two mountainous and
analogous countries, the percentage was greater than
He attributes this situation’s cause (in the case
of Scotland) to the impact given by the most powerful of
all early English influences over Scotland, and to the
ability of the monks to appropriate a larger share of the
parish endowments than happened anywhere else (except
Switzerland)— due to Scotland’s having "a sparse population
in a mountainous country, and a very rudimentary parochial
system; therefore men naturally turned to the- monks for help
and gave them the tithes."^
5 Grant, op. cit. (quoting D. Hay Fleming, "Influence
of the Beformation." Scottish Historical Review, XV, p. 5),
p* 225*
Coulton, pp. cit*. pp. 38, 80*
Dr, Dowden states that the revenues of the Church
were derived from lands, from teinds, and from offerings,
"some of the latter coming in time to be regarded as ’dues,*
and some of them purely voluntary.**^
Obviously, the lands
constituted a important asset to the monasteries*
David I and his nobility had been lavish in their endowment
of religious houses in this respect.
"During the period
before the Wars of Independence the Church had received
almost the whole of the lands that she afterwards held."®
••Teinds” is the Scottish word for tithes— teinds (decimae)
signified the annual payment of a tenth part of the produce
from the lands and animals of the parish, and also from the
profits of trade and industry and the fishings of river and
^Another source of monastic revenue -was derived from
••second tithes”— tithes from the founderfs own household
which were not considered obligatory.
••Offerings’* (oblations)
were originally voluntary on the part of the faithful*
special occasions, Faster, Christmas, and the feast
of the Patron-Saint of the Church, an offering was expected
from everyone, even though Scottish ecclesiastical law was
firm in declaring that "neither sacraments nor sacramentals
were to be sold," but were to be given to all, even at
John Dowden, The Medieval Churdh in Scotland, p.155.
8 I* F. Grant, The Economic History of Scotland,
Easter to those who made no offering*9
The "mortuary" or
"corpse-present” was the payment to the parish priest of
an animal or some other gift upon the death of a parishioner.
To the above sources of revenue, the following
(enumerated by Professor Coulton) can be added:
(1 ) relics— a Wealth, since "The true religion of the Middle Ages,
to speak frankly, is the worship of relics" (Luchaire);
(2 ) revenues from parish churches— a lucrative and muchabused source of gain;
(3) grants of a special nature:
salmon-fisheries, gallows-rights (in the ease of the great
monasteries), markets and fairs, a monopoly of a ferry,
special indulgences;
(4) minor sources of endowment, such
as the bestcwing of a rich heritage upon a monk, or the
occasional requirement by the monastery ("as early as
1242") of dowries with the m e n , ^
While this particular chapter does not deal with the
decline of numbers in the monastic population, it should be
pointed out that:
Dunfermline was certainly one of the greatest houses;
and it had only 38 monks at the end of the fifteenth
century; its dependent cell of Lesmahago had only 5 in
1556. . . . At Arbroath, in 1486, there were 29. At
Kinloss, about 1500 A . D . , it needed an exceptional abbot
and a determined reform to bring the numbers up from 14
to over 2 0 .
Therefore, since so much wealth was in so few hands,
Dowden, o£. c i t .. p. 179.
Coulton, Scottish Abbeys, etc., pp. 68-76.
the social status of the monk
was high* . .• With the
friars it was different; they were more commonly from
the poorer classes, and therefore more democratic in
But even the ordinary monk or nun was
naturally drawn to greater sympathy with the propertied
classes; and to.the heads of houses this applies still
more strongly* 1
The monk who "had begun as an anti-capitalist" after
some centuries of rich endowment had been transformed into
a "definite capitalist,"
In his Five Centuries
(vol. II), Dr. Coulton deals with the outspoken
of Religion
Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, an Austin canon who wrote c. 1230
his Historia Occidentalis. in which he attributes the main
causes of monastic decline to wealth, greed, and the absence
of an efficient visitation system.-**2
An examination of
fifteenth century economic abuses will corroborate the
Cardinal’s statements quite accurately.
The relations of the Roman Curia and the Scottish
monasteries are important.
A study of the fourteenth and
fifteenth century evolution of the former will throw valuable
light on the latter.
Professor Flick states:
"The Avignon
Papacy can be summed up in two words: centralization and
The "Babylonian Captivity" in turn begot the
disastrous Great Schism (1578-1417), which destroyed Christian
Coulton, oj>. cit.. pp. 49-50.
^-2 G. G. Coulton, Five Centuries of Religion, II, p. 102.
Alexander C. Flick, The Decline of the Medieval
Church. I, p. 170.
unity and added to papal financial burdens.
Scotland, like,
France, supported the anti-popes at Avignon; there can he
little doubt that the dual papacy caused both inconvenience
and a growing indifference to papal pretensions on the part
of the Scottish clergy.
The Church awoke to the need of a complete reform­
ation, and the result was the Coneiliar Movement, whose aims
consisted in healing the Schism, stamping out heresy, and
eradicating abuses within the Church, such as simony and
Papal absolutism was to be curtailed by
subordinating the power of the pontiff to that of Church
Unfortunately for the Church itself, the
Coneiliar Movement was defeated by conservative forces,
the much-needed reforms failed to materialize, and the
Papacy emerged with "wider pretensions, a more extended
territorial jurisdiction, and a more pronounced increase of
power than had been exercised for several centuries
In the last chapter, the political effects of the
growth of papal absolutism in the fifteenth century were
noted; here the financial implications can be brought out.
What were the standard revenues of the Papal Court?
The Popes had been accustomed to receive their
A* Francis steuart, “Scotland and the Papacy
during the Great Schism,” Scottish Historical Review. IV,
1907, pp. 144-158. .
Flick, OJ3. cit. . II, pp. 204-05.
revenues from the following sources: (1) the Papal
States in Italy; (2) tithes levied on the whole church
or a part of it for worthy purposes like crusades;
(3) Peter’s pence; (4) fixed tributes paid by states
held as fiefs of the Papal chair; (5) free-will
offerings and voluntary gifts; (6 ) special fees for
visitations, dispensations, absolutions, and indulgences;
and (7) appointments to benefices.-**®
borne of the above sources of revenue in particular
are of importance here.
Thus, Peter’s Pence— the annual
tax of one penny (a silver denarius) from every household—
was generally collected by foreign agents.
’♦The tenths’* was
the exacting of a tenth part of the clergy’s income on
various occasions for important events— a Crusade or the
defence of the papal dominions.
It was for the collection
of this tax that Baiamund de Vinci was sent to Scotland as
papal envoy by Gregory X in 1275 to make a new and higher
taxation of all ecclesiastical property— "Bagimont’s Roll.”
Fees were also exacted for (1) Indulgences— often given in
Scotland for the building of cathedrals or the repairing of
monastic houses;
(2 ) Dispensations for the following: a.
Defect of birth (illegitimacy) on the part of a priest or
monk: b. Defect of age (when the applicant was under canonical
age for appointment to ecclesiastical offices): e. Pluralities
of benefice: and d. Infractions of the marriage law (for
canon law forbade marriage to the fourth degree of Consanguinity
and Affinity.
I £*
Flick, o£. cit.. I, p. 89.
But the most important source of papal revenue (from
the standpoint of this study) was the fees which the papacy
exacted for its appointments to benefices.
At this point
it would he well to learn about the general unhealthy state
of papal finances in the fifteenth century because of the
bearing on the sale of purchasable offices.
Professor Flick, after making a careful analysis of
treasury accounts for the pontificates of Martin V, Eugenius
IV, Calixtus III, Pius II, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII, and
Alexander VI, has the following to say:
By averaging up the incomes of the seven Popes named
above, together with their expenditures, it might be
fair to assume that the general annual income of the
Papacy during the latter part of the fifteenth century
was about 229,000 florins, while the expenditures amounted
to 553,000 florins, which would leave an average annual
deficit of approximately 124,000 florins to be met in
divers ways not yet made clear. These estimates do not
include gifts which w e r e 'numerous and of great value,
and would have increased the income to 450,000 florins*
With the constant need of money always present in
order to meet the large papal expenditures, there was
naturally a strong temptation to increase the value of
purchasable offices and to make of them as big a source of
revenue as possible.
It is here that the matter of reservation and provision
(seenalready in the last chapter) comes to the fore, in the
Flick, on* cit *. II, pp. 422-25.
growth of papal appointments to benefices.
A clarification
of terms should now be made.
Four characteristics are essential to a "benefice11:
(1 ) The right to revenue from church property— the
beneficed cleric being the usufructuary and the
proprietor. .
(2 ) A twofold perpetuity— the source of income to be
permanently established, and the appointment to the
benefice to be for life (in the modern interpretation).
(3) A formal decree giving to certain funds or property
the character or title of a benefice.
(4) An annexed office or spiritual function of some
kind— i.e., care of souls, exercise of jurisdiction,
celebration of Mass or recitation of the Bivine Office.
Benefices are divided into simple and double; major
and minor; elective, presentative, and eollative; residential
and non-residential; perpetual and manual; secular and
A simple benefice involves only the duty of
reciting the Bivine Office or of celebrating the Mass, while
a double benefice implies care of souls or jurisdiction in
external forum or administrative functions, and, if of
episcopal or supra-episcopal rank, it is styled a major
The benefice is elective when the appointing
authority may collate only after some electoral body has
named the future incumbent; it is presentative when such
nomination belongs to a patron; it is eollative when a
John T. Creagh, "Benefice," The Catholic
Encyclopedia. II, pp. 473-75.
bishop or some other superior appoints independently of any
election or presentation,
The benefice is residential when
residence in the locality of the benefice is made obligatory
(as by articles of foundation).
Manual benefices are not
benefices in the strict sense, because appointments to them
are revocable at the will of the collating authority.
Regular benefices pertain to religious houses; a rule requires
that secular benefices shall be conferred on secular clerks,
and regular benefices on regulars.
(This rule was not always
adhered to strictly.)
Benefices once erected are ^perpetual” but can be
united with other benefices on account of diminished revenues.
The pope alone can unite major benefices; minor benefices
are subject in this respect to episcopal authority, with
very few exceptions.
The collation (granting) to benefices can be (l)
Ordinary— the major benefices disposed of by the pope and
the minor benefices disposed of by the bishop, and (S)
Extraordinary— when the above rule is allowed to have
exceptions, such as papal collation in Mandata de providendo—
giving the cleric the right to a benefice already vacant in
the diocese of the bishop to whom the mandate is directed;
Literae expectativae— giving the cleric the right to a
benefice not yet vacant; and Reservations.
Ibid., pp. 473-75.
The centralizing of ecclesiastical administration
in the Homan Curia in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and
fifteenth centuries meant that more and more benefices
came to be directly collated by the pope.
This was the
case, not only regarding bishoprics and monasteries—
vacancies filled by Home either by direct appointment or
papal confirmation, but also in the case of smaller Church
livings (canonicates, parishes, etc.).
For its collation,
the Curia received a tax which has been known as "Annates,"
and, since the fifteenth century, has been a term
"comprehending all money taxes paid into the apostolic
Camera (papal treasury) on the occasion of the collation of
any ecclesiastical benefice by the Pope.n ^w
Under this
term were included four classes of payment:
(1 ) Servitia comaunia-— payable on the granting of
bishopries or monasteries; appointments made in
consistory; payments divided between the cardinals and
papal treasury.
Servitia minuta— due on like occasions to various
subordinate officials of the Curia.
(3) The real Annatae— (in narrower sense of word)— paid
on the granting of a minor ecclesiastical benefice by
the pope outside of the coisLstory; all these payments
reverted to the Apostolic Camera.
(4) So-called quindennia— payable every 15 years by_
livings permanently united with some other benefice.^1
J. P. Kirsch, "Annates,”
I, p. 537.
Ibid., p. 537.
The Catholic Encyclopedia.
Originally, in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries, annatae or annalia signified only the third
class: the taxes derived from lesser benefices, of annual
value of 24 to 100 florins, gold of the C a m e r a , ^ and
which were non-consistorial.
In the fifteenth century,
however, annates was frequently a synonym for common and
little services also*
The servitia communia was a tax
which bishops, abbots, priors, etc, had to pay provided
their benefices yielded a yearly income above 100 gold
These appointments were consistorial (made by
the pope in conclave with the cardinals), and by the time
of John XXII (1316-1334) the custom had been established
that all prelates promoted by the Holy See by direct
provision or by confirmation at the hands of the pope were
bound to pay common service, ‘’assessed at one-third of the
annual revenues of benefices over 100 florins, gold of the
C a m e r a . I n
the early Middle Ages prelates appointed at
Rome had made voluntary gifts, but usage had crystallized
into this taxation of common and little services— a taxation
that was obligatory.
The Registers of Qbligationes et Solutiones are
concerned with consistorial appointments— and the ’’growth
22 Flick, o]D. cit. . I, p. 104; Annie I. Cameron, The
Anostolic Camera and Scottish Benefices. 1418-1488. p. lx.
Kirsch, oj>. c i t .. p. 538; Flick, oj>. cit.. I, pp.
97-104; Cameron, oj*. cit.. p. xiv.
of Obligationes et Solutiones is, indeed, a chapter in the
history of papal centralisation.”2^
And as Dr. Flick
succinctly states the matter:
The history of the servitia. is the history of the
moral degeneration of the Papal court, and higher
clergy. These taxes also plhyed an important economic
and industrial role. When the reform councils sought
to abolish the annates and the servitia it was found
to be extremely difficult, because it involved both a
complete change in the goernment and law of the Church
and a reorganization of the Papal court; and that was
too big an undertaking.
Not the curia alone but all
the higher foundations of the bishoprics and abbeys
were involved.25
It was in the financial interest of the Curia to
make as many reservations of benefices as possible, because
its income was augmented in two ways:
(I) by increasing the
opportunities of the popes to collect the servitia and
the annates, and (2 ) by appropriating the entire income of
benefices during the period of reservation*
We have
already seen the political effects of this papal movement
in regard to the loss of freedom of capitular election and
the struggle of the Scottish Crown to enjoy the temporalities
during the vacancy of a see.
Furthermore, enough examples
have been given previously (from Dr. Dowden and the Calendar
of Papal Letters2 ^) to show how the pope was providing more
2^ Cameron, ojd. cit. p. xiv.
Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church. I, p. 104.
Ibid.. I, p. 111.
Cf. Chapt.II, pp. 22-24.
and more appointees to Scottish monastic posts.
A study
of the Qbligationes et Solutiones confirms this trend towards
making consistorial benefices of the abbeys.
On November
14, 1466, the Pope provided Henry Abercrombie to Cambuskenneth;28
on May 28, 1468, the "future abbot" of Jedburgh offered
66 2/3 florins through his procurator for his post;
May 17, 1471, Robert, the abbot of Melrose offered through
his procurator the sum of 1980 florins;
and on March 19,
1478, the abbot of Dryburgh offered 150 florins.3-*- The
importance of these particular obligations lies in the fact
that they represent the first occasion when the monasteries
of Cambuskenneth, Jedburgh, Melrose, and Dryburgh were
provided in consistory.
The Curia could only calculate the amount of the
common service upon the assessed valuation*of the monastery
in question.
There had already been made an assessment in
1275 (Bagimont’s Roll), compiled for the purpose of
collecting tithes for the Crusades.
It was in the interest
of the Curia to try to effect an even higher evaluation of
monasteries and other benefices if possible.
But the
Obligationes et Solutiones (a division of Dr.
Apostolic Camera and Scottish Benefices). pp. 58-59.
.Ibid., p. 63.
Ibid., p. 6 6 .
Ibid.. p. 74.
Scottish Parliament, complaining in 1471 of the inestimable
damage caused by the taking of money out of the realm through
benefice-hunters "quhilkis were neuer at the courte of Rome
of before,"
demanded not only free election in the abbeys,
etc,, but:
* . . that nane of our Soveraine Lordis lieges, Spirituall
nor Temporall, thke upon them to be Collectours to the
sege o f .Rome, of na higher nor greater taxation of
Bishopprickes, Abbacies, Priories, Provestries, nor
uther benefices, that awe taxation, bot as the use and
custome of auld taxation hea bene of befoir, or the
auld taxation of Bagimont. ^
But the temptation was still too great for candidates
at Rome, and in 1493 another act had to be passed confirming
the above on pain of a spiritual violator being "unable to
bruik that benefice" and temporal violators "to tine their
life and gudes."®^
Commissions were sent to investigate the true financial
state of Scottish monasteries in the following years: Scone
( 1 4 2 1 ) Newbattle (1422);®^ in 1444, the true valuation of
this latter abbey was brought back (after a lapse of over
\ 36
twenty years);
In 1447, the problem was again up regarding
the true status of S c o n e . M e a n w h i l e ,
in 1445, due to
32 Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 56-57.
■Ibid., fol. 84-85.
Obligationes et Solutiones. p. 3.
35 Ibid., p. 4.
Ibid.. p. 32:- Piversa Cameralia. pp. 320-21.
^ Oblig* st S o l . . p. 39; Piversa Cameralia« pp.322-23*
doubts, as to the monastery’s true tax, the Bishop of Glasgow
was:asked to report on the value of Paisley within SO months.
And, in 1449, the Bishops of Glasgow and Dunkeld were to
report on the true value of Arbroath (Aberbrothoe).
Enquiries were likewise made into the revenues of Culross
(1437), Balmerino (1438), and Kinloss (1439).40
It is interesting to note that on August 6 , 1445, the
tax of the monastery of Newbattle was reduced.
possibility that this is an indication of poverty is fully
discussed in a later chapter.)
At any rate, it was scarcely
in the interest of the Curia to reduce taxation on a large
scale, although it seems likely that the Scottish benefices
(like those of other countries) stood in need of drastic
re-valuation in the first half of the fifteenth century.
No general revaluation was effected, and it is
interesting, moreover, to note that after 1449 these
registers contain no further references to commissions
of investigation.
When the valuation of Caithness of
Caithness was reduced by a half in 1484, it was done in
secret consistory at the will and mandate of the Pope .42
There is no doubt that the monasteries at this time
were involved in growing financial difficulties; yet, because
the Curia was intent upon exacting as huge sums as possible
38 Piversa Cameralia. p. 531.
39 Ibid.. pp. 323-24.
Oblig. et Sol., pp. 25, 24, 24.
41 Ibid., p. 32.
Cameron, "Introduction.M Apostolic Camera.etc..
p. xivi.
from prospective office-holders, not only were the ahbeys
not revaluated, hut sums were given for benefices far in
excess of Bagimont’s Roll— as attested by &cta of Parliament*
Furthermore, there is evidence of the punishment
inflicted by the Curia on those who failed to pay their
On May 5, 1481, David Boys, monk, is obliged
Difrri Annatarum for the annates of the Priory of
Pluscardine (L70 sterling), void by the death of the former
prior Thomas Foster (Frostrar).
Bat in Piversa Cameralia
for November 15, 1482, one finds Boys excommunicated for
non-payment of his annates.
"For several months he had
de facto underlain this sentence and still underlies it
with an obdurate mind, unlawfully taking up the fruits
Hd was to be publicly proclaimed excommunicated
everywhere until he made full satisfaction of the sum of
87^- florins due to Philip & So. (Bruges m e r c h a n t s ) . ^
Incidentally, this example also shows how completely the
Curia had fallen into the hands of private bankers when,
in the last analysis, the excommunication is being imposed
for their sake.
In concluding this brief study of the general relation-
Libri Annatarum. p. 202.
^ Piversa Cameralia. pp. 331-32.
45 _
L o c . cit.
ship between the Curia and the monastic establishments, one
does well to remember that money was flovdng from the abbeys
to Rome for a multitude of reasons:
the provision of
prelates, dispensations for defeots of birth and canonical
age, union of benefices, commends, pluralities, personal
honours, expectations (anticipatory grants of ecclesiastical
benefices, not vacant at the time— "a species of ecclesi­
astical gambling, in which each 1expectant* took a risk on
the life of a holder of a benefice and on the lives of other
•expectants* ahead of him.**^), etc.
From 1418 to 1488 the
Obligationes et Solutiones contain some 168 specific items
pertaining to Scottish monasteries and priories, the Libri
Annatarum some 106 items, the Libri Q,ui11anciarum 57 items,
Introitus et Exitus 75 items, Obligationes Particulares 9
items, and Piversa Cameralia 27 items.
While many of these
entries are inter-related, nevertheless in 70 years there
are approximately 442 distinct references in the Registers
of the Apostolic Camera to Scottish monastic benefices.
In addition, the Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rom e .
1418-1422 has in the vicinity of 145 items which have a
direct bearing on Scottish monasteries.
Yet again, the
Calendars of Papal Petitions and Letters have scores of
Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church. I, p. 117.
^ The writer has made a list of all transactions in
the above-named works pertaining to Scottish abbeys.
figures are not to be taken as absolute, but they are
approximately exact enough for an enumeration here.
references to provisions, pensions, union of benefices, and
orders to bishops, abbot^ and priors,
From all this, it
is not difficult to appreciate the grip in which the abbeys
(like all other Church institutions) were held by the
Curia in the fifteenth century, itself entangled in the
meshes of an all-powerful private banking system,
There can
be little doubt that the economic abuses of the papacy
contributed in no small measure to the economic decline of
the Scottish monasteries*
The relations of the monasteries and the Scottish
bishops had important economic ramifications also.
problems in particular can be cited here as making for
conflicts between the episcopate and the abbey:
and visitations, commends (to be treated in the following
chapter), and the monastic control of parish churches*
Ordinarily, the monastery was under the jurisdiction
of the bishop in whose diocese it was situated.
to a judgment by Innocent III concerning visitations, it
was declared ”that a monastery is subject to its diocesan
4 .0
unless it can prove exemption.”
(In the fifteenth centuyy,
the census was an annual payment made to the Apostolic Camera
by reason of exemption in perpetuity fiom ordinary jurisdiction*)
By the thirteenth century the Orders of Cluny, Citeaux, and
48 C* R. Cheney, Episcopal Visitation of Monasteries
in the Thirteenth Century, p. 46*
Premontre were all removed from the jurisdiction of
diocesans; furthermore, Orders which were founded from this
time on nearly always enjoyed similar exemption.
11But even
in the great Orders the origin is obscure,”4,9
Elsewhere is discussed the purpose and value of the
visitation system by which the bishop enquired into the
state of affairs of the monastery for the purpose of
What is of importance to consider here centres
about the procuration fee.
The most permanent feature of the visitation system
and the most fruitful cause of corruption and dispute
was the procuration fee.
The word "procuratis" was
used to denote the hospitality which a house owed to
a visitor, or the fee which it paid in lieu of
Procuration^was indeed exacted in
certain circumstances when no visitation had been made.
Even an economical bishop had to spend a large amount
oh* the upkeep of his establishment of clerks and
servahts during visitation.
He was entitled, therefore,
to exact a fee from each religious house, as well as
from the parishes, which he visited: "quia qui seminat
spiritualia metere debet carnalia.5 0
But abuses crept into the system.
Prelates obtained
permission to visit by deputy and the right was given of
receiving pecuniary procurations.
Again, where priories
(and even larger houses) lay close together, bishops would
hurry to visit more than one on the same day, making profit
possible, but adequate visitation examination impossible.
Cheney, ojd. c i t .. p. 38.
50 Ibid..
p. 104.
Eventually, Boniface VIII decreed that "non liceat
visitant! nisi unam procurationem recipere una die sive
unam locum visitaverit, sive plura,"5*1* but the abuse
Finally, the monks resented all visitation on
general principle.'
"Visitation was a mark of authority,
procuration was a tax:
these facts made bishop and
regular antagonistic.”5^
For October 2 1 , 1418, one finds Walter Stewart, arch­
deacon of St. Andrews asking for an indult for life to
visit monasteries and receive procurations; the pope agreed
("Fiat ut petitur").
On May 22, 1419, Cupar monastery
supplicates that it wants advowson regarding the parish
churches of MaciInear and Fossoway ratified,mentioning
procuration amounts in both cases, stating regarding
Fossoway that it needs one-fourth of the fruits for its
On August 4, 1419, the Bishop of
Bunkeld, "sexagenarian and beyond," says that he cannot
travel over his mountainous and perilous diocese and he
wants his procurator "to receive the entire procurations as
if for a personal visit."55
On August 21 of the same year,
the Bishop of St. Andrews asked to be able to make up to 10
K “|
Cheney, o£. cit.. p. 120.
52 i k l c U , p. 118.
Calendar of Scottish Supplications. 1418-1488. p. 17.
54 Ibid.. pp. 49-51.
Ibid. , p. 99.
visitations per day56— a far cry from the injunctions of
Benefice VIII#
And in 1456, the Bishop of Dunkeld was
granted an indult for five years to visit by deputy the
churches and monasteries in his diocese in order to receive
procurations (once a year only), in m o n e y # ^
The Curia— for financial reasons (such as the selling
of indults)--was countenancing>the bishops in their
procuration abuses;
at the same time, it aided the abbeys
(also for financial reasons, according to Cheney
exemption from episcopal jurisdiction#
) to win
In this last regard,
Dr# Cameron points out how Holyrood was granted exemption in
1470 "from all ordinary jurisdiction,”
the monastery then
being at odds with "the unpopular Bishop of St# Andrews.
A quite notorious quarrel between Walter, abbot of Arbroath,
and Henry, Bishop of St# Andrews, resulted in the monastery
winning exemption (for one year only) from the jurisdiction
of the ordinary#
On January 20, 1420, Arbroath asked to
be rid of the "cupidity” of the bishop in all matters
pertaining to jurisdiction, law, censure, visitation etc#,
and to be immediately subject to the Roman See#
This was
Scott. Supplic..
p. 107*
Calendar of Papal Letters. XI, pp. 268-69.
Cheney, ojd# c i t ., p# 52#
59 Cameron, "Introduction,” Scott* Benefices.lxxxil.160#
^ C a l * of Papal Letters. VII, p. 170.
granted, Mdurlng litigation.”
However, on April 15 of the
same year, the monks complained that papal exemption has done
them little good, because the Bishop of St. Andrews "is a
man of such character that he does not rule, but is ruled,
and that by indiscreet and wicked men, as is manifestly
evident by experience.”
Therefore, between the Bishop and
Abbot there seems little possibility that ”love and friend­
ship are likely to be perfected between them, but he will
always seek ways and means of injuring the Abbot and
On December 17, 1421, while the suit between
Arbroath and St. Andrews is still pending undecided in the
Curia, a compromise is arranged so that the monastery shall
pay procurations "according to the moderate disposition and
tax of the Lateran Council and the Extravagant beginning
Vas Electionis.”62
John Benale, the Prior of Pluscardine, in 1455/56
complained that Bishop John of Ross took possession and
detained (as does his successor Thomas) -divers fruits and
other goods belonging to the Priory of Urquhart (now united
to Pluscardine) on account of the parish church of Dingwale,
lawfully united to Urquhart.
The pope wants the problem
63* G a l , of Scott. Supplic.. p. 187.
62 Ibid., pp. 276-77.
Gal* of Papal Letters. XI, p. 288.
That the relations between bishop and monastery were
not always too happy can again be proved from a perusal of
the Calendars of Papal Registers:
right of presentation);64
Inchmahome in 1431 (over
Scone in 1445 and 1450 (over
commend of bishop, problem of intrusion, and grant of pension^
Arbroath in 1454 (over the granting of a parish church by
the convent to the bishop);
Lindores in 1456 ,(over right
of presentation);
and Arbroath in 1461-65 (over charges
of neglect of parish churches on the part of the monks).
One can close this account of bishop-monk differences
by quoting an example that occurred at the close of the
One finds that Robert Shaw, appointed abbot of
Paisley in 1498, had to resist the claims of his diocesan#
Robert, Archbishop of Glasgow, had for some reason
seized the fruits of several of the Abbey's churches,
and the rents of some
of its lands. He had also
refused the monks "letters"of justice*' against certain
individuals who were refusing to pay them tithes, and
had in other ways injuriously interfered with the
property of the brethren, and disregarded their rights
as members of the Order of Clugny.
In his distress
the Abbot appealed to the Pope, and on 14th August,
1500, his appeal was taken before William Steward,
Notary Public, in the
Chapel of St. Mirin. The result
of this appeal is not
known; but the probability is that
the decision was in favour of the Abbot, and that the
privileges of his Order were again upheld.69
64 Gal; of Papal Letters. VIII, p. £03#
Ibid.. VIII, p. 303; X, pp. 499-500, 296, 350-51#
6 Ibid.. X, pp. 167-68.
Ibid., XI, p. S8 8 .
68 Ibid., XI, pp. 306-07, 441-42, 643-45, 665-68.
W.M.Metcalfe, ed., Charters and Documents relating
to the Burgh of Paisley (1165^1665) . p. Ixii.
If the above examples have tended to show diocesan regard to his nominal jurisdiction over the
monasteries (and it must always be remembered that all
supplications to Home usually tell only one side of the
story— and a side highly coloured at that), the next abuse
must be laid primarily at the door of the religious houses*
It concerns the manipulating of parishes in one way or
another for the financial gain of the monks*
According to Dr* Dowden, the parochial system— the
division of the country into districts, each assigned to
the charge of a priest— f,is an outcome of Anglo-Norman
influence in the early part of the twelfth century.”
With the growth of monastic orders, the founder or patron of
the parish would frequently make over his rights to the
When he transferred the whole revenues of the
parish to the monks on condition that they would provide
fov the spiritual ministrations, this transfer represented
the conveyance of the parish to the monks ill -pronrios usus*
At other times, the monasteries only received the advowson,
or right of patronage, whereby the monks simply had the
right of presenting to the bishop ”a fit person who, when
instituted, was entitled to enjoy the entire revenue of the
Dowden, 5?he Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 112.
71 Xbid., p. 116.
When the monastery held the parish in proprios u s u s .
it was the duty of the bishop in whose diocese the church
was situated to see that the priest appointed received a
decent maintenance*
The bishop instituted this priest, who,
when once appointed, was irremovable except by legal process
in ecclesiastical courts*
vicar” of the parish.
Hence he was called the ’’perpetual
Meanwhile, the monastery had the
right to present the vicar, retaining for itself the rights
of "rector";
the maintenance of the vicar was decided upon
by an agreement reached between the two parties, with the
concurrence and assent of the bishop*
The evil arose from the temptation on the part of the
monastery to appoint a man who would take as little as
possible for his services, thus leaving the rest to the
addition of the monastic ineome*
And as the bishop found it
to his interest to champion the vicar, nsuch efforts on his
part contributed not a little to the strained relations, or
open antagonism, that we find frequently subsisting between the bishops and the monasteries."*^
There were other evils*
often illiterate.
The poorly paid vicar was
He might be below proper canonical age,
as the following example indicates.
In 1430, the pope
The "rector" (parson) held the parochial benefice;
the vicar (from "vicarious”— "substitute") was appointed by
the cathedral or monastery to minister to its needs.
John Dowden, "Introduction," Chartulary of Lindores
Abbey, p. xlv.
gave a mandate to the Bishop of Aberdeen to collate and
assign to John de Invernys the perpetual vicarage of Inverness,
the advowson of which belongs by ancient custom to Arbroath,
but the collation to which lapsed to the Apostolic see by
long voidance.
The Bishop is to remove David Senescalli
♦ * • who has detained possession for a year and a
half, having been, when in or about his fifteenth
year and having no canonical dispensation, presented
by abbot Walter (who reserved a certain part of the
fruits etc* to himself and who is also to be
summoned) and instituted by the said bishop; • . •
Again, the monastery often delayed in supplying a
vicar so that it might receive the whole revenues for
itself as long as possible.
In 1207 Innocent III directed
the Bishop of St. Andrews to put fit persons into parish
churches when the religious houses "wilfully neglect to
present to him chaplains or clerks within the canonical
75 __
limit of time after the occurrence of a vacancy.”
although checks had been attempted as early as this time,
the practice of delaying presentation was an abuse about
which the parishioners complained bitterly against the
Where the monasteries had only the right of
patronage, and the ”fit person” once instituted enjoyed the
entire revenue of the parish, they still all too often
of Papal Letters. VIII, p . 154.
Dowden, The Medieval Church. p. 115.
bargained with their presentee for an annual payment to
be made by him to the convent for having chosen him*
It was lawful, under certain conditions, for the
holder of a benefioe to give as security in consideration
of an advance of money a claim on the fruits of the
benefice for a limited number of years.
This practice was
frowned upon, while in the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries the farming out to a layman of benefices was
absolutely forbidden, a practice which unfortunately
continued, as the Provincial synods of 1549 and 1552 show.
On the other hand,
It must, however, be admitted that the letting of
rectorial tithes by monasteries, in the case of
appropriate churches situated in places remote from the
monasteries possessing them, might be of real utility
to the monasteries and of no disadvantage to the
parish, if the transaction were conducted in a fair
The real evil lay in the original appropriation
of parish churches, and the diverting of revenues
bestowed for one purpose to another and totally different
purpose. What is chiefly condemned by the late and
reforming Councils of the sixteenth century is the
leasing for long periods of church lands and teinds on
very favourable terms to the relations or friends of
ecclesiastics in power to the detriment of the Church.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the leasing
of their parish churches to laymen was the all but
universal practice.of the monasteries, as is shown
abundantly by the monastic chartularies,
. . . the vicarage as well as the rectory was let to lay
persons with only the provision that a small pensio
should be paid to a priest for the maintenance of the
services and the care of the parish.77
Dowden, The Medieval Church. p. 116.
Ibid., p. 136.
Quarrels arose between the vicar and the monastery
over money matters.
A' late fourteenth century example
will demonstrate this fact.
The Abbot of Paisley being old,
he had his coadjutor, William de Cheshelme,
The latter was
very active in resisting those vicars who served the
monastery’s churches and who wanted to increase their
stipends, with the result that
. . . . the Chapter authorized Cheshelme to try and induce
them to be contented with their bare legal stipends, and,
in the event of his succeeding, gave him leave to keep
what had been paid in excess for his own use, in return
for his trouble and expense in negotiating the business,
any statutes and customs of their Order to the contrary
This was quite at variance with their
vows and the customs and statutes of their Order, yet
in 1388 they boldly and shamelessly set this whole
business down in their grant to Cheshelme, and affixed
the seal of the Chapter to it.78
In 1403, Cambuskenneth told the vicar of Kinnoull
he must be contented with his annual fee of L20.
In 1419
Inchcolm made out a summons against the vicar of the parish
church of Gramond "regarding forty shillings due the
monastery annually from that vicarage;" in 1427 the same
controversy is raging.
And in 1441-42, Arbroath proceeded
against John de Invernes, because, although the convent from
time immemorial has possessed the right of taking certain
tithes in the parish of Inverness "called Easter, money
Chart. and P o o , relating to Paisley Burgh. p. xlii.
Registrum Monasterii de Cambuskenneth. pp.256, 233*
Charters of the Abbey of Inchcolm. pp. 41-46, 52-54,
159; also cf. pp. 51-52, 170 regarding controversy between
bishop and monastery over union of vicargge of Palgety.
(financiis paschalibus), which the perpetual vicar receives
from the profits of merchants and artisans, nevertheless
John de Invernes, perpetual vicar of the said church, wrong­
fully claiming the said right, despoiled them of it, intruded
himself and took and is still in possession of the said tithes.
(The papal auditor eventually gave a verdict in favour of the
monastery, removed John, and condemned him in costs, and,
although he appealed, the judgment was upheld.)
One writer has summarized the abuses of the monastic
control of parishes as follows:
(1) The monasteries were tempted to make as much money
out of the parishes as possible.
Illiterate vicars were all too often appointed.
Appointments were delayed as long as possible.
(4) Neighbouring parishes were united so as to be served
by the same vicar.
(5) A bargain would be made with the vicar (when monks
had the advowson) on his appointment for an annual
(6) "Latterly, it became a common practice to farm out
parish churches to laymen, without making any provision
for the supply of religious ordinances."82
Professor Coulton likewise points out that
One of the causes of decay was the custom, which was
■ regular also in Scotland, of saving the cost of a vicar
by setting canons from the monastery to act as rectors
C a l . of Papal Letters. IX, pp. 273-74.
John A. Duke, History of the Church of Scotland to
the Reformation, pp. 271-72.
of the appropriated ehurehes.
When Arbroath was founded, William the Lion conferred
on it 33 parish churches; Holyrood received 27 upon its
founding; Paisley possessed 29 in 1265; Kelso at an early
date had 37 parishes.
Furthermore, as time went on, more
and more parish churches were appropriated to the religious
houses until, by the early sixteenth century,.it has been
estimated that "more than two-thirds of the parish churches
of Scotland were in the hands of the monasteries.”84
Grant states that according to Professor Masson’s estimate,
” ’between 600 and 700 of all the 900 or 1000 parish churches
of Scotland had been annexed or appropriated to the larger
ecclesiastical establishments, leaving only about 260 as
independent parsonages.’”®®
While Professor Coulton feels
that these last figures may be somewhat exaggerated, ”it
seems certain that at least 50 per cent, of the Seottish
churches were appropriated, as against 30 per cent, or a
little more in England.”86
In 1471 Parliament demands
. . . that there be na unions nor annexations maid in
time to cum to Bishofiprickes, Abbacies nor Priories
of ony benefice: nor that na unions, nor annexations
Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social L i f e , p. 238.
8^ Dowden, Medieval Church, p. 114; Duke, cjd . ci t ..p.278.
88 Grant, S o c . and Boon. Development. p. 242.
86 Coulton, o£. cit. . p. 80*
maid now of lait, sen our Soveraine Lorde tuik the
Crowne, be of strength, value nor effect, nor be
suffered within the Realme, bot that the said benefices,
that were unite, be put againe to their first foundation,
to the place, that they were at, before the time of the
Andtthe said unions to be repute of na force,
strength nor effect in time cumming.®”
And those who disobeyed this law'were to be traitors
and ”never to bruik benefice, nor use worship within the
The Papal Registers have two items regarding the
effects of so much appropriation to the abbeys of parish
In 1450/51, the Pope, in a letter to the Bishop
of St. Andrews, has heard that
• . . very many secular benefices in the city and diocese
of St. Andrews have been united, or that papal mandates
have emanated for their union, to divers monasteries and
other religious places within and without the said city
and diocese, and few or no secular clerks of the said
city and diocese, inasmuch as they have no patrimony or
other goods for their maintenance in the schools, can
study in the faculty of theology or other lawful
faculties, unless they get help from secular benefices.# •
Therefore, he dissolves all such unions of secular benefices
and also of hospitals and regular benefices in the said city
and diocese which have not yet taken effect.
In 1456, the Pope learns that the same situation exists
in the diocese of Whiteherne.
Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 57.
of Papal Letters. X, p. 176.
Ibid.. XI, pp. 113-14.
Some idea of the evolution of monastic appropriations
during the fifteenth century, as well as a picture of
general monastery-parish church relations? can he gathered
from a perusal of the items listed below.
The list is by
no means complete; it simply represents examples of
appropriation, advowson, attempted dissolution of certain
unions, etc., based on available materials.
But the list
(set forth chronologically and itemized for the sake of
brevity and elimination of needless repetition) should
indicate the economic importance of the parish church to
the monastery.
Year Monastery
Parish______ Situation_____________Reference
1402 Lindores
1403 Cambuskenn. Kinnoull
1405 Cupar &
1409 Holyrood
Advowson; also in proprios
usus when the rector dies.
Vicar told he must be content
with annual fee of £*20, In
1405, papal bull directs
Bishop of St. Andrews to enquire
into situation: see if union
should take place, and assign
vicar competent portion.
Cupar to pay L10 to Cambus.for
patronage; Cambus. reserves to
self annual pension of £*10. s
Petitioner maintains monks used
fraud to get appropriation;
pension involved; union should
be dissolved.^3
90 Chartulary of Lindores« p. 294.
M o n , de Cambuskenneth« pp. 253, 236.
92 Ibid., pp. 139, 141.
Cal. of Papal Petitions. I, pp. 636-37#
Year Monastery
Parish______ Situation_____________Beference
1410 Tongland
1411 Beauly
Sannat &
Li swalt
1414 Lindores
1418 Melrose
1418 Holyrood
1419 Scone
St. Giles
1419 Arbroath
1419 Arbroath
1419 Kinloss
1419 Cupar
Confirmation of union of churches
— to be held for 40 years.
Monks accused of having held the
perpetual vicarage unlawfully
for 9 years.95
Wants appropriation, because
Lindores* buildings ruined &
rents diminished by "nearness
of wild Scots."95
Martin V confirms appropriation;
Melrose assigned pension to one
who claimed to have right in
church in order monks "might not
suffer vexation from him;" Wm.
Croyser wants union dissolved
"lest cure of souls.. .neglected.’*^
George Ker wants union dissolved
and church for self; says
simony took place (cf. $93)*
Monks ask confirmation of
advowson privilege; Edinburgh
officials want this (or union)
Monks declare it united; clerk
wants confirmation of revocation. 100
To be appropriated; "alleged vicar"
to receive "fitting yearly pension
for life"; monast. burned by
lightning and "put to great
expense by hospitality."101
Advowson ratified: "on account of
the wars which waging in those
Advowson ratified; involves
procuration amounts; wants union
"on account of poverty and
Papal Petitions. I, p. 595.
Ibid.I, pp. 596-97.
L bid.. I, p. 601; Chartulary Lindores. pp.294-95.
Gal, -of Papal Letters.VII. p.127; Scott.Supplic.. 6-7.
Scott. Supplic..1418-1422. pp. 7-8, 92-94, 131-32.
Ibid.. 30-31, 47-48.
100 Ibid.. pp. 46-47.
of Papal Letters. VII, pp. 144-45.
Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422. pp. 48-49, 58, 121, 127.
Year Monastery
destruction caused by wars"etc.
Secular priest says canon serves
parish but parishioners dis­
satisfied end want secular
priest; therefore union to be
revoked if possible; besides,-.-,
monastery wealthy enough now,
St. Andrews Inchture
Union granted because monastery
"falsely represented" need of
more churches to build wall to
protect it from sea; but "has no
need of a wall to resist the
billows and tempests, it is
perched on a lofty rock, and also
it has abundance of rents and
fruits and requires no union of
A protracted argument over union;
involves Bishop of Dunkeld who
intruded secular priest for 16
yeabs "to the no little loss of
the Abbot and convent, to whom
the presentation rightly belonged."
Pope order Abbot of Ihinfermline to
appropriate church if rightly
belonging to Inchcolm.10©
St.Cuthbert Parish wont to be ruled by canon
regular; void; two canons and
secular priest all want post.107
103 Cal. of Scott. Supplic..p p .49-51.57-58.99-100.101.
Ibid.. 81-82, 111-113. Holyrood’s possession was
revoked in 1419 by papal command, "Since the fruits and rents
of the monastery are sufficiently ample for the sustenation
of abbot and convent without this union, and since the
parishioners desire the cure of the vicarage to be served as
of old by a secular priest rather than by a regular, and since
such.unions (of parishes to monasteries) contain the seed of
wandering and of loosening of vows for the canons (of the
monasteries).” Vatican Beg. Supp. vol. 130, f.101(2). Por
still more litigation on the subject see Scott.S u p p ..280.507.
105 Ibid.. pp. 125-26.
Ibid.. pp. 115, 195, 212-15; Inchcolm Charters, pp.
xxvi, 51-52; dal, of Papal Letters. VII. p. 144.
— —
Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422. pp.202-03,216-17,218.
Year Monastery
1420 Cambuskenn. Clack­
1420 Cambuskenn. Kirkton
1421 Iona
Sorobie in
1425- Arbro ath
1429- Lindores
1433 Holyrood
1439— Kelso
Selkirk &
1443- St .Mary*s- St.Finioga
44 Iona
in Coll
1445-S t .Anthony Li st on
44 Hospital
1444- Coldingham Aldecambus
United to monastery; served by
"a temporal vicar, or more truly
a hireling.1' Parishioners want
union dissolved; monastery has.
abundant resources without it.
Union should be dissolved for -j q q
same reasons as above (#108).
Iona so collapsed and impover­
ished that f,it is sinking into
irreparable ruin" unless it
gets remedy; wants 3 perpetual
vicarages u n i t e d . H O
Monastery again asking for union
when void; in 1432 the union
seems to have taken place.111
Monastery wants confirmation of
appropriation; in 1438 united.112
A continuation of the struggle
over it; Henry of the monastery
is accused of having unlawfully
possessed Falkirk 8 years.1 ^
Monastery dilapidated by long
wars— wants union for repairs;
pope asks that life pensions to
be given 2 vicars who shall
Appropriated to nunnery;temporal
lord opposed union a n d 1took
fruits,saying he will do so
until provision made of fit
vicar etc.11**
Income slender; therefore pone
appropriates parish church.1-16
Monastery wants appropriation
of vicarage.
108 Scott. Supplic., 1418-1422, p. 212.
109 Ibid., p. 215.
H-8 Ibid.. pp. 271-72.
llbri Annatarum, pp. 9G, 105, 107.
Cal. of Papal Letters. VIII, pp.143-44; Libri
Annatarum, p. 121; Libri Qnittanciarum (1439) p. 233.
2 £ Papal Letters. VIII, pp. 491-92.
Ibid.. IX, pp.452-55.X.1 7 6 .510:L i b .A n n a t ..p.123.
Cal. of Papal Letters. IX, pp. 337-38.
Ibid., IX, pp. 405-06, 412.
11/ I b i d .. IX, pp. 471-72.
Year Monastery
1446 St.Anthony Halys
1448 Perth (Car­ Ettrick
1450 Kinloss
1450 Melrose
1450 Scone
1454 Dundrennan
1454 Holyrood
1459 Arbroath
1460 Fail
1462- Arbroath
Union by cession or d e c e a s e . H Q
Pope annuls appropriation of
St .Mary of the Forest parish
church— inhibits convent to
molest priest in any way.1 9
Pope confirms appropriation.^-2®
Melrose diminished in rents on
account of the wars; wants tj
appropriate Soltre Hospital.
Accusation that though vicarage
in past always assigned to
secular priest, Logy has been
detained for 16 years by Sconef^^
Balmacle3an Pope confirms appropriation.!23
Falkirk & Monastery wants confirmation of -^g^
appropriation;fears molestation.
Monastery wants appropriation on
account of heavy debts and ruin
of buildings "through the misgovernment and carelessness of
the abbots.n125
Hospital of Case where religious house so
Holy Irinity unclean and ruinous (thus it is
alleged) that it is to be united
to Hospital.126
Appropriated Monastery accused by Bishop of
Aberdeen of allowing its churches
in his diocese to be ruinous and
lacking in ornaments,etc., "on
account of the avarice of the
Libri Annatarum. p. 135.
®al * of Papal Letters. X, pp. 418-19.
120 Ibid., X, p. 466.
example of
Abbeys and
Ibid.. X , p. 501.
Ibid.. X, p. 504; (Coulton states that
this is an
wthe plainest illegality" in appropriation.Scottish
Social L ife, p. 84.)
C a l . of Papal Letters. X, p. 156.
124 Ibid.. X, p. 711.
125 Ibid..
XI, pp. 405-06.
^"2® Ibid.,
XI, p. 403; Libri Annatarum.
p. 139.
Year Monastery
religious who hold them and who
have little regard for them
except in the taking of their
fruits.” Arbroath states that
the fault lies with the vicars,
who refuse to repair churches.12"
Monks accused of neglecting
St.Andrews Haddiig£on
repair and furnishings.12®
St.Leonard Bull for King anent dissolution
of former union to monastery.129
Coldingham Chapel Royal Union of priory to Chapel;**the
of St .Mary Order in the said Priory being
suppressed with consent of those
whose interest it is, on cession
or decease of him who holds the
priory in title or commend or on
its dimission in whatsoever way,'«150
Union of priory to abbey.131
United ”in perpetuity” to Kelso:
pension to Wm. Sympi 1 1 ,clerk.3-52
Advowson granted to monks,which
Cambuskenn. Kippane
”had been out of the possession
of the Abbey for a long time
past.” Dispute with Bishop of
Sunhteha— compromise in 1511.133
Cal. of Papal Letters. XI, pp. 441-42, 643-45,
128 Coulton.
Scottish Abbeys and
Social Life. p. 88.
Libri Annatarum. p. 172.
130 Ibid..
p. 172.
131 Ibid., p. 183.
138 Ibid., p. 214.
B eg. M o n , de Cambuskenneth. pp. 168, 170, 174;
Registrum Magni ffigilli Regum Scotorum. Ho. 2306. (In this
particular problem, the convent asserted that Kippane
belonged to them by gift of patron when vacant (it was now
vacant); the Bishop and his chapter maintained that the
church was a canonry or prebend of Dunblane, and that the
rant of the King was of no avail under such circumstances,
compromise was finally reached whereby the vicarage, with
all fruits,etc., was erected into canonry, while convent
should have all the fruits of the rectory of Kippane.p.170)
When one comes to analyze the foregoing examples,
he sees how prominent a role the problem of union of benefices
plays (numbering the examples according to their reference
figure, unions are found in #94, 96, 97, 100, 101, 103, 106,
110, 111, 112, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 120, 121, 123, 124,
The reasons for the monasteries asking for unions are
often interesting:
Lindores seeks Creich because the abbey
is impoverished through the nearness "of the wild Seots";
Holyrood needs Kinghorn because of the heavy entertainment
expenses connected with the monastery’s situation in the
Arbroath wants to r.estore the vicarage of Monifieth
which had been destroyed by fire;
Iona asks for three
perpetual vicarages because the religious house "is collapsed
and impoverished due to long wars” ; and Arbroath wants Fyvie
because the buildings are ruinous "through the misgovernment
and carelessness of the abbots."
On the other hand, many examples can also be cited
regarding the petitioning for the dissolution of unions
between monasteries and benefices(#93, 97, 98, 100, 104, 105,
108, 109, 119, 129).
Unless Melrose gives up Magna Caveris,
the cure of souls will be neglected; Holyrood is charged with
simony in appropriating Kinghorn (the preceding paragraph
sets forth the monastery’s defence);
the parishioners of
Falkirk are supposed to be dissatisfied with the Holyrood
canon who serves them (besides, the monastery is wealthy
enough, according to the petitioning secular priest); St.
Andrews is charged with having "falsely represented” its
need of Inehture to build a wall as protection against the
sea ("it is perched on a lofty rock"); Clackmaimon wants its
own rector because Cambuskenneth has foisted upon it a
temporal vicar "or more truly a hireling"; while the
parishioners of Kirkton also want their union dissolved with
Cambuskenneth for like reasons.
Naturally, the party making
the foregoing accusations against the abbeys is intent upon
promoting his own cause.
Nevertheless, many of the charges
were unquestionably well substantiated.
The monks seek advowson in a number of cases (#90,
99, 103, 133).
There are examples of conflict between monks
and vicars (#91, 95, 122, 127), especially when the vicar of
Kinnoull is told by the monks of Cambuskenneth that he must
be satisfied with his annual fee; likewise, there are conflicts
between the monks and their bishops (#106, 127, 133), chiefly
over (1) patronage rights and (2) the appropriation by the
monastery of benefices on a large-scale— such as when the
Bishop of Aberdeen complained that a majority of churches in
his diocese had been appropriated by Benedictine houses, and
assailed the avaricious and negligent Arbroath monks "who hold
them and who have little regard for them except in the taking
of their fruits."
There are also cases of strife between
monasteries and secular priests (#104, 108, 109, 122).
priest alleges that the parish church of Logy had always in
the past "been assigned to a secular priest, but that it
had been detained for 16 years by the monks of Scone.
Conflicts between townspeople and monasteries are also
to be discerned (#99), as when Edinburgh attempts to have
the union with Scone broken that St. Giles might be made
into a collegiate church.
Examples of alleged monastic fraud and illegality
can be found (#95, 95, 105, 115, 122).
It is charged in
1409 that Holyrood obtained unlawfully a dispensation to
hold Kinghorn, and, of course, the charges against St.
Andrews in the matter of the building of a sea-wall are
eloquent enough.
The monasteries had relations with the laymen in
different ways.
In the words of D. E. Easson and Angus
The laity entered into relations with the monastery
in various capacities: as benefactors, ;L. e+ donors of
churches, lands, annual-rents, etc.;
as neighbouring
as tenants, or, later, tacksmen of its
and as parishioners of its appropriated churches*34
In some cases, such as Inehcolm, records seems to
indicate friendly relations between the monks and the
neighbouring lay proprietors; in other cases, however,
such as with Coldingham, the records "abound in instances of
D.E.Easson and Angus MacDonald, editors, Charters
of the Abbey of Inchcolm. pp. xxvii-viii.
attempted alienation and of aggression or violation of
immunities by adjoining lairds
The payment of tithes and the abusive methods of
collection sometimes invoked created many quarrels between
abbey and parishioners.
In the charters of Inchcolm for
1419, there are indications that the tenants of Kilrie
(then in the parish of Aberdour) had not paid their teinds
for the past twenty years.
From an outside source, we find that in 1484 the
monastery claimed arrears, amounting to L80 of the
teinds of Leslie, from the Earl of Rothes, and
litigation for the recovery of further arrears took
place in 1489.
It is perhaps significant that one of
the first steps taken, after the appointment of lames
Stewart as Coramendator, was the issue of a monition
commanding the payment to him of teinds from the
Abbey*s appropriated parish kirks.I36
Professor Coulton points out the quarrels that arose
over the method of collection known as "riding the teinds.”
This was done by a monastic official or servant, whose duty
was to ride out and calculate what proportion should be
contributed by each holding— ostensibly to guard against
But very often also— perhaps more often than not, in
the last days before the Reformation— there was not even
this amount of personal communication between the abbey
and its appropriated parish; the monks assigned the
tithes to a local middleman, who paid them a lump sum
and collected all he could get for himself.
In other
Easson and MacDonald, ojo, c i t .« p* xxix.
Ibid. , (Charter LXXV), p. xxxii.
words, we have here a revival of the Homan nublicanus.
This abuse crept in to some extent in all parts of
Europe, but nowhere, I think, so early or so completely
as into Scotland. It was bad enough in any case that
the principal parochial revenues should be diverted
from parish purposes; but it was even worse when they
were gathered by a mere hard-hearted middleman.137
Because this collection of tithes proved often
troublesome, the monks would farm them out to a "tacksman
of the teinds” for a single sum, allowing him to keep for
himself the moneys above that amount which he could exact.
It was against canon law to allow the farming of tithes to
laymen, but the cupidity of the popes permitted dispensations
to be purchased at Rome.
For fifteenth century examples:
We can trace the system pretty clearly following up
the Arbroath records.
In 1457, tithes were let pretty
evidently to a layman.
In 1471, the monks raised
money for a new dormitory by farming the tithes of
Inverness to the Bishop of Moray.
In 1475, four churches
were let to a burgess of Dundee, who advanced £50 straight
off "for a pure loan” as the document puts it. By 1485,
this was evidently the regular routine; at least forty
leases of this kind were made out in that one year, and
a considerable number in the next.
In some cases at
least, the lease was for seventeen years, and even to
This unusual number was connected with certain
debts to the Homan court, which necessitated a great
financial effort, and which seem to have been finally
paid by 1492.
Cupar, again, was frequently farming its
churches in the fifteenth century; a typical lease to
a layman may be found in its chartulary, vol. II, p . 204*
So, again, with Lindores (Chart, pp. 296, 299, 300). At
St Andrews, in the early sixteenth century, farming was
evidently the rule; Archbishop Forman’s Formulare contains
a formula for such leases and numerous instances are to
be found in the Copjale.^58
i 37
Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social L i f e , p. 92.
158 Ibid.. pp. 93-94.
The relations of tenant and monastic landlord are
also of interest.
Professor Coulton estimates Hthat it was
perhaps about 5 per cent, better to live on a monastic
than on a lay estate; and, for Scotland, I should be
disposed to put the difference at rather a higher figure.”^ 9
Serfdom had disappeared in Scotland earlier than in Ingland;
and such dues as heriot or mortuary or merchet were ”far
less evident” in the former country.
Furthermore, the
monks were freed in large measure from rendering feudal
services in return for their donations of land, although,
as Dr. Davidson points out in his Grants of Land to the
Scottish Church (pp. 165-67):
”There was one duty, however,
for which not even Churchmen and their lands were exempted;
viz., the supplying of men to the k i n g ’s army for defence
of the country in case of invasion.”
The peasant had to pay his monastic landlord for the
letter’s control of the mortuary, the marriage-fine, the
mi 11-monopoly,14:0 and the salt-pan monopoly.
In these
respects, the monks were as strict feudal landlords as the
But in the matter of tenancy itself, there was
greater leniency shown by the monks to their peasants.
those farmers who had resided long on the land, or their
Coulton, o£. c i t .. p. 124.
For examples of mill monopolies (together with
their frequent controversies) c f . Chart. and D o c . relating to
Burgh of Paisley, p. liii, Edinburgh Burgh Hecords. pp. 5556, Dowden,”Introduction,” Lindores.p. Ixxxv, Inchcolm Chart.,
p p . xxx-xxxi.
ancestors before them, and who could bear the obligations,
the term was given of "kindly tenants,"
The exact meaning
of the phrase is obscure, as is the knowledge of these
"kindly tenants" prior to the Wars of Independence,3*41
But if it was better to be under'a monastic rather
than a lay landlord, it does not follow that the monks
sacrificed their economic interests and became philanthropic,
"Monks, like others, put eviction-clauses and distraintclauses into their leases; and it is arbitrary to assume
that such clauses were never enforced,"
There is a
clear case of eviction in the fifteenth century which
Professor Hannay has brought to light.
In the first
volume of the printed Acts of Parliament (i. 192), he
Almost the last item in this book is "The Process
maid in the lordis the Prioris and the Gonventis of
the Cathedrall kirk of Sanctandrois courtis in the
caus movit be thaime aganis Wilzame Ramsay pretendit
tenent of thair landis of the Newmyll and the corne
mull therof begunnin 23 October 1471.3*43
The case was concluded by September 12, 1472, but
Ramsay, finding the prior’s bailie-court not to his liking,
took out an action against the priory officials in the
summer of 1473 in the high court of Parliament.
parliamentary committee on civil cases heard both parties.
141 Grant, S o c . and B e o n . Develop.etc.. p. 248.
3-42 Coulton, o£. c i t .. p. 140.
3-43 r #k . Hannay, "A fifteenth Century Eviction,"
Scottish Historical Review. 1924, XXII, p. 198.
Alas, there was to be no redress.
The Lords
Auditors found ”na wrangwis occupacion, inquietacion
nor distrublance to the said William,” and Richard Lamb
should ”brouke and joys the tak” granted by Prior
William according to its terms and conditions.*1* ^
There are other examples of disputes between monks
and laymen over lands.
In the reign of lames X there is a
quarrel between Paisley and a certain Godfrey Nisbet
regarding the lands of Achinhoss in the Barony of Renfrew;
finally Nisbet was ”moved by his conscience,” fell from his
* i 4 _k
pleas, and the judgment was given in favour of the Abbot.
In 1419, Inchcolm summoned the following who had detained
possessions of the abbey:
Sir William Hay of Loehorwart
regarding the land of Caldsyde, with the annual rent of the
mill of Loehorwart;
(the tenants of Kilrie regarding the
teind of Kilrie for the past twenty years); Gregory Logan
regarding a piece of land within the lordship of Restalrig;
the millers of the mill of Lundy regarding fifteen shillings
annual rent of the mill, owing for the past thirty years.
And in 1482, there is a case between Kilwinning and Robert
Montgomery and others ”for wrangwise distructioune and
dovnecastin of the fosse and dikis of the loch callit
Lochbrand pertenyng to the sadis abbot and convent.”
1 47
Ibid.. p. 198.
Chart, and D o e . relating to Burgh of Paisley, p. 70.
1^6 Charters of Inchcolm. n. 159.
Collections Towards a History of the Monastery of
Kilwinning, pp. 174-75 (in Acta DominorumHSiditorum. p.l04T~
During the period at hand, an innovation was coming
into prominence in regard to land tenure— the feu--distinct
from feudal fiefs and the longer or very short fiefs*
This new tenure, the feu-holding, is peculiar to
Scotland. Apart from legal technicalities regarding the
degree of possession, the essence of feu-holding is
that it is a heritable tenure, granted in return for a
fixed and single rent and for certain casualties— it is
therefore unlike the pure feudal conception of the
tenure of land (such as a typical wardholding), where
occupation is permitted in return for services and
with far greater and more uncertain casualties.
also varies from the leasehold system, not only in the
actual degree to which the land is possessed, but also
because, under the latter, land is only granted for a
limited and specified period.14^
Pure feu-holdings, apart from the burghs, first came
into use in the fourteenth c e n t u r y . I n
the middle of
the fifteenth century feuing came into operation upon
Crown lands, for we find an act of parliament passed in
1457 approving the development of feufarm ”on grounds of
national policy."
James IV. was the first to promote a general policy
of feuing to the smaller men, with invitations to the
churchmen which made no mention of Canon Law.
In many
Crown lands, by authority of parliament, tenants
obtained heritable right, while the King levied annual
duties higher than the former leasehold rents, and
stipulated for reasonable considerations which, as found
money, were useful in the building of his fleet.
The kirklands were not seriously affected by the
148 G.rant t Economic Hi story of Scotland. p. 60.
149 QTdLiit, Soc. and Econ. Develop, .e t c ., p. 265.
Ibid., p. 266.
royal example.
During the minority of James V . ,however,
things began to c h a n g e . ^ l
James IV had obtained permission from parliament to
feu his proper lands because ”It was thought that security of
tenure would promote wealth, and that military strength
would be greatly increased.”
This same parliament (15031504) encouraged churchmen to follow suit; but canon law
regarded perpetual emphytensis as alienation.
However, the
growing secular spirit among the ecclesiastics "tended to
produce a development along the lines of what was considered
a national policy.”
Later (1556) ”it was officially stated
that alienation of kirklands began to be a serious abuse in
the period immediately after Flodden*”^ 5®
Dr. Grant points out that the growing financial
weakness of the Church aided the process.
the churchmen were in a better position to grant permanent
occupation of land than the barons because they did not
have such need of military service, on the one hand, while
on the other they constantly required money, especially for
their heavy expenses at Rome in connection with litigation.
The Roman authorities realized that ”any considerable
change from tenure by renewable lease to heritable possession
R.K.Hannay, ”A Study in Reformation History,”
Scottish Historical Review. 1925, XXIII, p. 30.
R.K.Hannay, ”0n the Church Lands at the Reformation,
Scottish Historical Review. 1919, XVI, p. 53.
165 Loc. cit.
Grant, Economic History of Scotland, p. 62,
155 Grant 9 go c . and JElcon. Develop..etc.. p. 266.
at a fixed duty would free the tenant from ecclesiastical
Yet the needs of national policy together
with immediate financial advantages over-balanced papal
apprehensions *
Strictly speaking, this matter of feu-farming becomes
a very serious problem after Flodden and hence does not
belong to our particular period. But there are one or two
allusions to what appears to be church feuing in the
fifteenth century in the following examples.
On December 10, 1412, the abbot and convent of
Cambuskenneth set part of their property in feu-farm in
return for annual rent— ”if John or his heirs wished to sell
or alienate the tenement, the Abbot and his convent should
obtain it in preference to all others, and at a lower price.”157
That such practices on the part of Cambuskenneth had
not yet obtained papal sanction can be found in a bull dated
June 4, 1435, from Bugenius IV to the Bishop of Dunblane,
stating that the abbot and convent had granted tiends, lands,
houses, privileges, towns, fishings, woods, mills, rents, etc.,
belonging to the Abbey
• * • to certain clergy and laymen, to some in liferent,
to some on'long lease, and to others for ever, in farm
or for an annual payment, to the great injury of the
abbey, and charging the Bishop to revoke all such grants
Hannay.”0n the Church Lands,e t c ., ” p. 55.
1 57
Reg. M o n , de Cambuskenneth. p. 298.
as he should find to have been illegally made.I88
In a supplication in 1419, an Arbroath monk accuses
Abbot Walter Paniter of bad administration; among the many
misdeeds allegedly committed by the abbot, "he feued,
dilapidated and prodigally alienated” ecclesiastical lands,
"capriciously setting in feu farm for life some of the lands
of the said monastery, remitting the tithes of other lands
and fermes of grain and flour, pocketing great sums,"etc*I59
The Papal Registers for 1432 and 1443 show that the
abbot of Arbroath ("John") and his convent granted to the
late Walter de Tullach and his wife Agnes "on a perpetual
lease, in return for a yearly cess in corn and money*
* •
and (to) the said Walter’s heirs and successor^ all the land
commonly called Tullach and Crachy," etc.l**8
this grant confirmed in 1432;
The heir wants
in 1443 the convent maintains
that "the said contract, convention, grant and alienation
were without force,"
and that the heir has intruded himself*
In 1447 the pope annuls grants of land and goods made
by Scone "to some in perpetuity to farm" to the abbey% "great
h u r t ."162
jn 1454 the abbot of Holyrood asks to be absolved
from perjury on account of the oaths he was "compelled to
158 Ibid., p* 55.
Scott. Supplic. .1418-1422. p. 18.
Cal* of Papal Letters. VIII, pp. 405-06.
Ibid.. IX, pp. 385-86.
162 Ibid.. X, pp. 350-51.
swear"to observe a number of contracts with divers persons,”
ecclesiastical and secular, ”in regard to a number of lands,
tithes, rights and other things belonging to the monastery,
whereby it has been enormously injured;” and which oaths he
1 e»z
now wants revoked.
The custom of granting leases of tithes and lands
became more and more prevalent as the time elapsed.
It was, implicitly, a counsel of despair, due to the
financial exigencies which followed the falling-off of
benefactions to the monasteries; and its growing
prevalence made the ultimate dissolution of the monasteries
inevitable and irremediable, for it led to the virtual
and then to the actual alienation of monastic possessions
and resources.^64
The relations between monks and townspeople were not
always of the most cordial nature.
In 1400 there was a
difference between the burgesses of Ayr and the Friars
Preachers over an alleged infringement of the latter*s
economic rights.
In 1406, the matter was decided in favour
of the Dominicans.***66
At the end of the century a quarrel
arose between Cambuskenneth and the authorities of Stirling
over fishing.areas which the monks maintained were their
private property and which they accused the townsmen of
having interfered with for some 25 years.**'66
The struggle
Cal. of Papal Letters. 2, p. 711.
■**6^ Easson and MacDonald/’Introduction, ” Inchcolm.xxxi.
Charters of the Friars Preachers of A y r , p. xxv.
Reg. M o n , de Cambuskenneth. p.289; Chart. Burgh
Stirling, pp. 57-58, 66-68.
between Renfrew and the men of Paisley, the convent's
tenants, in 1488-1495 over the levying of tolls and customs
takes on an exditing aspect, with forays, destruction of
the stones for the "merket croce," and suits and countersuits.167
Having briefly discussed the relations of a general
economic nature which existed between the monasteries and
(1) the Romah Curia,
(2) the bishops,
the appropriated churches,
(5) the clergy of
(4) the laity both in and
outside monastic jurisdiction, and (5} the townspeople,
we can examine now some of the specific abuses connected
with the internal administration of the abbeys.
Chart, and D o c . relating to Burgh of Paisley.
pp. xlvii; for struggle between Paisley and Renfrew, cf.
pp. 59-52; regarding erection of Paisley into a Free Burgh
of Barony, cf. Registrum Magni Sjgilli. No. 1768.
One of the most flagrant administrative evils was the
so-called commendam system*
And in this respect Professor
Coulton maintains:
Scotland suffered perhaps more than any country in
Europe from the so-called commendam system, by which
the pope granted a rich abbey, or even a number of
houses, to some absentee noble who scarcely deigned to
perform priestly duties anywhere, and whose main relations
with his titular abbey were to swallow nearly all the
revenues, leaving the monks to get on as best they
could upon a narrow allowance which was not always even
paid with regularity*^
Ian C. Hannah, in his Christian Monasticism. believes
that on the Continent the path of suppression was greatly
shaped by the "iniquitous system of commendatory abbots;
that is, granting the headship to a man whose only interest
was the pocketing of the abbatial revenues,"
He goes on
to state that this system began "as early as the sixth or
seventh century and gradually increased so as to threaten to
undermine the whole monastic system."®
The words of John
Major can be repeated also at this point:
Behold then here what may happen to religion from the
possession of great wealthj
By open flattery do the
worthless sons of our nobility get the governance of
G. G. Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social L i f e . p. 100*
Ian C. Hannah, Christian Monasticism. p. 245.
® Loc. cit.
convents in commendam— the wealth of these foundations
is set before them like a mark before a poor bowman—
and they covet these ample revenues, not for the good
help that they thence might render to their brethren,
but solely for the high position that these places offer,
that they may have the direction of them and out of
them may have the chance to fill their own pockets* . . .
An abbot once grown wealthy has to find sustenance for a
disorderly,court, of followers— an evil example to the
religious. . . . He may have brought ruin on the farmertenants of the convent by raising their rents for the
benefit of his own purse, and yet think— but therein he
greatly errs--that he has acted rightly. . . . Let them
(the monks) reckon an abbot who becomes his own landsteward to have taken upon himself a function far removed
indeed from the practice of true religion, just as,
among the apostles, the office of Judas as keeper of the
purse was found to be more full of peril than another.
Duties such as these are to be undertaken by men of the
most approved integrity only.4
The practice of bestowing benefices in commendam. i.e.,
in trust or stewardship, had originally been a temporary
expedient necessary for administrative purposes and the
collection of revenues during a vacancy.
Then the system had been carried a step further, and
a favourite ecclesiastic was given a plurality of livings,
or the income of a poor living was augmented by such a
grant and it was made for the life of the holder. . . .
The institution was then yet further abused, and
ecclesiastical appointments were conferred on laymen of
position and family.
Three of James V*s natural sons
were given valuable benefices whilst they were still
The powerful family of Hamilton was able to
place two scions in the abbacies of Paisley and Arbroath*
So glaring did the evil become, that wof the twenty
abbots and priors that sat in the Parliament that
effected the Reformation fourteen were commendators.
^ John Major, A History of Greater Britain. (1521),
pp. 136-58.
5 I. F. Grant, The Social and Economic Development of
Scotland before 1603. pp. 222-23.
Our first commend am example demonstrates two factors
of importance which should not be overlooked:
the numerous
occasions when bishops were given commends, and the misuse
of hospitals throughout the century (a problem diseussed
fully in a following chapter).
In 1415, William Stephani
is to be appointed to the see of Orkney; he asks for a
license to hold the Hospital of Edirhame iii commendam for
a year after he obtains the bishopric.
("Granted” ).
1424 the claustral prior is allowed to hold his post for
two years in commend am at Jedburgh.
In 1450/51 the prior
of St. Mary's Isle is granted a chapel in commendam together
with his post.®
In 1454/35 occurs a quarrel at Paisley
over the right of one of the monks to keep two certain parish
churches (formerly belonging to the abbatial mensa of
Paisley), granted to him for life In commendam.
In 1435
the Bishop of Bethlehem in a litigation suit showed that he
been granted the Hospital of St.
In 1444 there
Germains in commendam. ^
is more trouble at Paisley, the abbot maintain­
ing (in regard to the gift of two parish churches in commendam
to a monk in 1454/55), "the buildings of the said monastery
are so m u c h ’collapsed that it is doubtful whether it can be
6 G a l , of Papal Petitions. I, p. 604.
7 Gal, of Papal Letters. VII, pp. 370, 458.
8 Ibid., VIII, p. 391.
9 Ib-ld., VIII, p. 493.
10 Ibid.. VIII, p. 567.
repaired in a lifetime, and that the
prejudicial to the
monastery and
said commenda is very
itsabbot,”e t c .
1443 the pope granted to James, Bishop of Dunkeld, the
monastery of Scone ”in commend am for life to him, a nephew
of the late James,
king of Scots . .
• void by the resignation
made t6 the bishop
Henry and admitted by the pope, of abbot
Adam, during whose abbotship it was specially reserved by
the pope;n at the same time, the pope orders William Stury out,
who was elected by the convent and who thus "unlawfully
detains possession” ; the convent is charged to obey the
(In 1445 the bishop is having trouble with his
post, for a certain monk of Scone, George Gardiner, "had
himself intruded by certain enemies of the said bishop*” )
In 1454 the pope reserved to Thomas of Livingstone,
”Episcopus Dunkeldensis in Universali Ecelesia,” in commendam
the first Cistercian house to become void in Scotland; Thomas
has no cathedral church, nor enough ecclesiastical fruits to
keep up the episcopal dignity; and he shall keep his commend
until he obtains possession of the administration of a
cathedral church.
In 1456 Cupar belongs to the bishop in
commendam: he also was in charge of the parish church of
11 Cal, of Papal Letters. JX, 417, 421, 432, 435.
12 Ibid.. VIII, pp. 270, 303.
Ibid.. X, pp. 257-58; cf. also Rental Book of the
Cistercian Abbey of Cupar-A h g u s . I, pp. 83-84.
10 2
Kirkinner in Wigtownshire.
Seeing that, as the pope has learned, so many parish
churches, wont to be governed by secular clerks, have
been united in perpetuity to monasteries and other
regular places of the said diocese of Whiteherne that
few now remain to be collated to such secular clerks,
that the said bishop can easily support himself and
becomingly keep up his state for the fruits etc. of
the said monastery, worth about 1500 gold florins of
the camera a year, that it has been ordained by royal
authority in favour of churches in Scotland that the
obtaining of such commende in prejudice of the said
churches ought not to be granted, and that the said
ehurch of Kyrkynner is distant a hundred miles from
the said monastery and is without a rector, the pope
hereby revokes and annuls, motu proprio. the said
commenda of Kirkynner.
The king intervened on behalf of Livingstone, however,
for the latter was his private confessor and counsellor; and
in 1460 the papal annulment was cancelled.
”To all appear­
ance, Livingstone enjoyed the fruits of this rectory, valued
at about L400 a year in modern currency, all the tlme.”*^
On September 22, 1465, Lochleven’s prior obliged
himself for the annates of the Priory of May, "void by death
. . . of late James Bishop of St. Andrews, commendator of
the priory."-1-6
And in a quarrel back in 1450/51 between May
and the Cistercian nunnery of Clichot
(rectius Elichot)
over the tithes of the parish of Rynde, it is brought out
that the Bishop of St* Andrews at that time holds May.
14Cal. of Papal Letters, XI, pp, 114-14; cf. also pp.
379-81, 418-19.
•^Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social L ife, p. 85.
•^Libri Annatarum, p. 150.
Cal. of Papal Letters, X, p. 469.
In 1461, it is charged that Coldingham is so
dilapidated that it now possesses only 2 monks, and that
the prior (a monk of Durham) should he removed; the pope
replies that if the above charges are true, the priory is
to he granted to Patrick Home, archdeacon of Teviotdale, in
When Henry Crichton was given charge of Paisley, he
was directed, under pain of excommunication, to pay a pension
of 300 gold florins out of the revenues to a Venetian
When Crichton was "fairly settled" in his post,
he declined to keep paying this pension; thereupon he was
excommunicated, and in 1466 the monastery was "confirmed as
a commend for life to Bishop of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In 1469, however, Crichton appears to have made his peace
Home, for he was provided to the abbacy again?1 He
"proved an energetic and skilful ruler."^2
On April 8 , 1473, Arbroath was given as a commend by
Sixtus IV to Patrick, archbishop of St. Andrews.
primate offered 500 florins by reason of the said
administration "for 5 years and then at the pleasure of the
Apostolic See."
On August 4, 1473, he also obliged
1® Cal. of Papal Letters. XI. pp. 425-26.
Chart, and Doc. relating to Burgh Paisley, p.xlv.
^ Obligationes et Solutiones.p.57; L i b . Annat..p.153.
et S o l ..p. 65.
Qkart. and D o e .relating to Burgh Paisley, p. xlv.
Qblig. et S o l ..pp.67-68; L i b .A n n a t . . p. 175.
himself or the annates of the Priory of Pittenweem, "formerly
united for life to episcopal mensa of St, Andrews.
In 1477, regarding the preceptorship of Fail, mention
is made of a provision in commendam.2^
In the same year,
quittance is granted to Bernard Calam for payment of 60
florins for the annates of the Priory of St. Severin O.S.A.
(? St. S e r f ’s Lochleven) "by reason of commend♦"
In 1477,
also, quittance is granted to Walter Verson for 68 florins
paid for the annates of May "by reason of commend."
a similar reason occurs in 1479 for a priory (no name) in
St. Andrews diocese. °
On December 31, 1482, Andrew Luderdell, priest,
Glasgow diocese, offered through his procurator 150 florins
for the common services, by reason of the commend of
And in 1484 an item in Qbligationes et Solutiones
refers to the commendator of Jedburgh. v
The above examples are significant in that there are
seven occasions when bishops were commendators. two occasions
when hospitals were mentioned as commends, and once when
a commend was revoked as unnecessary.
One item also mentions
u. 175.
05 "
■■ Annatarum.
" ■"
■» ^
Ibid., p. 188, 191; Libri Q,uittanciarum. p. 250.
^ Libri Qnittanciarum. p. 250.
Op Ibid., ^p. 251.
J b i d . , p. 251.
29 Qblig. et Sol. . pp. 78-79.
50 Ibid., p. 83.
the impoverishing effects of commenda. while another remarks
about the prejudicial results to the secular clergy. . Still
another feature to note is the financial and social
importance of some of the monasteries held in commend am—
Scone, Paisley, Arbroath, Dryburgh, and Jedburgh.
In 1466
Parliament expressly forbade the purchase of ”commendes,f of
either secular or religious benefices, but to no avail.
The sixteenth century saw the commendam system express itself
in its most vicious aspects, but the fifteenth century
contributed a goodly share of reasons why this particular
abuse was so instrumental in monastic decline.
Closely allied withethe above evil was that of
pluralism, involving at the same time non-residence and
neglect of spiritual duties.
There is no other point, perhaps, on which Church
law is found to have been more persistently violated by
the Roman Court itself, and this in an increasing
ration in proportion as we draw nearer to the Reformation.
The problem was an old one.
In 1517 John XXII had
promulgated the constitution Execrabilis. aiming at
pluralities, and setting forth that if a beneficed priest
obtained a second benefice with cure, he must resign the
first within a month after obtaining peaceable possession of
the second, unless he had dispensation to hold two
Unfortunately, this admirable eon&Lttition
Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social Life, p. 88.
itself furnished cause for abuse, since many litigants and
applicants saw a chance of obtaining benefices by surrogation
when another party was deprived of one of his ecclesiastical
Many office-seekers sought churches void per
assecutionem— "that is, by obtaining possession of an
incompatible charge,"33
The Council of Constance sought to remedy the abuse
of pluralism, but its ultimate success (in the fifteenth
century alone) can be judged by the fact that on the
Continent "in at least one instance one prelate had twenty34
four livings with no duties to perform.”
Bishop Dowden
points out that canons of cathedrals, together with heads of
religious houses, were pluralists on a large-scale, for,
"with the help of papal dispensations . . , there was scarcely
any limit to the number of benefices that might be
17 C
accumulated on any one person.”
The examples cited below are merely indicative of the
presence of this abuse in fifteenth century monastic life*
In 1409, one petitioner to Rome (William de Conyngham)
is striving to have the "pretended union” between Holyrood
and Kinghorn annulled on the grounds that fraud was involved;
Lindsay and Cameron."Introduction."Scott.Supplic.xxii.
33 Cameron, ^Introduction," Apost. C a m e r a , e t c p . l x v i .
A.C,Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church. II,
pp. 109, 124, 245, 443—44.
John Dowden, Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 76.
if his charges are true, the petitioner wants the church
given to him, "who is dispensed so as to hold a plurality
of incompatible benefices."®6
In the struggle between Scone and Edinburgh over
the possible erection of St. Giles into a collegiate church,
another secular priest becomes involved.
Edward de Lawedre
hopes to become provost of the proposed collegiate church,
notwithstanding the fact that he already holds three posts
(and suffers defect of birth).
Men like de Lawedre were
very instrumental in helping to bring the Roman Church into
such disrepute at this time.
He later resigned his claim to
one parish church (Liston) from fear of being accused of
simony; he definitely accepted a bribe in another case; and,
as the editors of the Calendar of Scottish Supplications.
1418-1422 remark:
Throughout our Calendar he appears as an assiduous
benefice hunter, and in his early career, while he
"studied theology for five years and more at Paris"
(p. 25), he also had an eye to his own ecclesiastical
advancement. '
And in 1422, John Boumakar, who had been quarrelling
with Holyrood over the perpetual vicarage of Falkirk, asked
the pope for a dispensation to hold either Falkirk "or some
other incompatible ecclesiastical benefice, even if a dignity,
®6 Cal. of Papal Petitions. I. pp. 636-57.
Lindsay and Cameron, "Introduction," Scott. Supplic..
p. xxiv.
etc., with power of exchange as often as he pleases.”
These last three examples have all dealt with secular
priests— the first a self-seeking "informer,” the other two
assiduous benefice-hunters— and the litigation in which they
involved Scone and H o l y r o o d .reflected little credit on either
The next group of items deal with regulars seeking
incompatible benefices.
In November, 1421, a number of supplications mention
the destruction of Iona through "continuous wars.”
One monk,
Dominions Dominici, asked that, as he could not be "fittingly
sustained in the said monastery," he might be dispensed to
rule and govern a parish church.
In December, 1421, another
Iona monk, Fyngonius, supplicates that he also might be
dispensed to hold a parish church or perpetual vicarage.^®
Again, in December of that year, Dominions once more asks
that the pope "would dispense him to hold whatsoever
ecclesiastical benefice, even with cure of souls and wont to
be ruled by secular priests."
Cases of benefices void per assecutionem and the
subsequent profit to another benefice-seeker can be found in
the voidance of Coldingham in 1432 and St. M a r y ’s Isle in 1446.
° Scott. Supplic..1418-1432. pp. 307-08.
39 Ibid., pp. S 6 5 , 267-68.
Ibid., p. 272.
41 ---Ibid., pp. 275-76.
42 Itibri Annatarum. pp. 107, 134.
Professor Coulton has analyzed a case of 1447,
involving the vicarage of Selkirk, appropriated to Kelso,
to show how vicious pluralism could he in its ramifications.
The pope granted this prize to Robert de I.ander,
described" as a "bachelor of canon law and of noble birt^"
at the same time permitting him to hold three other
benefices amounting to about 1*17 sterling, and part of
a fourth amounting to £6 sterling.
In such cases, of
course, the parishioners knew that there not one man
only, but one man and one community sucking their tithes
before any sheaf came into the garner of the underpaid
priest who actually ministered to them— or who, it is
even possible, took scarcely more notice of them than
his betters did .4
Benefices were looked upon as single units.
disintegration was a serious result of the practice of
reserving pensions upon the fruits of a benefice.
device "was often found expedient to buy off the claims of
a rival by a division of the spoils."
The first two examples of pensions are not of an
ordinary nature, but they possess economic and historical
Coulton, S c o t t . Abbeys.e t c .. pp. 89-90 (quoting
from C a l . of Papal Letters. %.p. 310. "Cf. ibid. p . 539 (1451),
where the pope grants a dispensation to an applicant to hold
any two benefices with cure of souls, even if parish churches
or perpetual vicarages. To give an idea how common these
pluralistic dispensations w e r e , I subjoin a few references
picked up while I looked for other things: £>P«P«i, 34, 496,
541, 563, 568, 570; Patrick, Statutes, pp. 6 6 ? 6 8 ; Lanercofet
Chronicle, p. 107; Walcott, p. 10; Scotichronicon. II, 116;
Formulare of St Andrews, nos. 15-19 (ff. 14-17).” ” p. 90n).
Introduction,” Apostolic Camera and
Scottish Benefices. 1418-1488. p. Ixx.
In 1420, Thomas Puriok, canon regular of the
Cathedral Church of St. Andrews, supplicates for a life
pension of 40 marks.
With the consent of the prior and
convent, Thomas
. . . had caused certain coal seams in the lands of the
said Church to be prospected and mined at the substance
and expense of himself and his friends, even selling
his own patrimony, and had found them and had built a
house with a walled garden within the bounds of the
said monastery, the Prior and convent with the licence,
will and authority of Henry Bishop of St. Andrews made
an agreement with Thomas that he should recover his
expenses from the fruits, rents and profits of the
said coal seams as a first charge, and that if the
coal seams should bring in to the conventual house 1*40
of current money, he should have i»20, if 40 marks that
he should have 20 marks, by way of pension for life— for
eight yeats in schools where he wishes, and for the
rest of the time residing in his monastery Church, and
that he . . * might dwell for life in the house which
he had built with the garden; and they dispensed him
for the said period of eight years to dwell in the
schools and to study in any lawful faculty (as is con­
tained in the letters and instruments thereanent, which
he is ready to show)*
But— since the said Thomas, who
is &oved by love of possessions, and who ought to have
18 marks of like money yearly from the convent for his
sustenation in food and dress, seems likely to burden
the convent if he receive half of the yearly revenues
of the said coal seams,— he therefore supplicates that
the Pope, in place of his expenses, pension and
sustenation in food and clothing, would reserve to him
for life a pension of 40 similar marks from the lands
of new Grange of Drumearow which he now has to a certain
term: which reservation being made, he offers to remit
and renounce all the above expenses and other pensions;4'
This rather fascinating account proves (among other
matters) that the monk possessed private means and the
monastery was engaged in secular pursuits— both unlawful.
Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422, pp. 222-25.
In 1422, there is a supplication on behalf of
Alexander de Foulertoun, counsellor of the king and keeper
of the privy seal*
The king (James I) was at this time in
France, a prisoner of Henry V of England, and unable to
maintain Foulertoun.
Therefore the said King in the person of Alexander
supplicates that the Pope would grant him a pension of
£70 Scots (of which each pound equals four gold crowns
of France, or two gold nobles of England), from the
fruits of the pribry of St. Andrews, O.S.A. , and of the
monasteries of Dunfermelyn and Abirbrothoc, O.S.B*, St*
Andrews dioces, which were notably founded and endowed
by the progenitors of the said King . « *46
Examining chronologically the items of pension at
hand, one can see that they run the gamut of the fifteenth
Thus, in 1409, Holyrood is accused of fraud in
attempting to appropriate the church of Kinghorn by granting
to Walter Bel, then rector, "a yearly pension of £40 Scots,
upon which he resigned the said church,” e t c .^7
In 1418 thfee
pope imposed a yearly pension of 200 gold scudi upon the
fruits of the Priory of St* Andrews for ecclesiastics
designated by the pope.
When Melrose appropriated Magna
Caveris (confirmed in 1419), there is mentioned that the
monastery "assigned a certain yearly pension to one who
claimed to have a right in the said church, in order that
46 Ibid.. pp. 300-01.
4 ^ C a l . of Papal Petitions. I, pp. 636-37.
48 Ibid., I, pp. 608-09; 610-11.
they might not suffer vexation from him, which pension
they subsequently converted into a lump sum,"etc*
1419, also, if Arbroath appropriates Fyvie, John Grab,
"alleged vicar," ttis to receive from the abbot and convent
a fitting yearly pension for life from the fruits etc. of
the said church."
In 1426, after being appointed abbot
of Holyrood and having resigned the position, Henry de
Driden has a yearly pension of 1*30 of old sterling "to be
paid by the abbots for the time being," etc.
In 1431
the pope confirms the granting of a pension of 1*20 Scots
upon the tithes of the parish church of Inverness to Robert
Ingerami, priest of the diocese of Moray, "for his services."
The pension is for life.
(Arbroath is the monastery.)
There is an item of significance for 1443 at St.
The pope lately provided William Bonar to the
At the recent petition of David Ramesy, a canon of
the said monastery (containing that before the said
provision he went to great expense for the prosecution
of his election, which had been made by the ehapter or
a certain part of the canons, in transmitting the
election to the pope by an envoy etc.) the pope (to
whom the said David has this day given up all right in
or to the said priory) orders the above, seeing that
David desires to study, but possesses nothing beyond
49 Cal. of Papal Letters. VII, p. 127.
50 Xbld.. VII, pp. 144-45.
51 Ibid., VII, p. 454.
Ibid., VIII, p. 339.
his place as a canon, for which in absence he receives
nothing, receiving when resident his food and clothing
only, to grant and assign to him, whilst residing in
an university and studying in the faculty of theology,
a yearly pension of 100 gold florins of the camera
upon the fruits etc. of the priory, to be paid by the
said William and his successors for five years.
But William was evidently not very dispas ed to
granting David the pension for the latter’s education, for
in 1444 the pope ordained that any letters of assignment
of a yearly pension were null and void without the consent
of the person having right in the benefice, and, as William
did not consent to said assignment— and is not disposed to
do so— David is to show that William consented to the
said assignment, or the grant will be void.
Kelso in 1444 maintained that its buildings were
needing repairing, and for this purpose, it proposed to
appropriate two perpetual vicarages, stating that if pensions
were offered the two vicars, they would probably resign and
the appropriation could more quickly take place.
The pope
asked the abbot of Jedburgh to receive the resignations of
these vicars and to assign to each a yearly life pension.
"He is to see that there be no simony in the matter of the
said resignations.”55
In 1450-51 a quarrel arose over a pension at Arbroath
Cal. of Papal Letters. IX. 350-51; Lib. Annat.JL31-32.
Cal. of Papal Letters.. IX, 455-56.
55 Ibid.. IX, 452-53.
between the abbot and former abbot.
Walter Panter, after
ruling about 30 years, resigned, obtaining a yearly pension
on the fruits of the abbatial mensa as assigned by papal
Bichard G-uthre, clerk, was provided
In 1450/51 there is a reference to the fact that Walter is
receiving as his pension the tithes and fruits of the parish
church of Abernethy in the diocese of Dunblane.
But in 1451
Walter complains that Richard prevents him from obtaining
his pension; Bichard in turn complains that the pension is
excessive and illogical in that a decrepit monk should
without burden receive almost as much as the abbot who has
to bear all the burdens of the monastery.
(The pope commits
the matter to judges in those parts for investigation.)
In 1453/54, when the possibility of union between
Pluscardine and Urquhart was brought up, Andrew Haag, prior
of Pluscardine, proposed to resign in view of the possible
He was to receive a pension of il2j sterling.
1457 we find that Haag is receiving this pension,
with the usufract of a certain town and certain tithes and
courts belonging to it, and also food and clothing for him
and a servant.**^®
In 1459, the pope assigns a pension for life of 300
56 Cal. of Papal Letters. X. 167-
Ibid.. X, 253-54, 352-53.
58 Ibid.. XI, 330-31.
gold florins to Peter, cardinal priest of St, M a r k ’s, Venice;
the pension is to be paid by Paisley,
Deer in 1460 experienced trouble between William
(?Evyot) and David Bane over the abbacy.
Finally an agreement
was reached whereby David gave up all rights in William’s
favour in return for a yearly pension of 5*20 of the usual
money of Scotland "which amount to about £8 sterling,” to be
paid by William and his successors to David for life or
until the latter receives provision,
Dibri Ann at arum for this period (1460-1488) can
furnish many references to pensions.
At Inchcolm, when
the abbot John Kers retires in 1460, a pension is assigned
to him.
As the editors of the Charters of the Abbey of
Inchcolm point out in this regard, Kers is permitted to
"retire on an allowance or ’pension’ of i.40 Scots, drawn
from the revenues of the abbacy, while Michael Harwar
succeeds, as acting Abbot, to the proportionately diminished
These same editors also decry the entire
pension system, for it creates profitable sinecures, and
permits rivals to buy off resignations*
About the middle of the (fifteenth) century,
supplications.classed as "resignationcum pensione”
^ Qo-1 * of Papal Letters. XI, p. 388; (cf. p. 103).
60 I bid., XI, p. 585.
^ libri Annatarum, p. 139.
Easson and MacDonald, ’’Introduction,” Inchcolm.
p. xxxv.
become very frequent in Scotland.
The procedure is
for one collitigant to resign into the hands of the
Pope all right in or to a benefice in favour of his
Then the petition for the reservation of a
pension follows according to formula. .
On March 8 , 1471, William Lindesay obliged himself
for the annates of the priory of ^estennet* "formerly void
by resignation” of the last prior, James de D u n m a n . ^
on the same day there are a pair of bulls issued for this
same James de Dunman concerning a pension of 1/5 the fruits
of Eestinot.
In 1471, when George Shaw was provided to Paisley,
there was made a "reservation of a pension of 100 florins
upon the fruits of the said monastery, to be paid for life
by the said George to John Bradiadir (Blackader) clerk,
St. Andrews diocese.”6^
On March 6 , 1476, a bull is issued for Robert
Blackader regarding a pension of ISO marks of silver (Scots
money) on the fruits of Melrose, and also ”anent assignation
of lands and possessions of Hartsid” (St. Andrews diocese)
pertaining to Melrose (40 like marks) "on occasion of his
cession of above monastery at Apostolic See by bulls.”
This same Robert figures April 4, 1483,. when, as "Elect of
Ibid., p . xxxv.
Libri Annatarurn, p. 166.
■ Ibid.. p. 171: Obligationes et Solutiones, pp.66-67.
Libri Annatarum, p. 167.
67 J b i a * . p* 182•
Glasgow,” he obliges himself for the annates of annual
pensions— namely, of 160 marks Scots and 30 marks Scots—
reserved to him on the fruits of Melrose (and of the
precentorship of Dunkeld).
A straight -case of collusion is found for June 9,
1473, when John Walas obliged himself for the annates of an
annual pension of £.100 Scots assigned him on the fruits of
St. Andrews priory "on occasion of cession of suit and
cause anent said priory made by John at Apostolic See by
virtue of a certain concord between him and Prior of St.
On March 15, 1474, the pope provided James (rectius
Richard) to Melrose, void by resignation of John, "with the
reservation of a certain annual pension to the resignee, upon
the fruits of the said monastery."
On June 15, 1476, George Boys, abbot of Arbroath,
gives to Master Thomas ’Edname 1 the annual sum of 1.40 for
That same year, the pope provided George to the
7 2
abbacy, "void by resignation or in whatsoever other way.11'*
Another case of collusion is evident in the following
On April 3, 1477, James Doles, prje st, obliged himself
Bibri Annatarum, p. 205.
69 Ibid., p. 174, .
Qbligationes et Solutiones. p. 69.
^ Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum. No. 1242
Qbligationes et Solutiones. pp. 144, 145*
r ttr
for the annates of the preceptory of Fail*
On April 27
of the same year, John Mure (Order Friars Preachers) also
tried to obtain the above post*
Then, on February 17,
1478, one finds a pair of bulls issued to James Bole anent
an annual pension of 1*8 sterling on the fruits of Fail
”by reason of a certain concord."
On November 7, 1475, Alexander Ruch (canon of
Cambuskenneth) was obliged for the annates of Inchmahome.
Four years later (November 1 2 , 1479), there is a bull anent
"Extinetio pensionis" of 150 marks Scots to Ruch on the
fruits of the house "because Alexander dead before transmission
of b u l l * O n
September 15, 1480, there is a bull for Peter
Masson, priest, regarding an annual pension of £4 sterling
on this same monastery.
On June 15, 1481, the pope provided William Galbraith
to Kinloss,and admitted the resignation of abbot James
Guthrie— wa pension of i*16 sterling * • • being reserved to
the said resignee James, upon the fruits of the monastery.11
An interesting story is narrated by Ferrerius the chronicler
concerning this incident*
Guthrie had been appointed abbot
Libri Annatarum. p. 188*
74 Ibid., p. 188.
- 75 Ibid.. p. 191; (of. Coulton, Scott. Abbeys. p.228)
76 Ibid., p. 180.
77 Ibid., p. 201.
7 ft
Ibid.« p. 202; Qbligationes et Solutiones. p. 76.
of Kinloss on May 11, 1467.
Now, Ferrerius
. . , relates of the Abbot Guthry, that pretending old
age, he resigned his Abbey of Kinloss to William
Galbraith, sub-chanter (tsuccentor*) of Moray, according
to report, simoniacally, and "squeezed" from him a large
sum of money, in the hope of being made Abbot of Gupar,
where he had been formerly Cellarer; but it so turned
out that he was neither able to retain Kinloss, nor
obtain Gupar, in consequence of which he died of grief,
at Forfar, March 16, 1482-3. His attempt to be elected
Abbot of Cupar must have therefore been in 1480.
John Hedmonston was granted January 18, 1482, an
annual pension of 70 marks on the fruits of Inchmahome
Pluscardine at this time was also the scene of more
than one dubious financial transaction.
On May 5, 1481,
David Boys,HDnk, was obliged for the annates of the priory—
void by death of the former prior Thomas Foster.81
on August 20, 1483, Robert Harwar, Dunfermline monk, received
a pair of bulls granting him an annual pension of 1.9 sterling
on the fruits of Pluscardine "on occasion of a certain
Gases of pensions in connection with Dryburgh and
Kelso are to found for the years 1483 and 1485 respectively,
while the years 1483-86 mark rivalry and pension-bestowing
at St. Andrews.
And Melrose has a like problem in 1487.
Charles Rogers, editor, Cupar-A n g u s „ p. 87.
Obligationes Particulares. p. 307; L i b . Annat.. 204.
Q 2 I*Ibri Annat arum, p. 202.
83 Ibid., p. 208.
Ibid., pp. 209, 214.
85 Ibid.. pp. 206-07,216; Libri Quitt,257, Int.& Jhc., 297
Diverse Cameralia. 337-38, Introitus & Fxitus. p . 294.
A straight proof of collusion is to he found involved
in the pair of hulls issued for Hugh Douglas
(March 6, 1487)
regarding an annual pension of t40 Scots, reserved to him
on the fruits of Arbroath/ "because he withdrew and left
another in peaceable possession of said monastery.”8®
Cameron cites this last item as an obvious example of the
buying off of claims of some rival by a division of the
From the foregoing examples, it scarcely needs to be
repeated that pensions were a common matter in the fifteenth
Furthermore, with this particular weakness can
be found the evils of collusion, simony, cupidity,and strong
rivalry among benefice-hunters.
Certain monasteries and
priories seem to be represented to a marked degree: Arbroath,
Melrose, Kinloss, paisley, Kelso, St. Andrews, Pluscardine,
and Inchmahome,
When so much of the regulars1 time was taken
up with matters of pecuniary gain, it was humanly impossible
for the spiritual functions of the religious houses not to
suffer greatly.
With so much squabbling over the important monastic
administrative posts, it was inevitable that the corruption
and inefficiency attending the monasteries of the later Middle
86 kifori Annat arum, p. 217.
p . Ixxi.
Cameron, "Introduction,” Apost. Benefices.etc..
Ages should be laid in large measure to the governing of
houses by incapable and selfish abbots.
As Geoffrey
Baskerville says:
The right of the monks to share-in the administration
of the property of the house was ignored over and over
again by the abbot. He would bestow rich livings in
the gift of the house at his own discretion. Using his
seal of office, he would grant leases or annuities to
his friends or relatives, and many houses were sadly
crippled on this account.
He would pawn jewels and
plate at his own discretion.
His friends and relations
were apt to come and plant themselves in the monastery
itself and this caused further complications.88
In the examples to be cited in connection with
abbatial abuse, it must be pointed out that in our supplic­
ation and visitation examples we get only one side of the
To quote Baskerville again:
There were nearly always two parties in a house and
in passing judgment on its discipline it Is always
necessary to examine very closely the relations in which
the witnesses stood to the abbot.
Those who favoured
him naturally said that all was well under his rule£
those who opposed him, that nothing could be worse.
Sentamentalist writers are apt to lay exclusive stress
on the evidence of the abbot’s partisans, while
scavengers seize upon that of the grumblers.8 ^
Again the words of Major are appropriate here:
An abbot once grown wealthy has to find sustenance
for a disorderly court of followers— an evil example
to the religious; and not seldom, bidding farewell to
the cloister, (he) makes for the court. . . . the wealth
of an abbot . . . should not permit him to keep more
than one or two servants.90
G. Baskerville, English M o nks. etc., pp. 84-85.
Ibid., p. 84.
John Major, A History of Greater Britain, p. 156.
Abbatial abuse in connection with the commendam
system and pensions has already been demonstrated.
large sums paid by prospective abbots and priors for their
benefices show how financially advantageous they considered
these posts.
On three occasions when we can trace the Abbot of
Balmerino’s journeys on royal business, between 1408
and 1425, we find him travelling with twelve or twenty
horsemen when he goes alone, with fifty or fifty-four
when he travels with other commissioners.91
The following example shows how it was possible for
an abbot to alienate monastic property for his private uses,
as well as to commit other crimes.
On January 3, 1419,
Robert Lowmakar (Bowmaker) , monk of Arbroath, charged that
the monastery*s abbot, Walter Paniter, feued and alienated
monastic lands without the assent of the convent.
He was
also allegedly guilty of
, , . remitting the tithes of other lands a^dufermesuof
grain':andfflour, pocketing great sums, appropriating to
himself many emoluments pertaining to the said monastery
and extending to the sum of 2,000 or 3,000 crowns of
gold, or otherwise disponing the same at his judgment
and not to the utility of the said monastery, to its no
little scathe, to the violation of his oath, and infringe­
ment of the rule, customs and observances of the
Over and above, the said Abbot with some
adherents took the goods of a certain ship wrecked on the
sea-shore in those parts, carried them away furtively,
and converted them to his own wicked uses, on account of
which the temporal lords, being informed of the above
ayrime, caused the lands of the said monastery to be
placed in the hands of the King, for recovery of which
91 Coulton, Scott. A b b e y s .etc, (quoting from Balmerino
and its A b b e y , Edinburgh, 1867, pp. 102-03), p. 51.
and to redeem himself and his accomplices in that crime,
he paid £800 Scots from the goods of the said monastery
without the advice, will and consent of the convent, and
committed and perpetrated many other crimes and
delinquencies which turn to the no little scandal of
many, the prejudice §f'cthe monastery and danger of his
own soul, ^
It must he admitted that the above incident is
mentioned in no other Scottish record, according to the
editors of the Calendar of Scottish Supplications. 1418-1422
(p. 18) •
Nevertheless, it is known that Pariiter was busy
quarrelling with the Bishop of St, Andrews all this time,
and that his hands were by no means spotless.
A supplication dated May 22, 1419 states that the
former abbot of Cupar, John de Ketnos "on account of his
faults and demerits was deprived and removed by a definitive
sentence of the Father Abbot which passed in rem .iudicatam,”
In March 17, 1421, John Stelle (Stele) of Lindores
is accused of having unlawfully occupied his post, of being
a public concubinary, of having appointed intromitters or
bailies without counsel of the convent and of being unwilling
to dismiss "certain laymen, suspect to the convent” ;
having alienated possessions and goods of the monastery, and
of having imprisoned and persecuted certain of the monks*
92 Scott* Supplic.. etc*, pp* 17-19*
95 Ibid.. pp. 150, 18V.
Ibid.. p. 52.
Ibid*. p, 247 (for further information regarding
John Stele, cf. Chartulary of Lindores, pp. 308-09)*
On March 6, 1456, the pope suspended Patrick, abbot
of Holyrood, "on account of his infamy, now proven, in
dilapidating the goods, and for certain other causes;" and
he mandated Walter, abbot Xnchcolui, to administer Holyrood
during the suit, providing from the fruits for the
maintenance of the convent, "and for the expenses incurred
by John Kers, one of the canons, in the prosecution of
the cause,"etc.
Two weeks later, ¥/alter offers through
John Bowmaker 171 florins, etc., if the suit still undecided
leaves Walter in peaceable possession*
In- 1457-38, Patrick
maintains that he governed laudably but was removed because
of the informer’s (John Ker) story; that, when Bishop
Jordan, of Sabina, ordered the principals to appear, abbot
Walter proceeded against abbot Patrick and against the
convent of Holyrood "who refused to receive Walter as
later, John, before notary publics, resigned
his office of prosecution.
(Hie pope now summoned the abbots
of Cupar to investigate and to clear up the matter.)^®
in 1439, the pope, at the petition "of abbot Patrick and
the convent of Holyrood,"
directs William Groyser, archdeacon
of Teviotdale, to investigate all charges, and if the abbot
Ofcligationes et Solutiones. p.20; C a l . of Papal
Letters, VIII, p. 551.
^ Oblig. et Solut.. p. 20.
98 „
Cal. of Papal Letters. VIII, pp. 671-72.
and convent are innocent of the charges made against them,
he is "to annul the said processes and sentences, absolve
the convent and abbot from all sentences of excommunication
etc. incurred in virtue of the said processes, dispense them
on account of irregularity and rehabilitate them."
however, is to take an oath to be faithful and obedient to
the pope and Roman church.
The foregoing example is of interest in demonstrating
at least three important facts:. (1) abbot Patrick of Holyrood
may (or may not) have been guilty of misuse of his abbatial
(2) abbot Walter was unquestionably guilty of
seeking a more lucrative post (at the expense of his brother
abbot); and (5) the pope at this time is making use of
"informers"— an evil which is taken up in a later chapter.
There is another case of the "common informer" in the
following item.
In 1439, Henry Butoe, a monk of Cupar,
accuses John Fluter, the abbot of Kinloss, of publicly
keeping, and committing incest with, certain women, of
alienating monastic goods, and of being "guilty of divers
other crimes," etc.
The abbot is t© be deposed and the
informer given the post if these charges are true; if not,
"perpetual silence" is to be imposed on H e n r y . F r o m
99 Ibid.. VIII, p. 294.
100 Ibid.. VIII, p. 295; IX, p. 48.
Ferrerius* History of the Abbots of Kinloss we gather that
ultimately Fluter was deposed "on account of his unchaste
life,” and, that furthermore, "between 1401 and 1504, Kinloss
had three unchaste abbots, and the dependent abbey of
Gulross had two."^***
In 1443, more charges are brought-
against John by Henry the informer: that he caused a woman
to be branded on the face,,ffrom which she died,” has sat in
person on the judgement seat whilst a layman was being
condemned to death, has committed perjury, has returned to
"his wonted sin" and begotten offspring, has alienated sixty
oxen and cows, pawned a chalice for £*10 "of the usual money
of Scotland," "carried away almost all utensils from the
said monastery to southern parts, cunningly extorted from
certain monks of the said monastery, with whom it had been
deposited, and taken away with him, a sum of 300 gold crowns
of the mint of the king of Scotland belonging to the
monastery," and has committed "divers other excesses and
In 1443 the pope provided William de Bonaro prior of
St. Andrews.
The convent elected another man and accused
William of unworthiness.
The pope said he could not revoke
his provision (made on the recommendation of the King and
Coulton, Scott. Abbeys. etc., p. 221; regarding
the resignation of Fluter, cf. Oblig. et Solut.. p. 50.
C a l . of Papal Letters« IX, pp. 352-53*
the Bishop of St. Andrews); however, William must show that
the "charges made against him are based on calumny and not
on truth,” etc.
An example such as this proves the curse
-of provision.
The next example is valuable in showing the evils
attending the entrance of abbots "of noble race" who "entered
the monastery and made their profession not out of devotion
but for the sake of the administration of its goods."
Martin V., in his pontificate, having been informed by the
abbot and convent of Iona that a number of former abbots "ef
noble race" had kept concubines "also of noble
race," by
whom they had begotten offspring, and had made
grants to
these concubines and children from the goods of the monastery
"as if their own inheritance," ordered that in future "nobody
of noble race, of whatsoever dignity etc." from whose
reception scandal might probably follow, should by papal
letters be received or admitted in Iona.
In 1444 there is trouble over Fyngon Macfyngon "of
noble race," who is the son of "the late Fyngon, abbot of
the said monastery, of noble race, which abbot
Fyngon led
dissolute life, and dissipated and dilapidated
the goods of
the monastery by distributing them to his concubines and sons
and daughters."
The younger man is.also accused of being a
of Papal Letters. VIII, pp. 269-70.
"a public fornicator and a perjurer,” and of having
violently carried off certain goods belonging to the said
The pope decreed the abbot and convent shall
not be bound to receive Fyngon.
Despite the above experience of the danger of
"thrusting young Scottish nobles into this Benedictine abbey
which was struggling to free itself from the bad old tribal
in 1456, the pope gave a mandate whereby
John Macgilleoyn "of noble birth," dispensed by papal
authority as the son of a priest and an unmarried woman,"
must be received as a monk of Iona "notwithstanding that a
privilege was lately granted to the abbot by which it is
provided that no one of noble birth shall be received as
a moik thereof."-*-06
In 1446, Thomas Morton, minister of Fail, is accused
of dilapidating the house’s goods, of having six children
by his concubine, and of not keeping up the stipulated
number of friars for the services;
if these charges are
true, John Kendald, the informer, is to be given the post.
In 1447 the pope orders the abbot of Lindores to annul
the grants of alienation by the abbots (William Scury and
George' Gardenar) and convent of Scone "to its great hurt" of
Cal. of Papal Letters. IX, pp. .407-09.
Boulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., p. 226.
Cal. of Papal Letters. XI, p. 124.
Ibid.. IX, pp. 568-69*
. . . tithes, lands, houses, vineyards, possessions,
fruits, rents,- cesses, emoluments, meadows, pastures,
woods, mills, rights, Jurisdictions and other goods
of the monastery, to a number of clerks and laymen,
to some for life and to certain of them for a long
time, on lease, to others by divers titles and to
some in perpetuity to farm, or under yearly cess or
freely, or otherwise distracted them by
the title
of alleged donation, obligation or sale,some of whom
are said-to have obtained papal letters of confirmation
In 1450, the abbot of Arbroath is accused of having
bribed certain monks by promises of licence to transfer
themselves to a university.
In this same year, also, Henry Mason, a Balmerino
monk, accuses Richard Coventre (the abbot) that, in the
desire to be elected, he promised some of the monks gifts,
some favours, and otherw the licence to transfer themselves
to a university (like above); also, "not as a pastor but as
a devouring wolf,” he dilapidated the possessions of the'
abbey, converting them to the uses of "a certain concubine,
a married woman . . .
whom he has refused to repudiate,net:c.^
In 143/51, the Bishop of Moray removed William
Brynech from the priorship of Pluscardine "for his faults
and d e m e n t s . ”
Abbots were often guilty of aiding in a practice which
Cal. of Papal Letters. X, pp. 350-51.
Coulton. Scott. Abbeys etc.. p. 113.
Cal. of Papal Letters. X, pp. 508-09.
Ibid.. X, p. 466.
brought much harm to the internal administration of the
abbey— the practice of appointing influential laymen as
"bailiffs," "advocati,” etc., who were supposed to protect
the religious house in theory, but who only really desired
to make profit out of their posts.
Thus, in 1453, Thomas
(blank) was appointed abbot of Newbattle through the
influence of two nobles at the k i n g ’s court, promising in
return to Alexander Levynstoun, knight, ”a certain secular
office called the stewardship of the land of the monks of
the said monastery;"
Thomas now fears he has incurred
simony, and asks (and receives) papal dispensation for his
irregular conduct.
In 1456 the pope is informed by a Gupar monk, Robert
Clogstown, that David Orach, the Trinitarian minister of
Berwick promised one of the friars, Peter Stirling,
order to get the post) a moiety every year of the fruits
of the house, and made other unlawful alienations of house
The house is allegedly ruined on account both
of wars and the "occupations and illicit contracts of very
many past ministers," ete.-**-^
A papal letter concerning Deer in 1458 mentions that
Nicholas de Fores was deprived "for his faults and demerits.”
C a l . of Papal Letters. X, pp. 570-71; (Cf. Coulton,
Scott. Abbeys etc., p.256n re: the office of Bailie becoming
virtually hereditary, i.e., at Arbroath in 1485, etc.)
Cal. of Papal Letters. XX.pp. 47-48.
Ibid.. XI, p. 344.
In 1459, Arbroath maintains that it needs to
appropriate Pyvy, because, while the fruits of the abbey
were formerly abundantly sufficient,
. . . they have become so slight, through the misgovernment of the abbots, that they do not exceed
1.1,200 sterling a year, which are not enough for their
maintenance and burdens and the repair of the monastery,
the walls and buildings of which are very ruinous and
wasted, and for the payment of debts of 3,000 marks of
the money of Scotland,115
And in 1462, the pope has been "informed” that
Richard Robson, the abbot of Kelso, is a notorious fornicator,
dilapidator, and the buildings are so ruined that "whereas
thirty or forty religious and the abbot were able to be
maintained, at present only seventeen or eighteen priests
are there," etc,
(If these charges are true, Richard is to
be removed, and the informer, William Boncle, is to be
The next example, complicated and interesting, displays
not only the intense rivalry which often existed between
abbatial office-seekers, but also, as Professor Goulton
points out, exemplifies the fact that "the nobles had the
monasteries in their pocket even before the revolution
broke out," since "At all times there had been a natural
tendency for the lawless barons to find excuses for preying
C a l . of Papal Letters. XI, pp. 405-06.
Ibid. . XI, p. 445.
upon these wealthy foundations."13*7
Inchaffray is the
abbey involved; the dispute can be examined chronologically.
On July 10, 1458, Nicholas Fenhil (Fechil)* abbot
elect, offered 100 florins for his services, etc.
same day he received quittance for the amount*
months later (September 27, 1458), George Murray, "abbot,"
promised to pay 100 florins, etc. for the post.
following day (September 28, 1458), John de Corbera, scribe
in the Register of Supplications, wrote that Murray
• . . freely promised and took upon himself, under
pains, to pay back the common and little services and
all the rights of the Camera and College paid by
Nicholas Fenhil, his adversary, as soon as the said
George should obtain peaceable possession of the said
The next item is for April 6, 1463, when we find
that William (?de Hadington), "abbot of Inchaffray,”
promoted at Rome, has paid 52 florins, etc.
On April 14
of the same year he gets quittance for the sum.
And on
April 30, 1463, George Murray, " Inchaffray canon,” Is
appointed "chaplain of honour.
There are now three names involved in this abbatial
But on February 4, 1464, Pius II issues a commission
Coulton, ojd. c i t ., p. 252.
Ofrl-jLg* et Solut. ,p.
47; Introitus et Exitus, p. 274.
Oblig. et Solut., p. 47.
Ibid.. pp. 48-49.
Ibid., pp. 53-54; Int. ® E x i t ..279:0 b lig.P a r t .p.505.
Obli£. et Solut,.p. 54.
Piversa Cameralia. p. 326.
to dispose of the case raised on petition of George Murray*
The recent petition of George Mutray (rectius Murr a y ) ,
abbot of the Augustinian monastery of Inchaffray (Insule'
missarum^t in the diocese of Dunblane, contained that
although on the voidance thereof by the death of Abbot
John, the subprior and convent unanimously elected him,
then a professed monk thereof, in priest*s orders, 3. T #
B * , and of noble birth by both parents, and that although
he, consenting thereto, got himself confirmed by
authority of the ordinary, and in virtue of such election
and confirmation obtained possession of the rule and
administration, and that although the present pope has
by other letters confirmed the said election and
confirmation and has pro tuitiori (sic) cauthela ordered
provision to be made to him of the said monastery, never­
theless (after the late Nicholas Fechel, an alleged monk
of the monastery, with the support of lay power had
despoiled George of the rule and administration, and with
the inordinate favour of certain magnates of the realm of
Scotland had inspired George with such fear that, during
Nicholas’s lifetime, he dared not have the execution of
the said letters proceeded to and pursue his right etc.)
a certain William de Hadington, a monk of the said
monastery, after the death of the said despoiler, con­
tinuing the spoliation, notwithstanding that along with
the other monks he had elected George, intruded himself
with the support of lay power and by armed force, and by
inspiring them with fear of imprisonment got himself
elected by some of the monks; that although George
appealed to the apostolic see, and although the cause
was committed to the above auditor, and a citation decreed
by him, nevertheless the said William has, whilst the
appeal has been pending, in contempt of the apostolic see
violently plundered George of his rights and of the
muniments of his said election etc*, and has dilapidated
the goods of the monastery with a certain public concubine,
by whom he has had several offspring, still living, and,
having been for more than a year under sentence of the
greater excommunication, has taken part in divine offices
in contempt of the keyes*
The pope therefore, seeing
that alike the said election of William after his
intrusion and any provisions made to him by the pope or
by the p o p e ’s authority which do not mention the said
intrusion are without force, and that, if they were valid,
William has rendered himself unworthy of-all right
pertaining to him in the monastery and of its rule and
administration, orders the above auditor to proceed
further in the said cause, * . . and if he find them to
be true, to deprive and remove William from the rule and
administration and from all his right therein or thereto,
and in that event, or if by the result of the suit he
find that neither George nor William has any right, to
make to G-eorge provision of the said monastery, the
fruits etc* of which are taxed in the papal Camera at
100 gold florins of the Camera. and according to the
common valuation (of the tenth) were not wont to exceed
before the said dilapidation, as G-eorge alleges, a
yearly value of £.40 sterling, and at present hardly
amount to a value of £.30 sterling .124
On February 18, 1467, the pope removed and deprived
William "for certain reasonable causes," and provided
George Murray.3*25
florins, etc.
On April 15, 1467, George offered 100
On October 28, 1467, he paid 53 florins,
38 soldi, 7 pence.3-27
That same month he gets quittance.128
By this time, Nicholas Fenhil, of course, was dead,
Yfilliam had been deprived of his position, and George had
been provided to the post.
The issue seemed settled.
But we
find in the Charters of Inchaffray. for May 24, 1468, Paul II
issuing a commission to Berard, cardinal of S. Sabina, on
petition of George Murray, that, although the latter had
been provided to the monastery, "William and his complices
still held the abbey, George petitioned.
The Commissioner
is authorized to put George in possession."3-2^
From later
accounts elsewhere, it is known that George administered the
124 Ual «
125 Ofrlig.
126 Ibid.,
127 Oblig.
128 Ibid.,
Papal Letters. XI, p. 502.
et Solut. . p. 60.
p. 60; Charters of Inchaffray. p. 255.
et Solut. . p. 61.
p. 62.
129 charters of Inchaffray. p. 337.
monastery for many years.
In concluding the list of examples regarding abbatial
abuses, such as alienation and spoliation of monastic
property, inefficiency of management, simony, bribery,
collusion, rivalry and litigation among claimants, concubinage,
entrance of abbots of "noble race” for purely selfish
reasons, the
giving of important posts to laymen (for a
price), perjury, the appeal to lay nobles (also for a price)
for aid against rivals, transference for financial gain, etc.,
we can cite the expenditure by iirbroath of 3000 gold ducats
(c. 1499) in promoting the appointment of Abbot David
Lichtone, Clerk of the K i n g ’s Treasury
With such tremendous sums being expended for what
scarcely be called spiritual needs,
coupled with gross
inefficiency and selfishness in the administration of the
abbey’s internal affairs, it is little wonder that abbatial
abuses constituted one of the chief economic reasons for the
impoverishment of the monasteries, and made clear-thinking
writers like Major cry out in despair.
True enough, there
had been abbatial abuses in earlier centuries; also, the
fifteenth century witnessed the attempts by certain conscientious
abbots to restore some of the abbeys to solvency, and to improve
the financial, moral, and spiritual status of the monks in their
Charters of Inchaffray. p. 255.
Coulton, S c ott. Abbeys etc., p. 113.
But the whole trend was towards making political
footballs of the abbatial posts.
Could it be much wonder
that these commendators and litigous benefice-hunters fell
down in their spiritual duties?
In our introductory chapter, it was seen by the large
amount of enactments in the Statutes of the. Scottish Church
how prevalent was the moral laxity of the Scottish clergy,
not only in regard to matters of celibacy, but also in regard
to drunkenness, brawling, homicide, unbecoming wearing
attire, and irreverence.
This chapter will point out
further examples of clerical immorality that occurred in the
monasteries during the fifteenth century, without attempting
to try to prove that immorality was more prevalent at this
particular time than it was an earlier or later date.
Dr, Dowden points out:
Though statutes were again and again enacted and
again and again promulgated, forbidding the marriage
of the elergy, as a matter of fact the clergy of both
England and Scotland during the whole of the period
with which we are concerned (from the death of Malcolm
Canmore in 1093 to the ecclesiastical revolution of the
sixteenth century) were (in considerable numbers)
living with women either in a relationship scarcelv
distinguishable from marriage, or (less frequently)
associated with them in looser or more temporary
It is simply a matter of fact that for
the five hundred years with which we are dealing
enactment after enactment was launched by synods against
what were called "concubinary priests’1; and yet during
the whole of that time the priest’s concubine and the
priest’s children must have been familiar figures in
a large number of Scottish and English parishes.1
^ John Dowden, The Medieval Chur<h in Scotland,
pp, 309-10*
However prevalent sexual immorality may have been
in preceding centuries, there can be little doubt that
the fifteenth witnessed a growing hostility towards this
unhealthy situation.
For the general state of Church
morality was unfortunately at a very low level.
Flick has found examples where monasteries "had become stables
for clerks, or fortresses for fighting-men, or markets for
traders, or brothels for strumpets, in which the greatest
of crimes was to live without sin."**
The protests of
reformers were lost in popular approbation,
-Or, Lea points
out that early in the fifteenth century G-erson advised "an
organised system of concubinage as preferable to the
indiscriminate licentiousness which was everywhere prevalent."
Even more suggestive are the declarations of Nicholas
de Clamenges, Hector of the University of Paris and
Secretary of the anti-pope Benedict XXII. He does not
hesitate to say that the vices of the clergy were so
universal that those who adhered to the rule of chastity
were the objects of the most degrading and disgusting
suspicions, so little faith„was there in the possible
purity of any ecclesiastic.'5
Yet Hr. Flick is prompt to show that the conditions
of the age (as well as human nature itself) made it very
difficult for churchmen to remain true to their vows.
In criticizing the clergy for immorality, the fact
must be kept in mind that the general tone of Europe
A. C. Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church, II, p. 447*
Henry C. Lea, History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the
Christian Church, p. 328*
was very low and the temptations which beset the priest
were numerous.
In the first place, the dangers of war
and pestilence reduced the number of men so that the
average ratio was 10 men to IS women.
In Nuremberg in
1449 out of 2,168 persons 1,000 were men and 1,168
women, and a similar ratio was true for Basel in 1454.
In Frankfurt in 1385 the ratio was 1,000 men to 1,100
women. Moreover, the celibacy among men was far
greater than among women.
Thus Europe was left with! a
considerable surplus of women,, who could not be
accommodated with husbands under a strict system of
monogamy. . . . In an age when marital fidelity was not
very strong, on the part of both sexes, it is not
surprising that the priest was not true to his vow of
Scottish churchmen, according to Lea and Fleming,
were no more immoral than their brethren anywhere else in
But they were sufficiently notorious to furnish
ammunition to the verbal weapons of the Reformers.
Knox loses no opportunity of stigmatising the
"pestilent Papists and Masse-mongers" as "adulterers
and whoremasters,” who were thus perpetually held up
to the people for execration, while the individual
wrongs from which so many suffered were noised about
and made the subject of constantly increasing popular
indignation. Yet the abrogation of celibacy occupies
less space in the history of the Scottish Reformation
than in that of any other people who threw off the
allegiance to Rome.
Lea attributes this tiDsthe'^eomparativeoIatendss sof f
the introduction of the Reformed religion into Scotland and
the acceptance by that time of clerical marriage on the
part of all converts to the new faith.
Flick, op. c i t ., II, pp. 441-42.
Lea, op. cit.. p. 435; cf. also D. Hay Fleming,
"The Influence of the Reformation on Social and Cultured Life
in Scotland," Scottish Historical Review. XV, p. 2.
Lea, 0 £. c i t .. p. 435.
But perhaps the most damning proof of the existing
state of immorality among the pre-Eeformation Scottish
clergy is to be found in the writings of these churchmen
In 1549, when the clergy of the Old Church
realized the dangerous position they were in and how much
they stood in need of reform, a Provincial Council (it had
been moribund for nearly a century) was held at Edinburgh*
In the Prologue to the General Statutes of 1549 the
following important admission is made:
And whereas there appear to have been mainly two
causes and roots of evils which have stirred up among us
so great dissensions and occasions of heresies, to wit,
the corruption of morals and profane lewdness of life in
churchmen of almost all ranks, together with crass
ignorance of literature and of all the liberal arts— and
from these two sources principally spring many abuses:
this holy synod and provincial council has determined
to apply remedies and put a check on these mischiefs so
far as it can adequately to the exigency of the times*”
Sir David Lyndsay in his satirical poetry does not
deny that there are good and virtuous churchmen— though they
are very much in the minority according to his reckoning.
But when the Provincial Council admits that immorality is
one of the two main abuses in need of immediate reform, it
goes without saying that there is here a situation which
helped stimulate decline through all branches of the Church,
notoohly in the sixteenth century, but (as the many Statutes
vainly passed on the subject show) for aoperiod of some five
Statutes of the Scottish Church. p. 84.
hundred years preceding the Scottish Reformation*
A study of the supplications to Rome during the
years 1418-1422 soon convinces one that the monks were all
too often guilty of sexual immorality.
In a quarrel (1419)
between two monks of Dunfermline, one is charged by the
[email protected] "a public perjurer and eoncubinary, having offspring
alive,*1 etc.^
The next example is interesting, not only in showing
the immorality of a group of nuns, but in demonstrating the
decay of one priory and the destruction by fire (probably
in the Border wars of 1385) of Dryburgh monastery*
Lately, Walter erstwhile Bishop of St* Andrews—
considering that the monastery of Dryburgh, Premonstratensian order, St. Andrews diocese, had been devastated
by hostile fire; that its fruits, rents and profits
were so thin that they scarcely sufficed for the re­
building of the monastery and the sustenation of the
ministers; that the priory of nuns of Soutkerwick (South
Berwick), Cistercian order, said diocese (L20 sterling),
was so destroyed and collapsed that scarcely any traces
of the buildings remained, and that the only two nuns of
the priory had flung continence aside, neglected divine
service, and had followed vanities and snares, and that
the priory had long lacked divine services— with the
consent of the late Robert King of Scotland, patron and
founder, transferred and by ordinary authority granted
and united the priory with all and sundry its lands,
possessions, rights and pertinents to the monastery of
Dryburgh, reserving suitable portions for the said nuns
who were to be placed in other monasteries of the
Cistercian order*9
The union of the priory to the abbey had been confirmed
® Scott * Supplic* « 1418-1422. p* 25*
9 ^ b i d . , pp. 196-97*
by Bishop Ward law on March 8, 1410*
The monks now ask
Martin Y to confirm by apostolic authority all the fore♦
In 1421, John Stelle, abbot of Lindores, is accused
of "publicly keeping a concubine.”11
In 1443/44 at Iona
it is charged that a number of abbots had kept concubines,
had fathered offspring, and had alienated monastic property
for them.
In 1445, a canon of Holywood is charged with
keeping a woman.
In 1446, the minister of Fail is accused
of publicly keeping a concubine by whom he has six children.
In 1450, the abbot of Balmerino is allegedly guilty of
converting the possessions of the monastery to the uses of
”a certain concubine, a married woman” (whom he has refused
to repudiate.
In 1451, a Holyrood canon is charged with
being a concubinary (while keeping unlawfully the vicarage
of Blacat, Glasgow diocese).
In 1459, the entire house
of Fail is accused of uncleanliness of life, indecency, and
In 1461, an Arbroath informer maintains that
the prior of Fyvy is a fornicator,
while, in 1462, the
abbot of Kelso is also allegedly guilty of the same crime.
10 Ibid.. pp. 196-97.
11 Ibid.. pp. 246-48.
Gal. of Papal Letters. IX, pp. 407-09.
15 Ibid.. 32, p. 471.
14 Ibid.. IX, pp. 568-69.
Ibid.. X, pp. 508-09.
Ibid.. X,
p. 547.
17 Ibid., XI, p. 403.
18 Ibid.,? XI,
p. 424.
_ 7
Ibid. . XI, p. 445.
The literature of such Middle Soots poets as
Henryson, Dunbar, and others is also replete with allusions
to priestly incontinence.
Three poems by Dunbar, especially,
ttTydingis fra the Sessioun,” ”The Freiris of Berwik"
poem may not be from his p en), and ”A General Satyre” are
pungent in their satirical condemnation of the sexual
irregularities of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth
century Scottish clergymen*
There are many requests to Rome for dispensations on
account of illegitimate birth.
Because a monk happened to
be born of unmarried parents does not, of course, necessarily
brand him immoral.
But very often we are told by the
supplicant that he is the son of a monk.
In 1421, there are references to the fact that two
supplicants are the sons of monks ”and of an unmarried
At this time a nun of St. Mary of Iona (Sancte
Marie de Hy Insula). known as Cristina Dominici, also asks
dispensation for offices "notwithstanding defect of birth
as the daughter of a priest, a religious of the order of St.
Benedict, and of an unmarried woman.”
There are other cases of dispensation.for defect of
birth in Connection with Holyrood (1442),*^ Dunfermline
Scott. Sup t?lie . .1418-1422. pp. 267-69, 272.
Ibid. , pp. 279-80.
Gal. of Papal Letters. IX, p. 264.
(1447),23 Dryburgh (1448),24 Deer ( 1 4 5 7 ) In 1384 and
1436 (to give but two examples) the popes granted their
legates faculty to dispense scores of persons of illegitimate
birth to be ordained and hold one, two, or three benefices,
tfone having cure of souls, and to resign or exchange them
as often as they please for similar or dissimilar benefices/*56
In some measure connected with the problem of
illegitimacy is another problem which contributed in no
small measure to the moral decline of Scottish monasticism.
This particular abuse has been aptly described as the
"Official Recognition of the Common Informer."
It was seen
in an earlier chapter how the monks would resent the
visitations of the bishop, together with the procuration
fees which were paft of the system.
"All through our period,
the efficiency of Monasticism depended enormously upon the
visitation system."27
But whereas England enjoyed perhaps
the most regular system in Europe, "Scotland, on the other
hand, seems to have been one of the least regular countries
for visitation."*5®
Thus, in 1456, the complaint is made
that the Trinitarian house of Berwick is dilapidated and
ruined by abbatial abuses and "especially inasmuch as the
of Papal Letters. X, p. 352.
Ibid., X, pp. 411-12.
Ibid., XI, p. 322.
26 ---Coulton, 0£. cit. .p.220: cf. also 217,219,227,248.
Ibid.. p. 214.
’ *
Ibid.. pp. 215-16.
minister-general of the said Trinitarian order lives beyond
the seas and does not visit the said place.”
In 1418, in the Calendars of Papal Letters, there
appears an item which (according to Professor Coulton)
"marks a veritable epoch in monastic history.
particular case has its setting in the diocese of Killaloe,
in Ireland.
One man denounces another (in possession of a
certain rectory) as "guilty of theft and perjury and other
The pope replies that if the accuser can prove his
case, he can step into the rectory.
In 1420, a similar case
is to be found in Scotland, in the diocese of Aberdeen*
And this informing of one man upon another starts a
regular system which is used desperately as a substitution
for a bankrupt visitation system by the popes*
The situation
in the fifteenth century Church is indeed critical when the
most efficient method of getting rid of allegedly unfit
prelates is to replace them by common informers who all too
often need special dispensation for defect of birth*
Between 1418 and 1462 there are 540 specific examples
of informing found in the Calendars from Ireland, and 30
from Scotland— 370 cases in 44 years from these two countries
in Wales for this same period there is but one case; while in
Cal. of Papal Letters. XI, pp. 47-48*
Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., pp. 215-16.
England and Belgium there is no example at all.
Of these
570 informers who hoped for advancement by denouncing their
neighbours, 178 were of illegitimate birth.
.Among these, 53 plead also in their own favour that
they are of noble race, though for us of today it is
difficult to understand how any pope could seriously
believe that he did God service by thus giving the
better benefices to noblemen's bastards#
From what­
ever angle we regard these papal letters, it is
difficult to escape from the conclusion that they mark
the bankruptcy of the nominal visitation system; a
bankruptcy most complete in Ireland, but very £tad.51
Cases of common informing in connection with Scottish
monastic posts can be found in regard to Holyrood (1435-39),32
Kinloss (1439-43),33 Pluscardine
(1436),34: Holywood (1445),35
Fail (1446),3 ® Balmerino (1450),®® Berwick (1456),3 ® Arbroath
(1461) , ^ and Kelso (1462).4 ®
One can agree with Professor Coulton that this
obnoxious system of informing was not only a desperate
measure designed to cope with a critical situation; it was
detestable in every way, for "it pollutes the moral sources,
and may fairly be compared with dram-drinking.
Ibid. , p. 219.
C a l . of Papal Letters. VIII. PP
Ibid. , VIII, p. 295; IX, pp. 48
Ibid. , VIII, p. 609#
Ibid. , IX, p. 471.
Ibid. , IX, pp. 568-69#
Ibid. , X, pp. 508-09#
Ibid. , XI, pp. 47-48.
39 Ibid. , XI, p. 424.
Ibid. , XI, p. 445.
Coulton, 0 £. cit. « p. 218#
In taking leave of this matter of illegitimacy, and
its unhealthy effects upon monastic morality, it should he
mentioned that the practice continued to increase in
potency and destructiveness,
-And with the breakdown of
the capitular election system and the substitution of the
provision method, it became a relatively simple matter for
kings like James V to obtain rich benefices for their
bastard children, and for bishops and abbots to be granted
charters of alienation of church lands for their illegitimate
The whole problem of sexual immorality was a matter
which defied nearly all attempts at reform*
Hot only do the
innumerable statutes passed by the Provincial Councils
over a period of centuries attest to its persistence, but
the admission of the Council in 1549 proves the inability
of the Church to handle the situation properly at this
‘While the monasteries (and secular priesthood) were
drawing men who turned to an ecclesiastical life as a
spiritual vocation, the vows of chastity, obedience, and
poverty were likely to be betted observed.
But with the
debasing of the regular and secular clergy at this time,
the three major monastic vows were to be broken inevitably*
In vain did James I address the heads of the Benedictine and
Augustinian Orders in 1484, criticizing sharply the laxity
of conduct in their houses, and exhorting them to re-vitalize
their sorry discipline.
But the degenerate state of the
clergy continued unabated.
Not only were the clergy known as an incontinent lot;
they were very often a rowdy and quarrelsome crowd.
thirteenth century statute demands ”that clerics bear not
arms, but have the tonsure and a suitable garb” ;
in the following century, the Synodal Statutes of St.
Andrews enact "that no priest shall wear the long knife
which is called a hangar, save when he is equipped for a
Journey, under the fine of half a merk.”
The following example, found in the Scottish Supp­
lications to Borne for July 20, 1419, shows how irregular
may well have been the lives of the monks at Arbroath.
After the burning through lightning of the monastery
of Abirbrothoc, O.S.B,, St. Andrews diocese, the monks,
not living under regular discipline and order, as
befits them, but transferred here and there, in some
cases had sinned so greatly that the providence and
discretion of the Abbot is not sufficient to dispense
and absolve them.
Therefore, lest the religious should
have occasion of relaxing their vows and of wandering,
whereby souls may be endangered, Walter Abbot of the
said monastery supplicates that the Pope would grant
him facilities, as long as he shall govern, to absolve,
dispense and habilitate all and sundry the religious of
the said monastery from whatsoever cases, even those
reserved to the Apostolic See, as often as they confess
to him, and from all kinds of irregularity except bodily
mutilation or homicide, and to impose salutary penance.^4
42 Statutes of the Scottish Church« p. 55.
43 Ibid.. pp. 70-71.
Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422. p. 92*
But a still more interesting ease of violence is
to be found for November 10, 1421, again involving the
same monastery of Arbroath and abbot Walter.
Walter, Abbot of St. Thomas the Martyr of Abirbrothoe,
O.S.B., St. Andrews diocese,— that, having before his
eyes the good of religion, and wishing to take away from
his monks all matter or occasion of wandering, he gave
mandate to certain of his friends and familiars to
apprehend a certain apostate monk, William de Dalleth
by name, wheresoever they should find him.
him in the City or University of St. Andrews, they
apprehended him and took him to the said Abbot, without
asking leave of the Ordinary, because he supported and
defended the monk thus de facto and notoriously apostate.
The abductors,— perceiving the persecution by the
citizens, and fearing the liberation of the apostate
and also dreading personal violence to themselves, and
wishing to avoid the arrows shot by their pursuers within
range of them, and to avoid the concourse and uproar of
the multitude,— defended themselves; and by the shooting
of an arrow, one of their pursuers was wounded and is
said to have died as a result.
On account of this, pious
minds may impute fault where there is no fault; and
although the said Abbot was hot personally present at
the incident and gave a lawful mandate against his
vagabond and apostate monk and had and has the right of
personal correction, he fears that he may unwittingly
have incurred canonical pains through irregularity; and
sentence is said to have been pronounced against him by
the Ordinary, albeit unjustly, since the Abbot was
exempt from all ordinary jurisdiction and immediately
subject to the Apostolic See. He therefore supplicates
that the Pope would absolve and rehabilitate him and
restore him to his pristine state before the giving of
the mandate, even if a suit is pending undecided about
the foregoing (the state^gf which to be had as
sufficiently expressed).
It is true that the pope had granted the abbot a
y e a r ’s exemption from ordinary jurisdiction;
he also
Ibid.t pp. 265-66.
Cal. of Papal Letters, VII, p. 170.
now granted him absolution from the bishop^s sentence, and
dispensed him for his irregular conduct.
It will be re­
called that bad feeling already existed between the abbot
of ib?broath and the Bishop of St. Andrews, for the former
described the Ordinary as "a man of such character that he
does not rule but is ruled, and that by indiscreet and
wicked men," while charges of dilapidation, bad administration,
and infamy were brought against the abbot.
The apostate
monk was undoubtedly William de Dalkeith, who was supported
in his desire to study theology at a university by means of
a pension to be compulsorily paid by the abbot and convent
of Arbroath (an incident discussed l a t e r ) t h e bishop
supporting William against the abbot.
Ferrerius recounts another example of homicide, this
time occurring as a result of a beating inflicted on a
novice by his teacher.
Dom William Butter, in his indignation, committed
homicide by beating a boy in the cloister of his
monastery (of Kinloss).
By this he became irregularis
and Journeyed to Rome in 15G0 with another monk, Doijl
Henry Leythonow.
There he obtained absolution, and sent
a copy of his certificate of absolution home to his
abbot; but this William and his colleague Henry never
came back#48
Regarding matters,of drunkenness, there are references
prior to the fifteenth century.
In the Synodal Statutes of
Ual. of Panal Letters. VII, p. 195#
Recounted by Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., p. 180#
tlie Diocese of Aberdeen, X I H t h Century, it is ordered that
”all clerics diligently abstain from surfeiting and drunken­
. . . Let them wholly aVoi-dltaverns, unless happening
to be,on a journey they are driven thither by necessity.”
And in the Constitutions of David, Bishop of St. Andrews,
1242, the clergy are also forbidden (unless on a journey or
under pressure of necessity) to ”eat or drink in taverns or
mix with open tipplers.
Let them not play at dice or other
Professor Coulton informs us that the Scottish monks,
like those of other countries, consumed large amounts of
wine at Mass*
They also consumed much liquor for their own
James IV used to send to the friars at Stirling
enough malt for 325 gallons of good ale.
Robert Richardson,
who in the first half of the sixteenth century wrote a
Commentary on the Rule of St. Augustine, described conditions
which must have also existed in Scotland immediately prior
to his own times.
He attacks the monks who are guilty of
gluttony and drunkenness thus:
Many, again, are not content (although this be against
Cod and the Rule, unwholesome both for soul and for
body) to take something outside meal-times; but, in
Statutes of the Scottish Church,
51 Ibid. , p. 59*
Coulton, o]D. cit. , p. 150.
p. 36.
despite of Religion, they indulge in superfluous
. connotations from morning to evening.
There, sometimes,
conspiracies and conventions are made against their
superiors and other honest men; quarrels, blasphemy,
contentions, murmerings, false judgements and vain
At vespers, when they go into the choir,
they break silence, impede their fellows, trouble the
singing, and make themselves an evil gazing-stock to
all men, like dumb dogs that cannot bark. After vespers
to supper; after supper, to go on''to eating and drinking,
by reason whereof they sleep through the prayers at
matins, or are found unfit for them. . . . I have known
one such who, at these times, had grown into such a
habit of drinking that he never dared go to bed unless
he had drink beside his head. ^
But when it is remembered that all classes of people
at that time were scarcely noted for their temperance, it
is not very surprising that some of the religious should
have over-indulged in regard to drinking.
Then again, the
temptation to drink will not have been hindered when the
monasteries enjoyed the monopoly of brewing on their lands.
Thus Kelso Abbey made some 1»51. 6s. a year from produce
derived from mills and brewhouses and disposed of in the
town of Kelso a l o n e . ^
And in 1451 the king gave to Paisley
the full power of holding a tavern and selling wines within
the gates of the monastery at the pleasure of the abbot.
This extraordinary privilege was doubtless taken
great advantage of by the thirsty souls of the neighbour­
hood, and the visitor who looks with admiration on the
beautiful clerestory and triforium of the church may
pp. 86-87.
Richardson, Commentary on the Rule of St. Augustine.
James Haig, Account of the Town of K e l s o , p. 323;
cf. also Cupar. II, p. 63; R e g . N i g . Aberbrothoc. p. 157,
Inchaffray. p. 217.
remember that it is, in great part, due to the tavernkeeping of Thomas Tervas.
The penchant among the clergy for sumptuous and un­
monastic attire was also of long standing.
This pride of
worldly display was rebuked in the thirteenth century when
the clergy were ordered not to ’’wear red or green or striped
clothes nor clothes conspicuous for too great shortness."^®
And in the fourteenth century, none should celebrate mass
Min a tunic so short that it does not reach beyond the
knee, under a fine of ten merks, one half of which shall be
given to the informer, and the other half applied to pious
Yet the unbecoming fashions persisted, for in
the Statutes of 1549 beneficed clergymen were told not to
. . . in top-boots and double-breasted or oddly-cut
coats, or (coats) of forbidden colours, as yellow,
green, and such kinds of parti-colour; and shall wear
long cassocks reaching down to the ankle in churches,
cities, towns, and larger villages, but on journeys
short cassocks fitted with sleeves, regard, however,
being had to the exigencies of time and place; they
shall have white shirts with white seams: under pain
of suspension in the case of priests and of excommuni­
cation in the case of other churchmen . .
Churchmen must also shave off their beards and have
a "becmming tonsure within their
c r o w n s . ,f5 8
And in another
J. Cameron Lees, Paisley, p. 129; Coulton, o p .
cjlt., p. 210; Chart, and D o c , relating to Paisley Burgh, xliii.
Statutes of the Scottish Church. p. 12.
56 Ibid., p. 70.
. p - 9258 Ibid., p. 93.
statute for 1549, all churchmen are exhorted "to wear hence­
forth graver attire than they have been wont to do, which
should be wool, of appropriate colour, rather than of silk,
and should itself give an impression of gravity*"
Richardson, in his Commentary, complains that the Austin
Canon, "this so-called Pauper of Christ, sometimes goes
better dressed than even his well-to-do kinsfolk, in
fashioable cloth and costly furs.11^
As Dr. Patrick points out, the Scottish Statutes from
1225 to 1550 demonstrate an amazing lack of reverence by
the clergy and laity towards the rites of religion, the
churchyard, the sanctuary vessels and appointments, etc.
"Rightly understood, the most astounding precautionary
precept is (108) that superaltars are to be kept in seemly
c o n d i t i o n . R i c h a r d s o n gives corroboration to this charge
of irreverence.
One man, when he has begun vespers, speaks to those
by his side, asking what has been prepared in the
kitchen? how many kinds of fish? cooked after what
fashion? The wine (he says) has been much watered; the
ale is frothy. . . ♦ Others, driven by a gust of levity,
pray to Cod and say miserere mei Deus, tibi soli peccavi.
while they and their fellows mingle this with jests and
If we prayed to men in this fashion, would
not all men justly proclaim us as fools and dullards?
. . , Others, at divine service, feel as if they were
Statutes of the Scottish Church,
p. 94.
Richqrdson, Commentary etc., pp. 105-04.
Patrick, "Introduction," Statutes etc., pp. lxiv-
bearing a heavier load than Etna. When they are
compelled to stand, and Christ should be prayed to,
they lose all control and clasp their fingers upon
their daggers.62
It has been said more than once that the strength of
the Church at any one time can be measured by the strength
of its power of excommunication.
When persons sincerely
believed in the ideology of the Middle Ages, together with
the role played by the Universal Church, the threat of
excommunication alone was enough to make them conform to the
Church1s dictates.
But the ‘’Babylonian Captivity” and the
Great Schism, with their duplication of popes and the
accompanying excommunication of one another’s adherents,
certainly did much to bring this once-feared weapon into
John Major was acutely aware of the problem when
he pleaded against the inflicting of unjust excommunication,
for this flis no more excommunication than a corpse is a man.
I may here observe in passing that not only in Britain, but
in most parts of the world, men are disposed to accept
ecclesiastical censures too lightly.”63
The Three Priests of Peblis. Knox, and Lyndsay all
complained that "warying” or excommunication had come to be
the main occupation of the Scottish clergy before the
Such familiarity can only breed contempt, not
Richardson, o p . cit.. p.
Major, History of Greater Britain, p. 172#
only as regards to excommunication as a weapon, but also
regarding the Church and clergy who promulgate these edicts*
Dr. Patrick, in discussing the virulence of the language used
in these threats (especially during the notorious quarrel
between Cardinal Beaton of St; Andrews and Archbishop Dunbar
of Glasgow), states that "it may be argued that to this
cause, partly at least, was due the prevalence amongst clergy
and laity in Scotland of peculiarly gruesome profanity and
blasphemy in social converse or debate.”
The truth was that the Scottish clergy came to fear a
money fine more than excommunication, even as a money fine
was more feared at Oxford, as a document for 1432 shows.
Furthermore, the threat involved in excommunication came to
be primarily secular rather than spiritual.
The pope would
excommunicate an office-holder who failed to pay his services
to the Curia within the prescribed time, or who failed to
carry out his financial obligations in other ways. Excommuni­
cation here deprived the defaulter of his benefice, allowing
another person to obtain the post.
Thus, there is the case
of Henry Crichton, abbot of Paisley, who was excommunicated
for his failure to pay a pension to one of the Italian
cardinals, and the abbacy was given to the Bishop of St.
Patrick, "Introduction,” Statutes etc., p. Ixxiv.
66 Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., p. 59.
Andrews in commend a m .
Later, Crichton made his peace with
the Apostolic See, and the excommunication was lifted*
situation in the Church was very unhealthy when the pope
would so often impose this sentence because of cupidity,
and the clergyman would fear it for the same reason.
The moral strength of the Church also depended largely
on the efficiency and purity of the confession system.
rule of the Church was that sacramental confession was to
be made to the parish priest.
However, from the fourteenth
century on, especially, licence to choose a confessor who
should have power to give plenary remission at the hour of
death was much sought after from Home.6®
Many of the more
important ecclesiastics (including abbots and priors) and
the richer laity obtained this privilege.
Thus, on August
8, 1419, William, abbot of Kelso, asked that ’’a confessor of
his choice may grant him plenary remission once in life and
also at the point of death, after confession with a contrite
That it was evidently profitable to hear confessions
and to give absolution can be seen from the following
supplication, dated August 10, 1419:
John Dowden, The Medieval Church in Scotland, pp.
Scott, Supplic.. 1418-1422. p. 102; c f ? also, Ibid..
pp. 178, 178 for two more privileges for the officials of
John de Fogo,monk of the monastery of Melrose,
Cistercian order, Glasgow diocese, professor in theology,
cbuhsellor and confessor of Archibald Earl of Douglas,—
that the Pope would grant him indult to hear confessions
of twenty-five persons secular or regular, of whatsoever
state and condition, of the realm of Scotland, to give
them absolution for all their sins, crimes and excesses
whatsoever, even for such as should be referred to the
Apostolic See, and to impose salutary penance*68
From this example one is reminded of Chaucer’s
"wantowne frere” who was well beloved of franklins and
’’worthy w o m e n of the toun” because, being licensed to hear
confessions and give absolutions everywhere,
Ful swetely herede he confession,
And plesaunt was his absolucion;
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
Ther-as he wiste to have a good pitaunce;
And a propos of this licensing evil, Wyclif said:
For comynly if ther by an cursid iurour (swearer),
extorsioner, or avourtrer (adulterer), he wil not be
schryven at his owne curat, bot go to a flatryng frere,
that will asoyle hum falsely for a litel money by
yeere, thof he be not in wille to make restitucioun and
leeve his cursid synne*'^
The moral status of the abbeys was not helped any by
the introduction into the houses of youths below the
canonical age, nor the providing of vicafs to appropriated
churches who stood in need of dispensation'for defect of
Richardson in his Commentary states emphatically that
no mah should be allowed to take the vows before his eighteenth
68 Ibid.. p. 102; cf. also p. 106.
J*M*Marily, editor, Canterbury T a les. (1928) , p* 155*
70 Ibid., "Notes," p. 512.
71 Cf. Scott. Supplic..1418-1422. pp. 110-11.
An exciting but scarcely creditable tale is found
in 1456 in connection with the entrusting of Hugh Kennedy ■
(in his seventeenth year) to the Friars Preachers at Ayr
for the purpose of learning grammar.
According to his
story, he was blandished and deceived into becoming a
friar; later, becoming convinced in his own mind that he
had been "deceived and circumvented by the said friars," he
fled to France, where he fought for King Charles for fifteen
Later, he asked to be dispensed for his irregular
conduct and to hold plurality of benefices.
the youth of seventeen could scarcely know his right $ind
when he was "blandished" into becoming a friar; yet his
later acts reflect anything but credit on the vows which
he had wrongly accepted.
In connection with this matter of moral decline
because of defect of canonical age, attention can be drawn
to the granting by the pope of two dispensations— one for
bastardy and one for defect of age— to Alexander Stewart,
the natural son of James IV, who was appointed (while yet
only a boy)
"administrator" by papal provision of the
archbishopric of St. Andrews until he reached the age of 27,
when he was to be provided in the fullest manner to the see.
Richardson, Commentary etc., p.
Cal. of Papal Letters. VIII, 553, 633, 663, 670;
X, pp. 88, 172.
74Dowden, Medieval Church in Scotland, p. 51.
(But he fell at Flodden several years before the time
designed for his consecration*)
With the perpetrating of such abuses in bishoprics
and monasteries alike, it is little wonder that the moral
fibre of the entire Church degenerated, even as it degenerated
with the providing of mere children to the highest posts at
Rome during this same period.
There has heen an exaggerated aura of beneficence
shed over the social and cultural contributions of the
Scottish monks.
Writers like Sir David Hunter Blair, Abbot
of Dunfermline, have contributed to this excessive adulation
by making such platitudinous generalities as the one that
David I "thoroughly realized that the vast sums” which he
gave to the establishment of these monasteries
„ * . would bear abundant fruit, would indeed be a
hundredfold repaid, by the widely beneficial influence
they would exercise notoonly within the sphere of their
own immediate environment, but over the whole country.
It may be granted that In the twelfth century
monasticism probably did more than any other one institution
to bring Scotland into line with the general state of
civilization then existing throughout Europe as a whole.
But monasticism changed, and changed rapidly, as it grew in
power during the succeeding centuries.
For good or for evil, while the monk impressed himself
upon the world, society also impressed itself upon the
It might almost be said that he had begun as an
anti-capitalist; but certainly, after a few generations
of rich endowment, the majority yielded as we should
expect, and became definite capitalists.
On the whole,
it was a beneficent squirearchy.
^ Sir D.H.Blair, "The Contributions of the Monasteries
to Scottish History,” Scottish Historical Review, XXV, p. 197
G.G.Coulton, Scottish Abbeys and Social L i f e , p. 154
Professor Coulton*s study of monastic housekeeping
leads him to the conclusion that "In general comfort, the
monasteries certainly advanced as time went on, except where
debt and dilapidation depressed them into penury";® and
"The prohibition of private property, which formed an
essential clause in all monastic Rules, was very early
neglected or evaded."
In the midst of this increase of comfort and private
property within the monastery walls, did the monks likewise
increase in (1) their social obligations to society, and (2)
their cultural attainments?
The second part of this question
can be left for the moment while the first is examined now.
It has been said that in Scotland and England alike
no poor law was needed until after the dissolution of the
But the almsgiving services of the monks have
been greatly exaggerated.
Baskerville points out that the
three main duties which the medieval monks were ordered to
perform were (1) prayefs,
(2) hospitality, and (3) alms.
But there was no organized system of relief, such as
some controversialists have imagined. Savine has
calculated that not more than three per cent of monastic
income was spent on charity, while episcopal visitations
show over and over again that much of the food which
should have gone to the poor went, in fact, to the
monks* relations and friends, or their pack'of hounds. . .
Coulton, o£. cit•, p. 158.
4 Ibid., p. 153.
The problem of the really deserving poor was being
gradually worked out in the middle ages. And it was
not till the late sixteenth century that it received
its solution* The foundation of numerous almshouses,
hospitals and guilds in the course of the fifteenth
century is one aspect of it* But there was no co­
ordination any more than there was of monastic charity,
which was in any case somewhat of the lady bountiful
order. Much monastic charity was dispensed, but only
of the compulsory dole kind and the system ”did nearly
as much to increase beggars as to relieve them.”5
Alms were given at the abbey gate, but if these
amounts f,had been multiplied fourfold, they would not have
equalled what the monks drew from their rights, hallowed by
custom and law, of taking to their own use the greater part
of the endowments of a large number of parishes.”^
Throughout the hundreds of transactions to be found
in the Calendars of Papal Registers, the Scottish supplications
for 1418-1422, and the registers of the Apostolic Camera
from 1418 to 1488 there is little or no mention ever made
by the monks of their bestowing of charity upon the poor.
But in these same transactions the pitiful condition during
the fifteenth century can be gleaned of the hospitals (which
were almshouses rather than hospitals in the modern sense).
In 1415, the new Orkney bishop is granted the Hospital
of Edirhame in commend am for a year.
In 1418, the rector of
5 Geoffrey Baskerville, English Monks and the
Suppression of the Monasteries, pp. 31-32.
G.G.Coulton, Five Centuries of Religion. II, p. 81.
C a l . of Papal Petitions. I, p. 604.
the Hospital of St. Anthony near Leith states that as the
institution "is newly founded and inadequately endowed," in
order that the "infirm and other may he treated better," he
supplicates the pope to grant seven years of relaxation and
as many quarantines of imposed penance to all who "shall
stretch out helping hands for the sustenation and refreshing
of the poor, infirm and other persons."
In 1444, this
hospital is in financial straits still, and has been given
the appropriation of the parish church of Liston to try to
make good its deficit.
And in 1446, appropriation anew is
made of the parish church of Hailes, for the house "is in­
sufficiently endowed for the religious who dwell," etc.'*’0
In 1471, in the Libri Annatarum (and in 1472 also) there
are obligations by two benefice-seekers, both of whom
mention intrusion; still again, in 1476 and 1481, there are
more seekers who were obviously not above quarrelling over
the spoils of even such a poor hospital as St. Anthony*s.
In 1419 a struggle is waged between a secular clerk
and a canon regular of Scone over the administration of the
Hospital of St. Germains O.S.A. in Haddingtonshire.-*-®
1435 it is shown that the hospital is held jln commend a m .
8 Scott. Supplic. . 1418-1432. pp. 12-13.
C a l . of Papal Letters, IX, pp. 405-06, 412.
Ibid., IX, p. 567.
Libri Annatarum. pp. 166, 171, 182, 201.
12 Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422, pp. 64-65, 85-86.
2 l Fatal Letters. VIII, p. 567.
In 1478, Thomas Pyot obliged himself for the mastership of
this hospital, void by resignation at the Apostolic See
of the late m a s t e r M o i r
Bryce points out that this
hospital decayed in this century.
The Hospital of Soltre (Soutra) also led a stormy
career in this period.
In 1435 the pope reserves this
benefice and orders John Porest, priest, to be received as
a canon, then, to be given the mastership of the hospital.
In 1450, Melrose complains that it has been much afflicted
by wars and its rents so diminished that "the abbot and
convent cannot therewith be well maintained and bear their
burdens," etc.
The pope therefore allows the monastery to
appropriate the hospital*
Then, in 1454, Soltre was
transferred to St. Andrews.
(How much the infirm and needy
received after the above transactions took place can be
rather easily guessed.)
In 1469, the monks of Cupar farmed out the hospital
at Dundee, of which they were g o v e r n o r s . ^
In 1472 there is
a bull regarding the dissolution of the former union of the
Hospital of St. Leonard to Holyrood.
Libri Annatarum, pp. 192-95.
Quoted by Coulton, o j d . cit.. p. 108.
Gal » of Papal Letters, VIII, p. 543.
Ibid.. X. p. 501.
18 ---Ibid., X. p. 164.
19 ---- * *
Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., p. 107.
kiBri Annatarum. p. 172*
Professor Coulton tells us that part of the endowment of
St, Andrews University came from "the revenues of the
decayed hospital of St, L e o n a r d T h e
loss of a hospital
by the monks of Kinloss to layfolk was a great blow to the^
monastery, according to Ferrerius*22
There is enough evidence present to show that the
decay of these hospitals for the giving of alms to the poor
was due in no small measure to the cupidity of the
monasteries, and the appropriation of these hospitals1 funds
to purposes agreeable to the monks— but purpos es. not
originally intended by the founders*
Certainly, neither the hospitals nor the monasteries
took proper care of the poor in Scotland during the fifteenth
century, for Dr* Grant points out that between 1424 and 1514
nearly a dozen acts of Parliament were passed against beggars*
Again, these hospitals were very small: before the Reformation
"the twelve for which figures are available averaged only
8 1/4 inmates*”24
The smallness of the almshouses, together
with the financial difficulties under which they laboured,
made their services inadequate to the economic needs of the
In 1466, Parliament endeavoured to have them reformed,
Coulton, o]D. cit *. p* 108.
22 Quoted by Coulton, ojd. cit.. p. 3.08.
p «2
Grant, S o c . and Fcon. Develop, etc.. p. 563.
Coulton, op! cit *. p. 106.
^ Acts of Parliament (1597 edition), fol. 48*
while it was in an effort to restore these hospitals to a
state by which "the alms which they were wont to distribute
to poor mendicants be again paid as of old and the payments
maintained" that the Statutes of the Scottish Church for
1549 enjoined upon every bishop to enquire in his diocese
regarding the hospitals therein*
* * * he shall carefully consider what rents and rights
did or should belong to these same hospitals, for whom
and for what kind of persons they were founded, to
what extent these same pious places are dilapidated by
the appropriation of their funds to other than their
original uses, who are their present possessors, and by
what title they hold possession • •
The poor were evidently no better cared for in the
four centuries preceding the Reformation than they have been
in the four succeeding centuries*
One of the chief causes
of decay in monastic charity must be attributed to financial
Scotland suffered perhaps the most of any
country from the commendam system, and the absentee noble
who obtained one or more abbeys in this fashion took care to
appropriate to himself the majority of all revenues, leaving
the monks often a meagre allowance "which was not always
even paid with regularity*"
The growing poverty of so many
of the abbeys made the giving of much alms by these monks
seem both inadvisable■a n d #impossible*
^ Statutes of the Scottish Church, p. 119.
Coulton, Scott* Abbeys etc.,
p. 110.
The monasteries were also supposed to render social
services in the form of erecting and maintaining roads
and bridges.
In the whole of the supplications for 1418-
1422, there appear to be only two which deal with the
erection of bridges— but neither supplication is initiated
by monks.
On August 21, 1419, the Bishop o f St. Andrews
eshksffor an indulgence to aid in raising money for the
building of a bridge over the river Eden to allow scholars
and others to cross from the city to the new university, for
"people are often drowned in fording it, as of late fifteen
hapless priests at the same moment."**®
And on May 1, 1420,
a rector of the parish church of Liston, "having compassion
upon his fellow-countrymen and also for the public benefit
of the kingdom,” likewise asks an indulgence for the constructing of a bridge over the river Almond.
But the
examples where the monks built roads or bridges seem few
and far between, although they appear to have constructed a
bridge at Inchaffray around the year 1375, while Arbroath
was mainly responsible for the creation of a harbour.
Professor Coulton admits that while the monks
rendered an occasional service of this kind (designed first
Scott. Supplie.. 1418-1422. p. 109.
29 Ibid.. p. 190.
Charters of Inchaffray. p. 233; R e g . N i g .Aberbrothoc. p. x v i i i ; Tquoted by Coulton, op*. cit., p. 208).
for the profit of the clergy) which was of value to others,
Yet it cannot be denied that many of these social
services were rather incidental*
On the whole, the
monks used their revenues betters than barons or
burgesses would have employed the same sums; but we
cannot think of them as consciously working on society,
exdept by their daily round of prayers.31
What of the social relations that existed between
monk and peasant?
It was unquestionably better to live
under a monastic rather than a secular landlord.
Morgan, in his doctoral thesis The Economic Administration
of Cupar Angus Abbey (University Library, Glasgow), shows
how the rise in rents kept no pace with the fall in money
value: "in some cases, there had been no rise in money rent
at all."®®
Unquestionably this points (partially at least)
to a "more patriarchal relation between monastic landlords
and their tenants.”
On the other hand, the monastic landlord profited
Just as much as the feudal landlord from (1) the mortuary,
the marriage-fine,
salt-pan monopoly.
(3) the mill monopoly, and (4) the
The strict Sabbatarianism observed on
Church lands also proved a handicap to the peasant.
Admitting that the monk was a kinder landlord than
the lay lord, one can next turn to the question of the
S1 Coulton, Sco t t . Abbeys etc., pp. 212-13.
Cf. Coulton*s two chapters in the above work on
"Monk and Peasant,” pp. 119-41.
Quoted by Coulton, o£. cit.. p. 138.
contributions which the monk made to agriculture.
In this
respect he has been hailed as a great benefactor.
In the
earlier centuries, undoubtedly the monks contributed much
to the improvement of farming.
But monastic manuals of later times suggest that
.handiwork is out of date and that the m o n k ’s labour
is in choir or' cloister.
When we get notices of manual
labour in the later Middle Ages, these generally suggest
an exceptional instance.
And we learn from Dr, Dowden that "There is no
evidence to show that the monks of Lindores did much in the
w a y of breeding cattle and sheep."
In brief, the monks
were not outstandingIhrmers; they were better than average
landlords; while their ownership of so much land, together
with the unique privileges they possessed, made such
ownership very profitable, and, at the same time, created a
distinctly "capitalistic” ideology.
In evaluating the cultural attainments of the Scottish
monks in the late Middle Ages, the student will again notice
the gross exaggeration which centres about the usual
conception of the education of the monks.
The prevailing
idea that the scriptorium was filled with large numbers of
copyists, that the monks all read and understood their Latin,
and that learning was venerated in the abbeys alone while
34 Ibid., p. 120.
John Dowden, "Introduction," The Chartulary of
Lindores. p. lxxix.
the outside world lay deep in intellectual darkness, will
not stand up under scrutiny.
If some perfervid controversialists were to be
believed, medieval education was under the control of
the monks.
If so the great teaching orders would have
to be antedated by centuries.
In sober fact the monks
did practically no teaching.
It was not their job,
but that of professional ushers, just as it is to-day.’56
W. Moir Bryce states that "a close connection
certainly did exist between the Black Briars and our
Scottish Universities," that the Dominicans were the first
to introduce a systematic course of education into the land,
and that "there was no organized system of study in operation
in thid country until the advent of the Black Briars in 1 230^
However true this might have been for the thirteenth
century, the words of Baskerville are appropriate for the
period under discussion: "The services which the friars had
once rendered to education had to a great extent petered
out," ete.^®
The references to monastic education in the
records of the fifteenth century are so few and far between
that their very paucity can lead one only to the conclusion
that the monks of this time were neither well educated nor
interested primarily in bettering their minds.
The reference
on the part of some cleric to his being a "bachelor in
36 Geoffrey Baskerville, B nglish’Monks and the
Suppression of the Monasteries. p. 36.
VI/. Moir Bryce, "The Black Briars and the Scottish
Universities," Scottish Historical Review, IX, pp. 1,9.
Baskerville, op>. cit.. p. 229.
theology11 (or in some other way having attained scholastic
privileges) was designed to obtain higher posts on the
principle that "exalted and lettered persons ought to be
honoured with greater benefices,"
Here is a supplication, dated June 7, 1420, in which
a pension is sought for the purpose of studying at a
Since the Abbot and convent of Cambzkeneth (sic) 0,
S . A . , St, Andrews diocese, have been accustomed to
maintain one or two of their canons for a. certain time
in study and to give a pension for their maintenance
during that time, and since John de Grenlaw, canon
regular of that monastery and kinsman of the Bishop
of Aberdeen, Chamberlain of Scotland, desires to follow
up his studies,— therefore the said Bishop and John
supplicate that the Pope would reserve to him while
studying in whatsoever university an annual pension of
£»10 of old sterling to be paid by the hands of the
chamberlain or of the collector of the fruits of the
monastery, 9
The answer to t h i s >request is "Granted, with the
consent of those whose interest it is," a typical response
for reasons which will soon be shown.
On August 26, 1420, another monk, this time of
Holyrood, "fervently desires to prosecute the study of the
Scott, Supplic, 1418-1422. pp, 205-06, Benedict
XII, in the fourteenth century, had decreed that monasteries
of 20 or more were under statutory obligation of keeping
about 5 per cent, of their inmates at some university.
Unfortunately, as can be cited all too easily, examples show
that there was too much temptation on the part of the abbot
and convent to evade this statute as much as possible, in
order to save the expense of having to maintain a student
outside the monastery walls.
seven liberal arts,” and so he supplicates for a licence to
study outside the abbey.
His own superior refused him a
Now he wants the pope to order the abbot and
chapter to give him IL10 sterling as maintenace for five
years "in place of his conventual portion, while studying.”
Again the answer is qualified: "Fiat de consensu Abbatis."^0
There is another supplication for studying at a
university, dated January 18, 1421, and involving William de
Dalkeith, monk of Arbroath.
He wants a pension of 20 marks
Scots from the fruits of the abbey for seven years in order
to travel to some institution and obtain a higher degree.
He also asks the pope to "appoint a certain executor to
compel the Abbot and convent by ecclesiastical censures to
pay the pension.”
It will be remembered that it was this
same William de Dalkeith who undoubtedly was the apostate
monk sought by the abbot of Arbroath at St. Andrews "where
there is a university,"(according to the papal letter which
gave the abbot absolution for his irregular conduct), and
over whom the abbot and Bishop of St. Andrews q u a r r e l l e d . ^
And once more it is seen that the abbot was not anxious to
give permission to one of his monks to leave the abbey to
40 Ibid.. pp. 889-30.
4^ Ibid. , pp. 843-44. (Cf. Chapter V, pp. 149-50 for
the account of the street-fighting in St. Andrews over de
In 1445, at St. Andrews, David Ramesy, canon of the
said priory, expended much money trying to get elected.
Later, he gave up his claims to the pope, who, in providing
William Boner, granted to David for the purpose of residing
at a university and studying theology a yearly pension of
100 gold florins of the camera upon the fruits of the
priory, to be paid by William and his successors; the
pension is to be paid for five years.
But in the next
year trouble arises.
The pension is valid only with the
consent of the person having the benefice, and, as William
is not disposed to give his consent, David must show that
William gave such consent or else the assignment is null
. 43
and void.
In 1450, the abbot of Balmerino is accused of having
promised some of the monks (if they would elect him to his
post) the "licence to transfer themselves to an university,"
In the foregoing five examples cited, in at least
four cases the abbot was directly involved, three times
refusing the university-seeker his wish, and once being
guilty of bribery (without, it appears, ever intending to
carry out his promise).
The heads of the abbeys were
C a l . of Papal Letters. XX, pp. 350-51.
43 Ibid., IX, pp. 455-56.
Ibid. . X, p. 508.
evidently, as a rule, not in favour of relinquishing part
of the monastery’s revenues for the purpose of allowing
certain monks to pursue higher learning.
This conclusion is typical of the general attitude
of the age.
"When we thus demand vouchers for monastic
education in Scotland, as we have not only the right hut the
duty of doing, we shall find that they are very slender
The monks employed novice-masters to teach the
hoys or younger monks enough Latin to understand the
service and the rules of monastic discipline, but education
was not one of the glories of medieval monachism.
As for
monastic education of the common people, the picture is
even less admirable.
Dom Berliere, in an article in the
Revue Benedictine (1889) ncould produce for the whole of
iSurope, and for eight centuries, only twenty certain cases
and five doubtful in which the monks can be shown to have
had a school for non-monastic outsiders” ;
(apart, that is,
from the almonry schools, where a master was often hired
and alms given to ’’poor clerks.” )
Dean Rashdall has shown that there is almost no
evidence at all to connect the rise of universities with
The monks certainly founded no university in
Goulton, Soott. Abbeys etc., p. 177.
46 Ibid., pp. 177-78.
Quoted by Ian C. Hannah, Christian Monasticism.
p. 816.
Scotland (three of which, St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen
came into being in the fifteenth century).
Dr. Patrick,
commenting upon the "apparition of three universities within .
the same century, in a small country that till then had done
without one," maintains that it was episcopal jealousy
rather than love of learning that prompted the Bishops of
Glasgow and Aberdeen, therefore, to duplicate the example of
the Bishop of St. Andrews.
The new-fledged Scottish universities might loftily
claim Paris and Bologna as their models, but in fact
they corresponded rather to imperfectly equipped Latin
schools; even at St. Andrews special buildings were at
first non-extant, and for long very inadequate; with
the noble name of university, the Glasgow foundation
maintained till the Reformation a very feeble and pre­
carious existence.
The most ambitious and accomplished
clerics continued as before to study, or complete their
studies, at foreign universities; and from what we can
trace of the influence of the three Scottish universities
collectively on the culture of the professional class of
the country, they did but little credit to their glorious
Again the Statutes of the Scottish Church for 1549
throw light oh the sad situation of ecclesiastical, learning.
It will be recalled that the Provincial Council at this
time had stated that the two causes of evil in the Church
were immorality and "crass ignorance of literature and of
all the liberal arts."49
Laws were then passed to "put a
check on these mischiefs"--laws eloquent in their indictment.
Patrick, "Introduction," Statutes etc.,
Statutes of the Scottish Church, p. 84.
p. Ixxxvi.
Statute No. 189 insists that monasteries shall
maintain a lectureship on sacred Scripture.
No. 195
insists that rectors shall preach in person at least four
times a year, and, if they are not capable of preaching,
they must procure instruction. A
And monasteries who
enjoy part of the revenues of rectories must see that the
people are instructed in the faith.
No. 197 insists that
abbeys maintain a theologian within their walls to read and
expound upon the holy Scriptures daily.52
Statute No. 198 is especially important, for it has
a direct bearing on the example s previously cited concerning
the attempts of certain monks to study at universities
(together with the obvious reluctance on the part of their
This statute "expresses the aspiration that at
some future date learned and eloquent preachers might go
forth from the monasteries as of old.”
Therefore, from each
of the following monasteries one or two religious "having a
special aptitude for literary studies and good natural
abilities,” shall be sent to universities, to remain there
for at least four years engaged in the study of theology and
holy Scripture.
And when these monks shall have completed
Statutes of the Scottish Church, p. 100.
51 Ibid.. pp. 103-04.
Ibid., pp. 105-06.
their studies, others shall be sent from the monasteries
for the same purpose.
following are the monasteries and priories affected,
together with the number of regulars to be educated:
I..Diocese of St. Andrews:
Monastery of the Priory of St. Andrews (3) Arbroath
(3), Dunfermline (2), Holyrood (2), Kelso (2), Cupar
(2), Cambuskenneth (I), Lindores (l), Balmerino (l),
Coldingham (1), Pittenweem (1), Dryburgh (l) North
Berwick (a nunnery— 1 secular), Haddington (a nunnery
— Issecular) .
IX. Diocese of Glasgow:
Monastery of Paisley (2), Melrose (2), Kilwinning (l),
Crossraguel (l), Jedburgh (1), Holywood (1), Sweet
Heart (1).
Ill* Diocese of Whithorn:
Priory of Whithorn (1), Monastery of Glenluce (1),
Dundrennan (1), Tungland (1).
IV. Diocese of Aberdeen:
Monastery of Deer (1).
V. Diocese of Moray:
Monastery of Kinloss (1), Pluscardine (l).
VI. Diocese of Dunblane:
Monastery of Inchaffray (1), Culross (1), Inchmahome
(1 ).
VII. Diocese of Dunkeld:
Monastery of Xnchcolm (1).
Statutes of the Scottish Church, pp. 106-07. The
anti-climax to this admirable enactment comes in 1559 when
the Archbishop of Glasgow has to write to compel Melrose and
Jedburgh to send their statutory contingents to his university.
(Cf. Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., p. 201.)
Are the monks of this period to be given credit for
spending long hours in the scriptorium, laboriously copying
old manuscripts and thus keeping aglow "the torch of
During the days of the Celtic Church, there is
direct evidence of the work of monastic writers,and this
same spirit may well have permeated the abbeys*ih David’s age.
Unfortunately, a different story must be told about
the late Middle Ages.
The more I have been able the actual records,
the more I am convinced that in Scotland, as elsewhere,
whenever we find an indubitable record of a m o n k ’s
writing in the later Middle Ages, the record itself
nearly always implies that this was rather an exceptional
In other countries, we are able to get much
clearer to the facts by studying successive catalogues
of the same monastic library, and noting how many
volumes have been added between one date and another.
Taking what ought to be two very favourable cases, St
Bernard’s abbey of Clairveaux and Peterborough, we find
that the increase would be accounted for if only one
m o n k out of fifty had steadily worked, for half his day
only, at the rate of an ordinary hired scribe of the
While there are a few references (such as by Ferrerius)
to writing on the part of fifteenth century monks, the
conclusion reached by Professor Coulton in his study of this
particular problem, appears sound:
My own feeling is, that the last few generations of
Scottish monks lived almost entirely upon the acquisitions
of their predecessors, and that even those predecessors
had acquired their libraries more by gift or purchase
than by the labours of their own fingers.55
Coulton, S c ott. Abbeys etc., p. 159.
55 rbid., p. 163.
In the matter of chronicle-writing, once more the
Scottish monks deserve little praise.
Abbot Bower of
Inchcolm, writing about 1440 A.D. , states in so many words
that Scotland needs to revive her chronicle-writing (for
he mistakenly believes that the English monasteries have
a systematic schedule in this respect.)5 **
It is true that
the abbey chartularies represent definite writing on the
part of the monks.
Yet this very type of literature is in
itself a form of indictment, because the chartularies were
the legal records by which the monks could prove their
right to lands and privileges*
Thus, it was in the
financial interest of the monasteries to keep a full account
of such matters.
As in writing, so in the fields of art and architecture
it is necessary to differentiate between what the monks
actually created themselves and what they had done for them
by hired artisans.
Again a surprise is in store for the
As one writer on the subject states:
On no subject, perhaps, has the ordinary student,
even though tolerably well versed in medieval history,
more confused ideas than on that of monastic contributions
to art, whether sculpture, painting, or architecture.
While the undoubted activities of the monk on many lines
are hardly realized at all, they are here frequently
grotesquely exaggerated.
The monk is not seldom given
credit for work that perhaps no monk ever saw.
Scotichronicon. II, p. 516; Coulton, o j d . cit. «p*170.
57 Ian C. Hannah, Christian Monasticism. p. £27*
Baskerville corroborates this view when he says that
"Architects designed and masons built churches just as they
do nowadays; and for the monks as well as for other people."
In the early Celtic Church the monks may well have partially
built their edifices themselves.
But in the fifteenth
century they were certainly depending upon outside aid.
assume that everything on monastic premises must have been
constructed by the monks themselves is to maintain by a
similar sort of reasoning that everything pertaining to a
college campus must have been constructed by university
professors and students.
Misunderstanding in the past has originated over the
meaning of fecit.
This term is nearly always designed to
mean "ordered and paid for"; William the Conqueror is said
to have "built” the White T o w e r . ^
Again, the term magister operis has been misunderstood
by earlier historians.
Modern scholars realize that this
term stands, not for architect or handiworkman, but for
paymaster and superintendent.
Thus, Chaucer was a magister
"any educated and trustworthy man was chosen, and
therefore often clerics or monks.
00 Baskerville, 0£. cit.. p. 42.
Coulton, op>. cit. . p. 189.
60 T
L o c . cit.
The banker-marks, ”the mason’s business voucher,11
can be found almost everywhere in the monasteries of Scotland.
Again, there is other evidence that the buildings were put
up by non-monastic artisans.
There is an Arbroath contract
for 1474 in which ’’The Abbot and convent have hired Stephen
Liel, citizen . . .
to work in his office of c a r p e n t e r e t c . ,
a document from Gupar for 1485 in which the convent hired for
five years ’’John the Mason, and his son, John,” etc.,
a case of litigation in 1441 over the choir-stalls at
In this latter case, a typical example of the
employment of foreign craftsmen is found when trouble arises
over the fact that although the monks of Melrose had ■
commissioned a carpenter of Bruges to build a set of choirstalls and had paid him in full for the task, he had not
finished his job (owing to a financial crisis at the time,
according to his defence).
These examples prove that although a monk might be
now and then an artist (or artisan), he was not bound to be
so by profession.
It is to be noted here that some monastic
building took place in the fifteenth century.
Guthrie ’’built” a central tower at Kinloss, according to
£®S* Aberbrothoc. p. 171 (Coulton.op.cit.. 192)
62 Rogers, Reg. Cupar, I, p. 507.
Coulton, Scott. Abbeys etc., pp. 194-95.
(p. 52).
And during the years 1480-1490, abbot
Colin of Crossraguel set his heart on the restoration of
the abbey "which had n o w been long in ruins from the fury of
savage enemies, and was almost completely overturned," and
he caused stones to be brought thither and the walls to be
Still again, during the years that Thomas Tervas
was abbot of Paisley (beginning in 1445), he finished the
triforium and clerestory of the abbey church, finished the
roof, built a great part of the steeple, erected the gate­
house, and brought back from Rome "many sumptuous furnishings
for the Abbey Church."65
Although this buildi ng program of the fifteenth
century would seem to bear out the contention of one writer
that "Building continued in great vigour up to the very
there is much evidence, on the other hand (as the
concluding chapter will show), that many other monastery
buildings were allowed to fall into ruin through sheer
The contributions of the monks to architecture were
not great at this time; their contributions to medicine
were of even less value.
Contrary to the commonly held view
Charters of the Abbey of Crosraguel.
Chart. and D o c . relating to the Burgh of Paisl e y .
p. xliv.
pp. 45-46.
Hannah, Christian Monasticism. p. 245.
that the poor turned to the abbey in times of sickness, one
has only to scan St* Benedict’s Buie to find no hint of
medicine except for sick monks— and even here only simple
herbs were counselled.
The Church, in fact, deprecated the
practice of monks turning physicians for two main reasons:
it took them away from their true vocation (that of saying
prayers) and it brought on the curse of fee-taking*
III, in the Fourth Ecumenical Lateran Council, decreed that
none of the clergy was to "practise any surgical art which
involves cautery or the knife."
But there was one profession in which the monks were
definitely interested— law.
The scores of examples involving
litigation already quoted in previous chapters of this study
will indicate how vitally concerned was the monk in matters
pertaining to law.
"All monastic records reek of litigation:
this was one of the penalties monks paid for being so rich
and powerful, and therefore so provocative of greed or
Ironically, this immense amount of litigation,
which was designed to preserve or augment the wealth of the
monks, was one of the chief causes of financial embarrassment
and impoverishment, for the sums expended on litigation,
especially when the cases meant long and drawn-out trips to
Rome, must have been exceedingly heavy.
Coulton, ojd. c i t .*
pp. 205-06.
Another profession (also of financial rather than
social or cultural significance) which the Scottish monies
appear to have ventured into— and one sternly condemned by
canon law— was banking.
Dr. Mackinnon states of the abbeys:
"They also fostered trade and industry,.were in fact the
chief shipowners and bankers of the period, and had already
on this ground incurred the ill will of the merchant gilds.1^8
As far back as 1268 there is an example for Inchaffray where
Malise, earl of Strathern, being Indebted to the said
monastery, ,Tgrants for himself, his heirs and assignees the
payment of four merks sterling yearly from the land of
Abbircarnych till the whole debt is paid” etc.6 ^
Secular professions like the last-named, together
with such others as s h i p p i n g , c o a l - m i n i n g ,
wool trading (Hewbattle was involved in these last three
pursuits), lumbering,71 brewing (already alluded to), etc.,
were forbidden by the Statutes of the Scottish Church in
1549 and 1558.
The Provincial Council in the latter year
. . . has likewise statute that the decree of the
former council, forbidding and prohibiting churchmen to
engage in trade and secular business, shall be strictly
Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History etc.,p.74.
69 Charters of Inchaffray. p.213. R.Genestal,in Le
role des monasteres comme etablissements de credit. treats
exhaustively this situation as it existed throughout llurope.
Whithorn appears to find profit in shipping, for in
1491/92, James IV confirmed to it "custumas omnium bonorum
. . .que in navibus eorum extra regnum vhherenturnetc. R.
M. S. R. S. No. 2075.
Chartulary of Lindores (e. 1280), p. 80.
observed; adding thereto, that if any prelates or
other churchmen shall, of themselves or by others, buy
victuals, fish, salt, butter, wool, or any manner of
merchandise, to sell oyer again for the sake of a profit,
such wares or their values shall for the first offence
be reclaimed and taken away from such clerical
trafficker. * . . and if such churchman continues
trafficking the double thereof shall be exacted by the
ordinary of the place or by his superior, and applied,
to works of piety. ^
Statutes of the Scottish Church. p. 166.
The Church of the fifteenth century had drifted far
from the spiritual standards which had marked its evolution
during the early Middle Ages.
Aeneas Sylvius, who knew the
state of affairs throughout Europe intimately, could cry out
in 1453:
Whether I look upon the deeds of princes or prelates,
I find that all have sunk, all are worthless.
There is
no one who does right; in no one is there pity or
truth. There is no recognition of God on earth; you
are Christian in name, hut you do the work of the
Execration and falsehood and slaughter and
theft and adultery are spread among you, and you add
blood to blood. What wonder if God, indignant at your
acts, places on your neek Mahomet, the leader of the
Turks, like another Nebuchadnezzar, for you are either
swollen with pride, or rapacious with avarice, or cruel
in wrath or livid with envy, or incestuous in lust, or
unsparing in cruelty.
There is no shame in crime, for
you sin so openly and shamelessly that you seem to take
delight in it.1
With the defeat of the Coneiliar Movement by the
Church*s conservative forces and the nullification of all
worthwhile attempts at reform, the papacy was unified and
its power increased, and the Church had lost its last real
opportunity to retain the unity of Christendom.
Europe was being affected by new and powerful forces which
could not be suppressed:
(1) the rise of national states,
Alexander C. Flick, Decline of the Medieval Church.
I, pp. 370-71.
(2) the spread of the Renaissance,
capitalistic economy,
(3) the growth of a new
(4) the social stirrings of the
lower classes throughout Europe,
(5) the invention of
printing, with its incalculable effects upon the intellectual
and religious life of the times, and (6) the rise of re­
formers in such numbers that' their attacks upon Church
abuses could not fail ultimately to effect a religious
The medieval Church was helpless to combat these
forces of a new age, no matter how spiritual it might have
The failure of the Coneiliar Movement to bring
a measure of "modernization*1 to the Church left that
institution out of touch with the Zeitgeist of this new era*
Instead of reform, the papacy of the Italian Renaissance
involved itself in (1) a rapid decline of morality,
(2) the
contemporary revival of paganism, and (3) the growth of a
pernicious patronage.
The attempts of the fifteenth and
sixteenth century popes to take an active role in the Italian
Renaissance proved an asset from the standpoint of art and
culture, but a severe liability from the standpoint of
Church reform.
(A group of reformers now coming to the fore
had different ideas as to what constituted assets and
2 Flick, o£. cit., II, pp. 230, 269-72*
The ideological position of the Scottish monasteries
was analogous to the Church’s situation as a whole.
ticism was born in the medieval milieu, and in the fifteenth
century the motivating spirit of the Middle Ages was largely
dissipated from the abbeys— the spirit of self-abnegation
and of devotion to a religious principle.
O e P modern writer
on English monastic!sm, after commenting upon the effects
of the Black Death in 1349, the winning away of recruits
from the monks by friars who could offer a more diversified
existence, and the financial difficulties which had become
so prevalent with the abbeys in the fifteenth century, dill
attributes the paucity of numbers of monks in the late
Middle Ages very largely to the fact that "The enthusiasm
had gone; as enthusiasm will when over-organized and by
organization kept alive beyond its natural span."
The problem of recruiting is shown in a supplication
from Scone, dated August 28, 1419:
In order that in the Monastery of Scone, O.S.A., St.
Andrews diocese, a notable and royal monastery endowed
' with many honours and prvileges by Scottish kings,
there may be increase of divine worship, and that it
may have religious in sufficient numbers, as well as
boys, servitors and subjects and grequent new recruits,
Abbot Adam supplicates that the Pope would grant faculty
to him and his successors to promote their servitors and
subjects to all minor orders, and to bless the ornaments^
and vestments of the monastery and its subject churches.
S B. Liddesdale Palmer, English Monasteries in the
Middle A g e s . pp. 216-18.
4 Scott. Supplic..1418-1 4 2 2 . p. 117.
Elsewhere, figures have been shown to prove how
small the monasteries were in numbers at this time.
Crossraguel possessed only 10 inmates in 1405, Soltre
hospital before suppression was supposed to have a master
”and nine or ten canons,”
in 1453 Pluscardine had ”not
more than six, and in Ureharde not more than two religious
living with the said- priors,”
in 1461 it is reported that
Coldingham, which one time possessed 18 monks now had two,
Kelso in 1462 petitions that ”whereas 30 or 40 priests along
with the abbot used to be fittingly sustained, now there are
only 17 or 18,” Inchcolm seems never to have had more than
15 or 16 monks, while Arbroath, in 1486,
(and it was perhaps
the richest of all the abbeys) had within its walls only
29 regulars*^
One finds the Scottish Trinitarians almost ceasing
as a real Order during the fifteenth century.
Their house
at Berwick is reported in 1447 to be no longer conventural—
the numbers were insufficient to keep up the services— and
so the ministership of the house is lumped in with the
church of Kettins as a living valued at £50 sterling.
And of course the Ordeite house at Bail deserved to be
suppressed (as we have previously seen), according to a
of Papal Letters. X, pp. 164, 253-54, 352-53,
XI, pp. 425-26, 445. Of. Coulton, o&. c i t .. pp. 48-49.
® Coulton, Sco t t . Abbeys etc., p. 227. Of. Libri
Annatarum, p. 135.
complaint made to the pope in 1459.
In 1454, the priories of Urquhart and Pluscardine
were united by order of Nicholas V — "a sad picture of the
decay of these two ancient priories, and evincing the
absolute necessity of their union, torrescue both from
extinction . . .
Urquhart thus became Benedictine, and its
separate existence as a Priory terminated.”
In 1472, the whole annates (14:00 sterling) of the
priory of Coldingham are to be united to the Chapel Royal
of St. Mary, "The Order in said Priory being suppressed with
consent of those whose interest it is, on cession or decease
of him who holds the priory in title or commend or on its
dimission in whatsoever way . ”®
The monastery buildings suffered much dilapidation
in this century, one of the chief reasons being the ravages
of war.
Lindores asks for help in 1414 because the "wild
Scots” have ruined the buildings^ in 1419, Cupar wants the
advowson of certain parish churches etc., ”on account of
poverty and destruction caused by wars” ;^°
in 1420, Kelso
asks for various indulgences to help repair the abbey, for,
"on account of unhappy outbreaks of war between the two
kingdoms, it is diminished more than half in its faculties
7 Rental Book of Cupar-Angus. I, p. 47.
8 1'i'bni Annatarum. p. 172.
9 Cal. of Papal Petitions. I. p. 601.
Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422. pp. 99-101.
and edifices.”^
In 1420, Culross asks an indulgence to aid
in its restoration, because ”in the not distant past it has
been burned by the English enemies of the realm” etc.
1421, various monks of Io$a seek aid, because, through wars,
the monastery ”is so collapsed and impoverished in its
buildings and rents that it is sinking into irreparable
In 1422, the abbot of Melrose asks an indulgence;
the abbot ”has rebuilt the monastery . . . which had been
burnt by the English.”
Other references to dilapidation
(wholly or partially accounted for by wars and violence)
can be found in regard to the Friars* house at Inverness
( 1 4 5 5 ) , Paisley (1444),^
Kelso (1444)^
Pluscardine and
Urquhart (1454),***® the Trinitarian house at Berwick (1456),^
and Crossraguel at the end of the century, **which had now
been long in ruins from the fury of savage enemies, and
was almost completely
o v e r t u r n e d .
Previous chapters in this study have tried to show
how various economic abuses brought financial embarrassment
and ruin to the Scottish monasteries.
There is no doubt
that the abbeys were at this time running into debt, although
11 Scott. Supplic.. 1418-1422. pp. 177-78..
Ibid., p. 208.
13 Ibid.. pp. 264-65, 267-68,271-72;
14 Ibid.. pp. 309-10.
15 C a l . of Papal Letters. VIII, p. 601.
16 Ibid.. IX, pp. 421-22.
17 Ibid.. IX, pp. 452-53.
19Ibid. , XI, pp.47-48.
18 Ibid.. X, pp. 253-54, 352-53. 2°CSrosraguel.I . 45-46.
certain privileged persons, such as commendatory abbots,
were reaping great profits (at the other m o n k s 1 expense).
The papal enquiries into the taxable condition of
various abbeys (during the first half of the century) show
that the old assessments from Bagimont’s Roll (1274 A.D.)
were now unsatisfactory and that a general revision was
being sought.
enquiries were made into the financial
status of Iona in 1421, Scone (1432-1447), Culross (1437),
Balmerino (1438), Kinloss (1439), while a reduction was
made in regard to Newbattle in 1445.
However, "No
-general revaluation was effected; and it is interesting,
moreover, to note that after 1449 these registers contain
no further references to commissions of investigation."
One can infer from the above that the Curia realized
that its commissions of investigation had indeed found the
revenues of the monasteries to be reduced, and hence the
Curia stood to lose taxes by thus diligently enquiring into
the true state of affairs.
Bar better it was to hold to
the old status q u o . no matter how unjust this situation
proved to be for the Scottish monasteries#
In the Calendars of Papal Registers there are further
references to. the growth of poverty on the part of the abbeys.
A.I.Cameron, "Introduction," Apostolic Camera
and Scottish Benefices. pp. xlv-xlvi.
22 Ibid., p. xlvi.
In 1450/51 the pope grants to the Bishop of St.
Andrews the right to confirm elections (except for exempthouses) of monasteries and priories within his diocese, for
the poverty of some of them makes the long and expensive
trip to Borne a matter of great hardship.
In 1450, Melrose
asks for the appropriation of the hospital of Soltre
because the wars have so diminished the abbey’s rents that
the abbot and convent are impoverished.
this Is not an unprejudiced admission of poverty.)
1459, the monastery of Arbroath admits that through abbatial
abuse, etc., the fruits have become diminished, the buildings
have become ruined, and the abbey has a debt of 3,000 marks
,fof the money of Scotland.”2^
(It therefore wants to
appropriate Fyvy in perpetuity.)
In 1464, Gupar also
demonstrates how its rents are diminished so that it
cannot pay to the chapter-general the yearly sum of £20
(Another sum was fixed upon which evidently proved
more satisfactory.)2 ^
The fifteenth century poverty of Inchaffray is
described by Sir A. G. Lawrie:
The canons had to pledge Inchbreky to the Mercers.
They had. so little control over their lands that they
G a l , of Papal Letters. X, pp. 171-72.
24 Ibid.. X, p. 501.
25 Ibid.. XI, pp. 405-06.
Ibid.. XI, p. 678.
had to get leave to catch eels in the Pow Rilrer, and
the consent of the King had to he obtained before they
could make a kittle, canal to bring their provisions by
boat to the monastery.
What is known of the house from about 1442 till the
Reformation shows corruption and decay.
One abbot
resigned, being charged with keeping a concubine in the
abbey and wasting the goods. The next three abbots
stayed each a short time only. Then it is recorded
that three in succession offered to the Pope a hundred
gold florins for the office. Times were changed from
the days of the thirteenth century.
The last abbot fell at Flodden, and from that time
the abbacy was held by absentee commendators who
probably screwed all they could get of the rents and
tithes and left the canons and vicars in poverty.27
From the foregoing pages of this concluding chapter,
it seems evident that in the fifteenth century Scottish
monasticism was declining, even as the medieval Church was
witnessing its last days of unity and domination.
smallness of numbers, the difficulty of gaining recruits,
the extinction of certain Orders and priories, the dilapidation
of so much monastic property, and the decline of financial
strength all point towards a significant conclusion.
But a final conclusion can not be drawn from the
above statements alone.
The decline of Scottish monasticism
was of an infinitely more complex pattern.
A review of the
preceding chapters v/ill bear out this salient fact..
involved political situation of the century robbed the' monks
of much of their administrative independence and, at the
same time, introduced abuses of a socio-enonomie nature.
Sir A.C.Lawrie, "The Abbey of Inchaff r a y ,” Scottish
Historical Review. V, pp. 445-46*
These abuses conditioned (and were conditioned by) the moral
status of the monks, whose social obligations and cultural
attainments were likewise inescapably affected.
No one cause in itself can explain the decline of
monasticism in Scotland.
Nor can the fifteenth century
explain it alone, any more than a chapter in the middle of
a novel can explain the entire story.
The true decline of
Scottish monasticism can never be explained until the
evolution of this institution is traced from its genesis to
its extinction as a social organism.
The fifteenth century
by itself can only bear witness to the occurrence of certain
phenomena which appear significant in the decay of monachism,
but which will undoubtedly have to be qualified when more
of the facts have been analyzed.
Therefore, the forming of ”conclusions” is at best
a precarious task.
Of course, one can quote from authorities
for the substantiation of his views.
Thus, Dr. Grant,
approaching the subject of general Church decline from the
social and economic angle, points out that much of the decay
was due to the appointment of unsuitable persons to the
rich Church benefices, creating a tragic paradox which allowed
worthless commendators to become rich as the abbeys became
correspondingly poor.
Likewise, Dr. Patrick, in his fine
Grant, Social and Economic Development of Scotland
before 1 6 0 5 . p. 224.
analysis of the Statutes of the Scottish Church, also
points out that the Reformation was due, not to theological
reasons primarily, but to the hearty concord of the people
"that the open sin and shame of the church should cease” etc?^
Professor Coulton has some very valuable suggestions
to offer.
The Scottish monasteries were too richly endowed
with lands and privileges.
These excessive grants of wealth
and privileges in turn brought into monastic posts selfinterested converts, while Crown and Curia alike were guilty
of aiding in such notorious practices as the commendam
system, which helped legalize and systematize this plundering
of the abbeys.
Finally, monasticism was itself too definitely
institutionalized, thus losing much of its "living force.”
The walls of an abbey made the most worldly individual in
theory other-worldly; the institution conferred privileges
without proportionate responsibilities.
Such a situation
had sooner or later to come to an e n d . ^
This brief resume of general conclusions finds this
writer in accord with the foregoing scholars.
But it is
an example of medieval scholasticism to bolster up o n e ’s
beliefs by the quoting of authorities, however eminent.
A far better conclusion can be attained by allowing one of
Patrick, "Introduction," Statutes etc., p. xcvi.
Coulton, S c ott. Abbeys etc.,
pp. 250-59.
the monks who lived in the age under discussion to analyze
the situation,
Robert Richardson (Robertus Richardinus) penned his
Commentary on the Rule of St. Augustine in 1530.
In the
thirty years separating this date from the fifteenth
century more than one striking development took place in
the Scottish Church.
However, the abuses which Richardson
enumerates in his Commentary are all to be found in previous
chapters of this thesis.
Thus, scanning the Commentary (edited by Professor
Coulton for the Scottish History Society in 1935), one
finds Richardson pointing out: abbatial inability (pp. 2628); abbatial private dwellings (p. 55); abbatial immorality
(pp. 30, 36, 92, 111-17, 137); men bribing the king to
become abbots (p. 29); proprietary monks (pp. 34, 41, 43,
175-78); monastic debt (p. 34); money evils (pp. 37, 40,
174); the entering of nobles*
sons into monasteries for
their own interests (pp. 46-47); irreverence towards prayers
and services (pp. 69-74); gluttony and drunkenness (pp. 8688); ignorance of the meaning of Latin scriptures, responses,
(pp. 93, 145-49); abuses in dress
(pp. 103-07);
quarrels— including attempted murders (pp.*119-21); evils
of letter-writing: to women, to try to get benefices, and
to receive gifts (pp. 123-25); evils attending going to
public baths (pp. 139-40); sick men and lepers left unattended
(pp. 140-41); litigation quarrels— three main causes:
proprietas. (2) bodily needs,
(3) pride (pp. 153); lack of
visitation (p. 154); "family fledgelings thrust into Church
benefices” to live there carnally the rest of their lives
.(p.;157); and abbots laboring for exemption from obedience
to their bishops (p. 159).
At one place, Richardson enumerates "The Causes of
Ruin for all monasticism”
("Causae Totius Religionis
Ruinae” ):
Careless recruiting
Lack of training for novices
Lack of trailing for school boys
No true vocation of postulants
Omission of study and devotion
Frequent gadding about
Promotion by nepotism
Excessive care of worldly things
Lack of due correction
Negligent and ill-considered visitation
"The wickedness of these latter times and of our
evil days"
"Too great extension of Reformation and of Chapters"
"The inexperience and greed of Superiors, who have
not even ever risen to good education”
The illegal assignment of individual incomes and
"The carnal love w h i c h .Superiors bear to their
Richardson is condemning his own times, hut the
condemnation holds true for the fifteenth century*
is not for us to condemn the monk of that age*
Yet it
He was a
product of his environment very largely, even as we are the
products of our present generation.
Circumstances have
allowed us to see events in a retrospect which he could
not possibly...possess.
If few of the fifteenth century
monks arose to flay the abuses of their times, let us
remember that few of us are reformers in the twentieth
The Middle Ages was based on a religious ideology,
and motivated by faith and devotion*
And when that
motivating spirit had been dissipated, the ideological shell
that remained could not of itself vitalize an institution
that had been born of faith.
It is true that monasticism still exists— further,
that it is capable of producing such splendid monks as Horn
Yet he himself in a large measure represents the
He is a scientifically-minded scholar where Thomas
a Kempis was a devotionally-minded saint.
The modern monk,
by virtue of the elapse of centuries as well as his own
thorough education, possesses much more than the simple
medieval ideology of Kempis or Robert Richardson.
It is
Robertus Richardinus, Commentary on the Rule of
S t . Augustine. p. 171.
this addition which gives modern monasticism much of its
raison d*etre.
Perhaps it is, nevertheless, an anachronism
in our twentieth century society. If it is such (and many
will debate the point), it is an anachronism which has
been almost entirely purged of all its fifteenth century
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