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Chapter X: Wallace and Bruce, 1297-1329

The monks of Paisley, in common with all other Scots ecclesiastics in those times, took the patriotic side. They were the good friends of Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow, who was so great a patriot that no oath could possibly bind him in allegiance to the English King, and who passed a great many years in an English prison. There is a singular indication of how thoroughly Scotch the Paisley ecclesiastics had become in the fact that they quietly dropped from their charters, after the War of Independence, the name of the English saint to whom the Abbey was dedicated. The Saxon Milburga disappears from their records, and the Scottish Mirin is elevated into prominence on all occasions as “the glorious confessor.” The Stewart, their friend and patron, upheld in those troublous times, as a rule, the national cause, though, like other great men, he vaccilated considerably. At first, with some of the more powerful barons and the Bishop of Glasgow, he joined Wallace. [9] Soon after, along with the bishop, he made his submission to King Edward at Irvine, and entreated forgiveness for the robberies and slaughters they had committed. [10] At the battle of Stirling he was with the English army, but on its defeat he joined his countrymen, and turned upon his former friends. In letters issued soon after he is recognised as a friend to the English King, but in 1302 he is sent by the Scots to promote their interest at the French Court, [11] and in 1304 he is specially mentioned in an English proclamation as among those who were to be exempted in the general amnesty. [12] His political position must have entailed much hardship on his followers and vassals, and on the Abbey, with which his family were so very closely associated. The lands of the monks were ravaged continually, and “men,” as they say themselves, “taking advantage of the lawlessness of the times, invented claims against them, and seized sometimes the monks themselves, sometimes their converts, and sometimes their animals and goods, detaining them until they received such satisfaction as would please themselves.” The Convent appealed piteously to the Pope against these robbers, and in 1300 Pope Boniface VIII. issued a Bull from the Vatican at Rome strongly denouncing those who troubled them, and enjoining that no one should invade the possessions of the Monastery. [13]

The Bull of the Pope could not long shield them from the calamities in which every part of Scotland shared. Their parishioner, the Knight of Elderslie, was executed on August 22nd, 1305; and in 1306 Bruce, the friend and ally of their patron, the Stewart, began his contest for the independence of Scotland. The struggle that then ensued is well known to every reader of Scottish history, and there is no occasion to repeat it here. One line in that history tells the fate of the Abbey of Paisley—

“Hoc in anno seiz 1307, Anglici combusserunt Monasterium de Pasleto.” [14]

“In this year, 1307, the English burnt the Monastery of Paisley.” There is no notice of this in any of the chronicles of the time except the one we have quoted, and we do not know by what army or party of English the deed was done. The destruction must have been complete, for the architecture of most of the present building belongs to a subsequent period. Nothing but blackened walls were left standing, and the monks had to carry on their services amid the ruins, if they attempted service in the church at all. They must have suffered very great hardships in common with many of their brethren at that time. The Church felt heavily the scourge of war. Wallace found two canons lurking amidst the ruins of the splendid Priory of Hexham, which had been destroyed by the Scots, and celebrating mass in the midst of the devastation. During the same wars which brought ruin to the Abbey of Paisley, the magnificent Benedictine Abbey of Kelso was also burnt, and the Bishop of St. Andrews, appealing to the benevolent for assistance, tells what was the sad condition of its inmates. “Through common war and the long depredation and spoiling of goods by fire and rapine it is destroyed, and we speak it with grief ; its monks and ‘conversi’ wander over Scotland, begging food and clothing at the other religious houses.”
[15] It is not probable that the Abbot and monks of Paisley were reduced to such straits as these. About this time Abbot Roger bought a tenement in Glasgow, in “the street which is called the Rattonrow, between the land of Sir Maurice Starine, chaplain, on the west, and the King's highway which is called le Weynde on the east,” and it is not improbable that the Convent removed thither when the locality of Paisley became dangerous, and took up their abode under the shadow of the Cathedral till better times should come. [16] The succession of abbots was regularly kept up during this period of depression, [17] but they probably suffered many privations, and it is not without reason that they speak of the war as the “diram gueram.” The death of King Edward I. took place at Burgh-on-Sands on 7th July, 1307, the same year in which his soldiers had burned the Abbey, and the year following an honour was conferred upon the Abbot by the Pope—not improbably as a solatium for the loss which he and his brethren had sustained.

[9] Hailes, vol. p. 946.
[10] Tytler.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Reg. de Pas., p. 416.
[14] Fordun by Goodall, Vol, II., p. 238.—In the “Black Book of Paisley,” of which an account will be given afterwards, a hand has been drawn on the margin of the manuscript, pointing to this entry.
[15] Sketches of Early Scottish History, p. 196.
[16] Reg. de Pas., p. 385.—The data of the purchase is not given. But a subsequent charter, p. 387, of date 1321, states that it was made by Abbot Roger.
[17] Roger is mentioned as Abbot in 1312, and John in 1327. There are also a few deeds in the Register belonging to this time.