Index for Chapters XI-XX

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Chapter XI: Accession of the Stewarts, 1329-1370

Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.
So, All hail ! Macbeth and Banquo.

DURING the comparatively peaceful years that closed the reign of King Robert the Bruce, and the short interval of quiet which succeeded his death, the Abbot and Convent set themselves to repair their dilapidated fortunes and reinstate the Abbey in its former prosperity. Abbot John succeeded Abbot Roger shortly before the death of the King, and the first mention we have of his name is in connection with a deed of charity to the impoverished brethren. In 1327, [1] Brother Andrew, as he styles himself, “Minister of Argyle,” compassionating the poverty of the common table of the monks, “which was not sufficient for their maintainance and to enable them to respond to the calls of hospitality, and the other onerous duties incumbent upon them, as the law of charity demands,” with the consent of his chapter, gave the brethren, in answer to their earnest request, the rectorial tithes and dues of three churches in his diocese—Kilfinan, Kilkeran, and Kilcolmanel. This gift represented a considerable sum of money, and was burdened only by their liability to maintain a vicar in each of the churches. The vicars possibly were of their own number, and would be amply compensated by the altar offerings, and a small portion of land for the supply of their immediate needs. This plan for replenishing the diminished exchequer of the Convent was resorted to also in the case of Largs, the church which had been bestowed on them. by Walter, the sixth Stewart, in memory of his wife Marjory. About the same time [2] that Andrew thought with compassion on their scantily furnished table, their meagre fare, and generally sorrowful lot, living, it may be, as we have suggested, in some small tenement in the unsavoury precincts of the Rottenrow, his brother Bishop, John Lindsay of Glasgow, took into consideration the “great damage which the Monastery of Passelet had sustained by reason of the sad war so long waged between the kingdoms of England and Scotland,” and for the rebuilding [3] of the fabric of the Abbey Church which had been burnt during this war, confirmed and conceded to them the church of Largs and chapel of Cumbraye, with all its dues, both great and small. When the chapter of Glasgow had formerly installed the Convent in possession of this church, it had bound them to place in it a vicar, and had fixed what his stipend was to be, namely, seventeen merks sterling, six acres of land, and four wains of hay, the Convent also paying the procurations of the bishop, and finding wax for the church lights. [4] The bishop was more generous, and relieved them from those charges, his own fees excepted, and allowed them to hold the church without presenting any vicar, provided they served it simply by priests placed and removable at their pleasure. One of their own number in priest's orders would, therefore, from time to time cross the moors to Largs, and fulfil all the obligations of his house by performing service for the benefit of the parishioners. [5]

A curious decree from the Pope reached the Convent at this period (1329), which illustrates what the history of the time tells us regarding barratry or buying benefices at Rome, a practice which became very prevalent, to the great injury of the Church, and which furnished ground for the satire of Lindsay—

It is schort tyme sen ony benefice
Was sped in Rome except greit bischoprics,
But now, for ane unworthie vicarage,
Ane priest will rin to Rome in pilgrimage ;
Ane carell whilk was never at the schule
Will rin to Rome and keep ane bischopis' mule,
And syne cum hame, with mony-colorit crack,
With ane burden of benefices on his back.

A certain Robert de Caral, one of the secular clergy of St. Andrews, obtained from the Pope a benefice of the value of twenty silver merks if accompanied with a cure of souls, and of ten if not so accompanied. This benefice was to be given him by the Abbey on the first vacancy occurring in one of their churches. The Abbot received strict injunctions to put no obstacle in the way of carrying out this decree under pain of excommunication, and a Papal commission was issued to certain ecclesiastics in the neighbourhood to see the arrangement carried into effect. It was not a pleasant missive for the impoverished Abbot to receive, and that, too, at a time when he needed to make the most of his resources.

[1] Reg. de Pas., p. 137.
[2] Reg. de Pas., p. 239. The date of the Bishop of Glasgow's concession is uncertain, but it must be between 1325 and 1335, during which time he occupied the see.
[3] Juvamen.
[4] Reg. de Pas., p. 237. Origines Parochiales, Vol. I., p. 89. This scheme for replenishing the conventual exchequer was a common enough one, as we learn from the other chartularies ; thus in 1315 Bishop Robert Wischeart, on the ground that not only the movables of the monks of Melrose had been taken away during the late protracted war, but also that their places, far and near, had been destroyed, with consent of his chapter, gave them all the fruits of the vicarage of Hastenden for twenty years, to be wholly converted into a pittance for the convent at the discretion and sight of the Prior, so, however, that fitting service should be performed in the said church by a priest simply, and that it should not be defrauded of its other due services.—Lib. de Melrose, p. 393. Origines Par., Vol. I., p. 317.
[5] This concession was ratified by Bishop John's successor, William Rae, and subsequently by Pope Clement VI.—Reg. de Pas., pp. 239, 241, 242.
[6] This curious document is in the Appendix.