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Chapter XVI: Monastic Economics

Who with the ploughshare clove the barren moors,
And to green meadows changed the swampy shores?
Thinned the rank woods ; and for the cheerful grange
Made room where wolf and boars were used to range?
Who taught and showed by deeds that gentler chains
Should bind the vassal to his lord's domains?
The thoughtful monks, intent their God to please
For Christ's dear sake, by human sympathies.
                                            —Wordsworth.



THIS is perhaps the best place—before we have to tell the sad story of decrepitude and decay—to give some account of the management by the monks of their revenues, the great landed property possessed by the Convent, and the tenants or vassals dwelling on their farms. We are fortunately able to do so with much certainty. Not only are there many notices of their management scattered throughout the Chartulary, but their Rental-book, which we append to the present volume, enables us to take a just estimate of the relations subsisting between them and their vassals, and throws much light on their management of their estates. This Rental-book, or perhaps rather book of leases, was begun in the time of Abbot Crichton, and was continued by his successors. It is beautifully written and neatly kept, and, perhaps more than any other manuscript of this same kind that has been published, gives us an idea of the conduct of the monks in their capacity of landlords. The view one takes of their government, after a study of this volume, is a very kindly one, and corroborates all that historians tell us regarding the lands of those ecclesiastics being the best cultivated and the best managed in Scotland. There were good reasons why they should be so. The monks were not needy landlords, grinding out of their tenants every penny they were able to pay. They were proprietors whose own wants were few, and who had education enabling them to adopt the best methods of agriculture, and sense to encourage improvements. Their tenants were exempt from military service. The husbandman on their lands was never called away like the retainer of the neighbouring baron to follow his master's banner, and leave his field unploughed, or his harvest unreaped. He remained quietly cultivating the land of which he knew neither himself nor his children after him had any likelihood of being dispossessed so long as they paid their moderate rent to the bailiff or steward of the Monastery. The neighbourhood of a convent was always recognisable by the well-cultivated land and the happy tenantry which surrounded it, and those of the Abbey of Paisley were no exception to the general rule prevailing throughout the rest of Scotland.

The revenues of the monks were derived from the tiends of their churches, the produce of the lands which they held in their own hands, the dues of their mills, their feu-duties, and the rents of their fishings and such farms as they thought proper to let.

The tiends were the rectorial tithes of the churches belonging to them, and of these we have had occasion to speak often in the preceding pages. The collection of these dues involved them in many disputes, both with their needy and ill-paid vicars and with the bishop of the diocese, who took the part of these stipendiaries. The tithes were payable at the various churches, and occasionally, as we learn from the Rental-book, were gathered by a person residing at the church, who received, for his trouble in collecting them and bringing them to Paisley, a piece of land at a very moderate rent. Of this, we have the following among other notices:—

“The forty-shilling land beside the Kirk of Largs is let to James Crafurd, and Margaret Kelsoland, wife of the said James, for two pounds annually, with horses and carts for collecting the tithes at the said land, and keeping the same.”

“The Kyrkland of Kylmacolm is let to George Fleming for twelve shillings annually, with the reception of the tithes of the congregation when it happens, and custody of the same, and riding to us with them when required.”

The collection of these dues either by the monks or their deputy must have been very troublesome. They often, therefore, farmed them out, receiving from their lessee a single sum, and leaving him to make the most of what he could gather. In the Appendix we give a lease by an abbot of the vicarage and altarage of the Kirks of Paisley and Lochwinnoch, and there are many other similar instances. These “tacksmen of the tiends” would be able to exact more from the farmers than the easy-going monks were likely to collect for themselves.