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Chapter XIX: Dissolution of the Monastery, 1547-1571

The ruffian band
Came to reform where ne'er they came to pray.
                                      Keble.



THE Abbot of Paisley was now Primate of Scotland, and we need only follow his career in so far as it was connected with the Abbey, of which he was superior, and whose revenues he retained. All readers of Scottish history know with what determination he fought the battle of the Church ; and though many of the deeds of his life are to be condemned, we cannot but admire the bravery of the man. His primacy, like that of his predecessor, was marked by the persecution of those who held the new opinions. Toleration was then a virtue unknown. Two heretics were with his sanction condemned to be burnt, [1] one a decrepit priest of the name of Mill, eighty-two years of age. The Archbishop attempted most energetically a reformation of abuses in the Church, and presided at more than one council of the clergy in which strict measures were passed for making the priesthood more zealous and learned, and in which their immoralities were censured and denounced in the strongest terms. He sanctioned the publication of a Catechism, and is even supposed to have compiled it himself. It is written in the Scottish vernacular, setting forth the doctrines of the Church, for the instruction of the common people, and was to be read to them before High Mass, when there was no sermon, and the clergy were enjoined to exercise themselves daily in reading it, lest their stammering or breaking down might excite the jeers of the people. The Archbishop felt that the only hope for the Church lay in a revival of learning and energy among the clergy. He completed St. Mary's College at St. Andrews, and endowed it largely from the revenues of his See, and he ordained that each of the monasteries should send at least one of their members to the University, setting apart some of their churches for the students' maintenance. The Abbey sent a student to Glasgow, and the tithes of Kilmalcolm were assigned for his support. [2] All the endeavours of the Primate failed to turn the tide that was setting in. The new opinions were spreading everywhere. The clergy continued as immoral as before. The Archbishop himself set them a bad example, and many of them, it is asserted, finding the new regulations disagreeable, especially those that enjoined the putting away of harlots, abandoned the Church, and went over, in name at least, to the party of the reformers. [3] In 1553, the Archbishop resigned the Abbacy of Paisley to his nephew, Claud Hamilton, a child of ten. [4] This deed was sanctioned by a Bull of the Pope, Julius III., in which the boy's age is said to be fourteen. [5] After deducting a fourth of the revenues of the Abbey, if he had a separate establishment, and a third if he lived in the Monastery, for the upholding of the fabric, the purchase of ornaments, or for charity to the poor, the fortunate youth was to be at liberty to dispose of the surplus. The Archbishop was to administer the temporal and spiritual concerns of the Abbey until his nephew reached his twenty-third year. If the Prelate died before that time, the Claustral Prior was to take charge of these. The whole revenues are valued at 600 golden florins in the Roman Camera. All these were made over to the Commendator, who was warned to be careful that neither the splendour of the divine worship, nor the number of the monks should suffer any diminution. The boy is addressed as “clerico,” and must have been in some of the minor orders. All the good things are bestowed on him on the petition of “our beloved son, the Duke of Chastellerault, Regent of the Kingdom, and guardian of our beloved daughter in Christ, that illustrious minor, Mary Queen of Scots, by whom your moral life and other qualifications have been highly extolled to us.” It was a curious transaction.


[1] Adam Wallace was burned on the Castlehill of Edinburgh in 1551, shortly after the Abbot's elevation. Walter Mill in 1552.
[2] See Robertson's “Statuta” (Ban. Club) for a full account of the Archbishop's endeavours to stay the progress of heresy.
[3] Leslie, Bishop of Ross.
[4] He retained the title of Abbot, for in a charter of 1558 he is still called Abbas de Pasleto.— See Gordon's Monasticon, Vol. II., pr 286.
[5] Introduction to the Chartulary. The Bull of the Pope, which we give in the Appendix, is dated 9th December, 1553.