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Chapter IV: The Founding of the Monastery

In the antique age of bow and spear,
And feudal rapine clothed with iron mail,
Came ministers of peace, intent to rear
The Mother Church in yon sequestered vale.
                             Wordsworth.


PAISLEY ABBEY is a memorial of the coming to Scotland of the great house of Stewart, which has left so broad and deep a mark on Scottish history. The origin of this family has been and still is a great subject of controversy among genealogists and antiquaries. While some have with Shakespear traced its descent to Fleance, the son of Banquo, others, with probably greater likelihood, have sought for the house a less romantic ancestry, and have made out the first Stewart to be “a Norman of the Normans.” Into this genealogical controversy there is no necessity for us to enter. It is sufficient to know that probably in the time of The Conqueror, certainly in that of King Henry I., his successor, there was a certain Alan, the son of Flaald, [1] a great magnate in the county of Salop, owner of the lordship of Oswestry, a large and noble estate which had belonged to a dispossessed Briton called Meridith ap Blechyn. On these lands Alan settled and became a man of great importance. He was frequently at court; and among the names of persons of high rank who witness the charters of King Henry, we often come upon the somewhat primitive designation, Alan the son of Flathald. [2] In course of time Alan married a lady in his own county of Shropshire. She was the daughter of a magnate, Warine, the Sheriff of the county. By this lady he had three sons,—William, Walter, and Simon. [3] With the first two only, however, are we now concerned. William succeeded his father in Shropshire, and improved his fortunes by marrying a lady of high rank and wealth, Isabel de Say, Lady, as she was called, of Clugny; she was piously inclined, and liberally endowed the Monastery of Wenlock in her neighbourhood. Walter, like his father the Norman, was a soldier of fortune; and while his brother settled down as an English baron, he turned his face northward and got a holding in Scotland. [4] King David I. of Scotland was at the siege of Winchester in 1141, supporting the claims of his niece the Empress Maud in her severe contest with Stephen. William of Shropshire was also there in attendance on Maud, whose cause he warmly espoused; and his younger brother Walter was probably in his train. When David, overpowered by superior numbers, had to retreat, he was accompanied by Walter, who, a younger son with little property, was glad to attach himself to the court of the northern monarch in the natural hope of bettering his fortune. In this he was not disappointed. The king shewed him great favour; took him into his household and conferred on him the title of Lord High Stewart of Scotland. [5] The successor of his patron was even more generous. He ratified the title to his favourite and his heirs, and bestowed on him a wide territory, chiefly in Renfrewshire. The charter [6] containing this great benefaction still exists; it is addressed by Malcolm, king of Scots, to “the bishops, abbots, barons, justices, sheriffs, provosts, officers, and all other good men, clergy and laity, French [7] and English, Scots, and inhabitants of Galloway.” The King confirms the grant which his grandfather David had made to Walter, of Renfrew and Passeleth, Pollok, Talahec, Kathkert, Le Drip, Le Mutrene, Eglisham, Lochinauche, and Inverwick, and again confers the office of the Stewartship on him and his heirs. Besides this he gives very liberally, in gratitude for service done both to King David and himself. He bestows as much of Preithe [8] as King David held in his own hand; also Inchinan, Steintum, Halestondene, Legardswode, and Birchinsyde. He gives in each of his burghs and regalities throughout his kingdom a full toft [9] for his entertainment therein, and with every toft twenty acres of land, and in return for all this Walter is to give the King and his heirs the service of five knights. The Stewart soon colonised, after the fashion of the time, the lands thus generously bestowed on him He built a castle for himself in the neighbourhood of Renfrew, [10] and he gave holdings to his followers throughout his wide territory of Strathgryff, as his Renfrewshire property was called. On eminences here and there might be seen the strongholds of his retainers, and in their neighbourhood the settlements inhabited, and the lands cultivated by their followers. The same names which appear in the Doomsday Book as inhabiting Shropshire are transferred to the neighbourhood of Paisley.

[1] Those who wish to enter into the historic question of the origin of the Stewarts will find it ably discussed in “Stewartiana,” by J. H. Riddel, Chalmers' “Caledonia,” and by Mr. Eyton in the “Archeological Journal,” Vol. XIII. The latter argues very ably in favour of the Stewarts' descent from Banquo. Mr. Cosmo Innes, in his “Scottish Surnames,” page 4, and in his “Scotland in the Middle Ages,” page 127, classes the Stewarts with other Norman nobles. In the stone of the western wall of the church of Dives, in Normandy, is carved a list of the alleged companions of William the Conqueror in his invasion, and among these occurs the name of “Alan le Roux.” This may be the Alan, son of Flaald, who was the undoubted ancestor of the Stewarts. Beyond this Alan all is conjecture, and they have not with any certainty been traced beyond the county of Salop whence the first Stewart and his following came to found a colony in Renfrewshire. Some of his companions who obtained grants of lands in Scotland are shown by Riddel and Eyton to have had property in Shropshire, and to have been benefactors of the church in that county.
[2] Alanus Flaalde filius.
[3] Simon witnesses his brother's charter at Fodringhame, and probably accompanied him afterwards to Scotland.
[4] Mr. Riddel's “Stewartiana,” and Mr. Eyton's “Archaeological Journal,” Vol. XIII., show that he possessed property in his mother's county, but not probably to a great extent.
[5] The fes cheque which the Stewart assumed as his armorial bearing was the counting board used in the duties of his office.
[6] The charter is given in the appendix to the Paisley Register.
[7] This indicates the number of Normans who had by this time crossed the Scottish border.
[8] Perth.
[9] A plot for a house.
[10] He is believed to have had a castle also in Neilston. A charter granted by James, High Stewart, who died in 1309, bears to have been executed “spud manerium nostrum de Renfrw.”—Ramsay's Views of Renfrewshire.