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Chapter VIII: The Prosperous Times of Alexander III. 1248-1286

Who loved the Church so well, and gave so largely to it,
They thought it should have canopied their bones
Till Doomsday;—but all things have an end



DURING the early periods of the history of the Abbey, all we can learn regarding it is gleaned from the charters of endowments, the inhibitions and excommunications hurled against those who assailed its privileges, and the bulls of successive popes by whom those privileges were con-firmed. The abbots seem to have taken no prominent part in the general history of the time, and appear to have been fully occupied with the extension and defence of the property and possessions of their house. It is not, however, difficult to form some idea of what the life of the Convent at that time was from the slight materials we possess. The monastic devotions were gone through with perfect regularity, varied by special services for the souls of those who had been benefactors of the house. In the scriptorium and chapter house were drawn up by skilled hands those wonderful charters which have come down to us, and for their terseness and accuracy, cannot be surpassed. Pilgrims to the shrine of St. Mirin would be received in the refectory ; messengers would be despatched to the many outlying lands belonging to the Convent for the receipt of rents and making arrangements with tenants. From time to time the Abbot or his procurators would take a journey to Rome on special business, or to Clugny, to make obeisance to the head of the Order, bringing back to the brethren many a story of their travels. The Stewart and his knights were constantly their guests, if we may judge from the frequency with which they witness deeds in the chapter house, and were doubtless entertained with all the respect and hospitality due to their station. In the forest of Gleniffer the monks or their men might be seen herding their cattle, and in the low grounds busy with the operations of agriculture. It was a peaceful period in Scottish history—that period which all the old chroniclers speak of with rapture, when they contrast it with the stormy time which followed the death of Alexander III. The people were prosperous, and were glad to share their prosperity with the Church, as we learn from the gifts of many kinds which they poured into her treasury. The picture of life in an abbey of the Middle Ages, which has been so well drawn by a master hand, might be seen by any visitor to the banks of the Cart and to the Abbey of the Stewarts, in the happy days of King Alexander. “In black tunics, the mementoes of death, and in leathern girdles, the emblems of chastity, might then be seen carters silently yoking their bullocks to the team, and driving them in silence to the field, or shepherds interchanging some inevitable whispers while they watched their flocks, or wheelwrights, carpenters, and masons plying their trades like the inmates of some dumb asylum, and all pausing from their labours as the convent bell, sounding the hours of prime, nones, or vespers, summoned them to join in spirit where they could not repair in person, to those sacred offices. Around the monastic buildings might be seen the belt of cultivated land continually encroaching on the adjoining forest, and the passer-by might trace to the toils of these mute workmen the opening of roads, the draining of marshes, the herds grazing, and the harvests waving in security under the shelter of ecclesiastical privileges which even the Estergoth and Vandal regarded with respect.” If we exchange for the “Estergoth and Vandal” the marauding baron and Highland chief, the picture is a true one of the surroundings of Paisley Abbey in those peaceful years.

The last we hear of Abbot William is witnessing a charter of the Earl of Lennox in 1248,
[1]between which date and 1272 we have no mention of any abbot, [2] and are entirely ignorant who William's successor was, or when that able ruler gave place to another. He certainly left the Abbey in a prosperous state to his successor, whoever he was. He had increased its possessions to a great extent, adding to them in the Highlands and western coasts of Scotland, and even in Ireland. The churches of Rosneth [3] and of Kilfinan,[4] fishings on the Leven and on the Garloch; lands on Lochgilp and at Kilmun, and the land called “Tiberir at Dumals in Ireland,” [5] became the property of the convent in his time.


[1] See Lennox Papers.
[2] An Abbot Henry is generally mentioned in the lists given of the Abbots on the authority of a Bull by Pope Clement, dated 1265. There is an Abbot Henry spoken of in the attestation of a notary who gives a transumpt of the Bull, but this is Henry Crichton, Abbot between 1460-70. Pope Clement IV. in 1265 issued a Bull to the Abbot of Paisley without specially mentioning his name. On 9th December, 1469, John Reston, notary, made a transumpt, or copy of that Bull (during the incumbency of Henry Crichton, Abbot of Paisley). In consequence of some confounding the copy of 1469 with the Bull of 1265, they have entered Abbot Henry under 1265 instead of 1469. See Reg. de Pas., p. 308.
[3] Reg. de Pas., p. 209. Rosneth was given by Amelec, the brother of Maldowen, Count of Lennox.
[4] Reg. de Pas., p. 132. Kilfulan, with the chapel of St. Mary and some land at Kilmun and Lochgilp, was given by Duncan, the son of Ferchar.
[5] Reg. de Pas., p. 412.