J. G McPherson.

Strathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth online

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Online LibraryJ. G McPhersonStrathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth → online text (page 3 of 20)
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and the Churches of Bendochy and Fossoway in Perth-

It is not in our power to give anything like an accurate
account of the successive Abbots of Cupar, owing to the
very limited information which we have about them ; nor
would any detailed account of many be of any general
interest. Major-General Allan has taken a very great
deal of trouble to procure sufficient data for weav-
ing together a historical account of them. We have
read the whole of the notices; but out of the 120
pages we will only mention the prominent and useful

According to a valuable little work, " Chronicon Anglo-
Scoticum," the first Abbot was Fulc, who, like several of
his successors, was a Cistercian monk of the Abbey of Mel-
rose; one of them, William, returning, after two years,
to Melrose as its Abbot. William was a particularly
pious man ; for at his death he was esteemed worthy of
being buried near his sainted predecessor, Waltheof ; and
a strange story is told about this burial. While the
grave was being made, some of the monks looked
in and removed the cover of Waltheof 's tomb ;
when, by the lighted taper it being evening
they saw the body of the holy man as it lay uncor-
rupted, and clothed in garments apparently fresh and

Several Abbots are mentioned as witnesses to royal
charters. During Alexander's incumbency, the Convent-
ual Church of the Abbey was dedicated to Saint Mary in
1233 ; and a very protracted dispute took place between
the monks, as Cistercians, and the Papal legate, about
their non-adherence to his order, to cease from the cele-
bration of Divine service during the existence of the
Papal interdict.


Abbot Andrew was at the Convention assembled at
Brigham, near Roxburgh, in 1289, which consented to
the proposed marriage of their infant Queen Margaret, in
her eighth year, with Prince Edward of England. Twice
did he pay homage to Edward I. first in the church of
the Friars' Preachers at Perth, and next at Berwick-on-
Tweed. He built a chapel at the expense of the Abbey,
in the island of Karuelay (now Kerrera, near Oban), and
engaged three monks to celebrate divine service there in
memory of King Alexander, for a certain sum of mono}',
which the Abbey had received from the King. The
earliest known seal of an Abbot of Cupar is one of the
3 r ear 1292, now in the Chapter-House, Westminster ; it is
a small counter-seal, with the design of a hand vested
issuing from the left side and holding a crozier between
two fleurs-de-lis. Andrew appears to have been the only
Superior of Cupar Abbey who was raised to the Episco-
pate ; for his high character and virtues he was made
Bishop of Caithness. King Edward I. of England, in his
general spoliation of Scotch Abbeys, in 129G, seized all
the jewels and silver-plate of the Abbey of Cupar, to be
broken up and made into new vessels for the Lady
Elizabeth, his daughter, " against her passage to Holland,"
details of which are still extant in the Wardrobe Account
in the British Museum. Abbot Alan was a member of
King Edward's Privy Council in Scotland ; and sat in the
Parliament of King Robert the Bruce. Dr. William Blair
was an Abbot of learning, ability, and importance ; and
was appointed visitor of the Cistercian Order in Scotland.
Abbot Thomas of Livingston was nominated Bishop of
Dunkeld by the anti-pope Felix V. , but, though conse-
crated, ho never obtained possession of the see. By a
Papal Bull from Pope Paul, in 14G4, Abbot David Bane
had the privilege of using the mitre and pontificals, and


the right of consecrating churches and cemeteries. From
an agreement signed in 1500, between the Convent and
Andrew Liel, about the lands of Redgorton, it is seen
that there were in all seventeen members of the Convent
Chapter of Cupar, the second member taking the title
"superior." Abbot John Schanwell, being appointed
by Papal authority the Commissioner from the general
Chapter of Citeaux, visited and reformed the Cistercian
Monasteries in Scotland ; when, on account of the sad
neglect of discipline, he deposed the Abbots of Melrose,
Dundrainan, and Sweetheart Abbey. Such a sweeping
condemnation showed the terrible signs of decay in the
beginning of the sixteenth century. Though during the
preceding century three Universities had been founded,
and a wonderful revival of learning was seen throughout
ths land ; yet the Abbeys, seeing that thereby much of
their work was not required, became effeminate by
indolent luxury, and their members began to receive the
popular names, derived from their over-fed and over-
indulged appearances, which too often attach to our
modern idea of monk. Living instances were they of the
fact, doubted too readily by money-enslaved and luxury-
hunting mortals, that a man of the world can be found
in the seclusion of monastic life. Man carries in his
breast the source of his glory or his misery ; of his rest
or his dispeace. And more pointedly do such terrible
examples show us the truth of the reflection of the
Apostate Angel after he overthrew the harmony of the
universe, thus fixed in poetic form by the immortal
genius of Milton, who, believing in the freedom of the
will, held that man was the creator of his own
world :

" The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."


The last and most noted of the Abbots of Cupar was
Donald Campbell (152G-15G2), the fourth son of the Earl
of Argyll. He was one of the twenty who composed the
secret Council of the Regent Arran, and was for some
time Lord Privy Seal to Queen Alary. King James the
Fifth nominated him one of the senators of the College of
Justice at Edinburgh. Already the reformed doctrines
of Luther were finding their way among the Scotch laity,
and the Abbot was suspected of leaning to them ; for,
when nominated Bishop of Brechin, the Pope would not
confirm his appointment, and he never assumed the title.
In 15GO he attended the Parliament when the Reforma-
tion of religion received the first legal sanction. During
his tenure of office three different Abbey seals were used.
The principal seal, appended to a tack of the lands of
Murthly, is of a rich design ; within a Gothic niche is a
figure of the Virgin in a sitting posture, her right hand
holding a branch of lilies, her left supporting the infant
Jesus, who stands on a seat beside her ; below is an
Abbot with a crozier kneeling at prayer, with a shield
on either side, the one bearing the arms of Scotland, and
the other the arras of the family of Hay, who contributed
so much to the endowment of the Abbey. To his five
sons he gave the fine estates of Balgcrsho, Arthurstone,
Keithock, Denhead, and Croonan, all in the neighbour-
hood of Cupar ; for his lineal descendant, the late Lord
Chancellor Campbell, asserts that he was married before
ho was made Abbot ; to James Ogilvy, heir of James,
Lord Ogilvy of Airlio he gave the lands of Glentullacht
and Auchindoryc ; and to other relations similar grants
from church lands.

From the Rental Book and Register of Tacks we find
that the Abbots were exceedingly careful in their letting


of the church lands. The first entry in 1443 is the tack
of a croft of two acres and a house for five years, paying
yearly three hens and finding two harvest men in autumn
with usual service. Five years seems to have been for a
long period the general extent of the lease ; yet we have
several instances of four years, seven years, and nine
years. Some farms were taken by shareholders, in
eighths or twelfths ; the tack restricting (under pain of
forfeiture), the holder of an eighth to the employment of
three cottars, and the holder of a twelfth to two. The
agreement contained the conditions that cottars without
kailyards were to be at once ejected ; that calves found
in the blade-corn after the Feast of the Nativity of St.
John the Baptist, and more than one pig found on each
twelfth of the farm, were to be forfeited to the monastery ;
and that at reaping-time any one, who introduced sheep
into the corn before all had made a full leading in, had to
pay a fine.

It was Abbot David who in 1462 introduced the most
particular details into the leases. In one tack the tenants
shall duly sow all the parks for two years together, ac-
cording to ancient customs ; and after sowing they shall re-
store and fence the parks, satisfying the keeper of the fields
of the monastery ; at their own expense the tenants shall
keep in proper order the principal bam' of the grange and
seedhouse; those remaining shall recompense those retiring
for the houses, according to common law and custom in
such matters ; the tenants shall have the manure of the
great stable and of the yard of the brew-house ; also the
ashes of the bake-house and oven, and of the peats in the
kitchen. Particular attention is to be directed to drain-
ing and recovering the marshes. In most of the 240 tacks,
tenants are required to weed their lands carefully, and
especially to destroy the wild marigold, taking a change


of seed as often as possible. For keeping and governing
the whole farm, where there are several tenants, an overs-
man chosen by the Abbot shall see that " gud nycht-buryt
(neighbourhood or neighbourliness) be kepit." Five land
officers, with districts allotted, were empowered to see that
the tenants fulfilled the conditions of their leases, to keep
an account of the sheep belonging to the monastery fed
on different lands, and of the rent in kind paid by the
tenantry. He commenced the system of giving life-rents,
which was almost universally carried out by Abbot
Donald in his time ; and, if the tenant thought that he
would be better in another place, he should have the free
consent of the Abbot, on condition that he gave in six
months' warning before the term of Whitsunday. In
some cases a tenant had liberty to sub-let part of his farm.
If one of the shareholding tenants left his land unlaboured,
the others were to labour it and be paid compensation.
The old custom of riding the marches is mentioned ; in
one tack, the tenant of Auchindore shall " kep and defend
our marches as thai war redyng at the last ridyng and
declaracioun." Security had to be found in many cases ;
and grassum was exacted in renewing tacks. Fines were
levied on those who did not keep their lands clean accord-
ing to the lease.

A curious grant was given by Abbot William in 1508
" to Sir Alexander Turnbull, chaplain, of all and whole
the chaplainry of the Chapel of the Aisle of St Margaret,
Queen of Scots, near Forf'ar, for life, providing that he
shall make personal residence in the ministry of the said
chapel, and rule in priestly manner accordingly to the rule
of the sacred canons ; that he be diligent and earnest in
building and repairing the chapel and buildings thereof;
and that he do not receive temporal lords or ladies or
strangers of whatsoever kind or sex to stay there without


leave asked and obtained by the Abbot, and that no women
dwell there except those lawfully permitted ; also that
the said chaplain plant trees without and within, and
construct stone dykes for the defence and preservation of
the loch." Contracts were made with the several trades-
men. In 1492 a mason was hired by the Abbot in pres-
ence of three monks, for five years, at five merks yearly
and his dinner daily (half-a-gallon of convent ale, and
five wheaten cakes with fish and flesh), with a stone of
wool for his bounty ; also free house and toft of 2 J acres,
with the Abbot's old albs reaching to the ankles. In the
same year a slater was hired for one year on similar terms,
but if he should happen to fail at any time, for every day's
failure he had to work two days beyond the year. At
the same wages two carpenters were hired for one year,
taking an oath to be faithful both in skill and work. A
smith was hired for a year for the common smithy-work
of the Abbey at the same wages, receiving extra his daily
quart of better beer. Apprentices were indentured for
from six to nine years ; they must not murmur at the
common and usual service in victual and other things ;
their wages being from one to two merks during service.
A contract was made in 1532 with an'Edinburgh plumber,
" ane honourable man," for his lifetime, that for 5 6s. Sd.
Scots he shall uphold, mend and repair water-tight the
Abbey, Kirk, choir, steeple, and all other leaden work
within the Abbey, well and sufficiently, as he did at St.
Andrews (he and his servants receiving board when
engaged in work), and that he must come as often as re-
.quired on eight days' warning.

Above a hundred carefully drawn out leases are signed
by Abbot Donald, most of them being for life, and even
including the life of the eldest son, or next male heir.
Feu-titles were completed by the Bailie-depute attending


on the land and giving the feuar some earth or thatch to
prove possession. The privilege of brewing ale and sell-
ing it with bread and wine was granted to a portion of
the tenantry. Corn mills driven by water power were
in every district ; and " thirlage " to the mill was en-
forced, being put in the leases as "doing debt to the
mill," which debt was the twenty-first sheaf of corn in
the fields. Walk-mills for pressing and fulling cloth
were established in several places; but there was no
thirlage attached to them. On the death of a tenant of a
farm, the best horse or ox was claimed by the Abbot.
Muirland tenants had to keep hounds to hunt the fox
and wolf, and to be ready to pass to the hunt when the
Abbot or his bailies required them. Tenants, whose
farms touched the Isla, had to provide a boat and fishing-
tackle for the monks. All had to cut, dry and drive a
certain quantity of peats to the Abbey ; and all carriages
had to be willingly attended to.

As the buildings were now much in need of repair, the
Abbot exacted in life-leases a composition of from one to
two hundred pounds Scots in cash, for the fabric of the
Abbey. Due provision was very considerately made for
aged tenants ; to keep such from being paupers, those
succeeding to their leases were bound to provide them in
meat and clothes and other necessaries. Orphan children
of deceased tenants were assisted by the Abbey funds
and had guardians appointed for them. In some leases
it was made a condition that cottars were not to be re-
moved. The principal tenants were required to provide
two armed hoi-semen for the service of the Queen and
Abbot in time of war or civil broils.

Leases after 1544? had a heresy clause inserted, and
"give it happinnis, as God forbeit, at the said to hald ony
oppinnionis of heresies and byde obstinatlie thairat, it


sail be tinsall of the tak but [without] ony forder proces of
law." In one tack the exact heresy is mentioned (1550) :
"If they shall fall into the Lutheran madness (rabies) and
heresy, or if they shall obstinately hold new opinions
contrary to the constitutions of the Church the said feu
shall revert to the Abbey."

The records of the Abbey of Cupar contain more de-
tails about Scottish husbandry and rural affairs during
the fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth centuries than
any other to be found. Most chartularies of the Abbeys
are chiefly valuable in connection with the history of
landed property. But from these we can judge of the
shrewd, practical interest which the Abbots of Cupar
took in administering their estates and conducting their
affairs ; their fairness to their tenants ; their reasonable,
sympathetic co-operation with those who were, by
manual labour, supporting them ; their care in securing
the proper training of workmen in their several pro-
fessions ; their consideration for the farmers' dependants ;
their sense of responsibility in making the best use of the
land for the common good; their encouragement of clean-
liness, economy, and the spirit of honour, charity, and
brotherly kindness in the household under them; and
their honest endeavour to live religion as well as to
preach it.

Whatever may have been the faults of the Abbots ot
Cupar, they cannot be considered as fit subjects for the
bitter sarcasm which John Skelton, in 1550, expressed
against most of the ecclesiastics of his time :

" The laymen call them barrels
Full of gluttony
And of hypocrisy,
That counterfeits and paints
As they were very saints,
For they will have no loss
Of a penny nor a cross


Of their predial lands
That cometh to their hands,
And as far as they dare set
All is fish that cometh to net."

In 1553 Donald and the fifteen monks signed a solemn
bond in which they all resolved, " God being their guide,
to lead a regular life, and to order their manners accord-
ing to the reformers of the Cistercian Order ; each of
them to have sixteen ounces of wheaten bread, and a like
quantity of oaten bread, two quarts of beer daily, besides
an annual allowance of 13 Cs. 8d. Scots, for flesh, fish,
butter, salt, and other spices ; and figs, soap, and candles
for the refectory, hall of grace, and infirmary; and an allow-
ance of 53s. 4d. annually for clothing ; the cellarer and
bursar to give in a statement of accounts twice a-year,
and any surplus revenue to be disposed of as they shall
then see fit." The monks of Cupar were of a purer and
higher character than the average of the age, and came
nearer to the training and tone of those thus described by
Tennyson in Harold :

" A life of prayer and fasting well may see
Deeper into the mysteries of Heaven."

Yet to a great extent the simple arrangements of three
centuries had over Scotland begun to show unmistakable
signs of deep-seated corruption. The grand mediaeval or-
ganisation was losing its motive power and was helplessly
decaying. True devotion was supplanted by grovelling
worldliness. Seven hundred of the working churches
were held by the Bishops and Abbots ; the poor working
vicars being almost as ignorant as the people to whom
they preached. Benefices were sold at the Roman Court.
The monks no longer had their hereditary right to elect
their Abbots, nor Cathedral Chapters their Bishops. The
Sovereigns sold these offices for needy cash to men in
most cases unworthy of them and unable to perform


their required duties. The spiritual interests of the
people were disregarded. Still did the monks of the Ab-
bey preach, but all else was spiritually dead. The nobles
were hankering after the wealth of the Abbeys. The
celibate system which had, when revered, unmistake-
able advantages over the semi-starved, family-burdened,
care-worn Protestant clergy of our day was being abused,
and was producing humiliating and disastrous results.
The intolerance of the Roman Catholics to give due res-
pect to the reformed doctrines which culminated in
Luther, and the bitter obstinacy to reform the Church
from within, could not fail to turn the tide against them.
Tradition had greater weight than the written Word.
Departed saints were honoured as unmistakeable mediators.
Penances were enough to make men righteous.

Doubtless, Abbot Donald and his brethren in Cupar
Abbey wept in secret over these abominations, and longed
for the dawn of a better day ; for he, though appointed
to the See of Brechin, was not inducted on account of the
suspicion of his leanings to the reformed faith ; and this
in the face of the heresy clauses, which, by Papal Author-
ity, he had to put into the leases of the Abbey tenants.
But for his association (as Lord Privy Seal) with the
Roman Catholic Queen Mary, whose fascinating powers
made almost all ecclesiastics, who came into her pre-
sence, yield their better judgment rather than be on
unfriendly terms with her, Abbot Donald of Cupar
might have been one of the staunchest reformers. He
tried in his own limited way to do what would have sayed
the Church, had it been universally adopted over Europe,
to reform it from within. And it is to some extent a pity
that so many noble minds abandoned the old Church, and
did not persevere in their eiforts for its revival. For
with all the glorious results of Protestantism to the indi-


vidual, it has not been a success in the world. The unity
of the Church was sacrificed. Freedom of thought is a
blessing which is dear to man, yet it was dearly bought ;
for it is no doubt the root principle of all the sects and
schisms which must split up and weaken the Protestant
Church. Intolerance is not confined to the Church before
the Reformation. Heresy-hunting and hair-splitting of
religious tenets have not yet died out in our enlightened
age. And there is often felt the want of that authority,
which at times would be very desirable, from the consen-
sus of religious thought. Abbot Donald saw that, and
regretted the want of energy and life in the Church
around. Those who burned the martyrs had no sympa-
thy from him. And among the members present at the
Convention of Estates in Scotland, held in Edinburgh in
August, 1560, assenting to the ratification of the new
" Confession of Faith " as the standard of religion in Scot-
land, and the annulling of all authority and jurisdiction
within the realm of the " bischope of Rome callit the
Paip," and prohibition of saying or hearing " the messe,"
under pain of death for the third infringement, was " Do-
nald Abbot of Coupar."

Some two thousand years ago there was in Athens a
wonderful collection of broken fragments of most ex-
quisitely-formed human statues, brought from all parts of
the known world. One day a stranger entered the hall,
where the artists were wrangling about which of the
fragments bore the evidence of being a part of the ideal
statue of man. He looked at them as no other man
looked ; and they were awed by his presence. And he
said, " Sirs, why strive so among yourselves ? Put these
bita together, and you will find that they fit into each


other." They did so, and all the parts fitted in exactly ;
but the head was awanting. They were sorely saddened
at this crowning loss. But the stranger, without a word,
drew from beneath his cloak the head which had been so
long lost, and crowned the statue. The perfect thing was
now before them. The pure ideal was now before the
Grecian artists' eyes. In a similar way, men had been
puzzled with the fragments of religion which they col-
lected from the different nations of the world. From the
fragments they wove several religions ; they wrote and
argued about them ; but where was the man who could
unite them all into one ideal of religion, yet living and
practical in its bearings ? All could be influenced by the
great " Light of the world," yet who could show men the
embodiment of the ideal religion ? At the Reformation,
Luther, Calvin, Latimer, and Knox thought that they had
realised it; and that thought carried them and their
followers through much difficulty and danger. Yet the
hold it took on them drove them to the same intolerance
which they condemned in their adversaries. The demoli-
tion of all the finest ecclesiastical edifices in the kingdom
cannot now be defended. In fanatical zeal they thought
of extinguishing the Catholics by tearing down their
" nests ; " and not long were they in accomplishing the
destruction. This is one of the unfortunate blots in the
life of him whom Froude has pronounced to be the
"grandest figure in the entire history of the British

The reformers then obtained the mastery of Scotland.
The poor clay, which, a generation earlier, the ha.ughty
barons would have trodden into the. gutter, had been
heated in the red-hot furnace of the new faith ; but their
convictions were fixed by a very fierce intolerance. Yet
they had to live. How were they to be provided with


money ? Knox soon saw that something had to be done
to keep the Protestant preachers from positive starvation.
The nobles had seized upon many of the rich benefices of
the Church. According!}', the Privy Council allowed the
Catholics to retain two-thirds of their benefices during
their life-time, and appropriated the remaining third for
the Reformed Church and the Crown. All the beneficed
clergy and the Abbeys had to produce their rent-rolls to
ascertain the true value of the livings. This seemed
honourable by the Protestant nobles to the vanquished
Catholic ecclesiastics. But the generosity was only skin

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Online LibraryJ. G McPhersonStrathmore: past and present, being topographical, ecclesiastical, and historical sketches of the parishes in the centre of Strathmore; with particular notices of the Abbey of Cupar and the Priory of Rostinoth → online text (page 3 of 20)