April 2013 – Religious Houses and Property, 1296-1314

Surviving the War: Religious Houses and their Property between 1296 and 1314

Andrew Smith, Former Research Associate[1]


As briefly discussed in previous features of the month, Scotland’s abbeys and priories were seriously affected by the wars of independence. The following feature of the month will survey all 200-plus of surviving documents which relate to the proprietary interests of Scottish religious houses between March 1296 and November 1314. In doing so, it will attempt to establish some generalizations about their economic practices as compared to those found in Scotland before the war.


Religious Houses as Beneficiaries

Following the outbreak of the conflict in 1296, there is little evidence that religious houses sought out or attracted many gifts of land or other property. In fact, only sixteen documents survive which record such transactions.[2] One such example is found in the Lindores cartulary and states that on 24 August 1302, Lindores was given two small portions of land in Collessie, Fife, by Elena, lady of Collessie, in her widowhood.[3] On 14 August 1305, Melrose Abbey was also given land in Peebles, and King Robert gave Kinloss Abbey a fishery in Findhorn in the second decade of the fourteenth century.[4] This said, one institution which does appear to have received substantial gifts of land and property was Coupar Angus Abbey. In fact, charters found in its cartulary account for over half of the sixteen charters mentioned. Around 1300, Coupar Angus was given the land of Little Pert and the land and common of Drimmie.[5] Around 1304, they were given the lands of Doonies and Alrick in Glenisla and a site for two cruives.[6] Individuals also granted Coupar Angus the land of Auchindorie, the land Cammock in Glenisla, and the land of Murthly during this period.[7]

Despite the lack of evidence for gifts of property, however, there does appear to have been efforts to provide Scotland’s monks and regular canons with financial resources. This manifested itself in several ways, the first of which was simply the gift of a lump sum of money.[8] Nevertheless, Scotland’s bishops had a far more innovative method of providing religious houses with the cash needed to carry out their day-to-day activities: they allowed them to ‘appropriate’ or acquire all of the income from their parish churches. In the middle ages, monks and regular canons frequently acquired rights to parish churches which would afford them certain fiscal benefits. For instance, acquiring the right of patronage (or advowson) would allow them to appoint the local vicar, and thus entitle them to a certain amount of parochial revenue.[9] There are eight documents in this study which relate to such a privilege.[10] On the other hand, the right of appropriation, which was far more lucrative, could be acquired by a religious house in one of two ways: the bishop could give a church’s income to a monastery at the same time that he granted (or confirmed) a lord’s donation of the same church, or the bishop could give both a church and its income directly to a religious house if they were part of his ‘mensa’ – i.e. his own property. Thirteen charters survive which record one of these two scenarios, and William Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews, was responsible for several of these donations.[11] On 12 December 1300, he granted Dunfermline Abbey the right to appropriate the parochial church of Dunfermline, and he also allowed Arbroath and Newbattle to appropriate the churches of Dunbog and Heriot, respectively.[12] On the other hand, Robert, bishop of Glasgow, allowed Inchaffray to appropriate the church of Balfron ‘in compassion for the plunderings, burning, and innumerable afflictions which the abbot and convent of Inchaffray had suffered through war’.[13] Moreover other bishops also permitted religious houses to acquire extra revenue through appropriation.[14] Furthermore, it is particularly noteworthy that Pope Clement V became involved in 1306 when he allowed Cambuskenneth to appropriate the church of Clackmannan.[15]


Expenses: Destruction, Arrears and Seized Property

One of the reasons that money and other sources of income were needed by religious institutions was because of the devastation that they suffered during the war.[16] Such destruction was common place during this period, and it is possible to see this reflected in many of the petitions that were made. Around 1296, several religious houses asked King Edward I for protection, and they also requested various forms of aid.[17] Between 1300 and 1307, Melrose Abbey petitioned King Edward to help their church because it was left in ruins and its inhabitants were ejected.[18] Between 1307 and 1308, the king of England also compensated Melrose for damage done at their parish church of Dunscore, and Sweetheart Abbey likewise petitioned the king for redress in relation to destruction caused in the southwest of Scotland.[19] One way that Edward aided these houses was by providing them with timber to help reconstruct their buildings, and there are several existing requests for such resources.[20] Edward also appears to have compensated houses for removing lead from their roofs, and in the case of the monks of Melrose Abbey, for using their facilities to store resources.[21]

Another reason for the institutions’ lack of income was the fact that their land and possessions were seized or alienated during the conflict, and twenty documents record such specifications.[22] Evidence of these events appear as early as September 1296 when the prioress of Haddington petitioned King Edward for land seized in Berwick.[23] Between 1298 and 1299, Jedburgh also requested that Edward remedy the fact that several of their animals were taken, and the king ordered that Newbattle’s lands and revenues be restored.[24] Later in his reign, Edward was also petitioned by Arbroath Abbey for forest land which King John Balliol had taken from them, and he told the prior of Coldingham that he had retaken land and possessions belonging to their institution.[25] Moreover, both the pope and King Robert were also involved. On 23 December 1307, Pope Clement V wrote to the dean of Dunblane asking him not to allow individuals to detain Newbattle’s property, and he also prohibited individuals from taking Scone’s possessions.[26] Thereafter, on 5 October 1308, Robert I wrote to his sheriffs and baillies in Forfar commanding them to revoke all alienations of the land belonging to Arbroath Abbey.[27]

A third reason for a lack of monetary resources was the fact that religious houses were having difficulty getting individuals or institutions to pay them the money which they were owed. Nevertheless, this was not a one-way street since payments owed by the monasteries also fell into arrears. Thirty-three documents record one of the two aforementioned issues, thus making this dilemma the largest single topic found in documents from this period.[28] The earliest example is from the 28 August 1296 when Paisley Abbey acknowledged that it owed money to Sempringham Priory.[29] Shortly thereafter, the prioress of Coldstream petitioned King Edward for rents, and Edward responded by ordering the relaxation of their taxes and a payment of eleven pounds.[30] On 2 January 1301, Pope Boniface VIII commanded that arrears be paid to Arbroath, and around the same time Melrose and Kelso reached an agreement over arrears of teinds (tithes) owed in Mow.[31] Moreover, on October 1303 King Edward also demanded that an inquisition be made into rents owed to Dunfermline, and in 1304 the prior of St Andrews petitioned Edward to aid them by doing the same.[32]

This said, during the reign of King Robert these problems also continued. In 1310, King Robert ordered that the pensions which Arbroath Abbey owed should be reduced because they were harming the abbey.[33] On 3 July 1312, Arbroath Abbey also had to request teinds which it was owed, and the bishop of St Andrews and Arbroath had to come to an agreement over arrears which the abbey owed to the bishopric.[34] Furthermore, on 29 July 1313, Paisley Abbey came to an agreement with a local lord over teinds, and Scone Abbey and May Priory also solved a dispute over tithe payments.[35]

Nevertheless, perhaps the most noteworthy phenomenon found in documents from this period are records of the appointment of procurators. Between 1303 and 1320, Scone Abbey appointed a canon named Hugh to be their procurator, who among other things was supposed ‘to ask for payments’.[36] On 3 February 1312, Arbroath Abbey also appointed a procurator to deal with ‘all their negotiations, lawsuits and disputes’.[37] One cannot help but see these appointments as being linked to the aforementioned problems, and indeed there are several examples of procurators acquiring money owed to religious houses during this period.[38]


Confirmations and Inspections

One ways that religious houses could prohibit unjust seisures, arrears and other issues was to get kings, bishops and lords to confirm or inspect their charters, and these types of documents comprise a large percentage of the existing case-study (20 and 16 documents, respectively).[39] Melrose received several confirmations relating to their rights in Eskdale, and these rights had been challenged during the war.[40] Between 1300 and 1307, Melrose also asked for a confirmation from King Edward, as did Arbroath and Coldingham.[41] Moreover, King Robert also issued several confirmations, including those to Scone and Arbroath in 1312 and 1313.[42]

The issuance of confirmation charters was particularly important because many documents had been destroyed during the war. In fact, Scone, whose entire charter trove was in tatters at the turn of the century, received the confirmation of a charter which had a damaged seal.[43] Inspections were likewise important and could also be used in the place of damaged originals. Religious houses sought inspections from all types of individuals, the earliest of which was issued to Cambuskenneth in 1300 by Bishop William Lamberton.[44] On 20 March 1305, King Edward also inspected a charter of a religious house, as did King Robert on several occasions.[45] Moreover, as discussed in a previous feature of the month, Kelso Abbey got the abbots of Melrose and Dryburgh to inspect charters related to the church of Cranston.[46] This church was later exchanged with the bishop of St Andrews for another parish church, and there is definite possibility that the inspected charter was a forgery.[47]



Ultimately, several other topics could have been explored in this discussion, such as the documents which recorded leases or rentals of lands or churches, the charters which recorded grants of rights such as freedom from tolls, the instruments which recorded quitclaims, or the documents which discussed the military service provided by religious institutions. However, what the reader should take away from this brief exploration is that there was both continuity and change in the way that religious houses interacted with other property holders before and after 1296. On the one hand, both before and after Edward I’s invasion, monasteries frequently sought confirmations and inspections to protect their property. Prior to the war, bishops also frequently granted these institutions the rights of presentation and appropriation. Moreover, it is often stipulated that the impetus for these grants was rooted in the fact that the institutions were having problems similar to those discussed above. For example, in 1295, Bishop William Fraser stated that he allowed St Andrews Priory to appropriate the church of Leuchars because of debt it had accrued as a result of the destruction of its church.[48]

However, there are also distinct differences in the way in which these houses sought to resolve problems over payments, alienations or seized property immediately before and after 1296. As discussed above, religious houses frequently sought aid from the current secular authority after this date, whether that be King Edward or King Robert. In the years leading up to the war, however, they relied almost exclusively on ecclesiastical authorities: i.e. the pope, the bishop or a panel of ecclesiastical judges known as ‘papal judges delegate’.[49] Moreover, it also appears that secular landholders in Scotland were more avid patrons of religious houses before the conflict. In fact, Kelso Abbey, which many historians consider to be the richest of all Scottish religious houses, attracted patronage on several occasions in the 1280s and early 1290s.[50] As mentioned, Coupar Angus was the only institution which was successful in attracting substantial benefactions during the war. Hopefully, future research will determine exactly what made this Cistercian house so successful during this turbulent period.

[1] I would like to thank Prof. Dauvit Broun for his comments on this article.

[2] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 68A (3/350/28), no. 69 (3/0/0), no. 70 (3/324/4), no. 71 (3/223/2), no. 74 (3/493/2), no. 76 (3/324/5) no. 82 (3/276/35) no. 97 (3/550/5); Lindores Cartulary, no. 136 (3/100/9); Melrose Liber, ii, no. 411 (3/203/2), no. 412 (3/203/3), RRS, v, no. 39 (1/53/44), no. 338 (1/53/9); Dunfermline Registrum, no. 358 (3/492/0), Beauly Charter, no. 8 (3/90/14)

[3] Lindores Cartulary, no. 136 (3/100/9)

[4] RRS, v, no. 338 (1/53/9); Melrose Liber, ii, no. 412 (3/203/3). The latter may be a disguised sale. See Ibid., ii, no. 411 (3/203/2)

[5] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 68A (3/350/28), no. 69 (3/0/0), no. 74 (3/493/2).

[6] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 76 (3/324/5), no. 82 (3/276/35).

[7] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 70 (3/324/4), no. 71 (3/223/2), no. 97 (3/550/5).

[8] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 78 (3/324/7), no. 79 (3/324/8); Newbattle Registrum, no. 46 (2/78/3), CDS, iii, no. 271 (1/28/0); Scone Liber, no. 145 (3/21/77).

[9] For a further discussion of rights of presentation and appropriation, see I. B. Cowan, The Medieval Church in Scotland, ed. by J. Kirk (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1995).

[10] Coupar Angus Charters, no. 85 (3/276/32), no. 96 (4/8/35), no. 105 (2/300/1) no. 324 (2/64/30); Melrose Liber, no. 383 (3/254/12); Paisley Registrum, no. 131 (4/32/112); CDS, ii, no. 1238 (2/79/12); NLS, Adv. MS 15.1.18 (2/10/305).

[11] Kelso Liber, i, no. 309 (2/10/298); Dunfermline Registrum, no. 121 (2/10/300); St Andrews Liber, pp. 120 (2/10/302); Inchaffray Charters, no. 84 (2/6/91), no. 119 (2/7/100); Arbroath Liber, no. 244 (4/33/28), no. 267 (2/10/313); Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 62 (2/158/4), no. 63 (2/158/5); Newbattle Registrum, no. 61(2/10/317), no. 63 (2/10/63); Aberdeen Registrum, pp. 41-42 (4/4/23).

[12] Dunfermline Registrum, no. 121 (2/10/300); St Andrews Liber, pp. 120 (2/10/302).

[13] Inchaffray Charters, no. 119 (2/7/100).

[14] Inchaffray Charters, no. 84 (2/6/91).

[15] Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 62 (2/158/4).

[17] Stevenson, Documents, ii, no. 98n (2/106/5), 360 (5/1/0); Rot. Scot., i, no. 23b (3a) (5/1/0), no. 23b (3b) (5/1/0).

[18] CDS, ii, no. 1981 (2/77/9)

[19] CDS, iii, no. 69 (2/302/3), v, no. 521a (5/3/0).

[20] Rot. Scot., i, 24a (3) (5/1/0); CDS, ii, no. 1428 (2/96/9)

[21] CDS, ii, no. 1654 (5/1/0), no. 1727 (2/96/11); v, no. 472n (5/3/0), no. 492a (5/3/0).

[22] Stevenson, Documents, ii, 92-96, no. 385a (3/0/0), ii, no. 501 (2/96/8); Rot. Scot., i, 32a (1) (5/1/0); CDS, ii, no. 1543 (5/1/0), no. 1545 (5/1/0), iv, no. 1780 (2/96/5), no. 1815 (0/0/0), no. 1826 (2/84/33), no. 228 (5/3/0); Newbattle Registrum, no. 191 (2/0/0), Cartes Originales, no. 31 (2/158/12); Inchaffray Charters, no. 120 (2/158/10); Ferguson, ‘Clement V to Scone Abbey: an unprinted letter from the abbey cartularies’, Innes Review, XL, Spring 1989, 69 (2/158/14); Scone Liber no. 128 (2/158/6); RRS, v, no. 3 (1/53/3); Kelso Liber, no. 125 (4/20/66); Melrose Liber, no. 378 (3/254/13); Arbroath Liber, no. 332 (2/64/34).

[23] Stevenson, Documents, ii, 92-96, no. 385a (3/0/0).

[24] CDS, iv, no. 1780 (2/96/5); Newbattle Registrum, no. 191 (2/0/0).

[25] Arbroath Liber, no. 332 (2/64/34); CDS, iv, no. 1826 (2/84/33).

[26] Newbattle Registrum, Cartes Originales, no. 31 (2/158/12); Ferguson, ‘Clement V to Scone Abbey: an unprinted letter from the abbey cartularies’, Innes Review, XL, Spring 1989, 69 (2/158/14).

[27] RRS, v, no. 4 (1/53/4).

[28] Stevenson, Documents, ii, no. 379b (2/79/11), no. 627 (2/0/0); Coldstream Cartulary, Supplement II (2/68/0); Supplement III(1), (1/27/0), Supplement III(2), (1/27/0); Calendar of Papal Letters, i, 597-8 (2/156/18); Melrose Liber, ii, no. 349A (2/156/24), no. 352 (4/9/5), no. 358 (2/73/37), no. 428 (4/8/34); CDS, ii, no. 1614 (2/97/66), no. 1724 (2/96/10); iii, no. 159 (5/3/0), no. 245 (4/38/47); iv, no. 1816 (2/96/6), App. I, no. 12 (2/0/0); Newbattle Registrum, Cartes Originales, no. 13 (4/33/29); Dryburgh Liber, no. 282 (1/27/0), no. 283 (3/0/0); Dunfermline Registrum, no. 338 (4/0/0); North Durham, Appendix, no. 583 (2/84/34); Arbroath Liber, no. 323 (3/0/0), no. 331 (2/64/33), no. 334 (4/4/22); Coldingham Correspondence, no. 241 (2/10/321); Paisley Registrum, no. 376 (3/639/8); A. A. M. Duncan, ‘Documents relating to the Priory of the Isle of May, c. 1140- 1313’, PSAS 90, no. 59 (4/8/36); Scone Liber, no. 148 (4/34/0); Beauly Charters, no. 9 (3/254/17); RRS, v, no. 14 (1/53/18).

[29] Stevenson, Documents, ii, no. 379b (2/79/11).

[30] Coldstream Cartulary, Supplement II (2/68/0); Supplement III(1), (1/27/0), Supplement III(2), (1/27/0).

[31] Calendar of Papal Letters, i, no. 597-8 (2/156/18), Melrose Liber, ii, no. 358 (2/73/37).

[32] Stevenson, Documents, ii, no. 627 (2/0/0).

[33] RRS, v, no. 14 (1/53/18).

[34] Arbroath Liber, no. 331 (2/64/33).

[35] Paisley Registrum, no. 376 (3/639/8); A. A. M. Duncan, ‘Documents relating to the Priory of the Isle of May, c. 1140- 1313’, PSAS 90, no. 59 (4/8/36).

[36] Scone Liber, no. 196 (2/98/9).

[37] Arbroath Liber, no. 325 (2/64/31).

[38] e.g. Arbroath Liber, no. 332 (2/64/34)

[39] Scone Liber, no. 125 (3/516/6), no. 127 (3/90/13), no. 147 (2/158/7); Coupar Angus Charters, no. 68B (3/324/3), no. 80 (1/52/9), no. 84 (3/276/31), no. 86 (3/21/74), no. 92 (2/5/31), no. 93 (3/223/4), no. 98 (3/0/0); Melrose Liber, no. 372 (3/632/36), no. 377 (3/254/11), no. 380 (3/254/15); Kelso Liber, no. 316 (2/0/0); CDS, ii, no. 1650 (2/67/10), no. 1982 (2/77/9); v, no. 386 (2/64/28); Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 116 (2/10/301); Dunfermline Registrum, no. 122 (2/97/65); Lindores Cartulary, no. 133 (3/419/7); North Durham, App. no. 437 (1/27/0); Paisley Registrum, 373-4 (2/7/104); RRS, v, no. 385 (1/53/8); Newbattle Registrum, no. 62 (2/97/68); RRS, v, no. 17 (1/53/22), no. 19 (1/53/25), no. 22 (1/53/28), no. 28 (1/53/33), no. 29 (1/53/34) no. 30 (1/53/35), no. 31 (1/53/36), no. 32 (1/53/37); Douglas, William, ‘Culross Abbey and its Charters, with notes on a fifteenth-century manuscript’, PSAS 60 (1925- 26), 73-75 (3/16/34)

[40] Melrose Liber, no. 372 (3/632/36), no. 377 (3/254/11), no. 380 (3/254/15).

[41] CDS, ii, no. 1982; v, no. 386 (2/64/28); North Durham, App. no. 437 (1/27/0), Arbroath Liber, no. 325 (2/64/31).

[42] RRS, v, no. 385 (1/53/8); Scone Liber, no. 147 (2/158/7), RRS, v, no. 17 (1/53/22), no. 19 (1/53/24).

[43] Scone Liber, no. 125 (3/516/6).

[44] Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 116 (2/10/301).

[45] RRS, v, no. 28 (1/53/33), no. 29 (1/53/34) no. 30 (1/53/35), no. 31 (1/53/36), no. 32 (1/53/37); North Durham, App. no. 437 (1/27/0).

[46] Kelso Liber, no. 316 (2/0/0).

[48] St Andrews Liber, 400-02 (2/10/294). In the same year, Bishop William also allowed Cambuskenneth to appropriate the church of Kirkton on the account of the impoverished condition of the abbey (Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 114 (2/10/295)). See also Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 1 (2/10/275), no. 4 (2/97/55), no. 115 (2/10/296); Arbroath Liber, i, no. 316 (2/10/278), no. 317 (2/97/56); North Berwick Charters, no. 24A (2/10/290); Glasgow Registrum, no. 264 (2/7/106); Holyrood Liber, no. 82 (2/6/89), no. 83 (2/12/33).

[49] Appeals to ‘papal judges delegate’ virtually disappeared after the war commenced. For pre-war papal judges delegate cases involving topics such as seizures, arrears or alienations, see Melrose Liber, no. 353 (4/32/110); Kelso Liber, i, no. 203 (4/32/111); ii, no. 346 (4/32/104), Lindores Chartulary, no. 125 (4/32/106); Balmerino Liber, no. 67. For episcopal and papal charters, see St Andrews Liber, 386 (4/33/24), North Berwick Charters, no. 23 (4/34/8), Paisley Registrum, *201-*204 (2/7/94), Scone Liber, no. 121 (2/153/5), Calendar of Papal Letters, i, 522 (2/154/24), Balmerino Liber, no. 59 (2/154/31), no. 67 (2/154/32). For a rare royal charter, see Fraser, Douglas, iii, 8-9, no. 10.

[50] Kelso Liber, i, no. 124 (2/231/11), no. 168 (3/514/2), no. 306 (3/15/112).

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