“WHO was John Morow? That is the question I would now answer. The stones appear to indicate that his life’s-work as an artist began in Scotland after 1473, the year in which the Royal arms were placed in the tower of Newark Castle, and before 1485, when he carved the panel at Paisley. And his work passed to the hands of another about 1512. That he was a Royal favourite may be held as certain. The Royal arms were carved on the wall at Paisley, and on the vaulting over the south-west entrance to the nave of the abbey. They were frequently carved at Glasgow in the Aisle of Car Fergus, and, in the vaulting over the south-west entrance to the nave, the centre boss is a circle of four Royal crowns, and there are six crowns in the divisions of the vault with the inscription – JACOBI REGIS – under each. There is a panel with the Royal arms over the pend at Whithorn, and they appear in the vault of the chapter-house at Glenluce. They were carved also at St. Andrews and Melrose. We must assume that John Morow had some special reason for selecting Melrose Abbey for the site of his memorial tablet in preference to the great cathedrals of St. Andrews or Glasgow, or the other buildings on which he was engaged. The only satisfactory explanation which can be offered is that the tablet was placed in Melrose Abbey because it was the church of his own home, that it might be read there by those who knew him and who would cherish his memory.
John Morow can now be identified with the John Murray who first appears in the pages of history, on his inclusion in the lease of Lewinshop and Hangandshaw in Ettrick with Patrick his father, before 28th June, 1479.1 In the Rental of the ward of Ettrick of 1486-92, he is described as son and heir-apparent to Patrick Murray of Faulohill, and joint-tenant with him in the steading of Hairhede.2 On 21st September, 1489, James IV. made him a gift of 20 angels, or 24l. “to by him a horss.”3 On 9th February, 1489-90, the king bestowed on “his friend” the lands of Grevistoun.4 He was tenant of Fossaway in Stirlingshire with his wife Janet Forrester,5 widow of John Schaw of Knokhill,6 son of Sir James Schaw of Sauchie. He was tacksman of Douglascrag, Eldinhop, Sithop, and Caldanhede, either at reduced rents or free of rent.7 On 5th November, 1497, he had a grant from the king of the lands of Cranston-Riddale. He was then John Murray, Esquire, of Fallohill.8 He received many money payments.9 He was deputy of Alexander, Lord Erskine, sheriff of Selkirk, in 1501.10 As acting sheriff he gave Queen Margaret sasine of Newark Castle and her dower lands of Ettrick, on 1st June, 1503. The design on his seal, which is appended to the document, is a shield bearing three mullets in chief, for Murray, and a hunting horn stringed in base, for his office.11 On the 30th November, 1509, the king confirmed him in his office of sheriff, making it hereditary, and granted “for his good service” a tack of the lands of Peelhill, with the small customs of the Burgh of Selkirk.12 To his many other possessions there was added the splendid mansion on the south side of the High Street of Edinburgh, which had been built by the Lord Chamberlain, Alexander, Lord Hume.13
But not without raising powerful enemies did John Murray mount so high. In the year 1510, whilst on his way, it is said, to the Sheriff Court of Selkirk, he was attacked by an armed body of Kers and Scotts, and assassinated.14 His fate was the fate of Thomas Cochrane, the favourite architect of James III., who was hanged on the bridge of Lauder in 1482.15
Royal favour was doubtless of the greatest possible service to John Murray, in his artistic career. But other circumstances may have conspired to aid him. As a local and distinguished architect it was natural that he should be employed at Melrose. Then it might be possible to trace his appointment at Paisley under Abbot George Shaw, and at Whithorn under Bishop George Vaus, to his marriage into the Shaw family. And the marriage of his son John, who was in the king’s service, with Margaret,16 daughter of Adam Hepburn, Lord Bothwell, has a peculiar interest given to it, when we remember that his father was employed at St. Andrews under Prior John Hepburn, at Lincluden under Provost George Hepburn, and at Glasgow, where we find he carved the arms of Patrick Hepburn, Lord Bothwell, on the vault of the south aisle of the Cathedral nave.
The year 1479, when John Murray is mentioned in the national records for the first time, and the year 1510, when he was killed, correspond with the limits already set to the period of his life’s work by the testimony of the stones which he inspired. And stones and records agree in testifying to the great favour of James IV. It must then appear as most singular, at first sight, that amidst the mass of Record evidence which is now available,
It is almost unnecessary to state that John Murray was a practising architect, whose business it was to design and execute the mason work of the buildings under his charge, and not a clerk merely, who might be called “Master of the Works” because he held the purse. But proof on this point is not wanting. Whilst he was engaged at Glasgow Cathedral, the Master of Works there was Master John Gibson, Rector of Renfrew.18
John Murray, Sheriff of Selkirk, and favourite of James IV., and now discovered as a great Scots architect, has been known to every lover of the ballad literature of our country as “The Outlaw Murray.” No lengthened reference to the ballad is necessary, but one or two verses may be given illustrative of its architectural colouring.19
“There’s a castell biggit with lime and stane,
O gin it stands not pleasantlie!
In the fore front o’ that castell fair
Twa unicorns20 are bra to see.”
“There’s the picture of a knight and a ladye bright,
And the greene hollin aboon their brie;
There an outlaw keepis five hundred men,
He keepis a royalle companie.”
“Of the fair castell he got a sight,
The like he nere saw with his ee;
On the fore front of that castell
Twa unicorns were bra to see.”
“Fair Philiphaugh,21 prince, is my awin,
I biggit it wi’ lime and stane;
The Tinnies and the Hangandshaw,22
My liege, are native steeds of mine.”
The story related in the ballad presents many difficulties. The most reasonable explanation is, perhaps, that John Murray neglected the necessary formalities in connection with his undertaking the duties of Sheriff, and that James IV. administered something more than a jesting reproof on the occasion of one of his many visits to the neighbourhood.23 There are certainly one or two obscure incidents in his life at this time which point to a loss of favour. But all ended happily.
“Wha ever heard, in ony tymes,
Sicken an outlaw in his degree
Sic favour get before a king
As did the Outlaw Murray of the forest frie?”
The whole incident, however, is manifestly exaggerated. Can it be the case that John Murray was himself the author of the ballad? And would not much that is still obscure be made clear by this suggestion? We know, from the inscriptions at Paisley and Melrose – and doubtless there were others which are now destroyed – that he found “pleasure in poetic pains.”24
It has been noted that John Murray borrowed much from his predecessor at St. Andrews and Melrose. This might be due to sympathy in his later years. Born in Paris, it is still possible to suppose that he there received his early training in art, and he may have received his first lessons in the workshop of John Maiel, the famous goldsmith. But the stones of the many shrines which he adorned in Scotland, however eloquent they may be of the wondrous gifts of his manhood, are silent when we ask – What of this man’s youth? How we wish that the pen of Benvenuto Cellini had been his!25
Patrick Murray, John Murray’s father, was keeper of Newark Castle throughout the years he was in Scotland. The duties of this office are not known, but probably they explain the fact that whilst there is little doubt that he also was an architect, he did not practice his art apart from his office. It was probably arranged that John Murray should not succeed his father in order that he might exercise his talents over a wider field. In this connection it is interesting to note that whilst Alexander, Lord Hume, became keeper of Newark, John Murray became owner of the Chamberlain’s house in Edinburgh. The first mention of Patrick Murray is in 1474,26 and this date is important. He was his father’s heir in 1476,27 to answer for the King’s property in Bowhill. In 1477, Lewinshope, Hangandschaw, and Hayrehed were let to him,28 and in 1478 he was paid 40s. for the construction of a stone chimney in the tower of Newark.29 The last reference to him is in the year 1490.30
John Murray the elder was John Murray’s grandfather. He was the first of his family connected with Selkirkshire.31 He acquired Philiphaugh by royal charter in 1461.32 As this was the year following the death of James II., the grant must have been made by Mary, the queen regent, through Bishop Kennedy of St. Andrews, then virtual ruler of the country. It was in this year that Mary visited the works at St. Salvator’s College, and gave drinksilver to the masons. John Murray the elder was a royal favourite. In 1461 he was appointed queen’s herdsman in Ettrick Forrest.33 In 1467 he was keeper of Newark Castle, and received certain payments connected with that office.34 In 1471, Harehede, Lewynnishop, and Hangandschaw were let to him.35 In 1473 he was paid 6l. 13s. 4d. for building two chambers within the manor of Newark, and for other repairs.36 The Treasurer’s Accounts for 1473 shew an item of 12s. “for a hat to the king, tane be Johne of Murray at Zule.”37 In 1474 he seems to have visited Normandy in company with David, a French gunner.38 It is probable that his son and grandson returned with him to Scotland. He was keeper of the king’s property Bowhilln 1475,39 and in this year he was paid 4l. for making 40 hurdles, 40 yokes, and 200 spades and shols for the king’s artillery in the Castle of Edinburgh.40 He died before 24th July, 1476.41
John Murray the elder was evidently the architect of St. Salvator’s College, St. Andrews, for Bishop Kennedy, and of the south transept and the other works at Melrose, which were carried out for Abbot Andrew Hunter. The manifest sympathy between his work and that of his successor may now be traced to their close relationship. It is worthy of notice that the first substantial benefit which he received was the grant of Philiphaugh in 1461. This was doubtless a reward following the completion of his labours at Melrose. The College at St. Andrews was finished before 1465, and it was in 1467 he became keeper of Newark Castle. There is no trace of work from his hands after this date, apart from his duties as keeper.
An interesting illustration of reward following labour ended occurs in connection with the work at Paisley Abbey at this period. And I introduce it here for the further purpose of convincing the reader that there is no confusion between the work of John Murray, the subject of this essay, and John Murray the elder, his grandfather. Abbot Thomas Tervas of Paisley, during whose term the upper part of the nave was completed and roofed in, died, like Abbot Hunter of Melrose, in 1459.42 His architect, Thomas Hector, received the grant of the lands of Nether Crossflat, at the nominal rent of 20s., in 1460.43
The earlier inscription carved above the door in Melrose Abbey, and described on page 6, supra, presented many difficulties which could not be satisfactorily interpreted at the beginning of this essay. Those difficulties disappear, however, if it is now accepted as a record of and by John Murray the elder. The later inscribed tablet was doubtless placed on the walls of Melrose by John Murray, after he had completed his labours there, and when his duties as Sheriff gave no hope of his ever again practising his art. The inscription carved by John Murray the elder, in which the name appears with a different spelling, was probably executed near the end of his life, and the fact that the phrase – DO BUT DIUTE – was left unfinished, may be held as evidence of his unexpected death, or that circumstances called him away from Melrose. But one other point remains to be noted. I have shown on page 10, supra, that the motto – BE HALDE TO YEHENDE – with which the inscription closes is a translation of the Latin motto Respice finem [look to the end], and that certain peculiarities of the Scots translation have the support of ancient Scots authority. Not from the Latin, however, but from the French, was the translation made. The motto is Bishop Kennedy’s family motto. And it was not translated from the text – AVYSE LA FYN – which John Murray the elder himself carved on the tower of the College in St. Andrews, but as it appears on the College Mace made by John Maiel, of Paris – AVISSES A LA FIN. As it is improbable that the motto would be appropriated before the death of Bishop Kennedy, the date of the inscription may be found between the years 1465 and 1476.
There is ample evidence, both in his art and in the frequent carving of the fleur-de-lis at Melrose and St. Andrews, that John Murray the elder, like his grandson, had some intimate connection with France. But what the nature of that connection was, and how intimate, I cannot say. The ubiquity of the Scot is not a characteristic of modern times only. And no nation, perhaps, has exhibited, in so marked a degree, the desire for that knowledge and acquaintance with the affairs of the world which can alone be satisfied by foreign travel. France offered to an artist a wider field and a better training school than Scotland. The Guild of Paris was open to all. And it is of the greatest importance to note that on every mediaeval craftsman was imposed a period of travel at home or abroad.44
Modern freemasonry may be considered as a thing absolutely apart from the masonic guilds of mediaeval Europe. The influence of those guilds was greatly extended during the fifteenth century, and an amazing impulse was given to them and to all other craft guilds by Louis XI. of France when in 1467 he formed them into a garde national, with appropriate banners and mottoes.45 The evidence of the stones at Melrose encourages me to accept the tradition referred to on page 14 supra, that John Murray (the elder) was the founder of a masonic guild in that district. He it was who carved the master’s symbol on the wall. And his memorial inscription, like that of his grandson, is placed in close relation to the chapel of St. John. The statue of Queen Mary still remains, and points to her as the donor of the chapel and altar as the property of the masons. This assignment would be made before 1463. It was in 1475 that the masons and wrights of Edinburgh received from the Town Council the assignment of the aisle and altar of St. John the Evangelist in the Collegiate Church of St. Giles.46
But I have yet a last piece of evidence to produce regarding the family of John Murray, and it is preserved in a third inscription carved on the walls of Melrose Abbey. It is placed high on the west wall of the side chapel of the choir, immediately to the west of the south transept. Seven Christian names appear:-
NINIANI * KATINE *
THOME * POULI * CUTHB
RT * S * PETRE * KETIGRN
Although the purpose of this inscription cannot be ascertained, all these names, with the exception of Paul, may be identified in the Exchequer Rolls at the end of the fifteenth century, as the names of members of the house of Murray.47
The strongly-marked individual character of John Murray’s art has enabled me to trace his work over a wide field in Scotland. It has also led to his identification. It may now serve a broader purpose, for a last word. The mediaeval period in Scotland made a dramatic exit from the historic stage on the field of Flodden, There the King who, perhaps, best exemplified the spirit of mediaeval chivalry ended a life in which virtue and vice were strangely commingled, and there too, fell beside him the flower of Scotland. A new spirit was to animate their successors. The classic spring which had bubbled up strong and clear in Italy, spread in a broad wave over Europe, sweeping the old order away. Soon the gifted Bishop Gavin Douglas was pouring out with rich profusion his stores of classic learning in his gorgeously coloured translation of Virgil’s Æneid. And gothic art did not survive. It reached its climax in the work of John Murray. Whilst his art remained untouched by any suggestion of classic feeling, few were the years which separated his work at Melrose from the fantastic palace at Stirling, erected for James V. But if John Murray’s art retained its gothic purity, there is ample evidence that religious enthusiasm was fast dying out in his time. The decoration of the Rood Screen at Glasgow with the Seven Ages of Man would otherwise have been impossible. The frequent carving of arms and names on the sacred edifices betrays the existence of a strong desire for personal glory. And of Vainglory, pure and unadulterated, surely no more striking example can be found than on the east gable of Melrose Abbey, where the honour which was due to God was granted to a King and Queen. Retribution was not long delayed.
P. MACGREGOR CHALMERS.”