The situation of Newbattle is of that kind which the Cistercians most of all affected. The South Esk, escaped from the green hills of Temple and the woody ravines of Dalhousie, widens its valley a little to give room for a long range of fair level “haughs.” At the very head of these meadows, and close to the brook, the Abbey stands. Behind, to the north, are the remains of the ancient monkish village, once occupied by the hinds and shepherds of the convent, but separated from the Abbey gardens by a massive stone wall, ascribed to the time and the personal care of William the Lion,1 which still forms the boundary of the park on that side. Across the little river the bank rises abruptly, broken into fantastic ravines, closely wooded, which only upon examination are discovered to be the remains of the ancient coal-workings of the monks, of a period when the operation was more a sort of quarrying than like modern coal-mining. The Abbey was not placed to command a prospect. The river banks have probably always been covered with a growth of native oak. What was the clothing of the level lawn of old we can only conjecture. As it is, situated at the bottom of its narrow valley, close by the brook, hidden among beeches and venerable sycamores, it gives an idea of religious seclusion, such as Saint Bernard sought at Citeaux.2
The Abbey was founded in the year 1140, according to the chronicles,3 by the great founder of Scotch churches, King David I., for monks of the Cistercian order, brought, it is said, from Melrose. The names and acts of the successive Abbots, however locally interesting, are not to be inflicted on the general reader.
All the chroniclers agree that Newbattle shared the fate of the other churches in the inglorious expedition of Richard II. and his uncle, John of Gaunt, into Scotland in 1385, when they marked their progress by the ruins of burned abbeys and minsters, while the castles remained unassailed.4
“The Kyng Rychard of Ingland
* * * * * * * * *
He made a stalwart gret gadrynge.
His Eme was thare alsua, the Duk.
Wyth all thare men the way thai tuk
To Scotland, and at Melros lay;
And thare thai brynt up that Abbay.
Dryburch and Neubotil, thai twa
Intil thair way thai brynt alsua.
Of Edynburgh the kirk brynt thai.”5
The account given of the destruction of the Abbey of Newbattle by Father Hay, has all the appearance of being drawn from some record of the Abbey. “In the year 1385,” he says, “the English burnt the monastery of Neubotle; and, at the same time, several of the granges and farms6 of the monastery were destroyed, and the others were deserted, while the lands were left untilled. The towers or peels,7 built by the monastery for protection against English marauders, fared in the same way. Some of the monks were carried away prisoners; others fled to other monasteries. The few who remained in the abbey having scarce sufficient food, were compelled, by great distress, to sell twenty-nine excellent chalices,8 nine crosses of exquisite workmanship, and other sacred ornaments, with their silver household plate. At that time, the greater part of the abbey tower was ruined by the falling of the cross.9 Then, too, the ancient discipline of the Order, through the injury of wars and the decay of rents, began to decline, and an entrance was afforded for women at the side of the choir and the high altar.10 But a few years before, I find, from the book of receipts and expenses, the annual income of the monastery could maintain eighty monks and seventy lay brethren, with the corresponding establishment.”11…
The last abbot was Mark Ker, the second son of Sir Andrew Ker of Cesford. The date of his election is not accurately ascertained. On the 22d of May 1555, being indicted in the High Court of Justiciary for hurting and wounding several of the French troops then serving in Scotland, in some affray which had taken place at Newbattle in April preceding, Master Mark Ker appeared in person, “and desired to be repledged as he that was ane kirkman, to his Juge ordinare.” Then ensued a curious dispute between the officials of Glasgow and St. Andrews, each claiming jurisdiction in the case. The right of Glasgow seems to have rested only on Ker holding benefices in that diocese. The accused plainly preferred the Archbishop of St. Andrews for his judge; perhaps expecting that Hamilton would look more leniently upon his violence committed against French troops than the zealous Beaton. Mr. James Balfoure, afterwards well known as Sir James Balfoure, then official of the archdeaconry of Lothian, claimed the accused to his court, “be resoun he hes producit ane testimonial of his order of crownebennet berand that he was scolare in the dyocy of Sanctandrois, and als allegit that he was born within the said diocy in the castell of Edinburgh, and maid residence continwallie within the samin dyocy, viz., within the place and toun of Neubotil or Edinburgh; and als that the allegit cryme he wes to be accusit of wes committit within the said dyocy of Sanctandrois.” To strengthen his plea, Mark Ker immediately demitted his benefice of the Maisondieu of Jedburgh. The official found caution that he should minister justice, but we hear nothing more of the case.12 “Mark Kar” is found among the lords and barons who subscribed the “contract to defend the liberty of the evangell of Christ” at Edinburgh on the 27th day of April 1560. He is styled “Commendator of Neubotle” in the roll of the members of the Parliament on 1st August 1560, who ratified and approved the Confession of Faith.13 In 1563, he was one of the Lords for administering the Act of Oblivion.14* He was named second in the commission appointed by Parliament in 1567 to consider what points “should appertain to the jurisdiction, privilege, and authority of the kirk.” In 1571, he was chosen to be of the king’s privy council; in 1574, appointed by the estates one of a commission for “putting in form the ecclesiastical policy and order of the governing of the kirk as they shall find most agreeable to the truth of God’s word, and most convenient for the estate and people of this realm.” In 1578, he was one of the commissioners named to report upon the “buik of the policie of the kirk;” in 1581, one of those for ordering stipends for the reformed clergy; for reducing hospitals, maisondieus, and almshouses to the order of their first foundation, according to the ind and intention of their godlie foundators.15 “The richt venerable” Mark, Commendator of Neubotle, continued through his remaining life to take a prominent part in the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the country. The Commendator married Helen Leslie of Rothes, and died in 1584. A fine head of him, painted by Sir Antonio More in 1551, hangs at Newbattle Abbey.
His son, Mark Ker, Master of Requests, was provided to the Abbacy of Newbattle by Queen Mary during his father’s life, in 1567, and had a ratification of that grant, under the great seal, upon his death in 1584.16
Though Newbattle was not one of the most richly endowed monasteries in Scotland, the Abbey possessed great estates in six counties, Edinburgh, Haddington, Linlithgow, Lanark, Peebles, and Stirling.
The monks of Newbattle were probably the first workers of coal in Scotland. Their own house is only divided by its little stream from a bank where coal was found so near the surface, and on such a declivity, as to be easily wrought without mining or expensive operations for carrying off the water. Of the period when that bank of coal was worked and exhausted we find no record. But the charters of another property of the monastery seem to throw light upon this point. The first charter of the lands of Prestongrange to the Abbey is by Robert de Quinci, before the year 1189. He grants the grange of Preston, of the territory of Tranent, by these boundaries: “As the burn of Whytrig falls into the sea, on the east, to the marches of the Abbot of Dunfermline’s lands of Inveresch and Ponttekyn (Pinkie), namely, as the rivulet runs from Fauside to the sea, and as I, in presence of good men, perambulated the march between my own mains and Meduflat, and cast ditches for a memorial.” Along with valuable rights of pasture on the common of Tranent, he granted to them twenty loads of peats from his own peatary, and fuel for the grange where the other men of the “town” take their fuel. It seems clear that the fuel here meant is the peat and wood, or “brush,” at that time used for all purposes of fire, and especially used to a great extent for the operation of salt-making in the immediate neighbourhood of the lands bestowed on the Abbey of Newbattle. About ten years later, Seyer de Quinci, Earl of Winchester, the son of Robert, confirmed the grant of his father, without alteration; and the chartulary scribe notes that he gave four charters all in similar terms, differing only in their seals.17 But in a very short time afterwards, Earl Seyer granted to the monks, in increase of his father’s gift, the half nearest their own tilled land, of the marsh which stretches to the burn of Whytrig on the east, and also the coal work and quarry (carconarium et quarrarium) between the said burn of Whytrig and the bounds of the lands of Pontekyn and Inveresch, and in the ebb and flow of the sea; so that none of the Earl’s men have any common right within the bounds of the grange of Preston, nor in the pasture, nor in the coal work, nor in the quarry.18 The boundaries towards the east and west seem to be the same with those by which the lands of the monks were of old perambulated by Robert de Quinci; and the grant of coal not earlier reserved or mentioned, leads to the conclusion that it had not been previously worked, or at least to such an extent as rendered the privilege important enough to form the subject of a grant by charter. The working at first must have been confined to the coal which showed itself on the surface or the sea-cliff; but as the nearest supply was exhausted, the seam was followed wherever the level allowed. It was through this same field that, in later times, the monks of Newbattle carried galleries and conduits for the discharge of the water, not only of their own mines, but of that which impeded the working of their neighbours, the monks of Dunfermline, in their coal field of Inveresk and Pinkie.
Against a grant of Philip de Evermel, the Lord of Lynton and Romanno, the chartulary scribe has noted – mirabilis concessio. It gave the monks a right of pasture in Romanoch for one thousand sheep and sixty cattle, and all their stud of mares. But that grant was but a small part of the sheep-bearing possessions of Newbattle. The monks had, by the munificence of King Malcolm, a great territory in Clydesdale, the modern name of which, Monkland, preserves the memory of its ancient possessors.
From the Lindesays, also, the Abbey received extensive grants in the high range of Craufurd at an early period; ad all these the monks turned to good account. We have seen that they carried on mining for lead, and they did so also, probably, for the small amount of the precious metals which that district has always been known to contain, and which might be worth the winning, when labour and subsistence were equally cheap. But the monks cultivated their Lanarkshire territories to better purpose than mining, as it was then practised. They kept the greater part in their own occupation. They had granges at each of their “towns;” each grange the centre of a considerable agricultural establishment. It was of importance to preserve an open communication with those distant possessions, and the Register is full of transactions for that object with the intermediate proprietors, whose grounds must be passed through. The grant of Alexander II., of license to pass with cattle through any intervening ground, and to spend the night in the common pasture, saving corn and meadow, was only a specification of an ancient common law right in Scotland. But the monks, being on good terms with their neighbours, accepted the right sometimes as a grace. Thus the knights of St. John gave free passage through their bounds of Torphichen; the De Boscos, lords of Ogilface, through their land of Ogilface; the Le Chens through Strabrock; the Stewarts through the barony of Bathcat; the lords of Dalmahoy through their territory. The family of Melville gave a very early license of the same kind to the monks, “going and returning between Neubotle and the Abbey lands in Clydesdale, of passing through their lands of Retrevyn, by the road they had used in times past, with their cattle and carriages; and also of unyoking their beasts from their wagons, and pasturing in the pasturage of that land as often as they required, avoiding corn and meadow, and of passing the night there, once in going and once in returning.” For this the monks were to pay yearly a new wagon, such as they manufactured for their own use in Clydesdale – it is plain the monks’ wagon was a model – laden with timber or building material of any kind.
The western possessions of Newbattle are not much adapted for agriculture, even with the improved management and probable improvement of climate of modern times. But it was well suited for rearing stock, and especially for wool-growing; and we have some curious evidence that the Abbey of Newbattle took a lead in producing the finest quality of wool grown in Scotland. At the end of the fifteenth century, the wool of Newbattle Abbey not only ranked highest in price, but seems to have given a name for the highest quality of Scotch wool.19
The gift of the valley of the Lethan to the Abbey is interesting. Alexander II. had married his second wife, Mary de Couci, on the 15th May 1239. His first marriage was childless. The hopes of the nation were fixed on the birth of an heir to the throne. The king had chosen the castle of Roxburgh as his residence for the time – a proof of the peace and confidence of that reign – and the queen was there preparing for her confinement. Many gifts conferred by Alexander II., and still more, his frequent residences at the Abbey, show his favour for Newbattle. It was an occasion to give rise to strong and solemn feelings of religion. On the last day of August 1241, the young queen, looking to her time of peril, and impressed with the frail tenure of life, bequeathed her body to be buried in the church of Newbattle; and in anticipation of the customary oblation, the king granted to God and the church of St Mary of Neubattle, and the monks there serving God, in free, pure, and perpetual alms, the vale of Lethan, from the head of the burn of Lethan, with all the streams that flow into it; and that specially for providing for the monks a “pittance” twice in the year, namely, one on St. Bartholomew’s day, the birth-day of the king, and another on the feast of the nativity of the Virgin, a high solemnity in her Cistercian church. Four days afterwards, on the 4th of September, the vows of the sovereigns, and the ardent wishes of a whole people, were crowned by the birth of a prince destined to continue the good rule and good fortune of his father.
And now for the completion of the vow. We know little of the history of Mary de Couci after the death of Alexander. Her second husband was John de Brienne (called also Jean d’Acre), son of the emperor of the shadowy empire of the East; but her subsequent life and the period of her death are alike unknown. It is stated, however, that she, with her brother, Enguerran de Couci,20 visited Scotland in 1272, to place their young nephew, the heir of Guines, at the court of his cousin, the king of Scots. It may be that the queen-dowager remained in Scotland. That seems more probable than that, having died in France, her body should have been brought hither for burial. That she was ultimately entombed at Newbattle cannot be doubted. The same authority, already quoted from the poor notes of Father Hay, asserts almost as an eye-witness – “In the midst of the church was seen the tomb of the queen of King Alexander, of marble, supported on six lions of marble. A human figure was placed reclining on the tomb, surrounded with an iron grating.”21
Another lady of more slender fame, but also connected with the royalty of Scotland, found her last resting-place at Newbattle. The story is told in the Scala Chronicle, but the knight of Heton’s French is hard reading, and the passage was long ago done into English by John Leland. “In the yere 1360, one Catarine Mortimer, a damoisel of London, was so belovid of Davy Bruise, king of Scottes, by acquaintaunce that he had in tyme of imprisonement with her, that he could not forbere her companie. Whereat the lordes of Scotland were angry, and causid one Richard de Hulle, a varlette of Scotland, to go to hur, as for businesse from Bruise, and he stikkid her, and killid her, ryding from Melrose to Soltre; whereupon Bruise toke great dolor, and caused her to be buried honourably at Neubotle.”22
One or two benefactions connected with persons of historical importance may be briefly noticed. It is known that St. Bride was the patron saint of the heroic family of Douglas, whose help they invoked in sudden peril, by whose name they vowed, on whose festival they dated their acts of munificence or charity, before whose altars they chose their graves. On St. Bride’s day, or the 1st of February, in the end of the year 1329, at the park of Douglas, the “good Sir James of Douglas,” being then about to depart for the Holy Land with the heart of his royal master, bestowed on the monastery of Newbattle his half of the land of Kilmad, the other half of which it already possessed by gift of Roger de Quinci; while the monks, on their part, became bound to sing a mass at St. Bridget’s altar within their abbey church on the feast of St. Bridget, yearly for evermore, and to feed thirteen poor folk, that the saint might make special intercession with God for the weal of the good knight.
More than half a century later, when the old Grahams had left Dalkeith, and been succeeded by another race still more powerful and no less friendly neighbours to Newbattle, Sir James Douglas of Dalkeith made a will on the 30th September 1390, in which, commending his soul to God and the Blessed Virgin and All Saints, he ordered his body to be buried in the monastery of St. Mary of Neubotle, beside his late “companion,”23 Agnes of Dunbar, his first wife. At the same time, he bequeathed to the Abbey a “nowche,” or jewel, of St. John, worth forty marks, or its value, and in addition, £23, 6s. 8d., for the building of the church and wages of the masons employed upon it. For the service of the monks’ refectory he gave twelve silver dishes, weighing eighteen pounds, six shillings sterling, enjoining his heirs to see that they should not be abstracted from the use of the refectory or sold. He left £10 to the monks to pray for his soul, and £26, 13s. 4d. for an offering, and lights and other necessaries for his funeral.24
Of existing families, the largest benefactors of Newbattle were the Lindesays, already settled at Craufurd, from which they afterwards took their title. As if in recompense for that old munificence, the Abbey records now furnish the best proofs of their ancient pedigree. Generation after generation of these old lords of Craufurd granted and re-granted to their favourite monastery parts of the lands which they held from Suan the son of Thor. Their charters are by far the earliest and most interesting documents for the history of that district. Their boundaries give names not again heard for centuries. they bestowed freely the lands, with all feudal privileges; only, the first granters reserved the game – salvis bestiis et avibus – reservatis feris et avibus; and the king, in confirming their grant, reserved his royalty of mines – salva nobis minera si que in dicta terra inveniri poterit – till at length Gerard de Lindesay, confirming the grant of his grandfather, “in testimony of the peculiar favour he bore the house of Neubotle,” yielded, over and above, the much-valued rights of the forest – sine aliquo retinemento ferarum et avium; and the king, at his intercession, granted those lands in free forest, with all the forest privileges.
One of the documents registered by the Abbey scribe, gives a perfect form of the mode of “extending,” that is, valuing, land in the reign of Alexander II. The king issues his precept to John de Vaux, sheriff of Edinburgh, and Gilbert Fraser, sheriff of Traquair, to Heris, his forester, and Pennycook, another officer, that they go in person to the ground, and there, by the oath of good and faithful men of the country, make be extended the pasture of Lethanhop with its pertinents; and that extent made, that they inform the king, by letters under their seals, of the said extent and the yearly value of the said pasture.
The valuation then made, when contrasted with the desolation caused by the ceaseless wars of later times, might naturally be called valor tempore pacis, until that phrase passed even into legal style, as equivalent to “old extent.” Our chartulary scribe, whose notes are sometimes quaint and often instructive, has noted one or two cases that bring out the deterioration emphatically. He notices a property of the Abbey in Berwick which used to yield 46s. 8d., “but now destroyed and ruined to the foundation, and, in a manner, of no value.” His next charter is a grant upon the Nes of Berwick, “beside the great houses of Melros.” “This,” says he, “in time of peace (tempore pacis), was for the proper benefit (in proprios usus) of the monks, and it yielded a hundred shillings yearly; but now there is not one stone standing upon another.”
It is curious to trace, by means of charters, some popular and vulgar names of places to their remote origin. Here is one instance, from documents more or less connected with our Abbey King William the Lion grants to Ailif, the king’s baker, all the land which Reginald, the gate-ward of the castle of Edinburgh, held of the king, in Inverleith, to be held by the service of his own body in his office of baker. Nicholas, the son of Ailif, succeeded to his father in his office, and also in the lands held by him in Inverleith, which he also held by the service of his office, per servitium sui corporis, and with the privilege of grinding his corn at the king’s mill without multure. In the reign of Alexander II., Nicholas resigned these lands of the hereditary bakers, in favour of the family of St. Clair of Roslin, and they appear in the later titles of that noble house by the name of “the Baxter-lands of Inverleith,” a name which may be still known to some who do not dream that it is derived from their most ancient tenure.
Of the architecture of the Monastery of Newbattle, literally nothing more is known from records or chronicles than the meagre and half authentic particulars collected by Father Hay. We have proof enough, indeed, of the extent of the Abbey buildings. To accommodate eighty monks and seventy conversi, with their retainers, – to entertain, as the Abbey often did the bishop, and the whole synod of his diocese, – to receive the sovereign and his court – for there is scarcely a king from its saintly founder downwards who was not frequently received at Newbattle25 – must have required a large and spacious edifice. It happens that in contemporary writers the Abbey buildings are scarcely ever mentioned but to record their destruction. They were burnt by Richard in 1385. They were burnt again by the Earl of Hertford in 1544. “Upon the 15 day of May the horsmen raid to Newbottill and brynt it; and owersaw Dalkeith, be the moyane of George Dowglas; and brynt many uther tounes thairabout. Na skaith was done to any kirkis exceptand thai distroyit the abbay of Newbottill. And the same nycht thai returnit to Leith.”26
The burning of such a pile of masonry was perhaps but a partial destruction. Certain it is, that in a few years after the English Lieutenant’s rough handling, the Abbey buildings were sufficiently restored to be thought a convenient place for the reception of a great assembly, since the Queen -dowager, in person, held there a convention of the Lords of her party, preparatory to declaring war with England, in 1557. The subsequent disappearance of the ancient Abbey buildings cannot be accounted for in the common way, by alleging the violence of the reforming mobs. The Abbot of Newbattle entered so heartily into the Reformation, that his dwelling must probably have been respected by the most zealous iconoclasts; and as it seems to have been a dwelling for his descendants continuously, we must rather seek the cause in their preference of modern comforts to the picturesque architecture and the historical and pious associations of the old Abbey.
The present house is, to outward appearance, of the style of the middle of last century, with an addition made quite recently; and however much we may wonder that the minister of the parish, living in the village, should make no allusion to anything more ancient in its structure, we cannot be surprised at the author of Caledonia following him in stating that “the buildings of the Abbey have been long obliterated by the erection on their site of the modern mansion of the Marquis of Lothian that is called Newbattle Abbey.”27 It requires a close inspection to correct this mistake. The present house occupies, indeed, a portion of the area of the ancient monastery; but, though ingeniously hidden, and the exterior broken into modern-shaped windows, the old work, the unmistakable ancient masonry, is still visible in parts of the walls; and here and there an antique moulding peeps out from the screen of coarser modern art. In the interior the whole ground floor is exceedingly interesting. Broken by modern passages, and modern windows and chimneys, intersected by the whole region of kitchen and cellar, there is yet to be traced from side to side of the house, a series of vaulting, perhaps a sort of crypt used to raise the building beyond the danger of the overflowing river. Several portions of the vaulting are very perfect.28 The details of the very unadorned architecture bear the “Early English” character, and they have been assigned by the highest authority29 to the middle of the thirteenth century, proving that the substructure at least of the old Abbey survived the successive burnings of invading armies, and that it was for a higher or a different part of the building that Sir James of Douglas made his bequest in 1390, and Edward of Crechton, in 1419, paid a sum “for the restoring and building of the monastery.”
It can scarcely be affirmed that the part of the ancient work remaining formed any portion of the Abbey Church. The church, with its cemetery, has been effectually obliterated; and it is beneath the flower-plots or the smooth turf of the modern garden, that Queen Mary de Couci rests, and Sir Alexander de Ramsay, and Sir James of Douglas, and many another lady and lord of Lothian.
13 thoughts on “Newbattle, pp.125-144.”