IT would appear that the attention of the University of Glasgow was attracted to the importance of the records preserved in the Scots College, by the notice of the proceedings at St. Germains contained in Mabillon; and, in 1738, the University addressed a letter, requesting, among other things, a notarial copy of the Chartulary. This request, although met with the greatest courtesy, was at the time only partially successful. It seems that about the year 1726, a complete copy had been obtained by Mr. Maule of Panmure; but it was not till thirty years after the date of the request that the full transcript was procured which is still preserved in the archives of the University of Glasgow.
In the meantime, the magistrates of the city of Glasgow had their attention turned to the same source; and, by entries in the books of the Town-Council we find they were engaged in procuring authentic copies of writs connected with the burgh, early in 1739. The result of that application was the presentation to the magistrates of a carefully collated and certified transcript of a portion of the contents of the chartulary which was judged most to concern the city.
When the French revolution threatened destruction to all records, and especially those of monarchy and the priesthood, the poor brethren of the Scots College were not found well fitted to resist the storm.1 Alexander Gordon, who was then principal, escaped from France and took refuge in Scotland. The other members of the College were scattered in different directions. Alexander Innes, the great-grandnephew of Thomas Innes, alone remained in the Scots College, and upon him fell the storm which the others had foreseen and escaped. He was imprisoned in the same prison with the English nuns, and he, as well as his companions, was ordered for execution, and only escaped by the catastrophe of Robespierre happening on the very day appointed for their death. When the Abbé Paul McPherson, afterwards the venerable Rector of the Scots College at Rome, passed through Paris in 1798, he was informed by Alexander Innes, that before the inmates of the College fled, they packed up in barrels whatever seemed most valuable, including many of their MSS., and despatched them to a confidential agent at St. Omers for safe custody. A quantity of books and papers, however, were left in the College, among which were many of those carried from Scotland by Bethune; and from these, Abbé McPherson, at the desire of Innes, selected such as he thought most important, to carry to Scotland. The MSS. selected were, the two volumes of the original Chartulary of Glasgow, a transcript by Lewis Innes of James II.’s Memoirs, a few of Bethune’s papers, and some regarding the later Romish Church in Britain; all of which the Abbé carried to London. He there showed them to the late Mr. George Chalmers, and lent some of them to him. The rest2 he carried to Scotland, and deposited in the hands of Bishop Cameron of Edinburgh. Principal Gordon, then resident at Traquair, claimed these MSS. in right of the Scots College; but Bishop Cameron refused to give them up, and eventually transferred the custody of them to Bishop Kyle, in Aberdeenshire.
The Abbé McPherson, before leaving France in 1798, applied to the agent at St. Omers, to whom the mass of the College MSS. had been consigned, to learn their fate. He was assured by that person, that on the appearance of a proclamation enjoining all holders of British property to surrender it on pain of death, his wife, dreading a discovery, burnt the papers in his absence. Alexander Innes denied the truth of this statement; but they have never been recovered; and the fate of that deposit is still involved in obscurity.3
Having mentioned the circumstances under which the Jacobite papers of Cardinal York found their way to England, it may be allowable to add some details given by Abbé McPherson, of those belonging to Prince Charles Edward. The Prince left all his papers to his natural daughter, the Duchess of Albany, who gave them in charge to her chaplain, Waters, in whose custody they remained after her death, with the sanction of the Cardinal. Sir John Hippesley having left England to avoid Warren Hastings’ trial, was in Rome about 1794-95, and, having seen these documents in Waters’s possession, he wrote to Burke, who mentioned them to the Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness, feeling a warm interest in the recovery of the papers, authorized Sir John to treat for their purchase. After some correspondence, Waters, in 1798, agreed to give them up, on condition of receiving a pension of £50 a year, which, however, he did not live to draw, having died in 1799. The manuscripts were consigned to the British Vice-Consul at Civita Vecchia, to wait the arrival of the frigate in which they were to be shipped; but that port having fallen into 6the hands of the French, they could not be moved. The Prince being very anxious for their safety, Signor Bonelli, an Italian gentleman then resident in London, who was after the peace British Vice-Consul at Rome, was sent out by the British Government to attempt their recovery. On arriving at Rome, he applied for assistance to Abbé McPherson, and with much difficulty procured a passport for Civita Vecchia, British subjects being then jealously prevented by the French from approaching the coast. Having ascertained from the Vice-Consul where the papers lay, he requested leave from the French commandant of the place to search among them for some documents required in a Scotch lawsuit. The officer desired to see them; and, happening to take up a copy of James II.’s Memoirs, pronounced, that as the papers seemed of no consequence, having been already published, the Abbé might dispose of them as he thought fit. With this permission they were shipped for Leghorn, and thence transmitted by Algiers to England.
I have thought it proper to give this account exactly as narrated by McPherson. In all essentials it agrees with Waters’s statement prefixed to Dr. Clarke’s edition of James II.’s Memoirs.
12 thoughts on “I. Records from the Scots College.”
A dreadful loss, repeated many times over by others. Can you not get into the Scots College then? As a proven preserver, one would think you could get access to lots of fine things.
You may be interested to know that, thanks to a donor making it possible, RSH has acquired an 1839, 4-volume edition, copy of Dr. James Brown’s ‘A History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans’, as mentioned in this footnote 3 of this Appendix chapter. I woke up to find they’d been delivered earlier tonight but had to head straight out to work. The moment I get back in the house I’ll scan and upload them to the Scanned Images section of the site. I’m intrigued to find out what information they contain from the Stuart Papers they were researched from.
You have two jobs there!
It is amazing that anything remains between natural destruction and one man’s desire to destroy another’s imagining.
As far as the documented history of Scotland is concerned, I’m amazed there’s anything left. Edward I. did a good job looting and destroying a vast amount of them,
“In after years the few documents that had escaped pillage or destruction at the hands of Edward I. and Oliver Cromwell were kept below the Parliament House. ‘A memoriall anent the Records of Scotland, 1740,’ preserved among ‘The Culloden Papers,’ reports them then to be in ‘very bad condition, for want of boards to cover them; many of the first and last leafs of each book being so much obliterat as they cannot be easily read, and in a little time will be entirely defaced.’ – Old and New Edinburgh, Chapter 47.
and even Punch (Jan. 28, 1857) broaches this topic in their own way,
“PILFERING OF OUR DOCUMENTED HISTORY BY EDWARD I.
‘MOURN, CALEDONIA, MOURN!’ – Conversing lately with a gentleman who has been making researches in the Border antiquities, our national feelings were aroused by his description of the havoc committed by the first Edward in his invasion of Scotland upon the archives and insignia of the country. When Edward arrived at Roxburgh Castle he had with him whole hampers of public documents, state papers, charters, burgh seals, and such like, all of which he had ruthlessly plundered as his armies passed from place to place. It might form a subject for the justice to Scotland men at this hour to institute inquiries as to what of these memorials survive. If part of them still exist, it might be a question if their concession to the original owner should not be asked. They can be very little valued where they are, and they would be preserved in Scotland as mementoes of her independence and struggle for national existence. – N. B. Mail. – ‘Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser’.”
It would be interesting to get into the Scots College, Westminster, &c. to see what still exists.