I. Records from the Scots College.

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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.

1  On the 2d September 1792, Alexander Gordon, then principal, writes to his friend, Andrew Lumisden, – “Will you believe that, since 13 August, the Scots College has been twice filled with an armed banditti; and that the first time, I was conducted, surrounded by four national guards, to the Section, in order to take their new oath, which I absolutely refused to take. I consented to take oath that I would do nothing against their liberté egalité et proprietés, and that was all I would promise. I leave Paris for a time, because non tam timenda proscriptio quam universorum interitus; such is the rage of the parties that divide this devoted-to-ruin country. Your letter to Mr. D’Aubenton was sent. May all that is good attend you, my dear friend, and believe me unalterably yours.” – Letter among the Lumisden Papers in the possession of Mr. Dennistoun
2  Among these were several volumes of the later records of the church of Glasgow; it is believed collections of feu-charters and rentals, which have unfortunately been lost since coming into the custody of Bishop Cameron. 
Since this note was written, I have seen a volume of Rental of the Archbishopric in the library of St. Mary’s, Edinburgh. 
3  This account is from the narrative of the Abbé McPherson himself, communicated by him at Rome in 1838 to Mr. Dennistoun. The Abbé was then about eighty-two years old, but vigorous in body and mind. Mr. Dennistoun made a note of his communication at the time. 
Above thirty years after McPherson’s inquiry at St. Omers, one Robert Watson came to Rome, and talking on this subject to the Abbé, assured him that there was no truth in the alleged destruction of these documents; indeed, he asserted that he knew where many of them then were, and that he could recover them if £50 were paid him. This information the Abbé wrote to Lord Stuart de Rothsay, then in Paris, who saw Watson, paid him the money, and did obtain some papers. 
This Watson had fled from Scotland, having been compromised in the seditious associations of 1794, and remained abroad till after the peace. Having become acquainted at Rome with an attorney, who had been confidential agent of the Cardinal York, he purchased form him, for 100 scudi (£22, 10s.), a large mass of papers, chiefly regarding the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, which had remained in his hands after the Cardinal’s death. Several carts were employed to transport them to a room which Watson had fitted up to receive them: but having made great boasting of his prize, the matter reached Cardinal Gonsalvi, the minister of Pius VII., who directed the whole to be seized. Watson was offered repayment of the price and all the expenses; but he refused to accept of this, and left Rome protesting his right to the papers. The whole collection was subsequently sent to George IV. as a present from Pius VII., and is generally known as the Stuart Papers. A commission was appointed by his Majesty for examining these, with Sir Walter Scott at the head of it; and extracts have been published from them by Lord Mahon, in his History of England from the Peace of Utrecht, and by Dr. Brown, in his History of the Highlands
The subsequent fate of Watson will appear from the following notice in the Times, November 22 and 23, 1838:- 
   “On Tuesday, 20th November 1838, an inquest was held at the Blue Anchor Tavern, St. Mary-at-Hill, Thames Street, London, on Mr. Robert Watson, aged 88, who had strangled himself the preceding morning when in bed, by twisting his neckcloth with a poker. He had arrived in that tavern in March from Boulogne, and after staying five weeks went to Bath, on his return from which he had an apoplectic fit. He generally lay in bed till two o’clock. The night before his death, he told the landlord that he was secretary to Lord George Gordon in 1780; that he had been the intimate friend of Horne Tooke up to his death; that he had been tried at the Old Bailey for conspiracy, and acquitted; that, at another time, £400 had been offered by Government for his apprehension, but he escaped by living in disguise in a lord’s house in London, and got away by the interest of Lady McD. in a Swedish ship, in which he was nearly taken, on suspicion of being Thomas Hardy. He went afterwards to Paris, and was employed by Napoleon to teach him English, who made him President of the Scotch College there, with 5000 francs a year, which he held six years. That he had been to every court in Europe, and had travelled to every part of the globe, and had been intimate with Washington; and was an avowed Deist. He went from France to Rome, where he discovered a mass of papers relative to the Stuart family, and of the greatest importance to England. That he entered upon a negotiation about them with Lord Castlereagh, who gave him a free pardon, and promised him £3000 for the discovery. That he frequently visited the Pope on the subject, and at last obtained them for a large sum; and, after further difficulties on the part of the Pope, he shipped them in a frigate sent on purpose from England, Lord Brougham being sent out by the Government to receive them. When he went to Bath, he had with him a box, which he declared contained important papers, and which he left there. 
   “He said he had an aunt in Edinburgh 104 years old, and 84 years a widow, and was supposed to be uncle to Dr. Watson, a surgeon in Leith. He was a person of very reserved habits; and nineteen wounds were said to have been found on his body after death.
Verdict – Temporary insanity.”

12 thoughts on “I. Records from the Scots College.

    1. 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.

    1. 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,


      ‘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.