Chapter 7 – Holyrood Abbey, pp.42-50.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

Foundation of the Abbey – Text of King David’s Charter – Original Extent of the Abbey Church – The so-called Miraculous Cross – The Patronages of the Canons – its Thirty-one Abbots – Its Relics and Revenues. 

   WE now enter on the precincts of time-hallowed Holyrood, the scene of many brilliant gatherings, many a solemn and sad event. There the actors of long-departed historical dramas seem to rise to the mind’s eye, from the days of David to those of Charles Edward, and to glide past like Banquo’s shadowy line. Could these old Gothic walls speak, what secrets might they not reveal! There generations have assembled in devotion ere they went down to darkness and to “dusty death;” there have mitred prelates preached and blessed, while kings knelt and listened, ere they rode forth to fight for Scotland, and in more than one instance to die, with a faith, valour, and patriotism unsurpassed by any regal race in Europe. 

“There sleeps the sovereign in his shroud, the warrior in his mail, 

The saint to holy vigils vowed, the faithful and the frail! 

There, though the weeds have warped the shrine, the Rose of Gueldres prayed; 

There, daughter of St. Louis’ line, thy bridal couch was made!” 

   In our history of the Castle we have already related the pious old legend of the white hart in the wood of Drumsheugh – the alleged miracle which led to the foundation of Holyrood Abbey by David I. The charter granted by this monarch to the abbey is without date. The original is in the archives of the city, but is only known, from the names of those by whom it is witnessed, to have been granted between the years 1143 and 1147. It is beautifully written on vellum, and runs thus:- 

   “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in honour of the Holy Rood, of St. Mary the Virgin, and of all the saints, I, David, by the grace of God, King of Scots, of my royal authority, with the assent of Henry, my son, and the bishops of my kingdom, with the confirmation and testimony of the earls and barons, the clergy and people also assenting, of divine prompting, grant all the things under written to the church of the Holy Rood of Edinburgh, and in perpetual peace confirm them. These are what we grant to the aforesaid church and to the canons serving God therein in free and perpetual alms. 

   “To wit, the church of the Castle, with all its appendages and rights, and the trial of battle, water, and hot iron, as far as belongs to ecclesiastical dignity; and with Saughton by its right marches, and the church of St. Cuthbert, with the parish and all things that pertain to that church; and with Kyrchetun by its right marches, and with the land in which that church is situate, and with the other land that lies under the Castle: to wit, from the spring that rises near the corner of my garden, by the road that leads to the church of St. Cuthbert, and, on the other side, under the castle until you come to a crag which is under the same castle towards the east; and with the two chapels which pertain to the same church of St. Cuthbert: to wit, Corstorphine, with two oxgates and six acres of land; and that chapel of Liberton, with two oxgates of land, and all tithes and the rights, as well of the living as of the dead, which Macbeth gave to that church, and which I have granted; and the church of Hereth [Airth?],with the land that belongs to that church, and with all the land that I have given to it, as my servants and good men walked its bounds, and give it over to Alwin the Abbot, with one salt work in Hereth and twenty-six acres of land. 

   “Which church and land aforenamed I will that the canons of the Holy Cross hold and possess for ever, freely and quietly; and I strictly forbid that any one unjustly oppress or trouble the canons or their men who live in that land, or unjustly exact from them any works or aids or secular customs. I will, moreover, that the same canons have liberty of making a mill in that land, and that they have in Hereth all those customs, and rights, and easements, to wit, in waters, fishings, meadows, pastures, and in all other necessary things, as they best held them on the day in which I had it in my domain; and Broughton, with its right marches; and that Inverleith which is nearest the harbour, with its right marches, and with that harbour, with the half of the fishing, and with a whole tythe of all the fishing which belongs to the church of St. Cuthbert; and Pittendreich, Hamar, and Ford, with their right marches; and the hospital, with one plough of land, and forty shillings from my Burgh of Edinburgh yearly; and a rent of a hundred shillings yearly to the clothing of the canons from my cane [kind?] of Perth, and this from the first ships that come to Perth for the sake of trade; and if it happen that they do not come, I grant the aforesaid church from my rent of Edinburgh forty shillings, from Stirling twenty shillings, and from Perth forty shillings; and one toft in Stirling, and the draught of one net for fishing; and one toft in my Burgh of Edinburgh, free and quit of all custom and exaction; and one toft in Berwick, and the draught of two nets in Scypwell; one toft in Renfrew of five perches, the draught of one net for salmon, and to fish there for herrings freely; and I forbid any one to exact from you or your men any customs therefor. 

   “I moreover grant to the aforesaid canons from my exchequer yearly ten pounds for the lights of the church, for the works of that church, and repairing these works for ever. I charge, moreover, all my servants and foresters of Stirlingshire and Clackmannan, that the abbot and convent have free power in all my woods and forests, of taking as much timber as they please for the building of their church and of their houses, and for any purpose of theirs; and I enjoin that their men who take timber for their use in the said woods have my firm peace, and so that ye do not permit them to be disturbed in any way; and the swine, the property of the aforesaid church, I grant in all my woods to be quit of pannage [food]. 

   “I grant, moreover, to the aforesaid canons the half of the fat, tallow, and hides of the slaughter of Edinburgh; and a tithe of all the whales and sea-beasts which fall to me from Avon to Coldbrandspath; and a tithe of all my pleas and gains from Avon to Coldbrandspath; and the half of my tithe of cane, and of my pleas and gains of Cantyre and Argyll; and all the skins of rams, ewes, and lambs of the castle and of Linlithgow which die of my flock; and eight chalders of malt and eight of meal, with thirty cart-loads of bush from Liberton; and one of my mills of Dean; and a tithe of the mill of Liberton, and of Dean, and of the new mill of Edinburgh, and of Craggenemarf, as much as I have for the same in my domain, and as much as Vuieth the White gave them of alms of the same Crag. 

   “I grant likewise to them leave to establish a burgh between that church and my burgh.1 And I grant that the burgesses have common right of selling their wares and of buying in my market, freely and quit of claim and custom, in like manner as my own burgesses; and I forbid that any one take in this burgh, bread, ale, or cloth, or any ware by force, or without consent of the burgesses. I grant, moreover, that the canons be quit of toll and of all custom in all my burghs and throughout all my land: to wit, all things that they buy and sell. 

   “And I forbid any one to take pledge on the land of the Holy Rood, unless the abbot of that place shall have refused to do right and justice. I will, moreover, that they hold all that is above written as freely and quietly as I hold my own lands; and I will that the abbot hold his court as freely, fully, and honourably as the Bishop of St. Andrews and the Abbots of Dunfermline and Kelso hold their courts. 

   “Witnesses:- Robert Bishop of St. Andrews, John Bishop of Glasgow, Henry my son, William my grandson, Edward the Chancellor, Herbert the Chamberlain, Gillemichael the Earl, Gospatrick the brother of Dolphin, Robert of Montague, Robert of Burneville, Peter of Brus, Norman the Sheriff, Oggu, Leising, Gillise, William of Graham, Turston of Crechtune, Blein the Archdeacon, Aelfric the Chaplain, Walerain the Chaplain.”2 

   This document is interesting from its simplicity, and curious as mentioning many places still known under the same names. 

   The canons regular of the order of St. Augustine were brought there from St. Andrews in Fifeshire. The order was first established in Scotland by Alexander I. in 1114, and ere long possessed twenty-eight monasteries or foundations in the kingdom. 

   So, in process of time, “in the hollow between two hills” where King David was saved from the white hart, there rose the great abbey house, with its stately cruciform church, having three towers, of which but a fragment now remains – a melancholy ruin. Till its completion the canons were housed in the Castle, where they resided till about 1176, occupying an edifice which had previously been a nunnery. 

   The southern aisle of the nave is the only part of the church on which a roof remains, and of the whole range of beautifully clustered pillars on the north side but two fragments alone survive. The entire ruin retains numerous traces of the original work of the twelfth century, though enriched by the additions of subsequent ages. With reference to the view of it in the old print which has been copied in these pages,3 it has been observed that therein “the abbey church appears with a second square tower, uniform with the one still standing at the north of the great doorway. The transepts are about the usual proportions, but the choir is much shorter than it is proved from other evidence to have originally been, the greater part of it having perhaps been reduced to ruins before the view was taken. During the levelling of the ground around the palace, and digging a foundation for the substantial railing with which it was recently enclosed, the workmen came upon the bases of two pillars in a direct line with the nave, proving that the ancient choir had been of unusual length. A mound of earth which extends still farther to the east no doubt marks the foundation of other early buildings [perhaps the abbey house?], and from their being in the direct line of the building it is not improbable that a Lady chapel or other addition to the abbey church may have stood to the east of the choir… A curious relic of the ancient tenants of the monastery was found by the workmen, consisting of a skull, which had no doubt formed the solitary companion of one of the monks. It had a hole in the top of the cranium, which served, most probably, for securing a crucifix, and over the brow was traced in antique characters, Memento mori. This solitary relic of the furniture of the abbey was procured by the late Sir Patrick Walker, and is still in possession of his family.” 

   The railing referred to was replaced in 1857 by the present rampart wall, when near the same site two stone coffins of the twelfth century, now in the nave, were found. Each is six feet four inches in length, inside measurement. 

   In the abbey was preserved, enshrined in silver, the alleged miraculous cross which was placed in King David’s hand when his horse fell before the stag. It remained on the high altar till the fatal battle of Durham in 1346, whither it was taken by David II., and where all virtue seemed to have deserted it (mirabile dictu!) as it fell into the hands of the enemy, by whom it was long preserved with zealous veneration in the great cathedral near the field. The texture of this remarkable cross was said to have been of such a nature that no mortal artificer could tell whether it was of wood, horn, or metal. 

   Besides the provisions and privileges contained in the charter of David I., the abbey was liberally endowed by many other persons from time to time, till it became so opulent as to excite both admiration and envy. In the canons were vested the patronages of several churches in different parts of the realm, and eventually the following were among these ecclesiastical foundations:- The Priory of St. Mary’s Isle, in Galloway, gifted by Fergus, Lord of Galloway, who died a monk of Holyrood in 1161; the Priory of Blantyre, secluded on a rock above the Clyde; Rowadill, in Herries, gifted by MacLeod of Herries; Oransay and Colonsay – in the former still stands their priory, built by a Lord of the Isles, one of the finest relics of religious antiquity in the Hebrides; the church of Melgynch, granted to them by Matthew, Abbot of Dunkeld, in 1289; the church of Dalgarnock, granted to them by John, Bishop of Glasgow, in 1322; and the church and vicarage of Kirkcudbright, by Henry, Bishop of Galloway, in 1334, &c. 

   Before narrating some of the events of which the abbey and its church were the scenes, we shall give the following list of the abbots, so far as they can be traced in history:- 

   I. ALWIN was the first abbot; he resigned the office in 1150, and is said to have died in 1155. He was the confessor of King David, and author of a “Book of Homilies and Epistles.” 

   II. OSBERT died on the 15th of December, 1150. He wrote the “Acts of King David I.,” and was buried with great pomp before the high altar. He built some part of the monastery, and “gave an image of God the Father, of solid silver.” 

   III. WILLIAM I. succeeded in 1152. He witnessed several charters of Malcolm IV. and William the Lion; and when he became aged and infirm, he vowed to God that he would say his psalter every day. He enclosed the abbey with a strong wall. 

   IV. ROBERT is said to have been abbot about the time of William the Lion. “He granted to the inhabitants of the newly-projected burgh of the Canongate various privileges, which were confirmed, with additional benefactions, by David II., Robert III., and James III. These kings granted to the bailies and community the annuities payable by the burgh, and also the common muir between the lands of Broughton on the west and the lands of Pilrig on the east, on the north side of the road from Edinburgh to Leith.” 

   V. JOHN, abbot in 1173, witnessed a charter of Richard Bishop of St. Andrews (chaplain to Malcolm IV.), granting to his canons the church of Haddington, cum terra de Clerkynton, per rectas divisas. In 1177 the monastery was still in the Castle of Edinburgh. In 1180 Alexius, a sub-deacon, held a council of the Holy Cross near Edinburgh, with reference to the long-disputed consecration of John Scott, Bishop of St. Andrews, when a double election had taken place. 

   VI. WILLIAM II., abbot in 1206. During his time, John Bishop of Candida Casa resigned his mitre, became a canon of Holyrood, and was buried in the chapter-house, where a stone long marked his grave. 

   VII. WALTER, Prior of Inchcolm, abbot in 1209, died on the 2nd of January, 1217. He was renowned for learning and piety. 

   VIII. WILLIAM III., of whom nothing is known but the name, and that he was ejected from his office. 

   IX. WILLIAM IV, the son of Owen, resigned his office in 1227, when old and infirm, and became a hermit on Inchkeith, but returning, died a monk of Holyrood. His name occurs in a crown charter of Alexander III., confirming the lands of Newbattle, 24th June, 1224. 

   X. ELLIAS I., the son of Nicholas. According to Father Hay, he drained the marshes around the abbey, built the back wall of the cemetery, and at his death was buried behind the high altar in the chapel of St. Mary. 

   XI. HENRY, the next abbot, was named Bishop of Galloway in 1253; consecrated in 1255 by the Archbishop of York. 

   XII. RADULPH, abbot, is mentioned in a gift of lands at Pittendreich to the monks of St. Marie de Newbattle. 

   XIII. ADAM, a traitor, and adherent of England, who did homage to Edward I. in 1292, and for whom he examined the records in the Castle of Edinburgh. He is called Alexander by Dempster. 

   XIV. ELIAS II. is mentioned as abbot at the time of the Scots Templar Trials in 1309, and in a deed of William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews, in 1316. In his time, Holyrood, like Melrose and Dryburgh, was ravaged by the baffled army of Edward II. in 1322. 

   XV. SYMON OF WEDALE, abbot at the vigil of St. Barnabas, 1326, when Robert I. held a Parliament in Holyrood, at which was ratified a concord between Randolph the famous Earl of Moray and Sir William Oliphant, in connection with the forfeited estate of William of Monte Alto. Another species of Parliament was held at Holyrood on the 10th of February, in the year 1333-4, when Edward III. received the enforced homage of his creature Baliol. 

   XVI. JOHN II., abbot, appears as a witness to three charters in 1338, granted to William of Livingston, William of Creighton, and Henry of Brade (Braid?). 

   XVII. BARTHOLOMEW, abbot in 1342. 

   XVIII. THOMAS, abbot, witnessed a charter to William Douglas of that ilk, Sir James of Sandilands, and the Lady Elenora Bruce, relict of Alexander Earl of Carrick, nephew of Robert I., of the lands of the West Calder. On the 8th of May, 1366, a council was held at Holyrood, at which the Scottish nobles treated with ridicule and contempt the pretensions of the kings of England, and sanctioned an assessment for the ransom of David II., taken prisoner at the battle of Durham. That monarch was buried before the high altar in 1371, and Edward III. granted a safe conduct to certain persons proceeding to Flanders to provide for the tomb in which he was placed. 

   XIX. JOHN III., abbot on the 11th of January, 1372. During his term of office, John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III., was hospitably entertained at Holyrood, when compelled to take flight from his enemies in England. 

   XX. DAVID, abbot on the 18th of January, in the thirteenth year of Robert II. The abbey was burned by the army of Richard II. whose army encamped at Restalrig; but it was soon after repaired. David is mentioned in a charter dated at Perth, 1384-5. 

   XXI. JOHN (formerly Dean of Leith) was abbot on the 8th of May, 1386. His name occurs in several charters and other documents, and for the last time in the indenture or lease of the Canon-mills to the city of Edinburgh, 12th September, 1423. In his time Henry IV. spared the monastery in gratitude for the kindness of the monks to his exiled father John of Gaunt. 

   XXII. PATRICK, abbot 5th September, 1435. In his term of office James II., who had been born in the abbey, was crowned there in his sixth year, on the 25th March, 1436-7; and another high ceremony was performed in the same church when Mary of Gueldres was crowned as Queen Consort in July, 1449. In the preceding year, John Bishop of Galloway elect became an inmate of the abbey, and was buried in the cloisters. 

   XXIII. JAMES, abbot 26th April, 1450. 

   XXIV. ARCHIBALD CRAWFORD, abbot in 1457. He was son of Sir William Crawford of Haining, and had previously been Prior of Holyrood. In 1450 he was one of the commissioners who treated with the English at Coventry concerning a truce; and again in 1474, concerning a marriage between James Duke of Rothesay and the Princess Cecile, second daughter of Edward IV. of England. He was Lord High Treasurer of Scotland in 1480. He died in 1483. On the abbey church (according to Crawford) his arms were carved more than thirty times. “He added the buttresses on the walls of the north and south aisles, and probably built the rich doorway which opens into the north aisle.” Many finely executed coats armorial are found over the niches, among them Abbot Crawford’s frequently – a fesse ermine, with a star of five points, in chief, surmounted by an abbot’s mitre resting on a pastoral staff. 

   XXV. ROBERT BELLENDEN, abbot in 1486, when commissioner concerning a truce with England. He was still abbot in 1498, and his virtues are celebrated by his namesake, the archdean of Moray, canon of Ross, and translator of Boëce, who says “he left the abbey, and died ane Chartour-monk.” In 1507 the Papal legate presented James IV., in the name of Pope Julius II., in the church, amid a brilliant crowd of nobles, with a purple crown adorned by golden lilies, and a sword of state studded with gems, which is still preserved in the Castle of Edinburgh. He also brought a bull, bestowing upon James the title of Defender of the Faith. Abbot Bellenden, in 1493, founded a chapel in North Leith, dedicated to St. Ninian, latterly degraded into a victual granary. The causes moving the abbot to build this chapel, independent of the spiritual wants of the people, were manifold, as set forth in the charter of erection. The bridge connecting North and South Leith, over which he levied toll, was erected at the same time. The piers still remain. 

   XXVI. GEORGE CRICHTOUN, abbot in 1515, and Lord Privy Seal, was promoted to the see of Dunkeld in 1528. As we have recorded elsewhere, he was the founder of the Hospital of St. Thomas, near the Water Gate. An interesting relic of his abbacy exists at present in England. 

   About the year 1750, when a grave was being dug in the chancel of St Stephen’s church, St. Albans, in Hertfordshire, there was found buried in the soil an ancient lectern bearing his name, and which is supposed to have been concealed there at some time during the Civil Wars. It is of cast brass, and handsome in design, consisting of an eagle with expanded wings, supported by a shaft decorated with several mouldings, partly circular and partly hexagonal. The eagle stands upon a globe, and the shaft has been originally supported on three feet, which are now gone. The lectern at present is five feet seven inches in height, and is inscribed:- “GEORGIUS CREICHTOUN, EPISCOPUS DUNKENENSIS.” 

   He died on January 24th, 1543, and the probability is that the lectern had been presented to Holyrood on his elevation to Dunkeld as a farewell gift, and that it had been stolen from the abbey by Sir Richard Lea of Sopwell, who accompanied the Earl of Hertford in the invasion of 1544, and who carried off the famous brazen font from Holyrood, and presented it to the parish church of St. Albans, with a magniloquent inscription. “This font, which was abstracted from Holyrood, is no longer known to exist, and there seems no reason to doubt that the lectern, which was saved by being buried during the Civil Wars, was abstracted at the same time, and given to the church of St. Albans by the donor of the font.” 

   XXVII. WILLIAM DOUGLAS, Prior of Coldingham, was the next abbot. He died in 1528. 

   XXVIII. ROBERT CAIRNCROSS, abbot September 1528. He had been previously provost of the collegiate church of Corstorphine, and was twice High Treasurer, in 1529 and 1537. In 1538 he was elected Bishop of Ross, and held that office, together with the Abbacy of Ferne, till his death, 31st November, 1545. 

   XXIX. ROBERT STUART, of Strathdon, a son of James V. by Eupham Elphinstone, had a grant of the abbacy when only seven years of age, and in manhood he joined the Reformation party, in 1559. He married in 1561, and received from his sister, Queen Mary, a gift of some Crown lands in Orkney and Shetland in 1565, with a large grant out of the queen’s third of Holyrood in the following year. In 1569 he exchanged his abbacy with Adam Bishop of Orkney for the temporalities of that see, and his lands in Orkney and Shetland were erected into an earldom in his favour 28th October, 1581. 

   XXX. ADAM BOTHWELL, who acquired the abbacy in commendam by this strange and lawless compact, did not find his position a very quiet one, and several articles against him were presented in the General Assembly in 1570. The fifth of these stated that all the twenty-seven churches of the abbey wherein divine service had been performed “are decayit, and made some sheep-folds, and some sa ruinous that none dare enter into thame for fear of falling, especially Halyrud Hous, althocht the Bishop of Sanct Andrew’s, in time of Papistry, sequestrat the haill rentis of the said abbacy, because only the glassen windows wer not holden up and repairt.” To this Bothwell answered that the churches referred to had been pillaged and ruined before his time, especially Holyrood Church, “quhilk hath been thir twintie yeris bygane ruinous through decay of twa principal pillars, sa that none wer assurit under it,” and that two thousand pounds would not be sufficient for the necessary repairs. He resigned his so-called abbacy in favour of his son before 1583, and died in 1593. He was interred near the third pillar from the south-east corner, on the south side of the church. 

   XXXI. JOHN BOTHWELL, his eldest son, held the abbey in commendam under the great seal, 24th February, 1581, and was a Lord of Session in 1593. In 1607 part of the abbey property, together with the monastery itself, was converted into a temporal peerage for him and his heirs, by the title of Lord Holyroodhouse. John Lord Bothwell died without direct heirs male, and though the title should have descended to his brother William, who had property in Broughton, after his death, none bore even nominally the title of abbot. A part of the lands fell to the Earl of Roxburghe, from whom the superiority passed, as narrated elsewhere. 

   The “Chronicon Sanctæ Crucis” was commenced by the canons of Holyrood, but the portion that has been preserved comes down only to 1163, and breaks off at the time of their third abbot. “Even the Indices Sanctorum and the ‘two Calendars of Benefactors and Brethren, begun from the earliest times, and continued by the care of numerous monks,’’may – when allowance is made for the magniloquent style of the recorder – mean nothing more than the united calendar, martyrology, and ritual book, which is fortunately still preserved. It is a large folio volume of 132 leaves of thick vellum, in oak boards covered with stamped leather, which resembles the binding of the sixteenth century.” 

   The extent of the ancient possessions of this great abbey may be gathered from the charters and gifts in the valuable Munimenta Ecclesiæ Sanctæ Crucis de Edwinesburg and the series of Stent Rolls. To enumerate the vestments, ornaments, jewels, relics, and altar vessels of gold and silver set with precious stones, would far exceed our limits, but they are to be found at length in the second volume of the “Bannatyne Miscellany.” When the monastery was dissolved at the Reformation its revenues were great, and according to the two first historians of Edinburgh its annual income then was stated as follows: 

By Maitland In wheat… 27 chalders, 10 bolls. 
 “         “ In bear… 40      “          9    “ 
 “         “ In oats… 34      “         15    “         3½ pecks. 

501 capons, 24 hens, 24 salmon, 12 loads of salt, and an unknown number of swine. In money, £2,926 8s. 6d. Scots. 

By Arnot In wheat… 442 bolls. 
 “         “ In bear… 640    “ 
 “         “ In oats… 560    “ 

with the same amount in other kind, and £250 sterling. 

1  Here there is no mention of the town of Herbergare, alleged to have occupied the site of the Canongate. 

2  “Charters relating to City of Edinburgh,” A.D. 1143-1540. 4to. 1871. 

3  See ante, vol. I., p. 5

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