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@ Ian B Cowan

The history of the medieval church in the Highlands is obscure; it is not only that records have failed to survive, but the paucity of religious houses also ensured that few formal collections of documents were ever amassed. The papal archives have remedied some of this deficiency, but the very remoteness of the Highland dioceses inevitably made contact with the papacy somewhat infrequent. In these circumstances, lack of information can be too readily equated with torpor, but from what little can be discerned it would be unwise to suggest that the unreformed church was any less mindful of its task in the Highlands than in any other part of Christendom.

This survey will concentrate on the mainland dioceses of Argyll, Caithness, Dunkeld, Moray and Ross, all of which lay either wholly or part in the Highland area. Only seven small monasteries — Ardchattan, Beauly, Kinloss, Pluscarden, Saddell and Urquhart lay within these bounds and of these Saddell was suppressed in 1507 while Urquhart and Pluscarden were united in 1454.’ This union, which was occasioned because there were not more than six monks in the Valliscaulian priory at Pluscarden and not more than two in the Benedictine priory of Urquhart, certainly points to decay as do the frequent bitter disputes over the headship of both priories. Inc. 1507 James IV averred that Saddell had within living memory seen no monastic life and had fallen to the use of laymen.3 Elsewhere the picture is no more encouraging and Hugh Fraser, Sheriff of Inverness, claimed on 18 January 1432 that the buildings of Beauty, which his ancestors had founded and endowed, were falling to the ground; a fate which was also said to have befallen Pluscarden in 1457.~

If this were so, and petitions should never be taken literally, the position soon improved. The newly united priory of Urquhart and Pluscarden settled under Benedictine rule at the latter site because the buildings there were more extensive and thereafter, if disputes over the headship did not cease, the strength of the community increased.5 A prior and eight monks appear in 1508, a prior and twelve monks in 1524 and 1548 and at least nine monks were present at the Reformation when the house was still governed by a prior in religious orders.6 Elsewhere in Moray, the abbey of Kinloss which had possessed a community of an abbot and twenty-four monks in 1229 still possessed at least nineteen monks in 1537 and only one less at the Reformation.7 Here too, if Robert Reid, its abbot between 1529 and 1553, successively became commendator of Beauty and in 1541 bishop of Orkney, his nephew and successor Walter was nevertheless blessed as abbot and ruled as such at the Reformation.8

During this period, if we are to believe the Italian scholar Ferrerio, there had been a marked revival of religious life in the sixteenth century. The previous century had certainly been an era of mixed fortunes for the abbey with Abbot Adam of Terwas who died in 1401 castigated as a lewd liver; John Flutare degraded in 1440 and William Culross who died in 1504 given to fleshly pleasures and hunting. Nevertheless, even Culross, following the tradition of monastic copying at Kinloss, wrote various books of ritual and Flutare purchased a silver pastoral staff used thereafter by abbots at mass. The purchase of furnishings for the abbey church characterised most abbotships. John Ellon who died in 1467 bought an altarpiece and two silver candlesticks, but his preparations for building a bell tower had to be carried to fruition by his successor who also built a spire. In doing so, however, he clearly outstripped the resources of the abbey as he was not only forced to sell the organs, but also had to be restrained from selling a painting at the high altar before being forced from office in 1482.~

The succession of Thomas Crystall to the abbey in 1504 ushered in a new era in the abbey’s history. In a series of lawsuits a number of endowments pertaining to the abbey were recovered from various expropriators including the earl of Huntly who had claimed the lands of Balloch in Strathisla. His contribution to the temporal welfare of the monastery was, however, secondary to his efforts to rescue the decayed and irreligious state into which Ferrerio claims it had fallen. This involved. increasing the number of monks, which had fallen to fourteen, to more than twenty (a figure which squares with contemporary evidence), and also inculcating a greater vocational sense into the community.’0 To this end, Crystall sent two monks for instruction with the Blackfriars of Aberdeen and on their return one, Walter Hethon, became chanter and the other, James Pont, taught the younger brethren scholastic questions.’~ During the same period John Smyth, one of the monks, commenced his short chronicle and education was further promoted by the contribution of books, including the Old and New Testaments in six volumes, to the library for the use of the monks.’2 Physical repairs to the monastery’s fabric also characterised his abbotship; the chapel of St Jerome was repaired and two clocks placed on the church, the smaller of which was used as an alarm in rousing the brethren to say lauds.’3 Spiritual services were certainly not neglected and the monks possessed a well-thumbed copy of Cistercian usages.’4

Crystall’s resignation on 4 July 1528 in favour of Robert Reid, sub-dean of Moray, who only professed as a monk on 11 July 1529—a fact prudently omitted by Ferrerio — might have proved disastrous for the monastery, bút in fact Reid proved to be an exemplary abbot.’5 Although his presence at the abbey must have been infrequent, he maintained the tenor of Crystall’s reforms. He promoted the building of a fireproof library in 1538 and in the same year invited the celebrated painter, Andrew Bairhum to paint altar pieces for three of the chapels. Whether his example would have been followed by his nephew, Walter, who succeeded him in 1553 is imponderable, but the monastery was clearly in good shape, both spiritually and physically at the period of the Reformation.’6

This is equally true of the priory of Beauly to which Robert Reid was provided as commendator on 1 November 1531, this following a struggle for possession with a canon regular, although it seems likely that Reid actually obtained possession in 1530 as Ferrerio avers.’7 At Beauly, which had been repaired in the fifteenth century, a decay of monastic discipline had apparently preceded this appointment and the monastery cannot have been unaffected by unsettled political conditions in the north in the latter part of that century.’8 A bull of excommunication issued on 4 July 1506 against plunderers who had stolen and concealed the possessions of the abbey was not promulgated until 1514, and difficulties at this time may have influenced the decision to extinguish the order of the Vallis Caulium and institute the Cistercian order; a transformation which was finally effected by a papal bull of 10 May 1510. ‘~ Thereafter the monastery appears to have recovered some of its lost vitality. The recovery of land and fishing rights were among the tasks which faced Reid, but his chief benefaction lay, in the re-building of the nave and the restoration of the bell tower which had been destroyed by lightning. Four years later in 1544, he erected a new prior’s house to replace the existing ruinous structure.2° The monks themselves were not forgotten and five junior monks were reputedly seconded to Kinloss for three years for instruction under Ferrerio. The number of monks involved is questionable as the community always appears to have been small, but there were eight monks in 1560, each of whom received forty shillings per year, for their ‘habit silver’ and had for their ~flesh iijd in the day, for their fish ilk day ijd’.2

Little is known of the remaining monasteries within these bounds. The Premonstratensian abbey of Fearn situated near Tam was rebuilding throughout the fifteenth century, but in a letter of James V to Pope Paul III of 9 March 1541, the house is described as ruinous and neglected. If true this might be attributed to a series of commendators who, commencing with Andrew Stewart, bishop of Caithness, held the abbey from 1508. Nevertheless, the convent appears to have consisted of five or more canons at the Reformation.22 Ardchattan was similarly placed with six monks recorded in 1538 and at least three or four at the Reformation. The priory which was held in commendam by John Campbell, bishop of the Isles from 27 February 1545, is sometimes described as Cistercian, but in 1506 in a commission for its visitation by the prior of Beauly, it is said to be immediately subject to Val des Choux and there is no evidence that it became Cistercian.23

If monastic houses were sparse, those of friars were even more so. The Dominicans possessed friaries at Elgin and Inverness and the Franciscans and Carmelites were represented by one house each at Elgin and Kingussie respectively. If the Dominican friary at Elgin appears to have fallen under the control of the local family of Dunbar by 1526, a small community remained at the Reformation, and bedesmen were still being maintained in the Maison Dieu which had been granted to the priory in 1520/1.24 If the state of this priory is, however, uncertain, each of the others exemplifies the theme of a late medieval revival in the fortunes of the church in the Highlands. The friary at Inverness was described as ‘almost ruinous in its structure and buildings’ on 18 March 1436, yet it was still an active force in the burgh when the community of a prior and four others placed their ‘geir’ in the custody of the magistrates on 20 June 1559. Its buildings remained undemolished, 13 February 1562, and this at least indicates that the house was not a target for the rascal multitude.25

Much more significance in terms of popular support may, however, be attached to the late foundations at Elgin and Kingussie. At the former which had seen a temporary settlement of Greyfriars in the thirteenth century, a new foundation evidently occurred in consequence of a papal bull of 19 March 1481/2 which sanctioned the erection of ‘two or three’ friaries of reformed Observants, although the actual foundation did not take place until the reign of James IV.~The foundation of the Carmelite house of Kingussie by George, earl of Huntly, who died in 1501, falls into the same period and again highlights the revival of interest in the orders of friars who were increasingly in demand as preachers.27 At Dunkeld, Bishop Brown arranged that Friars Minor and Friars Preachers well acquainted with the Irish tongue should preach at least once a year in the upper parts of the diocese and hear confessions 28

In terms of devotion this was, however, the era of the collegiate church. If once again the Highlands were remarkably devoid of such institutions, the church of St Duthac at Tam made ample amends in terms of its importance as a place of pilgrimage. Although it was not formally erected as a collegiate church with a provost, five prebendaries, two deacons, a sacrist and assistant clerk until 12 September 1487 its clerics lived a collegiate existence from at least its reparation after a disastrous fire in 1427.29 Favoured by kings, including James II who founded a chaplaincy there, but in particular by James IV who made frequent pilgrimages and offerings at the ‘stok at Sanct Duthois’ and founded an additional chaplaincy there, its drawing power in consequence was considerable.3° Kilmun in Argyll could not match its importance in this respect, but the erection of the parish church of St. Mund on 5 August 1441 at the petition of Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochawe into a collegiate church for five chaplains, one of whom was to be the provost, and a parochial chaplain who was to take part in divine services with the other chaplains, ensured its position as one of the more important ecclesiastical centres in the West Highlands.3

Cathedrals could be of equal importance as pilgrimage centres and in this respect all five dioceses were not only well served, but continued to expand in the course of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Such expansion was not without its difficulties, however, for at Dornoch the original cathedral constitution utilised as prebends all existing parish churches whose revenues were not required as mensal or common capitular churches. This had initially resulted in a chapter consisting of the bishop, four dignitaries, an archdeacon and four canons, including the abbot of Scone in respect of his appropriated church of Kildonan. When an additional parish. of Assynt was created in the mid-thirteenth century, it too became a prebendal church. However, further expansion did take place at some point before the Reformation as the hospital of Helmsdale (x 1558) and the chaplaincy of Kinnald (x 1560) were utilised to endow two further prebends, making a final establishment of thirteen prebends in all.32

Expansion on a similarly modest scale also took place at Elgin in which the erection of twenty-three prebends before 1242 left little further scope for the erection of further canonries. Prebends ad vitam were created from time to time and one of these, based on the revenues of the parish church of Kincardine, achieved permanence from 1537. A further sixteenth-century development saw the addition of the prebend of Unthank which raised the number of prebends to a final total of twenty-five.33 Development at Lismore, on the other hand, seems to havd been limited to the creation of life prebends. Initially this chapter consisted of dean, chanter, chancellor and treasurer, the last three having been added to the existing deanship, archdeaconship and four simple prebends, making nine canonries in all to which Bishop Martin added Kilcolmkill as a specified tenth prebend. At about the same time the precentorship, initially held by the priors of Ardchattan, became a secular benefice c. 1371, and this may have marked the finalisation of the earlier constitution. Further prebends were subsequently erected, but it is significant that evidence relating to their prebendal status, and that of Kilcolmkill, are restricted to the period of their foundation. Prebends for life were certainly not unknown, as for example in 1506 when the church of Knoydart was erected by the pope ‘in canonicaturn et prebendam ad vitam’. This practice may reflect a situation parallel to that in the Irish diocese of Cloyne, ‘in which there was no fixed number of canons’. The likelihood that this was the case, and that no permanent prebends were added to those established by the original constitution, is strengthened by the fact that evidence for the existence of prebends at the Reformation is restricted to the four dignitaries, archdeacon and the four original prebends.34

Such modest developments were overshadowed by the changes which took place at Dunkeld and Fortrose in the century before the Reformation. At the former, the state of the chapter in the century or so after 1274 appears to have remained static at four dignitaries, archdeacon, sub-dean, sub-chanter and fifteen canons. Seven more prebends were to be added before the Reformation. Of these seven, three, Aberlady, Myth and Muckersie, were erected between 1452 and 1469, and another, Ferdischaw, which had apparently previously been a prebend was reconstituted between 1484 and 1506. The remaining three prebends, Fearn, Forgandenny and Lundeiff, appear as such for the first time in the fifteenth century and appear to have been instituted during that period.35

Similar changes characterised developments at Rosemarkie, although insufficiency of evidence makes the exact extent of the fifteenth century changes difficult to determine. By 1255/6, four dignitaries, an archdeacon, sub-dean, sub-chanter and several undesignated prebends had been established in the cathedral situated at modern Fortrose. The abbot of Kinloss was a canon of Ross in respect of his appropriated church of Avoch before 5 January 1324/5 and in the same century four other prebends, Contin, Cullicudden, Logic-Easter and Newnakle with Roskeen have been noted. Seven more prebends — Alness, Dingwall, Kilmuir-Easter, Kiltearn, Kincardine, Kirkmichael and Lumlair — appear in the following century and yet another, Kilchrist only materialises in 1560. Several of these prebends would appear to be fifteenth-century creations. All in all, twenty-one prebends involving the revenues of thirty-one churches were involved, and these, with six churches pertaining to the chapter in common, account for every church in the diocese.36

The administrative expansion within cathedral churches in the later middle ages is paralleled by diocesan development of a similar scale. Deans, whose prime function was to represent the clergy of the diocese at episcopal elections, and of whom there is no initial trace in either Caithness or Ross, had apparently ceased to function in Argyll and Dunkeld as chapters developed there.37 In Moray, on the other hand, if deans continued to exist in an administrative capacity, they were, with the exception of a recognisable continuity of deans in the deanery of Inverness, extremely elusive after the erection of the chapter.~ Intermittent references to later deans, and a dean of Angus within Dunkeld diocese by 1479 may simply point towards spasmodic attempts to parallel the administrative framework achieved in larger lowland dioceses.39 The sixteenth century saw further efforts in this respect and although the situation in Moray does not appear to have improved and Caithness remained devoid of deaneries, a dean of Dingwall materialises in the diocese of Ross in 1530."° In Argyll likewise although it seems likely that Bishop Martin as part of his reorganisation of the chapter and diocese may have reconstituted the early deaneries as administrative units of Cowal, Lochaw and Kintyre, for a brief appearance is made by a dean of Cowal in 1364 and a deanery of Lochaw in 1434; this attempt appears to have failed.4’ A further reconstitution appears to have taken place in the sixteenth century with again three deaneries; Kintyre which re-appears in 1520 and Lochaw and Morvern which appear for the first time in 1541 and 1545 respectively.42 This thesis is complicated, but not necessarily invalidated, by the naming of the three deaneries of the diocese in 1539 x 41, Argyll, Lorn and Bute.43 The evidence is more specific at Dunkeld for there Bishop Brown’s biographer Alexander MyIn relates that ‘as the population grew, the bishop by his official’s advice divided the whole diocese into four deaneries’.~ These deaneries, excluding that south of Forth, were known as Atholl and Drumalban, Angus and Fife, Fothriff and Strathearn, and their first deans were apparently appointed on 22 April 1505.~~

Similar developments had also taken place in the judicial sphere, and with the exception of Argyll, jurisdiction exercised by the bishop’s official in the ecclesiastical courts in these dioceses was supplemented by the appointment of commissaries. In Dunkeld this occurred before 1467 when a commissary with general authority appears and thereafter commissaries with limited authorit~’ for Tullilum and South of Forth were established in the early sixteenth century. A parallel development occurred in Moray diocese with the appearance of a commissary general in 1464 and a commissary with limited authority for Inverness in 1522.~~ In Ross, too, commissaries appeared after 1451 and although in Caithness the first commissary does not appear until 1522, this exhibits not only an expansion of judicial services in the Highland area but also demonstrates a new vitality in the ecclesiastical organisation of the dioceses concerned."8

The records of the commissary courts within these dioceses are not extant but some insight into their activities is recorded in a description of the activities of David Abercrombie, commissary general of Dunkeld at the end of the fifteenth century, who it was said was ‘the first man who effectively punished the excesses and crimes of the Highland folk’ .~ This task was made no easier in so far ‘as he came of a noble Highland house and persons guilty of incest, adultery and fornication summoned for correction presumed to call themselves kinsmen in expectation of indulgent dealing’. However, the commissary’s approach it is said, was to aver that for this reason and for the good of their souls, correction would be even more severe.50 Yet another canon, Thomas Greig, prebendary of Alyth and dean of Atholl who ‘kept open house in Highland fashion’ punished judiciously all public offenders, whether they were clergy or country folk, and had succeeded, it was claimed ‘in routing out abominable sins in Atholl and Drumalban.’5

Such administrative development was not, however, paralleled in all branches of the church’s activities. Less concern was certainly evident in terms of justice, and the provision of schools and hospitals presents a much more uneven picture. In terms of education there is little information, but the cathedrals, with the possible exception of Lismore, must have maintained both grammar and song schools. The foundation of a perpetual chaplaincy in St George’s hospital at Dunkeld in 1506 for the grammar schoolmaster was not likely to be an entirely new departure, and a song school also existed there.52 At Elgin, too, although the town council in 1552 attempted to make one of the chaplains, Thomas Rag, desist from teaching on a free-lance basis, he was alternatively encouraged to join the grammar master in the common school.53

Institutional provision for the poor was much less satisfactory. The dioceses of Argyll and Ross apparently possessed no hospitals, and decline is evident in the diocese of Caithness in which the hospital of St John at Helmsdale which was apparently a going concern with a master in 1471 is subsequently described in 1509 and 1514 as a chaplaincy united to Dornoch cathedral.54 On the other hand, the hospital of St Magnus which first appears on rcord in 1358 and is described as St Magnus de Skymer on 23 September 1440 and St Magnus Martyr on 1 June 1448, but as the poors hospital of St Mary, Caithness diocese on 3 February 1474/5, evidently continued in being until at least the Reformation, being leased with its revenues by the master on 5 and 24 March 1580/1.~~ In the diocese of Moray, hospitals such as St Nicholas beside the bridge of Spey are equally shadowy; the master is mentioned in a charter, 10 June 1471, and the building is said to have survived the Reformation, but nothing further can be substantiated.56 So too with the undoubtedly preReformation ‘dornus leprosorurn’ mentioned at Forres in 1565, but of the ‘houses of the lepers of Elgin’ mentioned in 1291, there is no further trace.57 A similar fate threatened the Maison Dieu at Elgin which in 1445 was reported to have been long void and wont to be assigned to clerks as a secular benefice, though originally founded for the maintenance of poor brothers and sisters. In consequence it may have been to safeguard the hospital, rather than to encompass its demise, that James, bishop of Moray granted it to the Blackfriars of Elgin on 17 November 1520 and certainly although its revenues appear as pertaining to the friars in 1561—72, there is also about this time a record of payment to three bedesmen.58 Hospitals, through inadequate endowment, were always subject to decay and although Bishop Brown of Dunkeld (1484—1514/5) revived and augmented an earlier foundation, the hospital of St George, for a master and only seven poor folk highlights the inadequacy of institutional provision for the poor within the highland area.59 The bonds of kinship may have provided an adequate substitute, and individual churchmen were certainly not unmindful of their obligations in this direction as exemplified by George Hepburn, dean of Dunkeld (1497—1527) who not only provided a weekly boll of meal ‘for certain decrepit poor folk in the city’ but also ordered porridge to be supplied every day when there was a dearth in the country.6°

If the social benefits conveyed by the Church are questionable, spiritual services were no less so. Parochial revenues were seen as a means of endowing other religious institutions. In this respect by far the largest number of churches and their associated teinds were appropriated in the highland dioceses to the upkeep of the bishop and the cathedral chapter. In Caithness and Ross every church within the diocese had its revenue directed towards this purpose, the tally in the former being seven mensal, twelve prebendal and three churches held in common while in the latter, two mensal thirty-one prebendal and six common churches constituted the full complement.6 The almost total absence of religious houses contributed to this situation. In Caithness the church of Kildonan doubled as a prebendal church appropriated to Scone, as did Avoch, appropriated to Kinloss in Ross.62 Otherwise religious houses were only represented in Ross by a transitory annexation of the parish church of Dingwall, first to Urquhart and then to Pluscarden, the appropriation of the vicarage of Tarbat to the abbey of Fearn and the union of the vicarage of Tam to the collegiate church there.~

The presence of several religious houses in Moray provided the basis for a somewhat different pattern of appropriation in that diocese. Beauly possessed the revenues of the parishes of Abertarff and Conveth with its associated chapel of Comar; Urquhart had possessed the revenues of Bellie, Dalcross with its chapel of Kilravock, and Urquhart; the revenues of all three passing to the united priory of Pluscarden in 1453/4,’ thereby joining those of Dores and Pluscarden which had previously pertained to that priory.°’~ Kinloss on the other hand, as a Cistercian foundation, had originally rejected the idea of appropriating parochial revenues, and although Avoch had been annexed by 1274/5, the only other church pertaining to the abbey was that of Ellon in the diocese of Aberdeen which was granted to it by Robert I in 1310 and eventually confirmed to the monks in 1328 by Bishop Henry Cheyne on condition that twenty-four merks were assigned from the fruits for the erection of a prebend in Aberdeen cathedral.65 Otherwise, of the remaining churches within the diocese, thirteen were assigned as mensal, no fewer than thirty-five as prebendal, five as common to the chapter and three assigned for the upkeep of the chaplains of the cathedral.~ Other than this only eleven other churches within the diocese were appropriated; two to Beauly, five to Pluscarden and four to institutions outwith the diocese.67 Two of these churches — Aberchirder and Inverness —pertained to the abbey of Arbroath, the parish church of Kiltarlity to the hospital of Rathven which also supported a prebend in Aberdeen cathedral and the church of Rothes appropriated to the hospital of St Nicholas beside the bridge of Spey.~ This hospital, however, appears to have been secularised before the Reformation, and the parsonage was again treated as an independent parsonage; it thus joined the churches of Boleskine, Bona, Dunlichity, Essie and Glass as the only free parsonages in the diocese of Moray.~

In Dunkeld likewise the majority of the diocesan churches, although by no means all from the Highland area, were similarly utilised, seventeen being~ttached to the mensa of the bishop and twenty-three acting as prebendal churches. The church of Abernyte supported four vicars choral and four other churches were possessed by the chapter in common.7’ Unlike Moray, however, in which few churches were appropriated to other institutions, Dunkeld, which contained the abbey of Inchcolm in one of its many detached portions. but only the tiny priory of Strathfillan in the main part of the diocese, was flanked on its eastern and southern borders by a number of religious houses, all of which took their share of parochial revenues. Thus, Cambuskenneth, Coupar, Dunfermline, Inchaffray and Scone possessed two churches apiece, while Arbroath, Culross and the priory of St Andrews each had one appropriation.72 Inchcolm, on the other hand, possessed five churches, all of which lay in the diocesan enclave bordering on the Firth of Forth.73 Only seven churches —Ardeonaig, Blair in Atholl, Kilmaveonaig, Lude, Rannoch, Struan and Weem remained unappropriated and these significantly all lay in the deanery of Atholl and Drumalban which, with the exception of Strathfillan, was devoid of religious houses either within its bounds or on its boundaries.74

A similar pattern emerges in the diocese of Argyll in which, of the seventeen unappropriated churches, ten lay in Morvern in which no religious house was to be found and in which not a single church was appropriated.75 Throughout the rest of the diocese, a very different picture emerges and only seven churches out of thirty-eight in Lorn, Glassary and Kintyre escaped appropriation.76 The bishop of Argyll held six mensal churches and four were annexed as prebends.77 The collegiate church of Kilmun also held six churches and the priory of Ardchattan accounted for another five.78 As the abbey of Saddell apparently possessed no churches, all other appropriated churches were held by institutions outside the diocese. Of these Paisley and Iona possessed three churches each, Inchaffray two and Kilwinning and Fail one apiece .~

Appropriations inevitably contributed to the poverty of parochial incumbents in all five dioceses. Nevertheless, it should not be thought that free parsonages were any better in this respect; vicars or chaplains were found in both appropriated and unappropriated churches and failing a proper vicarage settlement might in the former be denied both security of tenure and stipend. Those problems were not confined to these dioceses, but further problems peculiar to the highland area might arise. The plea made in the diocese of Argyll, that no-one should have a benefice unless he speaks the idiom which the greater part of the people spoke, would be equally appropriate in any Highland diocese in which the size of parishes also militated against effective parochial service.80 The poverty of the vicars also contributed to rapacity on their part and the pillorying of such clergy by contemporary lowland satirists has its Highland counterpart in Makgregouris Testament in which the following legacies are left to both curate and vicar:

‘To my curate, negligence I resign

Therewith his parishoners for to teach.

Another gift I leave him as condign,

Sloth with ignorance, seldom for to preach,

The souls he commits for to bleach

In purgatory till they be washen clean

Pure religion thereby for to sustain

* * * * *

To the vicar I leave diligence and cure

To take the upmost cloth and kirk cow

More to put the corpse in sepulture

Have poor widow six grice and a sow,

• He will have one to fill his belly fou,

His thought is more upon the pasch fines

Than the souls in purgatory that pines.’8

From this it may be inferred that the administrative development of the late mediaeval church in the Highlands was not matched by its concern for the spiritual welfare of its parishioners. Yet the picture is not entirely black. In Dunkeld diocese in particular serious attempts at reform were made during the episcopate of Bishop Brown. As several parishes were considered too large he set about sub-dividing some of them. To this end the parish of Little Dunkeld which was large, scattered and sixteen miles in length was reformed by retaining the original parish church and establishing a new one at Caputh in which the windows were glazed, a reredos painted and the choir built at the bishop’s expense. Later on, as the bishop thought that the population had further increased and that in the upper parts of the parish of Caputh Irish was spoken, he built and endowed in honour of St Anne, a parish church on his lands of Dowally. Reforms did not stop there, as he also restored the parish church of St Servanus, the principal church of the parish of Tibbermore, and appointed a vicar perpetual there.~

Bishop Brown may have been exceptional in his efforts, which also extended to the laying of the foundations of a bridge over the River Tay, but bishops elsewhere, such as Gavin Douglas at Dunkeld, Andrew Forman, bishop of Moray and David Paniter, bishop of Ross, were all men of distinction who may not have been unmindful of their diocesan duties.83 Other agencies also endeavoured to maintain ecclesiastical standards. Town councils in particular took their duties seriously. An appointment to an ~.ltar in Elgin made by the town council in 1546, not only provided honest board in the houses of eight and, at the most fourteen, neighbours, but stipulated that the chaplain was to ‘say mas and sing devyn service within the said paroche kirke at all dais, houris and tymes he beis disposit thairto~.M At Inverness on 29 April 1557, the council, with no thought of impending religious change, ‘for uphald of dale service into thair kyrk for the glore of God and honor thair kyrk’, augmented ‘Schir Andrew Brebner Chepland to Sant Pettyr with fowyr merkis yerle to be payit of the common gud of Innernes, with the oblation and anwell of Sant Duthace altar’.85 Elsewhere churches were being maintained and repaired, but against this may be set the case of the parishioners of Inverchaolin who in 1549 ‘wad nocht ansuer Schir Robert Maxvall vyker of the fruttis, or to the tyme at he mendit his part of the kyrk’.~ The evidence is disparate but the evidence in favour of both physical and spiritual regeneration is as strong as that for decay and decline. The dilemma as to which of these forces was the more influential is at present unresolved, but the strength of Catholicism in many parts of the Highlands after the Reformation may suggest that the medieval church in that area was still an active force in the mid-sixteenth century.


1. Cowan and Easson. Religious Houses. 61, 77-8. 84—S.

2. CPL. a. 253—4; Cal. Scot. Supp.. i, 147; ii. 194; iii. 107—8. 122. 124. 133. 174.

3. James IV Letters, no. 149

4. Cal. Scot. Supp.. iii, fl; CPL. xi. 330.

5. Peter F. Anson. A Monastery in Moray (London 1959). 91—104.

6. Cowan and Easson. Religious Houses. 61.

7. Ibid.. 76

8. Ibid.. 76

9. Ferrerius. Historia. 28-35

10. Ibid., 35-8. 57—84, Cowan and Easaon. Religious Houses. 76.

11. Ferrerius, Historia. 80

12. Kinloss Rca.. 12; Ferrerius, Historia. 77.

13. Ibid., 71

14. A. Ross. ‘Notes on the Religious Orders’ in Essays on the Scottish Reformation. cd. D. McRoberts (Glasgow. 1962).


15. Rag. Supp. (Vatican Archives). 1955. fos 92v—93v; Kinloss Recs.. 11; cf. 49-50; Ferrerius. Historia. 46—53.

16. Ibid., 47—8.

17. Ibid.. 40; Cowan and Easson, Religious Houses. 80.