Published extract from Tain Through the Centuries

“R W Munro and Jean Munro” @

Tain Town Council 1966




St. Duthac's chapel


ALTHOUGH the 'four corner crosses' of the girth or sanctuary of St. Duthac have disappeared, like those which marked out other sanctuaries in Scotland, we know just where three of them stood and we can make a fair guess at the site of the fourth. The exact area which they enclosed cannot now be measured with absolute certainty, but it must have been within a trapezium something over twelve square miles in extent that the law of the medieval church would protect a fugitive against arrest or violence.

The first cross stood about a mile north-east from Tain, on what was known as Paul McTyre's Hill, which can no longer be distinguished either because the sea has encroached on the land at this point or else because the sand which formed it has been dispersed. St. Katherine's Cross stood about half-way along the north shore of Loch Eye, on a small conical mound near a modern house which uses the old name. Still moving in a sunwise direction, the next stood somewhere near the foot of  Scots burn Glen, below Culpleasant and north of the hill of Beams a' Chlaidheimh ('Barnsc1ay'). The fourth cross stood on the north side of Edderton Hill, at the great cairn beside the Red Burn (Allt Dearg) and about half a mile above the main road.! All four sites are peaceful and accessible enough today, but one writer was prompted to remark that the confluence of scoundrels attracted by this holy girth - nearly as large as the modern parish - must have invested life in medieval Tain with many exciting features.

All that we know of events in Easter Ross during the cen≠turies which followed the death of Duthac bears out the impression that they were troubled times. The Malcolm≠Ingibjorg marriage is said to have secured peace for thirty years, but when the king was killed on his last invasion of England in 1093 the old concept of the succession of an adult male collateral came into conflict with the new idea of inheri≠tance by primogeniture, and another dynastic squabble broke out. Those who opposed the advance of English influence chose Malcolm's brother to be King, while his eldest son by Ingibjorg marched north with Anglo-Norman aid and held the throne for a brief period as Duncan JI; he was killed and Donald Bane ruled in his stead, followed by Edgar, Malcolm's son by Queen Margaret. In these confused waters King Magnus of Norway fished happily, but his success in the west was not matched in the north, where the Kings of Scots gradually gained power and acceptance in their own kingdom through the influence of local magnates.

Some of these events came very close "to Tain, if not actually into its sanctuary, in the twelfth century. Alexander I, his brother David, and the latter's son William the Lion all had to contend with opposition from descendants of Duncan 11. The spirit of rebellion was strongest in the North, but even the monks of Melrose heard of and recorded the march of royal armies into Ross to quell disorders. The great castles of Dunskaith - perched on a crag above the King'sJFerry at Nigg, the revenues from which helped to secure its upkeep ≠and Edirdowyr (Redcastle in the Black Isle) were built and strengthened. Further trouble followed the death of WilIiatn and the accession of Alexander II in 1214, but the insurgent leaders were seized by Ferquhard, a powerful Highland chief who was apparently son to the lay parson of Applecross. 'He cut off their heads and presented them as gifts to the new king', wrote the Melrose chronicler gruesomely, and was rewarded with a knighthood an<;llater created Earl of Ross.

It was at Tain that Ferquhard - a national figure and the first of five earls who succeeded each other from father to son _ died in 1252, but he was buried in the abbey of Fearn which he had founded. Tain was a place of some importance ecclesi≠astically - the body of St. Duthac himself is said to have been 'translated' there in 1253 - but there is no word of a residence fit for an earl in it; Ferquhard and his successors lived at the castles of Delny or Dingwall, and it was at the latter that their charters were dated when the earldom, by descent through an heiress, was held by the Macdonald Lords of the Isles.

Tain and its sanctuary came into unwelcome prominence in the difficult times of the War of Independence. The Bishops of Ross and Moray were on Bruce's side, but the Earl of Ross (who was married to a Comyn) at first opposed him in the struggle for the crown. King Edward of England came north with an army - he reached Kinloss just across the Moray Firth in 1303, and Cromarty Castle is believed to have held out against a long siege by his forces. By the summer of 1306, although by now a crowned king, Bruce's fortunes were at a low ebb  and he sent the Queen and princess Marjorie for safety to the castle of Kildrummy. It too was threatened by the English and the royal ladies were sent hurriedly northward, probably in the charge of the Earl of Atholl. They may have planned to seek refuge in Orkney, but unfortunately they had to pass through the territory of the Earl of Ross, and the first appearance in history of St. Duthac's sanctuary is a sorry tale. Barbour’s Bruce tells us how they rode :



'With knychtis and with squyeris bath,

Throw Ross, rycht to the gyrth of Tayne.

Bot that travaill thai maid in vayne;

For thai off Ross, that wald nocht ber

For thaim na blayme, na yheit (yet) danger,

Owt off the gyrth thame all has tayne;

And syne has send thaim evirilkane

Rycht intill Ingland, to the King,

That girt draw all men, and hing;

And put the ladyis in presoune,

Sum intill castell, sum in dongeoun.'

This is not the only known instance of the sanctuary being violated, but in the others the cause seems to have been greed and the temptation offered by the rich possessions of the church. Sometime in the middle or later part of the fourteenth century - the date is uncertain - a band of lawless Mac≠lennans are said to have pillaged both Tain and the Chanonry of Ross.

An even worse disaster∑ befell the shrine of St. Duthac soon after James I returned from his English exile full of deter≠mination to curb the trouble-makers. The king was to meet the Highland chiefs at Inverness in 1428, and it seems to have been just before he came that Alexander Mowat, Laird of Freswick, was returning to Caithness from the south. He had a feud with the owner of Creich and other lands on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, Thomas Mackay the son of Neil; at Tain, says one of the two Highland chroniclers who relate the story, Mowat 'would pay his vow to St. Duthus, and being at his devotion Thomas Mckneil surprises them, and killed him in the very chappell, which he also burnt, to which Alex. Mowat retired as to a very sanctuary'. When the king heard of this, Thomas was at once proclaimed a rebel, and; being betrayed by his own brothers, he was executed at the castle hill of Inverness. As a warning to others, the murderer's limbs were dispersed, and 'his right hand set up at Tain, a horrid spectacle' ; in 1430 his brother Neil received as a reward the lands of Creich which Thomas forfeited.,


This burning of St. Duthac's chapel was of concern to others besides the unlucky victim and the clergy immediately affected. The white canons of Fearn, whose abbey had been founded near Edderton about two centuries earlier by Earl Ferquhard, had moved before the thirteenth century was out to a site within five miles of the chapel of St. Duthac. This flitting, it has been pointed out, put the sanctuary of Tain between the abbey and the wild Highlanders of Kincardine parish - a wise precaution for an order which combined services in parish churches and manual labour with their own religious observances. Not content with that, the abbot seems to have entrusted his most precious records to the chapel for safe keeping: for a new charter granted in 1467 records that the abbey's foundation charter, the papal bull of confirmation, and other deeds, together with numerous relics, were reduced to ashes with St. Duthac's chapel. It is also sad to think that some of the early documents relating to Tain may have perished at the same time, for the town's oldest charter now extant (1587/8) says that their 'old infeftments and charters were cruelly burnt in a fire caused by certain savage and rebellious Ersch (Gaelic) subjects'.

But the picture cannot have been one of unrelieved gloom, of a sanctuary that was never a safe refuge. Just as the newspapers of our own day give prominence to the exceptional rather than the normal, so we may suppose that many fugitives found safety when they sought it for everyone who suffered by its violation.

One who remained safely in Tain for several years, although accused of treason against James 111 along with the king's brother Albany, was William Lord Crichton. Himself a low≠lander, Crichton had family connections in the North: his father (son of James Il's chancellor) was at one time Earl of Moray in right of his wife, who was also heiress of Dunbeath and other lands in Caithness. As a part of a process of for≠feiture against him, a macer or messenger summoned him by proclamation at the market crosses of Banff, Elgin, Forres, Nairn and Inverness without getting any certain knowledge of his whereabouts. Someone must have talked, however, for on the last day of 1483 the messenger passed 'to the town of Thane in Ross, where the Lord Creichtoun lived in the vicar's house', and summoned his lordship to appear in parliament at Edinburgh to answer for his treason. Witnesses included a bailie of Tain (William Johnsoun) and of Cromarty, a burgess of Inverness, and Lord Crichton's 'brother and familiar follower' Alexander Sutherland. Failing to appear, he was forfeited and outlawed in his absence; and although parliament knew where he was lodged no further action is recorded ≠and it is not known how, when or where he died.

By this time the earldom of Ross had fallen to the crown through the repeated rebellion of its holders, who as Lords of the Isles acted the part of independent sovereigns. Donald of Harlaw had claimed the earldom to which his wife was heiress, and had fought for it against the king's own forces. His son Alexander of the Isles had also rebelled, begged for clemency at Holyrood house, and been reinstated after a spell in Tan≠talion castle. In January 1436, as Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, he granted the lands ofScardy, Plaids and others, and the office of 'baillie of the immunity of Tain' to Alexander Mac≠Culloch by a charter dated at the castle of Dingwall. The same office - it was to last for more than 300 years - was held in 1458 by John McCulloch, to whom Earl John addressed a letter as 'bailie of the girth of Sanct Duthowis'.

At this time the earl was at peace with King James, but it was not long before he was back at the old intrigues. These reached a peak with the so-called treaty of Ardtornish (or Westminster-Ardtornish) of 1462, by which he promised his own and his followers' allegiance to Edward IV of England and their support in his wars against the Scots. It was some time before this came to light, but Ross was probably involved in its earl's rebellion along with other parts of the North. He was himself at Tain on 12th April 1463, when he put his seal to a charter (the only one known by an Earl of Ross which has Tain as its place of origin) to Donald Corbatt of the lands of Easter Arde. The list of witnesses - Finlay Abbot of Fearn, William Thane of Cawdor, John Munro of Foulis, and even a Maclean from Mull and MacQuarrie of Ulva - suggests that he still had his army, or at any rate his council, around him.

The inevitable eventually happened. Forfeited in 1475, he was later pardoned but forced to surrender the earldom of Ross, which was annexed to the crown and appointed to remain with the king's second son. At Edinburgh in July 1476 John Lord of the Isles put his seal - now showing only the galley with double tressure, no longer quartered with the three lions rampant of Ross - to a terse but comprehensive renuncia≠tion of the earldom and the offices of sheriff of Inverness and Nairn, binding himself and his heirs never to offer any impedi≠ment or obstacle to the king, his chamberlains, officers, servants and vassals, etc. His father's humiliation in the sanctuary of Holyrood may have been more abject, but it could not have been more complete. As the galley of the Isles sailed back into the Hebridean mists, severing a 200-year≠old link with the sanctuary of St. Duthac and the town which was growing up beside it, there were signs that a new epoch was already beginning for the church and community of Tain.


Collegiate church

Ross was one of the three northern dioceses of Scotland in the Middle Ages, and, like its neighbours to the north and south - Caithness and Moray - it took its name from the province and not from the town in which its cathedral church was built. From the Hill of Tain, as it happens, you can still see Dornoch Cathedral across the firth, once the heart of the See of Caithness and now largely rebuilt; on a clear day it might almost bave been possible to glimpse the twin towers of the sister church at Elgin, glory of the bishopric of Moray; but the rounded ridge of the Black Isle hides from view the Cathedral Church of Ross, of which enough remains in the burgh of Fortrose to show that it must have been 'an architectural gem of the very first description'.

In the absence of diocesan and cathedral records, we can form a general idea of the diocese of Ross. Tain was one of its 35 parishes, all on the mainland, stretching from Tarbat in the east to Applecross in the west. Under the bishop were four principal dignitaries - the dean, preceptor, chancellor and treasurer - and several lesser ones, and with them a-body of about twenty canons formed the chapter of Ross. Each had for his maintenance an allowance derived from the revenues of some parish church or churches in the diocese (where he was obliged to support a resident vicar), those of Tain and Edderton being enjoyed by the sub-dean. In addition, there were sanc≠tuaries protected by the influence of the Church at Applecross and Tain, and two of the religious orders had establishments in the North - a priory of the Valliscaulians at Beauly, and an abbey of the Premonstratensians or White Canons at Fearn.

The reputation of St. Duthac and his sanctuary ensured that Tain would not sink to the level of a forgotten parish, solely dependent on the services of a poorly rewarded vicar. The 'translation' of Duthac's body from Armagh to Tain is re≠corded in 1253, showing that Tain was regarded as worthy of honour, and that its sanctity was to be increased. As was only fitting, it long treasured various personal relics of the saint ≠cane heid of silver callit sanct Duthois hede', his breast-bone, his shirt (supposed to protect its wearer from death or injury), his cup and his bell.

But an important step in advancing the importance of Tain as an ecclesiastical centre was taken by Robert the Bruce himself. In allowing an amnesty to William Earl of Ross, who had handed John of Atholl over to execution (probably when the Queen was taken), the king expressly stipulated that Ross should 'maintain at his own expense six chaplains to say masses for Earl John at St. Duthac's church'. The English too must have had an inkling of Tain's reputation, for when the next Earl of Ross was killed at Halidon Hill, in spite of wearing the miraculous shirt, they thoughtfully returned it. A member of the great house of Douglas, too, is said to have had the pious intention of leaving one of his robes to be added to the sanc≠tuary's vestments, although there is some doubt whether this was ever  carried out.

The records of the day show that Duthac was accorded the title of 'Saint' long before it was formally conferred by the apostolic see. It was Archibald Earl of Douglas who, both by special envoy and by letters, represented to Pope Martin V his suitability for canonisation. This was described as the wish of the entire Scottish people in the humble petition drawn up by James Haldenstone, Prior of St. Andrews, probably soon after visiting Rome in 1418,1 While not wishing to weary His Holi≠ness by recounting the candidate's many miracles, enough was said to show the nationwide fame which he had achieved.

Precedent required - as the eloquent prior well knew - that many careful and exact inquiries must be made before a new name was added to the roll of saints; that Duthac's survived the inquisition may be presumed from the fact that it has long been allotted a place in the Roman calendar under the 8th of March. Bishop Elphinstone, whose brief tenure of the See of Ross before he went to Aberdeen is worth remembering, selected nine passages on the life of St. Duthac from Irish and Scottish writings and legends to be recited in his diocese on that day.

Tain took its place among other religious centres in the North when, in 1456, Alexander Sutherland of Dunbeath directed that it should be one of the six places where masses should be said for his soul (the total of 30 successive masses was made up by having 8 in Chanonry, 4 each in Fearn, Tain, Dornoch and Kinloss, and 6 in Orkney). This Caithness laird, who was married to a sister of Alexander Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, evidently had lodgings ('ynnys') of a kind in Tain, where he is on record as leaving three 'kists' full of gear.

A year later came the first sign of devotion by a Stewart monarch to Tain and its saint. At Inverness on 10th October, 1457, James II endowed a chaplaincy in the parish church in honour of the Virgin Mary, the blessed Duthac confessor, and for the souls of his father, his mother and his own queen. The charter, witnessed by John Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, speaks of 'ecclesia collegiata S. Duthaci de Tayne', and directs I hat the chaplain is to celebrate mass daily at the high altar, and at the beginning of each to exhort the people to say a pater noster with a Salutacione Angelica and to be present in the choir at matins, high mass, and vespers in his habit like the other chaplains of the church. For his maintenance the lands of Dunskaith were allocated, and also two merks from the profits of the king's ferry from Cromarty to Nigg.

As the number of its clergy grew, St. Duthac's church at Tain gradually came to have a communal existence. This is made plain by the use, rather prematurely, of the term 'col≠legiate', which is also used in referring to a grant by the Earl of Ross before 1468 of a mill and lands - evidently those of Morangie - to support a sacrist. In 1482, James III followed his father's example by endowing a chaplainry at St. Duthac's to say masses for the souls of his father, mother and wife, and gave the lands of Newmore to Thomas Monelaw and his successors as chaplains.

Masses were said for the souls of lesser folk as well as for royal personages. In June 1487 Thomas Ross, sub-dean of the cathedral church, granted to 'the chaplains and deacons' of the church of St. Duthac the lands of Priestown commonly called 'Balnasagyrde', lying within the lands of Tain and near the king's way; sixteen plough oxen and two horses belonging to these lands; and a further 'croft' of land. The first grant was for the welfare of his own soul and those of William Ross of Easter Kindeace, his own mother, and all the faithful departed; the second to pay for one mass for the queen every seventh day on all the Mondays at the altar of St. Marie in the parish church of Tain and after vespers for the safety of the queen; and the third was for the celebration of 'our obit' (or death anniversary) likewise annually at the altar of St. Marie. For performing these duties the clerks were to be paid two shillings in the year, twelve pennies at Pentecost and twelve at St. Martin ..

Finally, the chapel of Saint Duthac of Tayne, bishop, con≠fessor, and priest, was erected in 1487 into a collegiate church for a provost, five canons, two deacons or sub-deacons, a sacrist with an assistant clerk, and three singing boys. This was done with the assent of his chapter by Thomas Hay, Bishop of Ross, at the instance of James Ill, for the weal of his soul and of the souls of his predecessors and successors kings of Scotland, and of all who had contributed anything towards the foun≠dation, by a charter dated 12th September, which passed the Great Seal on 3rd December.

Many of these collegiate churches were founded in Scotland during the fifteenth century, but they had no connection with education. They were, in fact, incorporated bodies of clergy whose primary function was to sing masses for the souls of the founder (in this case the king himself), his family, friends and heirs in perpetuity. The 'college' was thus basically a glorified chantry, but the service attained a beauty and dignity which was impossible with only one priest. As in cathedrals, the usual daily services were provided, but on a smaller scale.

Although subject to some supervision by his bishop, the provost of a collegiate church was a man with wide powers and responsibilities. In Tain, he was invested with full ecclesiastical authority over all his clergy, and also full jurisdiction over them, their familial's and servitors dwelling in the town of Tain. He could suspend or excommunicate any of them, and he also had the power of excommunication and absolution over the inhabitants of the three 'touns' - Tarlogie, Morangie and Canibuscurrie - within the girth of Tain whose teinds or tithes were granted (by consent of Thomas Ross, the rector of Tain) for maintaining the fabric of the church and repairing its ornaments and books, and the 'toun' of Newmore, recently added to the foundation by the king.

For his own maintenance the provost was given the vicarage of Tain, which he himself continued to hold, and the escheats (fines) of the courts of the town of Tain were also allotted to him.

The five canons or prebendaries, declared the charter, were to be regularly qualified priests, trained in morals, literature and especially singing. They were bound to be present with the other officials at matins, vespers and other canonical hours and masses, in good surplices made at their own expense, and to sing at the mass De Corpore etc. every Thursday. One of the five was to be chosen by the provost to preside in his absence, and to celebrate a private mass daily for the welfare (status) of the king, his ancestors and his successors.

Of the four other canons, one was to rule the choir in singing und to instruct the three choir boys; the two deacons or sub≠deacons were to be regularly instructed and sufficiently qualified in singing and in literature; and the sacrist, also trained in singing and literature, was to have under him an assistant with a surplice and becoming dress, who should ring the bell and supply fire and water in the church. The charter laid down exactly how all these were to be maintained, and who was to appoint them. The five canons, for instance, drew their revenues from Newmore, Dunskaith, Tarlogie, Morangie and Cambuscurrie; the two deacons were to have for their main≠tenance six merks Scots each from the lands of Invereathie and Tain, and the choir boys were to be paid three merks or forty shillings Scots by John Munro of Foulis, John Merschell of Davochcarty, and the heirs of Andrew Alanesoun and their successors.

All these officials were bound continually to reside in the college, and not to be absent above eight days, or even so long without the licence ofthe provost or his deputy. Should they be longer absent, even in the courts of the king, the bishop or the earl, they would forfeit their offices - not even the pope himself could release them from continual residence. So much weight was attached to this that all had to swear obedience to these statutes, and especially to that relating to residence and the invalidity of any dispensation.

The first Provost of the Collegiate Church was Thomas Monelaw (or Monylawe), who had been chaplain of Newmore in 1482. Two years later, as perpetual vicar of the parish church of Tain and a notary public, he witnessed a charter by John Ross of Balnagown and other 'common citizens and clerks' of Tain. In 1486, while holding the same office, he granted pro≠perty in the town to his cousin Donald Monelaw, with a William and John Monelaw among the witnesses. Thomas appears on record as provost a few months before the bishop's charter setting up the collegiate church (when he witnessed the grant by Thomas Ross already referred to), and again in October, 1487, but he was provost for not much longer than three years. His early disappearance from the records gave rise to the erroneous idea that he was dismissed but he actually died in officc in January, 1491; and in recording his death the Kalendar of Fearn (a manuscript found at Dunrobin, and not yet printed in full) shows that he left the collegiate church richer by a silver head of S1. Duthac. Monelaw's successor William Spynie held the office for more than twenty years, and his long provostship is memorable for Pope Innocent VIII's confirmation of the foundation carter of the collegiate church, and for the almost annual pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Duthac by King James IV.

Pope Innocent's bull of 1492 is one of the most treasured possessions of the Royal Burgh of Tain today. It measures only 14 inches by 9, and attached to it (by a silken cord in which red and yellow strands mingle, to show that it contains matter of justice as well as grace) is the original lead seal in perfect condition. The Pope himself could have had little if any part in the transaction, for he died only eight days later after a long and painful illness; but the parchment which carries his name in decorative capitals, 'INNOCENTUS', bears the signature of (and was perhaps prepared by) a man of even greater eminence - Alessandro Farnese, then cardinal-secretary, who later wore the triple crown as Paul Ill, and was the pope who excom≠municated Henry VIII of England. The bull, dated at S1. Peter's in Rome on 17th July, 1492, is addressed to William Spynie, provost of the church of the blessed Duthac of Tain, in Ross, on whose behalf the petition had been brought.

Gone now were the days when Tain boasted nothing but a hermit priest living the simple life in the chapel on the knoll whose ruins we know today. The hermit remained, as we learn from Tain's most famous pilgrim, but what had been the simple parish church on the terrace above had blossomed into a grander structure. The nave, with a choir very long in pro≠portion, would still be used for parochial purposes, and the chancel would be enlarged to fit in with the church's collegiate status. The sacred relics, much venerated for themselves and also a valuable source of revenue, were kept in the 'revestre' when not in use, had an important place in the liturgy, and were carried in procession in costly reliquaries. There was also a chapter house where the clergy could convene to transact business, and a schoolhouse, but of both all trace has now disappeared. Some of the great walls to be seen nearby - said to be connected with the church by underground passages, and later to raise speculations about a dubious 'castle' ",may have been part of the living quarters for the college clergy and their dependents, who must have formed a considerable community.

James IV came first to Tain as a young man of 21, on the threshold of a life which was to be devoted to solemn expiation (he blamed himself for having been accessory to his father's death five years earlier), culture and gaiety, and the improve≠ment of his people's condition, in not unequal parts. Tantalis≠ingly brief, but sometimes revealing, the records mention some 18 different visits from the first in October 1493 to the last in August 1513 - the month before he fell at Flodden. Four or five years in the sequence are blank, but it is by no means certain that what had become such a regular event did not take place in them as well.

It was for only a day or two at a time that the king 'lichtit' (alighted) at Tain, but sometimes (as in 1497) there were two visits in the same year, or even three; most of them were in the summer months, but he also made the journey at Easter and in March, October and November. This constant loyalty to St. Duthac's shrine is remarkable, for James also made an annual pilgrimage to Whithorn (at the other end of his king≠dom), and frequently visited remote shrines such as that on the Isle of May, as well as looking after the interests of a country which needed a firm and vigilant monarch to rule over it.

There was, perhaps, some pleasure in moving about his kingdom with only a small escort, and beating for a day or two those who pursued him with the business of state. (There is record of only one charter which he granted while at Tain ≠a confirmation to Alexander Guthrie of some lands in Angus in 1511.) The king would usually come North by Aberdeen and Elgin - once he made a call at Kingussie - with some time for hunting or other entertainment on the way; then round the head of the firths by Inverness, Beauly and Dingwall, or across the ferries of Ardersier and Cromarty with pious halts at the Chanonry of Ross and Rosemarkie. Extra boats would he needed  for his servants and gear, which on at least two occasions included a portable organ for use at Tain. Within a month of his marriage to Margaret Tudor, offerings were made at Tain for the king and queen, and she rode with him by way of Elgin on his Easter pilgrimage in 1510; but on other occasions he travelled light, rapidly and alone, as in that astonishing journey recorded by a later Bishop of Ross ≠those who experienced it may have told him of the royal hustle - when James rode in one day from Stirling through Perth and Aberdeen to Elgin (130 miles), slept on a table in his riding clothes, and after rising at daylight and covering another forty miles in the saddle, reached Tain in time to hear mass at St. Duthac's. On his last visit, according to local tradition, James passed barefoot along the stony track south of the town still known as the King's Causeway.

Just how much money was disbursed during these visits is known from accounts of the royal expenditure. In 1495 they record the first payment of £5 to be paid every half year to a chaplain to say masses for the soul of James III - for the priest (as later entries succinctly put it) 'that singis for the King in Tayne'. In Tain itself the main items were for offerings: there seem to have been five principal 'stances', and in 1506 the king handed out 14 shillings each (this was apparently the regular donation at a religious place) to the 'relics' on arrival, in the 'chappell be est Tayn', to the relics at the revestry, in the 'stok' ofthe town, and on the 'bred'. Then there was 5s. to the hermit at St. Duthac's chapel and to the pardoner with St. Duthac's cup, 4s. to the man that bore St. Duthac's 'cabok' (alb, shirt), 3s. to the man who carried St. Duthac's bell, and 2s. to the poor folk at the gate. In most years there was also even heavier expense in providing further 'relics' (or more probably reli≠quaries in which to keep them), when the value of the silver, the craftsman's fee, and the cost of gilding might total as much as £28 4s. For 'a cas of silver to the croce the King offerit to Sanct Duthow', weighing 9t oz., the goldsmith received £6 Os. 3d.; but another item shows that the cost of the precious metal at least might be saved by economical housekeeping, as one relic was made from 'ane of the auld silver platis brokin' containing 23.5- oz.

From entries for 1498 and 1505, it appears that the king of lodged with the vicar of Tain (this was the provost of the collegiate church, William Spynie), and presumably the parish revenues would have to pay for maintaining the royal guest and his household. There are, however, payments for 'extras', which show that all was not solemnity and ceremonial: such as 28s. 'for the King's be1cheir (entertainment) in Tayn', and 14s. to the laird of Balnagown's harper.


James V was less the pious pilgrim than his father, and as he was only an infant at the time of Flodden he was at first the pawn of his nobles. Among his early tutors was Sir David Lindsay, poet and herald, who may have told him of his father's devotion to images, such as:

'Sanct ringane, of ane rottin stoke,

Sanct Duthow, borit out of ane bloke,

Sanct Androw, with his croce in hand ... .'

So great a concourse of pilgrims flocked to the shrines of the Scottish saints that even in England verse-makers wrote after Flodden of 'Saint Andrew with his shored croce' and Saint Ninian of 'Quhytehorn'. They even took such liberties with the name of one saint that those who venerated it would hardly recognise Duthac as

'Doffin, their demigod of Ross'.

These were increasingly hard days for the old religion, and there is a link between Easter Ross and the new ideas of Luther and Erasmus in the person of Patrick Hamilton, the first Scottish martyr of the Reformation. At the age of fourteen he received the revenues of the abbey of Fearn to enable him to study on the Continent, where he absorbed the new teachings so eagerly that he must propound them to his countrymen at home. Brought to loggerheads with the archbishop, he was summoned to St. Andrews in 1528 to answer for his faith; and by a strange coincidence, it is said that the clergy persuaded the young king to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Duthac so that he could not attempt to save the Abbot of Fearn from the stake. It is certainly suggestive that Hamilton should have suffered on 29th February, and that James should be 'in the north country' in that month and had just returned from 'the extreme parts of his realm' a bare month after the 'reek' of Master Patrick Hamilton had begun to 'infect as many as it blew upon'. It is certain that James was in Tain at Easter 1534, when Ross Herald passed to London 'with writingis to the ambassatouris' and returned to St. Duthac's with answers to the King's grace; more than a year later a silver 'relic' of the saint, weighing 36 oz. and costing £5 to make and £7 to gild, was delivered to the king, and later 3s. was spent on two ells of canvas, presumably for wrapping it up.

By this time old William Spynie had gone to his rest, and Donald Munro (whose nephew and namesake wrote an account of the Western Isles) was provost of the collegiate kirk. The rapid line-up for that office - five presentees are named within just over three years - suggests unsettled times; the last of them (John Thornton) is on record in 1544 as enjoying a rather unhandy plurality by being also precentor of Moray. With his approval, Nicholas Ross feued the lands of his chaplainry of Dunskaith and the profits of the queen's ferry at Cromarty to his son Nicholas (recently legitimated), or to his three other natural sons in succession, and they might also build a 'sufficient house and other necessary policies'. About the same time, the chaplain of Newmore (John Bisset), with con≠sent of the queen and the bishop, gave a feu charter of his church lands to a neighbouring laird.

Grave abuses were freely admitted to exist in the Scottish church at this time, but the difficulty was to find a method of removing them. The clergy who saw the writing on the wall would naturally be anxious to ensure that they and their families were not ulJ.provided for, if the opportunities on which they had been able to count became closed to them. In this atmosphere of clerical immorality, plurality of offices, and appropriation of church lands, Nicholas Ross the younger was appointed provost of the collegiate church of Tain in March 1548/9, and the scene was set for the last decade of the old order and its final disappearance.

This is not the place to recount in detail the progress  the Reformation in Scotland, but its impact on Tain can be gauged by three events which quickly followed each other in the year 1560. On 16th June, the queen regent's presentee to the vacant chaplainry of Newmore (a younger son of Munro of Foulis) was given possession through a procurator at the church in which it was founded 'by touching or delivery of the iron ring of the north door as also of the south door of said collegiate church'. Just a month later, Alexander Ross of Balnagown received from his 'speciale friend' Nicholas Ross, commendator of Fearn and provost of Tain, 'ane hede of silver callit sanct Duthois hede his chast blede [breast-bone] in gold and his ferthyr [case, or portable shrine] in silver gyIt with gold', and bound himself under a penalty of 2,000 merks that these relics 'sal be furcht cum and to the said provest and college of Tayne and all uthers heffand entres [having interest] thairto by just titill'. One month later again, in mid-August, 'Nicholas of Ferne' sat among the representatives of the three estates of the realm in the 'Reformation Parliament' at Edin≠burgh, and voted with the majority (along with Robert Munro of Foulis) for accepting the reformed Confession of Faith, and forbidding the saying of mass and the exercise of all authority derived from Rome.

This brought to an end the activities for which the collegiate church existed. Its ceremonial ceased, and its relics, no longer venerated, were in the hands of strangers; but the structure survived, even if stripped of its finery, and the clergy were allowed to enjoy the fruits of their benefices, all but one-third which was to be devoted to augmenting the crown revenues and paying stipends to the Reformed clergy. The bishop of Ross (Henry Sinclair and his successor John Leslie the historian) adhered to the old church, but among those who went with the Reformers were the archdeacon, chancellor and treasurer of the diocese.

Many of the collegiate churches became parish churches, and presentations to prebends and chaplainries in some of them continued. An Act of 1567 ordained that patrons might grant benefices as bursaries to students at the universities.  Nicholas Ross retained the offices of provost and vicar of Tain until May 1567, and he died in September 1569; on his demission the parson of Alness, Thomas Ross, was appointed to hold the benefice and provostry as he would have done 'of auld before the alteratioun of the stait of religioun'. Up to 1587, when church lands were appropriated to the crown by Act of Parliament, the revenues of Newmore, Morangie, Tarlogie, Cambuscurrie and Dunskaith were granted regulary to boys for their support 'at the scule', and even for studies at Edinburgh and Cambridge.

And so, with more gradualness and less violence than is generally associated with the Reformation in Scotland, the old system of religious observance and ecclesiastical privilege changed its form or vanished entirely. But the town of Tain, which had grown up and found recognition under its shadow, remained and continued to develop.

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Market Cross

BURGHS as we know them in Scotland today have an ancient origin, and the privileges of exclusive trade and commerce for which they came into existence reach back into the years before such matters were recorded in detail. Some of the earlier burghs still possess their foundation charters, however, or at least can point to authentic evidence of their granting; others have later charters which say specifically that they are renewing a right or confirming a position already granted by royal or noble authority; others again can show that they bore the burdens and responsibilities of burghal status before their rights to it can be established by anything stronger than tra≠dition; while of some it must be presumed, in the absence of any proof to the contrary, that like Topsy they just 'growed'.

These varied origins are illustrated, to some extent at least, in the story of Tain and the other Ross-shire burghs. Dingwall had a charter of erection from Alexander II in 122617, according to a later confirmation; Cromarty makes its first appearance as a burgh in 1264; there are some grounds for placing the existence of Rosemarkie also as a burgh in the thirteenth century; but the latest expert opinion admits that Tain's origin as a burgh 'presents unanswerable questions'. It is not denied, however, that its eminence as a sanctuary and place of pilgrimage dates from much earlier than any recorded reference to it as a burgh, and in fact it attracted to itself from an early date trading privileges comparable to those given to the great abbeys of the south.

Our only evidence for the trading rights conferred on the liberty or immunitas of Tain by Ma1colm Canmore (who reigned from 1058 to 1093), and confirmed by his royal sucessors is the report of an inquiry or inquest which sat at Tain on 22nd April 1439.  Reference has already been made to their findings , but as the original document is missing , and there is no other bearing on this event , it is not now possible to learn the reason for such an inquiry.  In the copy which has come down to us , this testimony is regarding the ancient origin and trading privileges of Tain is said to bear the seal of Alexander Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, the King’s Justiciar north of the Forth; and the sederunt at Tain’s first recorded meeting  contains a formidable list of names, some recognizable as those of known individuals , and others  which recur often in the History of Easter Ross.  Just three years earlier for instamce the Earl had appointed Alexander MacCullochh as his deputy with the title of 'Bailie of the Immunity of Tain', and this family held the office and the lands of Plaids for some 136 years, first under the earls and then direct from the king.

Tain's growing importance is reflected in another document, known through an official copy made from the original for the Lords of Council by the Clerk Register in 1564. It is a charter  by the king himself, James 11, dated at Inverness on 12th October, 1457; Tain must have been much in his mind just then, for only two days earlier he had endowed a chaplaincy in its parish church. It has been translated as follows:-

Know that we for the praise and honour of God Omni≠potent and of St. Duthac have approved ratified and by this our present charter have confirmed the infeft∑ ments donations and concessions made and granted in times past by our predecessors Kings of Scots to the said St. Duthac and to his collegiate church of Tain and those inhabiting the town itself with the immunity granted them within the four corner crosses placed around the limits of the bounds of Tain and all liberties and privileges whatsoever hitherto granted them by our said predecessors as freely quietly fully wholly honourably well and in peace as the chaplains clerics and inhabitants possessed and enjoyed the said immunity and liberties and privileges foresaid

 but he added a cautious rider that the confirmation must not prejudice the burgesses of Inverness or interfere with their privileges. There, of course, was the rub, for Inverness was the emporium of the Highlands; it had been a royal burgh for some 300 years, and had four charters from William the Lion conveying important and exclusive economic privileges over a wide area. The interests of the two were bound to clash, and in spite of the express reservation the people of Inverness seem to have taken alarm. They appealed to the king or his advisers to prevent any encroachment on their rights, and ten days later - after lames had returned south - a royal letter made it abundantly clear that anything which Tain might gain was not to be at the expense of Inverness.

That this was more than a tiff between two burghs is shown by the fact that the Earl of Ross - grandson of that Donald of Harlaw who had given Inverness to the flames only 50 years before - seconded the royal wishes. He wrote in 1458 ordering his bailie of the girth of St. Duthac, lohn MacCulloch, and the inhabitants of Tain to help and defend their neighbours of Inverness and to allow no impediment to be made to them in carrying on trade as authorised by the king.

The not unnatural jealousy shown by the magistrates of Inverness was to keep the northern towns at loggerheads for another century and a half, simply because privileges were granted to each which must lead to conflict. The trouble came to a head again at the end of 1493, when lames IV was in Inverness a month after his first recorded visit to St. Duthac's shrine. He was told - and perhaps he may have seen for himself - that customable goods from Ross, Sutherland and Caithness which should have been brought before the royal customs officers and searchers at Inverness, and there paid the proper duties, had 'of long time byegone' gone instead 'to the burgh (sic) of Tain', where the duties had been collected by 'the bailies and community' and withheld by them to the prejudice of both the royal treasury and the burgh of Inverness.

The king and council determined that this should stop, or they would know the reason why. The people of Tain and the northern shires must in future bring their merchandise to the market of Inverness as their principal market, under the pain of forfeiting them, 'unto the time that they show if they have privileges or freedoms to the contrary of old'. It is not unlikely that the Inverness magistrates advised the king - as they were to do later with less reason - that Tain had no such authority to produce. Acting on this order, which was signed in the king's name on 12th November, the local sheriff made it known in Tain, probably by proclamation, in presence of Angus MacCulloch of Plaids and three bailies of the town.

Any effect this may have had was apparently short-lived, for the burgh of Inverness maintained vigorous legal pro≠ceedings between 1499 and 1501 against Tain, and also against Dingwall. Fourteen inhabitants of Tain were summoned to appear before the king and his council at Inverness, and after several hearings, the Tain men were ordered to desist from the trading objected to, unless they could produce their authority. [n July 1501, the council continued the case with the consent of both parties 'in the hope of concord' till the next justice aire at  Elgin.


That is the last we hear of the dispute for some time, but the 'greit enormytie and trespass' which hadgrown up in the remoter parts of the wide sheriffdom of Inverness was one of the reasons for an Act of Parliament in March 1503/4 creating a separate Sheriff of Ross - to sit 'in Thane or Dinguale' according to the case to be dealt with - and a Sheriff of Caithness to sit at Dornoch or Wick.

These proceedings throw some light on Tain's early trade and traders. Skins, hides, salmon, iron and other merchandise are all mentioned - one of the sites of old iron workings is near Edderton, where bog iron is found. In the mid-sixteenth century 'casualties' were payable to the hcreditary bailie for the brewing of ale, peats, beef and fish; among the crops were oats and bere and stock included sheep and capons. Sugar and spices, as well as coats of mail and cannon, were being im≠ported through Cromarty.

The names of the Tain men alleged to have been buying and selling are Alexander (or David) Dean, James Tulloch, Donald MacCulloch, John Davidson, Hugh Alexanderson, George Munro, Donald Paterson (Patrickson), Laurenceson,Magnus Faed, Steven Fudes (Fyddes), Donald Brabner, Andrew Forres, Cristy Chapman, Alexander Smyth, and 'ane called Gillaspy'. Fifteen years later, Alex≠ander Smyth and another from Tain are charged with helping three Dundee burgesses to buy salmon and grilse and ship them without paying customs.

Tain was now achieving some corporate existence, no longer wholly ecclesiastical. A charter of 1484 witnessed by Thomas Monelaw, which has already been mentioned, was granted by a number of 'common citizens and clerks of the town of the kind confessor blessed S1. Duthac of Tayne with other common citizens and clerks of our community'. They include several neighbouring lairds and a number of people known only by patronymic, as follows:- John Ross of Balnagown, John Munro of Foulis, Masters Donald and William Ross, Angus MacCulloch of Plaids, William Maktyre of Innerathie, Angus MacCulloch of Tarrell, John Wauss of Lochslyn, John Mercall of Dawachcartye, Finlay and John Faid, Patrick son of John, Stephen Foress, William Clark, Donald Red son of Tormot, Donald Red son of Michael, John Makaryne, John son of Patrick, Finlay McCarryn, John son of Donald, David Broug, Donald Maktyre, William Pedison, John Red, Donald Talzour, Robert Tulloch, Patrick Fores, Finlay Makbei, Donald McFersoun and Thomas McFerson.

This group of people, using 'our seal' (which from a docu≠ment of about the same time was 'the common seal of the said toun of Tayne') granted a piece of land in the town to the Subdean of Ross (Thomas Ross), and later sasine was given by Patrick Johnstoun 'our bailie'. The word 'burgh' is not used, and the earliest extant charter granting that status was still a century ahead, but we are now coming to a time when the designation creeps. even into the most formal documents, and when Tain was assuming the responsibilities of such a status. The first royal document in which Tain is called a burgh that has yet come to light is the letter sent in the king's name after a privy council meeting at Inverness in November 1493 (although the 1499/1501 series ofletters studiously refer to the 'town' of Tain as distinct from the 'burgh' of Inverness); it figures as a burgh in the Acts of the Lords Auditors in 1494 and 1496; it appears in a list of burghs and bounds whose customs were granted to the captain of Stirling Castle under a privy seal letter in 1505, and in a list of 1524 of certain northern burghs in which the Abbot of Arbroath possessed rights.

Applying the test of when Tain began to pay its share of the burdens rather than claim or even be accorded burghal status, we find it making a contribution in 1532/3 for conveying the king's artillery to the Border. Its name is on the earliest stent roll of the Convention of Royal Burghs in 1535, when it paid taxes twice - once for the king's journey to France for a bride, and once for the defence of the Borders. Its commis≠sioners occasionally attended meetings of the Convention (e.g., Andro Rysie in 1581, Finlay Manson in 1586), and in 1567 it was even represented in Parliament, although the records do not say by whom. But when we learn that Arbroath (for example) was stented more than a century before becoming a royal burgh, and was in Parliament twenty years before receiving a formal charter, it is plain that there were many anomalies in practice, even though burghs had enjoyed a formally recognised status as early as the mid-twelfth century.

The use of the terms 'provost' and 'bailies' has sometimes been thought to indicate the existence of a burgh, but a state≠ment by Nicholas Ross which has been preserved is evidence to the contrary. He 'answers peremptorily' to the pretended summons and charge pursued against him 'by the alleged bailies and community of the town of Tayne', who had asked - no doubt in the immediately post-Reformation period ≠that the seal and charters should be handed over to them. In the preamble to his reasons for refusing, he probably would not seek to minimise the importance of himself and his office:-

' ... I am, as I have been these diverse years last bypast, undoubted provost of the College Kirk of Tayne, and I and my predecessors provosts thereof by reason of the said provostry were also provosts of the said town, so reputed and held past memories of man, and the whole courts of the same during the space fore said fenced in my predecessors' names as provosts thereof, and the bailies of the said town yearly during the same space chosen and elected by me and my predecessors provosts foresaids, and the whole escheats of the court of the said town by erection and foundation apper≠taining to the said provost, and seeing I and my pre≠decessors not only are provosts of the said Kirk but also provosts of the said town and principal persons thereof. . .'

As well as the town's bailies, of whom two or even three are on record together, there was also - and remained down to the Forty-Five - a heritable bailie of the immunity of Tain, already mentioned more than once. This office had been granted in 1436 to the MacCullochs of Plaids by the Earl of Ross (who 17eserved the escheats to himself, and in fact once deScribes himself as 'aldermannus' of Tain); after the earldom WlIS forfeited the grant was renewed by the king. In 1552 Robert MacCulloch of Plaids sold the lands and office to his uncle, Alexander Innes of Cadboll, who was charged by an order from Queen Mary and her consort to hold courts within the town and immunity as often as necessary. By an agreement reached with Nicholas Ross in 1566, the escheats of the court were to go two parts to the 'utility and profit of the said pro≠vost', and the third part to the bailie 'for service and exe≠cution of office'. Having passed to Innes of that Ilk, the bailiary was sold by him in 1584 to George Sinclair of Mey, in Caithness, whose son William married a daughter of Balna≠gown. The office of bailie - which simply signifies deputy ≠inay well have been profitable to the holder, to judge from lists ofthe 'casualties' levied.

It is plain from all this that Tain was becoming a place of increasing importance for trade. This gave rise to further jealousy, and in 1580 Inverness complained to the Con≠vention of Royal Burghs against eight towns in the North for usurping its trading rights. The Convention found that Ding≠wall, Chanonry, Rosemarkie, Cromarty, Dornoch and Wick, since they were not enrolled and paid no stent, 'are nocht in the societie of the remanent frie burrowis'; Tain alone of the group was ordered to appear at the next meeting to exhibit the right, charter and privilege whereby it was erected into a free burgh- "gif they ony have", adds the minute menacingly. Failing to appear, Tain was fined for non-attendance (Inver≠ness cannily objecting to such an implied recognition of status), and the dispute dragged on. In 1582 the privy council, harking back to their decision of 1501, again charged the people of Tain to stop buying skins, hides, iron, salmon and other merchandise, 'aye and until' they showed any proper authority for doing so.

Not long after this impasse had been reached, Tain received its oldest extant charter, in which its claims were freely acknow≠ledged in the formal language of such documents. It is of interest also as one of the early grants by James VI when he took control of affairs on reaching the age of 21 after a stormy minority, only a little more than four months after his mother's execution. As part of the young king's means.of ensuring an independent revenue, Parliament in July 1587 passed three Acts - one in which he revoked all grants made to the pre≠judice of the crown during his mother's reign and his own minority; another which annexed to the crown the lands belonging to the prelates, the abbeys and monasteries, the 'college kirks' and other similar establishments; and a third which empowered the king to grant lands in the earldom of Ross.

Regent Moray pulpit


Six months later, at Holyrood House on 10th January, 1587/8, a charter by King James in favour of the Royal Burgh of Tain passed the great seal. It mentioned the destruction of its muniments, 'by barbarians and certain rebellious Ersch subjects, as is contained in authentic testimonies produced before us'; the privileges granted to it by former kings as a 'free royal burgh'; and the discharge of its obligation to attend Parliament, Convention of Estates, and Convention of Royal Burghs, and contribution to the burghs' taxes; and accordingly the king ratified, confirmed and renewed its ancient privileges, infeftments and rights in the broadest terms. These included the holding of land (to be perambulated yearly), the privilege of free markets, the power to elect provost, bailies, dean of guild, treasurer, councillors and officers, and the right to import and sell goods and collect and receive petty customs ≠all 'as if the infeftments of the burgh had not been destroyed and burnt'.

By ordering that the burgh's weekly market, hitherto held on the Lord's Day, should for all time to come be held 'on the Sabbath Day called Setterday', the charter sheds an inter≠esting light on Sunday observance in King James's day, and incidentally proves that Tain already had an established weekly market. It also authorised and named a series of yearly markets.

Tain was the second of the Northern burghs to have its status confirmed or acknowledged by King James. Dingwall was the first (1587), and Wick followed in 1589, Chanonry in 1590, Inverness and Rosemarkie in 1592, and Cromarty in ] 593. Dornoch did not become a royal burgh until 1628.