Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

History of Aberdeen and Banff
Chapter V


State of education—medieval schools of Aberdeen—song-school and grammar-school—monastic schools—Aberdeen students at oxford—John Barbour : at English and French universities— the beginning of Scottish literature: 'the Brus'—masters of the grammar-school—a compulsory education act—bishop Elphinstone — his early career — foundation of Aberdeen university—comparison with preceding universities—points of resemblance to and difference from the university of Paris— the royal charters—the first principal—Boece as scholar, historian, and biographer—his colleagues—early students and alumni—endowments—Elphinstone's munificence—Elphinstone as author—the Aberdeen breviary and the introduction of printing into Scotland—Scottish art—plays and pageants— the reception of queen Margaret Tudor—Floden—death of Ell'hinstone—bishop Dunbar—his completion of Elphinstone's works—the bridge of Dee—the cathedral and its heraldic ceiling — college extension — Alexander Galloway— Dunbar's "new foundation" — early prosperity and celebrity of the university.

We have now arrived at the period notable above all others in the intellectual history of the north, and at the career of the illustrious man who, all things considered, must be reckoned the most permanently influential benefactor these counties ever had. It was in 1483 that William Elphmstone was nominated Bishop of Aberdeen, and on the 10th of February 1494-95 that the papal bull for the erection of his university was issued at Rome. From the terms of the bull it appears that it had been preceded by a petition in the name of James IV., no doubt drawn up by Elphinstone, in which a dark picture is given of the prevailing ignorance of this outlying province of the Church and kingdom. The petition had set forth that in the northern parts of Scotland, cut off from the rest of the country by arms of the sea and high mountains, there dwelt a people ignorant of letters and almost barbarous, who by reason of distance were unable to resort to the seats of learning, and that consequently fit men for the work of the Church in those parts were not to be found. This description of the north would have been too sweeping if it had been meant to apply to the urban community, which probably it was not. Schools had existed in the principal towns of Scotland as early at least as the reign of David I., and at a still earlier time the teaching of letters had entered into the organisation of the ancient Celtic Church. When the Teutonic colonisation and the Norman lords brought in the new ecclesiastical system, still more were Church and school of necessity linked. together. As the chorister had to be able to read, the Song-School and the Grammar-School had their common origin in the Church. The schools attached to the cathedral in Old Aberdeen are mentioned in the statutes enacted by Bishop Ramsay in 1256, which purport to ratify the ordinances and constitutions of his predecessors. By these statutes the duty is laid on the chancellor of the diocese of providing a fit master to have the direction of the schools of Aberdeen, and to teach the boys in grammar and logic, which included the entire scope of education in its primary and secondary stages. In 1262 we find Thomas de Bennam or Benholm, described as rector of the schools of Aberdeen, witnessing at Inverurie a decree of Bishop Ramsay's successor; and probably it was the same Thomas de Bennam who was chancellor of the diocese in 1276-1277 when Hugh de Bennam was bishop. Education was also imparted by the friars, who seem to have had schools at their monasteries for the training of recruits for their own ranks, though not to the exclusion of the children of their patrons; and that there were learned men among the Aberdeen friars may be inferred from the fact that when Edward I. paid his second visit to the city in 1303, four of the brethren of the Carmelite monastery went to England under his protection and received the degree of Doctor of Divinity at Oxford. Balliol College, which owes its existence to the family which for a short time held the sovereignty of Scotland, was at this period the chief resort of Scottish students.

Among the students at Oxford in the fourteenth century was John Barbour, the contemporary of Chaucer, and father of Scottish literature. In 1357, when Archdeacon of Aberdeen—an office which he was still to hold for thirty-eight years—Barbour received a safe-conduct to pass into England with three scholars for the purpose of studying at Oxford. One of the lights of Oxford at this time was John Wyclif, the earliest documentary record of whom bears the date of 1360, when he occupied the position of Master of Balliol, but who was almost certainly there when Barbour arrived from Aberdeen three years before. In 1364, by which time Wycl'f had resigned his academic position, Barbour had a second safe-conduct for himself and four companions to study at Oxford or elsewhere; in 1365 he obtained a passport to travel through England with six companions on horseback on their way to France; and in 1368 another passport authorised him to journey through England to France with two horses and two servants. Apart from his ecclesiastical offices, we find Barbour acting as clerk of audit to the Scottish royal house-hold, and as one of the auditors of Exchequer. Deeply imbued, as we must believe him to have been, with the learning of his time, he found out, as Langland and Chaucer did, the literary power of the English tongue; and instead of composing his national epic in the medieval Latin of churchmen and scholars, he chose for it the language spoken by all the Lowland population of Scotland as well as by the English beyond the Border. As it is the earliest, so is the "Brus" the most national of all Scottish poems. It is instinct with the spirit of freedom, of heroism informed by chivalry, of romance arising in the struggles, the perils, and the hairbreadth escapes of the king. The poet is ever conscious of the high aim of his work, and the lesson which it reads to the Scottish people. In style it is simple, vivid, and direct. Seldom are lofty strains attempted by the author, and the poem has little wealth of imagery, but the ideas and the deeds of a heroic age are depicted in manful and flowing verse, the language of which differs but little from that of Chaucer. Thus was Aberdeen the cradle of Scottish literature in the fourteenth century. The art of printing had not arrived, but the "Brus" and Barbour's other poems were evidently written for a wider circle than the learned caste of churchmen who read and wrote in Latin.

Barbour is thus a pioneer who stands out prominently in the history of British literature. His successors in Scottish song—Blind Harry, James I., Henryson, William Dunbar, Gawan Douglas, and Sir David Lyndsay — followed after intervals of time; and in the north-east John of Fordun's ' Scotichronicon' was the only other memorable fruit of the cultivation of letters before the inauguration of liberal culture by Bishop Elphinstone. Dempster mentions several Latin authors among the churchmen ; but of these authors or their works nothing is now known, if we except Ingram de Lindsay, one of the bishops of Aberdeen, a man of scholarly tastes who wrote on canon law and the Pauline Epistles.

The historic grammar-school of Aberdeen, which appears to have had an unbroken continuity from the school for " grammar and logic" presided over by Thomas de Bennam in the thirteenth century, is frequently mentioned in the burgh records. On the occurrence of a vacancy in the rectorship in 1418, through the death of Andrew de Syvas, vicar of Bervie, the magistrates, council, and community chose John Homyll, a graduate in arts, as his successor; and on the chancellor granting his letters of collation, in accordance with the old ecclesiastical regulation, the presentee was enabled to enter on his office. In 1479 Thomas Strachan was appointed master at a salary of until he should be provided with a chaplainship in St Nicholas Church.

Education, therefore, was not wholly neglected in these counties; yet we must believe that the statement in the letter to the Pope was generally true of the country north of the Grampians. The troublous two centuries that had elapsed since the death of the third Alexander had been unfavourable to the nurture of scholars; and that neglect of education was all but universal except among churchmen is implied in the passing, in 1496, of the earliest Compulsory Education Act, whereby all barons and freeholders of substance were required to send their eldest sons to school at the age of eight or nine years, and to keep them at the grammar-school " till they be competently founded and have perfect Latin." After having reached this stage of scholarship the youths were to remain three years at the schools of art and law in order that the poor might have the benefit of local administration of justice in minor cases. Though limited in its scope, and perhaps never enforced, this statute indicates the direction in which the thoughts of the most enlightened Scottish legislators were running, and it cannot escape attention that the man who was taking the lead in matters of educational reform at the time was Bishop Elphinstone, who in the preceding year had obtained the papal sanction for the erection of the northern university. The grammar-school had been attended by the sons of burgesses, and probably by a few boys from the smaller burghs and the country. It has been pointed out by Mr Cosmo Innes as an insufficiently considered effect of the scarcity of books before the invention of printing that it tended to congregate students in masses.1 The religious houses in the two counties had no great reputation for learning, being indeed behind the foundations in the south in that respect; but there is no reason to doubt that to some extent they carried on educational work. The pursuit of scholarship at the English universities by Scottish students had for a generation or two been greatly discouraged, if not absolutely prevented, by the wars between the two countries. England and Scotland, moreover, were on different sides with respect to the great Schism of the West, and thus another barrier was raised up against the northern students, who in more favourable circumstances would have repaired as of old to Oxford. One result of the schism was to multiply universities in competition with Paris, and the inauguration of higher education at St Andrews in 1411 was to a certain extent a response to a national demand in which the north-east had its part.

William Elphinstone, described by Hector Boece, his biographer, probably with intentional vagueness, as of the old fami'y of Elphinstone, was one of the students of the University of Glasgow on its foundation in 1450; and having served for some time in the Church he proceeded to the University of Paris. Nine years of his early manhood were spent at Paris and Orleans in pursuit of knowledge and in lecturing on canon law. Boece, himself a student and teacher of the University of Paris some thirty years afterwards, tells us that so great was his reputation for learning and acumen that on more than one occas'on his advice was sought by the Parliament of Paris. Soon after his return to Scotland he became Dean of the Faculty of Arts, and then Rector of Glasgow University; he was Chancellor of the diocese of Glasgow and afterwards Official of Lothian, the judicial position next in importance to that of Great Justiciar. He also sat in Parliament, served on its judicial committees, and was engaged from time to time on embassies to foreign Courts. No other Scottish diplomatist of the day had such prestige and experience, or possessed such courtly manners and address. In 1481 he was nominated to the bishopric of Ross, from which he was translated two years afterwards to Aberdeen ; but absence on diplomatic service or other causes led to delay in his entrance on his episcopal functions.

Having served his country as lawyer, diplomatist, and statesman, Bishop Elphinstone in the latter part of his life rendered pre-eminent service to his diocese and the north of Scotland as a great churchman and the sagacious founder of liberal education. Though still occasionally -employed on diplomatic missions and affairs of State, his energies were for the most part concentrated upon the tasks aevolving upon him as bishop. First, Boece tells us, he set himself to reform the clergy, and his next care was to improve the church services as regards both ritual and music, to which end he employed John Malinson, a highly skilled musician, who seems to have brought about a great change for the better in the musical culture of the Aberdonians. The bishop kept much company, for whose entertainment he imported, through the agency of Andrew Halyburton, Conservator of Scots Privileges at Middelburgh, the choicest produce collected by the merchants of the Netherlands. The whole atmosphere of his palace and surroundings was that of high-toned cultivation and refinement. But while not neglecting social life and relaxation, he left behind him a tradition of personal abstemiousness, weight of character, and devotion to public and private duty. It is also mentioned to his credit that he encouraged and helped with money the friar-preachers who were carrying on a useful work among the poor.

After the erection of the Universities of St Andrews and Glasgow, but before Elphinstone was able to proceed with his scheme for Aberdeen, the intellectual ferment of the age had received the stimulus of the invention of "printing, the spread of Greek literature, and the new spirit awakened by the teaching of the Humanists. Elphinstone had a just sense of the virtue of education, and his scheme was in some respects far in advance of that given effect to in any preexisting Br.iish university. It not merely provided an education for churchmen, but was also a response to the public demand for liberal culture. It had a completeness peculiar to itself, with all the four faculties of Arts, Theology, Law, and Medicine duly represented. Nearly half a century elapsed before the English universities had a professorship of medicine, while Glasgow was to be a century and a-half, Edinburgh two centuries, and St Andrews still farther behind. Elphinstone was fully acquainted with Glasgow University, first as student and afterwards as teacher, and he saw that it was practically a failure,—inefficient in respect of instruction, meagrely attended by students, and lax in discipline ; and recognising the errors in its constitution, he was able to avoid them in the consti u-tion and working of his new university. The two great academic models were Bologna and Paris—the former having professional education for its aim, while the latter addressed itself primarily to general mental training. In this latter object, as in matters of form and organisation, Bishop Elphinstone's university followed the Paris model; but it is noteworthy that the first of the endowments of the Aberdeen University is an annual feu-duty from several estates in Banffshire for the support of a professor of medicine. In one important respect he improved on Paris. According to the general usage of universities, the graduates in the several facilities were bound to "read" or teach for a time after taking their degrees. The system had its obvious drawbacks, and, together with the lack of power to deal with disorders, is sufficient to account for the early failure of Glasgow. Eschewing both these errors, Bishop Elphinstone gave salaries, on what was regarded at the time as a satisfactory scale, to the teachers in the several faculties, provided bursaries for students, and, reserving a visitorial power, conferred authority on the chancellor of the university to deal summarily with any disorders reported by the visitors.

The organisation of the University of Paris was followed with regard to the offices of chancellor and rector, and the four " nations" into which the undergraduates were divided, and which acted through their procurators or proctors. The still surviving " bajan," or first-year student, known also at St Andrews, is none other than the French bejaune or bee jaune, yellowbill or young bird, of four hundred years ago. The " semi," or student of the second year, is semibajan ; and the principal, the regent (or professor), grammarian (professor of Latin), and sacrist, or college servant, as also the bursary or "burse" and the "session," are all importations from Paris.

In pursuance of his public-spirited policy, Elphinstone, who in 1489 had obtained a royal charter erecting Old Aberdeen into a city and free burgh in barony, procured a second royal charter in 1497 assigning to academic purposes certain ecclesiastical revenues, conferring upon the staff, students, and members of the new university all the privileges enjoyed by the universities of Paris, St Andrews, and Glasgow, appointing the Sheriff of Aberdeenshire, the Alderman of Aberdeen, and the "bailie" of the bishop, for the city of Old Aberdeen, conservators of these privileges, providing for the "collegiate church" to be founded, and empowering the bishop and his successors to appoint and dismiss the teaching staff. The deed of foundation of the " collegiate church," or college within the university, is dated 17th September 1505, and minutely specifies the respective functions of its thirty-six members, from Principal, Doctors, and Masters of Arts down to the thirteen scholars or poor clerks fit for instruction in speculative knowledge, and the cantor, sacrist, organist, and choir-boys. The permanent teachers were the Master of Theology or Principal, the three Doctors, of Common Law, Canon Law, and Medicine respectively, the Regent or Sub-Principal, and the Grammarian—the first five to have stipends of forty, thirty, and twenty marks, the Grammarian being provided for by the prebend of the Snow Church.1 All except the Doctor of Medicine were to be ecclesiastics. This academic body was to be assisted by five newly graduated Masters of Arts, who as students of theology for three and a half years were also to act as Regents.

Having obtained the papal sanction for his university, Bishop Elphinstone's first care was to find suitable men for the carrying out of his great design. To fill the responsible office of Principal he had recourse to his old University of Paris, and fixed upon Hector Boece, who was then teaching philosophy in Montaigu College, and who records that he was induced by Elphinstone's "gifts and promises" to return to Scotland for the purpose of inaugurating the work of the new university. It can easily be understood how Boece should regret to part from his eminent colleagues, chief of whom was "Erasmus of Rotterdam," whom he calls "the glory and ornament of our age." But the change was not altogether for the worse, for the testimony of Erasmus discloses the fact that life at Montaigu was extremely hard, even the supplies of food being meagre as well as bad; and on the other hand, the position of first active head of the northern university cannot have been unattractive even to an ambitious man, as we are probably justified in believing Boece to have been. He brought with him his fellow-student William Hay, who became sub-principal and ultimately succeeded to the higher office of head of the teaching body. Both were natives of Angus, and they had been at school together in Dundee as well as fellow-students and fellow-teachers in Paris.

Boece's faults as a historian have overshadowed the reputation which his scholarship deserved. His published works are evidence of the high character of his Latinity, and we have the testimony of Erasmus and other learned contemporaries as to his attainments in philosophy, then a very comprehensive term. Buchanan also speaks of turn as distinguished by a knowledge of the liberal arts, and mentions his courtesy and sweetness of temper. He possessed a knowledge of medicine, and had the reputation of being one of the most skilful physicians of his time. His works are the 'Lives of the Bishops of Mortlach and Aberdeen,' published in Paris in 1522, and his 'History of Scotland,' the first edition of which appeared in 1527. The errors which vitiate the authority of these works spring from the easy credulity with which he received floating legends and popular traditions, but even as a record of these his writings are not without value. As a man of letters of European celebrity his association with the college must have given it a note of distinction at its commencement. Hay is well spoken of by Boece and by Ferrerius, the Pied-montese monk of Kinloss : he was an expert in laws and philosophy, and had eminent success as a teacher.

Boece was appointed Principal in 1495, an(^ it niay be inferred that he and Hay, with David Guthrie and James Ogilvie, canons of the cathedral, were at work with students years before the college buildings were ready for their reception. To these teachers was soon added John Vaus, as Humanist, who, with other grammatical works, was author of Latin Rudiments in the vernacular which passed through several editions in the sixteenth century. Boece proudly commemorates the names of the more distinguished students who made their mark in the early days of the university. Among them were Alexander Hay, canon of Aberdeen, and the first alumnus of the university who taught others in the liberal arts, and became its rector; James Ogilvie, afterwards a professor in the university and commendator of Dryburgh Abbey, who was employed on several embassies to the Continent, and was nominated for the bishopric on the death of Elphinstone; Arthur Boece, brother of the Principal, afterwards Professor of Law; Alexander Galloway, rector of Kinkell, the intimate friend and architectural adviser of Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar; Henry Spittal, a relative of Bishop Elphinstone, who taught a junior class under Boece; John Lyndsay and Alexander Laurence, lawyers, the latter of whom joined the Friar Preachers or Dominicans ; John Gryson, Robert Lisle, and Alexander Courtney, also of that order; and John Adam, Professor of Divinity, the first in Aberdeen to reach in that faculty the crowning honour of "master," who became Provincial or Principal of the Dominican Order in Scotland, and by his exertions greatly improved their position and influence. These are the alumni named by the first Principal as having attained distinction when he wrote his Lives of the Bishops, and they are a creditable body of first-fruits of the new seat of learning.

Endowments for the new university to a slight extent were procured from ecclesiastical sources, and private benefactions gradually came in, but the great contributory of funds was the bishop himself. The see was well endowed, and Elphinstone devoted a large part of its revenues to the noble purpose with which his name is inseparably connected. From entries in Halyburton's Ledger it appears that in 1498 there were sent from Holland to Aberdeen to the order of the bishop a barrel of powder for quarrying stones, as also carts and wheelbarrows—imports which betoken the start of building operations. It was also mainly from the revenues under his control that Elphinstone carried out his various constructive works for the benefit of the public, including the completion of the great tower of the cathedral, into which he introduced three massive bells, the rebuilding of the choir on a scale and in a style in keeping with the magnificence of the edifice, the erection of the Snow Church for the accommodation of residents near the south end of Old Aberdeen, and the commencement of what for the time was a very important engineering enterprise, the seven-arched bridge which for nearly four hundred years has spanned the Dee at Ruthrieston.

To Bishop Elphinstone we are indebted for the venerable 'Breviary of Aberdeen'; and even the introduction of the art of printing into Scotland seems to have been due to his initiative. The charter granted by James IV. in 1507 to Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar of Edinburgh to set up the first printing-press recites that it was "for imprinting within our realm of the books of our laws, Acts of Parliament, chronicles, mass-books, and portuus [breviary] after the use of our realm, with additions and legends of Scottish saints eked thereto, and all other books that shall be seen necessary." "Books of Salisbury use " are henceforth to be excluded by the king and Council in favour of " mass-books, manuals, matin-books, and portuus-books after our own Scots use," and with "legends of Scots saints now gathered and eked by William, Bishop of Aberdeen, and others." Though not the first book printed in Scotland, for it was preceded by the romance of ' Gologras and Gawain' and some poems by Dunbar and Henryson, the publication of the Breviary was the first great object for which the printing-press was introduced into Scotland, and Elphinstone's hand in the establishment of the art of printing in the country is thus made clear by indisputable evidence. The first volume appeared in 1509 and the second in 1510. Boece speaks of historical collections made by the bishop, but these appear to have been chiefly notes based on Fordun and copies of public documents ; and manuscripts by the bishop preserved at his own university, at the Bodleian Library, and at the Royal Library of Paris, are of little intrinsic value.

Aberdeen shared in the revival of Scottish art, which from small beginnings under James I. was steadily extending throughout the country, showing itself for the most part in ecclesiastical buildings and decoration, but also in wood-carving, painting, and sculpture. The altar ornaments, images, and vestments in St Nicholas' Church seem to have been rich and costly as well as numerous. We have several lists of the cathedral treasury during this period which mark the increase of ecclesiastical art; and a mitre presented by Bishop Elphinstone, of which a detailed description is given, must have been a marvel of the work of jeweller and embroiderer. Painted banners are mentioned in the inventories, at least one portrait-painter was working in the town, and the portrait of Bishop Elphinstone in King's College belongs to this period. Of the proficiency in illumination and colouring of the Aberdeen artists in the fifteenth century we have sufficient evidence in the manuscripts that have come down to us. The skill in wood-carving, which was put to the test in the choir stalls of St Nicholas' and the high altar of the cathedral, considered a piece of the finest wood-work in Europe, and still seen on the stalls of King's College Chapel, seems to have been unrivalled in any of the towns of Scotland.

The latter half of Elphinstone's episcopate of thirty-one years, till almost its close, was cast in a time of public tranquillity. His influence as a statesman at home and his action as a diplomatist abroad had been exerted on the side of peace and goodwill; and circumstances co-operated to impart to this period an exceptional brightness, as of a gleam of sunshine amid ages of storm and gloom. The. sixteenth century opened with all the signs of prosperity in the towns of the north-east, and with much public rejoicing over the marriage of the popular young king with the Princess Margaret of England. James IV. had already been a frequent visitor to the city, and on each occasion received a loyal and hospitable welcome. Aberdeen contributed its quota to the costs of the marriage, which was attended by the alderman and " the best and worthiest of the town," accompanied by the common minstrels, who were provided with silver badges engraved with the town's arms. The spirit of the time is reflected in the festivities attending the visit of the queen to the city in 1511, of which visit we have a brilliant poetical description from the pen of William Dunbar, who seems to have been in the royal suite. Hardly less worthy of attention, however, is the prose of the burgh records. The citizens were summoned to meet the municipal authorities, and it was resolved with one voice that Aberdeen should " receive the queen as honourably as any burgh of Scotland except Edinburgh alone, and to incur all necessary expenses for the honour of the town." Stern orders were given for " cleaning of the town of all middens," clearing away pigsties, and preventing swine from running at large in the streets under penalty of banishment of their owners from the town and slaughter and confiscation of the animals. The outside stone-stairs of the houses were to be covered with arras-work, and decorations of foliage and flowers provided. The queen, indeed, seems to have been received and entertained with royal munificence, if we may judge by Dunbar's description of what took place. After apostrophising the city as

"Blithe Aberdeen, thou beryl of all tounis,
The lamp of beauty, bounty, and blitheness,"

the poet commemorates the splendour of the procession which met the queen at the entrance to the city and the pageants exhibited along the route. These included the Salutation of the Virgin, the Three Kings of Cologne, the Angel with the Flaming Sword driving Adam and Eve from Paradise, Robert the Bruce and the Stewart Kings, and four-and-twenty maidens all clad in green, of marvellous beauty, with flowing hair, playing on timbrels, singing, and saluting the queen.

"At her coming great was the mirth and joy, For at their Cross abundantly ran wine ; Unto her lodging the town did her convoy;

Her for to treat they set their whole ingyne; A rich present they did to her propine A costly cup, that large thing would contain, Covered and full of coined gold right fine ; Be blithe and blissful, burgh of Aberdeen."

As a return for the loyal courtesy of the city authorities, the king conferred upon them new powers and privileges. Two months after the queen's visit the provost received letters under the great seal confirming and extending their power to escheat goods exported from the sheriffdom without paying the great custom, while in the following January came the confirmation of a decree arbitral of the Lords of Council conferring on the provost and baillies jurisdiction as to offences committed by burgesses and freemen. But the shadow of coming trouble was already apparent. Within a few months the local authorities were devising new measures of defence against the English, purchasing gunpowder, artillery, spears, and other warlike equipments, ordering trenches to be dug at various points, and establishing a watch in which every burgess and freeman was to take his turn. Besides providing for its own defence, Aberdeen furnished a contingent of twenty spearmen and six horsemen for the royal army. Huntly had mustered the Gordons and all the strength that his lieutenancy of the north could bring into the field. Many of the barons of the two coum <es joined his standard and participated in the gallant but bootless onslaught which he led at Flodden. In that disastrous battle there fell of Aberdeenshire men the Earl of Erroll, High Constable of Scotland, Lord Forbes, and the two sons of the Earl Marischal, Sir William Douglas of Kemnay, Sir James Abercrombie of Pitmedden, Johnston of Caskieben, George Ogilvie, younger of Auchleven, Abercrombie of Birkenbog, young Glaster of Glack, and several of the Gordons.

The aged bishop did not long survive. His counsel had been against the war, and he was stricken to the heart by the news of the battle and of the king's death. He died on October 25, 1514, at Edinburgh, whither he had gone with much toil and difficulty in a vain endeavour to compose the differences between the English and French parties into which the nobles had divided themselves on the queen's hasty marriage with Angus. Bishop Elphinstone was buried, as was most fit, before the high altar in his college. He had been in his day the great light of the north. During his administration of the see the Roman Catholic Church reached the summit of its influence in Aberdeenshire; and the higher learning which he inaugurated was to convert these counties into a prolific nursery of men of eminence in the service of their country and time.

For the vacant see James Ogilvie, first Civilist of King's College, who was engaged at the time on a mission to the King of France, was nominated by the Regent Albany, and Robert Forman, Dean of Glasgow, and brother of the Archbishop of St Andrews, was designated from Rome; but while the canons were deliberating over the matter the Earl of Huntly entered their meeting and demanded that his kinsman, Alexander Gordon, Chanter of Moray and third son of James Gordon, Laird of Haddo, should be appointed, and, as Boece records, the canons, yielding to the evil times lest they should have to submit to harsher treatment, unanimously conceded the earl's demands. After the uneventful three years' episcopate of Bishop Gordon succeeded a prelate in zeal and public service as in high character the worthy successor of Elphinstone. Gavin Dunbar, of Westfield, had been Dean of Moray and was now Archdeacon of St Andrews, holding also the public office of Clerk of Register. His appointment to the bishopric of Aberdeen dates from 1518, and the first object to which he addressed himself was the completion of Elphinstone's unfinished works. Chief of these was the Bridge of Dee. The architect of the bridge was Alexander Galloway, and the contractor Thomas Franche, the king's master mason and son of a burgess of Linlithgow. For the maintenance of the bridge Bishop Dunbar gave the lands of Ardlair in the parish of Kennethmont, and in 1527 " the haill toune, all in ane voice, thankit greatly their lord and bishop of Aberdeen " for building the bridge and " for his great offer and promises for upholding the same." To Dunbar's initiative, and largely to his munificence, were also due the south quarter of the college and the professors' houses, the south aisle of the cathedral, and the two freestone spires surmounting Bishop Lichtoun's massive granite towers, the heraldic ceiling in panelled oak, which likewise is still so notable a feature of the edifice, the Bede House or hospital in Old Aberdeen for twelve poor men, and the Greyfriars' Church of New Aberdeen. His additions to the ornaments of the cathedral came, no doubt, of that love of art which is reflected in the decorated ceiling with its four dozen shields and coats-of-arms and in his patronage of architecture.

Alexander Galloway, so closely connected with the bjshop in all his constructive undertakings, was Official of the diocese, and on different occasions Rector of the university. For many years Galloway was the chief designer of architectural works in the north, and the authorities of Aberdeen consulted him as to the fortification of the town. It was a fruitful time in the architecture of Aberdeen, and Galloway left abundant proofs and products of his taste and ingenuity at the cathedral, the university, his own beautiful church of Kinkell, and the church of the Grey Friars in Aberdeen. Manifold was the service he rendered to the Church, as Bishop William Stewart, the successor of Dunbar, testifies, both in Scotland and Flanders. Being a man of some wealth, he was in that respect also a benefactor; and he is associated with the completion of the chartulary. Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar had no worthier or more competent assistant in the execution of the undertakings by which they elevated the standard of taste in the community and worthily provided for the seat of learning and culture which they established.

The last act of importance in the career of Bishop Dunbar was his confirmation, in 1531, of the "new foundation" of the college, carrying out intentions left unexecuted by Bishop Elphinstone. By this instrument the resident body was increased from thirty-six to forty-two—by the addition of another student of divinity, three law students, and two choir-boys. One of the numerous regulations laid down was that the Rector, with "four worthy masters"—this being the origin of the Rector's Assessors—was to "visit" the college once a-year and correct all abuses. Another regulation restricted the bursars in Arts to speaking in Latin or French. The mother-tongue seems to have been considered unworthy of the dignity of a seat of learning, and the rules of the Aberdeen grammar-school in 1553 forbade the boys to talk to each other in the vernacular, but gave them the choice of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, or Gaelic. In the early days of the university, if we may judge by the statements of Boece, and the number of eminent alumni, the attendance of students cannot have been small; and Ferrerius, who accompanied Abbot Robert Reid from Paris, and spent five years of academic and literary activity at Kinloss, speaks in glowing terms of the galaxy of learned men gathered together in Aberdeen, mentioning the two Boeces, Galloway, William Hay, Robert Gray, and John Vaus, and affirming that Aberdeen was then the most celebrated of the Scottish universuies. This was on the eve of a picturesque event, if not essentially one of the first importance, in the history of the university— namely, the visit and sojourn, apparently within the college precincts, of James V. and the queen. Bishop Leslie, a contemporary, and probably an eyewitness, records how their majesties were received with diverse triumphs and plays by the town and the university and schools, the bishop being their host, and how there was exercise and disputation in all kinds of science, with orations in Greek, Latin, and other languages. The mention of Greek is interesting. Its introduction into Scotland is supposed to have taken place in 1534, when Erskine of Dun brought a master from France who first taught it in Montrose. Within a few years of this date it had its place in the curricula of the university and grammar-school of Aberdeen. A period of lassitude and inefficiency in the university set in, however, and Galloway, who was rector again in 1549, reports a sad falling-off as compared with the palmy days of Bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar. There were now no lay teachers, few students who were not foundationers, and none apparently but such as were preparing either for the Church or the practice of its courts, while the teachers were negligent in the discharge of their duties. It was a deplorable change from the enthusiasm and glory that had pervaded the college halls in days that Galloway could remember. The university had done a great work during the half-century of its existence, but a temporary cloud hung over it. A crisis in its affairs, as in those of the Cnurch, was rapidly approaching.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast