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History of Aberdeen and Banff
Chapter VI


Premonitions of the ecclesiastical revolution—Relaxation of social and ecclesiastical bonds—Gordon raid on Kinloss Abbey—Night attack on Aberdeen by Garioch lairds — Breach between the citizens and the Forbeses—The trial and execution of the master of Forbes—Robbery of the cathedral treasure—First appearance of Lutheranism and the measures against it — Repression of irreverence and enforcement of Church dues by the magistrates of Aberdeen—Episcopate of William Gordon—Increasing aggrandisement of the Gordons—Bonds of manrent—The fourth Earl of Huntly : Lieutenant of the North and Provost of Aberdeen—The Battle of Pinkie—The burden of taxation—Huntly's unsuccessful expedition to the Highlands : Deprived of office and honours: Magnificence of his establishment—Earl Marischal and the Reformation—The Forbeses—Burning of the Church of Echt—Morals of the clergy—Memorial of the dean and chapter.

In public and national affairs the bright interlude of Bishop Elphinstone's episcopate was followed by a long period of strife and tumult and of the relaxation of old bonds. The central fact in the general history of the country during this period is the ecclesiastical revolution. Its premonitions begin to be apparent in Aberdeenshire soon after Flodden. The breach between England and Rome was not without its influence in the north, for if it tended to accentuate the old hostility between the two countries, the dissolution of the English religious houses familiarised the Scottish nobility with the idea of the secular advantages associated with the change in religion. The Church no longer commanded the same reverence as of old, and the disorganised state of society is reflected in the lawlessness and turbulence of the country gentry, of which there are many illustrations. The first incident that arrests attention is a nocturnal raid upon the Abbey of Kinloss in 1515, headed by no less a person than Lord Gordon, son of the Earl of Huntly and son-in-law of James IV. There had been differences between Huntly and the abbot concerning the Strathisla possessions of the monastery, and these may have influenced Gordon, but he is said to have been "impelled by certain rascals." For plundering the church he was excommunicated, but after retiring to France for a year or two he came back in a penitential frame of mind and received absolution, first at St Andrews, and then at the scene of his sacrilegious deed, where his death shortly afterwards took place. An incident not less characteristic of the age, though unconnected with ecclesiastical affairs, was a night attack upon the city in 1525 by four Garioch lairds—Alexander Seton of Meldrum, John Leslie of Wardes, William Leslie of Balquhain, and Alexander Leslie " of that ilk," with their followers to the number of about eighty spearmen. The citizens rushed to arms, and after a protracted conflict defeated the invaders, but not before about eighty of the inhabitants had been killed or wounded. To guard against the recurrence of such an attack, the ports of the town were ordered to be repaired, the "vennels," "backdykes," and the like, built up, a night watch established, and sentinels posted by day in the steeples; two or three gunners were to be engaged for the artillery, young and able-bodied men to be supplied with culverins, cross-bows, and hand-bows, and to practise shooting at weekly or fortnightly " wapenschaws " ; and finally, a complaint against the late raiders was to be made to the king and council, while a prohibition against receiving or harbouring strangers was imposed upon the citizens. The efficacy of these elaborate preparations was never put to the test, for no repetition of the inroad was attempted.

This strange affair, according to the Council Register, was instigated by John Collison, elder, who had been provost four years before. Collison, who is described by some interpolator on the margin of the " Buk of Statutis," one of the documents of the town's history, as "an ambitious proud man," was connected by descent or marriage with several of the county families, including those concerned in the raid. Contention had arisen over the old question of the right of non-resident burgesses to take part in the municipal elections. A resolution passed four months before this incident occurred is to the effect that the citizens were resolved to uphold their right of free election as it had been handed down to them from time immemorial, notwithstanding that it had been divers and many times "invaded by both lords and gentlemen in the country," and to this end no person who did not " scot, lot, and ward" was to have any vote or be permitted to enter the tolbooth during an election. When this resolution came up for confirmation in September it was opposed by Collison and his party, and the raid which took place immediately after the annual election of provost, magistrates, and council may have been intended to effect a municipal mip d'etat.

The increasing strength of the Forbes connection and the extension of its possessions were developing the rivalry and hostility that were so long to mark its relations with the Gordons. Quarrels were no new thing between the Forbeses and the barons of Garioch and Formartine, among whom they were rapidly establishing themselves. Of these barons the Leslies and Setons were generally in alliance with the Earls of Huntly, and during the minority of the fourth earl, who succeeded in 1524 as a boy in his tenth year, Lord Forbes seems to have taken the opportunity of pressing heavily upon the adherents of the rival house. Balquhain, the principal castle of the Leslies, was attacked and burned by the Forbeses in 1526. The interference of Angus and other nobles stopped for a time the prosecution of the feud, but the violent proceedings of Lord Forbes's heir, the Master of Forbes, soon led to fresh tumults. Seton, who had headed the Aberdeen raid, was assassinated in 1526 by a party of the Forbeses, of whom the Master appears to have been one, at the house of Gilbert Menzies, the provost of the city. The actual assassin, Alexander Forbes, called " Spranger," while afterwards engaged in plundering some of the bishop's tenants, was slain by young Leslie of Balquhain, who with his associates succeeded in obtaining a remission under the great seal. Collisions between the Forbeses and the Aberdeen authorities had already occurred. Lord Forbes had been receiving from the magistrates a tun of wine yearly as a sort of blackmail for "protecting" or sparing the river fishings during the close season, but the citizens found that instead of protecting the fishings the Forbeses were the principal depredators and resolved to withhold the wine. A strong body of the Forbeses, headed by the lairds of P'tsligo and Brux, and instigated by Lord Forbes, broke into the town on a summer Sunday in 1530, and after some not very deadly warfare with the citizens were driven for refuge to the "place" of the Grey Friars, where after a siege of twenty-four hours they had to surrender. The citizens having seized the horses of the raiders, the Forbeses appealed to a court of law, but with the result that they were bound over under a heavy penalty that the town should be "skaithless at their hands in time coming."

The Master of Forbes was soon in more serious trouble. Along with his father and John Strachan, younger of Lyn-turk, who had been implicated with him in the murder of Seton, the Master was charged with carrying on a treasonable conspiracy with England and plotting to shoot the king during one of his visits to Aberdeen. Another accusation against him was that he had conspired for the destruction of the Scottish army at Jedburgh — which only meant that he was one of many who would not accompany Albany in his invasion of England. Lord Forbes was acquitted, but Strachan had his lands forfeited, and was forbidden to cross the Dee or approach the king; and the Master of Forbes, who had the misfortune to be married to a daughter of the now exiled Earl of Angus, was sentenced to be beheaded and quartered. Another of Angus's daughters, Lady Glamis, was condemned about the same time on a charge of conspiring to destroy the king by poison. There has always been a mystery about these cases, both of which seem to have resulted in a miscarriage of justice. The Earl of Huntly appeared as prosecutor of Forbes, and the prosecution arose out of a denunciation by Strachan, who had quarrelled with him, and accused him of having conspired with his Douglas connections against the life of the king. On the scaffold Forbes protested his innocence of this charge, while admitting that he had earned his doom by the part he had taken in the death of Seton. The king seems to have had misgivings about the whole matter, and in a short time he took one of Forbes's brothers into a high position at Court. Strachan, who was one of the most unruly characters of a turbulent age, obtained remission from the Privy Council not only for his participation in the death of Seton but for being concerned in that of John King, son of the laird of Bourtie, and in robbery and slaughter at the siege of Kildrummy. For many years, however, he continued to pursue an irregular course of life.

One of the intermittent manifestations of the Forbes and Gordon feud is seen in a charge brought against Lord Forbes, the Master of Forbes, William Forbes of Corsindae, and others, in 1533, of being concerned in a foray and the destruction by fire at night of the sheepfolds in the Earl of Huntly's forest of Corrennie on his Cluny estate. Three years afterwards, however, we find Huntly associating himself with Lord Forbes and the lairds of Corsindae and Brux as cautioner for the good conduct of the Master, Strachan, and three others, under the remission by the king of proceedings against them in connection with the Seton fracas.2 But the relations between the houses had begun to show that they would bear but little additional tension, and we shall see how greatly these relations were involved in the struggles and •commotions of the next hundred years.

It was probably during the Forbes raid on Aberdeen that a priest of the name of Martin or Marcus Coutts was killed, on account of whose death John and Alexander Forbes with their accomplices, George Ogilvie and George Collie, were put under the greater excommunication by Bishop Dunbar. Whether the bishop had refused to release them does not .appear, but the two Forbeses obtained absolution from Pope Clement VII. in 1531. In 1544 the Forbeses were implicated in a graver act of sacrilege, and one which may be regarded as an indication of motives that in a few years were to exert a powerful influence in enlisting the nobility and gentry on the side of the Reformation. England had broken with Rome ten years before, and the English monasteries having been suppressed and their revenues confiscated, the idea of the secularisation of ecclesiastical property was acting on the minds of men. Bishop Stewart, the successor of Dunbar, being apprehensive of an English invasion, was removing the jewels and ornaments of the Cathedral from Old Aberdeen to a place of greater safety, when James Forbes of Corsindae, who had been lying in wait at the head of a band of his "companions and satellites," fell upon the party and carried off the treasure. The bishop and chapter were compelled to redeem their plate from the robbers in an imperfect and mutilated condition, at a cost of 600 merks. Either from difficulty in raising the money, or for some other reason, this ransom was commuted into a grant to Forbes of four plough-gates of Church land at Montgarrie in the Vale of Alford. In such ways had it now become necessary for the Church to compromise with its despoilers.

It was in 1525 that the Scottish Parliament condemned the "damnable opinions of heresy spread in divers countries by the heretic Luther and his disciples," and forbade the circulation of their books ; and soon afterwards a royal letter was addressed to the sheriffs in the diocese of Aberdeen, informing them on the authority of Bishop Dunbar that sundry strangers and others within the diocese had " books of that heretic Luther," and favoured his "errors and false opinions," contrary to the Act of Parliament, and directing inquisition to be made regarding these persons and their goods to be confiscated. The close commercial connection of Aberdeen with Holland and Flanders had doubtless led at an early date to the citizens being informed of Luther's revolt against the Pope, and copies of the denounced books would be surreptitiously brought into the port. The circulation of Tyndale's English New Testament, printed abroad, began about this time, and it may have been classed with the Lutheran books condemned on the initiative of the Bishop of Aberdeen. For it was not till 1543, five years after the English Bible had been legalised in England, that the Scottish people were allowed by their Parliament to possess or to read the Bible in their own tongue. Nothing came of the inquisition by the sheriffs, if it ever took place, and we hear no more of heresy until the progress of the reformed doctrines in the neighbouring counties had begun to alarm both the higher clergy and the secular authorities.

So little had the Roman Church in Aberdeenshire been able to realise the danger that was imminent, that church building and decoration may almost be said to have been going on concurrently with the demolition and spoliation of the religious edifices in the south. The play of Sir David Lyndsay's piquant humour, and the shafts of his satire directed against the ignorance, idleness, and licentious lives of the clergy, cannot have been wholly unknown in the north-east; but no definite trace of the influence of this potent stimulus of the anti-clerical sentiment is to be found in the Aberdeenshire records, and the magistrates in Aberdeen continued to repress indignities offered to the Church or clergy and to enforce the payment of their dues. That repressive measures were resorted to may indicate the prevalence of a spirit of revolt; but while the local executive authority was clearly on the side of the Church, nothing ever occurred in the northern city corresponding with the burning of Patrick Hamilton at St Andrews in 1527 and George Wishart in 1546, or the execution of five persons in Edinburgh for heresy in 1539.

After the short episcopate of Dunbar's successor, Bishop William Stewart, the influence of the Earl of Huntly was again put forth in the election of bishop, and it secured the see for his uncle, William Gordon, parson of Clatt, and a prebendary of the cathedral. With the commencement of Gordon's episcopate begins the ruin of the Roman Church. A man in every respect unworthy of his distinguished predecessors, he offended by his conduct the moral sense of an age that was not remarkable for its purity, and weakened the position of the Church at a time when it was on its trial. Like Cardinal Beaton, of whom he was the friend and follower, he was more of a lay baron than a spiritual lord, and he seems to have had no regard for the responsibilities of his episcopal position or respect for the dignity of his office. His policy was to increase the number of the Church vassals by granting feu-charters and subdividing the episcopal domains among feuars and holders of long leases, who were bound to maintain the Catholic religion and the see of Aberdeen. In many of his charters and grants we find provision made for their being void in case of the holders falling into heresy. As the Reforming party gained ground in the south, the bishop's grants and leases increased to such an extent as to amount to spoliation of the see, and to show that he was desirous to anticipate the secularisation of the Church lands.

The chapter sought to meet the rising tide of the Reformation by more becoming measures, and made some small provision to counteract the new doctrines by popular preaching. The bishop was a frequent absentee. He was in France from 1550 to 1553, and during the next few years he seems to have chiefly resided in Edinburgh. Huntly had been appointed hereditary bailie of the see soon after Bishop Gordon's succession, and the bishop probably depended more -upon his nephew's support than upon the measures which the dean and chapter were devising to prop up the tottering Church.

The power -of the house of Gordon, which had been steadily increasing all through the fifteenth century, reached its highest point in the era immediately preceding the Reformation. To the extensive patrimonial possessions of the first two earls, already enumerated,1 the third earl, who died in 1524, added Strathaven, or Strathdoun, in Banffsh.'ie, and the Brae of Lochaber in Inverness. His grandson, the fourth earl, had a charter from James V. of the lordship of Braemar, Strathdee, and Cromar, except Migvie. From central Aberdeenshire to the western sea-lochs he was lord of the land, and to his hereditary earldom of Huntly he added for a time the other historic earldoms of Mar and Moray. He was Lieutenant of the North, or Viceroy of trans-Grampian Scotland; he was Chancellor of the realm, and the most influential as well as the wealthiest Scottish nobleman of his day. Inhere was no force that could cope with him, apart from the royal authority, unless it were the growing power of Argyll in the West Highlands. By the marriage of Sir Adam Gordon of Aboyne, son of the second earl,- to the heiress of Sutherland, that ancient earldom and its possessions fell to the Gordons in 1515, and materially added to the influence of the head of the house. The Gordon Earls of Sutherland retained their lordship of Aboyne and other Aberdeenshire possessions, and throughout the century dutifully supported their chief in all his undertakings.

The Gordon influence, and even the history of Aberdeenshire, in the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth century, turn to no small extent upon the order of things represented by the bonds of manrent, friendship, and alliance that were common all over Scotland, but nowhere so widely efficacious as in the north-east. These engagements were lisliBbd by the central Government as weakening its hands, and the law that was passed against the transference of fealty of the king's tenants in burghs to neighbouring lords had much support in the burghs themselves, as we have seen in the case of Aberdeen, on the grounds that such transference violated the right of local self-government, and that it threatened external interference and withdrew citizens from local service and defence; but, as we have seen, these objections were waived at times by Aberdeen in favour of the Earls of Huntly. Among the landholders of Aberdeenshire bonds of manrent and maintenance may be said to have been universal. There is still preserved in the muniment room of Gordon Castle an immense collection of these and kindred documents ranging from 1444 to 1670, about which latter date they were finally prohibited by law. They are an evidence, and in some degree an explanation, of the all but sovereign sway so long exercised by the heads of the family of Gordon, and of the practical independence which successive Earls of Huntly were able to assert for themselves. The less important house of Erroll had similar covenants with its collateral branches, as also with the Earls of Huntly and Rothes, and with Keiths, Irvines, Forbeses, Frasers, Cheynes, Bannerman of Waterton, Buchan of Auchmacoy, Meldrum of Fyvie, Udny of Udny, Mowat of Balquholly, and various of the gentry of the Carse of Gowrie and other distant places. The Forbeses, Leslies, and other leading families were similarly fortified. The result altogether was a network of offensive and defensive alliances which had their natural and "frequent outcome in feuds, forays, and civil war. At the Reformation the Earl of Huntly was under a bond of manrent to the Bishop of Aberdeen, and the opposition of Huntly to the Reformation carried with it a powerful body of allies, vassals, and dependents.

When the succession fell to the fourth earl the Gordon influence ceased during his minority to be felt in the old way, but on taking up the management of his affairs he was backed by all the strength and influence of the Gordon connection, and soon developed no small degree of sagacity and practical statesmanship. After the battle of Haddonrig, which he had won, he exhibited considerable diplomatic skill as well as spirit in fencing with the demands of the Earl of Rutland, the English commander on the marches. Desiring to maintain peace, he opposed the fatal expedition which ended in the disaster of Solway Moss, where a hundred Aberdeen men fought under the royal banner. In the troubled interregnum that followed the death of James V. he was among the most active of the Scottish statesmen who supported the queen - mother and Cardinal Beaton in their struggle for power, which speedily became a conflict of creeds. But Huntly's assiduous attention to State affairs did not interfere with his efforts to strengthen his hereditary position. He was appointed Lieutenant of the North at the end of March 1543, and in the course of the next ten years he had not only succeeded in attaching to his interest most of the barons in his province as well as the chiefs of clans, but had formed alliances for mutual support with some of the most powerful southern nobles, and among them the Earls of Crawford and Argyll. His policy aimed at keeping all power in the north entirely in his own hands, and while giving support to the queen and Beaton, he was not to press too heavily upon the Reforming lords. Though the leader of the Catholic party, his attachment to the old religion was tempered by caution, especially after the murder of the cardinal.

Within two years after his appointment to the northern lieutenancy Huntly was elected, in January 1544-45, to the provostship of Aberdeen, on the resignation of Thomas Menzies of Pitfodels, who had held the office continuously for seven years, and who after Huntly's occupancy of it was re-elected to the civic chair, and held it again without interruption for the unparalleled term of twenty-eight years (15471575). Huntly's election seems to have been connected with the state of affairs created by the landing of an English army at Leith. Menzies opposed the French alliance for the young queen promoted by Huntly, and was suspected of favouring the designs of Henry VIII. for a marriage between Mary and Prince Edward ; and there had been some opposition to his re-election at the preceding Michaelmas. A probable reason for Huntly's acceptance of the office, as well as for the action of the citizens in electing him, may be found in the advantage for purposes of defence against invasion that would arise from the consolidation of the forces of town and country under his leadership. There was a party in the town council, headed by "Master John Gordon," strongly attached to his interest, and the increasing apprehension of danger seems to have given this party complete ascendancy. Under these circumstances the earl acceded to the call addressed to him in the name of the citizens, and in January 1545 he was appointed their provost. His provostship, so far as can be gleaned from the records, was not specially distinguished by notable events or incidents. He was for the most part an absentee, with Menzies as his substitute at first, but afterwards his relative Baillie John Gordon. The Scottish event of his municipal reign was the battle of Pinkie. This was one of the occasions on which the Earl of Huntly sent out the fiery cross to his tenants and vassals, and probably also throughout the north. A force of 8000 men marched with him to Edinburgh, and shared in the disastrous defeat. The Aberdeen contingent in this force took with it " the laird of Drum's falcon," a piece of ordnance for the safe return of which to its owner the town became responsible. The earl himself, who had challenged Somerset to single combat, was taken prisoner as he fought in gilt and enamelled armour at the head of his men. The Gordons suffered heavily in the last attack upon the English, by which Huntly with the rearguard sought to retrieve the fortunes of the battle, and among the slain, with several of the Gordon lairds and their sons, were Johnston, younger of Caskieben ; a Leslie of the Wardes family ; John Erskine, Master of Buchan ; and, besides others of less note, Finlay Mohr, the stalwart chief of the newly established family of Farquharson, who is traditionally said to have borne the royal standard. About th.rty Aberdeen burghers, many of whose names suggest their connecti m with the chief families of the town, likewise fell in the battle. Banff, too, had sent a contingent, as it afterwards provided for the maintenance, education, and dowry of the orphan daughter of John Ord, who fell in the battle, by assigning her a share in the Deveron salmon-fishings.

Energetic preparations were again made against an apprehended visit of the English fleet. The magistrates applied to the queen and the governor (Arran) for letters calling on the whole country to assist the town; but it does not appear that any assistance was obtained, and Huntly, whose aid might have been counted on, was still a prisoner in England.

When peace was concluded in 1550 the town gave its formal approval to the treaty and sent Gilbert Menzies, the provost's son, to Edinburgh to affix the common seal to the document. At a somewhat later date Menzies was sent again to Edinburgh, to complain to the queen and the Lords of Secret Council of " the great exorbitant taxations imposed on this poor town," and to obtain remission of part of the burden. As indicated by the allocation of taxes for national purposes, Dundee and Aberdeen were of about equal status as the second and third in wealth of the Scottish burghs. The place of Glasgow was below Montrose, though higher than Inverness, Elgin, and Banff.

Meanwhile the politic character of Huntly had been finding sufficient occupation in negotiating for his release and in fencing with the inducements held out to him to join the English party. His presence was greatly needed both at Court and in his own territory, where his affairs seem to have been chiefly managed by his two relatives the Bishop of Aberdeen and the Earl of Sutherland. Huntly was at length induced to sign an agreement pledging himself to promote the interests of England, but, finding himself intercepted at Morpeth on his way to Scotland, and distrusting Somerset's pledges, he contrived to make his escape, and at the end of 1548 he was once more in Scotland. He was warmly welcomed by the queen-regent, who conferred upon him the earldom of Moray, then in the hands of the Crown, and whom he accompanied on her political mission to France. After his return he headed an unsuccessful expedition to the West Highlands for the repression of the Camerons and John of Moidart, the head of the Clanranald. Huntly's force consisted of his immediate vassals and a body of the Clanchattan —the latter ill-affected towards him by reason of the recent execution of William Mackintosh, their chief, after conviction by a jury at Aberdeen, on a charge of conspiring against his life. In these circumstances Huntly found himself unable to pursue the rebels into their fastnesses; but for his failure to do so he was imprisoned in Edinburgh and denuded of the chancellorship, as also of his tenure of the earldoms of Mar and Moray. From this time onward he resided chiefly on his estates in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire until 1557, when he regained favour at Court and was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom and invested with almost unlimited powers.

The splendour of Huntly's establishment was not only the marvel of his northern retainers, visitors, and rivals, but was hardly less surprising to strangers familiar with the Courts of England and France. " His house was fair and best furnished of any house I have seen in this country," wrote Thomas Randolph, the English ambassador, to Cecil, after a visit paid to Strathbogie; "his cheer is marvellous great." Some years before Randolph's visit the earl had received the queen-regent as his guest. The castle had lately been enlarged and adorned in a magnificent style. After a few days of lavish entertainment the queen-regent proposed to leave lest a prolongation of her stay should cause inconvenience, but on Huntly's earnest solicitation she agreed to remain, and at her request he showed her over the castle, including its cellars and larders, which contained an mmense quantity of wildfowl and venison. Inquiry as to the source of such supplies elicited the information that the earl's hunters and fowlers were constantly at work in his forests and moors, and that even from the most distant of these the produce of the chase was daily forwarded to Strathbogie. The retinue of the earl's guest included D'Oysel, a Frenchman, to whose evil counsels not a little of her unpopularity was supposed to be due, and who on this occasion suggested that such a powerful noble should not be tolerated in so small and poor a kingdom as Scotland, and that the wings of the " Cock of the North," as he was called, should be clipped before he became too arrogant.

The course of the Reformation in the two counties was affected by local feuds and the jealousy of the nobles towards the great ecclesiastics, who by their wealth and learning had commended themselves to successive kings as the fittest men for the great offices of State and for embassies to foreign Courts. Above all, the Church lands and revenues were a temptation swaying the great territorial families to the side of the Reformation. Scions of the Gordon family had been pressed from time to time into the great positions in the Church, and on the eve of the Reformation feus and leases of the Church lands were granted in large numbers and on easy terms to the family connections of the Gordon interest. After Huntly, by far the most influential peer in the north-east was the Earl Marischal, whose castle of Dunnottar, with the greater part of his Kincardineshire estates, lay in the territory dominated by the Lords of the Congregation, but who by his marriage with the coheiress of his distant relative, William Keith of Inverugie, had added greatly to his possessions and power in Buchan, and had acquired an interest also in the old lands of the Cheynes in Banffshire, Moray, and Caithness. Among his first recorded acts after he came into power in Buchan was to get his brother, Robert Keith, appointed commendator, or lay abbot, of Deer (1543); and on the death of this abbot nine years afterwards, the earl's son, of the same name, a boy of fifteen years of age, was made his successor in the commendatorship, and from time to time granted feu-charters of the abbey lands and tacks of its teind-sheaves, at easy rents, that would soon cease to be paid, to swell the revenues of the earldom. The policy of Marischal came to full fruition when the second Abbot Robert Keith resigned the whole lands, tithes, and other property into the king's hands to be erected into a temporal lordship, to be called the lordship of Altrie, in favour of himself for his lifetime and after his death to George, Earl Marischal, the deed on the subject alleging that most of the property was already let in feu-farm to the earl.

The younger coheiress of Keith of Inverugie was the wife of William, Lord Forbes, and contributed to the further enrichment of the head of a powerful connection which, in addition to the older Forbes properties, now held most of the Vale of Alford, and had offshoots dotted all over the county, as at Pitsligo, Tolquhon, Echt, Cromar, Towie, and Monymusk. The precedent of Deer was followed at the Priory of Monymusk, where a Forbes prior completed the surrender to his family connection of all the landed possessions and revenues under his control. So likewise a member of the Leslie family became commendator of I indores, and the Lindores revenues in Aberdeenshire passed . nto the hands of the Leslies. These great territorial families, all implicated in the diversion of Church property and revenues, were differently affected at different times towards the change of religion. In general terms it may be said that they worked for the overthrow of the Church, and when the change in religion took place their policy had for one of its great objects to withhold the old ecclesiastical endowments from the Protestant establishment. The fourth Earl Marischal's conduct was ambiguous in every sense except that he clung tenaciously to as many of these endowments as he could bring into his grasp. As a politician he had wavered and temporised, but when the Estates met in August 1560 to adopt the Protestant Confession as the established creed of Scotland he took the lead in moving its adoption, declaring that he had long had some favour for " the truth" and suspicion of " the papistical religion/' but now was fully resolved to approve the one and condemn the other. Eighteen months afterwards the leader of the Protestant party, Lord James Stewart, became his son-in-law. Marischal now identified himself with the Court party as against the more extreme Lords of the Congregation and ministers of the Kirk, and when, after Mary's abdication, there was a fresh division of parties, with the adherents of the king on one side and those of the queen on the other, he withdrew from active life, and was seldom seen outside the Castle of Dunnottar.

As Huntly was the head of the Catholic party, his rivals, the Forbeses, naturally drew to the other side, and some of the chiefs of the Forbes clan were already avowed Protestants, while the Keiths and the Irvines were likewise showing an inclination towards the Reforming party. One of the first signs of religious revolution in Aberdeenshire was the burning of the church of Echt about 1558, and the monitions against the perpetrators that were sent to Auchindoir and Kearn, among other places, suggest that the Forbeses were believed to be concerned in the outrage.

The clergy began at last to be thoroughly alarmed. They were well aware how much the evil lives of their own order had to do with the peril that portended the overthrow of the Church. A document has been preserved which brings before us with remarkable vividness the state of religion in the diocese of Aberdeen, and especially at its headquarters. In view of the crisis that had arisen, as evidenced by the influential adhesion to the Bond of 1557, or First Covenant, by which the Lords of the Congregation, as they henceforth called themselves, renounced the authority of the Church of Rome, and the ominous agitation that had followed the burning of "Walter Mill at St Andrews for heresy, Bishop Gordon asked the dean and chapter for their advice in regard to the Reformation and the suppression of heresy. The response to this request was given in a memorial in which the bishop was recommended to cause the clergy of his diocese to reform themselves as regards their scandalous manner of living and put away their " open concubines," under the penalties imposed by the provincial synods, the members of the chapter being themselves exhorted to do likewise "in all sharpest manner." The second recommendation was that the non - resident abbots and priors, who absorbed so much of the ecclesiastical revenues, should be requested to provide for at least one sermon to be preached in every parish church between the date of the memorial and Fastern's Even and another before Easter, and so on according to the regulations of the Church, and in the event of non - compliance that the bishop should himself provide preachers and set the law in motion against the defaulters; and that all who were absent from their own parish churches, especially from the sacrifice of the mass, should be cited before the ecclesiastical judges. Other recommendations were that the Earl of Huntly, as bailie of the diocese, or a "principal landed man of his km," as also the feuars of the Church lands, should attend before the bishop on appointed days to give assistance in defending and maintaining the Catholic faith, and that special admonition should be given in the churches of New Aberdeen, Banchory-Ternan, Echt, Kinnernie, Midmar, Auchindoir, and Kearn, to all who were concerned in or knew about the burning of the church of Echt, or the casting down of images in any church within the diocese, calling upon them to reveal what they knew to the bishop or his commissaries. Lastly, in order that the advice given might have the better effect, the bishop himself was entreated to show a good example, especially by removing from his company the gentlewoman through whom he caused great scandal, and by shunning the company of those suspected of heresy and choosing associates befitting his position.1The memorial is signed by the dean (Erskine), treasurer, sub-chanter, several canons, and two well-known men—John Leslie, or Lesley, afterwards Bishop of Ross, and Alexander Anderson, Sub-Principal of King's College.

Such was the advice offered in this remarkable memorial, which closed with the expression of a belief that were the advice acted upon all would yet come well. Bad as was the conduct of Bishop Gordon, however, it would probably be unjust to the diocese of Aberdeen to suppose that its condition was worse than that of the other dioceses of Scotland. In the ' Ecclesiae Scoticanae Statuta,' the publication of which, with its exhaustive and luminous Preface, was Dr Joseph Robertson's last and most important service to Scottish history, it is seen that all through the three centuries of Scottish ecclesiastical legislation the vices of the clergy stand confessed, deplored, and condemned in the provincial and synodal canons. So it was also, however, throughout Western Christendom. The Councils sought in vain to recall the clergy to a sense of their duty; in vain were the satires written of Lyndsay and Buchanan as of Chaucer, Rabelais, and Erasmus. James V., with no liking for the Lutheran doctrines, had with great plainness of speech exhorted the bishops and clergy of Scotland to reform their lives under a threat that if his warning were neglected he would deal with them after the fashion of his uncle in England, and had in his last Parliament declared that the misconduct of the clergy was the reason why the Church and churchmen were derided and despised. Therefore although the diocese of Aberdeen was deplorably unfortunate in its last pre-Reformation bishop, the authentic records of the time involve too many of his brethren, from Cardinal Beaton downward, in the same condemnation. Only a few years before, indeed, there had been in Aberdeen the flagrant scandal of the outrageously immoral life of John Elphinstone, rector of Invernochty, culminating in murder and in a violent assault on a clergyman engaged in the performance of service in the cathedral. The Church had found itself impotent to deal with evils that made it a reproach among men. Its clergy were corrupt and ignorant, and its overgrown endowments, amounting in Scotland to probably half the wealth of the country, had led to the appointment of unfit men to the greater benefices. The foisting by the Earl of Huntly of a member of the Gordon family into the episcopal office on the death of Elphinstone, and the unhappy appointment, in the next generation, of the uncle of the earl then in possession, are examples of a prevailing practice which was to have its full fruit, on in the spoliation of the Church through lay incumbents connected with noble and landed families.


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