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Kilsyth, A Parish History
Chapter I


The Names of the Parish—Boundaries—Patronage—Baronies— Alexander Livingston—Parliament  1560—First General Assembly—Relationship of Alex. Livingston to Lord Livingston—Battle of Pinkie—Ordination and Stipend—Commissioner for Stirlingshire—The Case of Lady Livingston—Her Excommunication—Deposition of Minister.

It is popularly and correctly supposed that the earlier name of the parish of Kilsyth was Monyabroch. This, however, is not the whole truth. In the course of its history the parish has been known by three names. The first, or pre-Reformation name was Kelvesyth—a name which carries its meaning on the face of it, and signifies a narrow valley or tract watered by the Kelvin. Some time previous to the Reformation, Kelvesyth gave place to Monyabroch. The change was natural, for the first church of which there is account was placed in the Barrwood, and somewhere near the sources of the Abroch. Monyabroch has had two derivations assigned to it. It has been traced to the Gaelic Moine nan broc, the moss of the brock or badger; but the more likely derivation gives Monaugh, hilly, and ebroch, a place of streams. From the church by the little stream the parish took its second name, by which it was known for

a period of not less than two hundred years. At the Communion there are still used two silver chalices which bear the inscription, “For the Kirk of Monaebruch. 1731.” The removal of the primitive church from the banks of the Abroch to the present parish burying-ground would, of course, once more destroy the significance of the second name, and consequently during the latter half of the past century, the parish was denominated by its distinguishing manorial title. These changes of names took place gradually, and during the transition periods the parish was sometimes spoken of by the new and sometimes by the old name.

The parish of Kilsyth lies on the south-west border of Stirlingshire. Its greatest length is seven, and its greatest breadth four miles. On the north it is bounded by Carron Water, on the south by the river Kelvin. The eastern and western boundaries, roughly speaking, are Bush Burn, and Wood Burn. The corresponding parishes, beginning with the eastern boundary, are Denny, Cumbernauld, Kirkintilloch, Campsie, Fintry, and St. Ninian’s. In the year 1649 the boundaries of the parish were considerably changed. Before that time it only embraced the district to the eastward of the Garcalt, now Garrel. After that date the important section between the Garrel and Wood Burn was detached from the parish of Campsie and joined to the parish of Kilsyth. That Banton district formed a barony by itself is a popular delusion. When reference is made to the eastern barony of Monyabroch, it invariably includes the whole of the district between Denny marches and the Garrel.

Just as the history of Scotland is very largely the history of the Church of Scotland, so the history of Scottish parishes is very largely the history of the parish churches. The old and venerable walls frequently cluster memories older and greener than the ivy that clings to them. The parish of Kilsyth is no exception to this rule, as much of its history pertains to the religious life and struggles of its parishioners. The patronage of the Church is of very ancient origin, and has passed through various vicissitudes. Six hundred and seventy-five years ago it was in the possession of the Earls of Lennox. Subsequently it passed with the lands of Kilsyth into the possession of the Callendars of that Ilk. From the Callendars it passed to the Livingstons through the marriage of Sir William Livingston to the heiress of that attainted family. The Lords Livingston of Calendar retained the patronage of the parish till 1620, in which year the eastern barony was assigned to William Livingston of Monyabroch, who already possessed the lands from the Garrel to the Wood or Inch Burn—that is, the western barony. In this family it remained till 1716, when Viscount Kilsyth was attainted. The patronage then reverted to the Crown, and was held by the Royal authority till 1875, when it was placed in the hands of the people.

There have now been, since 1560, eighteen ministers in the clerical Reformed succession of the parish, this number giving an average of a little over eighteen years for each incumbency. Of these clergymen some were ordained and lived and died in the parish; others were inducted to the parish, some received calls from other congregations, some resigned, and some were deposed or banished. These clergymen have for the most part been men of very considerable mark, enjoying in a remarkable degree the esteem and confidence of their parishioners. The first of this long line was the Rev. Alexander Livingston, who, having been presented by William, sixth Lord Livingston, was admitted to the parish near the close of 1560.

The date is an important one in our national and ecclesiastical annals. Fourteen years before, George Wishart was burned at the stake. After the fire had been lit, he said, “This flame hath scorched my body, yet it hath not daunted my spirit.” Two years previously Walter Mill had also gained the martyr’s crown. When he was about to be offered, this was his memorable confession—“I am four score years old and cannot live long by course of nature, but an hundred better shall arise out of the ashes of my bones. I trust I shall be the last that shall suffer death in Scotland for this cause.” And he was right, but although he was the last of the Reformation martyrs there was still much blood to be shed and a sea of trouble in store for the Church. The chief man of the time was Knox, and his voice was heard thundering throughout the land. The Parliament which met in August, 1560, substituted the new discipline for the old. Before it Knox’s Confession was read and approved without a single dissentient voice. The First Book of Discipline was also submitted to the nation and fully ratified. This book entrusted the affairs of the Church to superintendents, ministers, elders, and deacons. The sacred books of Scripture were to be read in order— the readers not “to hop from place to place as the Papists did.” The Lord’s Supper was to be administered twice a year. Two sermons were to be preached every Sunday in country parishes, and in towns there was to be a daily service. Marriages were ordered to be performed “in open face and audience of the kirk,” and it was further recommended that they be performed on the Sunday at the forenoon service. On the 20th December, the first General Assembly was held. It consisted of forty members, only six of whom were ministers. There was no commissioner from the Sovereign present, and it was not till a subsequent assembly it was resolved that the Sovereign might be present in person or by a substitute if he or she saw fit. The unanimity of the Presbyterian fathers in General Assembly convened was so great that during the first seven meetings a moderator was not elected.

The Parliament having met in August, and the first General Assembly in December, it is evident that the ordination of Alexander Livingston to Kilsyth parish takes us back to the very root, to the very beginning, of the Reformed Church of Scotland. There are those who would have us believe that he was the very first minister appointed under the new order. They are not without reasonable arguments to make good their case, but the point has been largely lost sight of in view of the dispute which has taken place as to the relationship in which Alexander Livingston stood to his patron. The dispute has an international interest, as certain American writers have been anxious to show that Robert Livingston, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence and the descendant of the Rev. Alexander Livingston, had no connection with the Scottish aristocratic family of that name. The last discussion was held in the columns of the Athenceum for 1892, pp. 281, 282, 507, 569. The disputants were Mr. E. B. Livingston, of London, author of “The Livingstons of Calendar,” than whom there could not be a more painstaking or learned authority, and Mr. Theodore Roosevelt of Washington, U.S., author of “The History of New York.” The former held that Robert Livingston had the bluest of Scottish blood in his veins, and had the best of the argument. The latter, on the other hand, if he has the worst of the debate, can without doubt claim a monopoly of the pungent writing. The discussion has shown that the exact relationship that existed between the minister and his patron cannot now be determined, but that indisputably it was of a close and legitimate kind. The American writers insist that if there was any blood relationship it must have been of a dishonourable character, and that Alexander Livingston was either an illegitimate son of William, sixth Lord Livingston, or that he was the son of an illegitimate son. They also allege that the fact that Alexander Livingston became a minister of the Reformed Church, is in itself evidence enough of his plebeian origin, seeing no nobleman’s son would have occupied, or ever did occupy such a position. Neither of these allegations is of any value. The Rev. Alexander Livingston could not have been an illegitimate child, because if he had been a bastard the Church of the day would not have admitted him to Holy Orders. The clergy lists of the time, furthermore, make it evident that a considerable number of the sons and kinsmen of the nobility of Scotland entered the ministry of the Reformed Church of Scotland. The truth is, the clergy of those days were, in general, persons of considerable rank and social position. The best evidence of all, however, is the open use we find the minister making of his seal, which shows on the field the quartered arms of Livingston and Callendar. The laws relating to heraldry were, at that time, so strict, that this last witness may be held as closing the evidence of his intimate and honourable connection with the Viscounts of Kilsyth.

In September, 1547, the English Protector, Somerset, invaded Scotland. He was animated by implacable hatred, and at Pinkie there was fought one of the bloodiest battles ever waged on Scottish soil. The victory of the English was complete and the carnage among the Scotch appalling. There had been no disaster to compare with it since Flodden. In this battle the father of Alexander Livingston was killed. The battle confirmed the prophecy of Thomas the Rhymer:—

“There shall the Lion lose the gylte,
And the Libbards bear it clean away;
At Pinkie Cleuch there shall be spilt
Much gentil bluid that day.”

The Lion of the stanza refers, of course, to Scotland; and the Libbards or Leopards to England. The Scots remembered the day by the name of the “Black Saturday.” The warlike propensities of this Pinkie Cleuch hero may probably be taken as evidence that the Livingstons of the Scottish Church were sprung from a bold and resolute stock.

Till there came upon the Rev. Alexander Livingston the frailties incident to advancing years he did his work in the parish faithfully. Some months after he entered on his charge he was obliged to feu half of his glebe for the low rent of five shillings and twopence sterling. The stipend had been ten chalders of meal in the old times, but for some years after the Reformation it appears to have been greatly reduced. These early ministers had good reason to complain of the greed of the landed proprietors, who simply despoiled the Church of five-sixths of her property. Although the old ship was getting a new crew, that was no reason for entering her lockers and robbing her of her specie. “ Well,” exclaimed Knox, on hearing of the arrangement made by the lords of the congregation, “ if the end of this order be happy, my judgment fails me. I see two parts given to the devil, and the third part must be divided between God and the devil.” The scandal was too open and glaring, and some little part of the stolen property was restored, but there can be no doubt Alexander Livingston must have shared for some years the privations experienced by his brethren throughout the Church.

In 1589, Livingston was appointed by the Privy Council one of the commissioners for the oversight of the Protestant Government and religion in Stirlingshire. Two years after, however, he had become so aged and infirm that he could neither preach nor exercise discipline. In the circumstances the presbytery advised him to get an assistant, but not till 1594 did they themselves take steps before the synod towards that end. What instructions this synod gave is not known, but seeing the minister of Monyabroch had a son who was then studying at the University of Glasgow with a view to the ministry, the matter was probably allowed to drop, the son being then able to give his father substantial help in the proper discharge of his parochial duties.

Considering the disturbed state of the country, the life of Alexander Livingston had up to this year been spent in greater quiet than might have been expected. At this time, however, he became involved in an extraordinary case, which worked eventually his overthrow and deposition. The opinions of Lady Livingston had not conformed to those of the Reformers. Sticking to the old rites and observances, her conduct gave much scandal to the elders of the kirk. She was regarded by them as “a malicious Papist.” In the circumstances Livingston, because he was in near relation to the house of Calendar, and because Lord Livingston was his patron, and probably also because he was a man of mature years and large experience, and so, capable of dealing with a matter requiring delicate handling, was appointed by the Presbytery of Glasgow to wait in person on Lady Livingston and summon her to appear before them on the 13th April. The lady not being resident within the bounds of his parish it would have been well for him if he had put in a plea of want of jurisdiction when he felt the task to be uncongenial. This, however, he did not do. At their meeting Lady Livingston did not compear, and the letter she sent was regarded as wholly unsatisfactory. Mr. Livingston was again charged to wait on her ladyship for the second time, and to be present himself at the meeting to which she was summoned. Of this second call Lady Livingston took no notice. On the 23rd April, the minister of Monyabroch was commanded to summon her for the third time to attend before the presbytery on the 15th day thereafter, “on pain of excommunication,” and “that the said lady may be won to God, the said presbytery ordains Mr. Patrick Sharp, Principal of the College of Glasgow, and Mr. John Cooper, to pass to the said lady on Friday this week, and confer with said lady anent the heads of religion.” The commissioners exercised diligence in the matters entrusted to them, but were unable to convince Lady Livingston of the error of her ways. On the 1st March, 1597, “the presbytery ordains every minister within this presbytery to intimate next Sunday that Dame Helenor Hay, Lady Livingston, Js excommunicated, and Mr. Alexander Livingston to do the same on pain of deposition.”

The whole conduct of Alexander Livingston in this matter greatly incensed the presbytery. He had been throughout lukewarm and reluctant, and during the progress of the case they had made this grave comment as to the state of his parish: —“As to Monyabroch,” they noted, “neither exercise nor discipline is keepit by the minister there.” Only a few weeks after the sentence of excommunication was promulgated against her ladyship, the fury of the presbytery broke upon the minister, lie was summoned before the presbytery, to hear himself deposed from the ministry at the kirk of Monyabroch, for inability to use discipline in said kirk as becomes.”Taking no objection to sentence being passed, he was there and then deposed by the moderator simpliciter and forever.”

Thus most unhappily terminated the long pastorate of thirty-seven years of Alexander Livingston, the first Presbyterian minister of Kilsyth. Possibly he was not so active in the discharge of his commission as he might have been; but surely to use a minister for the purpose of humiliating his near kinsman was, on the part of the presbytery, most indiscreet. There, however, the matter stands; Livingston, a grave old clergyman, tottering on the brink of the grave, was deposed, and the stigma attaching thereto remains; but the riddle of the right and wrong, who can read it now? His wife was Barbara Livingston of “the house of Kilsyth,” by whom he had one son, William. He did not survive his deposition many months. Twenty-four years before him, the man “who neither feared nor flattered mortal flesh,” the intrepid Knox, was laid to his rest, and now clear and bright there was shining another star in our ecclesiastical firmament That star was Andrew Melville.


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