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Significant Scots
William Turbull


TURNBULL, WILLIAM, bishop of Glasgow, and lord privy seal of Scotland, descended from the Turnbulls of Minto, in Roxburghshire, was born in the early part of the fifteenth century. Having been educated for the church, he entered into orders, and was appointed prebend of Balenrick (connected with which dignity was the lordship of Prevan) in the year 1440. In the year 1445, he was preferred to be secretary and keeper of the privy seal; at which time, as appears by the act of council, he was called William Turnbull, lord of Prevan. He was shortly after this inaugurated Doctor of Laws, and made archdeacon of St Andrews, within the bounds of Lothian. By some writers, he is said to have been about this time bishop of Dunkeld; but this, we think, is doubtful. In the year 1447, he was promoted to the see of Glasgow, upon the death of bishop Bruce, and was consecrated in the year 1448.

No sooner was bishop Turnbull settled in the see, than he set about erecting or founding a college in the city. For this purpose, a bull, at the request of king James II was procured from pope Nicholas V, constituting a university, to continue in all time to come, in the city of Glasgow, "it being ane notable place, with gude air and plenty of provisions for human life" The pope, by his apostolical authority, ordained that the doctors, masters, readers, and students of the university of Glasgow, should enjoy all the privileges, liberties, honours, exemptions, and immunities, which he had granted to the city of Bononia. He likewise appointed William Turnbull, bishop of Glasgow, and his successors in that see, chancellors of the university, and to have the same authority over the doctors, masters, readers, and scholars, as the chancellors of the university of Bononia. This bull is dated at Rome, January 7, 1450. By the care of the bishop and his chapter, a body of statutes was prepared, and a university established the following year, 1451.

The university consisted, besides the chancellor, of a rector, and masters of the four faculties, who had taken their degrees in other colleges; and students, who, after a course of study, might be promoted to academical degrees. That the classes in the university might commence with some degree of celebrity, a bull had been procured from the pope, and was now published, granting an universal indulgence to all faithful Christians, who should visit the cathedral of Glasgow in the year 1451. The first rector was David Cadzow, who was re-elected in 1452. During the first two years, upwards of a hundred members were incorporated, most of them secular or regular clergy, canons, rectors, vicars, abbots, priors, and monks. The clergy attended the university the more willingly, that the bishop had procured royal charters and acts of parliament, exempting them from all taxes and public burdens, and from their residence in their own cures. The whole incorporated members, students, as well as doctors and masters, were divided into four parts, called the Quatuor Nationes, according to the place of their nativity. The whole realm of Scotland and the isles was divided into four districts, under the names of Clydesdale, Teviotdale, Albany, and Rothsay; a meeting of the whole was annually called the day after St Crispin’s day; and, being divided into four nations, each nation by itself chose a procurator and intrant, and the intrants meeting by themselves, made choice of a rector and a deputation of each nation, who were assistants and assessors to the rector. The rector and his deputation had various and important functions. They were judges in all criminal causes, wherein any member of the university was a party. Every member who either sued or answered before any other court, was guilty of perjury, and incurred the penalty of expulsion. The ecelesiastics in the university, of course, to whatever diocese they belonged, could no longer be called before their rural deans. All members were incorporated by the rector and deputation, after taking an oath to obey the rector and his successors, to observe the statutes, preserve the privileges of the university, and keep its secrets, revealing nothing to its prejudice, whatever station in society they might afterwards attain. The rector and deputies were also the council of the college. It was their business to deliberate upon, and digest all matters to be brought before the congregation of the doctors and masters, whose determinations in such cases were accounted, in respect of authority, next to the statutes. Two other office-bearers were chosen annually, on the day after St Crispin’s, namely, a bursarius, who kept the university purse, and accounted for all his intromissions; and a promoter, whose business it was to see to the observation of the statutes, and to bring delinquents before the rector’s court, which had power to enforce the statutes, or to dispense with them, in certain cases. The second division of the university was into its different faculties, four of which, in the pope’s bull, are specified by name, Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, and the Arts. All others are comprehended in a general clause, quacunque licita facultate. In these times, the professions of theology, canon, and civil laws, were denominated the three learned professions, as being the only ones in which learning was thought necessary. They alone fitted men for honourable or profitable employments, for being admitted to dignities in the church or the state; and to train men to eminence in these professions, was the original intention of universities. The arts, however, under which were comprehended logic, physics, and morals, being considered as necessary to these professions, formed an indispensable part of study in every university. The universities were all incorporated by the popes, who appear to have borrowed their plan from that of incorporated towns and burghs, the university corresponding to the whole incorporation of the burgh, and the different faculties to the different companies of trades or crafts into which the burgh is divided. The companies in the incorporated towns, were anciently called collegia, or colleges; and the whole incorporation, comprehending all the companies, was called the universitas of that town. These names, by analogy, were at first applied to corporations of the learned professions, and at length appropriated solely to them. The government of every faculty was similar to that of the university. Each had its own statutes, determining the time of study, and the exercises and examinations necessary for attaining degrees in that faculty. Each chose annually its own dean, its own bursarius, and sometimes four deputations, as a council to the dean. Of the three higher faculties in this university, nothing is known, there being no record of their statutes or transactions extant. A third division in the college was made, according to the academical degree of every member. The highest degree in theology, canon and civil law, was that of doctor in the arts. In all the faculties, there were two degrees by which a man rose to the highest. These were bachelor and licentiate. The degree of licentiate, as well as that of doctor or master, was conferred by the chancellor or vice-chancellor. The requisites to all the degrees, were a certain time of study, having heard certain books prelected upon, and performed certain exercises, and gone through certain examinations. The age of fifteen was necessary for being made a bachelor of arts, and twenty to become a master. It was forbidden, under a heavy penalty, to give any man the title of master, by word or writing, who had not attained that degree; and the penalty was still heavier, if any man took it to himself, without having obtained it in the regular manner. Nor can we feel surprised at degrees being thus carefully guarded, seeing they were held to be of divine institution, and were always conferred by the chancellor, or vice-chancellor, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Some years after the university was founded, a number of the students being young men to whom tuition as well as teaching was necessary, provision was made that they should live and eat in one house, which was called Pedagogium, or the college of arts. Here they were taught and governed by certain masters, called Regentes Artibus. This college was at first on the south side of the Rottenrow, near the cathedral; but afterwards a tenement was bequeathed for it by lord Hamilton, situated where the college now stands. There were at first in the university, three regents in the arts, viz., Alexander Geddes, a Cistertian monk; Duncan Burch, and William Arthurlie. Afterwards there were sometimes two, and sometimes only one. This seems to have been the most laborious and least coveted office in the university. Besides teaching and presiding in disputatious, every lawful day, the regents lived within the college, ate at a common table with the students of arts, visited the rooms of the students before nine at night, when the gates were shut, and at five in the morning, and assisted in all examinations for degrees in the faculties of arts. For many years the office had no salary, and the fees paid by the students were very small. All that held the office, two only excepted, kept it but for a short time; and often one, who was not a member of the faculty, was called to the office; which renders it probable that there was no competition in those days, either for the office itself, or for the patronage of it; but, on the contrary, some difficulty was experienced in finding persons qualified to fill it, or who were willing to take it. James II, the year after its foundation, granted a royal charter in favour of the university, by which the rectors, the deans of the faculties, the procurators of the four nations, the masters, regents, and scholars, with the beadles, writers, stationers, and parchment makers, were expempted from all taxes, watchings, and wardings, weapon-schawings, &c.; but it had no property, either of lands, houses, or rents. The congregatio universitatis was always held at the cathedral. The doctors and masters met sometimes at the convent of the Dominicans, or predicatores, as they were called, where all the lectures we find mentioned in theology, canon and civil law, were read. These were a university purse, into which perquisites, paid on being incorporated at examinations and promotions to degrees, were put. From this purse, after it had accumulated for some years, cups of ceremony were furnished; but to defray the expense of a silver rod or mace, to be borne before the rector on solemn occasions, it was necessary to tax all the incorporated members, on which occasion David Cadzow, the first rector, gave twenty nobles. The first property the college acquired was two or three chaplainaries bequeathed by some of its first members. The duty of the chaplain was to perform certain masses at a specified altar for the souls of the founder and his friends, for which he was paid a small annuity. These chaplainaries were commonly given to some of the regents of the college of arts, probably because they were the parent of the sacerdotal order in the university. This patronage, and this purse, so far as appears, were all the property the university ever possessed; nor does it appear that the faculties of theology, canon and civil law, ever had any property. The individuals had each livings through all parts of the nation, abbacies, priories, prebendaries, rectories, and vicarages, but the community had nothing. Its privileges were the sole inducement to bring rich ecclesiastics into a society in which they lived at ease free of all taxes, and subject to no authority but that of their own rector. The college of arts, however, which the public even then had the good sense to see was the most useful part of the whole, and particularly entitled to public favour, as being entrusted with the education of youth, soon came to have some property.

In the year 1469, only eight years after its foundation, James lord Hamilton bequeathed to Mr Duncan Burch, principal regent of the college of arts, and his successors, regents, for the use of the said college, a tenement, with the pertinents lying on the north side of the church and convent of the Dominicans, together with four acres of land in the Dove-hill, with a request that the regents and students every day after dinner and after supper should stand up and pray for the souls of him lord James Hamilton, of Euphemis, his spouse, countess of Douglas, of his ancestors and successors, and of all from whom he had received any benefit for which he had not made a proper return. These four acres of land still form part of the college garden, and from this date the faculty of arts from time to time were enabled to devote somewhat to the repairing, and even to make additions to the buildings of the college, furnishing rooms for the regents and students, with things necessary for the kitchen and a common table. Nearly thirty years after this, Mr Thomas Arthurlie bequeathed to the university another tenement adjoining to the college. By this time the students consisted generally of the youth of the nation, whose education was of the utmost importance to the public. They were distinguished according to their rank into sons of noblemen, of gentlemen, and those of meaner rank, and, with a degree of consideration which in modern times has been lost sight of, for the expense of their education were taxed accordingly. Such is the early history of the university of Glasgow, founded by bishop Turnbull, probably in imitation of that established by bishop Wardlaw at St Andrews. Neither of those bishops, it may be remarked, bestowed any of their funds upon the colleges they were the means of establishing, and in this respect came far short of bishop Elphinston of Aberdeen, who not only procured the foundation of a college in that city, but contributed largely to its endowment. Bishop Turnbull also obtained from James II. a charter erecting the town and patrimonies of the bishopric of Glasgow into a regality, and after he had done many acts highly beneficial to the age in which he lived, and worthy to be remembered by posterity, died at Rome, on the 3rd day of September, 1454. His death was universally regretted; and his name must always bear a conspicuous place among the more worthy and useful clergy of the elder establishment in Scotland.


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