Since these chapters were
written, there has been discovered in the public library at Cambridge a
MS. of the Gospels, which bears to have belonged to the Abbey of Deir, in
Buchan. I have not myself seen the book, but I am told it contains,
besides the Gospels, some portions and forms of church service among
which the service of the visitation of the sick and, on the margins and
blank vellum, are entered a few charters and memoranda of grants to the
Church of Deir. These entries are of high antiquity more ancient than
any extant Scotch chartularies and recording-facts still more archaic,
reaching, indeed, a period of history which neither charter nor chronicle
among us touches, and of which we have hitherto had only a few glimpses
from the older lives of the saints, or from the meagre notes of foreign
annalists. The first of the remarkable entries is one of that class of
memoranda of transactions which must have been used in all countries
before the introduction of charters of gift. They are of common occurrence
in church registers of France and Italy, and are not unknown among
ourselves. The memorandum is in a Celtic dialect, and runs as follows:
"Columkille and Drostan,
son of Cosgrech, his disciple, came from Hy, as God had directed them, as
far as Aberdover, and Bede, a Pict, was then Mormaer of Buchan on their
arrival, and it was he that granted to them that city in freedom for ever,
from the Mormaer and his sub-chief. They came afterwards to another city,
but the king of it gave refusal to Columkille, for he was not endued with
the grace of God, and the Mormaer ordered that it should be given to him;
but it was not. And, after refusing the clerics, a son of his [the king's]
took a disease, and it wanted little but he died. Afterwards the Mormaer
went to entreat the clerics, and [undertook] that he and Domnail and
Cathal would make all offerings to God and Drostan from beginning to end,
in freedom from the Mormaer and his sub-chief till the day of judgment."
An imperfect note of two
other benefactions gives us the names of Colban, Mormaer of Buchan, and
Eva, daughter of Gartnait, his married wife, "and the Clan Magan."
Among the grants are two
charters of Gartnat, son of Cannoc, and Eta, daughter of Gillemichel, his
wife, and a grant by Donead, son of MacBead.
The MS., whether judged
from the handwriting or its contents, appears to be of the tenth century;
and the interest and importance of the discovery will be felt when it is
considered that we had not previously any charter or grant of lands in
Celtic language in Scotland, nor any written Gaelic of Scotch production
earlier than the sixteenth century, unless we except eight leaves of an
almost illegible pedigree, said to be as old as 1450; that all we knew of
the Picts was a naked list of some seventy kings, without dates or events;
that the title of Mormaer, learnt from the Irish annals, does not once
occur in any Scotch charter, and the name of the Picts only once (in a
description of boundaries).
Its dedication to St.
Drostan, and, in part, the tradition of the church (preserved in the
Aberdeen breviary) had informed us that Aberdouer in Buchan was one of St.
Drostan's churches: but the early history of Deir was quite unknown. [A
fair used to be held at Deir on St. Drostau's day (14th December) and
called "Drustan fair" in our old almanacs. It is curious how often a
chapter of old history is preserved in such memorials. The dedications of
many of our churches to the first preachers of the faith, despised and
forgotten in Scotland, are often preserved by the name of a well beside
the church, at first hallowed as the baptismal source, or by the name and
the day of the village fair, which was of old held on the festival of the
Ferrerius, the historian of
the sister Abbey of Kinloss, asserted it to be the foundation of William,
Earl of Buchan, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and no doubt
truly, as regards the establishment of the Cistercian convent. But as had
happened in many of our monasteries, [As Melrose, Dunfermline, Glasgow,
Aberdeen.] and indeed, in some of our bishoprics also, the so-called
foundation was perhaps an importation of new religions, probably a new and
more liberal endowment, of a church which certainly had been founded and
endowed ages before.
We know three charters of
Deir about the period fixed by Ferrerius as the foundation of the
Cistercian house, none of them a foundation charter, but all showing the
interest taken in the abbey by Marjory, Countess of Buchan, the heiress of
the old race, who carried that earldom into the family of Cumin. Two of
the Countess's charters are witnessed by "Magnus, son of Earl Colben," and
"Adam, son of Earl Fergus."
Without rushing too hastily
at conclusions, we must think that these charters, together with the book
of Deir, leave little doubt that the Colbens and Ferguses, old mormaers of
Buchan (and with them the mormaers of Angus, Moray, Boss, etc.) latterly
changed their style to Earl; and that Marjory, whom we know in record as
Countess in her own right, was the descendant and representative of those
old mormaers of Buchan. Who, then, were the Magnus and Adam, sons of "Earl
Colben" and "Earl Fergus". Were they simply illegitimate sons of the
family, while their niece or cousin Marjory was alone legitimate? Or do we
see here a remnant of that system of succession through females alone,
which has been asserted of the Picts, and treated as fabulous? It is
enough merely to indicate subjects of such curiosity and interest.
If I have been rightly
informed, and have correctly represented its contents, it is evident that
the discovery of this book sets the whole discussion which excited the
Scotch antiquaries of the last century on an entirely new footing. But it
is premature to reason upon its contents. It is to be hoped that Mr.
Bradshaw, who has undertaken the task, will not long delay giving them
fully to the public.
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