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.

A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter IV.—The Steward’s Settlement


When the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I. and mother of Henry II. of England, was struggling against Stephen on behalf of her son, her uncle, David I. of Scotland, chivalrously went to her assistance. At the Court of Matilda  he met with Walter Fitz Alan, whose brother, William, the Sheriff of Shropshire, was one of her chief supporters. On his return north, after the rout of Winchester, in 1141, David was accompanied or followed by Walter Fitz Alan, who brought with him a number of his followers from Shropshire.

Walter Fitz Alan was of Breton descent. His ancestors may have come over with the Conqueror, but the likelihood is that they crossed the Channel at a later period. The earliest of his ancestors known was Alan Dapifer or Steward of Dol. He had three sons—(l) Alan II., Dapifer of Dol and a leader in the First Crusade, 1097 ; (2) Flaald, who was present at the dedication of Monmouth Priory in 1101 or 1102 ; and (3) Rhiwallon, who became a monk of St. Florent. Alan II. died childless and was succeeded by Alan III. or Alan Fitz Flaald, who founded Sporle Priory, on land he held in Norfolk, as a cell of St. Florent. He was a great figure at the Court of Henry II. and owner of the rich lordship of Oswestry, which he had probably received from Henry for services rendered to him when he was fighting for his own in Brittany. He married, not the daughter of Warine, Sheriff of Shropshire, as has been alleged, but Avelina, daughter of Ernulf de Hesdin, “ a great Domesday tenant.” By Avelina he had three sons—Jordan, who succeeded him and became Dapifer of Dol ; William, the founder of Haughmond Priory, and, as already mentioned, Sheriff of Shropshire, who married Isabel, Lady of Clun ; and Walter, who subsequently became Steward of Scotland. Walter is said to have had another brother, Simon, but he was probably a bastard or an uterine brother.

The services which Walter rendered to David after his arrival in Scotland are not known, but they were evidently regarded by the King as great and valuable. In return for them he was made Hereditary High Steward of the kingdom, and was given the lands of Renfrew, Paisley, Pollok, Talahec, Cathcart, the Drep and the Mutrene, Eaglesham, Lochwinnoch, and Inverkip —almost the whole of Renfrewshire. The charter by which these grants were made is lost, but the grants are enumerated in a later charter by Malcolm IV., who seems to have esteemed Walter as highly as his grandfather David did ; for in the charter4 referred to, Malcolm not only confirms the Steward in the gifts bestowed upon him by David, but also adds to them as much land in Perth as King David held, the lands of Inchinnan, Steinton, Hassendean, Legerwood, and Birchinsyde, together with a full toft in every one of his royal burghs and demesne dwellings, and with every toft twenty acres of land, besides several honours and privileges, for all which the Steward and his heirs and successors were to render the King the service of five knights.

When Walter arrived in Scotland the country had for some time been undergoing a process of feudalization. The process, though begun apparently under Alexander I., had probably not proceeded far ; but from the day of his accession David, whose intimate connection with the English Court for upwards of a quarter of a century had effectually “ rubbed off” from him “ the Scottish rust,” and made him alive to the advantages of the system, was determined to feudalize the whole of his Kingdom and to place its leading dignitaries in the position of Crown vassals. It was probably, therefore, with a view to the fulfilment of these plans as well as to reward him for his services that David conferred upon the Steward his vast estates.

At the time Renfrewshire was almost entirely waste or forest land, inhabited for the most part by natives, who passed from owner to owner with the soil. Here and there were the churches, around which villages were slowly growing up. David had already laid the foundations of his burgh of Renfrew and built in it his royal castle. Baldwin de Bigres, the ancestor of the noble family of Fleming, had land in the parishes of Houston and Inverkip,4 Grimketel had his carucate of land at Arkleston, and Scerlo a piece in the neighbourhood of Paisley.5 In the ancient parish of Pollok, Wadric had his stronghold,6 and probably as much land as he and his forefathers had been able to lay hands on. But until Walter Fitz Alan received his charter the district was unfeudalized, and no one was responsible for its peace and good government, except the Sheriff of Lanarkshire, in which shire it was then and for some time after included.

As soon as Walter received his charter he built, it is said, a hunting lodge at Blackhall overlooking the White Cart, opposite to the village of Paisley, and castles, though the statement is somewhat questionable, at Renfrew and Neilston. He also took steps to parcel out his lands among his friends and companions. In the distribution which followed Eaglesham fell to Robert de Montgomery, a nephew or a grandson of Roger, the great Earl of Shrewsbury; Cathcart, to Reinaldus, who afterwards assumed the surname of Cathcart; part of the Mearns went to Rolland, who took de Mearns as his surname ; another part of the Mearns went to Herbert de Maxwell; Pollok went to Robert, son of Fulbert; Nether Pollok, to John de Maxwell; Penuld, in Kilbarchan, to Henry St. Martin; Crookston and Neilston, to Robert Croc; Levernside, to Roger de Nes; and the lands of Duchal in Kilmacolm, to Ralph de Insula, the ancestor of the Lyles. These also built their strongholds, and the district soon resembled a vast-military encampment. At the same time the methods of a superior civil life were introduced and the land began to be reclaimed and cultivated.

One thing more was requisite in order that the district might be thoroughly colonized according to the ideas of the time, and that was, a. monastery or house of religion. “ A Norman knight of that age thought that-his estate lacked its chief ornament, if he failed to plant a colony of monks in some corner of his possessions.”  The practice of founding monasteries had by this time, indeed, become a fashion, and with some it was little more than a fashion. Subsequently a majority of the houses became hotbeds of luxury and vice ; but for many years after their foundation they were centres of light and civilization and exercised a beneficent influence upon the semi-barbarous people among whom they were planted. While zealous for their Order, the monks were zealous for the welfare of their lands and tenants, for this reason, if for no other, that the welfare of these was bound up in their own prosperity and was essential to it. They encouraged agriculture and led the way in trade and in all arts and manufactures. They cultivated the learning of the time and enjoyed and taught others to enjoy, or at least to respect the amenities and urbanities of a higher social position. They were generous in their hospitality and helpers of the poor.

When Walter was portioning out his estates, Europe was still ringing with the fame of S. Bernard, the great Abbot of Clairvaux (1091-1153), and Walter, it is said, was importuned by many to complete the settlement of his lands by planting upon them a colony of Cistercians. But at Wenlock,. near to his Shropshire home, was a house of the Order of Clugny, upon which the wife of his brother William, the Lady of Clun, had recently conferred valuable endowments. His family may have been connected with it in other ways. Anyhow, and notwithstanding the favour shown for the Cistercians by his two royal patrons, David and Malcolm IV., Walter resolved to found a house after the Order of Clugny, and when at Fotheringay with the King in 1163, entered into an agreement with the Prior of Wenlock. According to this, Walter was to receive from Wenlock thirteen monks for the purpose of starting his new monastery, while Humbald, in return for them and for the good offices he was to use with the Abbot of Clugny and the Prior of La Charite sur Loire, of which Wenlock was a daughter, in order to obtain their consent to the new erection, was to receive a piece of property in the burgh of Renfrew and the right to catch salmon and herring in the Clyde. .

Soon after this agreement was made, and before there was time to implement it, the peace of the district was suddenly disturbed by an invasion from an unexpected quarter. In 1164 Somerled, Lord of the Isles, who for some time had made himself obnoxious to Malcolm, but had recently made his peace with him, for reasons not sufficiently explained, gathered together a large army and fleet, and picking up a number of auxiliaries in Ireland, swept up the Clyde and landed upon the coast. There are three accounts of the invasion. One is that the invader landed in the Bay of St. Lawrence, where the town of Greenock now stands, and marching eastward was met at the Bridge of Weir, and there defeated and slain. This, however, is so evidently a blundering attempt to account for the name of the place, where the battle is said to have been fought, that it is not necessary to discuss it. According to another account, Somerled sailed up to Renfrew, where he had no sooner landed than he and his son Gillecolm were treacherously slain, and his armament dispersed by a much inferior force. The third account also makes Somerled land at Renfrew ; but it goes on to add that he then marched southward to the Knock, a slight elevation about half-way between Renfrew and Paisley, where he was met by a number of country people and slain, and that his troops being dispersed, escaped to their ships and sailed away. Gregory is disposed to accept the second of these narratives, and cites the tradition that the corpse of Somerled was buried at Saddel. On the other hand, the tradition which appears to be most accepted in the county is the third. As late as 1772, in a field situated near the Knock, Pennant was shown “ a mount or tumulus, with a foss round the base, and a single stone on the top, which he was told indicated the spot where Somerled was slain.”

About the year 1168, the thirteen monks whom the Steward was to receive from Wenlock, arrived at Renfrew, and as the house at Paisley was not ready to receive them, they were lodged in the meantime near the Steward’s Castle, on an island in the Clyde, at a church dedicated to SS. Mary and James. With the consent of the Steward, Osbert, one of their number, was appointed Prior, and soon after Humbald, the Prior of Wenlock, who had accompanied them, having inspected the gifts promised to him by the Steward in return for his services, exchanged both the property in Renfrew and the right of fishing in the Clyde for land at Manwede in Sussex, which was at least more accessible to him and his monks than anything in Scotland, and then took his way homeward.

At that time a journey between Paisley and Wenlock was not one to be lightly undertaken. In the absence of decent roads, it would at least involve a very considerable amount of fatigue. It had also its perils, and doubtless Humbald and the chosen thirteen were full of the adventures they had met with and the risks they had run at the hands of thieves and robbers. At the same time the journey would not be without its pleasures. Both in coming and in going Humbald would in all probability, if not certainly, arrange to travel by easy stages, and so order his going, that about nightfall he would arrive at some house or monastery where he was sure of a warm welcome, and an abundance of good cheer, in return for the news he brought.

The exact year in which Osbert and his twelve monks took up their residence in Paisley is not known, but it must have been in or shortly before the year 1172. In that year they were serving God in the Church of-SS. James, Mirin, and Milburga there, that is, in the Church of the Priory, and probably in that portion of it which afterwards became the choir. In the same year, the monks’ dormitory was built. Five years later the chapter house was finished, and had become sacred to Walter and his wife, Eschina of Molla, as the place in which the body of their daughter Margaret lay buried.

Meantime provision had been made for the support of the convent and monastery. The Steward’s endowments were upon an ample scale. By his charter he gave to the monks the church and mill at Innerwick, the church of Legerwood, a carucate of land at Hassandean, the church of Cathcart, all the churches of Strathgryfe, with the exception of that of Inchinnan, which belonged to the Templars, a carucate of land held by Grimketel at Arkleston, the Drep, the church of Paisley, two carucates of land near to it, a piece of land on the opposite side of the Cart, another piece under the dormitory, and another which had been held by Scerlo, besides the whole of the island next to his castle at Renfrew, with the fishings between that island and Partick, the mill of Renfrew and the land where the monks had first dwelt,, together with churches and land at Prestwick and Monkton, a salt work at Kalenter, a tenth of all his hunting, with the skins, and the skins of all the deer he slew in the forest of Fereneze, a tenth of all his mills, a tenth of his waste and forest lands that might be reclaimed, and other gifts and privileges, including, according to another charter, the tenth penny of all the rents he derived from his lands, with freedom from all secular servitudes. Thus richly endowed the monastery set out on its career.

The endowment of the monastery seems to have been regarded as the last thing requisite to complete the settlement of the county. Shortly after it had been arranged, the Steward felt that the work of his life was finished, and in 1176 retired from the world and became a monk at the monastery of Melrose, where, in the following year, he died. His career had been eminently successful. Coming north a landless knight, he died full of riches and honour. Besides the estates already referred to, he obtained possession, among others, of Kyle and Kyle Stewart in Ayrshire. He was buried in the monastery he had built and endowed, but no stone marks the place where his remains were interred.

When the Steward died, the monastery he had built was only in the second rank of religious houses. This was far from the Steward’s intention. Serious inconveniences soon began to be experienced, and were declared to be detrimental to the spiritual life of the monks. From time to time the prior had to appear at Clugny, and there give an account of himself; reports had constantly to be sent there to the officials of the Order, and no one could attain to the full status of a monk in the house at Paisley without first going all the way to Clugny and there making his profession before the arch-abbot. When applied to, the arch-abbot refused to relax in any way the rules and regulations of his Order. An appeal was made to Pope Honorius III., and in 1219 he gave the monks permission to proceed to the canonical election of an abbot. The Abbot of Clugny, however, refused to give his consent, and it was not till twenty-six years later, on the earnest solicitation apparently of a number of Scottish bishops, who were paying a visit to Clugny, on their way from the Council of Lyons, that the monks at Paisley obtained the full legal right to elect an abbot. For permission to wear the mitre and the ring, the abbot had to wait for more than a hundred years.

The endowments provided by Walter were the beginning of a rich stream of benefactions which continued to flow into the treasury of the monastery for many years. Among the first was the endowment provided by Eschina, his wife. It consisted of a carucate of land in the west part of Black-dam, at Molla, with pasture for fifty sheep. In 1170, seven years before Eschina’s gift, Baldwin de Bigres, Sheriff of Lanark, presented the monks with the church of Inverkip. Shortly after, the churches of Pollok, Mernes, Car-munock, Rutherglen, and Neilston came to them. Somewhere between the years 1164 and 1207, Reginald, son of that Somerled who had invaded the county in 1164 and met with his death while doing so, granted them a penny a year for every house on his lands from which smoke issued, threatening with his malediction any one of his heirs who did not promptly pay the tax, while Fonia, his wife, gave to the monastery a tenth part of all the goods God had given to her, whether they were on land or had been sent out upon the seas for sale.

But the greatest benefactors continued to be the Stewards. Alan the second Steward gave to the monastery the mill of Paisley and a piece of ground near to it for a miller’s house, at a rental of four chalders of wheaten flour and four of grain. Besides this, he gave them valuable lands at Moniabroc, near the boulder stone of Clochoderick, rights of fishing in Lochwinnoch, and “ the church of Kingaif in the island of Bute with all the chapels, and the whole parish of that island, together with the whole of those lands of which the boundaries, said to have been fixed by S. Blane, are still apparent from sea to sea.” His son Walter, sometimes named Walter II., was, if anything, still more munificent in his gifts. Four years after his father’s death, he gave the monastery all the land between the two streams of Aldpatrick and Espedair, and the land between the Maich and the Calder, with certain rights in his forests. Richest of all his gifts was the monastery he had built for the Gilbertines on the north bank of the river Ayr, at Dalmulin. This house, the monks and nuns of Sempringham, after occupying it for a few years, abandoned, and returned to their original home at Sixyle in Yorkshire, when Walter transferred it, with all its possessions, to the monks at Paisley. The Master of Sempringham, the head of the Gilbertines, agreed to waive all his rights on condition that he was paid forty merks a year—not a large charge, but quite sufficient to cause the monks heavy troubles in later days.

Another great benefactor of the monastery was Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, who gave it the church of S. Patrick in Dumbartonshire, with all the lands with which it was endowed. The gift was valuable, but for a long time a source of trouble. The lands were frequently raided by the neighbouring Highlanders, and the right of the monks to both church and lands was disputed by Malcolm’s heirs and successors. But after a number of years, several of which were taken up with contests in the civil and ecclesiastical courts, the property was finally secured to the monastery and became one of its richest possessions.

Other gifts were also received, but here it is not necessary to enumerate them. They are all carefully set out in the Transumpt of Pope Clement IV., which was drawn up in the year 1265, about a hundred years after the foundation of the monastery. Ten years later, the property of the monastery was valued in Baiamond’s Roll at 2,666.

The influence of the monastery grew with its wealth, and was soon felt in every corner of the county. In many respects it made for good. The monastery was undoubtedly a centre of religion, learning, and civilization. In its cloisters the monks would in all likelihood carry on those studies for which some of the Cluniac houses on the Continent were famous. In their school the children of the neighbouring gentry were taught, and it is not at all unlikely that in addition they did something for the education of the children of their tenants. The monks were good landlords, and the Cluniacs were reputed to be among the best agriculturalists in Europe, and it can scarcely be doubted that it was owing to the inducements held out by the monks at Paisley, that their extensive possessions soon began to be dotted over with farm houses and the waste land to be tilled. It was due to their fostering care that the village of Paisley sprang up into a thriving town and before long outstripped the royal burgh of Renfrew in extent and population and as a seat of industry.

In one respect the influence of the monastery was not for good. From time to time mention has been made of the gift of churches to the monastery. In the Transumpt of Clement no fewer than thirty are enumerated as belonging to it. As a matter of fact, there was not a parish church in the county, with the exception of those at Inchinnan, Eaglesham, and Renfrew, which the monks did not own. At the time the monastery was founded, and for long after, to present parish churches to monasteries was a fashion. The intention was no doubt good, but the policy was bad—bad for the parochial clergy, bad for the people they had in charge, and bad for the monks.

So long as the patronage of the parish churches remained in the hands of laymen, the parish priest was entitled to the whole of the stipend, and being, as often happened, a younger son or relative of the lord of the manor, he was able to give his parishioners not only ghostly counsel, but also such material helps and comforts as they were often in need of. The priest’s house, indeed, •came to be looked upon as a sure refuge in times of distress. But when a church passed over to an abbey or a monastery, the monks at once put in a claim for a share of the stipend, and the share they claimed was usually the chief part of it. Thus impoverished, the parish priest was no longer able to relieve his poor parishioners.

By and by, too, all such parishes came to be shunned by the better sort of clergymen and there was a difficulty in supplying them when vacant. This was not all. Some of the parishes were supplied from the monasteries by one of their own monks, in order that the whole of the stipends might find their way into the treasury of the monastery, and the only time the people saw the face of a priest was when he came to hurry through the service or to collect the teinds or dues.

For the monks the policy was bad in every way. It fostered among them the spirit of greed and over-reaching, and brought them into conflict with the bishops. This was especially the case with the Cluniacs, who claimed exemption from Episcopal jurisdiction. The bishops insisted upon proper provision being made for the parochial clergy. The Cluniacs resented their interference. The consequence in Renfrewshire was that the monks were continually at variance with the Ordinary of the diocese. Good, therefore, as the influence of the monastery was on the county in some respects, in others it was not. Generally speaking, the possession of parish churches by monasteries had an influence detrimental to religion, and contributed as much as anything in the long run to the overthrow of the ancient Church.

Walter I. was succeeded by his son Alan, who married, firstly, Eva, daughter of Swan, son of Thor, Lord of Tibbermuir and Tranent, and ancestor of the Ruthvens; and, secondly, Alesta, daughter of Morgand, Earl of Mar. He was a friend of William the Lion, and is said to have been helpful to him both as a soldier and as an adviser. Beyond this nothing is known of him outside his gifts to the monastery. He died in 1204, and was buried before the high altar of the Priory.

Alan was succeeded by Walter II., son of his second wife Alesta, who held the stewardship for the long period of forty-two years (1204-1246). In 1231 he was appointed Justiciary of Scotland by Alexander II., and was sent in 1238 to negotiate a marriage between the King and Mary, daughter of Engleram, Count de Coucy ; but like his father, he is best known by his gifts to the monastery of Paisley. He married Beatrix, daughter of Gilchrist, who held the title of Angus. One of his last acts was to give an annual payment of two chalders of meal from the mill of Paisley for the support of a monk to perform divine service for the soul of Robert de Bruce, Lord of Annandale, who had died in 1245. The friendship between the two great houses, of which this is the first indication, became more intimate in later years, and had a considerable influence both on the fortunes of the Stewards and on the destinies of the nation. Walter was buried in the Abbey he had so munificently endowed.

Alexander, who succeeded Walter II., his father, in the stewardship, appears to have usually resided during the early part of his life at his manor house or hunting lodge at Blackhall, which stood within easy reach of the monastery of Paisley, with the abbot of which he seems to have lived on intimate terms. The monks had built a mill on the Espedair, and he gave them permission to draw water for it from the burn.2 Having taken a piece of their land for the purpose of extending a deer park he was forming on the east of the Espedair, he gave them in exchange land, acre for acre, near their church at Inverkip and their chapel at Lochwinnoch, and eight chalders of meal from the rents of Inchinnan.3 In 1252, after receiving the benediction of the Abbot in the Abbey Church at Paisley, he set out on a pilgrimage to the famous shrine of S. James de Compostella in Spain. Before starting he confirmed4 to the monastery all his own donations, and the donations of his ancestors. Of what befell him during his pilgrimage nothing is known. Eleven years later, October 2, 1263, he distinguished himself at the battle of Largs, where he led the Scottish army in repulsing the Norwegian King Haco, from the shores of Cunningham, and thus contributed largely both to the ruin of that formidable expedition with which Haco intended to overrun a great part of the country, and to the subsequent recovery of the Southern Isles and the Isle of Man. Bellenden represents “ Alexander Stewart of Pasley ” bringing up “ a bachment of fresche men ” just at the critical moment, forcing the Danes to give “bakkis,” and then pursuing them with great slaughter throughout Cunningham. The exact year of Alexander’s death is not known. Fordun gives 1281; later writers give 1283. If either of these dates be correct, he did not outlive the prosperous reign of King Alexander III. (1249-1285).

Upwards of a hundred years had now passed away since the colonization of the county under the Steward had begun. So far the plans of Walter Fitz Alan had borne excellent fruit—greater and more ample, perhaps, than any he had looked for. The land formerly waste or forest, had been extensively reclaimed, and the population had increased, insomuch that the Stewards, who were all mighty hunters, were obliged to take steps to preserve their forests from encroachment, and to protect the beasts and birds of chase that found their homes within them. The monastery by the White Cart which Walter had built, had grown in wealth and influence, and the little village nestling beneath its shadow had become a thriving town. Everywhere throughout the county as well as in the rest of the kingdom there were signs of a bright and happy future, but by the calamitous death of the King, all the promise of the time was suddenly broken, and the country was soon to be plunged into the long and bitter and desolating war of succession and the* subsequent struggle for freedom.


Return to Book Index Page