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A History of the County of Renfrew from the Earliest Times
Chapter IX.—The Accession of the Stuarts


In his contest with Edward III. of England the Steward had won. The southern parts of the Lowlands were still in the hands of the English, but the rest of the country had been cleared of their troops. In his intrigues to unite the Scottish to the English crown, and, in the event of his failure, to place his son Lionel upon the throne of Scotland, Edward, though strongly supported by David II., had failed. All through, the Steward had the support of the people, of the Church, of the Douglases, though latterly the Knight of Liddesdale had turned traitor, and of a majority of the nobles, who, though almost entirely of Norman extraction, had at last identified themselves with the country in which they had settled. The success of the Steward was also due to the assistance he had derived from the old French alliance, and in a negative way to the fact that Edward was so fully occupied with affairs in France, that he had neither the means nor the leisure to prosecute his designs in respect to Scotland with the energy success required. Edward was survived by his rival, who lived long enough to hear of the battle of Otterburn, to see his country entirely delivered from its enemies, and to leave it in the enjoyment of peace.

To his tenants in Renfrewshire, as well as to those of them on his other estates, the accession of the Steward was an event of some moment. Instead of being vassals of a vassal, they now held practically of the Crown.

During the long English wars the estates of the Stewards had here and there been encroached upon, and on December 10, 1404, with the view of preventing their further dilapidation, and in order to protect his son in their possession, Robert II. erected the barony of Renfrew, the earldom of Carrick, the King’s Kyle, and his other estates, into a principality and granted them in free regality to the Prince during his term of life.

Subsequently, the barony of Renfrew was disjoined from the county of Lanark and erected into a separate shire. The exact date at which this was done is not known. According to Crawfurd, the date is 1404, but according to Chalmers, the charter relied upon for this date does not allude to the barony having been erected into a shire. Macfarlane of Macfarlane reports that in a transumpt dated August 12, 1414, he found among the witnesses “ one Dominus Finlayus Buntyr Yicecom. de Renfrew,” and this,

Chalmers remarks, “ affords sufficient evidence that Renfrew was a sheriffdom in 1414.” His further remark, however, that it is highly probable that the establishment was due to Robert III., who died in 1406, is untenable. In a charter dated August 7, 1413, granted to Robert Cunningham by the Duke of Albany, it is styled “the barony of Renfrew.” Assuming, therefore, that Macfarlane is correct, the inference is that the erection of the barony into a shire took place somewhere between August 7, 1413, and August 12, 1414.

The High Steward exercised jurisdiction over his barony by means of a baron-bailie, who held courts, punished crimes, exacted fines, and referred disputes among the tenants to his birleymen for adjudicature. The baron-bailie in 1361 was Sir John Stewart of Crookston, the predecessor of the Stewarts of Darnley and Earls of Lennox. Under the baron-bailie was the steward, who administered the revenues and managed the lands of the barony. In 1246, under Alexander the High Steward, this office was held by Thomas de Bosco. Under James the High Steward, who succeeded his father in 1283 and died in 1309, the steward, or seneschal, of the barony was Robert Semple.

Like the date of the erection of the barony into a sheriffdom, the date of the appointment of the first sheriff is uncertain. There can be little doubt, however, that the two events fell about the same time.

The first of the sheriffs mentioned is John Semple of Eliotstoun. He is named Sheriff of Renfrew in a charter granted by Rankyn of Fullarton, lord of Conly, under date December 15, 1426. William, second Lord Semple, in 1531, sold the office of sheriff of Renfrew within the parish and barony of Bathgate— a detached portion of the shire—to James Hamilton of Fynnart, who was confirmed in the office by James V.

The Semples of Eliotstoun continued to be sheriffs of the county down to the year 1635, when Hugh, fifth Lord Semple, resigned both the office of hereditary sheriff of the county and the office of hereditary bailie of the regality of Paisley into the hands of Charles I. In return, he was to receive from the King 3,000 acres in the first intended plantation in Connaught, in Ireland. In the event of his not being sufficiently secured in this land, the King undertook to repone him in the offices he had resigned. The business had been negotiated by Bryce Semple of Cathcart, who, for his service to the King “in the valuation of tithes and apprehending of one who had committed a fowle murther,” was to receive 1,000 acres in Connaught, and was appointed to the office his kinsman had resigned, until Michaelmas, 1637. Neither he nor Hugh Lord Semple, received the promised acres in Connaught. The sum of 5,000 to be paid out of the Irish Exchequer was substituted for them. During the non-payment of this sum, the offices were made hereditary in the Cathcart Semples, and in December, 1647, Bryce Semple and his son James had transferred them to Lord Ross of Hawkhead. Soon after this the offices appear to have been conveyed back to Lord Semple, by whom they were transferred to Hugh Earl of Eglinton. But, from the retour of Robert, seventh Lord Semple, in 1648, and from that of Hugh Earl of Eglinton, in 1661, the transfer, it would appear, was not absolute, but redeemable. The first-mentioned retour bears that the heritable offices still pertain to the Semple family; in the second it is stated that they are held by the Earl of Eglinton as security for the repayment of 5,000. This sum, it appears, was never repaid, and the offices remained with the Eglintons till 1748, when Lord Eglinton received 5,000 from the Government as compensation for the extinction of the offices.

The sheriff, who, as need hardly be said, was the permanent representative of the Crown, had his deputies. Some of these appear to have been appointed temporarily or for special purposes, while the other and more important class of these officials received permanent appointments. Other officials were the coroners and mayors and sergeants of fee. There were also the sheriff’s clerks, the sheriff’s sergeant, and the officers of the sheriff.

In the reign of Queen Mary, Robert Lord Semple, obtained a Commission of Justiciary over the whole barony and sheriffdom of Renfrew, but, having abused his office by cruelly oppressing Glen of Bar and his family, the Privy Council, on the complaint of Glen, suspended his commission, October 10, 1564.

On April 5, 1396, all the lands belonging to the monastery of Paisley, with the exception of those situated in the Lennox, were erected into a barony of regality, and those of them in the barony of Renfrew were thus taken out of the jurisdiction of the sheriff and placed under that of the abbot of the monastery as lord of the regality. The lands of the monks in the Lennox had already been erected into a barony of regality as early as October 27, 1381, in virtue of a charter granted by Robert II. On January 13, 1451, the two baronies of regality were united into one by a charter of James II., which conferred all the usual privileges upon the Abbot, and included the four points of the crown, which, in the case of the Lennox regality, had been reserved. On August 19, 1488, the three charters just mentioned were confirmed and extended.

Another regality in the shire was of later erection. On January 24, 1563-4, Queen Mary granted a charter to Sir James Sandelands, Preceptor of Torphichen and Lord St. John, by which the whole of the lands and property of the Knights Templars and Hospitallers were incorporated into the free barony of Torphichen and erected into regalities, on payment of the sum of 10,000 “ crownis of the sone ” and a yearly rental of 500 merks. The Temple lands in the shire of Renfrew appear from Crawfurd’s statement to have been known as the regality of Greenend.

“A grant of regality,” to use the words of Professor Innes, took as much out of the Crown as the Sovereign could give. It was, in fact, investing the grantee in the sovereignty of the territory.” The lords of regalities had their courts and officials like the sheriffs, or like the King. The principal official was the bailie, who, within the limits of his bailiary, especially when the four points of the crown were granted, as was the case in the grants to the Abbot and Convent of Paisley and Lord Torphichen, exercised an authority as great as that of a sheriff in a county. He had his deputies, coroners, sergeants, and officers, and held courts, in which he inflicted punishments and exacted fines. He had his pit and gallows, the first for drowning women in who were convicted of capital crimes and the other for executing men.

The Abbot and Convent of Paisley had also the right of replegiation, in virtue of which, when any of their tenants or farmers were arrested or were indicted before the sheriff courts of Ayr, Renfrew and Dumbarton, they could demand deliverance of them in order to their trial in their own court of regality and by their own officials, assisted by an assize of the King’s burgesses and the King’s chamberlain or his deputy sitting with the Abbot’s bailie as assessor.

The first bailie of the regality of Paisley of whom there is any mention was John Lord Semple. He was appointed by Abbot George Shaw (1472-98) to the office for three years, and further during “ his gude bering” ; but Abbot Robert Shaw, shortly after he succeeded his uncle in 1498, called upon Lord Semple by a summons before the Lords Auditors to give an account of his intromissions as bailie of the regality. Lord Semple asked the Lords to confirm him in the office. The case was heard, February 14, 1509, when the Lords refused to grant the confirmation desired.

For some time after this there appears to have been no bailie. At any rate, there is no reference to a bailie of the regality having been appointed. According to a document preserved in the Register of the monastery, John Hamilton, who succeeded Robert Shaw as abbot in 1529, appears to have contemplated placing the defence and administration of the affairs of his regality in the hands of a commission, by appointing certain “ noble and powerful men” as his procurators, bailies, etc., but, as no names are inserted in the document, it is probable that the commission was never issued. Later on, however, the aspect of affairs throughout the country had become so serious that, on April 13, 1545, he appointed Robert Master of Semple hereditary justiciary and bailie of the whole of the regality of Paisley, except in the lordship of Kyle and the lands adjacent in the county of Ayr. According to the narrative of the charter of appointment, the lands and property of the monks had already been seriously interfered with and the Master of Semple had on more than one occasion come to the assistance of the abbot and convent. His yearly stipend as justiciar and bailie of the regality was fixed at three chalders of wheat and three shillings and fourpence from the lands of Glen called Locheid. Semple and his father, William Lord Semple, on their part, bound themselves to protect the monks and their property or to resign office.1 During the wars that followed, the bailieship passed through several hands. In 1662, the office was held by Sir Archibald Stewart of Blackhall. When the heritable jurisdictions were abolished in 1748, it was in the hands of the Earl of Eglinton.

Scattered up and down the shire were a number of lordships and baronies. The most important among them was that of the Stewarts of Darnley, which included the lands of Crukisfeu, Inchinnan, Perthaykscot, Wrightland and Ilassele, Craigtoun and Flures, beside those of Darnley, Crookston, and Neilson-syde. Crukisfeu and Inchinnan are mentioned separately, the first on January 28, 1530, and the second on July 29, 1532. Among others were the free baronies of Eaglesham, Mearns, Cathcart, Duchal, and the lordships of Boghall, Dunrod, Erskine, Fereneze, and Thorntown. On March 17, 1540, James Y. granted a charter of confirmation to William Lord Semple, of the lands of Fernynes, Raiflat, Bar in Kilbarchan, Brandiscroft, Weitlandis, Haris-pennaldis, Bordlandis, Mechelstoun and Craiginfeach, Auchinfour, and the third part of Auchinames, and incorporated them, with certain lands in the county of Ayr, into the free barony of Craiginfeauch. On the same day, the King confirmed to the same noble the lands of Cassiltoun, Eliotstoun, Schuttirflat, Nethir-Pennel, Hairstentoun, and the lands of Levern, Bargany and Lechland, and the lands of Southennane in Ayrshire, and the lands of Glasfurd in Lanarkshire, and incorporated them into the free barony of Semple.

According to Chalmers, the barony of Greenock belonged of old to a family named Galbraith. In the reign of Robert III. it was divided between the two heiresses of Malcolm Galbraith, one of whom married Shaw of Sauchie, and the other Crawfurd of Kilbirnie. The two divisions were then held as separate baronies until 1669, when Sir John Shaw of Greenock purchased the eastern barony from the female heir of Crawfurd of Kilbirnie, and thus became the proprietor of both Eistir and Westir Greenock.Greenock was erected into a burgh of barony by a charter under the Great Seal in 1635.

In the parish of Kilmacolm, besides the barony and lordship of Duchal, were the baronies of Finlaystone24 and Newark. In the letters patent issued by Charles II. to John Earl of Glencairn, March 4, 1671, the lands of Deunistoun are said to be in the barony of Kilmacolm.

By a charter of James V., March 5, 1539-40, the incorporation of the seventh part of the lands of Auchenbothie, called the Castell-wallis, in the barony of Robertland, the greater part of which lay in the county of Ayr, was confirmed to David Cunningham of Robertland. In 1571, the Mearns, Drips, and Nethir Pollok were united into one barony.

The owners of the baronies had their courts like the lords of the regality, over which they presided either in person or by deputy. The courts were held in various places, sometimes in a church and sometimes in the open air. In 1371, Robert Lord Maxwell, reserved to himself and his heirs the mount nearest to the village of Drips and the great shrine erected on the top for the purpose of holding courts as often as necessary, to prosecute the inhabitants for injuries committed against himself and his heirs only. The grant of a free barony carried with it not only the highest and most privileged tenure of land, but also “ a great jurisdiction over the inhabitants and all the fees and emoluments that of old made such jurisdictions valued.” The true mark of a true baron in the ancient time, Professor Innes remarks, was the right of pit and gallows, or jurisdiction in life and limb. The form of process in the barons’ courts was similar to that in the higher courts. In criminal cases, where slaughter or theft was alleged, the accused were tried by an assize of fifteen. Those who thought themselves unjustly dealt with had the right of appeal to the Privy Council. For the most part, in grants of barony the Crown reserved its own jurisdiction in what were called the Points of the Crown—murder, rape, arson, and robbery—though jurisdiction in these was sometimes granted, as in the grants of regality to the Abbot and Convent of Paisley and to Lord Torphichen.

The principal official in the barony or lordship was the baron-bailie, whose chief duty was to preside over the baron’s court in the absence of his superior, and generally to manage the business of the barony. In 1442, William Semple acted as baron-bailie to Lord Lyle in the barony and lordship of Duchal.

Until the year 1490, when the village of Paisley was erected into a burgh of barony and regality, there was but one burgh in the county, the royal burgh of Renfrew, which, though founded by David I., did not receive its charter until the year 1396.

As early as the year 1360, the practice of dividing the county or barony into the eastern and western districts may be said to have begun. The dividing line was formed by the Cart. On April 21 in that year Sir Peter Garland, on behalf of himself and his brother collector, John Gray, paid to the Auditor of the Royal Exchequer at Perth the sum of 36 11s. 2d. which they had collected in the barony of Renfrew “ east of the water of Cart” towards the third contribution for the King’s ransom. In 1361, the sum paid to the same fund for the same district was only 26 13s. 10d. The next payment is recorded for the year 1366, when the contribution was 49 12s. Id. for “ the barony of Renfrew.” In the same year the burgh of Renfrew contributed 4 6s. 0d. ; Irvine, 10 0s. 6d. ; Dumbarton, 9 0s. 11d. ; Rutherglen, 5 5s. 3d; Aberdeen, 47 13s. 4d. ; and Glasgow, 5 10s. 1d., or only 1 4s. Id. more than Renfrew. America was then undiscovered, and the chief commercial ports of the kingdom were on the east coast.


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