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Women in History of Scots Descent
Devorgilla
Countess of Balliol, Foundress of Balliol College, etc.


Devorgilla, Countess of Balliol, Foundress of Balliol College, etc.

This remarkable lady, who was the daughter of Alan Lord or Prince of Galloway, and the wife of the great noble Lord Balliol, is said to have been born in Dundee, with which city she had ancestral connection through the Cornyn, about the year 1209. William M'Doval, however, in his History of Dumfries, claims her as a native of Nithsdale. One of the wealthiest and most powerful noblewomen in Europe, she seems to have been endowed with remarkable energy of mind, public spirit, and generosity. Many of her benefactions still continue to bless the world from which she has passed away, almost 700 years. Among them is the famous college at Oxford, erected in honour of her husband, and still bearing her name, “Balliol College." Besides this educational foundation, she also erected a convent at Dundee, another at Wigtown, the Greyfriars monastery at Dumfries, and greatest of all, New Abbey in Kirkcudbrightshire, erected in 1275 in memory of her husband, who died in 1269. She also built over the Nith at Dumfries a splendid bridge of nine arches, said to be at the time and for long after the finest in Scotland. During her later years Devorgilla resided chiefly in Huntingdonshire, on the land she inherited from her father. Her favourite abode was Kempstone, in that county, and there on 29th September, 1289, she breathed her last. Twenty years before that date, on tho death of her husband, to whom she was deeply attached, she had caused his heart to be extracted from his body, embalmed and placed in an ivory casket. This casket she kept beside her as a daily companion till the erection of New Abbey furnished for it a fitting shrine. And there she had it built in over the high altar of that magnificent monumental fane: hence the romantic name it has ever afterwards borne of Duloe Cor or Sweetheart Abbey. They brought the body of Dovorgilla from England to her native Scotland, burying it within the walls oŁ the Abbey, and placing upon the lady’s bosom her husband’s heart, in obedience to her dying wish, another illustration of the strong love that made thorn one. The epitaph inscribed on the tomb, composed by Hugh de Burgh,. Prior of Lovercort, ran as follows:—

“In Devorvilla moritur Scnsata Sibilla,
Cum Martha que pia, contemplativa Maria;
Da Devorgillam requie, Rex Summe, potiri
Quam legit isto lop is, con pariterque viri.”

These lines have been Englished and versified thus by some unknown hand:—

“In Devorgilla a Sybil sage doth die, as
Mary contemplative, as Marth pious.
To her, oh deign, high King, rest to impart
Whom this stone covers with her husband’s heart.”

W. B. R. W.


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