Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter III. History of Culross from the Seventeenth Century to the Reformation.

THE curtain has risen for a brief space on the history of Culross, to exhibit in a hazy and indistinct scene some of the earlier phases and characteristics with which the place is associated. It now suddenly falls upon the death of the younger St Serf, and for hundreds of years to come there is nothing to record but an absolute darkness and historical void. No doubt the original establishment founded by the elder saint continued to flourish under the superintendence of his successors, and it is more than probable that a connection with the religious house on the island in Loch Leven was maintained both by the Eastern missionary who originally settled it, and the Culdee clergy who filled his office there after his death. But as regards the church of Culross itself and its ministers, the persons who worshipped there, or the condition generally of the surrounding district and its inhabitants, we must rest contented for many centuries with mere conjecture.

Reference has already been made to the struggles for supremacy between the Piets and the Scots, resulting in the final victory of the latter, the absorption of the vanquished by their conquerors, and the disappearance of the Piets, as the ancient appellation of the Caledonians, from history. There were also two other important conquests or incorporations effected by the Scots—those of the British kingdom of Strathclyde in the west, and the Saxons of Berwickshire and the Lothians in the east Lowlands. With these last was intermingled a strong infusion of Danish or Old Norse blood, effected by the invasions and settlements of the Northmen in the region lying between the Humber and the Firth of Forth. When all these annexations were completed, the unity of Scotland as a kingdom (with an exception immediately to be noticed) may be said to have been accomplished. And this would seem to have taken place under King Malcolm, the son of Kenneth, in the tenth century.

The grandson of the Malcolm just mentioned was the celebrated Duncan, whose tragic fate has been immortalised by Shakespeare; and it is in his reign, probably about A.D. 1038, that the name of Culross occurs for the first time in Scottish history since the days of St Serf and St Mungo.

Though Duncan’s grandfather, Malcolm II., had in a manner finally incorporated into one sovereignty the contending dynasties in Scotland, there was still a formidable power to contend with in the fierce Northmen or Danes who had settlements in Shetland, the Orkneys, and the Hebrides, and, in addition, harassed the east coasts of Britain by repeated invasions, in which they frequently perpetrated great cruelties. A short time previous to this, Sweyn, king of Norway and Denmark, had accomplished the conquest of England, and banishment to France of King Ethelred. He did not, however, long survive it, and died, bequeathing to his son Harold England, and to another son named Sweyn his ancestral kingdom of Norway, whilst he left Denmark to a third son, the celebrated Canute. This last succeeded ere long in making himself master of England, which Ethelred had managed to regain from his brother Harold and keep possession of for a short time. He continued to the end of his life sovereign both of England and Denmark.

Meanwhile Canute’s brother Sweyn, as if emulous of his example, or, as is also alleged, to revenge some previous defeats in which his uncle and other Norse nobles had perished, organised an expedition against Scotland. Setting sail from Norway, he landed in Fife, and marching westwards through that province, ravaged the country with the greatest cruelty. He advanced towards the neighbourhood of Culross, and, according to tradition, formed an encampment on the east side of what used to be termed the Moor Dam, though now commonly known as Tulliallan Water. It is situated about a mile from the town of Kincardine, not far from the modem mansion of Tulliallan Castle, and near the western extremity of the ancient moor of Culross. Some further particulars regarding it, as well as other two ancient camps in this neighbourhood, will be found in a subsequent chapter.

Duncan is said to have been, a man of rather a lethargic dispositibn, but on this occasion he bestirred himself to encounter the emergency. Assembling his forces and arranging them in three divisions, he intrusted the first to the famous or infamous Macbeth, himself took the command of the main body, and left the rear to be brought up by Banquo, who, like the king, was destined ere long to be the victim of Macbeth’s treachery. However, for the present no fault could fairly be found either with the fidelity or military capabilities of the latter. The Scottish army encamped at a spot long afterwards known as Duncan’s Camp, on the estate of Blair Castle, about three miles from Culross. Advancing to meet each other, the two opposing armies of Scots and Danes encountered at a place nearly equidistant between the two camps, about half a mile from each, and about three hundred yards due north of the farm of Bordie. Here is still to be seen a stone with two rectangular holes hollowed out in it, and known as the Standard stone, in which it is said the Scottish standard was fixed on the occasion of the battle of Culross. The engagement was long and bloody, and there is a tradition that the Caverns bum, which flows down into the sea from this neighbourhood, ran red with blood for twenty-

four hours. Bat even to the present day the rills in this quarter have a reddish appearance, from the beds of ironstone over which they run—and so possibly the story may have arisen.

The Danes were victorious, but withal so broken and exhausted that they could make no head in pursuit of Duncan and his army, who retreated northwards to Perth, whilst Macbeth employed himself in collecting reinforcements. Sweyn caused his troops to march in the same direction, and arriving at Perth, commenced a siege of its castle, in which Duncan had ensconced himself. The monarch, it is alleged, then endeavoured to get the better of his foes by cunning; and a curious and romantic story is recorded in reference to this, which it may not be amiss to give in the words of the old chronicler Holinshed, who embodies the narrative of the Scottish historians Boece and Major:—

“In the mean time Duncane fell in fayned communication with Sueno, as though he would have yielded up the castell into his handes under certaine conditions; and this did he to drive time and to put his enemies out of all suspicion of any enterprisement against them till all things were brought to passe that might serve for the purpose.

“At length, when they were fallen at a poynt for rendring up the holde, Duncane offered to send forth of the castell into the campe greate provision of vitayles to refresh the army; whiche offer was gladly accepted of the Danes, for that they had bene in great penurie of sustenance many days before.

“The Scots hereupon tooke the juyce of Mekilwort1 beries 1 Deadly nightshade—Atropa belladonna and mixed the same in theyr ale and bread, sending it thus spiced and confectioned in great abundance unto their enemies.

“They, rejoycing that they had got meate and drinke sufficient to satisfie their bellies, fell to eating and drinking after such greedy wise, that it seemed they strove who might devoure and swallow up most, till the operation of the beries sped in such sorte through all the partes of their bodies, that they were in the ende brought into a fast dead sleepe, that in maner it was impossible to awake them.

“Then forthwith Duncan sent unto Makbeth, commanding him with all diligence to come and set upon the enemies, being in easie point to be overcome.

“Makbeth, making no delay, came with his people to the place where his enemies were lodged, and first killing the watche, afterwards entred the campe, and made such slaughter on all sides, without any resistance, that it was a wonderful matter to behold, for the Danes were so heavy of sleep that the most part of them were slayne and never stirred; others that were awakened eyther by the noyse or other way es foirth,1 were so amazed and dizzy-headed upon their wakening, that they were not able to make any defence: so that of the whole numbers there escaped no moe but Sueno himselfe and tenne other persons, by whose helpe he got to his shippes lying at rode at the mouth of Tay.

“The most part of the maryners, when they heard what plentie of meate and drinke the Scots had sent unto the campe, came from the sea thyther to be partakers therof, and so were slayn amongst theyr fellowes: by means whereof, when Sueno perceyved how, through lack of maryners, he should not be able to convey away his navie, he furnished one ship thoroughly with such as were lefte, and in the same sayled back into Norway, cursing the time that he set forward on this unfortunate journey.”

Though this story has probably been embellished and lost nothing in the telling, it is likely enough to have been founded on a real incident. No reasonable doubt can, at all events, be entertained of Sweyn’s partial victory at Culross, of his pursuit of the Scottish army to Perth, and of his ultimate discomfiture and retreat, in consequence either of superior prowess or generalship on the part of his foes. The narrative goes on to say that the Scots were busily engaged in returning thanks to Heaven for their deliverance from the invaders, when the news arrived that a Danish fleet had landed at Kinghorn, sent by King Canute of England to revenge the defeat of his brother Sweyn. The troops had landed from the ships, and were actively at work in devastating the surrounding country, when Macbeth and Banquo encountered them with the royal army and drove them in great disorder to their vessels. An agreement, it is said, was entered into, whereby, on payment of a large sum of money, the rites of sepulture were secured for the Danish dead on the island of St Colme. A treaty of peace was also concluded between the Scots and Danes, by which the latter bound themselves to refrain from any further invasions of Scotland.

It may here be observed that it is not improbable that what is known as the battle of Inverkeithing was fought with the Danes on this occasion. Inverkeithing is not ten miles from Kinghom, the scene of the invaders’ debarkation, and a large upright stone is or was existing in the neighbourhood of the former town, said to have been erected in commemoration of the engagement. Such stones are still standing in many places along the north shores of the Firth of Forth, and it is very probable that they are all connected with the Danish incursions. One specially may be mentioned standing near Torrybum, the parish adjoining Culross, in a field which is still known by the name of the Tuilzie or Battle Park. And a tradition prevails that after the battle of Inverkeithing the Danish army or a portion of it retreated to a station in the north of Culross parish, where they erected the earthwork or camp of Castlehill, still existing near the Burro-wine farm.

It only remains to be mentioned that not long after the battle of Culross, and subsequent departure of the Danes from Scotland, the celebrated encounter of Macbeth and Banquo with the three witches is alleged to have taken place on a heath near Forres. Whatever credit we may attach to this story, there can be no doubt of the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth, and the usurpation of the crown by the latter about a.d. 1040.

No further mention is made of Culross from the date of the battle on the moor to the foundation of the monastery by Malcolm, Earl of Fife, in 1217, in the reign of Alexander II. Nothing almost is recorded beyond this circumstance; but there can be no doubt that the ruins still existing of the conventual buildings, as well as portions of the present Abbey Church, are those of the original edifice of the thirteenth century. They will afterwards be described in detail along with other monuments of Culross.

The above-mentioned Malcolm was the seventh Earl of Fife, and succeeded his father Duncan, the sixth earl, in 1203. The first who bore the title was the celebrated Macduff, Thane of Fife, who received it from Malcolm Canmore, and is supposed to have held lands in the neighbourhood of Culross, it having even been conjectured that Castlehill or Dunimarle on the sea-shore, about half a mile to the west of the town, was the scene of the murder of Lacly Macduff and her children, by order of Macbeth. But this is an assertion of very questionable probability. Earl Malcolm died in 1229, and was buried in the church of the monastery which he had founded, but nothing is now known of his tomb.

Shortly before the foundation of Culross Abbey, a great and important change had taken place in the constitution of the Scottish Church. The old Culdee clergy had been supplanted by a different order of ecclesiastics, and the occupants of the establishments founded by the two St Serfs at Culross and Loch Leven, as well as of other religious houses throughout the country, had been transformed into canons regular, or at least had received orders to accommodate themselves to such a transformation. This change was mainly owing, in the first instance, to the introduction of English usages both in ecclesiastical and civil matters under Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Canmore; and afterwards to the more thorough alterations accomplished by her sons Alexander and David. Though, as I have already stated, the doctrine and practice of the earlier Culdees differed little from the general tenets of the Romish Church of the day, there seems no doubt that in process of time a considerable alteration had taken place, and a great revolution, possibly in some respects reformation, had been effected by Queen Margaret and her sons. It was probably a revolution of a similar character to that which had been brought about in England by St Dunstan and his followers at an earlier period, though opinions will differ as to its merits or extent. But the results of the revolution in North Britain were the disappearance both of the Culdees and of several distinctive features of the ancient Scottish Church. Of the latter circumstance a striking instance occurs in the ‘Culross Kalendar,’ edited by Bishop Forbes, in which* though an entry is inserted for St Serf as the patron saint of the place on 1st July, there is none either for St Kentigem or his mother St Thenew. These new Celtic saints were commonly excluded from the calendars of later date compiled for the religious houses of Scotland, after they had been generally assimilated to the rules of the English establishments.

Some account of the procedure in transforming the Culdee religious houses into communities of canons regular may not be uninteresting. The plan was to import into one of these establishments a colony of monks from a distant quarter, who had been trained to the new system of monastic life that had now generally come into vogue, and thus to engraft, as it were, a new scion on the old stock. The old clergy, as original occupants in possession of the house, were informed that they had been handed over to a new jurisdiction, and were expected to conform themselves to the rules and discipline introduced by their new associates. If they failed to do so peacefully, they would render themselves liable to expulsion. Here is what King David says with regard to the transference of St Serfs Isle in Loch Leven and its Culdee monastery to the Prioiy of St Andrews:—

“Know ye that I have granted and given to the Canons of St Andrews the island in Loch Leven, that there they may institute the canonical order, and that the Culdees who shall be found there may continue in peace with them and under them, provided they are willing to live according to rule. If any of these presume to resist this order, I will and command that they be expelled from the island.” [The above is a translation of a passage in a Latin charter contained in the 4 Registrum Prioratos S. Andrea.’]

A similar course, though without any displacement of former tenants, had been taken by David’s brother, Alexander I., when he founded the celebrated monastery of Inchcolm, on the island of that name in the Firth of Forth, in grateful commemoration of his escape from shipwreck. He brought thither a colony of monks from the Abbey of Scone, which he himself had built some years previously and settled with a company of Augustine canons from St Oswalds at Nostell, near Pontefract.

And generally on the foundation of new monasteries we find that a society of canons regular was brought from a distance to occupy the new edifice, in preference to the old - fashioned Culdee clergy, who had been the previous denizens of the site and neighbourhood.

According to Father Hay’s gleanings in his ‘ Scotia Sacra,’ Culross Abbey was founded by Malcolm, Earl of Fife, on 23d February 1216—a date which may seem to conflict a little with that of 1217, mentioned by Major and other chroniclers; but it is easily reconciled by keeping in mind that the year was anciently only held to commence on 25th March, and that any date between that and the end of the preceding month of December might be referred to two years by followers of different systems of reckoning. What was done with the successors of St Serf, or what was their then condition in Culross, we are not informed; but after the fashion of the day, a colony of monks was brought from Kinloss in Morayshire, to tenant the newly erected monastery on the shores of the Firth of Forth. The first abbot was named Hugh, and he had previously been Prior of Kinloss.

Abbot Hugh is said in 1218 to have received absolution at York from the hands of the Papal legate. On what account this was granted, we are not told; but Father Hay records of him, that he died in the odour of sanctity, and was equally renowned for his good deeds and the miracles which he performed. He was most hospitable to strangers, and charitable to the poor—relieving, it is said, nearly two thousand persons every day with doles of bread and pulse at the gate of the monastery. And if he were reminded by some of his more frugal brethren that there was a likelihood through such liberality of the convent bams being deplenished, the jolly abbot would exclaim, “What matters it if our com run short ? Let us use up the oxen and sheep, and anything else we have, and so divide our substance with the poor.” Renowned and beloved through the whole neighbourhood, his body was nevertheless after his death consigned, like that of St Swithin, to a lonely resting-place in an obscure part of the churchyard; and he left behind him in the monastery no less than a hundred monks and a hundred and thirty novices or probationers. If any reliance can be placed on these last statements, Culross Abbey must have been from the first a building of great extent and magnificence.

The successor of Abbot Hugh seems to have been William Ramsay, who died in 1232, and he was followed by a second Abbot Hugh, who had been transplanted to Culross from Melrose. It may indeed be generally affirmed of the abbots of Culross, like those of other Scottish religious houses, that little more is known of the most of them than their Christian names.

Among the benefactions with which Earl Malcolm, the founder, enriched his monastery, seems to have been a grant of the lands of Abercrombie or Crombie, in the parish of Torrybum, but which long constituted a parish by themselves, and were only united to Torrybum in the earlier part of the seventeenth century. A controversy regarding certain payments from these lands arose shortly afterwards between the above-named Hugh, first Abbot of Culross, and William, Abbot of Dunfermline. An arrangement was effected in 1227, by which it was settled that the Abbey of Culross should enjoy the tenths of fruits, trees, &c., in its own territory of Abercrombie, and pay fifteen silver marks yearly to the Abbey of Dunfermline. The settlement was confirmed by Pope Gregory IX. in 1230. The lands of Crombie continued the property of Culross monastery up to the Reformation, and were then made over as part of the spoils of the Church to James Colville, natural son of Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss, and brother of Robert Colville, ancestor of the Lords Colville of Ochiltree, from whom the present proprietor of Crombie and Craigflower is descended.

In 1322, eight years after the battle of Bannock* bum, Culross again appears in history, on the occasion of a renewed invasion of Scotland by Edward II. King Robert Bruce caused all the cattle and provisions to be driven from the counties south of the Forth, and he then ensconced himself with an army of defence at Culross, to watch the approach up the Firth of the English vessels which Edward had ordered as auxiliaries to his land forces. Meantime the English king, as he advanced with his army into Scotland, found nothing but a desert; and as contrary winds prevented his ships entering the Firth with supplies, he soon found himself necessitated to commence a retreat to his own country.

In the first year of Robert III., who ascended the Scottish throne in 1390, a charter of confirmation was granted by the king of a conveyance by “ "Walterus de Moravia, dominus de Tullibardyn,” of the lands of Auldton, Pethwer, and Castlebeg to the convent and monks of Culross. These Murrays of Tullibardine were progenitors of the Dukes of Athole, and held lands in the parish of Fossaway—among others those of Pethwer or Pitvar. The following account is given of the gift of the lands to Culross Abbey. A hostile dan had made an incursion into the Murrays’ territory, and carried off a quantity of cattle. They fancied they had got beyond the danger of pursuit, and had sat quietly down to rest them* selves and carouse within a church, when they were overtaken by their adversaries, who set fire to the building. Not one person escaped from the flames, and in expiation of so terrible a sacrilege the chieftain of the Murrays was obliged to make over the lands of Pitvar to the abbots of Culross. The Crown succeeded to their rights on the annexation of benefices at the Reformation, and the minister of the first charge of Culross receives to the present day part of his stipend from the rents formerly paid out of these lands.

Another curious story is recorded in connection with the rights of Culross Abbey over the lands of Pitvax. A dispute arose between them and the Tullibardine family regarding the limits of the ecclesiastical territory. A monk of Culross placed himself on a piece of ground beyond the boundary, and declared on oath that he was standing on soil that was the property of Culross Abbey. One of the Murrays, exasperated at what he believed to be a deliberate falsehood on the part of the Churchman, struck him dead on the spot. On pulling off his boots, they were discovered to be lined with earth which he had brought with him from Culross. The unfortunate equivocator was buried on the place where he fell, and the spot still bears the name of the Monk’s Grave.

In 1402 a council assembled at Culross (doubtless in the monastery) to decide on the place of confinement of the ill-fated Duke of Rothesay, eldest son of Robert III., whose youthful escapades and miserable end have been interwoven in so interesting a fashion by Sir Walter Scott in his tale of the * Fair Maid of Perth.’ The council was presided over by Robert’s unscrupulous brother, the Duke of Albany, who was bent on the destruction of his nephew, in furtherance of his own ambitious schemes. Culross is thus, though in rather indirect fashion, connected with one of the darkest and most mysterious tragedies in Scottish history. The unfortunate prince was already a prisoner in the Castle of St Andrews— having been inveigled into Fife by Albany, and then seized as he was riding with a small retinue near St Andrews, between Nydie and Strabum. At the council held at Culross, it was resolved that he should be conveyed to a dungeon in the tower of Falkland Palace; and there he shortly afterwards perished, having, there is little doubt, been simply starved to death.

In 1415 we find John, Abbot of Culross, mentioned as present in a general council held at Perth; and in 1442, Robert, Abbot of Culross, is recorded as taking part in the king’s general council at Stirling.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, a certain John Hogg appears as Abbot of Culross, under whose rule in 1490 the assemblage of houses that had gradually clustered round the convent and extended themselves down the face of the hill towards the sea-shore, received an accession of dignity in being erected into a burgh of barony, or rather of regality. The abbots of Culross were temporal as well as spiritual lords, and as such exercised a heritable jurisdiction over the territory comprised within their lordship. This jurisdiction they made over to a layman, who exercised it as representing them, and on their behoof; and the deputies who exercised this authority as a hereditary office for the convent of Culross were the Earls of Argyll. This powerful family then held, as one of their principal seats, the Castle of Gloom, situated in a romantic gorge of the Ochils about ten miles due north from Culross.

About the time when the town was converted, as already mentioned, into a burgh of barony, the Argyll family procured an Act of the Scottish Parliament changing the name of their fortress from the Castle of Gloom to Castle Campbell—a designation which it retains to the present day. The bailiary or lordship of Culross was held by them under the abbots till the Reformation; and on the dissolution of the religious houses, was in 1569 transferred from the Earls of Argyll to Robert Colville of Cleish, ancestor of the Lords Colville of Ochiltree. We shall hear further of this heritable jurisdiction, and the claims to which it gave rise after Culross was promoted to the rank of a royal burgh.

It would appear that John Hogg, as well as his predecessor and successor in the abbacy, held also the office of judge and conservator of the privileges of the Abbey of Paisley. In this capacity Hogg “ sub-delegatts severall persons to informe and give sentence against Robert, Bishop of Lismore, for sequestration of the fruits of the churches of Col-, manel, Kylkeran, and Kyllelan from Paisley.” And in 1500 his successor, whose name is not given, cites the Archbishop of Glasgow to compear before him to answer to what should be objected against him by the Abbot of Paisley.

The Archbishop of Glasgow thus cited by an Abbot of Culross was no other than the celebrated Robert Blackadder, brother of Patrick Blackadder, Laird of Tulliallan, who then occupied the castle of that name, still existing as a stately ruin in the neighbourhood of Kincardine-on-Forth. Blackadder is well known as the first Archbishop of Glasgow, and also as the founder of the transept and crypt which bear his name, attached to the grand old cathedral of that city. He was highly esteemed by King James IV., who employed him on several important missions; and he has also acquired a somewhat unenviable notoriety by his prosecution of the Lollards, thirty of whom—chiefly from Ayrshire, and members of the best families—were summoned by the Archbishop to defend themselves in presence of the King. This, one of their number— Adam Reid of Barskimming—accomplished with such success, that Blackadder, greatly to the amusement of King James, was quite discomfited, and the Lollards were dismissed with no further penalty than an admonition to beware of new doctrines. The trial of these Lollards has a connection with Culross, inasmuch as John Campbell, of New Milns and Loudoun, one of the thirty, was the maternal grandfather of James Erskine of Balgownie, one of the principal heritors of Culross, who took a leading part in promoting the Reformation.

But Archbishop Blackadder has left a more tangible memorial of himself at Culross than is associated either with the old Castle of Tulliallan or the descendants of the Ayrshire Lollard. In 1503 he erected on the lands of St Mungo, and on the spot consecrated by tradition as the landing-place of St Thenew and the birthplace of her son St Mungo, a memorial chapel, the ruins of which still exist. I have already mentioned that it probably occupied the site of a previous building which had marked the traditionary spot from a very early period. He endowed it with revenues out of the lands of Craigrossie, in Stratheam; and his brother, Patrick Black-adder, Laird of Tulliallan, appears as one of the witnesses to the charter or deed of gift.

In 1504 we find a “special licence, respite, and protection” granted by James IV. to the tenants, &c., of Robert, Archbishop of Glasgow, until his return from Rome. And certain persons are inhibited from pursuing any actions against him till his return. Among those thus inhibited are “ ane Reverende fader, Andro, Abbot of Culrose, his abbay and convent; Andro Blacader of that ilk; Dame Elizabeth Edmonstoune, lady of Tullyallane; Patrick Blacader, her sone and aire; David Brose of Clack-mannane,” &c., &c. It would thus appear that the Archbishop’s relations with his own family, as well as with Culross Abbey, were scarcely friendly. It will be seen, too, that a new abbot, Andrew by name, has come in the room of John Hogg.

In 1525, Thomas, Abbot of Culross, appears as a commissioner for holding Parliament; and then we reach a stage of considerable interest, in the election to the abbacy of Sir James Inglis, whose reputation in the world as a deviser of court theatricals had not been of a kind very consonant with the clerical character. But inconsistencies of a much more serious description were in those days openly practised and tolerated. He was celebrated as a court poet and inditer of ballads and elegant verse; though nothing of his has come down to our time but one poem, which is ascribed, moreover, by some to William Dunbar. It is a satire of no special merit—having as its subject the common and well-worn themes of clerical profligacy, aristocratic oppression, and social corruption in general Sir David Lindsay, in his prologue to the ‘ Complaint of the King’s Papingo,’ makes the following reference to Inglia;—

“And in the court been present in these days,
That ballads, brieves, lustily, and lays,
Which to our prince daily they do present,
Who can say more than Sir James Inglis says
In ballads, farces, and in pleasant plays
But Culross hath his pen made impotent”

Sir James Inglis, we are informed, had held various appointments at the Court of James IV.; had been chaplain to the Prince Royal, afterwards James V.; and was secretary to Queen Margaret, and chancellor of the Royal Chapel of Stirling. He was appointed Abbot of Culross about 1528, but scarcely enjoyed his dignity for two years. Sir James Balfour’s ‘ Annales of Scotland’ records, under the year 1530, the following notice of his fate with grim brevity “ This zeire, 1530, the Laird of Tulliallane was be-heidit the first day of Marche for killing Mr James Inglis, Abbot of Culrosse, and with him a mounck of the same abbey, a chieffe author of the Abbot’s slaughter.” From one or two other sources we are enabled to procure some details of the dismal transaction.

It has already been hinted that the abbots of Culross and the Blackadders of Tulliallan entertained little mutual goodwill, notwithstanding of Archbishop Blackadder, a cadet of the family, having erected and endowed a chapel at Culross in honour of a distinguished native, the patron saint of Glasgow. Probably, indeed, the ground of St Mungo’s on which the chapel was built belonged really as an appanage to the Cathedral of Glasgow; and the little edifice in question, with its ministering chaplains, may have been regarded with no favour by the occupants of the splendid monastery at the top of the hill. However this might be, John Blackadder of Tulliallan, the son or other successor of Patrick Blackadder, who appears as one of the witnesses to the Archbishop’s benefaction, conceived a mortal enmity against Abbot Inglis, mainly in consequence of the latter having granted to Lord Erskine a lease of the lands of Balgownie, in the parish of Culross, of which the Laird of Tulliallan was then tenant. This sharp practice on the part of Inglis took place during the absence in Edinburgh of Blackadder, who consequently vowed revenge. An opportunity soon occurred for gratifying this passion. The Abbot and the Laird encountered each other at the Loanhead of Rosyth1—that is to say, the lane leading down to Rosyth Castle, near North Queensferry, from the highroad between the latter place and Culross. The attendants on each side were equal, comprising a troop of sixteen horsemen; and an attack having been made by Blackadder, Sir James Inglis was slain. The bloody deed seems to have taken place on 1st March 1530, though Sir James Balfour assigns this date for the punishment of the murderers— an event which one account states for the 27 th and 28th of the same month, and another refers to the 27th of August following.

Along with Blackadder a certain William Lothian, a priest of Culross, had acted as chief abettor, and was speedily apprehended along with his patron. There could be little question as to their guilt, and their fate was soon decided. As Lothian was a priest, it was necessary that before being handed over to the secular arm he should be deprived of his orders. This was accordingly done with great form and ceremony on a public scaffold at Edinburgh, in the presence of the King and Queen and an immense crowd of persons. The delinquent was thereupon handed over to the Earl of Argyll as head justice, who may also have been preferred to this office as hereditary bailie of the lordship or regality over which the slaughtered abbot had presided. On the following day he and the Laird of Tulliallan were beheaded. Three other persons, probably retainers of John Blackadder, named “Robert Manderstoune, James Mechell, and William Hutoune,” were accused of the same murder, but claimed the privilege of the sanctuary of Torphichen, in which they had taken refuge. They were brought to trial, but being acquitted of forethought felony, were judicially redelivered to George, Lord St John, master of the said sanctuary. The only other circumstance of which we are informed in connection with the murder of Sir James Inglis is, that he was interred in the chapter-house of Culross Abbey—a building which has now disappeared. It may here be mentioned that the title Sir prefixed to his name is what Inglis enjoyed in accordance with the usages of the time as distinctive of his clerical character, and in no sense as expressing any knightly rank. Thus we find that William Lothian, Blackadder’s accomplice, was, previous to his degradation from holy orders, designated as Sir William Lothian. A further example of this nomenclature appears to be given in the old Scottish riddle quoted below, which has probably come down from Popish times. The parish priest often exercised the function of “dominie” or schoolmaster; and this combination of functions was continued after the Reformation, when the schoolmaster, in addition to his week-day services of imparting instruction, had to officiate in the church on Sundays as “reader ”:—

“The minister, the dominie, and Sir John Lamb,
Went to a garden, where three pears hang;
Each pulled a pear, and yet twa hang.”

From the scanty and unsatisfactory accounts which we glean of Culross previous to the Reformation, it would seem that after the murder of Inglis a certain John Hamilton acted for a time as abbot. Coupled with some local traditions, the circumstance of there having been an Abbot of Culross who bore this name, would establish a strong probability that this was no other than the celebrated John Hamilton, natural son of the Earl of Arran, who, after being Abbot of Paisley, rose to the dignity of Archbishop of St Andrews. He took a prominent part in the political troubles of the time, and was ultimately, on being captured at the taking of Dumbarton Castle in 1571, hanged over the bridge of Stirling, being the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Scotland, and the first who had suffered capital punishment. There was certainly in the first half of the seventeenth century a family of the name of Hamilton who were proprietors of the estate of Blair, near Culross. They were said to be the illegitimate progeny of the Archbishop; and one of the daughters, Margaret Hamilton, married Robert Bruce of Blairhall, elder brother of Lord Kinloss and Sir George Bruce. The old house of Blair Castle, too, is described in the Old Statistical Account of Culross as “a strong old house, said to have been built by Hamilton, Archbishop of St Andrews, about the time of the Reformation.” The circumstance of his being Abbot of Culross would very naturally account for his building a house in the neighbourhood, and making provision for his illegitimate children out of the property of the Church.

Culross Abbey as a religious community was now tottering to its fall, and its last abbot, John Colville, takes possession of the abbatial chair. Along with him is conjoined, as “ Commendator and Usufructuar of Culross,” a certain William Colville—a relation doubtless — whose period of management extends from 1539 to 1564. Mr Laing, in the appendix to Knox’s History edited by him, says:—

“Among the dignified clergy who were present at the condemnation of Sir John Borthwick for heresy in May 1540, we find the names of William, Commendator of Culross, and John, Abbot of lindores. Both of these individuals took their seats, as Lords of Session, on the spiritual side, 5th November 1544. They had also a seat in Parliament ; and both of them having joined the Reformers, were present when the Confession of Faith was ratified and approved in August 1560. I have two deeds, dated in 1539-40 and 1541, granted by William, Commendator and Usufructuar of Culross, and John, be the permission of God Abbot of that ilk and convent of the samyn, signed Vil-lelmus, Commendatarius de Culrois, Johannes Colvile, Abbas, and by * Frater Johannes Christeson/ and the other brethren of the convent. Another deed, dated 20th March 1564-65, is signed by William, Commendator, &c., along with the brethren of the convent—John Colville, Abbot, having probably died before this. William, Commendator of Culross, filled the office of comptroller from 1546 to 1550. His name occurs among the signatures to the Book of Discipline [for the regulation of the Church]. That the Commendator as well as the Abbot was a Colville, might be shown from several incidental notices. One instance may suffice. In the register of signatures there is recorded the confirmation of a pension of 61, 6s. 8d., and * twenty bollis rynnand met of quheit, granted by umquhill Williame, Commendator of Culross and convent thairof, to Maister Robert Colvill, brother to the said umquhill Commendator/ 15th April 1569.”

In 1542 the records of the Scottish Parliament inform us that William Colville voted for the Earl of Arran as governor of the realm during the young Queen’s minority; in 1544 he is appointed one of the senators of the recently constituted College of Justice; and in 1554 he signs the bond to Arran, warranting him against any action for his intromissions with the Queen’s jewels. In 1560, as already referred to, we find him mentioned as one of the Lords of the Articles in. the Parliament which was held in that year and ratified the Confession of Faith. He has accordingly accommodated himself to the new order of things, and the sceptre of ecclesiastical sway at Culross has passed from the hands of the Church of Rome.

The history of Culross is henceforth a record of the place under Protestant government, and a very different condition of matters has now been inaugurated. The revenues and property of the monastery, like those of the ancient Church generally, have been confiscated and annexed to the Crown—with a provision, however, that a third of the rents of the benefices shall be reserved for the maintenance of the Reformed religion. It is well known in how niggardly a fashion even this fraction of the spoil of the Church was made available for the purposes of religious ordinances and popular instruction. The cupidity of the nobles and courtiers seized and retained the lion’s share; and the patriotic aspirations of John Knox and his coadjutors, towards utilising the immense revenues of the Church in the establishment of a grand system of national education, as well as a suitable provision for spiritual instruction, fell to the ground as a “ devout imagination.” Culross Abbey was secularised like other religious houses, and the family that seems to have powerfully benefited on this occasion was that of Colville, which in the latter half of the sixteenth century acquired the greater part of the property and revenues of the monastery. We have just seen two of this name in charge at the same time as Abbot and Commendator respectively; and now that the days of the old regime are over, but the arrangements of the new not yet completed, we find the affairs of the monastery administered by an Alexander Colville, doubtless of the same class, who under the title of Commendator, or lay steward, was nominally understood to be accountable to the Crown for the revenues received on behalf of the convent. Such stewards had frequently been appointed in Roman Catholic times on the occasion of vacancies, and it was now convenient for Protestant statesmen to appoint their friends to such offices. As Alexander Colville, the Commendator, and his family play an important part in the history of Culross during the years immediately succeeding the Reformation, it may not be amiss to present the reader with a brief summary of their antecedents and belongings.

About the year 1530, Sir James Colville of Ochiltree, in Ayrshire, exchanged this estate with Sir James Hamilton of Fynnart for the barony of Easter Wemyss and Lochorshyre in Fife. He got a charter of these lands to himself and the heirs-male of his body—whom failing, to Robert and James Colville, his natural sons. He is generally known as Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss, and on the first institution of the College of Justice in 1532 was appointed one of the judges. He married, first, Alison, eldest daughter of Sir David Bruce of Clackmannan ; and secondly, Margaret Forrester, who survived him. He had several children, including a son James and two daughters. This son succeeded him as Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss. He had also two natural sons, Robert and James. From his legitimate son James is descended the family of the Lords Colville of Culross; whilst from Robert, his elder natural son, is sprung that of the Lords Colville of Ochiltree. Let us first take into consideration the legitimate scion.

Sir James Colville of Easter WemyBS (the second) was eight years of age at his father’s death. He married Janet, second daughter of Sir Robert Douglas of Loch Leven, sister of William, Earl of Morton, and died in 1580, leaving two sons. The elder of these succeeded as Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss (the third), and served with great reputation in France under Henry of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV., against the Catholic League. The younger, Alexander, was the celebrated Alexander Colville, Commendator of Culross, above mentioned. How he gained favour at Court so as to share so advantageously in the spoils of Culross Abbey, we are not informed, but it is most likely that he was a relation of John and William Colville, who had acted jointly as last Abbot and Commendator. At all events, in February 1567, Alexander Colville obtained a charter for all the days of his life of the whole benefice of the Abbey of Culross. After the grant thus made to him, he received the title of Commendator of Culroes, and retained it till his death in 1597. In 1575 he was made one of the Judges of the Court of Session; and in 1578 we find him appointed a commissioner to “treat upon the Lawes”; in 1579, to investigate in a similar capacity the question of the jurisdiction of the Kirk; and in 1581 and 1592, to take part in an inquiry with a view to the reformation of charitable foundations. A general revocation having been made of the “ collectorie or thirds of benefices,” the following exception is recorded on behalf of Alexander Colville: “ As aiswa we dedair, with advise foresaid, that our said revocation sail not extend against Alexander, Commenda-tar of Culross, touching any forder payment for the third of the Abbey of Culross then fyve hundreth merkis yeirlie, according to act of secret counsall past thairanent upon the xx day of Januar 1573.” John Colville, eldest son of Alexander, the Commendator, acquired in 1587 a reversionary right to the lands and revenues of Culross Abbey, then enjoyed by his father; and this was subsequently confirmed to him by a Royal charter and an Act of the Scottish Parliament. He did not, however, retain it long, but made it over (on what consideration does not appear) to his uncle, Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss (the third). The lands and rights thus conveyed were afterwards erected into a temporal lordship, and the same Sir James Colville was raised to the peerage by the title of Lord Colville of Culro88. The date of the creation is said to have been in 1609, but according to another account was in 1604, an assertion which is borne out to a certain extent by the circumstance that in 1606 the name of Lord Colville of Culross appears in a list of the nobility. From his nephew John, son of the Commendator, to whose family the peerage ultimately reverted, the present Lord Colville of Culross is lineally descended.

Let us now trace the descent of the Lords Colville of Ochiltree—the descendants of Robert Colville, natural son of the first Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss, formerly of Ochiltree. As already mentioned, he was next in remainder to the barony of Easter Wemyss after the legitimate heirs-male of his father’s body. By a charter in 1533, his father granted him the lands of Gorgy in Renfrewshire; and by another, in 1537, the barony of Cleish in Kinross-shire. He joined zealously the cause of the Reformers, and was killed in the attack of the Congregation, in 1560, on the French at Leith. His only son Robert succeeded him in the barony of Cleish, and in 1569 obtained a charter of the bailiary of the lordship of Culross—an office which, previous to the Reformation, had been the hereditary privilege of the Earls of Argyll. He was succeeded by his son Robert Colville of Cleish, who had a charter of the barony of Cleish in 1574, died in 1634, and was succeeded also by a son named Robert, making thus four Robert Colvilles of Cleish in uninterrupted sequence. This fourth Robert Colville of Cleish had the honour of knighthood conferred on him by Charles I., and was raised to the peerage by Charles II. in 1651, with the title of Lord Colville of Ochiltree. There have only been three peers who have bome the title, which is now extinct; but the present representative of the family, as well as the possessor of a portion of the ancestral estates, is Mr Colville of Craigflower, in the parish of Torrybum.

The two peerages which sprang respectively from the legitimate and the illegitimate son of the first Sir James Colville of Easter Wemyss have now been traced, and in the course of this history we shall have occasion to refer further to the first peers and their descendants. The whole of the clan Colville is indeed intimately connected with Culross and the surrounding district, and the abbey and its revenues may be said, towards the end of the sixteenth century, to have become in a great measure a family preserve. The spoils of the Church were largely shared among them, and are still held by their descendants. There are still Colvilles of Craigflower, Colvilles of Hillside, and Colvilles of Barnhill, all scions of the old stock; and in addition to these, there used to be Colvilles of Balbedie and Colvilles of Comrie. Much of the landed property in “ Perthshire on the Forth,” as well as in the adjoining districts of Fifeshire, is to be traced to the convent of Culross and its Commendators the Colvilles.

From John Knox’s *History of the Reformation" we learn that in 1556 the great Reformer, before leaving Scotland to preside over the English congregation at Geneva, spent some time at Castle Campbell with Archibald Campbell, fourth Earl of Argyll, styled by him the “old Erie of Ergyle.” Here he “taught certane dayis,” and the place is yet pointed out on the castle eminence where he is traditionally said to have preached. The Argyll family still exercised the office of hereditary bailies of Culross Abbey, and retained a dose connection with the place. It is just possible, therefore, that John Knox may at this time have visited Culross, which is not ten miles distant in a direct line from Castle Campbell, the latter being dearly visible in its mountain-gorge from the upper part of the parish. It would be interesting also to know whether Culross, in the dawn of the Reformation, furnished any martyrs to the new faith. We know that Thomas Forrest, the vicar of Dollar, and others, were burned to death on the Castlehill of Edinburgh in 1538. One of his companions in suffering was a certain Friar Beverage, or Beveridge, who may possibly have been a monk of Culross, the name being a common one in Kinross - shire and the western district of Fife. A garden adjoining the “Convent-yard” of Culross was in after-days known as “Beverage’s yard.”

In 1559 we have a glimpse of a hostile armament passing through Culross. The French troops who had arrived in Scotland on the solicitation of Mary of Guise, to aid her in putting down the forces of the Congregation, marched from Edinburgh to Linlithgow, committed great havoc on the lands and mansion-house of Kinneil, belonging to the Duke of Chatelherault, on the south side of the Forth, opposite Culross, “and thairefter came to Striveling, whare thei remaned certane dayis. . . . The Frenche took purpose first to assault FyfFe; for at it was thair great indignatioun. Thair purpose was to have taiken and fortifyed the Toun and Abbay with the Castell of Sanctandrois; and so they cam to Culross, after to Dumfermeling, and then to Bruntyland, whair they began to forte; but desisted thairfra and marched to Kynghome.”

The French troops had soon to retrace their steps, in consequence of the appearance of English vessels in the Forth, sent to support the Lords of the Congregation. In this retreat, in consequence of the bridge of Tullibody having been demolished to intercept them, they constructed a bridge themselves across the Devon river, and used for this purpose the roof of the church at Tullibody. This was in January 1559-60. They managed to reach Stirling, and from thence Leith.

The history of Culross from the Reformation to the erection of the town into a royal burgh is, like that of the preceding epochs, extremely meagre. The first appointment of a Protestant minister to the church was that of Mr John Dykes in 1567. Besides Culross, he had charge of the parishes of Crombie and Tulliallan—an arrangement very common at the time, in consequence either of the paucity of ministers, or smallness of the stipends that were payable out of the old Church revenues, the greater portion of which was retained by the grasping nobility and courtiers. Mr Dykes was nominated by the Secret or Privy Council in 1589 one of the commissioners for preserving the true religion in the sheriffdom of Clackmannan and Kinross. He is last mentioned in 1591, and must have died or been removed previous to 1593, when we find Mr Robert Colville, brother of the laird of Balbedie, appointed to the charge.

Meantime a new era was dawning for Culross, in the rise of its trade and commerce under the energy and genius of Sir George Bruce. We shall see the progress of this, as well as obtain much more ample materials for studying the history of the town, in the burgh records, which commence in 1588.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus