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Scotland in the Middle Ages

Since these chapters were written, there has been discovered in the public library at Cambridge a MS. of the Gospels, which bears to have belonged to the Abbey of Deir, in Buchan. I have not myself seen the book, but I am told it contains, besides the Gospels, some portions and forms of church service among which the service of the visitation of the sick and, on the margins and blank vellum, are entered a few charters and memoranda of grants to the Church of Deir. These entries are of high antiquity more ancient than any extant Scotch chartularies and recording-facts still more archaic, reaching, indeed, a period of history which neither charter nor chronicle among us touches, and of which we have hitherto had only a few glimpses from the older lives of the saints, or from the meagre notes of foreign annalists. The first of the remarkable entries is one of that class of memoranda of transactions which must have been used in all countries before the introduction of charters of gift. They are of common occurrence in church registers of France and Italy, and are not unknown among ourselves. The memorandum is in a Celtic dialect, and runs as follows:

"Columkille and Drostan, son of Cosgrech, his disciple, came from Hy, as God had directed them, as far as Aberdover, and Bede, a Pict, was then Mormaer of Buchan on their arrival, and it was he that granted to them that city in freedom for ever, from the Mormaer and his sub-chief. They came afterwards to another city, but the king of it gave refusal to Columkille, for he was not endued with the grace of God, and the Mormaer ordered that it should be given to him; but it was not. And, after refusing the clerics, a son of his [the king's] took a disease, and it wanted little but he died. Afterwards the Mormaer went to entreat the clerics, and [undertook] that he and Domnail and Cathal would make all offerings to God and Drostan from beginning to end, in freedom from the Mormaer and his sub-chief till the day of judgment."

An imperfect note of two other benefactions gives us the names of Colban, Mormaer of Buchan, and Eva, daughter of Gartnait, his married wife, "and the Clan Magan."

Among the grants are two charters of Gartnat, son of Cannoc, and Eta, daughter of Gillemichel, his wife, and a grant by Donead, son of MacBead.

The MS., whether judged from the handwriting or its contents, appears to be of the tenth century; and the interest and importance of the discovery will be felt when it is considered that we had not previously any charter or grant of lands in Celtic language in Scotland, nor any written Gaelic of Scotch production earlier than the sixteenth century, unless we except eight leaves of an almost illegible pedigree, said to be as old as 1450; that all we knew of the Picts was a naked list of some seventy kings, without dates or events; that the title of Mormaer, learnt from the Irish annals, does not once occur in any Scotch charter, and the name of the Picts only once (in a description of boundaries).

Its dedication to St. Drostan, and, in part, the tradition of the church (preserved in the Aberdeen breviary) had informed us that Aberdouer in Buchan was one of St. Drostan's churches: but the early history of Deir was quite unknown. [A fair used to be held at Deir on St. Drostau's day (14th December) and called "Drustan fair" in our old almanacs. It is curious how often a chapter of old history is preserved in such memorials. The dedications of many of our churches to the first preachers of the faith, despised and forgotten in Scotland, are often preserved by the name of a well beside the church, at first hallowed as the baptismal source, or by the name and the day of the village fair, which was of old held on the festival of the patron saint.]

Ferrerius, the historian of the sister Abbey of Kinloss, asserted it to be the foundation of William, Earl of Buchan, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, and no doubt truly, as regards the establishment of the Cistercian convent. But as had happened in many of our monasteries, [As Melrose, Dunfermline, Glasgow, Aberdeen.] and indeed, in some of our bishoprics also, the so-called foundation was perhaps an importation of new religions, probably a new and more liberal endowment, of a church which certainly had been founded and endowed ages before.

We know three charters of Deir about the period fixed by Ferrerius as the foundation of the Cistercian house, none of them a foundation charter, but all showing the interest taken in the abbey by Marjory, Countess of Buchan, the heiress of the old race, who carried that earldom into the family of Cumin. Two of the Countess's charters are witnessed by "Magnus, son of Earl Colben," and "Adam, son of Earl Fergus."

Without rushing too hastily at conclusions, we must think that these charters, together with the book of Deir, leave little doubt that the Colbens and Ferguses, old mormaers of Buchan (and with them the mormaers of Angus, Moray, Boss, etc.) latterly changed their style to Earl; and that Marjory, whom we know in record as Countess in her own right, was the descendant and representative of those old mormaers of Buchan. Who, then, were the Magnus and Adam, sons of "Earl Colben" and "Earl Fergus". Were they simply illegitimate sons of the family, while their niece or cousin Marjory was alone legitimate? Or do we see here a remnant of that system of succession through females alone, which has been asserted of the Picts, and treated as fabulous? It is enough merely to indicate subjects of such curiosity and interest.

If I have been rightly informed, and have correctly represented its contents, it is evident that the discovery of this book sets the whole discussion which excited the Scotch antiquaries of the last century on an entirely new footing. But it is premature to reason upon its contents. It is to be hoped that Mr. Bradshaw, who has undertaken the task, will not long delay giving them fully to the public.

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