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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 3, Chapter 19 - Donald Bane; King Eadgar; Alexander's Vow and Monastery of Inchcolm

There comes what appears another breakdown in the affairs of the Scots. Malcolm Canmore and his queen are dead, and the throne is vacant. The same year (1093) died Fothad, Bishop of St Andrews, the last of the Columban bishops, leaving vacant the chief ecclesiastical seat of the kingdom. We behold both Church and State in Scotland at this hour without a head; and , what was strange, there could not be got at the moment either monarch for the empty throne, or bishop for the vacant see. This two-fold vacancy is surprising when we take into account that Malcolm had left behind him numerous sons, and that Margaret had made it the chief business of her life to place the ecclesiastical arrangements of her kingdom on what she deemed a proper footing. This position of affairs was contrary to every forecast, and not more disappointing than it was dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.

Symptoms are not wanting that the popularity of the reigning family had of late been on the wane, and that the attachment of the nation to the throne was weakening. On the death of the king we expect to see the Scots take the eldest surviving son of Malcolm, Eadgar, conduct him to Scone, and there anoint him as king. Under the existing law Eadgar was the undoubted heir of the crown. So far from doing so, the Scots elected as king the brother of the late monarch, Donald Bane, or Donald the White, the heir under the old but not abrogated law of the royal succession. Donald Bane is said to have seized the throne, but this he could not have done unless there had been a powerful party in the nation in his favour. This we know there was, and we know also that they made it a reason for rejecting the son and choosing the brother of the late king that Malcolm "had corrupted the discipline of their ancestors."1 By adopting the measures of his queen, Malcolm had given offence to the Columban sentiment of the He had roused a feeling which, though latent during his lifetime, showed itself now that he was dead. Neither Malcolm’s valour nor Margaret’s virtues could make the Scots condone the suppression of their ancient church. This policy nearly cost Malcolm’s posterity the throne of Scotland. In truth they did lose it for a timer; and if they came again to possess it, they owed their recovery of it not to any spontaneous or repentant movement on the part of the nation, but to the interposition of the arms of England.

Apart altogether from considerations of religion, the policy of Malcolm Canmore and his queen was pernicious and destructive. It turned the Scots backward on their steps, and set them moving on a path which for them could have no ending but chaos. It struck at the roots of their unity by destroying that which was pre-eminently and before all other things the cement and bond of their nation. It effaced those traditions which were a record of great actions already performed, and a perpetual inspiration to still greater achievements in time to comer, traditions which had made grooves for thought and channels for action, and which had stamped on the nation its strong individuality, to lose which would be to lose its manliness; traditions, in fine, which formed the landmarks of the path by which the Scots must advance if their future was to be worthy of their past. Malcolm’s policy crushed out all these mounding and inspiring footprints. No wonder that the Scots halted four centuries on their march. But it not Malcolm alone who must bear the blame. The shepherds of the people slumbered at their post. The nation, there is reason to think, had become apathetic, and slumbered on while being enclosed in the net of Rome and the chains of feudal slavery.

The years during which Donald Bane occupied the throne were years of strife and wretchedness. He had reigned only six months when he was expelled from his seat by Duncan, a son of Malcolm by his first marriage. Recovering it after a year. Donald Bane reigned other three years, when he was finally driven from the throne, and Eadgar, the son of Malcolm, got possession of it, partly by armed assistance which his uncle Edgar Aetheling, who still lived, had influence to obtain from the English monarch.

With Eadgar, whom we now see on the throne of Scotland (1097), returned the policy of his father and mother. He encouraged the Saxon and Norman nobles to settle in his kingdom, dowering them with lands, and placing them in posts of influence. This gave umbrage to his Scottish subjects, as it had done in the days of Malcolm his father, being one of the causes which helped to draw away the hearts of the Scots from his house and dynasty. The measures pursued by father and son refined the manners of the Scots and intro9duced a change of speech, the Gaelic now beginning to fall into disuse, and the Saxon, that is, the lowland Scotch, to come in its room. These benefits, however, had attendant upon them certain drawbacks which fully counterbalanced them. With the Saxon tongue came Saxon institutions, and exotic plants are seldom so vigorous or so valuable as native growths.

Eadgar was an amiable man, but a weak ruler. He possessed in prominent degree that one of his mother’s qualities, which was the least estimable of all her many endowments. He had a superstitious piety. This proved a source of emolument to the monks, and led Eadgar to give himself to the pious and congenial work of the restoration of monasteries, among which was Coldingham, which had been destroyed by the Danes. At the same time he gave the town of Swinton to the monks of St Cuthbert, and imposed on the men of Coldinghamshire an annual tax of half a mark of silver for each plough.2 Edgar reigned nine years, and died without issue. We dismiss rapidly those kings in whose breasts an English education and the adoption of an alien faith had corrupted if not extinguished the Scottish heart.

Alexander, another of Margaret’s sons, next mounted the throne (1107). Alexander possessed in even more eminent degree than his brother Edgar his mother’s characteristic piety, but he did not add thereto, like Edgar, her gracious disposition. His impetuous and savage temper procured for him among his contemporaries the epithet of "fierce." "He was," says Ailred, Abbot of Rivaux, who was his contemporary, "affable and humble to the monks and clergy, but inexpressibly terrible to his other subjects." When the report of his great sanctity reached the Highlands, some young nobles, believing that they had a man of the "cowl" on the throne, thought the occasion fitting for settling their unadjusted quarrels. The immediate result was an outbreak of violence. But they were speedily undeceived by the arrival of Alexander amongst them. A few swift and crushing strokes made these turbulent spirits glad to be at peace with their sovereign, and on terms of good neighbourhood among themselves. This display of vigour at the opening of his reign procured for himself and his kingdom tranquillity during the rest of his life.

Alexander’s energy was now turned into another channel. The exaltation of the church was henceforward the one object to which his labours were devoted. The church, however, which Alexander wished to edify and exalt was not the old church of his ancestors, but the new church which his mother Margaret had set up in Scotland. Nor were his ways of working the old Columban methods, viz., transcribing the Scriptures and circulating them among his subjects; they were the newer modes imported from Rome, which consisted mainly in the intervention of a body of priests, who could open the kingdom of heaven, and bestow grace and salvation on men by rites known only to themselves, or at least efficacious only in their hands. Alexander made every provision for the suitable and honourably maintenance of men whose services were so inestimable. He rebuilt the church of St Michael ad Scone, and planted there a colony of canons regular of St Augustine (1115) known as black canons, which he and his Queen Sibylla, daughter of Henry I. of England had brought from St Oswald’s monastery, near Pontefract.3 He completed the Abbey of Dunfermline, which his father had begun, and greatly enriched its resources. He gifted, moreover the church of St Andrews, already wealthy, with the lands of Boar-rink, so called from a dreadful boar, the terror of the neighbourhood, which was said to infest these parts. Win ton has described the characteristic ceremony which accompanied the gift. The king’s "comely steede of Araby," magnificently accoutred, was led up to the high altar, and his Turkish armour, his shield and his lance of silver were presented to the church.4

The See of St Andrews may be said to have ceased by this time to be a Columban institution without having become formally a Roman one. It was in a state of transition, occasioning great uneasiness and trouble to Alexander I. The plan of Romanising the Scottish Church was far from proceeding smoothly; difficulties were springing up at every step. After the death of Bishop Fothad, who, as we have seen, went to his grave in the same year as Malcolm and Margaret, the See of St Andrews remained vacant for fourteen years. None of the native clergy, it would seem, were willing to accept the dignity, and the chair went abegging. This shows, we think, how far the Columban clergy were from sympathising with the innovations of Queen Margaret, and that the Columban element still retained considerable strength in the nation. At last Turgot, whom we have already met in the Dunfermline conference, was chosen by Alexander I. to be Bishop of St Andrews. Turgot was of Saxon descent; his career had been a chequered one, nor did his election to the episcopal chair bring him a more peaceful life, for now the Archbishop of York and King Alexander began quarrelling over his consecration. The Archbishop claimed the right to consecrate as the ecclesiastical superior of Scotland, which, he affirmed, lay within his province of York. The king refused to acknowledge his claim of jurisdiction, and Turgot’s consecration stood over form some years. At last an expedient was hit upon. That expedient was the reservation of the rights of both sees, and the consecration was proceeded with. It was now that the first step was taken towards the suppression of the Culdees. To Turgot on his appointment as bishop was given power over all their establishments. "In his days," we read, "the whole rights of the Keledei over the whole kingdom of Scotland passed to the bishopric of St Andrews." His brief occupancy of the office prevented Turgot using this power, and for some time longer the Culdees were left in the undisturbed possession of their rights and heritages.5 Turgot found his new dignity beset with difficulties. Misunderstandings sprang up between him and the king, and, after a year’s occupancy of his see, he resigned it, and went back to Durham, where he was content to discharge the office of prior, which he had held before he quitted that abbey to assume the mitre of St Andrews. He did not long survive his retirement. He died in 1115.6

There came another long vacancy in the see of St Andrews. At last in the year 1120, Alexander turned his eyes to Canterbury in quest of a new bishop, but only to verify the saying that "one may go farther and fare worse." The Scottish monarch believed that now he would be rid of the battle of the two jurisdictions. The nearer See of York had claimed the supremacy of the Scottish Church, but the more distant Canterbury, Alexander thought, would advance no such claim. There was no instance on record of an Archbishop of Canterbury having consecrated a Bishop of St Andrews, or of having claimed the right of doing so. Accordingly King Alexander wrote to Ralph, Archbishop of Canterbury, requesting him to send him a suitable person for his vacant See of Scotland, for the Bishop of St. Andrews was still the one bishop in Scotland; theoretically it was the primacy of Iona transferred to St Andrews. On receipt of the letter, Archbishop Ralph dispatched Eadmer, a monk of Canterbury, to the Scottish monarch. Eadmer was a disciple of the great Anselm, and fully shared his master’s exalted views of the church’s jurisdiction, which had oftener than once brought down upon him the frown of his sovereign, and compelled him to quit the kingdom. On Eadmer’s arrival in Scotland, the king soon discovered that he should have to fight the old battle of jurisdiction over again, only in a more acute form. Turgot’s pretension s menaced the independence of the Scottish Church, but the pretensions of Eadmer struck at the independence of the Scottish kingdom.

First came the investiture of the new bishop. Eadmer refused to submit to lay investiture, by accepting the ring and crozier from the hands of the king. The dispute was settled by a compromise. The bishop-elect took the ring from the king in token of subjection to Alexander in temporal. The crozier was laid on the altar, and taken thence by Eadmer himself, in token of his independence in spirituals. Next came the question of consecration, which was a still more crucial one. Eadmer insisted on being consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, resting his plea on the allegation that the See of Canterbury held the primacy over the whole of the British Islands. Canterbury had been the See of Augustine, whom the Pope sent to England with full powers, and who in virtue thereof claimed to govern with equal authority on both sides of the Tweed, and to be the spiritual autocrat of the whole island. The Scottish king had penetration to see what this claim amounted to, and the anomalous condition into which it would bring his kingdom. Scotland would present the contradictory spectacle of political independence and ecclesiastical bondage. This state of things would issue in no long time in the destruction of both liberties, and the supremacy of the King of England, as well as of the Archbishop of Canterbury, over the kingdom of Scotland. Although the spirit of his mother was strong in him, Alexander was not prepared to make a concession like this to priestly arrogance.

At an interview one day between the king and the bishop, the matter was abruptly and conclusively brought to an issue. Eadmer was pressing for permission to go to Canterbury and receive consecration at the hands of Archbishop Ralph. Alexander protested in plain terms that he would never permit the Scottish bishop to be subject to the primate of England. "Not for all Scotland," replied Eadmer, "will I renounce being a monk of Canterbury." "in that case," rejoined the king, "I have gained nothing by applying to Canterbury for a bishop." The haughty monk gave the ring back to the king, from whom he had received it, and laid the crozier on the altar whence he had taken it with his own hand, and quitted the kingdom.

The monk, of Canterbury had shaken the dust from his feet and was gone but Alexander’s troubles in connection with his bishopric of St. Andrews were not yet at the end. He made other two attempts to fill the vacant see. Fordun has given us two obscure names chosen in succession by the king for the dignity, but in each case the bishop-elect died before consecration. Verily the epithet "fatal" may with more propriety be applied to the "chair" of St Andrews than to the "stone" of Scone. Death or calamity dogs the steps of all who have to do with it. We have seen King Alexander nominate four men to this spiritual throne, and only one of the four has been able to mount into it, and he for only a single year. A fifth and final attempt does the king make to find a bishop. His choice now fell on the prior of the Augustine monks, which we have seen him establish at Scone. Prior Robert of the Augustines was an Englishman, but,. Knowing his character and qualifications, the king thought the selection a safe one. He was consecrated in 1124 by the Archbishop of York, the rights of both sees being reserved as in the case of Bishop Turgot.

Considering how much vexation Alexander had had with his one Bishop of St Andrews, we should have thought that he would have been careful not to multiply functionaries which were apt, once installed, to kick against the power that created them. Such, however, was not the inference which the king drew from his experience of the ways of bishops. Instead of diminishing he increased their number. To his one bishopric of St. Andrews he added the dioceses of Mary and Dunkeld. Of the persons appointed to these sees we know nothing besides their names. The northern diocese of Moray was presided over by Gregorius, while Cormac ruled at Dunkeld. We hear of no disputes respecting jurisdiction arising in either diocese, from which we infer that the holders of these Celtic sees were more subservient to the royal will than the more powerful and less manageable Bishop of St Andrews.

The reign of Alexander I. was now drawing to its close; still he did not relax, but rather quickened his efforts to realise the programme of ecclesiastical change which his mother had devised but did not live to carry out. To make St Andrews the Canterbury of Scotland, as Canterbury was the Rome of England, was the object of his devout ambition. He ceased not with edifying diligence to found monasteries, to import foreign monks,--the soil of Scotland not being adapted as yet for the rearing of that special product,--to collect relics, to provide vestment for the priests, and vessels for the service of the churches. As the result of Alexander’s pious and unremitting labours, the land began to be cleansed from the stains which five centuries of Columban heterodoxy had left on it. Morning and night its air was hallowed by the soft chimes of mattins and vespers rising from convent or cell, and floating over wood and hamlet. Its roads began to be sanctified by the holy feet of palmer and pilgrim, shod and unshod; and its streets and rural lanes to be variegated by troops of reverend men, cowled and uncowled, in frock of white, or black, or grey, begirt with rope, and having rosary hung at their girdle, as men who were habitually watchful unto prayer, and ready to respond to any sudden access of the devotional mood which might demand expression, and had all the implements at hand to ban or bless, to sanctify the living or shrive the dying. The long severed land, putting off its Columban weeds and decking itself in Roman attire, was making ready to be received in the next reign into the great Church of the West.

Among the last of the pious labours of Alexander was one undertaken in fulfilment of a vow which he had made in circumstances of great peril. The king was crossing the forth at Queensferry on business of State, when a violent gale sprang up in the south-west and carried his vessel down the firth. The fury of the tempest was such that the king and his attendants gave themselves up for lost. While tossed by the waves, the king made a vow to St Columba promising the saint, if he should bring him safe to the island of Aemona (Inchcolme), which the sailors were toiling to reach, he would erect there a monument which should be a lasting proof of gratitude to his protector, and a harbour and refuge to the tempest-tossed and shipwrecked mariners. His prayers were heard, as he believed, for soon to his glad surprise and that of his attendants, Aemona was reached. The king on landing was welcomed by an eremite, who was the sole inhabitant of the island. This man’s whole subsistence was the milk of a single cow, and the shell-fish picked from the rocks or gathered on the sea shore. These dainties the king and his attendants were content to share with the solitary during the three days the storm kept them prisoners on the island. Such is the story as told by Bower, Abbot of Inchgcolme, who saw a miracle in the storm that led to the founding of the monastery. We may accept the facts without granting the miracle.

After his departure from the island, the pious king did according to his vow. He laid the foundations of a monastery on Aemona, and dedicated it to St Columba, by whose powerful interposition he had been rescued from perishing in the tempest. He had not the satisfaction, however, of seeing the edifice completed, for he died in the following year (1124), and it fell to the lot of his successor, David I., to carry out the intentions and fulfil the vow of Alexander.7 No more grateful task could King David I. have had assigned him. The building was prosecuted with diligence. In due course a noble pile graced the rock which had given shelter to Alexander from the waves. A body of Augustinian canons were brought hither and put in possession, and so amply endowed was the monastery with lands in various parts of the kingdom, that there was not the least danger of its inmates ever being reduced to the necessity of going in quest of shell-fish to eke out their subsistence, as the solitary had been obliged to do whom the king found on the island when cast upon it by the storm. In the year 1178 the monastery was confirmed by a Bull of Pope Alexander the Third. In his Bull the Pope takes "the church of St Colme’s Inch under our protection, and that of St Peter." There follows a long list of privileges and heritages—lands, churches, tofts, multures, fishing—all of which the Bull of Pope Alexander secures to the monastery in perpetuity.8

Scotland’s obligations to this monastery are considerable. In the year 1418 we find Walter Bower occupying its chair as abbot, for though at first Inchcolme was a priory, it ultimately became an abbey. Eschewing the pomps and pleasures which his rank as abbot put within his read, Bower gave his time to labours which have been fruitful to his country. He was the continuator of Fordun’s Scotichronicon, indeed the compiler of the better half of it, a work which is one of the sources of Scottish history. He was a man of true piety, despite the superstitions that flourished all round him. He saw a miracle in the storm which led to the founding of his monastery, but we excuse him when we read his tender and pathetic words. Writing of the year 1385, he says: "In this same year, I, who have composed these sentences, and who throughout the first books am called Scriptor, was born into the world. Oh! That I might ere long leave it in purity. I die daily, seeing every day a part of my life is taken away. I have passed through five of the great periods of man’s life; and it seems to me as if the time past of my life had glided away as yesterday; and while I spend this very day I divide it with death."

A yet higher distinction may the Monastery of Inchcolme claim: it gave a martyr to the Reformation. Thomas Forret, better known as the Vicar of Dollar, was one of the canons of Inchcolm. His pure character, his benevolent life, and his tragic fate, have invested his memory with a touching interest. While in the monastery, unlikely as the place was, he lighted on a spring, the waters of which were sweeter than any he had tasted heretofore. The circumstances attending this discovery were far enough from giving promise of any such blissful results as that to which they ultimately led. A dispute had broken out between the canons and the abbot, the former affirming that the latter had fraudulently deprived them of a portion of their daily maintenance. The Foundation Book of the monastery was appealed to. The book was produced, and the canons fell to searching this charter of their rights, not doubting that it would enable them to make good their plea against their abbot. The abbot, however, had the art to wile the book from the canons and to give them instead a volume of Augustine. Forret gave himself diligently to the reading of this book, and found in it what was infinitely more precious to him than if it had made him abbot of Inchcolme and of every monastery in the kingdom to boot. He saw it in the Way of Life, through the obedience and blood of Jesus Christ. Forret sought to communicate to his brother canons a knowledge of his great discovery, that they too might repair to the same fountain and partaker with him of the heavenly joys. The abbot took alarm; he saw the plague of heresy about to break out in his community. The Monastery of Inchcolme, of so ancient and orthodox a lineage, a school of Lutheranism! Rather the waves should cover it, or was raze it to its foundations, than that the stigma of heresy should be affixed to it. The abbot, however, gave Forret an honourable dismissal. He sent him to serve the landward Church of Dollar, where he might vent his Lutheran notions in the sequestered air of the Ochils without bringing an evil report upon his monastery. The sequel is well known. The Vicar of dollar preached the doctrine of a free justification to his parishioners of the valley of the Devon, and after a brief ministry he sealed his doctrine with his blood at the stake. The glory of the Monastery of Inchcolme, is not that it had a king for its founder, but that it had a Walter Bower in the list of its Abbots, a volume of Augustine in its library, and, last and highest, a Thomas Forret among its canons


1. Buchanan, Hist. Scot., Lib. vii. c. 87.

2. National MSS., Part i. p. 5; Skene’s Celtic Scotland, ii. 367.

3. Fordun,Scotichron., v. 37.

4. Winton, i. 285, 286.

5. Reeves, British Culdees, pg. 36; Stubb’s and Haddan’s Councils, p. 178.

6. Chronica de Mailros, p. 65; Simeon of Durham, p. 208.

7. The researchers of Dr William Ross in the charters of the Monastery of Inchcolme and Donbibristle MS. Make it undoubted that the monastery was founded by Alexander I. in 1023. "Statements," says Dr Ross, "are to found in the charters of the Monastery, which point to possessions owed by the canons as far back as the reign of Alexander the First." –Aberdour and Inchcolme: Being Historical Notices of the Parish and Monastery.

By the Rev. William Ross, LL.D. Edin., 1885, p. 61. A work which contains much interesting, curious, and original information regarding the Monastery of Inchcolme.

8. Inchcolme was visited and explored by Sir James Simpson. The great physician, it is well known, relieved the strain of professional duty by occasional and successful incursions into the antiquarian field. We find Dr William Ross saying: "A small building in the garden of the Abbey has lately attracted a good deal of notice, and has even gone through something like restoration, in the belief that it is the identical oratory in which the Columban eremite worshipped before the monastery was founded. It was through the enlightened antiquarian zeal of Sir James Simpson that this discovery was made. On architectural grounds, some of the highest authorities on such matters have acquiesced in the conclusion come to by Sir James. And on the supposition that they are correct, the little chapel is probably the oldest stone-roofed building in Scotland."—Ross, Aberdour and Inchcolme: Being Historical Notices of the Parish and Monastery, p. 58. Edin., 1885.



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