The History of Leith

February 26, 2012

The abbots of Holyrood

I. ALWIN was the first abbot;
he resigned the office in 1150,
and is said to have died in 1155.
He was the confessor of King
David, and author of a ” Book of
Homilies and Epistles.”
II. OSBERT died on the I5th of
December, 1150. He wrote the
“Acts of King David I.,” and
was buried with great pomp before
the high altar. He built some
part of the monastery, and “gave
an image of God the Father, of
solid silver.”
III. WILLIAM I. succeeded in 1152. He witnessed
several charters of Malcolm IV. and
William the Lion; and when he became aged and
infirm, he vowed to God that he would say his
psalter every day. He enclosed the abbey with a
strong wall.
IV. ROBERT is said to have been abbot about
the time of William the Lion. ” He granted to
the inhabitants of the newly-projected burgh of the
Canongate various privileges, which were confirmed,
with additional benefactions, by David II., Robert
III., and James III, These kings granted to the
bailies and community the annuities payable by the
burgh, and also the common muir between the
lands of Broughton on the west and the lands of
Pilrig on the east, on the north side of the road
from Edinburgh to Leith.”
V. JOHN, abbot in 1173, witnessed a charter of
Richard Bishop of St. Andrews (chaplain to
Malcolm IV.), granting to his canons the church

of Haddington, cum terra de Clerkynton, per rectas
divisas. In 1177 the monastery was still in the
Castle of Edinburgh. In 1180 Alexius, a subdeacon,
held a council of the Holy Cross near
Edinburgh, with reference to the long-disputed
consecration of John Scott, Bishop of St. Andrews,
when a double election had taken place.
VI. WILLIAM II., abbot in 1206. During his
time, John Bishop of Candida Casa resigned his
mitre, became a canon of Holyrood, and was
buried in the chapter-house, where a stone long
marked his grave.
VII. WALTER, Prior of Inchcolm, abbot in
1209, died on the 2nd of January,
1217. He was renowned for
learning and piety.
nothing is known but the name,
and that he was ejected from his
IX. WILLIAM IV, the son of
Owen, resigned his office in 1227,
when old and infirm, and became
a hermit on Inchkeith, but returning,
died a monk of Holyrood.
His name occurs in a crown
charter of Alexander III., confirming
the lands of Newbattle,
24th June, 1224.
X. ELIAS I., the son of Nicholas.
According to Father Hay, he
drained the marshes around the
abbey, built the back wall of the
cemetery, and at his death was
buried behind the high altar in
the chapel of St. Mary.
XL HENRY, the next abbot, was named Bishop
of Galloway in 1253; consecrated in 1255 by the
Archbishop of York.
XII. RADULPH, abbot, is mentioned in a gift of
lands at Pittendreich to the monks of St. Marie de
XIII. ADAM, a traitor, and adherent of England,
who did homage to Edward I. in 1292, and for
whom he examined the records in the Castle of
Edinburgh. He is called Alexander by Dempster.
XIV. ELIAS II. is mentioned as abbot at the
time of the Scots Templar Trials in 1309, and in a
deed of William Lamberton, Bishop of St. Andrews,
in 1316. In his time, Holyrood, like Melrose and
Dryburgh, was ravaged by the baffled army of
Edward II. in 1322.
XV. SYMON OF WEDALE, abbot at the vigil of
St. Barnabas, 1326, when Robert I. held a Parliament
in Holyrood, at which was ratified a concord
between Randolph the famous Earl of Moray and
Sir William Oliphant, in connection with the forfeited
estate of William of Monte Alto. Another
species of Parliament was held at Holyrood on
the loth of February, in the year 1333-4, when
Edward III. received the enforced homage of his
creature Baliol.
XVI. JOHN II., abbot, appears as a witness to
three charters in 1338, granted to William of
Livingston, William of Creighton, and Henry of
Brade (Braid ?).
XVII. BARTHOLOMEW, abbot in 1342.
XVIII. THOMAS, abbot, witnessed a charter to
William Douglas of that ilk, Sir James of Sandilands,
and the Lady Elenora Bruce, relict of Alexander
Earl of Carrick, nephew of Robert I., of the
lands of the West Calder. On the 8th of May,
1366, a council was held at Holyrood, at which the
Scottish nobles treated with ridicule and contempt
the pretensions of the kings of England, and sanctioned
an assessment for the ransom of David II.,
taken prisoner at the battle of Durham. That
monarch was buried before the high altar in 1371,
and Edward III. granted a safe conduct to certain
persons proceeding to Flanders to provide for the
tomb in which he was placed.
XIX. JOHN III., abbot on the nth of January,
1372. During his term of office, John of Gaunt
Duke of Lancaster, fourth son of Edward III., was
hospitably entertained at Holyrood, when compelled
to take flight from his enemies in England.
XX. DAVID, abbot on the i8th of January, in
the thirteenth year of Robert II. The abbey was
burned by the army of Richard II. whose army
encamped at Restalrig; but it was soon after
repaired. David is mentioned in a charter dated
at Perth, 1384-5.
XXI. JOHN (formerly Dean of Leith) was abbot
on the 8th of May, 1386. His name occurs in
several charters and other documents, and for the
last time in the indenture or lease of the Canonmills
to the city of Edinburgh, izth September,
1423. In his time Henry IV. spared the monastery
in gratitude for the kindness of the monks to
his exiled father John of Gaunt.
XXII. PATRICK, abbot 5th September, 1435.
In his term of office James II., who had been born
in the abbey, was crowned there in his sixth year,
on the 25th March, 1436-7 ; and another high
ceremony was performed in the same church when
Mary of Gueldres was crowned as Queen Consort
in July, 1449. In the preceding year, John Bishop
of Galloway elect became an inmate of the abbey,
and was buried in the cloisters.
XXIII. JAMES, abbot 26th April, 1450.
He was son of Sir William Crawford of Haining,
and had previously been Prior of Holyrood. In
1450 he was one of the commissioners who treated
with the English at Coventry concerning a truce;
and again in 1474, concerning a marriage between
James Duke of Rothesay and the Princess Cecile,
second daughter of Edward IV. of England. He
was Lord High Treasurer of Scotland in 1480.
He died in 1483. On the abbey church (according
to Crawford) his arms were carved more than
thirty times. ” He added the buttresses on the
walls of the north and south aisles, and probably
built the rich doorway which opens into the north
aisle.” Many finely executed coats armorial are
found over the niche^ among them Abbot Crawford’s
frequently—a fesse ermine, with a star of five
points, in chief, surmounted by an abbot’s mitre
resting on a pastoral staff.
XXV. ROBERT BELLENDEN, abbot in 1486,
when commissioner concerning a truce with
England. He was still abtJot in 1498, and his
virtues are celebrated by his namesake, the archdean
of Moray, canon of Ross, and translator of
Boece, who says ” he left the abbey, and died ane
Chartour-monk.” In 1507 the Papal legate presented
James IV., in the name of Pope Julius II.,
in the church, amid a brilliant crowd of nobles,
with a purple crown adorned by golden lilies, and
a sword of state studded with gems, which is still
preserved in the Castle of Edinburgh. He also
brought a bull, bestowing upon James the title of
Defender of the Faith. Abbot Bellenden, in 1493,
founded a chapel in North Leith, dedicated to St.
Ninian, latterly degraded into a victual granary
The causes moving the abbot to build this chape’i,
independent of the spiritual wants of the people,
were manifold, as set forth in the charter of
erection. The bridge connecting North and South
Leith, over which he levied toll, was erected at the
same time. The piers still remain.
XXVI. GEORGE CRICHTOUN, abbot in 1515,
and Lord Privy Seal, was promoted to the see of
Dunk eld in 1528. As we have recorded elsewhere,
he was the founder of the Hospital of St. Thomas,
near the Water Gate. An interesting relic of his
abbacy exists at present in England.
About the year 1750, when a grave was being
dug in the chancel of St. Stephen’s church, St.
Albans, in Hertfordshire, there was found buried
in the soil an ancient lectern bearing his name, and
which is supposed to have been concealed there at
some time during the Civil Wars. It is of cast
brass, and handsome in design, consisting of an eagle
with expanded wings, supported by a shaft decorated with several mouldings, partly circular and
partly hexagonal. The eagle stands upon a globe,
and the shaft has been originally supported on
three feet, which are now gone. The lectern at I
present is five feet seven inches in height, and is !
He died on January 24th, 1543, and the probability is that the lectern had been presented to
Holyrood on his elevation to Dunkeld as a farewell
gift, and that it had been stolen from the abbey
by Sir Richard Lea of Sopwell, who accompanied
the Earl of Hertford in the invasion of 1544, and
who carried off the famous brazen font from Holy-
Tood, and presented it to the parish church of St.
Albans, with a magniloquent inscription. “This
font, which was abstracted from Holyrood, is no
longer known to exist, and there seems no reason
to doubt that the lectern, which was saved by
being buried during the Civil Wars, was abstracted
.at the same time, and given to the church of St.
Albans by the donor of the font.”
:ham, was the next abbot. He died in 1528.
1528. He had been previously provost of the
collegiate church of Corstorphine, and was twice
High Treasurer, in 1529 and 1537. In 1538 he
was elected Bishop of Ross, and held that office,
together with the Abbacy of Feme, till his death,
3ist November, 1545.
XXIX. ROBERT STUART, of Strathdon, a son of
James V. by Eupham Elphinstone, had a grant of
the abbacy when only seven years of age, and in
manhood he joined the Reformation party, in 1559.
He married in 1561, and received from his sister,
Queen Mary, a gift of some Crown lands in
Orkney and Shetland in 1565, with a large grant
out of the queen’s third of Holyrood in the following
year. In 1569 he exchanged his abbacy with
Adam Bishop of Orkney for the temporalities of
that see, and his lands in Orkney and Shetland
were erected into an earldom in his favour 28th
October, 1581.
XXX. ADAM BOTHWELL, who acquired the
abbacy in eommendam by this strange and lawless
compact, did not find his position a very quiet ones
and several articles against him were presented in
the General Assembly in 1570. The fifth of these
stated that all the twenty-seven churches of the
abbey wherein divine service had been performed
” are decayit, and made some sheep-folds, and some
. sa ruinous that none dare enter into thame for
fear of falling, especially Halyrud Hous, althocht
the Bishop of Sanct Andrew’s, in time of Papistry,
sequestrat the haill rentis of the said abbacy,
because only the glassen windows wer not holden
up and repairt.” To this Bothwell answered that
the churches referred to had been pillaged and
ruined before his time, especially Holyrood
Church, ” quhilk hath been thir twintie yeris
bygane ruinous through decay of twa principal
pillars, sa that none wer assurit under it,” and that
two thousand pounds would not be sufficient for
the necessary repairs. He resigned his so-called
abbacy in favour of his son before 1583, and died
in 1593. He was interred near the third pillar
from the south-east corner, on the south side of the Church
XXXI. JOHN BOTHWELL, his eldest son, held!
the abbey in commendam under the great seal,
24th February, 1581, and was a Lord of Session
in 1593. In 1607 part of the abbey property,,
together with the monastery itself, vras converted
into a temporal peerage for him and his heirs, by
the title of Lord Holyroodhouse. John Lord
Bothwell died without direct heirs male, and
though the title should have descended to his brother
\Villiam, who had property in Broughton, after his
death, none bore even nominally the title of abbot.
A part of the lands fell to the Earl of Roxburghe,
from whom the superiority passed, as narrated
The “ChroniconSanctseCrucis” was commenced
by the canons of Holyrood, but the portion that
has been preserved comes down only to 1163,
and breaks off at the time of their third abbot.
” Even the Indices Sanctorum and the ‘ two
Calendars of Benefactors and Brethren, begun from
the earliest times, and continued by the care of
numerous monks,’ may—when allowance is made
for the magniloquent style of the recorder—mean
nothing more than the united calendar, martyrology,
and ritual book, which is fortunately still
preserved. It is a large folio volume of 132 leaves
•of thick vellum, in oak boards covered with stamped
leather, which resembles the binding of the sixteenth
The extent of the ancient possessions of this
great abbey may be gathered from the charters
and gifts in the valuable Munimenta Ecclesia Sanctce
Crucis de Edwinesburg and the series of Stent
Rolls. To enumerate the vestments, ornaments,
jewels, relics, and altar vessels of gold and silver
set with precious stones, would far exceed our
limits, but they are to be found at length in the
second volume of the “Bannatyne Miscellany.”
When the monastery was dissolved at the Reformation
its revenues were great, and according to the
two first historians of Edinburgh its annual income
then was stated as follows :
By Maitland : In wheat. 27 chalders, 10 bolls.
In bear… 40 „ 9 ,,
,, In oats… 34 „ 15 ,, 3^ pecks.
501 capons, 24 hens, 24 salmon, 12 loads of salt, and an
unknown number of swine. In money, ,£2,926 8s. 6d.
By Arnot: In wheat 442 bolls.
„ In bear 640 „
„ In oats 560 „
with the same amount in other kind, and £250 sterling.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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